Sunday, December 30, 2007

There's Just Something About That Name

Pastor Brad Shannon opened the service with the reminder that Christmas is a season, not just a day.

The New Life Trio blessed us with their music and singing this morning, and then we shared in the baptism of Gavin Edward Gimpel.

Today’s Scripture readings:
Isaiah 63:7-9
Hebrews 2:10-18

Pastor Brad's sermon began with a re-cap of the Christmas Eve service beginning with that wonderful proclamation, "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." ~ Isaiah 9:6

Titled, “Shhh... God Is Speaking,” Pastor Brad reminded us of the reality that God still speaks to us today and can guide us. And that God gives us clues when it is important. The most significant and vivid manner in which God speaks to us is through His son.

1In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. 3The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. ~ Hebrews 1:1-3

Christmas Eve Pastor Brad told a parable by Kierkegaard that revealed two important truths: (1) That God still speaks, and (2) He speaks authoritatively and definitively through Jesus.

This was the supreme revelation, that God set aside His glory for peasants like us. Pastor Shannon implored, “Will you open up your life to let Him speak to you?”

He told a story about a Chicago Cubs fan named Johnny who as a twelve year old idolized the Cubs of the 60’s, a team with many stars including Ernie Banks and Ron Santos, among others. They had a star catcher named Randy Hundley who was also a Christian, and on one occasion was visiting the house across the street. The family across the street knew he was a Cubs fan, and called to say that Randy Hundley would like to come over and meet him. His mother said he was busy and should come play with Johnny “some other time.” Of course when Johnny got home he became depressed upon hearing the news that one of his idols had been so near.

As it turned out, after his speaking engagement, the All-Star catcher stopped by the house and did ultimately meet his young fan. He even pulled out a baseball, signed it and gave it to Johnny, securing his admiration forever.

For Johnny, the glory of Randy Hundley was not his rifle arm or his home run power, but the fact that someone as important as him came to his house, “just for me.”

So it is that the Son of God has come to us. As the Scripture exclaims, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” ~ Rev. 3:20

This is the glory of God.

Sadly, sometimes he knocks for years. We receive promptings, but never respond. Today, I’m asking you to open your door, the door to your heart, to Jesus.

The passage from Isaiah 9:6 cites four names. The first of these is Wonderful Counsellor. Some people have problems or challenging decisions they are wrestling with. Sometimes as wrong decision can mess up your life. In times like these we need God’s wisdom, we need a wonderful counselor.

The second, He is called The Mighty God. When we face things that are too big for us, we need a powerful God, a mighty God. Pastor Brad shared stories of tough situations in which God’s power was needed. To each of us He says, “Let me be a mighty God for you.”

The third name: Everlasting Father. “I will be your Father, you will be my children,” the Scripture says.

The pastor told us a story about a frightened boy who at night felt all alone. When overcome by his fear and aloneness he would go to his father’s bedroom, needing to be with his father. Thus comforted, he could sleep and let go of his fear. “God wants to be for you your Everlasting Father.”

The fourth name, Prince of Peace, speaks on many levels. Individually, Jesus became the way for us to have peace with God. He died on a cross that we can be reconciled.

“Jesus is knocking. Some of you here this morning need to open the door of your hearts. For some of you Jesus is knocking right now.”

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Shhhhh... God Is Speaking

Notes from our Christmas Eve Candlelight Service

"The invisible, intangible God has made himself visible and tangible in Christ." ~ Carlo Carreto

We were ushered in to Christmas Carols by the Felix Folks. The service began with a moving rendition of O Holy Night by Dana Stroschein. Scripture readings from Isaiah 9:2-7 and Luke 2:1-20 set the tone. After carols, prayers and special music, Pastor Brad opened his heart to share a special message: Shhh.... God is Speaking

Sometimes when people speak they give little clues that indicate this is important. Examples include the teacher who states, "This will be on the final." Or while you are watching television, the beeping sound with scrolling words, "We interrupt this program..."

Pastor Brad has been talking lately about the kingdom of God. God wants to speak to the world about what matters most. And God has spoken to the world through the Christ. As Scripture says, God speaks to us through His son. (Hebrews 1:2) He is the exact imprint of God's very being.

"This is what I am like," God is saying. "If you want to know my heart, my character, my nature... look at Jesus." What God thinks and feels is revealed in Jesus. If you want to know the heart of God, the place to begin is with the life of Jesus.

And here's what you'll find: not just a wise man (though He is), not just a wonderful person (though He is). God became a real human being.

He is a big God, but He speaks in a quiet voice, not a big voice.

Why would God come as a baby instead of with a big splash? Kierkegaard told a story about a king who loved a poor woman who lived in a hovel. He wanted badly to show his love for her, but feared he would overwhelm her if he came in his regal splendor. He traded his palace for a hovel and his robes for rags in order to approach her without frightening her off. The story serves as a metaphor for how God reaches out to us in Jesus as detailed in this beautiful passage from Philippians 2:5-11

5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!
9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

God set aside His glory for ragged sin-filled peasants like you and me.
God in Jesus is speaking to the world.

The author of this blog had been told that the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service at New Life Covenant was a very special service. And indeed it was. Merry Christmas and blessings to all.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Christmas Travelers

Though there were a few absent faces, the pews were more full than expected despite the large quantities of snow that prevented some from joining us this fourth Sunday in advent.

With Christmas in the air, Pastor Brad Shannon's sermon continued to reinforce the message of hope.

"There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where God was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome." ~G.K.Chesterton

The closer we get to Christmas, the more crowded the highways and airports seem to be. Pastor Brad began by sharing a conversation with a taxi driver from whom he learned, to his surprise, that Christmas is not the busiest time of year for taxicabs. Why? Because business travelers rely on cabs to get from airport to hotel, whereas during the holidays parents or loved ones are usually waiting for us.

This is the hope within each Christmas traveler, that someone will be coming to meet them. And the hope of every advent traveler is that when we get to Bethlehem, someone will be there to meet us, too.

Among the hopeful travelers in the nativity story (Luke 1:26-66) was a young woman -- actually a girl -- named Mary. Her home had been Nazareth, but she left in haste, Luke writes, to visit her relative Elizabeth in the hill country of Judea.

Mary had good reason to flee Nazareth. Engaged but not yet married to a man named Joseph, Mary, a virgin, had just confirmed that she was pregnant. Though she knew the child to be a gift from God, she also knew no one would believe it. She had good reason to be running for her life.

She also had good reason to be running to her kinswoman Elizabeth. Elizabeth, who had been barren all her life, was far too old to have a child. Yet to everyone's surprise the impossible had happened. She was now six months into her pregnancy.

Maybe Elizabeth would have understood the emotions Mary felt. Maybe she would share the odd mixture of confusion and joy, doubt and faith, fear and hope that stirred within Mary's soul. Perhaps Elizabeth would understand the suspicious stares of nosy neighbors or identify with the embarrassed rejection by relatives. Most of all, Elizabeth might actually believe that impossible things could become possible with God.

The gospel story invites us to share the moment with Mary as she walked through the door of Elizabeth's house. Luke records that "when Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her (Elizabeth's) womb." Lk 1:41 Elizabeth responded to the kick in her womb with a song of hope: "Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord." vss. 42, 45

Elizabeth knew the meaning of hope. Biblical hope is the deep, inner certainty -- just as real as a baby kicking in a mother's womb -- that God will fulfill what God has spoken. Hope is the inner assurance that against all odds God's kingdom will come, and God's will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven. Hope is the often unseen guarantee that in spite of all the world' violence and hostility, one day the nations "shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up its sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." Micah 3:4

Hope is the gut level confidence that one day "justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream." Amos 5:24

Hope is a deep, inner awareness and for both Elizabeth and Mary, hope was the personal realization that God's promise was being fulfilled through the flesh and blood of their very human, very ordinary lives.

It wasn't much of a sign, just a baby's kick in a woman's womb. But it was enough experiential evidence to become the sign of hope that God would fulfill his promises. And in reality, it doesn't take a lot of what the world calls evidence to keep hope alive.

It didn't take much of a sign for American writer Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, just the sound of a bell in a church steeple on Christmas day, which he described in one of his best known poems, "Christmas Bells."

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

The year was 1863. This nation had been caught in the deadly grip of a civil war. The prior year had seen the horrors of Gettysburg, the ghastliest, bloodiest, deadliest single event in the history of this country. The original poem describes the awful reality of the war in lines that Christmas card publishers always leave out and which soloists in Christmas shows never sing.

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Imagining all the homes that would have an empty place at the table for Christmas, Longfellow went on:

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

No wonder Longfellow was tempted to doubt God's promise of peace:
And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Then Longfellow heard a bell in a church steeple on Christmas day. It wasn't much, but it was enough to give him hope.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men."

It wasn't much of a sign by the world's standards, but the ringing of the church bells was enough. It was enough to be the sign of hope, just like the child leaping in Elizabeth's womb. Elizabeth could never have explained that event; there is no evidence that she ever tried. But she knew -- from somewhere deep within that she could never forget -- that the child kicking in her womb was the sign of God's saving purpose being accomplished through her. The child was John, whom we later knew as John the Baptist, the one who prepared the way for coming of the Lord.

Nor could Mary have explained the baby in her own womb. There is no evidence that she ever tried. The New Testament doesn't attempt to analyze the scientific probability for the virgin birth. It was a mystery to be celebrated, not a thesis to be argued. By the world's standards it was utterly incomprehensible. But Mary knew that the child in her womb was the hope of God's saving purpose being accomplished in human history. She knew that God's living word was becoming flesh within her. She could feel the love of God becoming a tangible reality through her life.

Nor could the shepherds have explained what they experienced. And again there is no evidence they ever tried. All they knew for sure was that in the darkness of the night they received good news of great joy that was coming for all people: "To you is born this day in the city of David a savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you; you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger." Luke 2:11-12

Those wise men, stargazer, mysterious visitors from the East never explained it. But they were wise enough to follow the Beckoning Bethlehem star until it led them to the Christ child, and they offered their best gifts in homage to the promise of this newborn king.

Nor could Joseph have explained it. There is no evidence in the New Testament that he ever tried. But he knew in his heart that this child was the sign of God's presence with us in human flesh. He obeyed the angel's command, even when obedience meant packing up his family and hiding out as refugees in Egypt.

By the world's standards, there may not be much of a sign in our lives. We may never be able to fully or adequately explain or comprehend it. But like Elizabeth and Mary, we can feel the deep, inner hope that God is at work to accomplish God's loving purpose through us. Just as surely as Elizabeth felt the baby leaping in her womb, we can know that the very same love of God that became flesh within Mary's body is becoming a reality in this world through us.

As shocking as it may sound, the amazing affirmation of Scripture is that in the same way the body of Jesus was formed in the womb of Mary, the life of the living Christ can be formed within each of us.
The sign of hope for every person of faith is simply this. "Christ in you, the hope of glory." Col. 1:27

Reflecting on the way the sign was given to Mary, Bible scholar Robert Mulholland came to this conclusion. "Every Christian is called to be a Mary. We are called to offer ourselves to God in such radical abandonment and availability that the Christ of God can be brought forth through our lives into the world... Many desire this and actively offer to God disciplines of loving obedience through which Christ can be formed in them."

The hope of every Christmas traveler is that someone will come to meet them. The one who meets us at Bethlehem is the living Christ, the one who becomes flesh in each of us.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

God Meets Us

Today we celebrated the third Sunday in advent. In preparation for the service Pastor Brad Shannon shared how advent is a time of anticipation as we await the One in whom all our hopes and dreams are staked on. Jesus is our kingdom hope. When all other hopes have been dashed, Jesus is present to say, “Pin your hopes on Me.”

For special music this morning Shylee Smith performed a beautiful rendition of Ave Maria, accompanied by Darlene Vanderscheuren on the keyboard.

Today’s Scripture readings were from Psalm 146:5-10 and Matthew 11:2-11.

Pastor Brad began his sermon with an object lesson about the Packers and Vikings. He noted that Packer fans routinely get rewarded from time to time for the hope the put in their team. To be a Viking fan requires much more character, since in the ultimate sense, there have yet to be any earthly rewards for such hope. With tongue firmly planted in cheek, he states, “This is why we are Viking fans at New Life Covenant.”

In truth, the illustration was a nice segue into today’s theme. When all your hopes have been disappointed, God gives us His hope. So many have experienced deep disappointment in life. This message was passionately presented to convey the message that God has not abandoned us and will meet us in that place of need.

Turning to Genesis 1:1, Pastor Brad asked, “Have you ever wondered how God feels about His creation?” In verse two, we see God “hovering” or “brooding” like a dove. God had great plans for His creation.

At the climax of this first Biblical account, God makes man from the dust of the earth. After breathing the breath of life into this lifeless clay, He declares “It is finished.” And He rested on the seventh day.

It is noteworthy that God created the world and all that is in it, but left some things unfinished. For example, the animals we as yet unnamed, and there was a garden to be tended.

The Hebrew expression Tikkun Olam is here used to refer to God’s leaving it to man “to fix or finish the work” That is, our role in the world is to partner with God to finish God’s work in the world.

Chapter three presents how the serpent deceived Eve and how sin entered the world. What did Adam and Eve experience when their eyes were opened? They saw their guilt and shame, and experienced despair. The earth was cursed (we now know where thistles and thorns come from) and they were banished from the Garden. They were exiled from Paradise.

From that time on the human race was in exile. God eventually called Abraham and formed a nation of people through whom God would fulfill Tikkun Olam. Israel, the chosen people, would be God’s partners in bringing restoration, healing and hope.

But Israel, too, failed and was assailed by many captors and ultimately exiled in the Babylonian captivity for seventy years. In Jesus’ day, Rome occupied Israel and many Hebrews remained dispersed.

The Scriptures repeatedly tie this exile to the sinfulness of God’s people. See, for example, Lamentation 4:22.

In the beginning of the New Testament Gospel of Mark, when Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist, the Lord came out of the water and saw the heavens torn open. And it says that the Spirit descended upon him “like a dove,” an image that hearkens back to the beginning where God is seen “hovering” dove-like over his Creation. We see that with the inauguration of Jesus’s ministry, God is hovering closely again.

Throughout this period in time, there was much expectation of one who was to come, who would liberate Israel and be the Messiah who restored God’s people to their rightful place. The hopes of the people had risen many times as various “leaders” rose, and were silenced by Rome.

Hope can be a dangerous thing, because hope can break your heart with it is thwarted.

Throughout the ministry of Jesus, we see the people getting their hopes aroused. But like so many times before, the promising possibility that Jesus would be the Messiah King ended again in a Roman crucifixion.

We see the torn hearts of his followers most vividly in the passage from Luke 24, on the road to Emmaus. A man and a woman were walking along the road, away from Jerusalem, when they were joined by a stranger, who is actually the risen Jesus but whom they did not recognize in their grief. “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel,” they said, as they recounted his ministry and deeds.

They were crushed in spirit because of the crucifixion. When you follow someone who gets crucified, you know you have been on the wrong team.

Then, Jesus shares a new perspective. God’s ways are not our ways, and He illuminates them, shedding light on Scriptures they were familiar with but failed to understand. “And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself.” (vs. 27) And in the breaking of the bread, their eyes were opened.

This same phrase echoes the opening of the eyes that Adam and Eve experienced, except in the first instance, they lost hope, and in this latter account, hope filled their emptied hearts.

Turning to John 20 we find yet another echo of the Genesis account. In the resurrection, the man Jesus had truly died, but God breathed into Him the breath of life. Resurrection life comes from God. The passage, beginning in verse 19, recounts the Lord’s appearing to his disciples in the upper room where they had been gathered, hiding in fear. It is a powerful moment, and the true birth of the church.

JOHN 20:19-22
19On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
21Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." 22And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit.
Jesus appears, comforts their fears and breathes on them the breath of resurrection life and power, from God. “So send I you,” He says, meaning in effect, “You be the Kingdom bearers and the hope bringers.” This is our role as the church in this world.

We have a choice. Either we can give in to despair or accept the truth that God is hovering over us, desirous to work great things through us.

Despair will make you want to quit. God never does this. In Psalm 43 we hear the psalmist lament, “Why are you cast down, oh my soul?” But he immediately follows with these words: “Put your hope in God.”

Remember this. The spirit of God has been breathed into you. Put your hope in the Lord.

As we celebrate Christmas, let us remember that Jesus Christ coming into the world is the hope of the world.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

In Our Sorrow

In this second Sunday in advent Pastor Brad began the sermon reminding us that the word advent means “arriving” or “appearing.” Advent is a time when the people of God were awaiting the appearing of God.

God came in a manner we did not expect, as a child in utmost obscurity. He came into our smallness, and has met us in the whole range of our human experience.

Isaiah 53 presents a picture of the coming Messiah nearly 700 years beforehand, yet they did not recognize him when he came. In verse three the prophet proclaims, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces, he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”

Jesus came as a suffering servant, not a conquering king. In a profound way Isaiah combines the cradle and the cross, the beginning and the end of our Lord’s ministry.

Jesus, God in Christ, had intimate first-hand knowledge of our pain and suffering. We see this displayed in John 11 in the story of Lazarus. In verse 4 Jesus is told that his friend is sick. Jesus replies that this will not end as you expect. It is for God’s glory. Jesus then stayed an extra two days instead of returning immediately.

Consequently, Lazarus did indeed die. Upon hearing this Jesus set about to return. For Thomas this decision meant something more, for he declared, “Let us go that we may die with him.”

Following Jesus does not mean a life that rises to continuous blessing, going up and up and up. In point of fact, if we follow Christ it leads to great sorrow and pain.

In verse 33 we see how deeply moved Jesus was by the sorrow of those around him. He was familiar with sorrow. Jesus experiences the very grief that he is observing.

Sometimes life events can appear so random. Yet Jesus enters our sorrow that he might pull us out.

In Philippians 3:10-11 Paul writes:
10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

What we see in Scripture is that Christ comes to us in our sorrow, and walks alongside us to bring us to the hope of the resurrection.

There has been a lot of criticism of some Christians who are so “heavenly minded that they are no earthly good.” In truth, people who are heavenly minded are the ones who are making us earthly good.

We live with anticipation. We are anticipators. Though this life has good moments, it is not enough. Paul states that the aim of his life is to attain something more.

My exhortation to you today, Pastor Brad declared, is to become that kind of attainer.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

There's Room At The Table

A large volume of snow blanketed the Northland this weekend, providing challenging driving conditions this morning. The heartiness of our church family was revealed as the pews were suitably filled for this first Sunday in Advent.

Advent is an ancient church tradition that speaks of that period of anticipation, a period of longing. Just as the Jews awaited the coming of the Messiah in those centuries leading up to our Lord's birth, so too Advent is a celebration of the Lord's incarnation in the Christmas child. Each weak, as the Advent candles are lit, we are reminded of the increasing light that is coming into the world through the coming of Jesus. This morning the first Advent candle was lit.
Scripture readings: Psalm 122 and Matthew 24:36-44
Pastor Brad continued talking about the kingdom of God. Jesus, when He broke onto the scene, said, "My kingdom has come."

But what got Jesus into the most trouble was His tendency to hang around with the wrong people.

In Mark 2:13-17 we read the account of the calling of Levi. Tax collectors were not popular in Israel. And the very first thing we see is Jesus going to a dinner at Levi's house.

Banquets serve as a symbol or picture of the kingdom. The feast is a picture of God's abundance. And here we see Jesus enjoying the company of tax collectors and "sinners."
The Pharisees were the ones who knew the law, who knew right and wrong, and it was wrong for Jesus to claim to be righteous, yet hang out with the wrong people.

How big is God's table? How inclusive? And what are you and I going to do about it?

The common and the riff-raff were all part of Jesus' entourage. The religious leaders looked down their noses, had contempt for this mob. If you were righteous you did not eat with these people.

Here we see Jesus breaking the rules. All are invited to the table.

Jesus was deliberately provocative, claiming that the kingdom has arrived and all are invited, just the way they are. The Pharisees would welcome some if they cleaned up their act first. They had a list of things that were and were not acceptable. All too often, like the pharisees, we have our lists, too. Maybe its ethnic or cultural... or maybe we just don't like them.

At the house of a prominent Pharisee in Luke 14 there was a man with dropsy present. It was a setup, and the pharisees were keenly watching to see what Jesus would do. Jesus asked these experts in the law, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?" knowing that in their view it was wrong to do any work on the Sabbath. Jesus healed the man. But he did not stop there in his challenging of their rigid belief systems.

7When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: 8"When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. 9If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, 'Give this man your seat.' Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, 'Friend, move up to a better place.' Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. 11For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
12Then Jesus said to his host, "When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."

Jesus tells a parable, the parable of the Great Banquet, which begins, "A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests." Everyone who was invited made excuses of one kind or another. The servant was ultimately sent out to streets and alleys of the town to bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.

When we understand the times, what Jesus was suggesting was simply too radical. The Essenes had lists of who is "in" and who is not, who can be here and who can't. But Jesus was saying the banquet, His banquet, is open to all. And when there was still room, he sent servants to the highways and byways, still inviting more.

His invitation is to all. "There's room at My table for you."

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Jesus’ Magnificent Kingdom Courage

Our church is blessed with many unsung heroes who make contributions and personal sacrifices behind the scenes, or with faithfulness that is not always given its due. Darlene Vanderscheuren’s music and accompaniments have provided a wonderful backdrop as we enter into worship each Sunday. This morning’s introit, “Be Still My Soul,” helped set the tone for a very special service.

The Trio – Ken, Chuck and Darlene – also performed twice during the service. They sang The Lighthouse during the offering and a moving rendition of Come to the Waters in the early part of the service.

The chorus, if you are not familiar with it, goes…

And Jesus said, “Come to the waters
stand by my side
I know you are thirsty,
you won’t be denied.
I felt every teardrop
when in darkness you cried,
and I strove to remind you
that for those tears I died.”

Our Scripture readings this morning were from Jeremiah 23:1-6 and Luke 23:33-43.

Pastor Brad’s message today was a continuation of last week’s message on Jesus’ Magnificent Kingdom Courage. After a recap of last week’s highlights (see below) Brad spent much of the sermon bringing new insights to some familiar passages in the Gospels by sharing some of the historical background on events of Jesus’ time.

The passage in Luke 14:28-33 is well known for its challenge to believers regarding the cost of being a disciple. But in the days when Jesus presented this challenge, it was also fraught with political meaning that his hearers well understood.

Herod Antipas, of the three sons of Herod and ruler of Galilee, had a well known set of marriage problems. Like many rulers through history, alliances are formed with rivals by marriages. Herod Antipas married the young daughter of a king of a neighboring adversary. This situation became increasingly complicated when he fell in love with a woman named Herodias for whom he built a large palace. This was a very public affair which was consummated in marriage. Added complications included the fact that she two was married to someone else, who happened to be his half brother and the daughter of another half brother.

When Antipas divorced his first wife, it did not set well with her father, the neighboring king, who proceeded to send an army of 20,000 men to teach the scoundrel Herod Antipas a lesson. Herod sent ten thousand men against this much larger army and got whipped.

When Jesus talked about the cost of discipleship, he used two illustrations to make his point to “sit down and consider” rather than doing things impulsively. The second illustration, however, was clearly understood in the light of the these events. “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able…”

Essentially, Jesus was highlighting the foolishness of the king, a public action that had real risks involved.

In Luke 7:24 we read another familiar passage. At this point John the Baptist was in prison for his speaking out against Herod’s adultery. John had sent messengers to Jesus in a moment of doubt seeking reassurance the Jesus was indeed the Messiah. After the Lord sent these messengers back with a reassuring passage from Scripture, he turned to the crowds to endorse the ministry of John the Baptist, which he did in this manner.

“What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear expensive clothes and indulge in luxury are in palaces. But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.”

What was the meaning of the “reed swayed by the wind”? The following illustration is about Herod, his fine clothes and palaces, which contrast profoundly with John’s primitive attire.

In those days, rulers often imprinted coins which were used within their sphere of influence and commerce. No one could put his own likeness on a coin that would compete with Caesar, and for a Jewish ruler there was the additional prohibition against graven images. For this reason, many rulers used a symbol which served a similar purpose. The symbol imprinted on coins for Herod Antipas was a reed swaying in the wind.

The point Jesus makes here is that these people did not go into the wilderness to see kings in palaces. He encouraged them in their true quest, as if to say, “You are seeking a different kind of kingdom.”

In another familiar passage, Luke 8:2-3, we see that Jesus’ entourage was not just the disciples, but included women as well, from various walks of life. One of these included Joanna the wife of Cuza, manager of Herod’s household. These woman, Luke notes, “were helping to support them out of their own means.” How interesting. Money from Herod was being used to support the subversive activities of the kingdom.

With these and other stories Pastor Brad noted how radically confrontational Jesus was toward the powers of his time. In Luke 13:31-33 some Pharisees told Jesus that he should leave and go somewhere else because “Herod wants to kill you.” This was not a veiled or ambiguous threat. Jesus replied, “Go tell that fox ‘I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.”

Even though today the fox has come to represent cunning, as in “sly like a fox,” in those days the fox was a symbol of a lion wanna-be. That is, lions killed and the foxes would clean up after, wishing they were the ones who could have the power to kill. Herod was called a fox because he was a Caesar wanna-be.

Jesus was essentially saying, “I will fulfill my purpose. I will accomplish my goal.” At the same time he was showing Herod’s true colors.

One lesson we can take from these stories and this message: Opposition is not a sign of failure. There will be people who do not like it when you share the truth in love.

At the end of this same passage in Luke 13, Jesus expresses his sorrow for Jerusalem and then chooses a very interesting metaphor. “I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wing.” In a striking contrast to the fox, a hen has no means of self defense, and saves her chicks by sacrificing her own body.

There were others in this period of Jewish history who stood up against the powers of Rome (Acts 5:33-37) so that Jesus knew what the ultimate consequences would be for his stance against the powers. Those who stood up and spoke against the king were killed. But Jesus did not step down. When he spoke of the true kingdom of God, he knew it would be a death sentence for him.

May we ourselves with courage likewise be kingdom bringers.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Thanksgiving Begins in the Mind

The service opened with Pastor Brad Shannon telling us the that today’s message is a continuation of the kingdom theme, and this week will be the introductory part for next week’s message on Jesus’ Magnificent Kingdom Courage.

This week the pastor received a call from Chuck Colson’s Angel Tree Ministry asking if we would “adopt” a 12 year old girl from Saginaw for Christmas this year because her father is in prison. Because of Colson’s incarceration due to his Watergate involvements, he discovered the grace of God and has a lifelong ministry to prison inmates. One facet is this effort to bring a measure of Christian charity to the children of inmates who cannot be there at this meaningful time. New Life Covenant will bring a little bit of Christmas to a girl named Ashley.

For the children’s challenge, Pastor Brad donned a bright orange hunting cap and used the example of camping to engage the kids, to illustrate God’s provision. And to remember those less fortunate than us who have been so blessed by His goodness.

Today’s Scripture readings:
Psalm 100 and John 6:25-35, which includes that well known passage where Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.”

There is no reason to ever lose hope when we are followers of Jesus. The kingdom of God is at hand, has broken through. That ‘in-breaking of God’s kingdom continues to this day and God wants to keep breaking into the world… through us.

Wherever this occurs there will be resistance, because God’s kingdom is a threat to earthly kingdoms.

Jesus was not a docile, inoffensive guru who went around saying, “Be nice.” If this is all that his life was about, it would not have ended on a cross. People get crucified when kingdoms are threatened.

Jesus’ life exemplified a magnificent defiance as demonstrated by his encounters with the powers of his day.

Pastor Brad detailed some of the leaders in Israel from that period of history beginning with Herod the Great whose life overlapped the birth of Christ Jesus, the man responsible for the slaughter of the innocents as recorded in Matthew 2:16. It is recorded that Herod had ten wives and 43 children. Despite his power, he lived a paranoid existence because of his cruelty and was always suspicious. As a result, he had his favorite wife, Mariamne, executed as well his mother and oldest son, among countless others. Thus it was said of him, “Better to be Herod’s pig than his son.” The historian Josephus notes that Herod was so cruel to those he didn't kill that the living considered the dead to be fortunate.

Because he knew that there would be no mourning for him when he died, Herod gathered the principle leaders of Judaism to Jerusalem in order to have them executed upon his death. In this manner he intended to have the nation of Israel mourn when he died.

Ultimately, Herod’s three sons – Archilaeus, Herod Antipas and Philip -- went to Rome to seek power and in return received regions where they each ruled. Like father like sons. Archilaeus maintained a cruel rule in Judea, Herod Antipas was given to rule over Galilee, and Philip procured power over Caesaria Philippi.

In one terrible event, Archilaeus purportedly executed 3000 Jews in an effort to maintain power. Fifty Jewish leaders went to Rome to make an appeal to Caesar: do not make this man king. But Archilaeus indeed became ruler and executed the fifty.

Against this backdrop we see the New Testament stories in a more vivid light. The Lord’s parables, as exemplified in the parable of the ten minas (Luke 19:11ff) show that He was not afraid to confront the authorities.

Earlier in this gospel account, Luke lays out the powers of this world at inauguration of John the Baptist’s ministry: Pontius Pilate governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee,
brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas. To whom and where did the word of God reveal itself? Not to the powerful and famous but to a hermit in the wilderness. The Word of God came to John the Baptist. (Luke 3:1-2)

So it is that we see the Law of Inversion in action. “The last shall be first and the first shall be last.”

When John the Baptist rebuked Herod the tetrarch for his heinous behavior, Herod had John placed in prison. Jesus at this time did not fear the powers. He set about to return to Galilee.

Where is your Galilee? Where is it hardest for you to manifest the Kingdom? In your job? In your family? In your neighborhood?

What is it you need to do to bring the Kingdom into your Galilee? Maybe you need to bear witness. Or confront. Or perhaps simply become humble.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

There’s Just Something About That Name

“I’m delighted that you are here to worship with us this 24th week after Pentecost,” Pastor Brad Shannon said in his opening remarks. “When God opens a door, nothing can shut that door.”

Other special features of today’s service included Scripture readings from Haggai 1:15b-2:9 and II Thessalonians 2: 1-5 & 13-17 and a prayer of dedication for the Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes. This day also we honored Lillian Peterson on her 88th birthday which we celebrated after the service.

The sermon today used as its springboard the letter to the church of Philadelphia found in Revelation 3:7-13.

There is something about names. Some names are funny. Some people, like Sean Coombs (aka Puff Daddy, P Diddy etc.) change their names from time to time. Some, like Sting, Bono and Oprah, are known for just “a name.” And a lot of cities are known by their names, like Tinseltown, The Big Apple, and Motor City.

The city of Philadelphia in Biblical times, the city to which this letter was written, had undergone very challenging times. It was a city with an ever changing identity, with both cultural and literal earthquakes, and for the Christians there it was a city with unrelenting persecution. To the Christians in this city Jesus said, “I will write on them a new name.” And the Lord promised that their future would be to live in a city that will not be shaken.

The passage begins, “These are the words of him who is holy and true who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.” This reference to keys hearkens back to Isaiah 22:22 which states, “I will place the key of the house of David around his neck. What he opens no one will shut. What he shuts no one will open.”

Jesus says, “I hold the keys to the Kingdom of God. No one can shut what I open or open what I shut.”

Jesus is saying “Trust me. When I open a door, walk through it. I will be there on the other side.”

Finding God’s will is not a puzzle that you have to figure out. Rather, it is a matter of following the Lord’s voice. Jesus has the whole picture in view and we can trust Him.

Pastor Brad shared the illustration of a family that decided to not give each other Christmas presents one year, but to help a needy family. Their decision resulted in countless others being blessed and their efforts being rewarded far in excess of anything they had imagined.

Walk through a door and watch God show up. There are open doors all around us.

To the church in Philadelphia Jesus said, “I know your deeds.” Of the seven letters to the seven churches, this was the only letter with no rebuke.

“8 I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. 9 I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. 10 Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test those who live on the earth.´ vss 8-10

Jesus says “I am going to use you in a powerful way.” Like Philadelphia, we are a small church. God has called us to love and serve Him here. We have a small church, but a big God. It is the Enemy who whisper in ears, “You are small. What can you do?”

There was a small church in Mississippe after Hurricane Katrina that was used of God to feed more than 6,000 people a day, gaining national recognition for their efficiency and faithfulness. You do not have to be big to be effective.

It’s true that when you have open doors you can also have annoying flies. But God will take care of these, too. No matter what we go through, Jesus promises to be with us. Stay filled with hope and joy. And stand firm...

11 I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. 12 Those who are victorious I will make pillars in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name.

A new name! Can you imagine what they felt?

13 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Remembering the Saints

On a beautiful sunny day in rural Northern Minnesota, Pastor Brad Shannon began the service by sharing a moving story about a man who lived a tragic life... alcoholic, philandering, and ultimately abandoning his wife and children, never to return. This man's oldest son joined the marines after years of being "the man of the house" to two much younger siblings. While in the marines, a church reached out to him, inviting him in to an evangelistic service. Because of the faithful witness of this church, a church that embraced the lost, Pastor Brad and his brothers learned the love of their Savior, Jesus. The marine, whose father had abandoned his home, was Brad's father.

Today was Communion Sunday, and today's message was intended to prepare our hearts for the Lord's Table.

The Scripture Readings can be found in Psalm 119:137-144 and II Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12.

Pastor Brad began his message by saying, "There are a couple truths I would like to put before you." Everyone of us knows that we have been chosen and loved from before the foundation of the world. What a remarkable truth that we are here with a good conscience only because of the forgiveness of Jesus and His merciful work on the cross. What's more, each of us is a legacy of someone else's faithful response to God.

Our faithfulness creates a ripple effect that expands throughout the world.

Jesus said, "You didn't choose me, I chose you, to bear fruit that will last.

"Think about those whose faithfulness resulted in your coming to God or bringing you to where you are," Pastor Brad said. Then, he asked us to share aloud, identifying those who have been an influence or significant in our coming to know the mercy of God. Several shared names of people who influenced them, and many in the congregation remembered others who have touched their lives in powerful or important ways.

The only thing that matters is what we do today. Those who can be trusted with little will be trusted with much. Citing the great passage in Hebrews 12, Brad shared an insight regarding that "great cloud of witnesses." We carry forward what they began.

In the passage, it is noteworthy that discipline is not a punishment. Discipline is what produces a harvest of righteousness.

What a privilege, then, to be partners with God to serve the world and make it a better place.

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out before us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." ~ Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV)

Oswald Chambers once said we will never see the full impact of our faithfulness on this side of eternity, for if we could see the impact, we couldn't stand the glory.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

A Service of Consecration to the Lord's Future

Our service was structured differently today. Rather than the usual format, we had different people from the congregation share different Biblical principles with hymns and prayers woven throughout.

JoAnn Winship shared with us Biblical Principle # 1: Moving forward into God's future begins with redemptive theology, repentance and prayer, rather than structures, strategies or systems. In Psalm 139:23-24 the psalmist begs God to search his heart and test his thoughts, show in what ways he has offended God and others, and lead him in the right path.

We prayed a prayer together for forgiveness and asked for God's help, grace and mercy. Following that, we sang a Fanny Crosby hymn, "I Am Thine O Lord." Incidentally, when I got home, I found my hymnbook on my kitchen counter open to the same hymn, and I enjoyed singing it again. "....but I long to rise in the arms of faith, and be closer drawn to Thee... Draw me nearer blessed Lord to Thy precious bleeding side."

Biblical Principle #2 was presented by Pam Johnson. Every church is in constant state of renewal, regardless of its current state of health. Isaiah 43:19 admonishes us to not dwell on the past, but to see the new things that God is doing today.

We then prayed together for eyes to see and ears to hear what God is doing, and to allow what breaks God's heart to break ours as well. As a continuation of that prayer, we sang "Open the eyes of my heart Lord, I want to see You." A couple of people then gave thanks for our pastor, and for this body of people who support one another.

The 3rd Biblical Principle given was that to move forward a church must be centered in the mission and the message that flows from the heart of Jesus, rather than just trying to do something, so as to keep from declining. Leonard Armstrong read from John 4:34-35, where Jesus said his food was to do the will of God. Leonard commented that rather than taking energy from us, doing God's work is a source of fuel for us. We prayed for courage to move out beyond the boxes that we live in, and to be salt and light to those in our community who do not have enough.

Nancy Vanderscheuren then shared with us the 4th Biblical Principle, that a church must invest in and take responsibility for joining with God in moving forward. Romans 12:1-2 tells us to present ourselves as a sacrifice to God. Nancy said that when we sacrifice the things that we love, we show that we love God more. We prayed together the well known and loved prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, "Lord make me an instrument of Thy peace..." We then sang a familiar song from childhood, "This Little light of Mine." Pastor Brad then suggested that we each ask God to confirm the best avenue of service for us, and to replenish our souls. Prayers were then given for various people who lead and serve in the church.

So what's the plan? WE are the plan!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Conscience and Calvary

A bad conscience is like a bad tooth, except that a bad tooth can be removed. Relief for the bad conscience requires a pilgrimmage to Calvary. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."
~ I John 1:9

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Unseen Footprints

During the opening announcements Pastor Shannon asked us all to stand for a moment of silence for Bonnie Finkbeiner who on October 16 continued the next part of her life in the presence of her Savior.

The Scripture readings today were from Jeremiah 31:27-34 and Luke 18:1-8.

The message, Unseen Footprints, was an exposition of Psalm 77.

Where does prayer begin? For the psalmist, it is not cozy comfort or ritual that produces our deepest prayers, rather it is pain.

Though the circumstances that initiated this psalm are not identified here in this passage, there are many sources of pain. In numerous psalms it is national calamity that crushes the spirit of the writer, causing him to cry out to God with groanings too deep for words. Other times it is personal circumstances. It might be the illness, or death, of a child. It might be heartbreak in relationships, or a broken marriage.

Prayer is born in the depths. In the first portion of this psalm, the writer cries out to God. “I stretched out my untiring hands”… as if drowning. “I was too troubled to speak,” he says. Like drowning, one is aware of his or her helplessness. In other places the psalmists compare their circumstances to being confined in a pit. This is the place where pain and prayer come together.

The second section of the psalm reveals the questions that emerge when it seems God is far off. Will the Lord reject us forever? Will He never show favor again? Has His unfailing love vanished forever? Has His promise failed for all time? Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has He in anger withheld His compassion?”

“Why are such questions in the Bible?” Pastor Shannon asked. In reply he noted that God is not far from us, but rather, He is near. But there is no path to Easter (& the Resurrection) but through Good Friday and the Cross.

The good news is that even when we can’t see Jesus, He can see us.

The psalmist’s anguished questioning is summed up with this specific thought: Has God’s right hand lost its grip?

The third section of Psalm 77 leads to the re-connection: Remember. Remember the good deeds of the Lord. Think about this, meditate on this. Let your thoughts dwell on this. God has been good to you. Remember all He has done. He has been faithful. When we remember, we re-connect.

The concluding portion of the psalm contains a very interesting statement. “His footprints were unseen.”

God may not be visible but he has always been present. He has always been at work.

Like poet Francis Thomas’ “Hound of Heaven,” God will never stop pursuing us when we stray and will never forsake us. Like a good shepherd, God leads us to a land where there is no more sorrow, where we can bask forever in the presence of our loving God.

During the children's challenge, Pastor Shannon used blocks to illustrate the message from Psalm 127:1, "Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain."

Monday, October 15, 2007

God’s Daily Manna

Pastor Shannon returned this week saying, “If I could begin with a theme, it would be gratitude. I am grateful for you.”

The two texts that formed the basis for this Communion Sunday message were taken from the Old Testament book of Numbers, chapter 11:4-15, and from Luke 17:11-19. The foundational idea behind the message was the importance of recognizing who God is and what He has done.

Luke 17:11-19 tells the story of Jesus’ healing of ten lepers, but only one came back to thank Him.

Numbers 11:4-15 is an account of Moses’ meltdown during the Israelites’ wanderings in the desert. In this passage, Moses is harassed by the discontented rabble. The were weary of eating manna, the miraculous food that appeared each morning.

The rabble, whether in olden times or today, seems to be comprised of people with a low threshold of discomfort and a high propensity to complain. Another problem… the rabble never leave. They want to see you fail. They are so focused on the pastor or leader that they can’t see God.

The word “manna” means, literally, “What is it?” It is not an uncommon question.

“What is it that’s going on here?” and, to God, “What is it you have for me?”

The answer to these questions is found in the Gospel of John chapter six. The true manna from heaven is Jesus.

What is the Lord Jesus Christ doing today… in your life and in your church? This is the correct question. What counts is today. Some people are preoccupied with the future. Some are preoccupied with the past. But the only place where you find manna is now. The manna is only in the present.

In modern times, life goes very fast. The pace of life used to be much slower. Let’s not let the present slip away from us, or get so caught up in the past or future that we neglect this most important thing: today.

What is it that you will be about… in your life? In this church community?

Pastor Shannon closed by returning to his original theme of gratitude. “It breaks my heart that only one of the ten lepers came back and gave thanks.”

We proceeded, as a church family, to celebrate the Lord’s Supper.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Three Testimonies

Pastor Shannon was in Iowa this past weekend. In his stead we heard three testimonies from our church family.

Beth Skogen
“I was born Sept 14, 1939 in a logging camp. My mom was German, my dad Ojibwe.” Beth shared how she grew up in a 9’ x 12’ house, her parent with four children. When they moved from location to another the whole house, which was built on runners just for this purpose, was dragged by a Caterpillar to the new location.

Beth first heard of Jesus at age 6 when she was baptized. At age thirty, when she was married with two children, her husband’s mother died. It was the first time she had to deal with the death of someone close and significant. It caused a great upheaval in her heart and mind.

For several weeks she was weighed down by this. Then one day, while driving to work she began crying and couldn’t stop. She drove to a Lutheran church and went in, still bawling. She spoke with the pastor saying, “I need His peace.” The pastor replied, “Jesus already died for you,” and he gave her a Bible to read. She read it for two weeks till God’s truth broke through and “I got it.”

Eric Borndal
“I hate roller coasters,” he began. Eric shared how his life has itself been a roller coaster of highs and lows. Though he accepted Christ at age 12, he stated that a spiritual roller coaster is not a healthy thing.

On one occasion, while reading the book of Chronicles, he observed that when the kings of Israel followed God and obeyed, things were good, and that when they disobeyed and did not listen, things went badly. In his heart he said, “Don’t they get it?” In this manner the Holy Spirit gently pointed out this truth to his heart.

A meaningful verse for Eric is John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth and the life…” I AM the way is a now reality.

Eric said things are not always easy still, openly sharing some of his personal challenges from this past year. In closing he turned us toward God’s promise in Jeremiah 29:11. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Dorothy Thiry
Dorothy, who is 85 years old, began by sharing how twenty years ago she was not expected to live through the night.

Dorothy’s Christian walk began 75 years ago when she was going to church in Homestead and gave her life to Christ in Sunday School. She has seen God’s hand in her life ever since, including the choosing of her husband.

She and husband became “Winter Texans” after he retired. One morning in 1987 she woke with her feet paralyzed. The hospital said she had “French polio” which would go upward through her body. One day the doctors told her husband that he should spend the night in the hospital with her because she would not live till the next day. They stayed up nearly all night talking about the life they had shared.

But the Lord had different plans. The paralysis that went up her body bypassed her respiratory system. One night, while lying in her hospital bed, the devil was prancing back and forth across the bottom of her bed saying, “I’ve got you right where I want you.” She replied, “I’m with the Lord.” The devil promptly disappeared and has never been back.

She lost her husband Gayle years later, but God has been her comfort. This verse shared in closing: I Chronicles 16:9. “Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts.”

“That is why I am still here,” she said, "to tell of God’s wonderful deeds."