There is Hope in Our Mourning, Part 2

Last month I shared about our hope in knowing we will see my brother again when we get to heaven. This month, I find myself being reminded that when unexpected tragedy strikes, that hope is still alive to carry us through. This time, though, the news is still so very fresh.

Just over a week ago, a family gathered for worship in their little country church in Texas. It was a small church very much like where I grew up. As the associate pastor stepped up to bring the message, a gunman entered the sanctuary and hit nearly everyone inside with a bullet. Many were wounded, and 26 were killed that day – 10 victims representing 3 generations of the Holcombe family – including a baby yet to be born but already given nickname by older siblings.

My friend JoCheryl Holcombe’s brother was the one preaching that day. She lost half her family in a matter of seconds. I won’t go into the devastation – this part is within reach for us to imagine.

What I find harder to imagine is the unspeakable peace the remaining family members have been experiencing this week. Even they are astonished. But why should we be surprised? The world was praying for this family. They felt it. In fact, one family member commented to another, “did you feel it?” As they compared notes, they found that ALL of them felt a wave of peace wash over them the day after this horrible loss.

 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7

There was no natural explanation for this peace. But there was a supernatural one. God promised to send the Holy Spirit as our comforter and advocate. The prayers of so many surely moved the Spirit to be present in the hearts of those who were mourning.

Memorial Crosses at Sutherland Springs Baptist Church – Photo Getty Images/Scott Olson

The intention was defeat and destruction, but this horrendous act unleashed a torrent of love and goodness. I hope and pray this family will see fruit from this story for decades to come.

Today, the Holcombe family laid to rest their 10 family members. Yes, it was gut-wrenching, but it also was a testimony to the fact that these folks who so tragically lost their lives will live on through their story. A story of hope and love, and the knowledge that they are together in heaven now, and this is not the end.

Here are a few words written by JoCheryl in a public post on Facebook – I don’t think I could be so eloquent nor gracious at such a terrible time….

we made it through this day…i’m sad, but you know…i’m also filled with bliss because of LOVE, and…i’m actually filled with so much love, and friendship and memories and the joy from being around authentic awesome people whose faith is stronger than any tragedy…so proud of my brother, who i will miss so much…but oh WOW!!!! his awesome family…and my parents who exemplify joyful living, who know how to be strong and tender, joyful and heartbroken at the same time. as the days get easier, i want to write a few stories about those who have left and the rest who are left behind…so much inspiration…

yeah, my guts were wrenched today, but there were so many people there with their arms around us holding us, the comfort far outweighed the sorrow!

i am so grateful for the thousands of people who stood in line for hours, some only to get turned away because there was no more room, i am so grateful for all the people who drove HOURS to get here from all over Texas, (some drove 10 hours, and waited in line only to get turned away at the last minute ) i am so grateful for all the people who were there that i didn’t even get to see…i am so grateful for all the professionals who took a chaotic, unprecedented, event of enormous proportions and turned it into the most amazing beautiful celebration with the most poignant creative touches.

i am grateful for friends and neighbors, who hosted the most amazingly delicious meal and country gathering that was filled with love and joy, perfection and beauty.

i am grateful for old friends and new friends, and i am grateful for love that spans a lifetime…i am grateful that we have forever!

i am grateful for all the local and county police and sheriff’s departments and DPS for keeping the press away and coordinating traffic and managing a procession that stretched from one town to the next and still kept coming.. we had no intrusions as we celebrated and mourned.

i am grateful for the streets lined with people who stopped their days, held their hands over their hearts in vigil for that long procession paying tribute to my family, for all the signs along the highway, for all the flowers along the route, for the mountains of cards, for all the hugs, gifts and expressions of love, for the beautiful memorial at the church in Sutherland Springs where my family members graduated to heaven.

this was an awful thing but it was also awesome because love is eternal and we will all be together again. may the love unleashed today be ever present in all our lives

as i reflect on this last week i can say that there is absolutely no way a person could ever imagine what it has been like, i pray nothing like this EVER happens again to anyone…it should not have even happened this time…

so, when you think of those you love and it feels like you have forever, just remember you don’t, but then again, YOU DO! make this life matter, our soul is the only thing we take with us when we are done…it’s worth tending, it’s worth making meaningful deep connections and living each moment in the fullest most meaningful way. BECAUSE everything can change in a holy instant.

i love you all, thank you for making this so much easier for my family..i feel like i have thousands of new family members.

Our hope is not in this life, but those remaining still have to live this life without 10 members of their family, and it will be so very hard. Please continue to pray for the families of those lost in the tragedy in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

More info here: Houston Chronicle Article

Click here for Financial help for the Holcombe family

 

Which “One Another” Are You?

It’s hard to remember a more divisive time during an election season in my lifetime. The name calling and questioning the security of another’s faith just because they disagree is beyond crazy these days. I’m especially saddened that Christians are polarized against one another.

That’s not the kind of “one another” God had in mind when He included some 59 scriptures in the Bible with those words.

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Seriously. It’s in there. Maybe we all could use a review:

Romans 12:16 tells us to “live in harmony with one another.” Mark 9:50 says to “be at peace with each other.” Romans 14:13 says “stop passing judgment on one another.” The phrase, “Love one another” shows up 14 times in the New Testament. Other verses say to “encourage each other” (1 Thessalonians 4:18, 5:11), to “live in harmony with one another” (I Peter 3:8) and to “encourage one another daily” (Hebrews 3:13).

Oh, and my personal favorite, “If you keep on biting and devouring each other…you will be destroyed by each other.” (Galatians 5:15)

Insert gritting teeth emoji here.

I long for the days when a good old fashioned political discourse took place face to face. Live. In real time. The common decency of humans towards one another prevailed most of the time. Speaking as one who used to love politics, it was all in good fun & very few true friendships were lost over such discussions.

Fast forward to today when social media is our proverbial hiding place. We say things we would at one time never have said to someone to their face, hiding behind the veil of protection that we are just typing the words and they somehow aren’t as vile.

But they are vile. Words hurt whether they are slung from a loose and careless tongue or typed by angry hands. I’ve seen far too many of my friends become nasty word slingers in the past several weeks and if it breaks my heart I can only imagine how God must be feeling as he watches us escalate into hysteria and confusion.

As far as I’m concerned, November 8th cannot come and go soon enough. I pray the damage done is not permanent, and that we are as quick to repair relationships as we were to wound them.

 “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Colossians 3:13

 

Are You Too Near the Getting In Place?

The story is told of a little boy who had a habit of falling out of bed in the night. Finally, his mother asked him why he fell out of bed so much. He replied, “I guess I stay too near the getting in place.”

The small boy with alarm clock in the bedIt’s a picture of too many Christians who don’t seem to grow, or know the Lord Jesus better this year than last. They’re faithful in their church attendance and they even tithe. But the Christian walk is a walk with Jesus that causes us to change. As Paul wrote, we are changed “from Glory to Glory, transformed into the image of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

Peter also cautioned us to grow in 2 Peter 3:18, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Knowledge comes through the Word, illuminated by the Holy Spirit.

“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate[a] the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:18

 

“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.” 2 Peter 3:18

(These thoughts were first shared with Kristin in an email on August 11, 2005. Gladys was 86 years old. And yes, she loved connecting via email!)

Love And Thanksgiving

Citizens of the United States are running around today, the day before Thanksgiving, to be sure they have everything they “need” for family and friends to enjoy food and fellowship tomorrow. What a wonderful time of year to pause and give thanks for everyone and everything in our lives.

But, with all that is going on in the world, I can’t help but think of the millions of people who have so little to be thankful for on this day. War. Famine. Disasters. Terror.

The fact that I have time to post this, and you have time to read it means that we are in a position of peace and wealth compared to most. Have we become so wound up in our own little world that we think that we are the only ones who deserve this kind of life?

We complain so much, and point our finger at others. We want to shut people out due to their color, creed or station in life. We may pretend as though we are “welcoming” to all, but as a collective society, ARE WE REALLY?

This post comes on the heels of my Aunt Tami’s wonderful post last week. I have struggled to come up with a post for this week because I have been so disgusted in general with humanity, the “Christians” chief among them.

So, at this time of joy and jubilee (and, I am not saying there is anything wrong with this – we have MUCH to be joyful about!) – I am sure it is a bit dark for me to post this…but do try to walk a mile in the shoes of a terrified refugee. Imagine fearing for your life, and trying to protect your family. Imagine having to flee. Imagine seeing blood and death, and hearing crying and screaming. Imagine just wanting some peace, and then being turned away by people who say they represent a loving, caring God. Imagine feeling as if no one wants you and somehow you are worth less than others.

WHAT IF IT WERE ME? WHAT IF IT WERE YOU? No one chooses to whom or where he/she is born. We are all human. WE ARE CREATED EQUAL. We all have the same basic human needs, desires and feelings.

Let us open our hearts and arms. Let us show love to others. Let us let God do the judging. LET US NOT LET FEAR outweigh LOVE.

Today I received a beautiful picture from the Arms of Love Children’s Home in Andhra Pradesh, India – which is the orphanage that I started 13 years ago through AndyBooks Outreach. (visit andybooksoutreach.org for more info). Here you see 12 beautiful young children who had no hope. Abandoned. Starving. Lost.

We took them in, and they are thriving, despite the hand they have been dealt in life. It’s a beautiful thing.

Arms of Love 2If we all take time to be kind and loving to one person at a time, the ripple effect will spread. It starts with each one of us. Let us be the good Samaritan. Let us not pass one in trouble on the road because we are too fearful, or in too much of a hurry to tend to ourselves.

Let Thanksgiving Day be just a starting point for each day moving forward: to love, to show compassion, to be grateful by sharing what we have with others. Let us not tire until EVERYONE has the opportunity to live a life of peace and gratitude.

TO ALL, A HAPPY THANKSGIVING.

I Have Learned to be Content

Today I was thinking: Hebrews 12:2 “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who FOR THE JOY THAT WAS SET BEFORE HIM endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

What was that joy? YOU and ME … sons and daughters of Father God. he was an only Son… now, through His sacrifice, he was to have millions of family members!!

Rejoice… you are loved!

Some of the most miserable people I have ever met have been Christians who looked miserable. You couldn’t disguise the misery of their lives, for it shone on their faces and in their eyes, and when they spoke, Someone always had more of this world’s goods, or of happiness. I have found a scripture that will puncture their outlook, in 1 Timothy 6:6, and it simply says, “GODLINESS, WITH CONTENTMENT, IS GREAT GAIN.”

I believe this is a learned attitude, for Paul said, “I have learned in whatsoever condition I am in, therewith to be content.”

Try it… your life will be happier and brighter!

(Originally written by Gladys on 1/7/2004)

Is God Here Tonight?

The sturdy little three-year-old shuffled along down the church aisle in front of his parents and was gently guided by the shoulders into a seat. He sat down, taking a good while to adjust himself. He shifted this way and that, looking everything over. When the ministers walked onto the platform they received his careful scrutiny. While everyone was bowed in silent prayer a small voice was heard to say:

“Mommie… is God here tonight?”

Mother replied, “Yes, of course, dear.” And the little fellow settled back – satisfied.

How aware he was of the fact that God should be there. Looking about, his mother began to wonder if those in the congregation, and indeed, those on the platform, were as aware of the fact.

First Lutheran Church, Jamestown, N.Y., interior, 1950s. ELCA Archives image. http://www.elca.org/archives

First Lutheran Church, Jamestown, N.Y., interior, 1950s.
ELCA Archives image.
http://www.elca.org/archives

There’s something child-like about the person who enters God’s house expecting to meet the Lord there. The person with this child-like faith is particularly blessed, for his faith brings God nigh and he does meet Him. No wonder Jesus said, “Except ye…become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

This is an age of skepticism…the “show me, and I will believe” cult is everywhere and has even crept into the church. If we really believed the scripture that says: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them,” how different would be our attitude in God’s house. Our minds would be upon Him in adoration and worship – for He has promised to be present. We would anticipate His presence and blessing.

I have seen the humble soul enter God’s house and come away refreshed and enriched while others asked, “was God there today? I didn’t feel His presence.” I think the secret lies in that word, “anticipation.” The Bible, in referring to Christ’s second coming says, “Unto those who look for him shall he appear,” and I am prone to think this is true also while He tarries.

If going to church has become a dull thing for you – try this simple formula.

This article, “Is God Here Tonight?” by Rev. Gladys I. Johnson first appeared in Foursquare Magazine in 1958. The inside scoop is that our brother Ronnie was the little boy in this story. (Tami & Karen)

Remember Me

I tucked a memory away into my heart, thinking I would bring it out often and re-live again the days so dear. Along with the memory of a dear face, I tucked memories of a personality, of loving ways, of all the little things that make a person dear. But I found memory to be a strange paradox that cut the heart like a sharp-edged knife, yet was very sweet. I longed for the day when memory would be less sharp, yet feared lest I lose the closeness of a loved one taken from our sight.

The years have passed; time has healed the dreadful hurt and the memories tucked away so carefully are still there, but with the passing of days they wander in and out of my mind with less frequency than before. But still they are free to wander and have become like a passing breeze that slips in and out of the mind at the mere mention of a word, the glimpse of a face, the sound of a voice, or the memory of a sight shared.

How wonderful a thing is our memory. How good it was of God to give us this faculty to use. How much pleasure we derive from the old scrapbook filled with memories, or the snapshot album of treasures irreplaceable.

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Photo: Public Domain via Pixabay @condesign

Jesus very definitely pointed out the place of memory in our worship of Him. When He sat at the table with His disciples just before He was to journey into that garden and drink the cup of the world’s sorrow and sins, paying the price to redeem us back to God, Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, and said, “this do in remembrance of me.”

I have in my heart a memory book which concerns only One, and that is the Lover of my soul – Jesus Christ. He has asked that I sit at the Communion Table with Him; that while there, I remember His goodness, His sacrifice for me. I’m afraid that often our coming to the Communion Table is a matter of a duty to be performed – a ritual of the church, when Christ would have us come with reverence, with a feeling of entering hallowed ground.

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He knew how prone our minds were to let slip the most precious memories; to allow the former treasured thoughts to sneak into the dark recesses of our minds to be brought to the foreground less and less as the busy days pass by. And he asked that when we come to the Communion Table, we do so “in remembrance.”

Can we do less than honor our Lord in this manner?

(This article, originally titled, “This Do In Remembrance,” was originally published in The Foursquare Magazine in 1958.)

ONWARD….CHRISTIAN SOLDIERS

You have probably sung that song most of your life, or at least you’ve heard it. Children love to march as they sing it! But, do you know what that old hymn really means?

We have just observed Veterans Day here in the United States of America. We honor those who have served in our armed forces and those who have given their lives so that we may enjoy freedom. They bravely went into life or death situations to fight against a known, visible enemy.
What love is this that our young men and women put their lives in harm’s way to fight for what is right.

The disciple of Jesus named John in his writings about love repeated Jesus’ words from John 15:13,
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” 1 John 3:16

We are in a battle daily with the evil plot of Satan to destroy souls. It is called spiritual warfare! We have a Commander in Chief who knows the end result of the war! He fights for us,
II Chronicles 20:15 & 17 tells us “……..This is what the LORD says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s. You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the LORD will give you.’ “

There is so much to share with you on this subject, so if you would like to read more, go to:
Ephesians 6:10-17 and II Timothy 2:1-13

The following are the words from that great old hymn written in 1874…

Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus going on before:
Christ the royal Master, leads against the foe;
Forward into battle, see His banners go.

Like a mighty army, moves the church of God;
Brothers, we are treading where the saints have trod.
We are not divided, all one body we,
One in hope and doctrine, one in charity.

Crowns and thrones may perish, kingdoms rise and wane,
But the church of Jesus constant will remain;
Gates of hell can never ‘gainst that Church prevail;
We have Christ’s own promise, and that cannot fail.

Onward, then, ye people, join our happy throng.
Blend with us your voices in the triumph song;
Glory, laud, and honor unto Christ the King;
This through countless ages, men and angels sing.

ONWARD, CHRISTIAN SOLDIERS, MARCHING AS TO WAR. WITH THE CROSS OF JESUS, GOING ON BEFORE!

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All Aboard!

Photo: Mig Rodz, Flickr Creative Commons

Photo: Mig Rodz, Flickr Creative Commons

Many, okay most people attend church like it’s a cruise ship, thinking, “what can this church do for me? When is the next fun event / church dinner / concert so I can just soak up the goodness?” In a church like that, very few people do the work of keeping the crowds entertained and happy. Like a cruise ship. I could elaborate, but I’m pretty sure you get the picture.

What would happen if we viewed the church we attend as a battleship?

USS New Jersey | Photo courtesy Michael Thompson, Flickr Creative Commons

USS New Jersey | Photo courtesy Michael Thompson, Flickr Creative Commons

On a battleship, each person has a job to accomplish in fighting the enemy. Think on that for a minute.

Think of the evil we could annihilate if the church operated this way…

Abused children rescued.

Trafficked women and men set free.

Marriages restored.

The hungry fed.

As a pastor’s kid, there have been more Sunday’s spent in church in my life than not. To be honest, I’ve spent most of it like I was a cruise ship passenger.

It’s time for me to board the battleship.

You?

Stir It Up!

“My faith is personal – I don’t need to get together with other Christians.”

I know you’ve heard that line once or twice in your life. Maybe you’ve said it yourself. And maybe for good reason. Relationships can be hard. And messy.

Let me be blunt here. It’s a lie.

You do need someone or someones. You do. You really do.

“No, I don’t,” you say? That kind of thinking isn’t useful in other areas of our lives, so why do we use it as an excuse in our walk of faith?

Would you run a company by yourself? No. Even if you are a solo business owner, you rely on the expertise of mentors, advisors and other professionals to help you be the best you can be.

Would you teach yourself? No. You need a teacher. If you want to learn something new, someone has written a book or done some research or you take a class to acquire new knowledge.

Being a Christ follower is no different. Certainly, we are taught by God. We also do a certain amount of growing on our own, but only to a point. And it’s not just about the learning. It’s about the DOING.

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,” Hebrews 10:24

Some translations replace “stir up” with words like provoke, stimulate, spur, motivate, encourage. Not a solo venture, this stirring up.

“As iron sharpens iron,
so one person sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17

Make no mistake. Iron sharpens iron, but iron can also wound, and wound deeply.

But.

One gash created by an iron wielding careless christian can help to be healed by those grace-filed ones bringing the salve of companionship and authentic love. Ask God to bring you those. Yes, many of those Christians. The kind who carry the name of Christ in a beautiful, wonderful, messy way only those who’ve been touched by grace can.

So.

Where are you right now? Whether you are an introvert or someone who has been deeply hurt by christians and the thought of returning to a “church” makes you physically ill, you still need others. You need a tribe who will support you & pray for you and stir you up and encourage you and provoke you and stimulate you and spur you on…and they are out there, waiting to meet you.

It’s time. You’ve been alone long enough. Don’t let yourself be alone in your faith any longer.

We are so much better, together.

Photo courtesy of Amanda Finneseth - The World Race

Photo courtesy of Amanda Finneseth – The World Race A Squad – 2014