Thursday, August 18, 2016

A Bucket of Love

God sent me a treasure of encouragement this morning, a gift designed to turn my heart toward Him and I am still stunned by its simplicity and potential for transforming this day from the mundane into the majestic.

The means by which He delivered this treasure reminded me of the priceless gift of covenant community experienced when God's women gather. I recently enjoyed meeting with our small group that is studying Psalms. I soaked up the words and insights of my sisters as our leader guided us deeper into the truths of Psalm 32. We were daughters of the King enjoying a family gathering as we considered this "letter" from our Father.What difference would this study of confession and repentance make in our lives?

This morning I began working through our next assignment, Psalm 33. I picked apart the first few verses: Sing joyfully to the Lord, Praise the Lord with the harp; make music to Him, Sing to him a new song; play SKILLFULLY; SHOUT for joy.

The rest of the passage declared multiple reasons for me to joyfully proclaim with music, my words and my life, the goodness and unfailing love of God.

And there it was. That treasure of encouragement that helped turn my heart toward Him in a new way:

May your unfailing love REST upon us, O Lord, even as we put our hope in you. (Psalm 33:22) 

I turned back to Psalm 32:10 and read:

 Many are the woes of the wicked, but the Lord's unfailing love SURROUNDS the man who trusts in him.

God's love RESTS on me; SURROUNDS me.

Have you ever watched the colors of a sunset spread out like a can of spilled paint?

In that moment this morning, that's how God's love looked to me. I imagined a bucket of God's deep, pulsating passion for me resting on my head. And then with a smile, in a surprising move, He tipped it over and covered me, surrounded me with love that is unfailing, steadfast.

How do I take this moment into my day, I thought. I pictured the waiting tasks: a doctor's visit, errands, time with some of our grandkids, laundry, cleaning, preparing a meal for a friend. I started imagining how an intentional recognition of God's surrounding love could impact my response to the needs of the day, my interaction with cashiers and the doctor's staff, and our grandchildren or unexpected phone calls or emails. How could this treasure of encouragement from God Himself make me more like Jesus in my response to others?

My day looks different than it did a few hours ago because I'm more aware that God's love rests on me and surrounds me. I plan to look for evidence of that love wherever I go. I have a feeling I may be challenged with difficult circumstances, perhaps an irritating person, or a disappointment - only God knows (Psalm 33 reminds me of His sovereignty and that He considers everything I do). But this treasure of encouragement is equipping, enabling and exhorting me to look for His love in those challenges. And then to display that love no matter what.

I have a feeling that God may be giving this same treasure to someone reading these words. If so, it's exactly what you need to help turn your heart toward Him. Are you His child? His love rests on you! His love surrounds you! May the adventure of seeing and experiencing that love begin right now!

In His Grip,

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Little is Much.......From Misery to Mercy to Ministry

Ten years after the fatal car accident that took the lives of our son, Mark, and his friend, Kelly, my search for help and hope continued. Grief is never ending, a constant companion that reluctantly hides or takes a back seat for awhile, but is always lurking. No matter how vigilant the grieving person, it's impossible to keep grief locked up in a closet for too long.Often a grieving person starts her journey thinking that the only viable help and hope has to carry the title, "How to Deal with Grief."

We often deal with lots of life issues in this way. A young mom only wants to attend a Bible study that focuses on being a young mom. Or a struggling couple thinks a topical study of marriage is their only avenue for strengthening the weak places. But the reality of Scripture is that it is alive. The alert students recognize that no matter their life issues, there is truth that applies to their unique needs. I learned this valuable lesson in my own quest for comfort and wisdom through the Scriptures. Early in my grief journey, grief resources sustained me. But soon I needed more. Surprisingly, scriptures that did not mention grief became the heart and soul of surviving daily life.

The Desperately Poor Widow

At first glance, the story of the broken-hearted widow who faced the loss of her two sons to slavery does not seem to have any application for a grieving mother whose youngest son is gone forever. But, as Chuck preached through the life of Elisha and couched these stories in the theme of moving from misery to mercy to ministry, I recognized that Elisha's encounters with needy people had one recurring truth that applied to me specifically. Elisha regularly asked, "How can I help you?" He often followed that question with another. He challenged those in need to consider what was in their own hearts and lives that could be poured out for the good of others. No matter how empty and needy they thought they were.

In the past few weeks I've shared some thoughts about this impoverished widow who faced the loss of her two sons.

Catch up on the previous posts here:

Nothing Except....From Misery to Mercy to Ministry, Part 1

Nothing Except....From Misery to Mercy to Ministry, Part 2

Nothing Except,..From Misery to Mercy to Ministry, Part 3

Her bills had piled up because of a three year drought caused by the curse Elijah had pronounced on the nation. Her husband was a prophet who most likely received little "payment" for his work and then was murdered by Jezebel, as retribution for Elijah's war against her. Josephus believed that the widow was the wife of Obadiah, the prophet who hid and fed one hundred of the prophets Ahab wanted to kill.

 For more on this desperate woman, listen to Chuck's message, Little is Much.
Or download the entire series for free: Misery to Mercy to Ministry

This terrified, destitute and probably starving widow begs Elisha for help.

His first words, "How can I help you?"  must have encouraged her that help was on the way but before she could respond he asked,: "Tell me, what do you have in your house?" And as we know, her response was, "Your servant has nothing there at all....except a little oil."

What potent words! Elisha is moving her from misery to a place of experiencing mercy so that she can offer ministry to her family, her sons. Little did she know that through her obedience, help was on the way.

Getting back to my own need as I listened to this story. What did anything in this Biblical account have to do with me, a mother still deeply grieving ten years after the death of her youngest child?

I could hear the Lord asking me, "How can I help you?" And before I begged him to give me back my son, He continued, "What do you have in your heart? In your home?"

Nothing! This pathway is too hard. I have nothing more to give.

Of course, that was not even close to truth. Chuck's message challenged me to consider carefully what I had to offer that could make an impact on those in my own home and to my extended circle. And not only encourage others but be a means for helping heal my own shattered heart. Slowly, the challenge of Elisha to the widow, also challenged me, "Sharon, what do you have in your heart?"

The choice was clear. Choose life. Offer what you perceive as little to the Lord. In your broken place, identify the little you have, obey His call to service in the little things, and watch Him multiply that little into much.

Little is much when God is in it.

In God's economy, little is much. A little stone took down a great giant (David and Goliath).
A little cloud became a great storm (Elijah and Jezebel).
A little child sitting on the knee of Jesus taught the twelve disciples.
Two loaves and five fishes fed thousands.

A seemingly insignificant broken-hearted widow stepped out in faith and her little bit of oil multiplied into enough to pay her debts and feed her sons. Her big step of faith in obeying what seemed like crazy words from the prophet, also sustained her! Her weakness turned into strength. What is that favorite verse of so many? In my weakness, He is strong. His grace is sufficient!

What a picture of God healing a broken heart, moving a broken woman from misery to experiencing mercy to extending ministry.

How does God heal broken hearts?

 He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. Psalm 147:3-4

The holy other God,  the one who creates and numbers the stars, this is our God who  is present in the dark places of the broken heart. And He is the one who multiplies the little we have into sustenance for not only our own spiritual hunger but those around us. But we have to make choices. Especially when we feel empty or terrified that by offering what little we have will completely deplete us.

The oil is multiplied in the pouring. This widow could have held tightly to the oil that she had but Elisha demands that she pour out what little she had into empty jars....a symbol of pouring out what we have into the lives of others. What a picture of redemption....pouring out what little we have into the lives of others.....trusting the Lord to multiply our investment His way.

Rather than hoard what little she had, she poured into one bottle at a time. One bottle at a time. And as she poured into empty jars,God transformed those empty jars into a powerful means to not only pay her debts, which was her only request. But to also sustain her family. Through her obedience God gave more than she asked, but everything she needed.

How many untapped people are there in our lives, our homes, our churches, our work places, empty people who don't even know how empty they are, whose own emptiness can be transformed into life-giving influence - if we pour our little into them?

She had to pour it out in order to be filled. She had to choose to take a risk at losing what little she had.  -Elisha gave her the command, the opportunity to experience a transformed heart but she had to take the first step. She had to "just do it!"

So the widow did what appeared foolish. She gave up what little she had. The message of the Gospel often feels foolish. Sharing scripture because we have nothing else to give, with a person who can barely breathe because of their emotional pain. How in the world can scripture turn a broken heart toward hope? Little is much when God is in it.

The Covenant Family

This woman involved her kids. Her kids were the reason for the miracle in the first place. Think of it, she desperately wanted to "save" them. How desperate are we to reflect redemption for our kids,  not so they will be "good kids" but so they will experience redemption themselves? What little, mundane things must we do, day after day after day, thinking they are insignificant, but it's all we have to offer. Perhaps that is the very "little" that will draw a prodigal child back when the world starts falling down around him.

The oil kept flowing as long as she had empty jars.  God deploys us one step at a time as we use our gifts and keeps His power flowing for the present needs, met by our obedience - in the mundane, insignificant moments of life....
whether it is changing diapers, cleaning toilets, planning meals again and again and again, driving our kids to school, working on a budget, meeting a needy friend for lunch, telling a young frustrated mommy she's doing a good job, preparing a Bible study, serving on a committee, getting involved in your neighborhood's activities, offering a respite for the mom whose child with special needs is having an especially bad month, meeting Him in the morning before the sun shines, praying fervently for loved ones, seeking forgiveness for a pride-filled argument, compromising for the sake of peace and communicating value to the other person, taking out the garbage when our husband refuses, taking a step into a new experience though fearful.

A few months before Mark's death, I was invited to serve on our denomination's national women's ministry team. I didn't want to do it. I was scared because the other women on the team seemed so far ahead of me spiritually. I was new to the denomination so I didn't understand a lot of the conversations that were so easy for them. Unlike the other women, I didn't know most of the denominational leadership or understand the history. But my husband encouraged me to step out and offer what little I had. Unbeknownst to any of us, God was preparing a safe place for me to grieve. With just that one fearful step of obedience, God would not only sustain me, but show me how to pour out what little I had to sustain others in their own broken places.These women encouraged me to grieve transparently, to see even this darkness as a gift to offer to the church as a means to help turn the hearts of others toward Jesus. Though that season was the midnight of life, these women helped me learn how to sing in the darkness.

One nervous, scared, young woman, needlessly intimidated by those further along in life, found extreme comfort and safety in the very place I was afraid to go. God was preparing a way for me, when I didn't know I would need that way. At a time when all I wanted to do was hide and curl up in a ball, completely detached from the world, these women encouraged me to keep asking, "What do I have in my heart that I can offer to others that will help turn their hearts toward Jesus?"

Little is much when God is in it.

Little is much when God is in it.

So, as we leave this widow, we must answer the same question, "What do you have in your house - your heart - that you think is little, but is just waiting for God to multiply into something big? Is it time to choose to experience moving from misery to mercy to ministry? Is it time to pour your little bit into the empty heart of another, risking what little you have? Little is much when God is in it.

In His grip,

Monday, August 1, 2016

Nothing Except.....From Misery to Mercy to Ministry, Part 3

The hysterical young woman could not catch her breath. Ugly crying. Slowly, she obeyed my instructions to breathe in through her nose and out through her mouth. The tears continued to roll as she described her family crisis and each word felt like a hammer to my own soul. How could I help her? I wanted to say, "I got nothin'" but my faith forced me to step back and send that SOS prayer, "Jesus, help!"

Did Elisha feel that way when the desperate preacher's widow cried and begged him to save her sons from the creditors? Maybe just for an instant! But what flowed from his mouth not only challenges me when I feel hopeless but is a counseling technique that has equipped me to guide a broken person from  misery to mercy to ministry.

Just Do It
Just do it. If the desperate widow described in my previous two posts lived today, Elisha might have had to utter this three-word Nike slogan to get her to respond to his mysterious instructions: "You and your son, gather up as many empty bottles and jars from your neighbors as you can find....."

 [For the Back Story of the Widow and Elisha
See Nothing Except...From Misery to Mercy to Ministry and Nothing Except.....From Misery to Mercy to Ministry, Part 2]

I imagine how I might have responded if I were her. An incredulous look, slumped shoulders, a deep sigh, concluding this crazy prophet isn't going to help me save my boys.

 I wonder if Elisha gave her "the look." If you had a father like mine, you know that look.

"Just do it. Do what I said."

I believe that's what Elisabeth Elliot had in mind when she stated:

Does it make sense to pray for guidance about the future if we are not obeying in the thing that lies before us today? How many momentous events in Scripture depended on one person's seemingly small act of obedience! Rest assured: Do what God tells you to do now, and, depend upon it, you will be shown what to do next.

Elisabeth Elliot and Daughter Valarie, living with those who killed Jim
Elisabeth Elliot was married to Jim Elliot.  They served as missionaries to the Waodani tribe in Ecuador.  They had a 10 month old daughter.  Along with other families, they prayed and surrendered and followed God's leading to this isolated place.  They prayed for protection but more than that, they prayed for God's purposes to be fulfilled, that people would come to know Jesus. To their shock, Jim and four other husbands died when they were attacked by the very people they came to touch with the gospel of Jesus.

I imagine Elisabeth prayed words similar to the despairing widow. And perhaps God's direction shocked her - return and love those who murdered your husband. Do you think her unflappable exhortation to obedience is rooted not only in Scripture but her own life's calling?

After the deaths of our son,Mark, and his friend,Kelly,I turned to Elisabeth as a long distance mentor, hungry for someone ahead of me in this grief journey to call back and tell me what to do, how to face each day.Discipline, the Glad Surrender was in our library, calling my name.

But as I read the first few pages, I wanted to throw it across the room. For threaded throughout her words was a clarion call to obey, to do the next thing, no matter how painful or hard. Years later I told Elisabeth how her book and ultimately her unwavering faith and trust in our Lord impacted me in those dark moments. Because one day I read all of it and recognized that doing the next thing, no matter how insignificant that act might appear, is critical to experiencing the help and hope that Jesus offers. Elisabeth's grace-filled response to me reminded me again of how surrender to God's purposes becomes the perfect grid through which to push His call to obedience in the mundane, with complete confidence that His purposes are perfect.

This despairing widow's response to Elisha's instructions reflects the same message of Elisabeth's words:

Rest assured: Do what God tells you to do now, and, depend upon it, you will be shown what to do next.

Read Nothing Except....From Misery to Mercy to Ministry, Part 2 to learn about the profound way this woman's obedience moved her from misery to mercy to ministry. And let this despairing widow be a spiritual mother for us today.

Teaching Moments

#1 Teaching Moment
 Sometimes God asks us to do something with no explanation of why or how our obedience might benefit us.  Elisha did not explain the whole plan to the widow.  He gave her one step at a time.  If she didn't obey the first seemingly crazy step, she would not have experienced the miraculous treasure of God meeting the needs of her family. She had to beg her neighbors for help with no idea of how God would use that step to meet her needs. Is God calling you to obedience that seems fruitless and perhaps a pathway that you believe will lead to humiliation or more hurt? For instance, "Honor your husband."  Years ago I taught a Bible study called The Challenge of Being a Woman. After the class on respecting our husbands a young wife cried to me, "I can't stand my husband.  How am I supposed to respect him.  I don't even like him."

I asked her to tell me about him and why she married him. In other words, "What do you have in your house....let's find something you do like about this man." It was hard for her to get past her emotions, but eventually she recognized that he wasn't as bad as she thought. I gave her this assignment. "Respect is an act of the will, not an emotion. Let's make respecting your husband very practical. Every day this week, write your husband a note in which you appreciate one tiny thing you do like about him. Do this in spite of your feelings.  Do not lie.  Start with thanking him for going to work each day to support your family.  If he loads the dishwasher, thank him for that, or taking out the trash or filling up the car gas tank."  At first she resisted because she felt it was hypocritical since she didn't "feel" grateful. But then agreed she would do what I said.  The next week she grabbed me and exclaimed, "What started out as drudgery has ended up being fun! My husband doesn't know what has happened to me or what to expect, but he likes it and I'm starting to rediscover my love for my husband!"

Of course, this is a simple story and deeper problems require deeper obedience and long term transformation.  But sometimes that transformation can start with a simple, humble act of obedience on the part of one person.  The widow had to put aside her pride and "beg" for help from her neighbors.  Trusting the man of God's direction without knowing how in the world such obedience would lead her to a place of peace and security required action on her part.

#2. Teaching Moment
How often do we ask God to solve a problem for us quickly and with His power and He refuses a quick fix.  Instead, He wants simple obedience to every day directives, such as respect your husband, love your neighbor, forgive others because such obedience will have a much BIGGER impact than if He performed a quick miracle. Little is much when God is in it.

This widow was empty and was probably expecting Elisha to help her by paying her bills. Yet instead of a quick fix, God wants the widow's faith and the faith of her sons to deepen. Elisha tells her to look around for other empty jars.  She learned that what little she had could fill those jars when she obeyed. And that those filled jars would fill up the empty places in her life (pay her bills) and she would have enough left over to meet the ongoing needs of her boys and herself.  When we are broken, we think we have nothing to give to others and in fact, don't even have the energy to look around for other empty jars.
Yet sometimes that is exactly the moment God wants us to look around and see who else is empty and needs us to pour what little we have in to their lives, trusting God to not only meet their needs, but to give back to us more than we could have ever envisioned needing.It seems counter intuitive, but when we obediently pour our sometimes broken lives into the the empty vessels of others, God often works a miracle of healing in us.

#3 Teaching Moment
Order Here
Sometimes our lives are not about us but about those watching us.  The widow's sons witnessed and participated in this faith moment.  I wonder how this miracle impacted their lives and equipped them to walk by faith.  Who is watching you or me?  When I wanted to quit writing Treasures in Darkness, A Grieving Mother Shares Her Heart Chuck told me to write for our grandchildren, because some day they will face broken places in their lives and our story might help turn their hearts toward our God with trust and obedience. Our obedience often becomes an investment in the life of another and our legacy, sometimes like a little acorn, grows into a big sheltering tree, providing safety and life for generations to come.

Back to my hysterical friend who could barely get the despairing words through her sobs and wails.   I could not fix her.  But what did I have "in my house" that God could supernaturally transform in to something meaningful for her? It seemed ludicrous at the time but I "felt" God telling me to ask her to read some scriptures. My gut response was, "She is hyper ventilating, how in the world can she read anything?' Yet, the only sure thing I had was His Word so I opened my Bible to His promises and asked her to read aloud scriptures like this one: "The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord; he is their stronghold in time of trouble."  The Lord helps them and delivers them; he delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in him.  Psalm 37:39-40
Her incredulous look at my request echoed my original response to God's nudge. But, though she could barely see the words through her tears and was unable to finish a sentence because of her sobs she took the Bible and slowly began to read.  With each word, her emotions settled and her voice grew stronger.  Her problems were the same but her perspective supernaturally changed and she was able to meet the needs of her family with hope and courage because of God's Word.

I've seen God do that same supernatural work in broken women again and again, as they read out loud His living Word - He calms our hearts and gives us hope.

What do you have in your house? Attempt great things for God. Expect great things from God.

In His grip,

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Nothing Except....From Misery to Mercy to Ministry - Part 2

We were newly-wed, twenty-one years old and in New York City for the Billy Graham Crusade School on Evangelism. One of the seminars was in an old city church and on the wall was a plaque with these memorable words:

Expect Great Things from God
Attempt Great Things for God - William Carey

Chuck and I  saw this exhortation as our unique marching orders from our God and we enthusiastically accepted the call. Yes!  We would do just what William Carey challenged us to do.  Nothing could stand in the way of our desire to do something "BIG" for our God.  Chuck was a new believer and I was newly dedicated to walk by faith, no matter how difficult the pathway. 

GREAT - yes GREAT - would be our impact.

So when God opened doors for Chuck to pastor a tiny, dying inner city Philadelphia church while he attended seminary, our answer was, "YES!"
 It did not matter that Chuck's salary would be below poverty level. We had Jesus! It didn't matter that this little church was dying. We would turn around this little congregation into a vibrant, living testimony to God's power and grace!  We planned, prayed and dreamed of the day this BIG, beautiful, stone building with enormous, glorious stained glass windows that told the story of Jesus, our GREAT Savior. would one day be packed!
  We would succeed in our passion to turn our world upside down for Jesus.  No matter that only 30 people were left in this once vibrant mission, established in 1903.  We had a call - Attempt GREAT things for God.  Expect GREAT things from God.  And surely, a GREAT BIG vibrant city church was God's will and we would make it happen!
Twenty-one years old.  Pastoring a church as a "one-year-old" Christian with no background as a Protestant.  Ah, yes, we would definitely turn things upside down.  But not exactly as we planned. 

God's definition of GREAT is often quite different from our own.

God's idea of great was to use that little congregation as our School Master. Something great was happening, but it was not in the size of the congregation. The greatness could not be measured with numbers. Something great was happening in our hearts. Three years later Chuck asked to be moved to a suburban church. Instead God redeployed us to another inner-city church - this one deeper in the city and far more dangerous.  In a neighborhood whose claim to fame was that it had the highest rate of day time gang killings.  A once white, prosperous, Polish neighborhood.  Now, numerous ethnic groups and skin colors.  Our children's best friends were Bindu and Sindu Babu, two little Indian girls who lived in an apartment that overlooked our postage stamp, fenced in concrete yard.  Women carrying grocery bags on their heads was a common sight. Such diversity made our move more exciting. YES, this time, we will do something GREAT for God in this tiny dying inner city church.  After we moved in to the huge old parsonage one of the leaders told Chuck, "This is three dying congregations that came together out of desperation. We're gasping for breath. The hearse is backed up to the door....." implying, "Good luck."

Our first Sunday in our new mission.  We should have been high on Jesus.  Yet, after I put the two babies down for their naps, I found my young pastor husband crying quietly as he sat on the front porch.  The promised "amazing music program" consisted of a powerful pipe organ and a choir of 3 elderly women.  One couple without white hair sat in the pews of the 500 seat sanctuary.  The other 27 were elderly, tired and almost hopeless as they listened to this new energetic, twenty-four year old preacher call them to action and silently wondered who this young guy thought was going to do all the work to accomplish his vision. 
"Go for it!" was their response. 

I didn't know how to respond to Chuck's soft words, "Sharon, there is so much work. Look at this community that needs Jesus.  I don't know where to start. The needs are beyond me. We are so alone. I don't want to stay here."

William Carey, 1761-1834
What does attempting GREAT THINGS FOR GOD look like in a dying church, a young pastor's family, a congregation of people longing for something more, desperate to hold on to the past glory, not sure what expecting great things from God looks like? William Carey, the one credited with this great quote was called  the father of modern missions and lived in the late 1700's.  I'm thinking that if he lived today, he would say that attempting great things for God was his mission statement and this one, also credited to him was his business plan: 

 "I can plod.  I can persevere in any definite pursuit.  To this I owe everything."

 Over the next few weeks, Elisha's question to the hopeless widow in 2 Kings 4:1 [See Part 1 for an introduction to this broken widow's story:  Nothing Except....From Misery to Mercy to Ministry, Part 1   took on life as we began to take stock of what little we had to offer in what felt like a hopeless mission. Chuck concluded, "If only I had two strong families who shared the vision of the Gospel...." But there didn't seem to be anyone who had the energy or the passion for Kingdom Building in this neighborhood.
Chuck's cry to the Lord, "The inner city is not where I want to be. What have You done bringing us to this place? I have nothing to give to this needy community. The needs are bottomless."

Implied in that cry was, "I am your servant. I gave you my life. Surely you have something more exciting for me to do than trudge through life in this dying community, all by myself."

Chuck's cries sound eerily like the widow in 2 Kings, when she reminds Elisha that her preacher husband, one of Elisha's guys, is dead,murdered by Elisha's arch enemy, Jezebel, implying Elisha must take responsibility for saving her family.

Elisha's response to the widow is not much different than God's response to us in those lonely days. 

Watch as the prophet Elisha seems to callously respond to a grief-stricken, hopeless widow's pleas for help from him and see if you can detect the similarities. She is about to lose her two sons. The widow's husband was one of the prophets murdered by the wicked Jezebel. Surely Elisha, God's representative should take responsibility for saving her penniless family. A creditor is coming to take her two sons as payment for her bills. She asks Elisha for help. She has nothing - or does she? Elisha asks her a critical question, one that we would do well to ask ourselves when life seems hopeless:

,"What do you have in your house?" Her response, "Nothing, except......"

Nothing, except......
What is the "except" in your house, your hands?

"Nothing....except....well, I have a little bit of oil." She most likely was thinking, "The oil is worthless, Elisha - not even enough to bake a loaf of bread.  And in fact, I don't even have flour for what can you do with that? Can't you just pay my bills so that my sons aren't made slaves?" Maybe Elisha could have paid the bills for her, but he had something better in mind, a life lesson that would not only pay the bills today but meet her needs in the future. Elisha was about to show this widow how to attempt something great for God and to expect something great from God.

And God could have magically filled that city church with like-minded, passionate about the Gospel families. But He had something bigger in mind for us.

The Widow starts to see hope in the mundane.

Elisha's directive in response to her answer had to be even more confusing, but this desperate woman immediately obeys his directions, "Go around and ask (beg) all your neighbors for empty jars.  Don't ask for just a few (expect something big and GREAT to happen!).  Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons (I LOVE that Elisha wants her sons to witness this miracle).  Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side."

She left him and afterward shut the door behind her and her sons (this is a private, family miracle).  They brought the jars to her and she kept pouring.

Imagine the excitement growing with the filling of each jar!
When all the jars were full, she said to her son, "Bring me another one."
But he replied, "There is not a jar left."  Then the oil stopped flowing.  She went and told the man of God, and he said, "Go, sell the oil and pay your debts.  You and your sons can live on what is left." 
2 Kings 4:3 - 7

God's response to Chuck's hopeless cries was similar to Elisha's response to this broken widow. "Chuck, what do you have in your heart?"

Chuck's response: "Nothing except disappointment, despair, weariness....well, nothing except .... a love for Jesus and His people."

God's Response: "Start walking your neighborhood and extending that love to each person you meet. Extend that love to each person in this dying church. Tell them: 'God loves you and so do I!"

Such a directive seemed like spraying a destructive roaring fire with a water gun instead of a fire hose. But each day, I watched as Chuck said those words over and over again. The neighbors took notice of this young, vibrant pastor who spent time on the streets connecting with young people and before long, our home filled up with hope and laughter and transformed lives.

God was using this little dying church as our second School Master, teaching us that obedience in the mundane things is often the key that unlocks the "great things" God has planned for each of us.

 Elisabeth Elliot once stated:

“Does it make sense to pray for guidance about the future if we are not obeying in the thing that lies before us today? How many momentous events in Scripture depended on one person's seemingly small act of obedience! Rest assured: Do what God tells you to do now, and, depend upon it, you will be shown what to do next.” 

In my next post, this despairing widow will be a spiritual mother for us, as we pull "Teaching Moments" from her life. In the meantime, "Do what God tells you to do now, and depend upon it, you will be shown what to do next."

In His grip,

PS Catch up on the introduction to the story of Elisha and the widow: Nothing Except....From Misery to Mercy to Ministry

Monday, July 18, 2016

Nothing, except....From Misery to Mercy to Ministry

 "I need help!  My preacher husband is dead! We're out of money. The bill collectors are coming to enslave my two sons as payment for all of our unpaid bills.  Please, help me!"

Though written thousands of years ago (2 Kings 4), this story, ripe with dread, need, and desperation, holds current applications that can transform the way we respond to impossible circumstances.

The Background
Elisha, the prophet has taken on the mantle of Elijah, the prophet. During Elijah's tenure, Ahab and Jezebel murdered God's prophets (I Kings 18:13, 18:4; 19:1) and it's probable that the widow who cried these words to Elisha, is the wife of one of the murdered prophets:

The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, "Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the Lord.  But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves."

Elisha's response:  What do you have in your house?

Let's imagine this widow as a normal, emotional woman who is about to watch her sons dragged away into slavery from which they will never escape. Do you think that Elisha's question satisfied the widow's expectations?  Implied in her plea to Elisha is, "YOU need to fix this. My husband was a faithful servant - YOUR servant. You owe him this, Elisha."

Did she feel his response minimized her need, her right to cry out in despair? Maybe Elisha came across as indifferent to her anguish. I wonder if the widow refrained from lashing back with, "Do you think I'm an idiot, that I haven't used everything possible to save my boys? What kind of a question is that!"

Elisha doesn't join her despair party, but instead challenges her to get a  grip, and consider carefully the blessings God has entrusted to her.  He assumes that there is still something in her house that God can grow into a miracle.

Right in Front of Our Eyes
Sometimes a solution is right in front of our eyes, but we can't see it through our tears or frustration.  Our dishwasher door refused to close.  I made sure the racks were hitting the back of the dishwasher and confirmed that nothing was in the way.  I concluded the latch was broken and made an appointment with a repair man.  He immediately pulled out the top rack and removed a glass pot lid and said,"Here's the problem."  I stood behind him and shook my head "no" to Chuck.  I KNEW that was not the problem.  The repairman then closed the dishwasher door.  All done.  Yes, I was embarrassed.

Sometimes a solution or at least part of the solution is right in front of us but we need someone else to show us the way.  Elisha forces the widow to view her circumstances through a different grid.  Did she initially shake her head "no" at Elisha's calm response to her desperation?

 She had to reboot her thinking to get her mind and emotions aligned with Elisha's direction.  She responds, "I have nothing.....except a little oil...."

Elisha was about to show this widow how to attempt something great for God and to expect something great from God which we'll unpack in our next post.

Teaching Moments

In the meantime, there are some life-changing teaching moments in this story, not only for the one struggling but the one who can help.

Teaching Moment #1:  When in need, ask for help.
We sense the widow has no one to turn to except for Elisha and she does. She admits she needs help. How many of us wait until the point of desperation to humbly ask for help?

Teaching Moment #2:  Know Your Limitations
Elisha knew his limitations.  He couldn't help her, but God could.  His question, What do you have in your house starts to help the widow to re-evaluate her circumstances.  His question challenged her with: Are your really without hope?  Has your crisis blinded you to one blessing, one thing, one hope? And ultimately, has God really abandoned you? In the middle of my own frustration melt-downs, those questions initially frustrate me more, but when I take a deep breath and listen carefully, I begin to see that perhaps there is something hopeful that I missed.

Teaching Moment #3:  Choose to listen and act
Elisha's question is like a glass of cold water thrown in the face of a hysterical woman.  Widow, stop, think.  This is an opportunity for God to do something amazing.
But she had to listen to him and put aside any frustration or anger toward his simple solution.  She allows him to lead her to a place of hope.

Teaching Moment #4: Nothing is small in God's hands
What we have may seem insignificant in the face of the crisis, the lost job, the broken marriage or wayward child.  But Elisha's question challenges us to take inventory.  What do I really have in my house, my hands, my heart?  Submit it all to Him.  My time, my relationships, my work, my home.  My treasure.

The widow listened when Elisha in essence challenged her with, "This is terrible, yes.  But is there really no hope?" In my next post, we'll see that she also acted in response to his direction.

Teaching Moment #5:  With God nothing is Impossible
Initially all the widow can see is nothing.  The despair, hopelessness, her son gone.  But maybe Elisha raised his eyebrows at her first response, "I have nothing..."  And maybe just that look forced her to think again and then a light slowly goes on.  Hope starts to dawn.  "Well, ok, I have something, a little oil...."

Teaching Moment #6:  From Misery to Mercy to Ministry
We see Elijah slowly, methodically moving her from misery to mercy to ministry.  He doesn't deny her problem.  But he helps her to see her circumstances through a different grid.  She begins to believe that maybe, just maybe, God will transform the mundane into the majestic.

This widow moves from misery: I have no one to help me, I have nothing, no one cares about me....why does everything bad happen to me...

To Mercy - Well, I have little oil... Instead of no hope, well maybe.....her attitude starts to change.

As we continue the story, we'll see God expanding that little bit of hope into a miracle of ministry.

In His grip,

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Law Enforcement: The Families Behind the Badge

The headlines scream the stunning news far too often: Officer killed in the line of duty. What happens to the families of these brave men and women? How long do they search for the whys, why did this happen to us? To our loved one? Why would God let this happen? What about law enforcement families who lose their loved one in an off-duty death? In this interview,  Law Enforcement: The Families Behind the Badge  by MARKINC Ministries,  Chuck and I ask these questions and more of two adults who were children when their law enforcement dad and his partner were killed by gunfire outside of their police station. Along with their transparent answers, you will also hear from the sister of a law enforcement officer whose off-duty death showed her the unique grief and loss of a law enforcement family, no matter the cause of death. We are confident this transparent and practical interview will not only encourage law enforcement families but will help those who love them better understand their grief journey. 

The current events in our country stir up the grief and pain of their loss and some of the impact is just now coming to the surface as they learn of other law enforcement families experiencing the same devastating loss. Almost one million men and women leave their homes every day with the sole purpose of providing protection for the people of the United States. It is a high and hard and extremely risky calling. How many of their family members kiss them goodbye each day, pushing back the fear that this might be the last time they see their loved one alive? While most of us ask, "When will you be home?" with every expectation that our family member will come home how many law enforcement family members secretly ask, "Will you come home?" 

Law Enforcement: The Families Behind the Badge 


Law Enforcement: The Families Behind the Badge

Listen for a glimpse into the hearts of our law enforcement families and please pass on this interview that offers help and hope to our law enforcement families.

In His grip,

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Another Year

A few days after the fatal car accident that took the lives of our sixteen-year-old son, Mark, and his friend, Kelly, a friend called to tell us that someone had placed two white crosses on the side of the road at the accident scene. We didn't know the builder of those crosses until years later. The crosses reminded us of our theology. This life is not all there is. At that moment their physical bodies died, Jesus stepped in to usher them into a Place where they would not need faith. Because everything they believed was now a reality.

Chuck and I visit those crosses on Mark's birthday, Easter, Christmas and July 6, the anniversary of Mark's Homegoing. The first year, 1994, we "accidentally" met up with Kelly's parents, who like us, were placing flowers on her cross. We formed a circle, held hands and prayed, asking our God to keep all of His promises.  As time took its toll on the original wooden crosses, our son-in-law, Greg, replaced them, using a material that would last. Another friend regularly weeds the area surrounding the crosses, extending respect and honor to us and the memory of our son and his friend.
As is our custom, Chuck and I placed flowers on Mark's cross again this year, the 23rd anniversary of his Homegoing. To our surprise, another "secret angel" had been there before us and written the names of Mark and Kelly on their crosses.  Who is this person? We may never know, but clearly, it is someone who still remembers and cares.

Hard as I try to pretend this day is like every other day, several days before the anniversary tears are quick to come. How I long to see our son. Twenty-three years ago, I refused to believe I would one day be that woman who mentioned she "lost a child" ten years ago, fifteen years ago......because I knew I would never survive the grief for that long. And yet, here I am.

I struggled to find new words to describe my grief. Instead, I shared an old blog post The Train is Coming. And words written by me in 2010 comfort and encourage me to once more choose to believe that God is sovereign and I can trust Him:

The train of grief is coming, The vibration of its thundering speed and  the faint, lonely whistle in the distance warn me.  Yes, it is coming.  I know it is useless to try to outrun it.  Yet, I have learned over the past 18 years that the train can also bring strange comfort and treasures. Today I remember how Jesus thanked God for the bread and wine at the last meal He would share with His disciples, knowing a cruel death awaited Him within hours of that meal.  Picture the peace He displayed as He thanked God for the provision of sustenance, His disciples not realizing the thanks was an act of surrender to God's purposes for Him.  I picture myself at that table and Jesus looking into my eyes and firmly exhorting me: Do this in remembrance of me. He knows my circumstances,my anguish, my longing for what was. Yet my big brother reminds me that thanking God for the blessings He gives us, no matter the darkness, and perhaps especially in the middle of the darkness, helps equip me for whatever may be coming. Jesus thanked God for blessings in the middle of anguish and by thanking God, He surrendered to God's sovereign love. Thanking God recognizes that He is our Refuge, Rest, Rescue and Rock. He is giving me the secret for surviving the coming collision.  (The Train is Coming)

The names of our children on "their crosses" reminds me that God continues to give me "treasures in the darkness, riches stored in secrets places so that I might know He is the Lord my God, the One Who calls ME by name. " (Isaiah 45:2-3.) He knows my name, just as He knows Mark's and Kelly's.
July 6, 2016

And so, yes.....

The train is coming. But the train will not destroy me for I am learning to thank God for His provisions, His blessings and to surrender to His purposes.  
The train is coming. But I am not afraid.  (The Train is Coming)

In His grip,

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