The Last Sunday of January

Psalm 84:5-7 5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion. 6 As they go through the Valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools. 7 They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion.

On the last Sunday afternoon in January of 1999, the phone rang and a voice asked me if he could speak to my husband.  At that time, my husband was in Veterinary School and played in a Sunday afternoon InterMural ball league at NC State University.  My papers lay spread out over our dining room table like a patchwork tablecloth where I had been working on lesson plans for my National Board Certification.  

The male’s voice on the phone spoke words that I never expected to hear:  my brother-in-law had been killed by a drunk driver on the previous night on an interstate in Georgia.  He could not reach my inlaws by phone so I was the first family member to receive the horrific news. My eyes poured tears into soft white tissues as I stared out our kitchen window waiting to deliver this news once my husband got home.  Gripping my Bible and the kitchen counter, my knuckles turned white as he arrived. The car door slammed shut, the front door opened and our lives would never be the same.  

When my husband entered our house, he recognized my red splotchy face immediately and inquired, “What’s wrong?”  I told him the news, then he collapsed on my chest and fell to the ground.  

This scene has replayed in my mind now for 21 years.  Prior to it, we were newly married, in our honeymoon phase and new townhome owners.  After that day, tears and silence became our pattern through this valley of weeping. Family and Friends comforted us with cards, food and prayers.  The Holy Spirit held us and my husband’s parents. We now have our new normal without our beloved family member but had to go on a long journey to get to the other side of grief. 

In Psalm 84:5-7, we see a picture of travelers on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to worship but they traveled through the Valley of Baca or Valley of Tears.  This area was a dry and desolate place where there was no water. They had to get through this hard trip but at some point, there was a need to pause and dig until they discovered water. 

There was a way through the valley by the travellers making it a place of springs.  They had to dig down into the ground until they hit water to provide for their physical need to drink and be nourished.  They didn’t just sit around and hope for the best; they took action. They needed to get through the valley of weeping to get to the venue of worship in Jerusalem.  

Not only do we sometimes walk through stress, whether it be relational, financial or spiritual, but we need to always keep in mind that we’re on a pilgrimage, a journey.  We will get through this. But, we’ll get through it by recognizing the power of pausing, praying and pondering truth. It’s taking time to let the healing water flow then he’ll send His Spirit to be our comfort and strength.  Tears will flow, but the rains will eventually come and fill the pools that we dug in the dry valley. The God who always makes a way where there seems to be no way, will help us.   

During my family’s devastation, I decided to listen to encouraging Christian songs, go to church, read my Bible and pray.  Like the traveler heading to Jerusalem through the Valley of Weeping, the outward circumstance caused stress; there were inward feelings of strain and irritation concerning how we would survive the life changing event.  The darkness seemed to last forever but God was with us. His Holy Spirit heard my prayers for the light to return as I saw my husband and his parents weep until they had no more tears. Even through two court trials in Georgia to hold accountable the drunk driver, His presence was there hearing every desperate cry as we endured the details of how Eric died.  

This was a season unlike any other that I have experienced.  In our valley of weeping, we prayed, we cried and we waited. This pause in our lives caused us to dig deep into our life long faith in Jesus.  We had no where else to go but to Him in prayer and by reading His Word. The Spirit of God comforts us in our suffering and in that valley of the shadow of death, He never let us go.

We came out of this time with the knowledge that we’ll see my brother-in-law again in heaven which gives great hope and comfort.  We miss him at every holiday and special event. I know he would have loved our little girls and showered them with love. I’ll never really understand why it had to happen to him, why I’ll never be able to see his face on earth, or why my husband, our marriage and his parents had to endure such turmoil, but I know that God in his great mercy helped us all experience His peace and comfort which strengthened us during our journey through the sadness.

What looks like an impossible journey can provide a reason to stop, pray, read the Word and be refreshed recognizing that God is in control.  He is with us. There is a place of refuge on the other side of the grief. We still are sad and miss our loved one but can function and live our lives to the fullest because God was with us through the valley of weeping. 

This week on January 31, it will be 21 years since Eric left us to be with Jesus. He had wished his precious mother “Happy Birthday” on the day before he passed. Thank you, friends, for your prayers and positive thoughts as this week is always just a bit more difficult.

Conceived

Matthew 1:20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” 

This Christmas season has been different. Our year old cats have broken ornaments after climbing our Christmas tree. They pulled off red ribbon that I had wrapped around the tree so I had to strip the tree of all of its ribbons which circled from the bottom to the top. Apparently, the cats had a party while we slept and jumped on the tree so much that when we awoke on a Saturday morning, we found ornaments strewn on the floor.

I feel like I’ve always known that the true meaning of Christmas is not in a Christmas tree, but I have enjoyed placing special ornaments on the tree. I knew that it would be unwise to decorate the tree this year with anything of sentimental value because there was a pretty good chance that the tree would experience drama from the cats. Sure enough, I was right.

After stripping the red ribbon from the tree and rolling it up, I began thinking about how Jesus had to strip away His will and follow His Father’s perfect plan to come to Earth. His mission was clear: save the world from sin. He had to come and be a part of humanity, cry as a baby, be held by Mary, taught carpentry by his earthly father, Joseph, then go about his heavenly father’s business. His willingness to come required careful planning from God. The Holy Spirit of God orchestrated the entrance of the Jesus into the world.

The Savior of the world came into the world as a human baby after He had been conceived or created in Mary’s womb. I read the words that an angel spoke to Joseph in a dream and accept, by faith, that God who knows all things knew how to place Jesus into Mary’s body. The angel shared words that echo throughout history: “that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit”. The miracle of Jesus being created in Mary’s body is incredible and it teaches me principles of how God carries out His perfect plans.

  1. He thinks though details but doesn’t always share the specifics.
  2. His Holy Spirit will accomplish His perfect plan.
  3. Whatever needs to be created will happen by the power of the Holy Spirit.
  4. By faith, we must accept God’s plans and trust Him with the outcome.

The power of the Holy Spirit accomplished the will of the Father. Jesus left the glory of heaven to come to the Earth with the purpose of saving the world. I know that God provided Jesus in the body of Mary and that he had to have a human birth to become Emmanuel, God With Us. I am grateful that Jesus humbled himself to leave His heavenly home to do what only He could do.

My plan to have a tree decorated with all that made me happy had to change this year. I have come to realize that my plans must be in submission to my father in heaven. I need the power of the Holy Spirit to conceive in me the ideas that I need to function and succeed in my life. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit continues to bring about needed changes in my life and keeps me in tune with the perfect will of God. The word of God, prayer and the work of the Holy Spirit create an environment that helps me focus on the truth and on Jesus who has saved me from my sins.

Thankfully, I will ask him to conceive in my heart the plans that he has for me and for my family. I want to be ready to receive whatever He conceives in me. His Word tells us that God has prepared “things” for those who love him that we haven’t ever seen, heard or conceived. I can count on the Holy Spirit of God to do the work in my heart and in my circumstances to bring about His will in me.

1 Corinthians 2:9 “However, as it is written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” — the things God has prepared for those who love him– “

Captured, Changed and Choreographed

Pumpkins and pansies freshly placed on my porch and in my flower bed transform my view of my house. The flaming orange and yellow dots of color falling from our maple tree are forming a patchwork quilt in my yard with contrasting scarlet leaves. I feel surprised each time I drive up and see the way my home has been transformed with the look of fall.

The season of fall in the South is really a time to just notice and note the world. Squirrels scurry through the yard gathering their final nuts for winter. The cooler breeze dances with the falling leaves. Sunshine illuminates the remaining green leaves on our pin oak tree in the backyard. Maple leaves stick to the driveway after a night of rain.

As if they are waving goodbye, the leaves cling to the tree limbs as they move to and fro. Their final moments of glory are happening. This is it. They have captured carbon dioxide, changed it into oxygen and now choreograph their final dance to the ground. This Autumn Change has begun and will continue until this fall season concludes when winter begins. My view in my yard will soon be a memory due to the change that will happen in the fall foliage; change comes, the leaves fall but not before their radiant red, orange and yellow hues fill the yard ushering in a new season.

While reading about the events that took place in the life of Paul in Acts, I’ve noticed that there are brilliant descriptions of change. The way that Jesus spoke to him on the road to Damascus has always startled me. Paul was persecuting those who followed Jesus. He thought he was right. He needed an awakening so Jesus sent a light from heaven which blinded Paul and allowed him to have an encounter like never before with the very one that he had despised. He changed and saw Jesus as The Way.

Later on in his life after his conversion, we read of how even the cloths that touched Paul were used to heal people. Over and over, I read about Paul sharing about The Way as he traveled and endured many false accusations. God changed Paul and Paul changed the world.

After his conversion, he left Jerusalem and visited many geographical locations. He later would travel back to Jerusalem then back to Cilicia and Rome. His location changed a lot during his life but at each city he visited, He had listened to the leading of God as to where to even go and when to move on. Change in location and life circumstance became Paul’s norm.

Like the leaves, Paul captured the waste in the air; the nasty accusations, the plotting against him and the news that even the leaders weren’t fully supportive. In every case, he accepted the change and planned his next move after praying about it.

I am amazed that Paul produced tremendous texts that to this day still contain truth even though he was under duress while undergoing continual change. God used him to write, to encourage, to correct, to clarify and to compel others to be a part of The Way. God choreographed the events in Paul’s life to rescue him from total destruction and revive him out of uncertain and unsettling moments.

We learn so much from our brother Paul: he didn’t fight the change but accepted it and kept becoming an even better version of himself. In the Spring, the leaves will bud again and come forth as new green life. It will take time for us to see seasons, but Paul just kept having new seasons and rolled with it. He, like the leaves on our trees, captured the poison from the mouths of his enemies, changed the atrocities directed at him like the leaves change the carbon dioxide into oxygen and choreographed new positions geographically, like the leaves travel to new locations, to handle the enemies.

Listen in below on just a few events from Acts 22 about how Paul handled change. These events play out like a motion picture full of intrigue and excitement which inspire me to capture the change moments in life and choreograph my next steps and words very carefully. The Holy Spirit provided the necessary wisdom to help Paul in his states of change. In our lives, the Holy Spirit will give us the wisdom to handle our change moments and to guide our next steps.

As you read this passage from the Bible describing Paul’s life, look for moments of change and how he handled each one with the help of the Holy Spirit. I pray that you will sense how God helped Paul and will also help us as we encounter change.

Acts 22 “Brothers and fathers, hear the defense that I now make before you.”

And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew language, they became even more quiet. And he said:

“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day. I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, as the high priest and the whole council of elders can bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brothers, and I journeyed toward Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished.

“As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’ Now those who were with me saw the light but did not understand the voice of the one who was speaking to me. 10 And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.’ 11 And since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus.

12 “And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, 13 came to me, and standing by me said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And at that very hour I received my sight and saw him. 14 And he said, ‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; 15 for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’

17 “When I had returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance 18 and saw him saying to me, ‘Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about me.’ 19 And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves know that in one synagogue after another I imprisoned and beat those who believed in you. 20 And when the blood of Stephen your witness was being shed, I myself was standing by and approving and watching over the garments of those who killed him.’ 21 And he said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’”

22 Up to this word they listened to him. Then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live.” 23 And as they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, 24 the tribune ordered him to be brought into the barracks, saying that he should be examined by flogging, to find out why they were shouting against him like this.

25 But when they had stretched him out for the whips, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, “Is it lawful for you to flog a man who is a Roman citizen and uncondemned?” 26 When the centurion heard this, he went to the tribune and said to him, “What are you about to do? For this man is a Roman citizen.” 27 So the tribune came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?” And he said, “Yes.” 28 The tribune answered, “I bought this citizenship for a large sum.” Paul said, “But I am a citizen by birth.” 29 So those who were about to examine him withdrew from him immediately, and the tribune also was afraid, for he realized that Paul was a Roman citizen and that he had bound him.

Photo by Lisa Fotios from Pexels

Invited

For a week, I had been cleaning out a messy room in our house filled with old toys. I wanted my daughters’ friends to have a tidy place to gather when they came over for a Friday Night Fun Night at our house. We had invited them and they had responded with a Yes, but then both girls had an unexpected family event occur which prevented them from coming. I had worked hard to clean but the fact was, the visitors couldn’t make it.

I’m glad that when I invite the Holy Spirit of God to move in my life, He shows up. He doesn’t have other plans and desires to be invited into our hearts to help, strengthen and create new things.

I love how the prophet Ezekiel called on the wind to come and blow life into an army that had just been raised up. The wind of God represents His Holy Spirit. In the valley of dry bones, no life existed until Ezekiel spoke to them after God told him to speak and the bones came alive. In order for the army to have breath in their bones, God told Ezekiel to call on the winds to blow into them.

Ezekiel invited the wind and it came. It accomplished the purpose which was to awaken and allow the army of people to breathe again.

Extraordinary times call for extraordinary faith. Ezekiel had the faith needed for God’s work to be done. He invited God to move and expected an answer from God.

Ezekiel knew that the situation looked hopeless with bones scattered throughout the valley, but he believed in the possibility that God could do something on a grand scale. He believed God and spoke. I believe that we too must look at our situations and speak life to them. The circumstances must not cause us to forget all of what God has done in the past and all that He is able to do in the future.

In my church’s Monday night prayer meetings, we have been inviting God to be with us as we praise and worship him through songs. He is pleased with our worship then we pray and ask him to heal bodies, broken hearts and bound lives. I know that as we invite Him to move and work in the lives of our family and friends, we will see great things. We will experience what previously had seemed impossible.

On the night of October 21, 2019, our pastor told us to mark this date down as the night that we prayed fervently for all of the men in our church to be spiritual leaders in their homes. This is part of the prayer that the pastor prayed over the men:

“On this day we are asking God to help you and deliver you so that you will not be ashamed of the Gospel of Christ. Be done with whatever it is. You may need to start something new. In the name of Jesus, I renounce this thorn, this snare and this trap. I want Jesus and to be filled with the Holy Spirit and used by the Lord. Help the men to be leaders of spiritual things in our homes and to pray with their wives. Help the men to be a peacemaker in their homes and spread the love of Jesus. Jesus will applaud you and devils will run. In the name of Jesus!”

We have invited the Holy Spirit to move mightily on all the men in our church and specifically on our husbands. I sent my husband this prayer because he was driving to the prayer meeting from work. Once he arrived, the pastor prayed more over the men and we sang praises to God. It was so sweet to worship alongside my precious husband and to lift up Jesus.

As I stood next to my husband with our arms embracing each other from the side, we sang the “Shout to the Lord” song. One of my favorite parts of the chorus is when we sing, “I sing for joy at the work of your hands.” I remember singing this song while being pregnant with my second child and praising God for how He was forming her in my body. Now, I am praising Him for how he is placing a hedge of protection around my children and my husband to protect their minds and hearts. Another song was a short chorus which had these words repeated: “To Him Who Sits on the Throne and unto the Lamb. Be Blessing and glory and honor and power forever!”

I have invited the Holy Spirit to be welcomed in my home and heart. I ask that you consider how you are inviting God into your life. He is waiting for us to open our hearts and minds to the possibility that there is a new thing, a new hope just around the corner. Invite the Holy Spirit to work in your heart and watch as He answers your prayer.

Propelled

“What’s that sound?” I asked my husband as we were slowly traveling through our cove in a lake. This squeaky noise got louder then went away once we accelerated into open lake water only to appear again about 15 minutes into our trip. Dark clouds appeared on the horizon so he turned the boat around only to hear that awful something-is-wrong-with-this-boat clamor. We arrived back in our cove and creeped back to our dock. The screeching originated from the back of the boat.

No working boat meant our daughters’ times to go tubing were gone. My husband had spent a dozen Saturdays replacing the floor and wood which had rotted in places. He had installed new carpet on the boat and fixed upholstery. Now, none of this mattered.

After my husband and his dad investigated the noise, they decided the propeller needed replacing. No propeller resulted in our boat sitting still. So, they drove 30 minutes away to buy a new propeller then installed it with the boat in the water as dusk fell.

The boat is like a new one now going even faster than before.

Just replacing the propeller allowed the new propeller to work with, not against, the engine to propel the boat forward. The old propeller looked exhausted, having broken chunks and dings all over it. The new one created new thrust so we could have forward momentum across the lake.

How do you know when to replace a boat’s propeller before it breaks while you’re on the boat? The experts recommend overhauling your propeller if one of three issues are present:

1.) Your propeller has been damaged due to impact or corrosion.

2.) You have exceeded your propeller’s operational life limit.

3. You are looking for a significant performance increase.

From: http://hartzellprop.com/consider-propeller-replacement/

The boat must have an engine and a propeller in order to work properly. Sure, we had paddles on the boat but wouldn’t need to use them since the forward momentum should happen when the engine and propeller work together.

In our lives as Believers in Jesus, the Holy Spirit provides power for service and boldness to share the good news that Jesus saves. I have realized now that we are like the propeller and the Holy Spirit is the engine. If I am spiritually healthy, my life will have a greater impact when my heart is in alignment with the Holy Spirit. God guides me, propelling me into the steps that He has planned for me. But sometimes, I realize I am not headed anywhere based on hurtful memories or damaging words from someone in my life and pressure to be everything to everyone.

In order for a boat or airplane to remain safe and healthy, a propeller assessment is needed to be sure that the vehicle works with the engine and arrives safely to its destination. We could use the same criteria that propeller experts use to evaluate our lives.

1. Have we been damaged by impact or corrosion? Have the actions of another dented our bumper? Could the corrosive effects of hurt and shame cover our forgiven and free hearts? I assure you that God heard those comments from people who hurt you. Ask Him to give you the courage to stand. Ephesians 6:13-19 reminds us of what to do when we are under fire or been damaged in some way:

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints— and for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel.

2. Have we exceeded our operational life limits? Have all the pressures that pull at us caused exhaustion or a time of stalling? When we feel tired, worn out and not enough, then it is time to stop, cry out to God and lay it all out before Him.

Our propeller couldn’t stand it any longer so it screeched. Are you making comments that in retrospect show burn out? I know that God can restore even the most tired and worn out person. All we have to do is ask Him to help in our time of need. Psalm 46:1 reminds us to let God take care of us when we feel that we are not enough. He is always enough for us. Psalm 46:1 “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”

3. Are we looking to increase our performance?

I would like for God to help me to speak life and share truth from His Word effectively. I like to blog and pray that the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of readers. I think it is interesting that Paul asked others to pray specifically for him because he wanted to increase his effectiveness. I also desire for God to increase my effectiveness in my marriage, my parenting, my health and in my relationships with others. Here is insightful commentary on Paul’s request:

Paul asked for prayer to have a bold and clear proclamation of the Gospel.

The gospel was of first importance for the Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 15:3). His gospel focus comes out in his personal prayer requests.

He requests prayer for the right words in sharing the gospel (Ephesians 6:19), to proclaim the gospel without fear (Ephesians 6:20), clarity in communication (Colossians 4:4), doors to be opened for the gospel (Colossians 4:2), and that God’s word would speed ahead and be honored (2 Thessalonians 3:1). He doesn’t want to leave any room for miscommunication but rather prays and requests prayer for the gospel to “run” through his ministry.

This focus shows the deep compassion and eternal focus of Paul–something we would all be better to emulate.”

From: https://www.leadershipresources.org/blog/prayer-requests-of-paul/

My prayer is that we will ask God to empower us to stand, to extend His grace to help in our times of need and to effectively communicate with others. I want the gospel of Jesus to be my focus so that others may know Him. A spiritual overhaul that can only be accomplished through the Holy Spirit working in our lives will increase our life’s peace and joy in the journey.

If we are to propel effectively like God designed us, then we must evaluate ourselves then let the Holy Spirit do the heart overhaul.