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 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.
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.
We participated in 2 food relief efforts.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
Sharon wrapped up the days with a teaching on Our Restoring God.
Sharon’s story – Our Restoring God
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.