Wednesday, December 4, 2013

I Choose the Fire

“…it is a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the Lord.”

Leviticus 1:13

Bundled up with coat and scarf, I cross my arms and brace myself against bitter winds that sting my face and whistle through bare tree tops. Steadying my feet as I amble across icy snow, I walk a familiar pathway.

It is Thanksgiving Day, and it feels like full-blown winter. But I’m not thinking of the cold – I’m thinking about fire.

Why is the offering made by fire?

Why is the sacrifice not crushed beneath a stone, or bathed in endless floods of water? Or why not be laid out in the sun’s rays to bake and dry brittle? Why not be left alone in the wilderness to be seen no more, or buried in a plot of heavy soil deep into the ground? Wouldn’t He rather that the offering to be placed in a carefully-wrapped package or jeweled chest to be laid down at the foot of the throne room?

But no. Instead, the offering is to be burned. And in the end, there is nothing left but a pile of ashes and smoke drifting into the sky.

There’s nothing beautiful about these ashes. Or is there…?

I stop in my tracks as thin gray clouds part and the sun to spreads a beam of light over my crusty pathway.

If my life is to be an offering unto the Lord, what if ashes are the token of my surrender? 

It seems that He calls us to give up everything that makes us alive to self, that we might live to that which is pure and holy and good.

I am coming to believe that the truly beautiful life is the one that has been tried through the fire and become ashes in the hands of God.

“To give them beauty for ashes…” Isaiah 61:3

He would rather have our ashes, over our life of sin. So we die to self and lay all upon the altar as the blaze of transforming power covers our life and touches every cherished treasure, forbidden idol, and hidden selfishness. We trust that He will take the ashes of our humanity, and make our lives beautiful instead. And He does – every time.

I change my course and walk uphill now, nearing the house where warmth and family and friendship resides. And this becomes my prayer…

Let my all be placed on the altar, and my human dreams be turned to ashes, that He can take my complete nothingness and make it into His own deep strength.

Oh Father, I will be the sacrifice that You may make beauty come of these ashes.

I realize that I cannot give until I am given.

I’m willing to be ashes, that You may be my wholeness.

I choose death to self that You may live in me.

I choose the fire.



Monday, November 11, 2013

With Thankfulness

We travel across the interstate at 63 miles per hour through the darkest of nights. Siblings slumber in the backseat, and parents talk quietly in the front as the miles slip by. The moon is shaded by swiftly moving clouds, but I can still see the smiles and hear laughter from a day blessed by what I believe was the very touch of heaven.
Thanksgiving wells up from 19 years full of blessings.

I. Life
Driving 50 miles per hour and only a few minutes from home, the impact of another vehicle slammed into their car just before the driver cried out, “Help us, Jesus!” 
A friend of mine was driving back from a similar day full of blessings and smiles when she found on a backboard en route to the emergency room after a head-on collision. She and the two family members with her could have easily lost their lives that night.
 And meanwhile I sit on my bed’s quilt at home, grappling with the fragility of life. How can one moment be all smiles, laughter, and lightheartedness – while the next is broken glass, shattered dreams, and cold death staring at you in the face?
 “....and suddenly I began to appreciate the moments of my life so much more then I had before,” my friend writes a few days later.
So often I take my heartbeat for granted. I assume that tomorrow will always come, that my loved ones will always be with me, and we will always be safe from the harm others face daily. I take for granted the safe haven of my home, the apparent security of quiet life in New England.
My friend in the accident had closed head injuries, a whiplash, multiple bruises, and a nasty cut from the impact of slamming against her own seat belt. “But the pain just reminds me that I am alive,” she says. “God chose me!”
 Her words of faith stopped me in my tracks. Could it be that the breath He has given to each of us today, is testament to the fact that He has chosen us to live on? Could sometimes the pain we struggle with in life, be there to remind us that we feel? When life brings disappointment or hurt and in brokenness we cry out to God, could the pain be there to remind us that we are still alive?

II. My friends
Thank you for reminding me that I do not walk alone - that there are others who want to love God before anything else, striving to put Him first in ever thought and action, and committed to lifetimes of service. Thank you for each time that you have cheered and challenged me to live life more fully, faithfully and courageously. This has left an imprint on my life never to be forgotten.


      III. Music
God gave us something beautiful - something that still rings throughout the courts of heaven today. And for those on earth, music is an inroad into the hearts of people who would never otherwise show up for a scheduled sermon. Song is a precious way to praise God, and I pray that God will keep singing in our hearts.

IV. The Little Things
The snowy wonderland I wake up to brightens up both the house and my heart. My 4-year-old brother Johnny tugs at my sleeve, looking up at me with wide eyes, “Tell me a story about Jesus and Satan.” He cuddles in my lap on the couch as I recount the story of the great controversy all over again. 
My sisters Amy and Bethany make melody ring throughout the house as their voices soar. 
Mamma reads 9-year-old Joseph a favorite story, as Daddy pulls into the driveway after a day at work. 
An inspiring blog post is just published by a friend. 
My three little adopted mice send a spin wheel turning in their tank home not far from my bed. 
And all of the little things remind me of how much God loves to give.

V. Fellow Families
New England is a beautiful place, but like-minded families with the same values are not plenteous. Whether living close by, or across the world – thank you. By you we are encouraged that there are other households striving for godliness of life and heart.
If I may mention a few names…
The Nebbletts inspire me every time. I will never forget a chilly night in Massachusetts when God’s presence drew very near during a heartfelt message, and it became my prayer to spend and be spent until I could give no more. Thank you for your example of faithfulness and unstirring uncompromise.
The Suekerts are a dear family. New England would be a lonely place if not for you. We are so incredibly blessed to call you our friends, and privileged to work together with you in ministry.
And the many others – living testaments to the fact that there are like-minded families striving to uphold the standards of God’s Word in daily life.

VI.  Mission New England
Because of you, I don’t think I’ll ever be the same again. Nothing is more invigorating than ministry, and I can no longer imagine a Sabbath without it. Being involved in Mission New England has given me many opportunities to see the Lord’s spirit working in the hearts of people. It is humbling, encouraging, inspiring.
 But even if our endeavors to set New England on fire with the gospel make no difference at all – God does not call us to be successful, but rather to be faithful. If it accomplishes nothing else, stepping forward to serve God continues to touch my heart and change my life.

VII.  My family
Again and again I ask myself, “Why me?” There are so many emerging from broken homes, with scarred pasts, and hurting hearts. Why was I placed in such a wonderful home? 
I have met many families, but have rarely seen parents so real, devoted, and loving as mine. Instead of pushing us into the world unprepared and unsteady of faith, they nurtured us and spent countless hours of time to instill values and discipline through home education. I feel no control from them – only love as I know that they sincerely care about my choices. The multitude of wisdom and life experience they offer as I make life decisions is a treasure. 
Their sacrifices, constant labor, and devotion to God will not go unrewarded nor be unfruitful.

VIII. Opportunity to Love
I haven’t always realized what a privilege it is to love. More than once I have gone to the Source, begging for more. Will You give me love enough to feel it in my heart for those who are even repulsive to me?
Friends, His love is deep and broad enough. I realize now that there is no such thing as an unlovable soul, because love is granted without fail every time I ask.
When I interact with the 300 lb homosexual, I still naturally shrink from her coarseness and insensitivity, but I feel a genuine love for her that I know comes from God Himself. 
That is a miracle. I marvel every time…

IX. Success is Faithfulness
I’m thankful that my life is not measured according to the world’s theory of success. Rather, success equals faithfulness for the true Christian. 
That goes for when I knock on doors and not a person answers, much less wants a Bible study. For when I speak and it seems as if my words bounce off of the people back to me. For when I feel discouraged that I'm not making enough of a difference.
God does not call us to be "successful" - He calls us to be faithful.

 X. My Lord
There is none so beautiful, so sweet, so precious. 
Thank you for the breath You give, and the death You died that I might live. I marvel at Your mercy, consistency, and attention to the details of my life. 
May this new year of life be marked with more faithfulness, devotion, and love to Thee – much, much more. Place the beauty of heaven in my heart, that when You take me there, it will already be home. 


Thursday, November 7, 2013

And He said, "Follow Me..."

Someday, when I look back on years past and highlight the growth each year brought to my journey with God, I’m sure that I will stop at the summer of 2013 and mark it as one bringing the most change in all of my teenage years.

Strangely enough, as an adult, I was more clueless about life plans than at age five. From a young age, I had my life mapped out, and was sure of God’s specific calling for this life. I pursued high school and then college with determination to complete the “necessaries” paving my way into the wide world beyond that of my home. Life swirled with business – recording music, organizing benefit concerts for my sister’s Youth for Jesus journey, finishing my last college classes, juggling an intense externship at a local family practice, and then switching to the routine of work as a medical assistant at a clinic in town. But as I adjusted to a new schedule and became more independent, I faced young dreams with a new uncertainty.

August sunshine glistened warmly off of the little white church nestled in the Connecticut valley. I sat near the front and close to the piano, as usual, and listened as a youth spoke golden words of truth that sent home the realization…

“Friends, we cannot go if God does not send us…”

That’s what I was afraid of.

I am asked to surrender my own ambition, in order to make way for the willingness that must be present in my heart to go wherever He calls. I am asked to be willing to fulfill the humblest position of a servant in this world, that His dreams be fulfilled through me.  Who am I to say that that they are insignificant?


……………..



Months later.

Growing up, I had great dreams to travel across the world and share the gospel with those who were thirsting for Christ. I pictured myself treading through the darkness with a light that could never be hidden nor suppressed. I longed to see chains broken, hear cries of victory, and watch the world be transformed by God’s glory.

At my current time of my life now, I imagined that I would already be in some far-off place, caring for the hurting and hopeless, serving through evangelism, and touching hearts.
 But here I am, working at a small medical clinic in my home town, tempted to feel dissatisfied with my duties at home and in the clinic because it doesn’t feel like I’m doing a missionary work of any significance. This wasn’t my idea of being a missionary. 

Maybe that’s why a patient’s thoughtful question almost caught me off guard.

“Do you read something inspirational every morning?”
 I looked up after tossing a stethoscope around my neck, surprised.
“Why, yes,” I replied.
“I can tell,” he said thoughtfully, then continued. “What was your thought for this morning?”
 Placing away a blood pressure cuff in its proper place, my mind raced with thoughts. It was taking a chance to tell him. One patient’s complaint could severely damage my prospects as the clinic’s new medical assistant. Who had ever been so forthright about their religion in this establishment? But I saw that he was in earnest, waiting expectantly.
 “Through being faithful in the little things and serving others, I have the opportunity to point them to true happiness and hope.” My voice slowed, savoring the thought that I actually dared to continue on… “The happiness that can only be found in God.”

Following that experience as days and weeks passed, I found more opportunities to share my faith. I saw people clasped in heavy chains openly struggling for freedom and truth, while others were hiding behind a mask of smiles but carried heavy burdens on their empty hearts.

And slowly I realized that while I had been waiting for young dreams to come true, He had already placed me in a mission field. He called me to let go of future dreams that I might concentrate on the here and now. Live in singleness for His glory. And trust that I could go anywhere, absolutely anywhere, He sent me.

“Go into all the world…”

What if He does not send you across the world? What if “go” means go to your neighbors, your friends, your co-workers, and the stranger on the street in your hometown, until the whole world is flooded with light?

He may still have that place for me in India, or China, or South America someday, but the realization hits me that my mission-field is my corner – whoever that includes, wherever I am.

Sometimes it is as if I’m walking through the darkness with my little candle, hoping that others see it’s shining. I pray for the chains to be broken from the pain and hurting I see on many faces, and find songs of victory on my lips as I realize this: I don’t have to stand here, waiting for the dreams of tomorrow, when He has given me riches of blessing today.

I stand in an exam room, realizing that God sent me to my home town.

The man sitting in front of me pauses, thoughtful deep brown eyes looking up.
“Tell me of Saul on the road to Damascus. I haven’t heard that story before…”
 And so I tell him. I describe how the persecutor in all of his self-righteousness thinks that he is working for God, when in fact he is fighting against Him. Prepared to destroy, he is stopped on a pathway to fall helpless in a blinding light.
‘“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”’ I recount Christ’s words, marveling at a new meaning to the ageless story, suddenly touched by the tender pathos of Jesus’ cry. I continue, ‘“You’re kicking against the pricks.” Then, Saul saw the nail marks in Jesus’ hands, and knew that it was the Lord. God is speaking to us, but all too often we shut up our hearts from listening. Just as Saul kicked against the pricks on the road to Damascus, trying to drown out the voice of conviction.”
 The man is all ears, eyes riveted on mine. “A lesson for us today.”

There’s no reason why I cannot dream for Him in my hometown. Nothing makes this place less of a mission field than China, or India, or South America.

It is in the here and now that we are the missionaries.

Let us dream for God, but at the same time be willing to adopt His dreams if they conflict with our own. His are the sweetest.

He said “follow me,” so I surrender.


Saturday, October 12, 2013

No Flowers

The Creator made us so.

Who of us doesn’t appreciate beauty – whether it is caught in salty, crashing waves on the sandy ocean shore, appreciated in the stillness of the mossy forest haven, traced in the flight of the wild, lofty eagle, or seen tucked in the soft, velvet petals of the deep-colored rose. He has made all things beautiful.

-----

Golden evening shadows fell as my sister’s first day of canvassing with NAPS (National Association for Prevention of Starvation) drew to a close. Young adults line up by a white van, ready to be dismissed from a fully day of door-to-door work in Orlando, Florida.

“Wait, just one more house- ” Amy gestured to one last building on an assigned street.
 Her friend and partner in canvassing matched Amy’s eager pace, eyes brightening. “Yes, we want to cover as many houses as we can.”
Now out of sight from the white van, the girls approached the house. Two clean-shaven young men stood standing shirtless on their back lawn, but the canvassers bravely proceeded with their survey.
 The men listened compliantly and gave a two-dollar donation to NAPS, but a gleam in their eyes made my intuitive sister uneasy and distrustful. 
Let’s get out of here, she thought to herself as Kristen and one of the men chatted and evening shadows continued to fall.
 Kirsten had begun sharing the love of Jesus with the strangers, but conversation eventually turned to other topics.
“See my beautiful flower?” she played with a blossom between her soft fingers. “A sweet older lady picked and gave it to me earlier.”
 The man paused, but spoke smoothly. “If you like picking flowers, why don’t you go with us to the other side of the house? A lot of flowers grow there. You may pick as many as you want.”
 “Oh Amy,” Kirsten turned to my sister, “would you like to do that and have a beautiful flower for yourself? I wouldn’t mind getting another.”
 She shook her head, fighting an urge to run. “No, I don't need a flower. The others are waiting for us back at the van, and we shouldn’t be keeping them waiting.”
 “Oh, that’s right,” she other girl was reminded. “Thank you so much though,” she turned back to the strangers.
 As they turned to leave, Amy urged Kirsten to jog to the van. It wasn’t until they were settled inside with the rest of their group that she let out a sigh of relief.
 “Darnell, let’s drive over to the last house we canvassed and see what flowers they have on the other side of their house, by the road,” Kirsten urged the driver and then turned to face the others behind her. “Girls, a guy down at that house said we could pick his flowers.”
 The others shared her love of beauty and readily assented to drive by the house from a different direction to see the “other side," but as the van slowly pulled by the familiar building and eyes gazed out of the glass windows, the group hushed into deep silence.
 Beyond a wooden gate that locked, stood a few tangled shrubs over uneven, overgrown grass that extended to the doorstep. There were no flowers.

 Sometimes our love of beauty leads us in the wrong direction. The prospect of brighter dreams, fulfilled hopes, and something better than we know can allure us from safety into the clutches of the evil one. That which should drive us into the arms of God, leads us down a different road because we choose the wrong path.

No matter how tempting, making the wrong choice to claim a cherished treasure will leave you in chains. Beyond a cold iron fence, a patch of thorny weeds extend to a prison cell where all is darkness. There are no flowers in Satan’s garden.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

To Know His Heart

As the seconds tick and the hours fly, another day of my life comes to a close and night settles over my Vermont hills. The crisp winds of a fall night whistle and strike chimes just outside of my door. As I recline on my bed the ticking of my clock and typing sounds from my computer keyboard hardly break the silence. I yearn to share a heart that is both an eternity away, and right at hand.

Through two recent and specific experiences, I was led to a place where I could identify with a fraction of this heart, when mine was touched and pierced too.

When small but eternally significant thoughts and ideas come to mind, they are often whispered by a heavenly messenger. The memory of a particular man who had been missing from church attendance for 2 ½ years became a burden on my heart, and with growing excitement I searched for his mailing address, petitioned church members to sign an expression of how much he was still missed and loved, and sent the card with a prayer.

Maybe Dennis would never respond, but maybe it would at least touch his heart. I might never see him again, but at least I could be assured that I reached out to the older man. The joy received from taking part in God’s work fully repays all effort, even if we see no results from this side of heaven.

On the following Sabbath from the piano bench, I saw him slip into a far corner of the sanctuary. His head turned, gazing at the people who had written to him in that single card, and as his eyes locked with theirs, he flashed a smile.

Oh joy, pure joy. After being away so long, he came back again. It would be impossible to hold back my smiles. Lord, is this mixture of excitement, anticipation, and happiness what You experience each day when one of Your children takes the road home? Heaven must be made of pure joy.”

My joy was overflowing.

 I savored the kinship I felt with His heart right then. We shared the same happiness, we loved the same soul. And it was difficult to imagine that while I was bursting with happiness, this was only a fraction of His when the created trusts the Creator.


More than two weeks ago on a beautiful Sabbath day, a precious little Siamese cat slipped by the front door and scampered across the thick grass of our lawn. The mysterious adventure of the outdoors drew her from the confinement of the house, and she played with the brisk and playful breeze.

 My family rushed off to church, and the womenfolk lingered long after potluck to fellowship with friends and share music together. Meanwhile, my dad and the boys enjoyed a quiet afternoon at home. Joseph was outdoors when he heard the sounds of a struggle in the woods, a cry – and then silence.

Our Precious was defenseless. She knew little of the hidden danger lurking among the shadows of her friendly world. Because she had wandered from safety, she became the prey.

 But even though we were sure she was gone, we still hoped and searched, calling her name in the silence. Tramping through briers and weeds in the darkness of the night, I called for a kitty that had a piece of my heart. The calls of my friends and family echoed across the cleared portion of our property as they tramped in tennis shoes and darted the flashlight beams through the forest.

Our group returned to the house, flooding with warmth and light, love and happiness, but I linger on the front porch. There is an emptiness now that nothing else can quite fill.

 It’s such a cold night out there, I shiver and wrap my arms around my shoulders as I stand alone, gazing at twinkling stars in light of the moon. The faint cry of the woodcock hovering over her nest in the woods, and low drone of weary grasshoppers, clinging to tall blades of grass blend with the whisper of the cool wind brushing my face.

 Why did it have to be Precious? Why did she ever slip out of our house and into the cool shadows of too often unforgiving nature? Couldn’t the fox have taken something less sweet and precious to me?

 Seemingly on the whisper of the wind, I hear, Sorrow with me. Feel my loss. And this is not even a fraction of the pain that hurts my heart when mankind that I love lets go of safety and breaks away from My strength to wander alone. So painfully often, they become prey to the enemy who drains them of breath and life. I feel loss because that wanderer – so sweet and precious to my heart - leaves a void that cannot be replaced. Although there is great joy in heaven’s courts, I still shed tears. Tears for those who made themselves lost to me by fleeing from safety to trust the enemy.

 We sorrow together, and His tears comfort me.

.........

Heaven’s courts are illuminated with brightness too intense for human eye. Mansions have been prepared, unsurpassed and unblemished in pure beauty for us. The song of angels perfumes the air with sweetness and joy as the repentant child, the wandering creation, returns to claim the presence of his Lord.

Heaven is made of pure joy, I exclaim in wonder.

 But then a strange silence covers the scores of heavenly beings hovering over the throne room. In a place where there should be only singing and laughter, there is breathed a sigh of deep and heavy sadness.

“Oh why, why did he let Me go?” I hear the tender cry from the Savior, as He traces the way of a wandering child. “My love is holding on, but it won’t keep him from danger when he walks in its path.”

 And then another mournful word. “She had no time for me this morning. Some of her actions today will ultimately effect ten other souls for eternity. If she only realized how thin of a thread she holds in connection to the divine…”

 Tears fall. “Oh Father, they are so sweet and precious to me. I sacrificed eternity for their sakes, but they refuse to give up the husks of a dark world for the riches of another.”

 I stand unmoved, shocked by the realization that my Savior sorrows still. Heaven is made of pure joy, but tears and grief are there - a constant reminder of what sin and separation cost.

I expected only rapture would be here, but what is this grief I see? And as I search my heart…could it be over me?



In the quietness of my bedroom, I look back and savor feeling His closeness through both joy and pain. Challenges and hardships have a new meaning now, for I am challenged to the core when I behold His loveliness, and find strength as I surrender my weakness. Through each test of faith, I am drawn deeper into a heart that has been touched by every sorrow, and hurt by every pain, but still loves to no end.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Borrowed Time

July 29, 2013

More than 6,000 in my country die each day –

But one out of these precious six-thousand today strikes closer to home.

Just a few months ago, a chest x-ray revealed a relentless cancer, spreading through his lungs; eating away at his body; and leaving him shocked, frustrated, and desperately fighting for life.

Clinical staff spoke of him in quiet tones, aware that the dying man was not emotionally prepared to breathe his last.

He arrived at the clinic – confined to a wheelchair pushed by a family member. Only his hollow coughs and the pumping of his oxygen tank broke the silence. He waited, face expressionless.

What can you say to a dying man?

“How are you doing, Fred?”

He looked up from his wheelchair with sad eyes as I led the way for the mournful procession into an exam room.

“Okay,” he paused. “I have no appetite. I can hardly taste anything anymore.”

As I took his vital signs, I glanced at his three relatives sitting by the side of the room. They shared quiet whispers as I worked.

What can you say to a dying loved one’s family?

“Have you been enjoying the summer weather?” As the words spilled from my mouth, I wondered why I even asked.

They shrugged, and glanced at each other. “I guess,” one replied.

Of course. Who would be enjoying the weather today when they knew a loved one would not be enjoying it with them tomorrow?

Wrapping a blood pressure cuff around his right arm, and placing the chest piece of a stethoscope, I listened to his heart’s steady rhythm.  In maybe a matter of days, this heartbeat will cease.

I paused before I left him, wishing that I could speak with him further, assure him of God’s faithfulness, and pray with him.

Before turning to leave, I softly placed my hand on his denim sleeve. “It was nice to see you again, Fred. I hope you have a good day.”

He nodded, looking up at me. “Thank you – and you too.”

I paused in the clinic hallway, closing the door behind me and trying to hold back a flood of emotions.

------------

It was the last look, the last interaction I would have with him in this world. I wonder what I could have done more to help him, and if the little that I did do made any difference to poor Fred.

My heart sank at the news of his death, and I wondered if he was prepared to die.

But oh friends…

Sin is a malignant poison, eating away at the souls of every creature. Humanity fights for life, desperate for love and peace, but so often turning away from its only Source.

The Lord never promised that our trail would not be marked with pain and tears as well as peace and joy. He never said that our hearts wouldn’t break and be broken again. But in this reality we find the beauty of His tender mercy – He does not promise to remove hardship and sorrow, but instead plants Himself by our side, to stand as our shield and support through every storm of life.


No pain is too great to overpower “the love that will not let me go.”

How do I dare to relax and enjoy the prospective “peace and safety” of today, when I know that precious souls lying in my pathway could spiritually (or physically) die tomorrow?

Waiting for a touch of love and compassion, yearning to know the peace that passes all understanding.

What is my life saying to this dying world of ours?

We’re living on borrowed time. More importantly, on God’s time. Are we living like it?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

No Conditions

Her attitude was not unapproachable, but neither was it friendly and inviting. The elderly woman slowly rose from the wooden pew, straightening her back and gazing straight ahead. I noticed her short grey hair and gold rings dangling her ears, but more prominent was her aloof and crusty demeanor.
Rising from the piano bench with sheet music nestled under my arm, I approached the pew where the stranger stood. I could see that a visiting non-denominational family friend was eager to introduce us. It had been by her invitation that this new visitor made an appearance at my quaint country church.
"Are you coming to potluck?" I pressed an invitation.
The older lady tugged at the handle of her pocketbook. "Oh, I don't know."
"Are you sure? The food is really good," Mrs. Fontaine, my friend added.
"I really hope you can come," I urged with a smile.
The older woman consented. "Alright."
Church members had slowly wandered downstairs to the fellowship hall where busy cooks had been setting out quinoa salad and heating plates of roasted vegetables, baked beans, and casseroles.
I led the way and stood next to my new "friend" in line. I sensed her lingering aloofness as I urged her to join the potluck line, making efforts to draw her into conversation. If I could only reach through this crustiness and show her that I care,” I thought to myself. To help her to see that this warmness in my heart is real, and no pretense.
I led her to a chair and sat next to her at the long table. To my delight, she slowly softened and the conversation grew pleasant as she asked me questions about homeschooling, my family, and my life.
I was blessed by inviting a stranger to potluck and in getting to know her. She lingered after the meal, interacting with church members and smiling.
I gave her hug before she left. "Please come and visit us again - we would love to have you back."
"Thank you," she nodded. "It was very nice meeting you."
Mrs. Fontaine left to drop the visitor off at her home a mile from the church, and returned to share a story with us.

---------

"Why don't you?"
"I will not step foot in a Seventh-Day Adventist church."
She hung up the phone, adamant in spite of the petition. Although her brother wasn't a member, he worshiped with an Adventist congregation and found true fellowship and biblical preaching there. Faithfully he prayed that she would step out in faith and attend an Adventist church, even though he knew her answer was firm.
Mrs. Fontaine was a relative, and she invited her to attend a local church. "A thirteen-year-old is preaching, and the Cosgrove girls will have special music. You should come! I will pick you up at your house."
On Saturday morning as Mrs. Fontaine's car pulled into the church parking lot, the visitor with her could not hide her astonishment. She hesitated, half laughed, and spoke in one breath, "I can't believe this." How did you know? Why did you bring me here? What are we doing here?
"We're here, so let's go inside."
Thus, the two ladies stepped into our small Seventh-Day Adventist church - and for one of them, it was the first time.

---------

Months later, my visitor friend has stepped across the threshold of an Adventist Church for the third time. gives when the offering plate is passed to her pew….
She listens as a benefit concert for my sister’s Youth For Jesus trip, and she gives...

---------

And now as I sit here, I wonder….

How many times am I content to leave friend, a stranger?

How often do I rob others of the blessing of sharing fellowship, and giving to further God’s work, by my lack of open-armed welcome?

How many blessings have I missed by neglecting to love enough, neglecting to embrace the unlovely?

I think I can understand now why His mission is accomplished when we love the world as He did.

This is the love that seeks out the lost child who was found by “another master.” Breaks the chains of bitterness, and melts the hearts of stone.

It is so easy to love the lovable. I think that I’m a loving person when I love those who love me. But what if our love for God is only measured by how much we love those we love the least? What if God’s estimation of our love for Him is only so much as we love the most naturally repulsive to us?

"Love to man is the earthward manifestation of the love of God. It was to implant this love, to make us children of one family, that the King of glory, became one with us. And when His parting words are fulfilled, “Love one another, as I have loved you” (John 15:12); when we love the world as He has loved it, then for us His mission is accomplished. We are fitted for heaven; for we have heaven in our hearts." DA, pg. 641

He made the greatest sacrifice that love could make. He loved the world with His life, with His death, and ultimately – eternity.

Love has no conditions in the heart of God. It only gives and lives that it may continue to be shared and lived through the lives of others. If every single soul on this planet rejected His voice, He would still love.

If we can embrace the world – every stranger, every lonely heart, every soul thirsting for a touch, for the opportunity to give….

Only then, we have begun to know this love.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

When God Says No

"May I ask what kind of novels this class requires students to read? Could I have some examples?"

She nodded. "Of course."

Lightly tapping my fingers on the wooden table, my eyes gazed into the cool gray ones of the college advisor. She tucked a stray wisp of curly blond hair behind her ear and leaned back into her office chair.

My mother sat nearby, jotting down book titles on notepaper. My college advisor began listing titles, highlighting storylines that I had never before heard of. Nevertheless, we proceeded to sign up for classes. (This particular class - though it had nothing to do with my degree - was mandatory.)

God's leading seemed so clear and distinct. I had finally decided on what I wanted to do, and a community college had recently established the program I was interested in. The enrolling process had progressed smoothly, and everything apparently fit into place. With excitement I looked forward to learning new things and being a witness in new territory.

Clutching a list of classes in hand, I skipped up to the door of our family's log cabin with exciting news about progressing college plans. It wasn't long before I took out my laptop and searched the sample book titles on the internet, scanning over Wikipedia summaries with a friend.

Time almost stood still. I can't read this. Foul language, immoral elements, murder and bloodshed, violence. There was no doubt in my mind that I couldn't fill my mind with such filth, much less analyze and discuss it with detail in the classroom.

Praying for wisdom, I picked up my phone to dial Kate, my college advisor.

"May I have a religious exemption? Each of the novel examples you listed contained material with bad language, violence, and immorality. As a Christian, I can't fill my mind with these things."

She paused. "I can ask the dean about this, but it may take me a week or so to get back to you. However, I would like to mention that considering issues outside of your worldview can be extremely beneficial. A lot of things can be learned by embracing the world with an open mind. The same issues you find in the selected reading, you will find in today's society."

I listened as she continued.

"I strongly suggest that you should take this class. You will face many of the issues discussed during the course of your life, and it could be very beneficial to you in the long run. You can always step out of the room when the class discusses a sensitive issue to you," she suggested, and then added with a hint of warning, "Just so long as you're willing to face the consequences for it."

"Thank you," I told her. "I understand what you're saying. I'm not afraid to face these issues, but I can't consciously fill my mind with them, as a Christian. I would still appreciate it if you could share my request for the religious exemption."

Anxiously I awaited a reply. Second thoughts about my career, my school of choice, and the years ahead affected by this decision glazed through my mind. I hoped that the requested exemption would be granted so that I could attend this school, but hesitated to wonder if this had been God's plan after all.

I received the phone call. The matter had been discussed, and I had to decide between taking this class - or not attending the college period. As this door firmly shut with a resounding thud, I wondered and waited.

This event marked the beginning of a long pathway of considering different options and researching one online program after another only to move on. Finally we were led to Allied Health Institute based in Florida. It offered the same degree in Medical Assisting that I had planned on taking from the community college. It was difficult to contain my excitement on the day my school started. It didn't begin walking down the echoing hallway of my community college, but at my computer in my bedroom.

7 months later, I am satisfied. This is what He wanted. Even though it wasn't what I was looking for at first, this program gave me the opportunity to stay at home everyday and keep up the practical skills of life interspersed with studying. It is preparing me to become a certified medical assistant when the winds of change shift into crisp fall breezes.

Tracing back over the past few years, many events have taken place where I had been convinced that God was leading. He was - but so often, not in the way or direction I expected, and even hoped. Future years hold many things in store, but I'm aware that His leading will often result in dreams maybe far different than mine.



But when God says "no," I can cherish the trust that He knows better than this human heart. Why is it so easy to distrust Him Who sees all things, when I myself am blind? How can my heart ever think that He doesn't understand, when my own heart is cold and numb, but His has felt all of the pain of sin for me.

When God says "no," His children can be assured that He has something better in store. When the doors close with a resounding echo that strikes at the core of our heart, we can trust His to know better.