REMODELING WOMEN’S MINISTRIES

Authors of Renovation Core Group Study – (l-r) Rachel Knight, Lauren Shirley, Denise Beckman.

By Katy Kiser

Last summer, I took a friend who lives on the East Coast to Waco, Texas, on a tour inspired by the popular show “Fixer Upper” with Chip and Joanna Gaines. The show is about what families go through to fix up a house. Not all remodeling is about building something new; it can also include tearing down what needs to come out so the house can reach its in- tended potential. For the families that embark on this process it can be scary. But at the end of each show when the “before” picture is rolled away, the joy on their faces as they view their newly renovated home says it all. It was worth it.

A house is not the only thing that needs renovation from time to time. As Team Leader of Renew Network, I have the privi- lege of hearing from women who have realized their ministry and mission programs are not meeting the needs of their congregation, much less the plan God has for them.

Last year, the women’s leadership of First United Method-
ist Church Carrollton, Texas, met to evaluate their ministry and make plans for the coming year. They had some great programs such as weekly in-depth Bible studies and quarterly multigenerational events with inspiring speakers. Once a

year, everyone looked forward to the women’s retreat. Mission opportunities abounded, but something was missing. Their ministry and mission programs needed fixing up.

A few of the leaders went to the Lord in prayer and asked him to give them his vision for the women of First Methodist Carrollton. Rachel Knight, the women’s committee co-chair, describes this process as “shadow stepping” the Lord. “As we sought the Lord, he showed us there was untapped potential in our women that he wanted to uncover. As God revealed a new direction for our ministry, he gave us each step to take. Some doors opened and others closed.”

One of the first things the Lord impressed upon them was that the women’s ministry should not have a separate mission or vision from their church. Making disciples for Jesus Christ had always been a focus of their church since 1901, when the church was established. Even before their official founding, early members of First Methodist had participated in week- long revivals and camp meetings held in nearby Dallas. In

the 1970s, the church was a training center for Evangelism Explosion.

Currently, they find themselves in a diverse community where many of their neighbors have very little understanding of Christianity. The Lord reminded the women of their church’s mission to “create a community connected to God and oth- ers” and their vision to “fill every neighborhood with the good news of God’s love.”

Three words summarized this vision and became a frame- work for the ministry: “Gather, Grow, Go.” Gather events were necessary – large group events that had an element of fun
and were an easy entry point for new people to get involved. Gather events always pointed to an opportunity to Grow. And as women realized who they were in Christ and were remind- ed of the gospel, they would Go and serve – in the church, in their neighborhoods, and around the world.

The Grow opportunities needed the most work. The idea of short-term small “core groups” emerged. Ladies would meet with four to five other women for six weeks, and then they

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would be placed with a different group of four to five women for the next study. This fostered new, multigenerational friendships in a church where many members have been in the same Sunday school class for decades.

The leaders developed three, six-week studies around the theme of renovate. “Fixer Upper” was the perfect starting point to discuss how all of our lives need God’s redemption and sanctification to remodel us into the image of his Son, Jesus. Rachel Knight and Denise Beckman, the women’s ministry co-chairs, began writing curriculum with Lauren Shirley, the church’s Communications Director.

The first study, titled “Blueprint,” centered on God, the Mas- ter Builder, and the story of creation, catastrophe, rebuild- ing, and restoration. Women studied the biblical framework that makes sense of the world and explains the big questions of life. It was followed by “Remodel,” which looked at the process of sanctification so we might overcome the effects

of the Fall and reach our full potential to reflect the glory of God. “Move In,” the third six-week study, invites women to a deeper understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit, as they discover why Jesus left so the Spirit could move in and finish the work of the gospel.

The work of the Holy Spirit was nothing short of amazing. As women revisited or discovered for the first time the founda- tional principle of each lesson, they uncovered new insights. The discussion-based curriculum encouraged participants

to verbalize what they were learning. As they reasoned their way through the scriptures and questions, they applied the scriptures to their own lives.

The success of the studies was greater than the women had hoped. Because Core Groups were offered on almost every day of the week and at various times, women who had not been able to attend signed up and came. When the program was reported to the Church Council, the decision was shortly made to adapt it to the men’s ministry where it has been equally successful.

For decades this church has had a vibrant commitment to global missions. Currently, they are planting churches in

Cambodia, supporting orphanages in Honduras, India, and Paki- stan, and leading evangelistic baseball summer camps in Germa- ny. But encouraging Core Groups to “go” together has helped the church focus on local ministries in their neighborhoods such as sidewalk Bible school for Spanish-speaking families every Satur- day and partnering with local food banks. There was every reason for Core Groups leaders to encourage their small groups to join in and strengthen the mission commitments of their local church.

With shared mission, First Methodist Carrollton is united and prepared for whatever challenges that may come. Their new program began with a handful of women committed to prayer. They know that when you seek the will of God, honor the teaching of Christ, and trust in the power of the Holy Spirit, the Lord will bless even in difficult times.

We live in challenging times. Division in our culture, in our church, and in our families is prevalent and threatens our founda- tions. But if our foundation is built on and committed to the gos- pel of Jesus Christ, we have nothing to fear. There may be crises and division in the church, but God is still at work in the life of the church and in the lives of those who faithfully seek him.

Katy Kiser is the Team Leader for Renew Women’s Ministries. Lauren Shirley contributed to this report. If you are interested in learning more about the ministry and curriculum at First Methodist Carrollton, contact Katy Kiser at Renew Network at 832-0331 or by email at renew@goodnewsmag.org

Why is UMW Declining?

Bishops preside over a service of Holy Communion during closing worship at the United Methodist Women Assembly 2018 in Columbus, Ohio. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.

By Katy Kiser –

In 1973, Response magazine, the official publication for the United Methodist Women (UMW), claimed the organization had 1.5 million members. Since that time, membership in UMW has declined at an alarming rate.

In 2012, the Women’s Division was granted independence from the General Board of Global Mission – and became the United Methodist Women National Office. The staff hoped their independence would bring new vitality and influence, but the organization has failed to curb its staggering membership loss.

Currently, less than half of the nearly 32,000 United Methodist congregations in the United States have a UMW unit. (It should be noted that UMW identity carries a different sense of spirituality and fellowship outside the U.S.). Institutionally, UMW is losing members at five times the rate that the general church is losing female members. According to official GCFA numbers at the end of 2016, membership in UMW was only 438,543. The decline from 1.5 million to less than 450,000 is drastic. The signs are not looking promising. Within the last 10 years, UWM lost more than 200,000 members — nearly one-third of its membership.

What has contributed to this precipitous membership loss? Like the general church, it can be partially attributed to the death of its aging membership, which is not being replaced. But this is not the primary reason.

As Team Leader of Renew Network, the women’s arm of Good News, I get a steady stream of calls from women who voice concerns for the partisan politics, missiology, and theology coming out of the UMW National Office. It is in their voices that I find compelling reasons why eight out of every nine women in the United Methodist Church do not belong to or support the UMW.

It’s all Partisan Politics

“Can you help our United Methodist Women?” asked the woman on the phone when she called our office. “We don’t want politics. We want Bible study!”

By far the question most asked of Renew is, “What can you tell me about the politics of the UMW? The women of my church want to know.” These requests represent a concern that the leadership is predominately involved in community organizing, activism, and lobbying for specific left-leaning political outcomes.

The perception that UMW is political is supported by the United Methodist Women’s lobbying presence on Capitol Hill, which is run out of the UMW National Policy Office in D.C. as well as at the United Nations where they have consultative status. Women are invited to participate in political action through a number of venues.

On its website, it maintains a list of Action Alerts (currently 40+). These alerts give everything women need to call or write Washington and add their voices to support or defeat the positions that the National Office recommends. Rarely do these Alerts reflect the concerns or positions of moderate or conservative women. It disturbs these women when they hear the UMW staff claim to represent all women in the United Methodist Church.

The UMW National Office also sponsors Annual Social Action or Legislative Events in various states where women can gather to influence state policies as they relate to the justice priorities of UMW. This year, at the UMW 30th Annual Legislative Event in Austin Texas, the women partnered with Texas Impact, a progressive advocacy group. The UMW rarely if ever advocates for politically moderate or conservative public policy solutions.

The UMW National Office utilizes “Mission U” held in every conference each summer and a quadrennial national gathering know as “Assembly” to organize the women for action. At the May Assembly, women were organized to embrace their power to change our economy, our climate, women’s health, and the incarceration rate. The event held 54 workshops led by social activists – two of whom were co-chair persons for the 2017 Women’s March held the day after the inauguration – including the exceedingly controversial Linda Sarsour, a provocative Muslim-American activist.

Over the years, UMW’s political activism has been rooted in an unbalanced and strongly progressive perspective. Without fail, it advocates for public policies that call upon big government solutions to social inequality. Rarely do they consider unintended consequences or the possibility that government intervention can hurt instead of help. Social inequality has widened as the traditional family has weakened. But strengthening the traditional family is not a justice priority of UMW.

Becoming informed and participating in the political process is not at issue, nor is the importance of the church’s social witness. But when the work of the UMW clearly promotes policies that favor the legislative proposals of one party over the other, it leaves them open to the charge they are both political and partisan.

Partisan politics is not a recipe for growth. Nor is it a recipe for making disciples for Jesus Christ.

What is Mission?

The emphasis on activism and community organizing begs the question, “What is Mission to the United Methodist Women?” In a 2017 summer newsletter, Harriet Olson asked a similar question. She quoted an orthodox theologian saying, “Mission is following the Holy Trinity into the World.” She went on to say, “We hear and respond to the cries of the needy… and we root ourselves in the core of the message: to ‘love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength’ through faith in Christ and to ‘love our neighbors as ourselves.” Wonderful words indeed.

But it is not in these words that women question the motives or the mission of UMW; it is in the actions they take that women have asked, “Has the mission of UMW become a mere political vision for social justice as defined by progressive politics and in so doing neglected, if not lost, the gospel altogether?”

Is it possible to bring about the Kingdom of God by changing our social systems? The UMW National Office appears to believe it is. Why else would they put so much emphasis on one-sided partisan responses to all the controversial issues facing the United States? Politics, politics, politics.

At the 2012 and 2016 General Conferences, an individual submitted legislation to amend the Responsibilities of United Methodist Women in paragraph 1320 of the Book of Discipline to include the statement, “Encourage United Methodist Women in efforts to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to their local communities.” This petition would have required the incorporation of evangelism, central to the mission of the church. The UMW did not support the petition; it failed.

The UMW were not successful in their effort to stop a petition and a resolution to recognize and encourage women’s and men’s ministry independent of UMW and UMM. But they did insert the phrase “justice advocacy” into the resolution, signaling its continued commitment to their particular vision of progressive social justice.

Many women who believe Christ alone is unique and holds the keys to salvation and transformation of the soul realize the gospel has been sidelined. In its place, transformation of our “systems” and achieving human so-called justice based on material equality has become a substitute for the cosmic changing work of Christ on the cross.

This point should be remembered when we hear some bishops claim that all Methodists can agree to lay aside theological differences and organize around shared mission. The issues that divide us politically, also divide us theologically and lead us to different understandings of mission. The “social holiness” of John Wesley was a concept based on discipleship – not the partisan brand of “social justice” promoted by the UMW.

Radical Feminism and Other Theological Concerns

Theological concerns have also played a major role in the decline of United Methodist Women. In 2016, UMW Spiritual Life Study, The Bible and Human Sexuality came out; it was a focus at Mission U (what used to be known as the UMW School of Christian Mission). A female clergy friend and I decided to attend; we had read the book and had serious concerns. The author had reinterpreted scripture to justify a new understanding of biblical morality. We were hoping that Mission U, which reaches thousands of women each summer in each annual conference, would be more balanced than we had found the book.

Our hopes were not realized. An entire Saturday was spent deconstructing biblical teaching on sexuality and revising it to promote a new sexual ethic. This book turned the Bible’s teaching on sex before marriage, adultery, and marriage upside down. It undercut the Bible’s dichotomy between sin and righteousness by calling into question time-honored understanding of Scripture. Much of the revisionist questioning came out of the author’s claim that the Old and New Testaments were written in a time of male dominated society (patriarchy) and thus many of the injunctions of scripture are not applicable.

The participants were asked to accept not only the practice of homosexuality, but also a sexual ethic that would eliminate any scriptural boundaries on sexual practice other than “consent and safety.” We were asked to categorize our sexual experiences as positive or negative. We were told that the church needed to discard the marriage culture, because it condones harmful behaviors as long as they are within marriage and says nothing to singles, widows, and homosexuals.

To reinforce these points, we were shown a short film where Barbara Lee, a Christian feminist said, “To relate to each other as whole human beings, we need to develop and live by a Sexual Ethic that celebrates sex while treating it with moral integrity. An ethic that begins by recognizing that people of all sexual orientation and gender identities, of all marital status, and of all physical capacities, have the right to experience sex as a healthy and life-giving part of their existence.”

Sex was being taught not as a covenant between a man and a woman ordained by God, but as a “right” because it was God’s good gift, healthy and pleasurable.

In the early 1990s, the then Women’s Division was a major participant in the Re-Imagining Conference, which was initiated by the World Council of Churches and billed as a theological conference for feminist, womanist, and lesbian ideology. The conference created quite a stir in United Methodism.

The radical feminism and goddess worship that permeated the conference has not gone away in the decades since. In fact, the Sophia worship of the Re-Imagining Conference resurfaced in the 2017 UMW spiritual growth study titled, If Eve Only Knew: Freeing Yourself from Biblical Womanhood and Becoming All God Means for You to Be. The authors reinterpreted scripture beginning with the creation story where they reframe “Eve as a wise woman, the serpent as an agent of transformation, and the garden as a symbol of innocence that must be left behind to experience the complex fullness of life.”

The authors see the Bible as a “call of liberation.” They portray the Holy Spirit not as the Spirit Jesus describes in John 14, but as one that brings new revelation as society evolves. They see biblical teaching on sexual morality and purity as fear-based ideas that young women should reject. The authors believe the lack of feminine language for God promotes sexism. They encourage women to name God for themselves, because seeing God as “He” keeps the oppressive patriarchal systems in place.

Is it any wonder that some women have left their UMW units over serious theological concerns?

Good News for Women’s Ministry

At the same time that UMW has been declining, Christ-centered, biblically based, spirit empowered women’s ministry and mission has been thriving. This fact was recognized at the 2016 General Conference when paragraph 256 in the Book of Discipline was amended to officially allow and encourage women’s ministry alternatives to UMW. This addition to the Discipline has given women in the local church the freedom to expand their ministries in hopes of not only growing membership, but also with the goal of growing in Christ and offering him to a hurting and confused world.

Although the staff of the UMW National Office continues to claim that UMW is the only official women’s ministry in the church, this simply is not true. Women’s ministry in the church is not limited to UMW. Many women in the local church have recognized that unless we ourselves are transformed by and have a deep relationship with Christ, we cannot hope to further the mission to make disciples and transform the world. We cannot share what we do not have. The world does not need more of the world and its secular agendas. The world needs the transforming power of our Savior.

It was the power of Jesus Christ that inspired the women in Women’s Society of Christian Service and Women’s Foreign Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church both of which originated in the late 1800s. The torch that carried the light of Christ into the world by the courageous women of the predecessor organizations has been preserved in the work of any number of Methodist women in the church today.

These fore-mothers are claimed by UMW who trace their origin back to these early groups. But if these inspiring women were with us today, they would have much in common with the women’s groups who operate outside UMW. They too would most likely be concerned by the politicization of mission and revisionist interpretations of Scripture. Thankfully, new evangelical Wesleyan women’s voices have emerged within the United Methodist Church. Women who do not belong to UMW are attending various Bible studies, ministry programs, prayer groups where spiritual formation is faithful to Scripture. They participate in both local and global mission opportunities which take seriously the Great Commission that Jesus gave his disciples and subsequent generations.

With the new legislation passed at General Conference 2016, the future for women is bright despite the decline of United Methodist Women. 

Women in the Mission and Ministry of Prayer

Founders of Knit-A-Prayer from left to right: Karen Wentzel, Sharon Wainwright, Rev. Dr. Richard Thompson, and Joyce Spetz. Photo courtesy of First United Methodist Church in Bakersfield, California.

Thousands of American service men and women have lost their lives in the on-going battle against terrorism. Since 2009, bodies of fallen soldiers, mostly from the war-torn areas of Afghanistan and Iraq, have been flown into Dover Air Force Base. At Dover, these heroes are given a dignified transfer as they are received by their grieving loved ones. And it is here that those loved ones are comforted by the ministry of the women of the First United Methodist Church in Bakersfield, California. The women call their ministry, Knit-A-Prayer.

The Dignified Transfer program at Dover has become a vital tradition of honor, respect, and a way of acknowledging the sacrifice of the fallen. Early in the Repatriation and Dignified Transfer program, chaplains at Dover asked for prayer shawls and lap blankets. They wanted grieving families to have something tangible to show that they were surrounded by the love of God and the prayers of fellow citizens. They also wanted them to know our country does not take their loved one’s loss of life for granted nor is it unaware of the deep grief the family experiences.

When families receive their fallen soldier at Dover Air Force Base, they are ushered onto the tarmac to witness a solemn ceremony as the casket is brought off a plane. Often the walk from the base to the plane is cold and windy. The shawls the family receives provide comfort both spiritually and physically. Many notes of appreciation have been sent to the Bakersfield women. For example:

“I’m writing to thank you on behalf of my sister. She and her family live in Arkansas. On November 20, her grandson, my great nephew, was killed in Afghanistan. When his dad flew to Dover AFB to receive his body, he was presented with a prayer shawl made by your group. Their hearts were touched by the shawl, the note you included, the words of comfort and the prayers that had gone up in the making of the shawl. I’m amazed at our God and how He works. Words cannot express our appreciation. God is good all the time. Blessings to you.”

Although the number of fatalities has fallen in recent years, the Methodist women in Bakersfield continue to pray and send the love of God to those who grieve.

In May, just before Mother’s Day 2017, Knit-A-Prayer celebrated its 10-year anniversary. It was founded by Sharon Wainwright, Joyce Spetz, and Karen Wetzel. When Sharon closed a needlework store she had operated for 22 years, she knew she must find something productive to do with her creativity and love of knitting. She mentioned this desire to her friends Joyce and Karen. Joyce knew about the prayer shawl ministry and ordered the book, Knitting Into Mystery: A Guide to the Prayer Shawl Ministry,which taught creating shawls as a way of nurturing one’s own and others’ souls through prayer.  The three women met several times to pray and seek the Lord’s guidance before going to their pastor, the Rev. Richard Thompson, and receiving his blessing to start a ministry.

The three women were amazed at the interest in their proposed endeavor. Within a short period of time, 25 women signed up and committed to bi-monthly meetings. These women were intergenerational ranging from college-aged to mature women in their nineties. Over the last ten years, these women have sent 2,700 shawls and lap robes to people all over the world.

Sharon and her friends began by contacting another prayer ministry in their church known as Prayers and Squares, whose chapter #317 was started in 2005. This ministry, launched by Isabel Carrera, promotes prayer through the use of quilts. The quilters were happy to see their prayer ministry expand to a group who knitted and crocheted.

The quilting ministry originally began in San Diego at another United Methodist church, that sponsored an informal quilting group. A member’s two-year-old grandson, Kody, ended up in a coma following heart surgery; he had little chance for recovery. As the women worked quickly to make a quilt to cover this critically-ill child, they prayed earnestly for him. Against the odds, Kody came out of the coma. As he recovered, his little hands touched and fingered the knots on his quilt. His doctors wrote into his medical chart that the quilt was not to leave his side! The quilt remained with the child through several surgeries, tests, and treatments. It provided comfort and strength for many years. Other patients began to ask about the ministry and soon it had spread to other churches including Bakersfield First UM Church.

The process of making these quilts is saturated in prayer. When a quilt is requested, it is personalized to the recipient on a label and dated. As the women of the quilting ministry piece their quilts and tie in square knots the thread that holds the layers together, they pray for each recipient. After they finish a quilt, it is displayed so that the congregation may come and say a prayer while tying a knot on the quilt.

The same process is true for knitting and crocheting shawls. From the beginning of the project to its completion, the women bathe their work in prayer. Each shawl begins with a prayer for the recipient and their needs even when those needs are unknown. When they knit at home, they pray over their work. Some use a knitting pattern, a simple knit three, purl three that represents the Trinity.

One knitter shared, “In a sense this ministry is a ‘blind ministry.’ When knitting or crocheting a shawl one doesn’t know where it is going, what will be the effect, who will receive it, but God knows.” Another remarked, “There is joy in selecting the colors of yarn for the next shawl as well as the pattern. One can meditate while knitting. It is peaceful in God’s presence.”

Each shawl and blanket is bathed in prayer. Photo courtesy of First United Methodist Church in Bakersfield, California.

Opportunities to witness and share the love of Christ occur when a knitter has taken her project outside her home and works as she waits for an appointment or meeting. As one knitter explained, “Often an individual will strike up a conversation when they see someone knitting. That opens the door to talk about the prayer shawl ministry and our faith.” When the women gather together at the church, they take time to lay hands on their work and pray out loud in a ritual of prayer. At the completion of each shawl, a card is attached that includes a space for a hand-written prayer.

In their own city of Bakersfield, shawls are sent to several hospice groups and shelters for battered women, abused children, and the homeless. The women provide shawls and support for the Dream Center, a ministry to young adults in foster care who are required to transfer out of the program when they turn eighteen. At the center they are given help finding a permanent place to live, help with writing resumes, and learning how to interview for a job as well as other life skills. 

The Knit-A-Prayer ministry steps into action when disasters of all kinds occur. In 2011, a 9.1 magnitude earthquake struck northeast of Tokyo; it was the largest ever to hit Japan. The resulting tsunami compounded the damage. Serving at the time were eight missionaries from the United Methodist General Board of Global Missions. The Bakersfield women sent their prayers and shawls to Japan, which were distributed by the missionaries along with other efforts by the United Methodist Committee On Relief (UMCOR).

GBGM contact, Claudia Genung-Yamamoto wrote, “These shawls have special meaning and we would like to distribute them through partner groups, especially through the Japanese church women with a message of God’s love shared with both Christian and non-Christians in the Tokyo area.”

Each package is a blessing to those who receive. Photo courtesy of First United Methodist Church in Bakersfield, California.

Closer to home, last summer these women sent shawls when one of California’s largest fires, the Erskine Fire, killed two people, destroyed 309 homes, and damaged hundreds more. People who lived in the path of the fire were in evacuation centers for weeks. These evacuees were not alone, for the Bakersfield women actively prayed and sent shawls through a long-time member of their church. He just happened to be serving as a local pastor for two of the communities hard hit by the fire.

The women share many stories where they have seen God’s hand on their ministry. One afternoon they received a request for a shawl from a lady in Missouri. She had found Knit-A-Prayer listed on a shawl ministry web site. She requested a shawl for a young adult man, seriously ill in San Diego. The shawl needed to be delivered quickly. Ironically, the daughter of the church’s administrative assistant was returning to San Diego that very afternoon. She took the shawl to the hospital and personally gave it to family members.

Another incident occurred when the women learned of a young girl who had attended VBS at the Bakersfield church. She was seriously ill with cancer. The mother was contacted and said she would appreciate a shawl for her daughter. When it was delivered, the little girl responded by saying, “How did you know that pink was my most favorite color?” She kept the shawl with her constantly through all her treatments until she passed.

Early in the spring of 2017, an adult nephew of a member of the Bakersfield congregation was seriously injured in an automobile accident. He was barely removed from the vehicle before it went up in flames. Doctors were unable to assure the family of his recovery. He was in ICU for a month and had many surgeries. Although he was not a believer in Christ, he kept the prayer lap robe with him constantly. All the prayers that were prayed for his recovery were eventually answered when he walked out of the hospital.

Prayers and Squares and Knit-A-Prayer are not ordinary clubs; they are not an excuse for women to get together for fellowship, although meaningful fellowship occurs; they are not just a creative outlet, although they are that as well. Prayers and Squares and Knit-A-Prayer are two groups of creative, praying Christian women, who like Jesus, are full of compassion; they are women who use their talent to make visible the love of God in the material blessing of a quilt or a shawl. Most of all, they are women who know the power of prayer to love, encourage, honor, heal, and comfort infinitely more than all they ask or imagine.

As Sharon Wainwright attests to the power of God working through the Knit-A-Prayer ministry, “God continues to open doors where we can offer a shawl and prayer. Our original hopes and dreams for this ministry were so small in comparison to where God has directed us. The ‘God winks’ have been many and the blessings numerous beyond measure.”

Now is the Time

“Now is the time of God’s favor, Now is the day of salvation.”

– II Corinthians 6:2

Each year, women come to the national conference of the Celebration Women’s Ministry in Houston seeking to grow in Christ and encounter God’s Spirit. Some seek the assurance of salvation; others need forgiveness or desire to be liberated from sin, past and present; still others seek spiritual, emotional, or physical healing. This past March, women experienced all this and more at the Celebration gathering.

The Celebration leadership team chose their 2018 conference theme from the above cited verses from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. They were reminded that the people of the Corinthian Church had much in common with the church in America of our day. They too were suffering disunity; sexual immorality was a problem, and difficult challenges were overwhelming the church. In the two letters to the Corinthians, we find some of Paul’s most important theological writing.

Inspired by Paul’s words, “Now is the time of God’s favor – the day of His salvation,” the leadership team delved into the meaning of salvation. They found it to be a comprehensive term that had a depth of meaning beyond the initial decision to believe and be saved from the consequences of sin. Salvation was a word that implied forgiveness, healing, prosperity, deliverance, safety, rescue, liberation, and restoration. It signified everything the leadership team hoped women would experience at their yearly conference.

Readers of Good News will recall the March/April 2017 cover story written by editor Steve Beard about the Spirit-filled revival in the Methodist Church of Cuba. He had visited Cuba with Dr. David Watson, the academic dean at United Theological Seminary, and a team of seminarians. During a conversation after the article came out, Beard encouraged Judy Graham, president of Celebration, to visit the Cuban church or bring the move of the Spirit in Cuba to the women of Celebration. In response, he and Watson put her in touch with Pastor Adria Nuñez Ortiz from Havana.

Pastor Nuñez is the product of a powerful move of God and His Spirit in her country. The people in her Havana community know first-hand the hardship of living with scarce resources such as food and clothing. Although for many decades, freedom to worship publically was not possible, belief in Christ survived. It brought hope and helped the Cuban people rise above their circumstances.

Salvation was the power that healed, allowed those trapped in prostitution, drugs, and other addictions to find freedom, and gave them the ability to forgive and be forgiven. Pastor Nuñez wanted the women of Celebration to know and experience the power of salvation to bring dynamic transformation that enables all women in every culture to find the way that leads to life.

Nuñez told the women to “rise up wisely like Jael, to be virtuous like Mary, to carry hope to those around them like Esther and Ruth, to be full of faith like Hannah, and to be sensible and brave like Deborah.” Each of these Bible women were given exactly what was needed to meet their challenges; each challenge was unique. Nuñez wanted each woman to be as faithful and courageous as Esther, who the Lord had raised up for the challenge of “such a time as this.”

Women receive healing. Photo by Celebration Ministries.

At the close of her message, she issued a call for women who needed physical healing in their bodies and those who needed to receive the Holy Spirit in their soul to come forward. Whether in fire and power or in a sweet gentle presence, the Holy Spirit ministered deeply to the women present at each alter call.

Pastor Jennifer Cowart of Harvest Church in Georgia, the other featured speaker, taught the women how to live out their salvation as chosen women, honored by God; as women who are being made into the image of Christ and exemplifying his characteristics. That calls for honesty, and honest she was. A spirit of conviction fell upon the conference as Cowart got specific about walking in the new nature and refusing to be dominated by the old. She encouraged the women to be more sensitive to the needs of others and grow deeper in their understanding of the love of Christ, allowing his love to flow out to those around them in practical, tangible ways.

For Graham, the entire weekend was in sync with the beautiful work of the Holy Spirit. A highlight for her, however, was getting to pray with a woman for her salvation. This young woman had never received Christ as her Savior; her work had brought her to the last five Celebration conferences, but this year during the prayer time, she ventured on stage and asked Judy to pray with her.

Jen Cowart and Judy Graham. Photo by Celebration Ministries.

Especially important to the conference planning team was issuing an invitation to the women and pastors of the Spanish speaking churches in the Houston area and the broader Texas Conference. The planning team knew it would be exciting for them to hear Pastor Nuñez in their own language. The first evening nine women attended. The next evening more than 35 women attended – in addition to the Rev. Arturo Cadar, the Texas Conference Coordinator of Mission Field Development. After the event, he approached Graham in order to start a Spanish-language Celebration chapter. He had the women leaders in mind to continue the blessing and the move of God’s Spirit.

Before the end of the conference, testimonies began to emerge. Women were reconnected with God, many were awakened to a closer walk with Jesus, a healing presence moved in their midst, some were called into ministry, and others were inspired for mission and service.

“I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit beginning with the time I got my name tag at the registration table,” one young woman testified after attending her first Celebration event. “National Conference has changed me forever! I am a completely new person and excited about seeing God in a new light.”

“On fire” is how Judy Graham described the conference.

As the leadership of the conference began to count the ways God had moved, they gave thanks for all the lives that had been changed. For new and seasoned believers alike, National Conference was a time for each woman to move deeper into her salvation.

The theme, “Now Is The Time,” reminds us that God is at work. He is at work in our individual lives and he is at work in our church. For those who are looking for God, he is there. He is moving all of us into a more profound understanding of our salvation, that we might apprehend all that he has for us.

A Woman’s Voice for Renewal

As Dixie Brewster, spokeswoman for the Local Church Committee of the 2016 General Conference of The United Methodist Church, came to the stage to present legislation prepared by the Renew Network to amend Paragraph 256 of the Book of Discipline, women all over the floor of the conference watched with anticipation. An objection was launched by a delegate who did not want the Discipline amended to recognize and encourage alternative ministry in addition to United Methodist Women. But those who spoke in favor had the more cogent arguments. The petition had been fiercely debated in committee yet had passed overwhelmingly without amendments. That day the entire body of delegates in Portland, Oregon, would vote to pass the legislation.

To some, the passage of this change to the Book of Discipline may not have seemed particularly remarkable, but to the women of Renew, this was monumental. As Ruth Burgner of the Mission Society had once written, “If you knew what was going on, this sight might strike you as the stuff short stories and classic tales are made of – the story of a smaller opponent squaring off toe-to-toe with a bigger (and apparently more powerful) one, engaging bravely on behalf of an entire unsuspecting community.” 

The passage represented over two and a half decades of conscientious work on the part of women who have played a role in the Renew Network, which is the women’s program arm of Good News.

The network was formed as a two-pronged ministry calling for spiritual renewal for the women of the church and accountability of the Women’s Division (now United Methodist Women Inc.). As founder and president Faye Short remarked in 2002, “These are the ‘grassroots’ of the church, the mainstream Methodists who joyfully embrace and share the great Christian truths that transform lives.” It was by and for these mainstream women that the Renew Network came into being.

Renew traces its roots back to the early 1970s. It was then evangelical women began raising alarms about the resources they were getting from the Women’s Division. Concerns were voiced because the theology, philosophy, and ideology of the Women’s Division were far different from that of the women at the local level. The Esther Action Council and the Good News Women’s Taskforce documented concerns and looked for ways to encourage the grass roots women of the church. These efforts led to the formation of the Renew Network in 1989 under the leadership of Faye Short.

The story of the Renew Network connects to Faye’s story. Many do not realize that Faye was a UMW local, district and conference officer in North Georgia prior becoming president of Renew. She knew first hand the concerns that were arising from evangelical women. When Helen Rhea Stumbo, now chairperson of the Good News board, invited Faye to her first Good News board meeting, Faye told Dr. James V. Heidinger II, then president of Good News, that she had come with a strange burden on her heart for the women of the UM Church.

As the church drifted away from classical orthodoxy, the leadership team Faye had organized began to shine light on the theological error coming out of the Women’s Division. A White Paper titled “Our Basis For Concern” was produced in 2001; it revealed much. Whether it was liberation theology, propagating that all faiths are acceptable ways to God, pro-abortion advocacy, participation in the Re-Imagining movement, tying the mission of the church to the goals of the United Nations, advocating radical feminism, support for a new sexual ethic, or substituting progressive public policy for the proclamation of the gospel, Renew was faithful to report these disturbing developments with the hopes of seeing reform.

Bringing to the conscience of the church that which had the potential of compromising her mission and weakening the proclamation of the gospel was not the only work of the Renew Network. Equally, if not more important, was the development of ministry models and Christ centered program materials. While Renew gave voice to the concerns of evangelical women, they developed alternative resources. These resources encouraged relationship with Jesus and knowledge of Scripture, and a biblical worldview regarding social and political concerns.

A good example of one such resource is the book, Reclaiming the Wesleyan Social Witness: Offering Christ that I co-authored with Faye Short. It put forward a Wesleyan social witness, and proposed a rediscovery of the core of the Wesleyan witness – “saving faith.” Bishop Lindsey G. Davis wrote, “This book offers fresh insights into how our social witness can be transformational and firmly rooted in the Christian faith.”

As we moved out of the late twentieth century and into the next, many churches began Bible studies and alternative women’s ministries. In many parts of the country new forms of vital ministry sprang up; but in other locations innovation was not so easy. Work remained to be done.

Renew leadership, past and present. Liza Kittle (left) and Katy Kiser (right) with Renew founder Faye Short.

 

In 2008 Faye Short retired as president of Renew and Liza Kittle would take her place and continue the two pronged ministry. Liza was a former radical feminist who came to know Christ in her 30s. She had a real heart for women’s ministry. She wanted all women to experience the life changing transformation that had turned her own life to the Lord.

Prior to becoming president, Liza had served as a press representative, writer and analyst for Renew. Among her reports was an analysis of the Book of Resolutions. After studying the legislation of several General Conferences, it was determined that over 80 percent of the social policy agenda of the UM Church originated from a handful of the liberal boards and agencies in the church. The once six-page addendum of the Book of Discipline had morphed into over 1,000 pages of social justice policy and political agendas that boards and agencies used to fuel their advocacy on Capitol Hill, the White House, and around the world. Her analysis brought important statistical evidence to the eyes of the church.

It was Liza who rewrote and submitted legislation to the 2012 General Conference using language similar to that of United Methodist Men and containing goals associated with the new emphasis on Local Church Revitalization and Growing Vibrant Congregations. Renew’s legislation passed overwhelmingly in the Local Church committee. Unfortunately, due to the late decision from the Judicial Council, time did not allow for the legislation to come to the full floor for a vote. Although this presented a delay of four years, it could not stop the momentum.

After years of involvement with women’s ministry, I became the Renew team leader in 2015. We’ve assembled a team of women pastors and lay teachers to provide devotionals, teachings, Bible studies, and mission ideas. Renew continues to be committed to build and encourage vital women’s programing. Churches and women’s ministries that are making a difference locally and globally are being featured on the Renew website, Facebook page, and in the Good News magazine (see the “Rooted” article in this edition). These stories of authentic women’s ministry are inspiring churches in and beyond Methodism.

The Renew team and all the many women of the network were thrilled when legislation passed at General Conference 2016, amending the Book of Discipline to officially allow alternative women’s ministries. The passage of this legislation represents a new freedom for women within our denomination. With this official endorsement of The United Methodist Church, the hindrances and constraints of the past have been removed. The gates are open for an even brighter future for women’s ministry in the church. The reality for some time has been that churches are offering options that meet the diverse needs of Christian women. We are excited for the days ahead as the Holy Spirit fans the flame of revival and renewal among the women of the UM Church that it may move in ever growing power.

Renew is thankful for having played a part in inspiring biblically based ministries. Yet vigilance remains essential. Renew reported that in 2016 the UMW National produced a spiritual life study on human sexuality that, if embraced, would take the UMW related women and the Church away from the Church’s official biblical sexual ethic.

The Rev. Rob Renfroe, current president of Good News, expressed his appreciation for the contribution of Renew to the reform and the renewal of The United Methodist Church when he said: “Renew has been a genuine gift to the women of the church who have looked for balanced, biblical resources to support their spiritual growth and their ministry in the world. In addition, Renew has served as a vigilant and effective force in exposing the radical political agenda behind much of the work of the Women’s Division.”

The women of Renew appreciate this assessment. We view the work of Renew as part of the faithful witness of both men and women within the Good News movement whose purpose is to lead United Methodists to a faithful future. 

Katy Kiser is the team leader for Renew Women’s Ministries. For a more detailed account of the history of the RENEW Network go to: www.renewnetwork.org or call 832-381-0331.

 

Rooted in Christ: Women Being the Church

The Rev. Kelly Brumbeloe of Mt. Bethel United Methodist Church. Photo by Donna Lachance.

 

What should be the business of the church? For the women of the Mt. Bethel United Methodist Church in Marietta Georgia, it is providing women with the opportunity to become Rooted in Christ. Their women’s ministry places equal emphasis on the spiritual and material needs of women, realizing that a poverty of either can be devastating. They actively make Christ known to those in their own pews, their community, and the world. Their women’s ministry is one of the most successful in The United Methodist Church.

Recently, Renew had the privilege to celebrate the women’s ministry at Mt. Bethel at the invitation of the Rev. Kelly Brumbeloe. The evening began with powerful worship led by a young college woman and was interspersed with several speakers. Women from the North Atlanta area came together to worship, share testimonies, pray for each other’s needs, and be taught from the scriptures. They call these gatherings “Home Grown.”

Presence of the Holy Spirit

As Kelly took the stage the music lowered in volume and she began to share from the story of Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones. She reminded us that this was set in a time of deep discouragement; Jerusalem had fallen and with it the temple. It was a time of total destruction, banishment, and national death. The people had been stripped of their identity and their hope was lost; they were in a valley of death.

Kelly continued to describe Ezekiel’s vision and the life that came into the dry dead bones that inhabited the valley. But even after bodies had been formed, they were lifeless, until God commanded something extraordinary. He commanded Ezekiel to speak God’s “ruah,” his breath into the lifeless bodies, the same breath breathed into Adam.

Having worked with Renew Network the last fifteen years, my mind went to the crisis we face in The United Methodist Church. Unable to agree on God’s intention for human sexuality, including basic biblical teaching and theological truths held for thousands of years, the church is in need of a breath of new life.

But this night was focused on the large number of women who had gathered at Mt Bethel. There were women present there who needed to be reminded that in our difficult and seemingly hopeless situations, God wants to breathe into us his “ruah” – breath that is full of new life, hope, restoration, and transformation. He wants to breathe new life into each one of his precious children, each institution, and, yes, even each nation.

For this story speaks to more than the hopeless situation of Israel who were captives of the Babylonians, or even the great impasse of The United Methodist Church. That evening was alive with women who had gathered to worship and receive a word from the Lord that would speak into the difficult, impossible, desperate places of their circumstances. The places only his “ruah” can heal.

Worship and praise is a major part of the ministry. Photos by Donna Lachance.

And just as the Lord God came through for the Israelites in the hopelessness of their captivity, he was present among us that evening breathing life and hope into each woman. The atmosphere was vibrant with the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Leadership Development

Home Grown is just one opportunity in Mt. Bethel’s women’s ministry known as “Rooted” where all women have the opportunity for spiritual growth. The Home Grown ministry encourages women to share their testimonies and gives them opportunities to teach, lead prayer, praise, and worship.

The women who participate in this ministry come from several United Methodist churches, including Canton First UM Church, McEachern UM Church, as well as from other denominations. By joining forces, they have resources that some of the smaller churches would not otherwise have. They have found that each church brings strengths to bless the whole.

The evening I attended, Eastminster Presbyterian Church brought 26 women and their children from The Garden Church, which shelters women who have been victims of abuse, alcohol, drugs, and sex trafficking. 

When the time of prayer came, the women gathered in groups of two to pray for one another. It was touching to see the women from Mt. Bethel and other churches pray and minister to each other. The move of the Holy Spirit was powerful as the women confessed to one another and received the truth of God’s deep love and true purpose for each one of their lives.

Developing women’s prayer life is a key component at Mt. Bethel’s women’s ministry. There is a story on its website about one woman whose young daughter developed a rare form of bone cancer resulting in the amputation of a leg. The church prayed with great intensity for the family and their daughter’s crisis. Today, the mother shares her amazing faith, wisdom, and the biblical truth that sustained her and her family. And her daughter, Grace, is sharing her faith and courage with another young girl also named Grace who is battling cancer.

Women with a vision for ministry. Photo by Donna Lachance.

Women in Mission

Reaching out to the women of The Garden Church is just one of the many mission projects that the women of Mt. Bethel and their partnering churches sponsor. 

Notable is their participation in a local ministry they birthed, Faith Bridge Foster Care, which has seen such growth it has become its own 501(c)3. This ministry encourages families to foster children and supports them with practical resources. An eight-year-old girl named Charlotte, whose family has fostered several children, told me all about her experience with the program. She is learning at a young age what it means to share the love of Christ and the blessings of her family with others.

Project 82 is a ministry to the 2.5 million orphans in Kenya. The women of Mt Bethel have responded to God’s call to love and care for the vulnerable children of Kenya who have been orphaned by caregivers wiped out by HIV/AIDS, tribal conflict, and poverty-driven diseases. This ministry nurtures orphans holistically to achieve sustainable family solutions. The women of Mt. Bethel have raised money and numerous supplies to provide for the needs of these displaced children.

Whether it is encouraging and resourcing foster care for needy children or the orphaned in Kenya, the women are focused on strengthening the family and building up women who play such an important role in the family. Nicole Taylor, director of women’s ministry at Mt Bethel, helps women find small group ministry for each stage of her life and the life of her family. Soon to launch is a new mentoring program where older women will be paired with younger women to fulfill Paul’s admonition in Titus for the older women to teach the younger.

Through their multifaceted ministry, Mt. Bethel’s women are committed to being salt and light to a hurting world; and they are committed to helping other churches bring “ruah,” a fresh breath of God into their ministries.

Katy Kiser is the Renew Network Team Leader. If you would like to learn more about the dynamic women’s ministry at Mt. Bethel, please contact the Rev. Kelley Brumbeloe or Nicole Taylor at http://mtbethel.org or Katy Kiser at http://renewnetwork.org.

New Opportunities for Women’s Ministry

New Opportunities for Women’s Ministry

Judypublicity2014

“The Lord gives the word of power; the women who bear and publish the news are a great host.” – Psalms 68:11

The 2016 General Conference was good news indeed for women’s ministry in The United Methodist Church. Legislation developed by the Renew Network, the women’s arm of Good News, was adopted to allow ministries to women and men in addition to UMW and UMM.

For some, the addition to paragraph 256.7 opens the door for churches to welcome women’s ministry that meets the unique needs and gifts of their particular congregation and conference. No longer is women’s ministry “one size fits all,” nor is the United Methodist Women under the leadership of the New York office the only official women’s ministry outlet.

For others, the Book of Discipline now officially recognizes and encourages the vibrant work of women that has been taking place for decades. One such women’s ministry is Celebration Women’s Ministry, which began in the Texas Annual Conference and dates back to 1997.

Katy Kiser, team leader of the Renew Network, recently sat down and spoke with Judy Graham, president and co-founder of Celebration Women’s Ministry.

Judy, why did you and others feel there was a need for a women’s ministry like Celebration? 

There were three founders of Celebration who saw women hungering for spiritual growth. We recognized everyone needs to experience the power of God; that was simply not happening in some of our ministries. We knew that the church cannot transform the world unless we individually have been healed and transformed.

Some needed the basic step of accepting salvation and the life that God intended through Jesus Christ. Others were seeking opportunities for spiritual growth and discipleship. Many women needed the healing touch that only Jesus can provide. And all women needed the sweet fellowship of one another and the power of each other’s prayers.

Many of our churches needed to develop women’s ministry that met these needs. But let me be clear, the founders, including myself, simply recognized a work that God was already doing and joined it. He led us to work within the UM Church and develop a structure by which women could connect to each other and reach out.

How did the Lord lead you to meet these needs?

In 1997, we approached Bishop Woodrow Hearn who gave us his support, as did our annual conference. At our first event, 65 women leaders from 22 churches in our conference committed to pray on a monthly basis for Celebration. We held a meeting at St. Luke’s UM Church in Houston where over 500 women attended. Not long after this, another 55 women from 16 churches met in East Texas and enthusiastically embraced our vision. Subsequently, at the invitation of pastors and lay women, Celebration was started.

Over the next year and a half, Celebration became a foundation and a covering for women’s ministries in which the focus was on salvation, healing, and equipping based on Luke 4:18-19. By providing speakers and studies in these three areas, Celebration met and continues to meet a full range of women’s needs including praise, worship, prayer, personal witness, Bible study, and fellowship. Today in the Texas Conference we have 21 chapters and new chapters are still being added.

You mention that prayer played a role very early on in starting this ministry. Does that continue to be the case for the organization?

We believe that all beginnings should be birthed in prayer. In fact, we ask women interested in having Celebration at their church to pray for several months and receive God’s vision before becoming a chapter. We also ask that each chapter keep their church, its leadership, and their pastor in prayer as well as our ministry.

The National Board has developed “Guidelines for Intercessory Prayer.” Praying key scriptures is just one tool we encourage along with prayer for renewal, revival, and unity. We also pray for one another. We want women to expect God to answer their prayers: for the church, this ministry, and their personal needs. Prayer teams that meet regularly and email prayer teams operate between chapter meetings. We also maintain a prayer room at the Texas Annual Conference each year. Bishop Janice Huie wrote to us, “Thank you for the beautiful prayer chapel your team provides during the Texas Annual Conference. Your oasis helps us strengthen ourselves for ministry decisions.”

Has Celebration been limited to the Texas Conference or the UM Church for that matter?

2017 marks eighteen years of service for Celebration Women’s Ministry. In that time we have begun chapters in Virginia, South Carolina, Florida, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and New Mexico. Celebration is seeing walls come down when women come together to worship Jesus. In our meetings are women of all ages and from a variety of backgrounds.

This ministry is not limited to the UM Church; we work across denominational lines, because regardless of denominational affiliations, women need Jesus and women need each other. The Celebration chapter in Appomattox, Virginia, is one example.

Our National Board is particularly excited about the adoption of Renew Network’s legislation by the 2016 General Conference that gives denominational approval to women’s ministries like ours. While we have always had official approval from our conference and local churches, we expect this action will have a big effect on the expansion of Celebration in other UM conferences not to mention other vital ministries.

Of course, expansion is meaningless unless the lives of women are being freed to heal from sin, grow in Christ, and become equipped to share what God is doing in their personal lives and the life of the church.

Can you share one of those testimonies?

Over the years, we have received thousands of testimonies of lives that were changed by our ministry. One of our members wrote after a Celebration National Conference: “I was a broken child of God. The conference was such a blessing. The main message couldn’t have been more relevant to what I needed. 2 Timothy 1:7: ‘God has not given us a spirit of fear but a spirit of power, love, and self-control.’ I am now, finally, living for God and it feels so great.”

What would be your advice to women who want to begin alternative ministries in their church? 

Prayer should be first; it is essential, as well as working with your pastor and church leaders. If your ministry grows beyond your local church, I also would advise working with your bishop and conference leaders. For those who wish to begin a Celebration chapter, all the principles, steps, and requirements are on our website. We have a leadership team that personally guides new chapters and trains their leaders.

Judy, what are your general thoughts about the UM Church and the state of women’s ministry?

Like Renew and Good News, I realize our church is in a crisis over human sexuality, and I would not want to discount that in any way. But at the same time, I see God moving in a mighty way. For years, many of us have been praying and working for renewal. Much of what happened at General Conference indicates that is happening. I contacted Renew when I heard that the GC had adopted legislation officially recognizing a variety of women’s ministries. I felt this was monumental. We need to move where God is moving. Praise God that is happening. In my mind, another huge indicator is the formation of the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA).

Since 2017 marks eighteen years of ministry to women, what will Celebration do to celebrate?

Our celebration begins at our National Conference – the theme is “Covered” – and will continue in our chapter meetings throughout the year. Our theme is taken from Psalms 91:4: “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.”

We are praying that the Holy Spirit will join us and stir our hearts and minds to heed His word.

If you would like to learn more about Celebration Women’s Ministries or Renew Network, please visit their websites: http://celebrationministries.org and http://renewnetwork.

Wesleyan Women in Mission and Ministry

This is the story of three women from First United Methodist Church of Carrollton in the North Texas Conference of the UMC who made a trip to Meru, Kenya to teach in a series of Women’s Conferences. It is not only their story, but they each share the Biblical teaching that the Lord laid on their hearts. And intertwined in each of their teaching, they share God’s faithfulness in meeting their own challenges.

LIndy Sharon Marian

Lindy Thomas, Sharon Roelke and Marian Griffin departing from DFW Airport

But the story actually begins about fifteen years earlier, when Ann Morell, wife of a former pastor at First United Methodist Church of Carrollton, Texas, was called into the mission work. After the loss of her husband, the Rev. Paul Morell, she answered a call to join Bridges International, an independent Wesleyan mission agency. Ann’s husband Paul had been active in mission to South America and other parts of the world. One thing Ann had always insisted – she would not accompany him to Africa. But God had other plans for Ann.

Ann would make several trips to Africa. The Morell School, named after Ann’s husband, was begun in Meru, Kenya by Bridges International. Ann would begin her work at Bridges by writing a manual for pastors’ wives. As Ann began her work with the women of Africa, she became aware of the barbaric custom of female circumcision. For years, Ann had taught that sometimes, part of healing and overcoming is a matter of “Replacement.” That is – God replaces the destructive ways of the world with His ways. She developed a program for young girls called the “Rite of Purity Passage.” It replaced man’s destructive and oppressive plan of female circumcision with a ceremony that retained God’s plan for purity and faithfulness.

In 2007, Ann Morrell returned to First Church to speak at a women’s retreat. Part of her teaching talked about her work with Bridges and traveling to Kenya. Out of that women’s retreat, the desire to take a mission trip to Kenya was laid on the heart of one of the women. Another, Sharon Roelke, had been praying about going to Africa. As a result of these two women, seven people from First Church went to Meru, Kenya. Relationship developed during that trip, and Sharon joined the board of Bridges about a year later.

Today, the original Morell Pastor’s School has become three schools in outlying areas. The ministry supports 15 children through their Impoverished Children’s Assistance Network-ICAN. Bridges provides food relief in one of the most impoverished areas of Kenya. They have continued economic development through chicken projects, garden-in-a-bag and farming Gods way. All these programs are open doors for the staff to share the gospel in schools and outlying regions.

(Left to Right) Sharon Roelke, Lindy Thomas, Marian Griffin and Ann Rosser of Bridges International Development visited a tree planted by Ann Morell during one of her trips to Kenya.

(Left to Right) Sharon Roelke, Lindy Thomas, Marian Griffin and Ann Rosser of Bridges International Development visited a tree planted by Ann Morell during one of her trips to Kenya.

Serving on the board of Bridges, Sharon became aware that the Women’s Ministry begun by Ann needed new leadership. So she asked several women from Dallas to go with her and teach the women. Marian Griffin and Lindy Thomas were the two that said yes. As you can imagine, deciding what to teach women in such a different culture was difficult. What is really relevant to their culture might not be to ours.

As they prayed and talked, one thing they knew; Our God and His Word are true and relevant in all cultures and at all times. They decided that each would talk about different aspects of God and the place to start is “In the beginning.”

Sharon with a worship leader from a church we visited.

Sharon with a worship leader from a church we visited.

We participated in 2 food relief efforts.

We participated in 2 food relief efforts.

Food Relief Lindy

The ladies who attended the 3 seminars were eager and always arrived early. Small children stayed on their laps throughout the days and everyone stayed until the very end of the all-day event.

The ladies who attended the 3 seminars were eager and always arrived early. Small children stayed on their laps throughout the days and everyone stayed until the very end of the all-day event.


Marian’s Story – Our Big God

When Sharon approached me about considering this trip to Kenya to encourage the women, I was the most ambivalent. In the midst of nursing an ailing back and preparing for our son’s wedding, I felt quite distracted. However, when it was time to purchase the plane tickets, I said yes. Then the recurring thought became: WHAT WAS I THINKING?

I felt much like Moses. “Lord, I’m sure you could find someone who could speak more eloquently than I! It’s okay with me if you want Sharon and Lindy to do all the teaching, and I will hold up their arms and be their cheerleader. But God had other plans.

Through years of Bible study, God has laid the foundation of His truth in my mind and heart and has given me a love for His Word. However, I felt very incompetent to communicate His truths in an organized and meaningful fashion. He was telling me to trust Him for spiritual growth in this area of communicating His truth. He would provide all I needed for this task, including a love for the women in Kenya.

Interestingly, my portion of the teaching was to focus on the topic of “Our Big God, the God of Creation”. So if our God was the One who created everything by speaking it into being, then certainly I could trust Him to give me His words and His heart to be His vessel in Kenya. I wish I could say that I sat down one afternoon and the words flowed onto that paper. It was a bit more tedious for me than that. Yet God proved Himself faithful in every detail of this trip.

I am thankful the Lord has placed me in a community of faith at First United Methodist Church, Carrollton, where my relationship with Him is watered, fertilized, pruned and prodded and where we are given opportunities to go and make disciples both near and far. I’m grateful for the prayers, support and encouragement of church members and our staff.

A special thank you goes to our staff associate, Cindy Shirley, for sending us off at the airport with these words: AUTHORITY and GRACE. Basically, “God has given you His authority and grace to go in HIs name to Kenya.” We are grateful to our husbands who were concerned about our safety and who met together several times while we were gone to pray for us.

Here is what I taught:

I am so delighted to share this time together as sisters in Christ. I love the joy I see in your faces as you worship God!

I live near Dallas, Texas with my husband Nathan. We have three grown children, Rachel, Philip and Matthew. We celebrated Matt’s marriage to Ali in June. So there is hope for grandchildren!

A few months after Rachel was born, our church offered a two-year Bible study that required reading much of the Bible. I wanted to learn the stories of the Bible so that I could teach them to my children. But more importantly, I discovered that every story in the Bible points to Jesus. All the stories from Genesis to Revelation are one big story about God’s love and His plan throughout history to reconcile us to Himself by sending His Son, Jesus Christ.

But this two-year Bible study was invaluable for another reason. When our oldest child Rachel was two, we had a second daughter named Bethany who was born in June just one month after we completed our study. Six months later around Christmas time, the doctors discovered that Bethany had a congenital heart defect. She became ill and died two weeks later.

Because of the time spent in God’s Word for those two years, I had a deeper understanding of God’s character, His unconditional love, and His sovereignty. I understood that God doesn’t cause our pain, but He sometimes allows it in the fallen world we live in for now. I knew that God didn’t cause Bethany’s death, even though He could have healed her on earth. I knew in my heart that God was with us. He had not forgotten us. He gave me that peace that passes all understanding that only He can give in times of crisis. I could trust Him with His plan for our family even if it didn’t make sense to us.

Today I want us to look at the first story in the Bible and think about the greatness of our God. HOW BIG IS OUR GOD?

Teaching: HOW BIG IS OUR GOD? GENESIS – In the Beginning, God….  

One of my favorite ways to start the day is by reading a Psalm from the Bible. These songs of the Bible remind me of who God is, His greatness, and His special care for us. Psalm 19 tells us:

The heavens declare the glory of God,
the skies proclaim the work of His hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the end of the world.

Everyone on the earth can see the works of God in the heavens and in all creation. Ever since man first looked into the night sky, he knew that he was a part of something much bigger than himself. The vastness of the heavens cannot be comprehended. The heavens speak of things eternal. And in looking at the heavens, we may imagine that perhaps we are really looking into the face of God.

So where are we in this place called the universe?

Our moon is our nearest neighbor. If the earth was the size of an orange, then the moon would be the size of a marble. One million earths would fit into the sun. Yet, our sun is tiny compared to other stars that scientists have discovered far away. We really don’t know how big the heavens are that God created.

God wrote, “I love you” in the sky and on the earth. He wrote His message everywhere for all to see! The apostle Paul in the New Testament book of Romans 1:19-20 writes that men are without excuse for failing to acknowledge and worship God. The truth about God is revealed in creation. It is plain for all to see. For since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen by what God has made.

He wants to show us what He is like and to help us know him. We see His majesty in the mountains. We see his beauty in the flowers. We see His power in the lightning before a storm. We see His love in the smiles of others. I have seen Him this week in the beauty of your country and people.

Where do you see God’s majesty and greatness in His creation? Tell the person sitting next to you. Thank Him for that right now!

Genesis 1:1-2:3 – God Speaks Everything into Being.

Now let us explore the greatness of God and His love as revealed in the first three chapters of the Bible. Genesis 1:1-2 tells us:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless, and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

Although everything else had a beginning, God has always been. Psalm 90:2 tells us:

Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting, you are God.

So in the beginning there was nothing except God. Nothing to hear. Nothing to feel. Nothing to see. Only emptiness and darkness. I would like for you to close your eyes and put your hands over your eyes. Imagine total darkness, total nothingness. One time I was in a cave that had man-made lights. Then the guide turned off the lights. I couldn’t see the hand in front of my face or the path that would keep me from falling in a deep hole. It was total darkness.

Have you ever been in a dark place? Maybe it was a dark place emotionally or spiritually where you felt God had abandoned you. Maybe you have forgotten that God loves you. Well, God has good news for you.

Day One – God Speaks Everything into Being

In Genesis 1:3, God speaks:
Let there be light, and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day”, and the darkness he called “night”. And there was evening, and there was morning — the first day.

Also, in Psalm 27 we read:
The Lord is my light and my salvation;
Whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
Of whom shall I be afraid?

Greeting the ladies

God spoke everything into being. Hebrews 11:3 in the NT says:

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is now seen was not made out of what was visible.

Everything was GOOD
Everything that God brought into being was good. This is repeated throughout the chapter as God continues to fashion the universe.

Light is Necessary
Light is necessary for making God’s creative works visible and for making life possible. For example, the plants will need it to grow and produce fruit. We always associate God with light. The pillar of fire was God’s presence leading the Israelites through the desert after they left slavery in Egypt. Jesus is called the “the light of the world” who leads us to the Father and who offers us new life.

God gives order to time by creating day and night. He is sovereign over time.
2 Peter 3:8 –
With the Lord, a day is like a thousand years,
and a thousand years are like a day.
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise.
He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish,
but everyone to come to repentance.

The Second Day
On the second day, God continued to bring order to His creation. He separated the waters to form an expanse called the sky (or the heavens).

The Third Day
On the third day, God brought order on the earth by collecting the waters on the earth to form the seas and the dry land. Then he caused the land to produce seed-bearing plants and trees with seed-bearing fruit. And he saw that it was good.

So after three days, God changed the formless earth into one with order. Now our big God begins to fill the emptiness of the heavens and the earth. (This was demonstrated with an inflatable globe.)

The Fourth Day
On the fourth day, God spoke into existence specific lights to fill the sky: the sun for daytime light and the moon and star for nighttime light. These lights would separate day from night, mark the seasons, and give light to the earth. And it was good. (Then I had to laugh as I caught myself explaining the seasons and the temperature variations we have in Texas from hot summers to cold winters. In Kenya, they live near the equator, so EVERY day is 12 hours long. The sunrise and the sunset are at the same time all year long!)

The Fifth Day
On the fifth day, God made the fish to fill the seas and the birds to fill the skies. He blessed them to increase in number. And it was good.

The Sixth Day
On the sixth day, God had a very busy day! First He spoke into existence all the living creatures to fill the land. This included the livestock such as cattle, the wild animals that I hope to see at Samburu Wildlife Park later this week, and the creeping creatures that move along the ground such as snakes and lizards (which I don’t like!). And God saw that is was good.

But God was not finished! He saved the most special part of His creation for last. Genesis 1:26-28-

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image,
in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea
and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,
and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
God blessed them and said to them,
“Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.
Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky
and over every living creature that moves on the ground.

Then God provided vegetation as food for man and the animals.

The Trinity In Creation
First of all, note that it says: Let US make man in our image. The word for God that is used here is “Elohim” which is plural. So the Trinity God that we understand as God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ), and God the Holy Spirit were all active in creation. We have already seen the Spirit hovering over the waters in verse 1.

In the NT in Colossians 1:15-16, we learn that Jesus is also present in creating:

“Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.
For by Him all things were created, things in heaven and things on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities;
all things were created by him and for him.
He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

Humans were created in the image or likeness of God. This sets us apart from all the other creatures. Molded in the image of our Maker, we have unique abilities. These include the ability to love and be loved, to respond to our master, and to think orderly about ruling our environment. God matched a beautiful creation with a creature who could appreciate creation and who could have fellowship with Him. So at the end of the 6th day, God has completed His creation. He saw all that He had made, and it was very good.

The Seventh Day
On the 7th Day, God rested from all His work of creating. He blessed this day called the Sabbath and made it holy (or set apart for Him).

So from nothing, God spoke everything into being and it was good. He gives order and purpose to His creation.

Genesis 2:4-25 God created Man and Woman

The second chapter of Genesis gives us more details about God’s creation of man. We see that God created man and woman AND provided a perfect environment for them to live in.

First we learn that God formed man from dust and breathed life into Him.

Then God placed Adam in a prepared garden called Eden that was full of plants and trees. These provided food and were beautiful to look at. We notice in this perfect world that men and animals did not eat meat, only plants. God commanded Adam:

“You are free to eat from any tree in the Garden including the Tree of Life,
BUT you must not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil,
or you will surely die.”

Next, He gave mankind work to do:
First, man is told to rule over all the other earthly creatures such as the fish, birds, and land animals. Man has authority over them. He must care for them and use them to in the service of God and man. EX: My dad was a farmer. We also had some animals such as chickens, pigs, cows and sheep. My dad had to be sure the animals had food, water and shelter when needed. But the sheep took special care because they would eat too much and die if they were in the pasture too long!!

Second, man is told to be fruitful and multiply. This means to fill the earth with children. Through marriage, people are called to join God in the ongoing process of creation.

Third, man is told to work in the Garden and take care of it. The world will deteriorate without proper care. EX: I grew up on a farm. We grew cotton, corn and grain. One of my jobs was to keep the weeds out of the cotton field so that the cotton could grow properly.

Finally, God makes a suitable helper and companion for Adam. When God created Adam, He quickly realized Adam was lonely. Adam named all the animals but none of them were suitable to be his companion or helpmate. So God makes woman from Adam’s rib. God’s plan was for man to be united to his wife and be one flesh. Adam and Eve had no shame in their nakedness.

So God gives man and woman life, the perfect place to live, good food, purposeful work, dominion over the earth, and each other. God also gives us life and purpose and people to share life with.

Teaching

PSALM 8 declares our special place in God’s creation:

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise
because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
What is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?
You have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You made him ruler over the works of your hands;
you put everything under his feet:
all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air,
and the fish in the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas.

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Genesis 3 – The Fall

So our story continues in Genesis 3 as we explore the greatness of our God. Unfortunately, everything changes. What happens?

The Fall
Adam and Eve deliberately disobey God. The serpent tempts Eve to eat the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil which God has forbidden.

Who is the serpent? He is Satan in disguise. Even Jesus tell us in John 8:44 that Satan is a liar and the father of lies. Satan’s goal is to alienate man from God.

How does the serpent tempt Eve? First, he causes Eve to doubt God’s Word. “You will not die” if you eat the forbidden fruit. Second, he causes Eve to doubt God’s goodness. “God doesn’t want the best for you”. “You can be like God if you want to … God doesn’t want you to be wise!” Next, he causes Eve to desire to be like God. She wanted to be her own boss instead of trusting in God’s authority and plan. Finally, Eve believes Satan’s lies instead of trusting in God and His Word.

Let’s pause and think about those times when we are tempted to believe Satan’s lies and to doubt God’s promises. Life’s hard situations cause us to feel overwhelmed, hopeless or forgotten. We doubt that God really wants His best for us. Knowing God’s Word can give us strength and hope.

This was true for me when our baby daughter Bethany died. As I mentioned before, the Scriptures gave me an understanding of His unconditional love and His peace. Also, my husband and I experienced God’s comfort through a loving church community that surrounded us. They brought food, cleaned our house, sent cards, prayed, and listened to our story of grief as often as we needed to tell it. We need each other. Part of God’s plan is for us to be in community.

The Role of Free Will
Now-back to our story in Genesis. Eve eats the forbidden fruit and then entices Adam to do the same. God gives us free will. We either choose for God or against God. We choose our way or His way. In 2 Corinthians 11:3 Paul warns:

But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.

After Adam and Eve deliberately disobey God, they feel guilty. They notice they are naked. They attempt to cover their shame with fig leaves. They don’t know that only God can cover our shame. They hide from God who comes for His evening walk with them. Note that God always pursues an intimate relationship with His children.

God’s Confrontation and Judgment
God confronts Adam and Eve for their disobedience. As a holy God, He cannot ignore their sin. He declares judgment on the serpent, Eve, and Adam. Fellowship with God as it was intended is broken.

Judgment on the serpent: God tells the serpent that from then on snakes would crawl in the dust. People would be afraid of the serpent and hate it.  Satan would continue to lie and alienate people from God.  God declared war upon Satan. Harmony between people and animals is broken.

Judgment on Eve: God tells Eve that she will have great pain in childbirth. Also, instead of being at peace with her husband, she will struggle in her relationship with him and will desire to rule over him. Thus, harmony between humans is broken.

Judgment on Adam: God tells Adam that the ground is cursed with weeds and thorns. Adam must now work hard. Growing food will be toilsome. Thus, harmony between people and nature is broken.

Genesis 3:15 God’s Promise of Redemption and Reconciliation
In spite of the brokenness of God’s perfect plan because of man’s disobedience, God promises redemption and reconciliation.

Satan Will Be Defeated
In His judgment against the serpent, God promises that one day Satan will be defeated. We see this in Genesis 3:15:

“I will put hatred between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers.
He will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

The offspring of woman refers to Jesus Christ. This is the first prophecy of     Jesus Christ that gives us hope. “Satan will strike Jesus’ heel” refers to Jesus’ crucifixion when nails are put into his feet. “He will crush your head” means that Jesus will be victorious over Satan. Christ’s victory was accomplished through his death and resurrection. And Satan will be destroyed forever when Jesus Christ comes again.

Christ Will Come
I John 3:8 tells us that the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.
Hebrews 2:14  tell us Jesus shared in our humanity so that by his death he might destroy the one who holds the power of death, that is the devil. Thus, Jesus frees those who all their lives are held in slavery by their fear of death.

God promises redemption and reconciliation by His mercy shown to Adam and Eve. He covers their nakedness by making clothes out of animal skins. They had tried fig leaves. But the shedding of blood from a living sacrifice was necessary to cover their sin and shame. God is the only one who can cover our shame so that we have restored fellowship with Him. God must provide the way for us to be reconciled to Him.

As promised throughout the Old Testament, God sent Jesus to be the perfect and complete sacrifice for our sin and shame. He took the punishment of death we deserve. As we trust in His death and resurrection, we are promised abundant life now and eternal life forever. Nothing can separate us from His love.

The big God who created the heavens and the earth is also the personal God who loves you and me. Isaiah 40:25-26, 28-31 sums it up this way:

“To whom will you compare me?
Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.
Lift your eyes and look to the heavens:
Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one,
And calls them each by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
Not one of them is missing.

Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
The Creator of the ends of the earth.

He will not grow tired or weary,
And his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
And young men stumble and fall:
But those who hope in the LORD
Will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
They will run and not grow weary,
They will walk and not be faint.

Following Marian’s testimony and teaching on Our Big God, Lindy Thomas shared about Our Personal God.


Lindy’s Story – Our Personal God

I was asked to go to Kenya to help out with women’s conferences. I have actually been asked several times before, but always declined because I couldn’t imagine going to Africa. This time, however, I was asked shortly after I realized that my daughters were in so much leadership at church that I’m really not wanted so much, as too many members of one family in leadership can look bad. Church has been my “thing” for a really long time, and to suddenly have very little responsibility there was a little strange.

As it turns out, this has been a welcome break. But at the time, I was wondering if I’d ever have a place, a purpose any more. And my friend Sharon asked again if I’d go to Kenya. She mentioned that they really respect and revere age over there, so my teaching would be valuable. “Count me IN!” Timing is everything…

Bridges International Development has done ministry in Meru for a number of years now. They’ve experienced a bit of a lapse in ministry to women, which is why my friend wanted to go. A local lady named Eva Mwenda set up 3 women’s seminars for us to conduct. We had 4 speakers and a fun lady from Oklahoma who taught the attendees how to make soap from goat milk. Eva translated for us into both Swahili and Kimeru.

Eva, our organizer, interpreter and worship leader.

Eva, our organizer, interpreter and worship leader.

My friend Marian opened the seminars with a talk about how big God is, as the creator who desires a relationship with us. Sarah followed me with a teaching on the Fruit of the Spirit. Sharon concluded the day with her teaching and testimony about a redeeming, restoring God.

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Here’s what I shared:

Lindy’s Story and Teaching

Marian has spoken with you about how big and mighty God is. I would like to talk to you about how we can know that this mighty God also loves each one of us and wants to have a relationship with us. He is not only big, but he is a personal, intimate God as well.

I would like to tell you about a very difficult time in my life, and what I learned about God through it.

After my middle daughter Abbey’s wedding a few years ago, when we had just had a wonderful time with visiting family and all the festivities, I went for a scheduled doctor’s appointment. It was discovered that a large tumor had essentially exploded in my belly. I was quickly sent into surgery, and the doctors removed about 3 kilos* of tumor matter.

As I recovered, we learned more about the extremely rare disease I had. It was a type of cancer that comes on suddenly from the appendix and does not respond to treatment. It has an almost 100% fatality rate.

There is a song that plays on Christian radio in the U.S. that has these words:

“Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.”

While I am confident that because of my faith in Jesus Christ and his resurrection I will go to heaven when I die, I also really wanted to live to see grandchildren, to see my daughters grow into women, to be with my husband and to grow old together.

So I went to God’s word. I read about Jesus healing people. I turned to the Psalms where the psalmist is not afraid to pour out his heart, including his fears, to God.

God led me to Psalm 139.

“O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it.

God who created the universe and spoke the earth into being has searched me and knows me. He knows my movements and my thoughts. He even knows my paths, including when I travel across the earth to be here with you!

He has hemmed me in behind and before, encircling me with his presence. His hand is upon me. I can’t even comprehend the ways in which he knows me.

For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.

When God knitted me together in my mother’s womb, he knew that something was eventually going to go terribly wrong in my body. But he also created a body that could heal. When you cut yourself, it is important to keep the wound clean, but nothing you can do will actually mend it. Two pieces of cloth stitched together are still 2 pieces of cloth, joined by thread. But when God heals a wound as he has made our bodies to heal, it becomes one again.

I am fearfully and wonderfully made and I am to be thankful to God for that.

The length of my life has been determined by God since before I was born. This disease did not catch God by surprise.

How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
I awake, and I am still with you.

Here was my answer. I needed to dwell on, to think about, God’s thoughts. And that was plenty to keep me busy in my recovery from surgery, since his thoughts outnumber the sand.

Now, about my health, after 2 surgeries and a year and a half of uncertainty, the doctors determined that I was clear of disease. The medical people were amazed. I had been healed. This all began in 2006.

Many friends prayed for me when I was sick. They visited and brought food. But, most importantly, they prayed. You can hold each other up in the same way. I encourage you to do that.

Let’s look at the New Testament now and see what God’s thoughts are as we learn from Jesus. God knows me well, but he also wants me to be very close to him.

John 14 tells us about Jesus preparing his followers for the time when he would no longer be with them. He talked to them about:

•    A place prepared for them in heaven
•    That they could ask for anything in his name and he would do it
•    Loving him and keeping his commandments
•    A Helper, the Holy Spirit, promised twice in this chapter

John 14:23 – “Jesus answered him, ‘If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.’”

What does it mean to make a home with someone? It means to move in, to abide or live with. We have had a student from South Korea living in our home for the last 4 years. In the beginning, she was like a guest, but as time went on, our home became more and more her home.

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Let’s look at John 15 and read about what it’s like to have a “home” with God.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.”

Jesus is the vine.

God is the vinedresser.

We are the branches.

The vine itself does not bear fruit. The branches are brought forth on the vine for the purpose of bearing fruit.

Because Jesus is not physically with us today, he counts on us to be his branches and bear his fruit.

Now there are 2 ways we see in these verses that branches are cut. A dried branch with no fruit will be cut and thrown away. A producing branch will be pruned in order to put all the sap into fruit production instead of just more branches.

Jesus told his disciples that they were already clean because of his word, so we know that they were not the branches that would be thrown away. They would, however, be pruned.

God wants to strip away the things in our lives that use up the sap, or energy, that could otherwise go into fruit production.

So he tells us to abide in him.

I love the beautiful vegetation here in Kenya. Last night I saw powpow (papaya) trees that were just bursting with beautiful fruit. If I cut a branch off of the papaya tree and took it home in my suitcase to Texas, would it grow papayas for me?

Neither can I bear fruit in my life if I do not abide in Christ Jesus.

John 15:5 – “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”

Apart from HIM we can do nothing.

Each lady received a Bible and some gifts from Texas. We had Bibles in 3 languages.

Each lady received a Bible and some gifts from Texas. We had Bibles in 3 languages.

Note that he says we abide in him and his words abide in us. How do his words abide in us?

John 15:8 – “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

What happens when we abide in him?

•    We bear fruit
•    We prove to be his disciples
•    We live in the safe place of his love
•    We keep his commandments
•    His joy is made full and our joy as well – fullness of joy

John 15:12 – “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants,[a] for the servant[b] does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.”

Twice we’re told to love one another. Jesus calls us friends and promises to lay down his own life. “Friends” in the Bible is a term of covenant, the most sincere and binding kind of promise. He asks us to do what he commands, but only after he has foretold that he would lay down his own life for us.

Jesus tells us that he has revealed everything from the Father that we need to know. It’s all in the Bible on your lap.

He chooses his disciples to have the privilege of bearing fruit.

He promises again to give whatever we ask. “He longs to draw you to his side and show you his dreams for your life and the lives of others around you.” (Bonnie Floyd)

My experience with cancer and healing taught me many things. My self-sufficiency (my dependence on my own strength) was pruned pretty severely. I rejoice in my healing but I also know that God would still be in control even if he had chosen not to heal me here on this earth.

Abide in him. Make your home with him. Let his words abide in you.

My desire, the thing I asked God for, was to live to see my grandchildren. Let me tell you about my family…

3 kids

Family

Sharon wrapped up the days with a teaching on Our Restoring God.


Sharon’s story – Our Restoring God

Sharon Teaching

Paul’s Prayer for Spiritual Growth –
This teaching by Sharon Roelke is taken from Ephesians 3:16-21 New Living Translation

We need GOD’S SPIRIT

In Ephesians 3, it says, “I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit.”

We serve a God who has glorious, unlimited resources. They are available to us through His Spirit. We need to avail ourselves of them so that we can be empowered.

“Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.”

We need to TRUST HIM

God makes his home in our hearts as we trust in Him. That means we need to “Let It Go.” But how to stop running the show and start walking in faith is challenging. We women are wired from birth to control (sometimes called the bossy gene). At the root of why we over-control is that we don’t trust God. We think we know better than he does just what is best for us. In the Amplified version, Psalm 46:10 says, “Let be and be still, and know – recognize and understand – that I am God.” Strong roots will be developed. We need to trust like Mary in Luke 1:38 “Lord, let it be to me according to your word.”

We need to UNDERSTAND

“And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high and how deep his love is.”

How often when our kids were kids did we say, “How much does mommy love you?” and spread our hands out as wide as we could – God’s love is so much greater! Too often we limit God by equating His love with our love. Don’t limit Him

May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that come from God.

We need to EXPERIENCE His Love

We will never be able to grasp God’s love fully, but we need to try.

I love the New Living Translation because instead of “steadfast love” they use “unfailing love.” That speaks to my heart. Like when someone hears something sweet and goes, “Ahh!”

Ps. 147:11 “The Lord delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love.”

We need to focus more on His love for us than on our love for Him; on His faithfulness, not ours; on His strength, not mine. At Christ for the Nations International when I said, “Lord you know what I am like;” He said, “Yes, but what am I like.” Our completeness will come from Him. “He has come that we might have life and that more abundantly.” Why settle for less?

We need to GIVE HIM THE GLORY

“Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen!”

“He is able to do exceedingly and abundantly above what we can ask or think.”
He is able to accomplish more than we might ask or think!!! His plans are above ours; it’s not what we dream up, it’s about him doing something beyond that.

It’s all about Him getting the Glory!

Although our lives do not look the same and our cultures are very different, the God we serve and His Word are the same. He wants us to experience Him and his love that is so far beyond us. He wants us to trust Him and know that he has plans that are exceedingly and abundantly above what we can ask or think, if we will allow Him to work these things out in our lives.