Faith, Fun & Fellowship

I was so blessed to get to go with the Pine Valley United Methodist Church Travelers to Lake Junaluska, NC. I had decided last spring I would love to go meet this group.  I missed the sign up time so I was on the wait list.  By the time I got on the wait list my mother had joined PVUMC so I added her.  What a neat way for her to get to know other members!  There is no better way to feel a part of a church than to get involved with smaller groups!  I was blessed to reconnect some old friendships and make lots of new friendships!

We had 46 Travelers on this trip - two buses.  We stayed at the Lambuth Inn in Lake Junaluska which was a treat because I always stayed in an old lodge/motel with the youth.  And we didn’t eat in the mess hall - we ate in the dining room!  We ate more calories than we burned with the buffet breakfast and dinners!  And we were driven everywhere and not expected to hike up the hill like I have had to do in the past!  In fact, Craig was sweet enough to drive a few, who could not walk down to the cross, to see the cross lit up at night!  Thanks to our drivers, Rick and Craig, and to our planner and captain, Oakelee!  Everything was attended to and we were spoiled!  

Lake Junaluska is in the Blue Ridge Mountains and many Methodists have been there for retreats throughout  the years.  I had been as a youth and again as I helped with youth.  It holds lots of special memories for lots of people.  The two things that stand out in my mind about Lake Junaluska are the singing and the cross.  Every night we would all hike up the hill to the cross that is lit up and shines over the lake.  Our youth group would always get our picture made around the cross.  We would also have people sing on each side of the lake and it sounded like a round with the echo’s.  When I came as a youth leader we still did the same thing.  

We got to take the Great Smoky Mountains railroad Tuckasegee River excursion from Bryson City to Dillsboro, NC.  We rode through the quiet mountain countryside along the Tuckasegee River to the quaint town of Dillsboro.  We saw lots of farmland, creeks and rapids.  We rode through the manmade Cowee Tunnel made in the 1800’s, and we saw the wrecked bus and train from Harrison Ford’s movie, Fugitive.  

I went on this trip to write a story about this group at our church.  We had a great time seeing Lake Junaluska, riding the Great Smoky Mountain train to Dillsboro but that was not the high-light of the trip!  The high-light was the fellowship with new and old friends with God’s beautiful mountainous artwork in the background!  It is the laughs that we shared, the talks that we had, the meals that we shared.  So many new friendships formed over those three days!  Pastor Barry’s devotionals were based on 1 Corinthians 13 and especially verse 13, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.  But the greatest of these is love.”  These three days were filled with faith, hope and love!  

While the train trip may not be discussed next year,the things that WILL be discussed are things like Rick stopping to ask a lady directions and she walked up the steps into the bus and said “thanks” and sat in the front seat.  It took us a while to realize that she thought we were a bus that stopped at the trolley stop around the lake at Junaluska!!  She thought we were picking her up.  A block down the road she said thanks and got off.  Or while on the train they were telling us we were passing Shelton Farms who grow all of the tomatoes for all of the Ingles grocery stores.  Pastor Barry heard England instead of Ingles and he was amazed that they ship those tomatoes all the way to England!  Psalm 126:2, “Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy.”  Laughter is a significant part of the friendship experience. 

The Bible tells us in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor:  If either of them falls down. one can help the other up.  But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.  Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.  But how can one keep warm alone?  Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”  God puts us in church communities so we will have fellowship that we need in order to grow and thrive.  We cannot expect our faith to thrive alone.  Being part of a small group at PVUMC is a wonderful way to grow and thrive!

1 Thessalonians 2:8, “so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.”  I believe the reason Christians refer to each other as brothers and sisters is because they share a kinship.  This kinship is more deeply rooted than any physical bloodline.  When we gather with these brothers and sisters and do life with them we learn from each other.  These times of fellowship are sweet and encouraging.  Maybe that is how Paul, Silvanus and Timothy felt when they told the Thessalonians that they “were delighted to share not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.” 

I like the way Eugene Peterson describes the fellowship community of God.  He says that the church community is “a grouping of persons whom God has called together, whom God will keep together, and who will survive by God’s grace.”  Take time this week for prayer and fellowship with other Christians.  You will savor and grow from these times together.

The Quilt Of Many Colors

My Granny made quilts - not with a sewing machine.  She made quilts by hand from scraps of material.  When I got married, Granny made Mike and me a double wedding ring quilt.  It is very beautiful and special because I know all of the time that went into that quilt.  Often times Granny and the ladies in her church would put up a quilting frame in a Sunday school class at her church and they would all work on the quilt.  A lot of love went into that quilt.  After my second daughter, Ivey, was born Granny started working on another double wedding ring quilt. She said she did not want them to fight over that quilt.  She had quilted the rings but not put the quilt together when she died.  It always meant a lot to me that Granny wanted both of my girls to have a double wedding ring quilt.  She did not want any jealousy!  I thought of this story when I heard we were going to start a sermon series on Joseph.  I think about his coat that his father gave him and the jealousy it caused.  

In Genesis 37, you learn the story of Joseph and his coat.  One day, Joseph’s father called him away from his brothers and handed him a gift.  Joseph was given the most beautiful coat he had ever seen. His brothers were not as happy about the coat as he was. They were angry and jealous because they thought their father loved him more than them.  

The next morning Joseph told his brothers, “I want you to listen to this dream I had last night.  We were all in the fields, bundling wheat into sheaves.  My sheaf of wheat stood straight up.  All of your sheaves of wheat bent over as if they were bowing down to mine.”  The brothers asked, “Do you actually think YOU are going to rule over us and WE are going to bow down to you?  You would think Joseph would stop there but no.  He continued, “Wait!  That is not all!  I had another dream.  In the second dream, the sun, and the moon and eleven stars bowed down to me!”  Now the brothers were even angrier. 

While working, the brothers discussed Joseph and the more they talked, the angrier they became.  They already knew their father loved Joseph the most and they needed to get rid of him.  They threw Joseph in a deep pit until they could decide on a plan.  They sold Joseph as a slave and were pleased until they thought of what they would tell their father.  Quickly they killed an animal and put some blood on the beautiful coat.  When they showed the coat to their father, he thought Joseph had been killed by a wild animal.  

The Midianite merchants sold strong Joseph to an Egyptian man named Potiphar.  He was a captain and knew King Pharaoh well.  Joseph never forgot his father’s teachings.  He never became angry with his brothers for treating him so badly.  He was righteous and honest and loved the Lord very much.  The Lord was with Joseph and helped him to become prosperous. Potiphar noticed what a good man Joseph was and made him the ruler of everything in his house.  

I think Romans 8:28 comes alive in this story.  There are so many lessons to be learned.  Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  Joseph’s father, Jacob, felt life was not worth living because he had lost the one thing that meant the most to him.  But while Jacob was crying, God was working all things together for the good of Jacob, Joseph, and his brothers.  In the end God used Joseph to save his father and brothers from starvation.  God was taking care of Joseph the whole time.  The pit Joseph was thrown in was dry so he could not drown.  The Midianites knew they could make money on him so they sold him.  Joseph ended up in the home of one of the most responsible officers of Pharaoh’s administration. These were not coincidences!  God is in full control.  Even when we are unaware of it, God is at work.  No matter what we are going through, God is at work.  Like Joseph, God is placing you where He needs you and giving you the tools to be successful! 

The Blessing Of The Animals

Pine Valley United Methodist Church was a busy place this past weekend with over 24 parking lot servants, bus drivers and those who helped with the Franklin Graham crusade.  Then there were lots who helped with the “Blessing of the Animals”. I did not get to go to the animal blessing but from what I hear, I hope to go next year.  

My mom and my pet sitter, both, wanted to go see what this was all about. Since I was out of town they took my three pound dog, Duke.  They loved it and would like to go back. They loved it more than Duke! And I was grateful that he was “blessed.”

You may think this service is silly and I did when I first heard about it. Then I remembered the most beautiful place in the world that I have ever visited - South Africa.  I always say God really showed off when He made their mountains, oceans and animals! Truly those baboons, giraffes, elephants, lions, zebras and panthers were truly like works of art.  To see them in their own surrounding taking care of their family, hunting or running.  To see the very pregnant zebra was breathtaking. I had never had such an appreciation of animals before.  God’s creation in the animals was like beautiful artwork!  

Psalm 148:10-13, “...wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds, kings of the earth and all nations, you princes and all rulers on earth, young men and women, old men and children.  Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his splendor is above the earth and the heavens.” Revelation 5:13, “Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”

We are first told about animals in Genesis.  Genesis 1:20-25, And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.  God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.”  And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.  And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so.  God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.”

The Blessing Of The Animals service is dedicated to our pets, the men and women who serve as veterinarians, and vet technicians all over the world.  The animal blessing is based on Job 12:7-10, “But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you.  Which of all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.”  

Most of the songs at the service are about animals. Winter Park Presbyterian Church Ukulele choir had several musical presentations.  The liturgy spoke of the animals of God’s creation inhabiting the skies, the earth and the seas. Animals were saved from the flood and afterwards were part of the covenant with Noah.  A giant fish saved Jonah. Ravens brought bread to Elijah. Animals were included in the repentance of Ninevah. A candle was lit in memory of past pets and butterflies were released at the end of the service in their memory.  My mom said she had never seen so many dog strollers in one place! Charles reported that there were 63 people, 27 dogs, 14 cats, and 1 rooster!  

Some of the comments I have heard from those who went were how special it was that two churches come together to do this ministry.  Several wished more children could go to see that they can ask God to take care of their animal. This service is a reminder that God created the animals.  It was a reminder to an older adult that so often the pet is a constant companion and best friend to someone lonely. There was a retired army veteran having his dog blessed.  The dog was in the war with him and was going to be put down. He was getting ready to be discharged so he felt the least he could do was save that dog since that dog saved many lives. So he brought the dog back and adopted him.   

God created the animals.  Many of us have pets that are part of the family.  We can learn from animal’s wisdom, their loyalty and their ability to be present in the moment.  Stop and notice an animal’s form, color, texture and motion. God created beautiful works of art through animals. I love to see an eagle fly, birds in formation, a dolphin playing in the water, a galloping horse, etc.  May we praise Him for all the beauty in creation. May we praise Him for all the blessings we receive from animals. Blessed are you, Lord God, maker of all living creatures.  

Expect Jesus

The past two weeks have been a tough week for many!  Last week I went to a funeral for a dear friend who died of breast cancer.  While she had been sick, her death seemed sudden.  Another friend lost a parent suddenly this week.  Another friend took a loved one to Hospice today.  And I have another funeral this week.  Life is hard and we do not have the promise of tomorrow.  James 4:13-14, “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’  Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” 

Life is hard but what a comfort knowing that those people embarked on the journey from Earth to Heaven.  When they arrived God wrapped His arms around them and said, “Welcome home!” I am not surprised that God had prepared me for being a prayer counselor at the Franklin Graham Decision Tour Tuesday night in Fayetteville.  He knew I needed to be reminded of the gift of eternity. Romans 6:23, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” What a blessing and a comfort to know my friends are with Jesus Christ this very minute!

Fayetteville was number one of eight North Carolina cities The Billy Graham Evangelical Association would visit in 13 days.  Because Mike and I were going to be out of town for the Wilmington crusade we drove to Fayetteville.  I had a nervous excitement all week but especially that day.  I was reminded of a minister telling me one time not to confuse nerves with the excitement of the Holy Spirit.  I believe it was the Holy Spirit being excited for me!  When we got in the car Mike asked me if I was excited.  I told him, “Yes, but I do not know what to expect.”  He replied, “Expect Jesus.”  Wow!

As a volunteer we got there early and could sit as close as we wanted.  We were about three rows back - to get in the shade.  An hour before the event the prayer counselors met for last minute instructions and a prayer.  I went to training for this honor and I have read their literature about being a prayer counselor but the more the man talked to us the more nervous I got.  He talked about how important this decision is that someone is making.  It is the decision to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.  It is the decision that determines where they will spend eternity.  I was overwhelmed and weepy.  I found a brook along the edge of the park and I had a little quiet time.  I told God I was scared of messing up. All of a sudden this role was too big for me.  God reminded me it would not be me.  The Holy Spirit would give me the words. Walking back to my seat I was in awe that there were 9,200 people worshiping under the stars.  

Before the event started we had some warm up music and then Christian singer Jeremy Camp prepared our hearts. Then Franklin Graham preached the Biblical story of Naaman, who was pagan and a Syrian Army commander who had leprosy.  Naaman had to give up his pride in order to be healed by God.  Naaman had power, honor, wealth and courage, but this could not heal him.  Franklin preached about how sin separates us from God, and the penalty of sin is death.  Out of His great love for the world, God sent His only Son, Jesus, to Earth to die in our place.  And because of that we can be with Him forever in Heaven if we repent and follow Christ. Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Then following in his father’s footsteps, Franklin Graham invited people to stand where they were if they wanted to pray to receive Christ as their Savior.  I did not want to turn around and look but I can only imagine how many people were standing.  I could see the first three rows and that was enough.  The words of our trainer came back to me.  You have prepared for this by faith and now you are getting to see it. It also reminded me of the scripture telling us if God sends us out to do His work it will not come back void.  Isaiah 55:11, “so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

I stood behind a lady near me and prayed quietly.  At God’s appointed time, I listened as LeAnn prayed, “Dear God, I know that I am a sinner.  I want to turn from my sins, and I ask for Your forgiveness.  I believe that Jesus Christ is Your Son.  I believe He died for my sins and that You raised Him to life.  I want Him to come into my heart and to take control of my life.  I want to trust Jesus as my Savior and follow Him as my Lord from this day forward.  In Jesus’ Name, amen.”  And just like that LeAnn will spend eternity in Heaven where we will reunite again!   Neither of us could speak so we just hugged. I sat in my chair so overcome with joy, humility, gratefulness.  I was taken back to some of my favorite words we had sung earlier, “Then I shall bow, in humble adoration, And then proclaim: "My God, how great Thou art!"

Millions today are searching for something.  They do not know where to go or what to do.  Jesus says, “follow Me. I am the Way.”  John 14:6, “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  He shed His blood for each of us. When we ask Jesus into our hearts there is no shame, no blame and no condemnation.  Just unconditional love.

I urge you to go to the Franklin Graham crusade this Saturday, October 5 in Wilmington (or another location you can find online at https://nc.billygraham.org/).  It is about saving souls!  If you or anyone you know needs to find their way this is a great time to take care of things.  As Billy Graham said, “Let’s settle this once and for eternity.”  Watch Jesus Christ be lifted up by thousands!  Expect Jesus!

Starved For The Word!

Today I made a new friend, Ms. Cathleen.  I got to hear her story about coming to Pine Valley United Methodist Church!   She gives us a lot to think about as a growing church!  

Ms. Cathleen was in a church for four years and was never asked to serve.  She never felt the church was the right “fit” but could not figure out why.  Every Sunday, from the pulpit, she would hear, “we welcome new comers” but she never felt welcomed.  She wrestled with this because it is hard to leave a church.  She visited a nearby church when she went to hear the Celebration Choir and the people were nice.  It made her realize she was unhappy and had not connected with people.  She needed a “warmer” church and a church where she could grow Spiritually.  She said she knew there was some place in the south who would welcome a northerner!  Leviticus 19:34, “You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”

The next week, on the way to work, she felt a nudge and saw Pine Valley United Methodist Church!  She had not been Methodist, although she was as a child, so maybe she could try it.  Looking back, she says that was the Holy Spirit who nudged her.  The next Sunday she walked into PVUMC and Sherry and Sherrill were there with smiling faces and kind words, welcoming her to PV!  The smiles continued as she went into church.  Pastor Tim greeted her prior to the service.  The sermon “hit a note” and the music was moving which is very important to her.  Many members welcomed her during the service. Romans 12:10, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.“

In the parking lot, Pastor Tim walked up and said, “Ms. Cathleen, I’m so glad you came.”  And he gave her a good old fashioned Christian hug!  She said the tears just started.  Pastor Tim asked her what was wrong and she asked him, “Where have you been for the last three years?”  She got tickled telling me Pastor Tim’s response, “We’ve been here, where have you been?”  John 13:34, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”  She said as she got into her car she said, “This is it!”  The next Sunday she realized what a “community church” PVUMC is.  She was watching PVUMC’s response to Hurricane Florence. Matthew 25:40, “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

Ms. Cathleen said between Tim’s sermon delivery, his “realness”, the music, the outreach ministry and the friendly members, she wanted to be a member here.  She said from one week to the next she knew her personality had not changed.  But, the people at PVUMC were different and they were wanting to use her.  She believes it was divine intervention that brought her here.  She felt like she was home.

She shared that with all of the growth here at PVUMC she hopes we will not become complacent about a new member joining.  Hebrews 13:2, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”  She shared what a memorable experience and what an important step joining is.  She wants us to continue being genuinely happy they are joining and she wants us to have places for them to use their gifts and services.  When she greets visitors she invites them to sit with her.  Romans 15:7, “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.“

Last year when Ms. Cathleen joined she made a vow that she was going to grow spiritually.  She began a “read the Bible in a year” plan.  She began a daily devotional, she began having prayer time and she joined a Sunday school class.  She loves the adult education opportunities such as our Lenten studies.  She knew she was hungry for God’s Word but she quickly realized she was STARVING for God’s Word!  Romans 14:13, “Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.”  By tapping into all of these resources she has grown so much!  A year ago Ms. Cathleen thought she had no knowledge to share and never saw herself as a disciple.  Now she knows she can reach out to others.  She has a heart for deprived children, hunger, and abused women.  She is praying for God’s guidance on how PVUMC can use her in these areas. 1 Peter 3:8, “Live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.”

Ms. Cathleen says she sees PVUMC as a flower garden with all of the flowers blooming at different times, in different seasons.  I would say Ms. Cathleen is in her growing season and she is in full bloom!  Isaiah 35:2, “...it will burst into bloom, and rejoice with gladness and shouts of joy…”   Welcome to your one year anniversary at PVUMC, Ms. Cathleen!

Growing Pains

When I was a little girl I would wake with leg cramps at night.  I would call out to my Mom and she would come check on me.  She would rub my legs, tell me it was growing pains, and I would settle back down. Instead of thinking about the pain I would think about getting taller.  Growing pains were something we just had to accept - just a part of life. I think Pine Valley United Methodist Church is experiencing growing pains!

The blessing is that at a time when so many churches are struggling and church memberships are down, we are growing!   We have a wonderful problem!  We have more people wanting to come worship Jesus Christ than we have seats!  The Holy Spirit is alive and well at PVUMC!  We are a growing church and with this good news comes some inconveniences.  We may not do things the way things have always been done.  I like Anais Nin’s quote, “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”  We may find more changes coming in order to blossom!  With the water intrusion issue in Building B, God may be telling us that we have some decisions to make.  And we are to be wise stewards of our money as we make the decisions. Let’s pray for wisdom and clarity for the team that studies and prays over our next steps. 

While this may be “your” church, it is, first and foremost, God’s church!  We are His disciples.  Luke 9:23, “Then he said to them all: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.’”  In other words, we may have to deny our wants and trust God with some of the decisions.  When we do this others will notice.  John 13:35, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  What we see as a problem may be an opportunity for God to work on us and our church. Some of us have constant anticipation with change.  As we go through these times of struggle, joy, pain, growth, rest, etc., our hearts change.  This is what God wants in our lives so we can push forward and be more like Jesus. Malachi 3:6, “I the Lord do not change…” Amongst all the change around us, there is one thing that cannot change and that is God!  And this includes His love for us!  

Think about the twelve disciples.  Talk about growing pains!  They went from a small gathering of 12 disciples to thousands.  Acts 6:1, “Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying..”  Jesus multiplied and multiplied in a very quick time!  And I am sure it did not grow smoothly as it grew rapidly.  Apostles were being imprisoned for teaching about Jesus.  The government was being bought not to tell more people about Jesus.

The apostles made a tough leadership decision that affected lots of people.  I am sure some people responded positively and others negatively.  But they knew without a drastic change, the Gospel would not go as far as fast.  Acts 6:7, “So the word of God spread.  The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.”

Luke 5:10-11, “Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.’   So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.” This was a commission for Simon to fish for men.  Later Jesus told Peter, “If you love me, feed my lambs.” Peter is given a new commission. Not replacing the old commission but extending the commission.  He tells him to be a keeper of the doctrine and to teach the new to come to church.  John 21:17, “The third time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’  Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’  He said, ‘Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.’  Jesus said, ‘Feed my sheep.’”  

The message is still the same.  Jesus tells us to feed His sheep.  That means we are to be teaching, we are to be fishers of men, we are to evangelize.  We are to welcome the new to church!  Imagine what can happen in our church when we are willing to make the changes necessary to see more and more people hear the Gospel.  At PVUMC we are connecting hearts to Christ and one another!  Let’s keep the main thing the main thing and God will direct our next steps!  

Life Interrupted

For those who know me they know I am very organized, not a procrastinator - in fact  I would rather turn something in early - just in case something unexpected happens.  Yes, I am one of those who does not let my gas tank go below half in case there is an emergency.  I Christmas shop year round.  I am a creature of habit and do not like interruptions.  Many of you may be opposite of me but I bet the one thing we agree on is that we do not like interruptions.

 For the past two weeks many people at PVUMC have been interrupted.  Due to the continuous leaking in building B we have had to move staff members and volunteers.  That building is going to be closed off so anyone who uses that building is being relocated.  I have been moved four times - only twice physically.  But in my mind I have everything sorted out ready to move and then it changes.  I get myself psyched for the next place and then it changes.  This morning it was changed again.  When I write I like to have a “work space” that I go to but I have not had that for the last two weeks thus feeling very unorganized.  I was struggling with this week’s blog when I felt God’s nudge reminding me that we are all going through this interruption. 

In this life we are going to have tribulation and interruptions!  John 16:33, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”  I do not believe it is a coincidence that my Bible study this morning was about interruptions!  I love when God shows off like that!  So the way I look at it is that I have a decision to make. We can be annoyed, angry, agitated, etc., about the inconveniences and interruptions or we can look for the blessings. 

Many of the volunteers have had to find a space to work. Many of the meeting spaces, prayer team, ministry spaces, Sunday school classes, etc., will be finding new spaces.  This is an interruption to many.  What a wonderful problem! We have so many wonderful ministries and so many volunteers that we are scrambling to find space!  We could not do so many wonderful things to show the light of Jesus without volunteers! 

Today in “We Saved You A Seat” by Lisa-Jo Baker, I read, “If there is one thing that defined Jesus’ time on earth it was His willingness to be interrupted.”  And He was not annoyed by them, in fact, He welcomed them!  He stopped every single time He was interrupted, detoured or inconvenienced….Being willing to be interrupted….is about the state of our hearts.”  Wow!  We do not go through anything that Jesus hasn’t been through!  Let’s look at some of Jesus’ interruptions and how He handled them. If you read ahead of the verses it usually tells where Jesus was going or what He was doing.  I think that is so we know that He got interrupted!  

Matthew 8:5-13, “Now when Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, pleading with Him, saying, ‘Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, dreadfully tormented.’  And Jesus said to him, ‘I will come and heal him.’ ….. Then Jesus said to the centurion, ‘Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you.’ And his servant was healed that same hour.”  

Matthew 8:14-15, “Now when Jesus had come into Peter’s house, He saw his wife’s mother lying sick with a fever.  So He touched her hand, and the fever left her. And she arose and served them.”  

Matthew 9:1-8, “So He got into a boat, crossed over, and came to His own city.  Then behold, they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed’.....then He said to the paralytic, ‘Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.’  And he arose and departed to his house. Now when the multitudes saw it, they marveled and glorified God, who had given such power to men.”

Matthew 9:20-22, “And suddenly, a woman who had a flow of blood for twelve years came from behind and touched the hem of His garment…But Jesus turned around, and when He saw her He said, ‘Be of good cheer, daughter; your faith has made you well.’ And the woman was made well from that hour.”

Matthew 10:46-52, “Now they came to Jericho. As He went out of Jericho with His disciples and a great multitude, blind Bartimaeus…...began to cry out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’.....Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go your way; your faith has made you well.’  And immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus on the road.”

During this time of interruptions, let’s be more like Jesus.  We can pray as Paul prayed for us to be more loving.  God has shown us love and gives us the power to follow that example.  1 Thessalonians 3:12, “And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you,” Think of what a wonderful transition this will be if we all pray for God to  help us be more loving to one another.  Life interruptions lead to God opportunities!

Here Comes The Judge

One of Pastor Tim’s sermons [Prayer for Judgment, July 14, 2019] reminded me about a speeding ticket incident.  Years ago I got a speeding ticket in Bladen County.  I was a wreck (Southern for distraught) and called my good friend who is an attorney.  He still laughs because I left a message for him that I was in a hotel in Fayetteville and needed his help.  I left that message through tears of course. I forgot to mention it was just a speeding ticket! He was panicked til he heard it was a speeding ticket and then he couldn't stop laughing.  He kept it "our" secret and acted like it never happened. To this day he never told Mike and neither did I. We will see if he reads this blog! He explained about the prayer for judgment that I could use.  The ticket would be forgiven as long as I did not get another ticket within the next three years. But if I did get another ticket then I would be charged with both. I can tell you that kept me up that night.  All night I beat myself up for speeding. If only! If only I would have slowed down. If only I would have had my cruise control on!  

How do I "deal with" or “judge” others?  Sometimes I keep fresh in my mind their injustices toward my family or me.  When I feed the memory of their faults, my punishment for them grows. Sometimes we may even make them pay for their transgressions by holding it over their head.  Let's read Psalm 103:10, "..He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities." We won’t even get into Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”  

I am so thankful that when God forgives, God forgets!  Hebrews 8:12, "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more."   In the old covenant, God promised to bless His people if they followed His commands. Because people were so sinful they could not do this.  God sent his Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for our sins. He sits at the right hand of God as the great High Priest. When we accept that He died on the cross for us and give our life to Jesus, He becomes our Lord and Savior.  When we confess and repent of our sins, our sins are remembered no more. Psalm 103:10, "...He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities." 

NGC 3368 from  hubblesite.org , credits to NASA and STScI

NGC 3368 from hubblesite.org, credits to NASA and STScI

Psalm 103:11-12, "For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us."  I found the following information in an article about the Hubble telescope. "If you traveled 500 mph non-stop, literally sixty-minutes of every hour, twenty-four hours in every day, seven days in every week, fifty-two weeks in every year, with not a moment's pause or delay, it would take you 20,000,000,000,000,000 years (that's 20 quadrillion years) to get there! And that would only get you to the farthest point that our best telescopes have yet been able to detect. God remembers our sins no more!

When we have repented and asked for forgiveness, God does not remember our sins anymore so why should we?  Guilt results from something we do not think we should have done. Shame results from our not being the person we think we should be. The enemy tries to keep us hung-up on past mistakes.  If the enemy can keep us in shame then he can keep us focused on ourselves and not on what Jesus did for us.  

If you have made Jesus your Lord and Savior then no matter what you have done in the past, you are FREE from the condemnation and guilt that comes with sin.  Galatians 5:1, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”  When Jesus died on the cross for our sins, the debt was paid in full. Jesus fully settled FOREVER EVERY sin that God could have held against us.  Remind the enemy that not only have we been forgiven but we are declared righteous! Isaiah 61:10, “I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,...”  

Next time you are feeling worthlessness and shame remember that is not conviction.  Those are not feelings from God! Romans 8:1, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,...”  Start praising Jesus for what He did to free you from condemnation and guilt! Get your eyes off of ourselves and get them on Jesus!  When we trust that Jesus’ payment was enough, we receive abundant and everlasting grace. Those thoughts no longer need to keep you up at night!

Have you thanked God today for forgiveness?

4:00 AM Knows All My Secrets

When I lie down at night I thank God for the day and ask Him to watch over my family and keep us safe and give us rest.  At that time I hand everything over and go right to sleep.  BUT, if I have to get up, usually around 4 AM I have a tough time going back to sleep.  That is when all of my burdens come alive!

For months I woke up at 4 AM thinking about how my mom and I were at different churches.  My family sat together for years but this had changed when my brother and I felt like God was calling our families to Pine Valley United Methodist Church.  I made the decision when God asked me, "Are you going to choose your mother over me?"  Wow!  I know we are not to put other things before Him but my mother?  Matthew 10:37, "Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”  So in July of 2017 we came to PVUMC!

My mother had told me she would not be joining us but gave us her blessing.  Within a few months she told me numerous times that it was obvious we had done the right thing for our family.  The blessings of being obedient were evident in our trip to the Holy Land, making new friends, reconnecting with old friends, our SS class, becoming part of the ministry team here and the list goes on!  Looking back I know the biggest blessing was showing God that I love Him more than my mother.  It was painful but it was a great privilege!  He knew my pain and I believe He gave me double for my trouble.  Isaiah 61:7, "Because you got a double dose of trouble and more than your share of contempt, Your inheritance in the land will be doubled and your joy go on forever." 

But at 4 AM these things did not matter.  All I could think about was not worshiping with my mother.  I never talked to her about it because this is a personal decision.  At night, I could hear the words someone had said to me, "You can't leave Jill - your mom is here."  Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” I was weary and burdened.  Finally, I would thank God for taking care of the situation and giving me peace.  1 Thessalonians 5:18, "In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."  Then God's peace would come over me and I would fall back to sleep.  

After about a year, God gave me a peace about the situation.  Philippians 4:7, “...and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."  I was still sad but for whatever reason I would have to accept it.  He asked me to be obedient and I was.  Isaiah 55:8-9, "’For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord.  ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth,  So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.’"  I trusted Him.  

About a month ago, my Mom said God was starting to show her that she was to come to PVUMC!  When she finally asked God for direction, He showed her.  It is easy not to ask God for direction because we really don’t want the answer.  He may take us out of our comfort zones.  Mom made sure she told me that she was not coming to PVUMC for her children!

So what could be better?  In God’s timing, Mom came on her own obedience to God.  This answer to my prayer was better than anything I could have imagined.  Mom joined last week at the 9:45 service but you may also see her at the 11:15 service.  She has already made many friends and gotten involved with Sunday school, the prayer ministry, the flower/visitation ministry, Bible study, Ever49er’s and serving at Celebrate Recovery.  

Mom and I discussed me writing this blog and I asked her to answer one question. Why PVUMC?  She gave me a list but none had to do with her children.  She said the first Sunday she visited she never stopped smiling during the singing.  It was so worshipful that it reminded her of being on The Walk To Emmaus - a spiritual retreat.  The first Sunday School class she attended was so warm and inviting. It felt right.  The Sunday after she joined strangers would come up to her and mention her nickname, “Honey” or talk about her working in the kitchen at camp.  She could not believe how they had listened to Tim!  She said, “It just feels right and I know this is where God wants me.” 

My niece and nephew have both told me, “I’m so glad Honey is with us!”  Me too!  And God worked it out perfectly!  Why am I always so amazed?!  God remains faithful beyond belief!  He always gives us so much more than we can imagine!  To God be the glory, great things He has done!  Welcome Mom, Honey, Sylvia Jarrell!   Psalm 95:2, "Let us come before him with thanksgiving and sing joyful songs of praise."  And now we can do it together!  

“What Do You Want Me To Do For You?”

I attended a prayer meeting at my church for the Decision America, Franklin Graham tour.  This was a city wide prayer meeting to pray that Jesus Christ will be lifted up at the rally and people will be invited to know and trust Him!  I was not sure what to expect because “meeting” does not sound inviting.  But I did know, based on a training I had been to by the Billy Graham Evangelical Association, that it would be powerful and the Holy Spirit would be there!  We started out singing and it quickly turned to worship.  We sang simple songs - no words posted or printed for us.  After we opened with prayer we were told it was time to get our hearts right before we had our prayer meeting.  I have to be honest - when the speaker started speaking, I thought there was a lot of chit chat going on.  God quickly showed me that it was people praising God and affirming what the speaker was saying.  It was so cool to have Christians from all over Wilmington, from all types of churches, who all worship differently, coming together as one and praying for our city!  And for all to lift up Jesus Christ! 

We prepared our hearts for prayer by encouraging our own souls.  We can do this by praising God.  Saying, Praise the Lord, Hallelujah or simply, Thank you, Lord!  Thank Him for the many blessings and mercies. Thank Him for being kind, compassionate and loving!  I feel this time of preparing my heart helps me realize just WHO I am talking to.  Just how powerful He is!  I am given a glimpse of how much He loves me!  I am reminded of a fraction of all of the mercy poured on me.  It prepares me to be ready to bow down before the King of Kings!

Mark 10:46-52, “Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging.  When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’  Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’  Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him.’  So they called to the blind man, ‘Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.’  Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.  ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Jesus asked him.  The blind man said, ‘Rabbi, I want to see.’  ‘Go,’ said Jesus, ‘your faith has healed you.’  Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.”

As we read this passage, I was brought back to Jericho which was not one of the nicer places while visiting the Holy Land.  It did not feel safe like the other places.  In Bible times, Jericho was a dry, dusty, robber-filled road.  Today it is paved but there was still a feeling to be cautious.  In fact,  there was something smoldering in the road as we drove by.  The driver said it was probably a little bomb.  Of course Jesus went there!  He was looking to save ALL people in ALL places!  Luke 19:10, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” He didn’t just go to safe places!  

People were following Jesus because He was different.  He was authoritative and He healed.  This was a busy place with lots of people.  To be heard you would have to yell above everyone else.  Bartimaeus was a beggar so he was not considered important.  When he yelled out to Jesus everyone wanted him to be quiet.  But he yelled out, “Jesus, have mercy on me.”  When we say, “Jesus, have mercy on me,” we are recognizing what we are - full of sin.  And we know Jesus can rescue us.  Bartimaeus may have been the low man on the totem pole but he was a smart man!  

As Jesus has promised us, He hears.  Psalm 145:18, “The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.”  Psalm 34:17, “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears, And delivers them out of all their troubles.”  Jesus responds to the cry of His people.  God answers prayer. As our speaker said, it is not our trauma or our drama that He answers.  He already knows what we are going through.  He answers His people’s prayer.  

Have you cried out to God?  You cannot receive what you have not asked for.  James 4:2, “You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.”  As I was reminded, I do not want to get to Heaven and see a pile of riches that God had been wanting to bless me with but I never asked.  If it is in the Bible, it is His Word - “You do not have because you do not ask.”  

God knew Bartimaeus was blind.  And God knew He could restore his sight but God wanted to hear Bartimaeus cry out to Him.  “Jesus, have mercy on me.”  And Jesus responds telling the people to call him.  Because Jesus was calling to Him, they  all cheered the worthless beggar on even though moments before they wanted him quiet.  Jesus asked, “What do you want me to do for you?”  Bartimaeus said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”  Rabbi meant “my Master” so again Bartimaeus knew who He was talking to.  Jesus said, “Go, your faith has healed you.”  Immediately he received his sight!  Bartimaeus’ sight was restored and he followed Jesus!  He received because he asked.

So after your heart is prepared please pray for this evangelistic rally on Saturday, October 5, 2019, 4:00 PM at Legion Stadium.  Be in prayer for all of those attending and for a great awakening in Wilmington, NC. We all need Jesus.  We all have trauma and we all have drama!  Jesus told the disciples in Matthew 9:37-38, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”  Volunteers are needed.  What an honor this will be to attend and serve!  For me, I believe it will be something I will never forget.  And I know we will be part of a great harvest!  Isaiah 55:11, “so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”  We are called to wake up the church of Jesus Christ!  We are called to be a missionary right here in Wilmington.  Be in prayer for who you might invite and bring.  Remember by planting one Christian in a family you could change generations!  

After our hearts were prepared we prayed for this rally.  So we did meet and pray and that is why it is called a prayer meeting.  But the important lesson I took away was getting my heart prepared.  Jesus knows what we need better than we know.  He is waiting for us to raise our voice above our circumstance, pain, burdens, etc.  Cry out to Him.  “Jesus, have mercy on me.” Jesus loves you and cares for you.  Jesus is asking, “What do you want me to do for you?”  

Remembering 9-11

Eighteen years later, just as you, I still remember where I was when the airplane hit the first twin tower.  Mike was at work and my girls were at school. I was on the phone with a friend from church. While I was trying to tell them what had happened, I said, “Oh no, another plane just hit the other tower!”  My friend said that was just a replay. But, sadly, I was right. A second plane had hit the second tower. I remember just wanting my family all together. I just stared at the television. We all walked around stunned!  That night the tears started as I worried about the world my girls were going to grow up in. It kept me up at night. I did not feel safe and I worried about my family’s safety. A dark blanket of grief and confusion fell on our country.  I really struggled.  As I often do, I struggled until I realized this was out of my control.  I was going to have to turn to God and trust His Word.  

Three days after the twin tower attacks Billy Graham shared these words with the nation.  “We’ve seen so much that brings tears to our eyes and makes us all feel a sense of anger. But God can be trusted, even when life seems at its darkest.”  Even if we know and trust God, we can be shaken by world events. We find ourselves feeling unsettled and not safe. Before 9/11, I never thought I would have to think of terrorism affecting my family! 

On the first anniversary of the attacks, Charles Stanley wrote,  “Safety in this world is an illusion. Sadly, the peace and blessing we have experienced in America has led to much complacency and self-dependence. Sometimes we need to be shaken out of our forgetfulness and into reliance upon Jesus Christ.”  We were definitely shaken and I was going to have to rely on God!  As some things in life can do, I was taught that day, again, tomorrow is not promised.  James 4:14, “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”  

Since then our country has seen other tragedies and we have seen them in our personal lives.  The kind of things that make us ask, “How could this happen?” We have one question for God and that is “why?”  There is so much we do not understand and may never understand. But the one thing I do know is that God is good.  All the time! He does not plan evil. Jeremiah 29:11, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”  

As always, God brings good from bad situations.  Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  I recall the country pulling together as one. Some of us realized that the nice homes, nice cars and dreams we had been chasing were not important.  We were living out 1 John 2:16-17, “For everything in the world - the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life - comes not from the Father but from the world.  The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.” John came to understand that serving God was more important than his earthly desires.

Apostle Paul said in 1 Timothy 6:17-19, “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.  Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.  In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”  The real treasures in life are those that we will see when we get to Heaven.  

Trust God with whatever is keeping you up at night.  He is the one constant in our lives. He never changes.  Hebrews 13:8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”  We will never be alone and God will never leave us. Deuteronomy 31:6, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Much time has passed since that day but as we remember it, let us be in prayer for God’s healing and peace.  Let’s remember to pray for those who lost loved ones that day. Let’s stop and think about our life and our priorities. 

Happy Grandparents Day!

The other day I saw a Ford Granada and I immediately laughed thinking of my Granny!  One of my best friends, Ricky, went with me to spend a weekend with her.  We had been friends since seventh grade and he was in my dad’s boy scout troop and knew most of the family.  While we were away at college we would go to Granny’s for a get away.  One weekend Granny wanted to take us to the state fair.  Granny drove with Ricky in the back seat and me up front.  Remember the jiggling machines for weight loss?  As we sat at the stoplights it felt like we were sitting on a jiggle machine as the car idled.  I don’t know why we got the giggles so bad but we tried not to laugh and that made it worse.  As soon as the light turned green, Granny would gun it (southern for accelerate quickly) causing whiplash which would cause more giggles.  We ran to keep up with her at the state fair.  She had to see if her sister’s chickens had won something and then we had to go see if one of the relatives cows had placed.We were so tired that evening but Granny still put that hot meal on the table - biscuits included!  Then when we were full we sat in front of the wood stove listening to stories.  I don’t know who loved spending time together more - her or me!  Ricky and I still laugh about that weekend!  It felt so good to see that car and be reminded of special memories!  

As a teen, I remember sharing many things with my Mamal, who listened and never judged.  She was one of my best friends and my world was rocked at 19 when she died of pancreatic cancer.  My Granny and I became very close when I had my first child.  Because we lived less than an hour from her, Sarah and I spent two days a week with her.  Granny always praised me, complimented me and cheered me on.  I always felt prettier, smarter and more capable in her presence.  Proverbs 10:11, “The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.”  Granny was a huge part of my girl’s lives.  They also had Mike’s grandmother, until five years ago, who was a big part of their life. I loved her like my own and learned so much from her about cooking.  We always laughed when we were together!  I am so grateful for the grandparents in my life!

This Sunday is Grandparent’s day.  Now if you are like my Granny, you are thinking Hallmark always has a new ploy to sell more cards!  Now you have to buy “Happy Grandparents Day” greeting cards.  There is a day for everything!  BUT, in 1978, President Jimmy Carter proclaimed the first Sunday of September to be observed as Grandparents day.  He wrote, “I urge each citizen to pause and reflect on the influence his grandparents have had in shaping his own destiny and on the legacy bestowed upon our contemporary society by his grandparent’s generation.”  

If you are blessed to have a grandparent still living - or a “like” grandparent still living - be sure to tell them you appreciate them. Learn where you came from.  We are products of thousands of years of history and every time a generation passes, bits of our past are lost forever.  Take advantage of the wisdom they have to offer.  Share your heart and trust their advice.  Listen to their stories filled with a wealth of experiences.  Appreciate their humor.  Be thankful for their affection.  Soak up their wisdom.  Tell them what they mean to you and your family and how they have influenced your life.  Pray for them.  

If you are a grandparent know how important your relationship is with your grandchildren or adopted grandchildren.  Proverbs 17:6, “Children’s children are a crown to the aged, and parents are the pride of their children.”  Grandchildren are the crowned of the aged.  That means that I was like a beautiful crown that she “wore”.  While her crown was not filled with diamonds it was worth far more than any other crown.  Being a godly grandparent is a tremendous job that only you can do.  Pray for them, affirm their worth in God, listen to them, share wisdom, encourage them in their faith, love them unconditionally!  Be fun and affectionate.  Laugh with them.  

Proverbs 16:31, “Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained in the way of righteousness.”  The elderly man finds a “crown” of reward and honor in being surrounded by grandchildren.  Genesis 48:11, “Israel said to Joseph, “I never expected to see your face again, and now God has allowed me to see your children too.”  Psalm 128:5-6, “May you live to see your children’s children— peace be on Israel.”  His life has mattered and continues on through generations.  He raised his godly sons and daughters and raised them to raise up the same kind of children!  Grandparents are so important!

Happy Grandparents Day!  We love you and appreciate you!  For those who have passed on we hold them in our hearts and thank God for the precious memories!  Grandparents always make us feel special and make each grandchild feel like they are the favorite.  But I really was! 

FOMO Is Beatable!

In the spring I wrote about Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) for my personal blog.  I was missing out on my daughter’s art show. And my cousin, who I travel with, went to Greece, without me!  I knew I was missing out especially when she posted that she was swimming in the Libyan sea!  Because I love these people and have so much fun with them I fear that I am missing out!  FOMO, the fear of missing out!  Sometimes it is nice to know that you are not the only one with these symptoms and if there is a name for it you are validated.

When Pastor Tim mentioned FOMO for his upcoming sermon at Pine Valley United Methodist Church, I started thinking about my latest FOMO.  The Franklin Graham crusade is on the same Saturday that Mike and I are going with friends to a Steelers game and we had already purchased our airline tickets. Even so, I went to the training and was approved to be a prayer counselor for the crusade….just do not know where yet!  

For me, FOMO is the fear of missing out on a day on the beach, a day on the island, a get together with family, getting together with close friends, and the things that are most important to me.  Knowing I love to travel, Sarah asked me, if I knew I only had six months to live, where would I go?  I quickly answered, "I would stay home so I could be with all my family and friends."  That is most important to me and I believe I would be very bold in my witnessing!  Not going to Heaven should be our biggest fear of missing out!  That is not a day at the beach, an evening of fun, a vacation, a two week trip, a six month study abroad....that is for all eternity!  

1 John 5:13, "I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life."  We cannot imagine how wonderful Heaven will be.  Romans 8:18, "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us."  Eternity is unending time which is something we cannot even fathom!  Living eternity in joy!

Ecclesiastes 3:11, "He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end."  God already placed eternity in our hearts.  Nothing else can satisfy our deepest longings except Him!  Matthew 7:13-14, "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."  When we decide to follow Jesus it means we abandon our own agenda for His. The gate is not wide enough for all our stuff!

Ephesians 2:8-10, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."  God rescued us from the sin of death and shows us a new way of life in Jesus.  This new life is what we were made for and what God has modeled for us.  This is the way we are to walk as we follow Jesus.  Paul is not only telling us that we have been saved but what we have been saved for.  If we are God's handiwork, then God knows what is best for us.  

When we share our testimonies with others, sharing how God saved us from sin and has made us a new creation, how he has filled us with joy and peace by the Holy Spirit, we are reminded of God’s awesome work in our lives.  This deepens our love and understanding of Christ.  Philemon 1:6, "I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ."

While we cannot open someone’s heart to the truth, God can. We must be prepared to share the Good News with others.  Do you have FOMO for you or for someone else?  In Matthew 9:37, Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”  Are you going to be a laborer, someone willing to take a step of faith and love to share the message of the gospel? 

If you have FOMO on eternity then you can ask God to forgive you of your sins, turn from them and believe that Jesus Christ died for your sins.  Ask Him into your heart.  You can use your own words but here is a prayer of salvation.   "Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for Your forgiveness. I believe You died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite You to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow You as my Lord and Savior. In Your Name.  Amen."  John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."   

Do not have insomnia tonight over the FOMO on eternity - for you or someone else!

One Body, Many Parts

I like to write about how amazing our bodies are - the part God made, not what we have done to them!  Psalm 39:14, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”  It amazes me how our bodies are made.  No part is independent, all of our parts must work together so our body can work well as a whole.  Paul describes the church as Christ’s body.  Followers of Jesus are interrelated with other persons in the body of Christ.  Even though each person is unique, members must work together in unity to help enlarge God’s Kingdom.  

I first heard of Mrs. Carol when I first started working at Pine Valley United Methodists Church and asked about the medical equipment room.  Mrs. Jane told me that her neighbor had been so appreciative to PVUMC when her husband had needed some medical equipment.  After that, Mrs. Carol was thrilled to donate things to the yard sales.  One night I was working in the kitchen with Mrs. Jane when her neighbor called.  Mrs. Jane told me that Pastor Barry had gone and prayed with her neighbor, Mrs. Carol, whose husband was dying.  Mrs. Carol was so touched by Pastor Barry doing this. 

When I attended the new member’s lunch I met Mrs. Carol, who had just lost her husband.  She was wanting to join PVUMC.  I got to have lunch with Mrs. Carol three weeks after she joined.  I had prayed for her and her husband when he was dying but that was the only connection I had had with her.  There is something special that happens when we break bread together.  It is more than just eating, it is sharing a sense of family.  

Mrs. Carol shared with me that she had been brought up Catholic and she and her husband “were good Catholics!”  But through the years they inched away from the Catholic church but not from God.  After using the medical equipment, donating items for the yard sales and having Pastor Barry pray with her husband, she thought about trying PVUMC.  She went on to say that not only did Pastor Barry go over to pray when her husband was passing but he stayed.  And he kept coming.  She asked Pastor Barry to officiate her husband’s funeral.  She knew then that she would be joining PVUMC.  

So it was not one person or one thing that called Mrs. Carol.  I would say this is a good example of the body of Christ.  1 Corinthians 12:27, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”  Mrs. Carol could see Jesus in our equipment ministry, her neighbor, her neighbor’s church, the pastor, the yard sales, etc.  Paul states that just as the eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” neither can anyone in the body of Christ say that to a fellow church member.  

God has equipped each member with gifts and talents for the building up of the body of Christ.  James 1:17, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”  I believe God used all of these ministries, Mrs. Jane and Pastor Barry to enrich His Kingdom.  Look what God can do when we do our part!  Mrs. Carol is already helping Mrs. Jane in the kitchen with Celebrate Recovery.  She told me she thinks that is God’s sense of humor sense she has never needed a kitchen and does not care to cook.  But she also told me that she will go wherever He is leading her!  

I will leave you with Romans 12:4-8, “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.  We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”

What part of the body of Christ are you?

Sharing The Good News One Shoebox At A Time

The lady asked the young girl what she would like in her shoebox.  The young girl answered, “something purple.”  The lady thought, “what are the chances of that?”  In a little while you could hear the shrieks of joy coming from the children opening a present for the first time in their life!  The lady ran to find the little girl to see what she had gotten.  When the little girl took the lid off, everything in her box was purple!  As the lady said, “If God doesn’t have His hand in this, who does?!”  Numbers 23:23, “See what God has done!” 

Another lady at the training center shared that she was one of those little girls who had received a shoebox as a child.  She was 10-12 years old and had never received a present.  She could not believe that someone who did not know her, loved her enough to send her a gift.  This is the same for most of the kids.  This is why this lady is now the coordinator for Operation Christmas Child at her church.  One child prayed for a button shirt so he could go to school.  Guess what was in his shoebox?  A button shirt!  Luke 1:37, “For there is nothing that God cannot do.”

You can feel Cheryl’s passion as she shared these stories with me.  She said, “I can’t go be a missionary but I can do these shoeboxes.”  That is why she is the coordinator at Pine Valley United Methodist Church for Operation Christmas Child. She also shared with me what happens after we drop our shoeboxes off at church.  Her UMW circle, Ogden By The Sea, checks the boxes and prays over them before they go to the distribution center in Charlotte.  Cheryl was blessed to experience working in the distribution center.  The boxes are checked and sorted.  During every shift they stop and ask everyone to put their hands on the shoeboxes and they pray over them.  They also tell them where this batch will be going.  

When the shoeboxes make it to the designated country, they are delivered by carts, boats, donkeys, camels, elephants, etc.  The children have a designated gathering place where they receive their shoebox.  Before the children rip into the presents, they are told that Jesus loves them.  They are given a brochure called The Greatest Journey, in which they can return to this local place for a 12-week class.  Many of the children come back, bringing their siblings and/or parents, who often accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Mark 16:15, “He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.”  This evangelism and discipleship program teaches them about God and Jesus.  When they graduate they receive a Bible in their native language.  They are equipped to teach about their faith so they are asked to go back to their village and witness.   Matthew 29:19, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…”  Many of the children go back to their village and preach the good news to the adults!  Since 2009, when The Greatest Journey began, 10.6 million children have completed the program and have received a Bible!  

When my girls were growing up we always filled shoeboxes - it was part of our Christmas tradition.  It was exciting as they always filled a box for a girl their age.  This is a great ministry to share with your children, grandchildren, as a group, with a neighbor, etc.  Let’s remember what Jesus said in Acts 20:35, “... ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”  Things have changed a lot in the past few years including no food or liquid.  You can no longer include hard candy or toothpaste.  Some of the most wanted gifts are inflatable soccer balls (come with a pump) and marbles.  Ideas they recommend are school supplies, toothbrushes, soap, washcloths, toys and jump ropes.  You now have the option to pay $25 and they will pack the box.  You can donate money or you can donate items in the Christian Life Center and fellowship hall during September for the Ogden By The Sea circle to put together.  Your gift will probably be the only gift a precious child has ever received!  “The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor.”  Proverbs 22:9  Thank you in advance for sharing the Good News one shoebox at a time!

A Time To Let Go - A Pine Valley UMC Ministry Story about transitions at back-to-school time

I can still remember the day Mom and Dad drove me to college.  I remember to this day the feeling I had when we turned into the campus.  I could not talk for the huge lump in my throat.  I was so excited but scared too.  Mom was riding with me and she was very quiet.  I thought a lot about this when my girls were growing up.  I remember Dad telling me how he prayed for me every day and throughout the day asking God to watch over me and keep me safe.  Mom sent me a copy of a devotional she had had for years about letting your kids go off to college.  I know it was her faith that gave her the courage to walk away that day.  As I watched my daughter pull out of the driveway to go to graduate school 3000 miles away, my heart broke.  I cried and my emotions were all over the place.  Not all sad tears, just momma tears that my little girl was growing up and this was a new season of life.  I was excited for her and this new season of her life but the anxiety and concerns over her safety and her future crept in.  I was going to have to trust God with one of my most precious commodities - my child! 

God brought to mind two things.  Ecclesiastes 3:1, 6, “There’s an opportune time to do things, a right time for everything on the earth:...A right time to hold on and another to let go,...” (MSG)  Really, my dreams had come true.  My child had left home and began a life for which God prepared for them.  It is life’s natural order for childhood to end and Mike and I had prepared her for this time.  It is easier to see some of God’s plan now - two years out - we see that she really needed to be in that place at this time.  I can now see God’s plans of taking care of her.  Jeremiah 29:11, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

While my daughter was excited for her transition, I, too, had to transition.  I think God gives us these times so we will cling to Him.  He needs for us to be in His presence so it will rub off on us.  When the house was extra quiet, her room did not look lived in, or she was not at the table when everyone got together. I had to cling to God.  When she visits and leaves, I have to cling to Him.  I had to remember Matthew 10:29-31, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.  And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”  If God cares for that tiny sparrow I know He cares and loves my daughter so much more.  I needed to spend as much time entrusting her into God’s care as I had spent worrying.  

The other thing God brought to mind was Jochebed’s faith.  Jochebed was a Biblical mother who literally put her baby in a basket and entrusted him into God’s care.  She knew Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, had ordered all Hebrew baby boys be killed.  (He feared the Israelites would soon outnumber and overpower the Egyptians.)  Instead of letting her healthy baby be murdered she decided to put her baby in a basket in the waters of the Nile River.  Hebrews 11:23, “By an act of faith, Moses’ parents hid him away for three months after his birth. They saw the child’s beauty, and they braved the king’s decree.”  Exodus 2:3, “But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile.”

I cannot imagine how Jochebed must have felt.  The Bible does not mention her thoughts or feelings as she watched her precious baby float down the river in a basket.  Was she thinking of every worst-case scenario possible?  Her tiny baby was in a hippo, rhino, snake and crocodile infested river!  At this same time, God orchestrated Pharaoh’s daughter, the princess, to be bathing further up the Nile.  When she noticed the basket we are told in Exodus 2:5, “Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the riverbank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her female slave to get it.”  The princess was drawn to the baby.  Jochebed had sent Moses sister, Miriam, to hide and watch what would happen. Bravely, Miriam approached Pharaoh’s daughter and offered to get a Hebrew woman to nurse the baby.  The princess accepted and Miriam fetched her mother, Jochebed -- who was also the baby's mother -- and brought her back.  Jochebed was paid to nurse and care for the boy, her own son until he grew.  God perfectly timed everything!  

God had a plan and a purpose for Moses.  He gave Jochebed the courage to step away from the basket.  God orchestrated Pharaoh’s daughter to bathe in the river at the perfect time.  He even orchestrated Pharaoh’s daughter to hire Jochebed to nurse him until he was older.  Baby Moses grew up to become of the heroes of the Bible - the one who freed the Hebrew people from slavery and lead them to the edge of the promised land.  Jochebed’s appearance is short and we do not know much about her but one trait stands out and that is her trust in God.  She knew God loved her child more than she did.  And she must have realized that more and more as she saw God’s incredible plans fall into place.  

Whether your child is starting kindergarten, middle school, high school or college, we can trust God and believe He has good plans for our children's lives.  God will bring us comfort and peace as we acknowledge that He is always in control and ever present in our children’s lives….even when we cannot be.  The world is a scary place and we are afraid of our children being swept into dangerous waters but we have to let go so God can pull them from the waters for His great purpose.  He called us to be their parents, but they belonged to Him first. You can entrust your child to the same one Jochebed entrusted her baby to.  Psalm 62:8, “Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.”

Have you been asked to let God have something in your life?

Growing In Grace - A Pine Valley UMC Ministry story celebrating Senior Citizens Day

This aging thing happens very quickly.  One day you are young, your children are young and then they get older, even though you don’t.  It is a shock one day when you look in the mirror and see gray hairs and wrinkles!  We hardly recognize this person.  When did this happen?!  I heard a very true saying, “Old is always 20 years older than you are!”  Here is my disclaimer:  if you are not a “senior,” “seasoned,” “old,” “mature,” “aging,” “aged,” “elderly,” etc., please know that I am NOT calling you a senior citizen!  If this is you, then I want to celebrate you because August 21 is Senior Citizen Day!

Because I have only been at Pine Valley United Methodist Church a short while, I am still learning names and groups that do so many wonderful things in the name of Jesus.  Many of them are senior citizens and they are a huge help  to our church!  If you notice our marquis on Shipyard Blvd., it is a senior couple who update it!  Our food pantry is run by senior citizens.  One group I have been blessed to get to know are our office volunteers!  The office volunteers greet visitors, answer the phones, sort out our past bulletins so we can recycle the inserts, register the pew pad attendance, and make sure we are aware of visitors, keep up with Sunday school attendance, help get bulletins ready for the following week and many other things on an “as needed” basis!  

I do not like to say office “volunteers” because they are servants.  Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  These office servants have fun while volunteering!  I think they like seeing the “lighter side” of the staff and how they interact.  I have learned who comes in when.  I have learned when it is going to be loud with laughter - which I love! I have learned who loves to sing and who loves to dance!  I have learned when the cheese and crackers are brought!  I have learned who invites to church every person who comes in to get medical equipment!      

A lot of things can make growing old difficult and even miserable.  First thing that comes to mind is the aches and pains, deteriorating health, death of friends and loved ones, losing touch with society, being home-bound, financial issues, etc. Paul reminds us these things are temporary.  We can age more gracefully if we have an attitude of gratitude recognizing that “inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” 2 Corinthians 4:16, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”

Psalm 92:14-15, “They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.”  I like the AMPC translation, “[Growing in grace] they shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be full of sap [of spiritual vitality] and [rich in the] verdure [of trust, love, and contentment]. [They are living memorials] to show that the Lord is upright and faithful to His promises; He is my Rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.”  Whether we are young or old, we all have something to offer God. Even though we may not be able to do the same things we did when we were younger, we can still bear much fruit. We must teach the younger generations.  Psalm 71:18, “Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.”  

As long as the Lord has us here, He has some ministry for us to do for the next generation and future generations!  Titus 2:2-3, “Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance. Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good.”  Your wisdom needs to be shared!  My mom has always told me that we never retire from doing God’s work.  As Pastor Tim says, “If you ain’t dead, you ain’t done.”  There are many scriptures with promises of blessing in old age so we should be rejoicing instead of being grumpy and complaining.  Psalm 92:12-14, “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green…”  We are to serve in old age!

Proverbs 16:31, “Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained in the way of righteousness.”  Leviticus 19:32, “Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord.”  I pray that we may live a life pleasing to God.  I also pray that the younger generations will honor the older, respect them and learn from them!  I praise God for their example and witness!

Hopefully, we will reach old age and we may relate to the psalmist who wrote in Psalm 71:9, “Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone.”  God answers these prayers.  May we be like David in Psalm 37:25, “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.” May we all continue to grow in grace!

Happy Senior Citizens Day!  You are loved and appreciated!

Get Ready to Rejoice

As a little girl, when Billy Graham was on television, the whole family sat and watched.  I really do not remember anything he said but I remember watching the Altar calls to the hymn, “Just As I Am”.  Through the years, one thing that always stood out to me was how Billy Graham watched his reputation.  He would never be alone with a woman other than his wife.  If he was on an elevator and a woman got on, he got off.  He wanted to make sure he was a good representative for Jesus.  Also, he always said, “the Bible says” when he quoted Scripture.  He wanted you to know these words were God’s authority, not man’s.

When I heard that his son, Franklin Graham, will be in Wilmington on October 5, I was so excited!  Then I was even more excited when I learned the Franklin Graham Decision America Tar Heel State Tour will have a prayer meeting at Pine Valley United Methodist Church!  Last night my mom and I went to Leland to the counselor training to learn to pray with those who are making the decision for Jesus Christ.  I went knowing that I will be out of town on October 5 but also knowing I could learn something.  The team equips you to effectively share your faith with others both in daily life and as counselors during the event.  I was so excited by the time I left that I filled out my volunteer form because I am going to volunteer at one of the six crusades in NC!  Franklin, as the team calls him (and they refer to Billy Graham as Mr. Graham) told us that women pray with women and men pray with men.  No exceptions.  They cannot afford for someone to make an accusation that is a distraction from God!  Also, Franklin says “the Bible says” before each Scripture reading!

My tears started in the first five minutes - now if you know me, I cry easily but these were tears of joy!  The Franklin Graham team wanted us to see when the prayer counselors go forward and what we are to do.  So the video started at the end of the crusade - just like I remembered as a child!  Franklin, who looks more and more like his father, was doing an Altar call.  Of course, the hymn “Just As I Am” was playing.  He would tell people if they did not know if they were going to Heaven to come forward.  If they were not 100% sure they were going to Heaven to come forward.  This went on for a while.  He explained why they should come forward and make a public commitment.  Every time he said something we saw people going forward by the droves.  And what touched me was to hear the crowd cheering for them!  Every time Franklin said something and more people came forward the crowd would cheer louder and louder!  The crowd was so excited.  The Christians were so excited as they encouraged the nonbelievers to go forward and accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior! It still chokes me up.  WOW!  Isn’t that what we are supposed to do?

There is no better description of becoming a Christian than in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”  A second birth is needed.  Obviously we have our physical birth and then we need a spiritual birth.  2 Corinthians 5:19, “...that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”  God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We are Christ’s representatives - His ambassadors.  We do not represent ourselves. We represent Jesus.  

Everyone seeks peace - just like the droves of people going forward at the crusade.  Peace can only be found in a relationship with God.  We have an opportunity to be part of something so wonderful for Jesus Christ.  They need people to serve in many ways whether being on the promotional team or serving on site.  We all need to be in prayer for this event.  The Billy Graham Evangelical Association is asking us to pray for laborers.  Matthew 9:38, “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”  Luke 10:2, “He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”  God said if we do that it will not come back void.  Isaiah 55:11, “...so is my word that goes out from my mouth:  It will not return to me empty but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent.”

At the end of the evening, someone asked about security at this event and the team shared a story from a recent crusade.  When the prayer counselors were being briefed and getting ready to pray right before the event started, they noticed a handful of protestors.  They prayed that the protestors might feel God’s love.  The evening began with Jeremy Camp singing, “Overcome”.  All of a sudden they noticed that a few of the protestors had left.  By the last verse the last protestor rolled up his poster and left!  We were reminded of David taking up his lyre and evil not residing where worship is.  (1 Samuel 16:23) 

Being a part of this Decision America Tar Heel State Tour is just another way to see what God is doing!  1 Timothy 2:4, “...who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

Luke 15:7, “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”  Get ready to rejoice!

Learn more about the Tour and check out how to volunteer at: http://nc.billygraham.org. The tour will stop in Wilmington on October 5. Pine Valley UMC will host a prayer service for the tour on September 9 from 7 to 8:30pm.

“The After People”

I have been through some things in my life that I needed help with.  It is hard to ask for help. I am a high energy person with a strong faith so I should be able to handle life, right?  Not! We all have burdens and sometimes we need others to be there. I am blessed to have a close knit family who I can go to but sometimes you need an outside person to confide in.  “You do not want to burden your loved ones” is what we tell ourselves. I believe Jesus sends people into our lives during these times. Galatians 6:2, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”  Here at Pine Valley United Methodist Church we are blessed to have Stephen Ministers.  

Stephen Ministers are the “after people.”  “Stephen Ministers are there: ...after the phone call you hoped you’d never get…...after the divorce papers are served and the bottom falls out of your life….after the funeral, when everyone has left, and the emotions you’ve held at bay come crashing in on you…..after the doctors says, ‘I’m sorry, but there’s nothing more we can do.’...after the nursing home director shakes your hand and says, ‘Welcome to your new home.’....after the last child honks the horn, waves, and drives away - and the house suddenly seems empty…..after the gavel goes down, the handcuffs go on and your loved one is led away….after the baby arrives, demanding more of you than you ever dreamed possible….after you find the pink slip with your final paycheck….after your family and friends have heard your story one too many times, but you still need to talk it out.”  

The mission of the Stephen Ministries organization is based on Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.   Ephesians 4:12-13, “To equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.”  There is extensive training - usually 20 weekly sessions of training that teach them how to provide Christ-centered emotional and spiritual care to others. They come alongside a hurting person and meet with them on a weekly basis. They listen, care, encourage, pray, and provide emotional and spiritual support.  Men are paired with men; women with women. Stephen Ministry is entirely confidential - no one knows the identity of a care receiver except for his or her Stephen Minister and the leader who paired the two together.  

Someone shared with me the close, personal friendship that their case turned into.  When someone was going through the death of a spouse they requested a Stephen’s Minister.  A true friendship developed. When the spouse was diagnosed and nearing the end of their life, the Stephens Minister was still there.  This person would introduce her Stephen Minister to her family and friends as her Stephen Minister. There was no embarrassment, just pride that the church showed support in this way.  This person had a close family but they found it easier to talk to someone else.  

Because it is hard to share a story due to confidentiality, I will share these I found on the Stephen’s Ministry website.  “‘I began to feel God’s love again.’ A young woman describes how her caring relationship with her Stephen Minister allowed her to experience Jesus in a personal, tangible, life-transforming way.”   “‘I’m so grateful for Stephen ministry!’ A man shares how he and his Stephen Minister built a high trust relationship, apart from his regular circle of friends, so that he could move forward through a tough time in his life.”     “The story of an army captain who lost his foot in an explosion in Iraq, trained as a Stephen Minister, and later returned to Iraq better equipped to care for the soldiers under his command.” “‘A steady reminder of God’s presence.”  A woman tells how having a Stephen Minister, during a family crisis, gave her a spiritual anchor and the opportunity to focus on her own needs.” One concern the Stephen Ministry has here at PVUMC is that there are few men coming forward for help.  Needing a Stephen Minister is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of courage to recognize you have a problem and that you need help. There are male and female Stephen Ministers waiting to be assigned to someone in need. They want to walk with you in love, listen in confidence, and love you unconditionally.  

Jesus showed compassion and Stephen Ministers attempt to exemplify this compassion.  Matthew 14:14, “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.”  2 Corinthians 1:3-4, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”

Nahum 1:7, “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him…”  If you need hope, help, or healing please contact Ray Holder, the leader of PVUMC Stephen Ministry.  Your call will be confidential.   


Abundantly, Exceedingly Above

In Pastor Tim’s sermon, “The ‘More’ We Are Looking For,” he used Ephesians 3: 19-20.  I do not ever remember hearing, “exceedingly abundantly above”. It brought to mind the hope Mike and I had for years to sell our business so when the call came in we could not help but get excited.  On the day of the meeting, I stayed home and prayed. I asked God if it was His will to open all the doors and let it be a no-brainer but if it was not His will then to slam those doors shut and do not let us mess up!  Let us know one way or the other and it not be a stressful decision. The prayer was answered when the offer was a "no way!" At that time Mike's father died and we were very busy and moved on. About a week later Mike was called again.  This time Mike asked our accountant to sit in with him and again I stayed home and prayed. I asked God, again, to show us without a shadow of a doubt what we were to do. I asked Him if it was His will to show off! If not, let it be another, “no way!”.   I asked Him to give Mike the courage to ask for what he wanted. I will never forget that phone call from Mike and our accountant. They both had the giggles. God had showed off! But God kept showing off - showing us what He could do when we trusted Him to be in control.  Mike was offered a job, wonderful insurance, and a new truck! God was going abundantly exceedingly above!!!

In the last few years I had been thanking God for what He was going to do with our business.  Notice I said, “years”. It was God’s timing. I also did not ask for specifics because I have learned God can exceed my wildest expectations.  No matter your circumstance. His blessings will be abundantly exceedingly above! 

While I shared a story about “stuff”, God wants to bless us exceedingly abundantly above with His gifts.  He wants us to know we have greater hope than we could ever think of! He wants our walk with Him to be exceedingly abundantly above anything we can imagine.  I have prayed for healing and been healed abundantly exceedingly above!  I not only lived to tell about it but He healed me emotionally - from thinking about it daily.  He healed me spiritually - our relationship went to new levels! He showed me so much love that I cannot try to tell you how much I love Him!  I love Him abundantly exceedingly above and I still cannot outlove God! We will never be able to out love or out give God!

I can share many stories about how God has blessed me during rough times.  He gives me that peace that surpasses all understanding. Philippians 4: 7, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  He doesn’t give us a little bit of peace. He gives us peace that makes no sense so we know it comes from Him. 

Jeremiah 32: 17, “‘Ah, Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. There is nothing too hard for You.’”  Because I love creation and see God in it I like this scripture. There is truly nothing too hard for God. We can be reminded of that everyday! Look at how vast the ocean is, the billions of galaxies containing billions of stars or look how wondrous our bodies are made.  All of this reminds us of how powerful our Creator is.  

God wants us to ask Him to do what we cannot do on our own.  God puts people in impossible situations to show His power and glory.  Abraham and Sarah were physically well beyond the ability to conceive children.  Sarah laughed at the idea that she would conceive. Genesis 18: 14, “Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.”  She did conceive Isaac - just like God promised.  

God directed Moses and the Israelites to leave Egypt by a route that had the Red Sea in front of them and the Egyptian army behind them.  I am sure that seemed impossible! Exodus 14: 13, Moses told the panicked people, “… ‘Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever.’”  Miraculously, the sea opened so the Israelites could pass through. The miracle did not stop there! God closed the sea over the Egyptian army! Nothing is impossible with God.  

God is able to do far more abundantly beyond what we ask or think. We should pray for that which will further His Kingdom.  God loves you exceedingly abundantly above anything you can imagine! Christ wants to bring your walk with Him beyond your wildest expectations!