Our Personal, Intimate God

Our Personal, Intimate God – By Lindy Thomas

Our mighty God 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.

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 read about what it’s like to have a “home” with God.

John 15

“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.

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.

Sewing in Honduras

Sewing in Honduras by Lindy Thomas

This year I experienced a whirlwind 5-day trip to Honduras, where 5 amazing friends and I shared our love of sewing and hairdressing with children and teens. Our church has had a friendship with New Life Children’s Home for about 5 years now. Home to 44 children, currently ages 8-18, New Life was founded by a Texas couple in 1995.

I was recently helping two friends complete some little dresses for a missionary from our church to take to the Philippines. Sharon suggested that we should go to Honduras to teach sewing. Donna surprised us with her immediate enthusiasm for the idea, as she and her husband have been through some major health challenges in the last couple of years. Two more seamstresses joined our little group, and then Sharon talked our hairdresser, a wonderful Christian woman originally from Honduras, into joining us. God knew the skills and strengths we needed, and He miraculously provided funds, donated sewing machines and supplies.

We spent 3 intense days in our makeshift sewing and hairdressing workshops. Flexibility was key as the projects we had planned didn’t work out, but new ideas flowed and materials were found. We had more boys than expected and needs were identified, so we adapted, changed plans, and had a lot of fun. It was a satisfying moment during our last afternoon when we realized that kids were working heads-down at all 6 sewing machines and all of us were just watching. In Maribel’s room, kids were not only doing the hair styling but also instructing one another.

New Life’s goal is that the children will graduate with God’s Kingdom established in their hearts. We enjoyed fellowship and worship with these amazing kids as we shared our passions. We left them with hairdressing tools, 6 working sewing machines and supplies to continue exploring. Some will be able to instruct others; some might establish a trade.

Did we change the world in 5 days? No. We gave as we were led and got closer to what God inspired almost 5 years ago. “If it is from God, you will not be able to stop them.” (Acts 5:39) Our trust is in our God who loves those children and directs their paths.

Our Journey with New Life

My husband Lindsey and I first ventured to Honduras in 2013. A South Korean high school student who was living with us wanted to go on a mission trip. We decided to accompany her and I never dreamed that I would return to New Life three more times.

Wanting to contribute, we took a sewing machine so I could try to teach some kids to sew. Our lessons were a bit chaotic with one machine and all of the 51 children wanting to participate or at least watch. We found old sewing machines in a storage closet and were able to get one additional one to work. With intermittent electrical power and just 2 machines, we were able to knock out some projects but never had the chance to really focus on instructing any individual children.

Short-term mission teams at New Life spend time with the kids and help with various construction projects on the property. As we developed a relationship with the orphanage and its directors, we began to see that not everything brought by American teams is constructive or helpful. We gave too many gifts. We whipped out our iPhones and took pictures to post on social media, but the children never got to keep the pictures. We wanted to impart spiritual truths to these kids, but as we got to know them we realized that they had a lot to teach us.

At risk of sounding ungrateful to the sweet and generous people in my church, let me give an illustration. In an effort to include the church in our ministry to Honduras, a clothing drive was conducted. We got ages, sizes and names and families enjoyed shopping for an entire outfit to bless a child. We spent a Sunday afternoon distributing the clothes, making sure everyone got an entire outfit that fit. Everyone got decked out for church that evening. As we walked through the tiny Honduran mountain village, I thought to myself, “These kids look like American golfers.” Something seemed off. The attire was out of context.

The next year we conducted the same clothing drive. Our church generously supported the effort. When the team arrived at New Life, the director asked that they not give the clothing to the children. They had experienced problems with the children receiving so many gifts from teams that they came to expect them but then had a very hard time understanding the value of the gifts. They didn’t take care of their own things or respect the possessions of each other. The orphanage had established a merit store and they wanted all the clothes to be donated to the store so that the children could earn items one at a time with points for good behavior, accomplishments at school, etc.

This incident and others caused me to ponder and I gained clarity when I attended a workshop called When Helping Hurts. Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert authored a book by the same name and they provide many other outstanding resources, including a study written specifically for short-term mission teams that they can use in preparation for their trip. These resources articulate “a biblically based approach to poverty alleviation,” encouraging us to walk in humility with the poor in ways that lead to lasting change.

The original seed of an idea that God had planted with me in 2013 was to steer kids toward a possible trade or vocation or at least a useful hobby. We weren’t able to come close to accomplishing that goal on that first trip. In the intervening years, when we visited they had saved so much sewing for me to do that I didn’t even get a chance to work with the kids.

However, in that time, we developed a friendship with the orphanage’s directors and many others involved in the organization. We have been able to visit repeatedly and show the kids that we care and we will return. And this time, 4 ½ years later, others began to catch our vision. They want to set up a permanent workshop and have a local teacher work with the students. More importantly, we had time to visit with directors and teachers and learn about their goals and dreams for the children, and how we can come alongside them with appropriate support. We were privileged to see how beautifully God is working in the lives of the children as they mature in Christ.

How God Builds a Team

Sharon Roelke first voiced the idea to take this trip. She was the one who rescued an old sewing machine on our first chaotic trip and managed to make some curtains while working with the kids. Sharon has been involved in all aspects of church missions, going as well as facilitating and sending.

Teresa Daniels brought experience teaching children to sew. She worked tirelessly before the trip researching old sewing machines owned by the orphanage, raising donations, and getting materials translated into Spanish. Her methodical approach in the classroom gave us all a framework for working with the kids.

Rebecca Carpenter is an experienced seamstress and also has decades of experience working with youth at our church. Rebecca was diagnosed with cancer shortly before we left and faced surgery soon after our return, but she took the trip with courageous confidence that God wanted her to go. She made some very special connections with some of the children at New Life.

Donna VanSickler loves to sew and occasionally gets in over her head when someone has a need. Her husband Bill has been recovering from a long illness and a lung transplant. This sweet caretaker trusted God to take care of Bill and actually thought of our hard-working trip as a vacation.

Lindy Thomas loves to sew and spent many years custom sewing for a home-based business. She loved watching God bring out the gifts of the team members in the most complementary ways, meeting needs we had not even anticipated.

Maribel Aguilar is Honduran American and she connected with the kids immediately. They loved her salon classes and her spiritual encouragement. Thanks to Maribel everybody sure looked good by the time we left.

The team heading home (possibly a little weary). (L to R) Ron Thiesen, NLCH Director, Sharon, Teresa, Rebecca, Donna, Lindy and Maribel

 

 

 

 

Good Friday Reflections

Good Friday Reflections

My friend became a grandmother yesterday. She was hoping the baby would come on that day because it was her father’s birthday. I was touched by this because her relationship with her father wasn’t always what it should have been, to put it mildly. But God redeems. The baby came on his birthday which happened to be Maundy Thursday. His name means “at the cross.” Beautiful.

It got me thinking this Good Friday about some significant things that have happened on this day. Good Friday 1979 I lost my beloved Grandma. I grieved but the hardest part honestly was watching my Mom grieve. And my sweet Grandpa – we never thought he’d be the one to outlive her and he was so unprepared because she had taken such good care of him.

Grandma and me 57  Grandma

My uncle and his family shared a duplex with them and he worked hard to help them remain independent and to maintain their dignity toward the end of their lives. He decided when Grandma got sick to set up breakfast for them at night so that all Grandpa had to do in the morning was plug in the coffee pot and drop in the toast. The first morning, Grandpa put the electric percolator on the stove burner and turned it on. The things you don’t think to explain…

Fast-forward to Good Friday 2008 when I woke in the hospital with a tube from nose to stomach and a huge incision just beginning to heal. Crazy set of circumstances, but it began the most interesting Easter season I’ve ever experienced. The scent of lilies and other spring flowers still reminds me of the hospital room that was so filled with flowers that it made everybody sneeze. It also reminds me of the time I had that Easter season to consider all that really matters.

Then came Good Friday 2012. We were just back from a vacation in Eastern Europe less than a week. A Texas thunderstorm had blown through with a vengeance on the Wednesday. We had a hail-totaled car in the garage and a tarp over the skylight. Every tree in the neighborhood had a pile of “salad” underneath where the hail had stripped the new leaves.

I watched the storm roll through on the radar from Bonnie’s hospital bed, where she’d been for 7 weeks trying to hold out as long as possible to give birth to our first 2 grandchildren. We had family spread all over town and I called them all to make sure everyone took shelter while the 2 of us sat up in the bed.

Friday morning I did something I NEVER do. I asked Lindsey to trim the back of my hair because it was just wonky.  Halfway through the trim the phone rang and it was Bonnie – on the way into surgery! I took my life in my hands and made him finish and then we took off for the hospital. Jimin had a whole plan in place to get to the hospital from school, but they foiled her plans and came on a school holiday!

Words cannot describe these people who are about to turn 3. Danger – you’re about to get wrapped around some little fingers…

IMG_6752

Like I said, God redeems. “This is the kind of life you’ve been invited into, the kind of life Christ lived. He suffered everything that came his way so you would know that it could be done, and also know how to do it, step-by-step.

“He never did one thing wrong, not once said anything amiss.

“They called him every name in the book and he said nothing back. He suffered in silence, content to let God set things right. He used his servant body to carry our sins to the Cross so we could be rid of sin, free to live the right way. His wounds became your healing. You were lost sheep with no idea who you were or where you were going. Now you’re named and kept for good by the Shepherd of your souls.” (1 Peter 2:21-25 Message)

I grieve for the people of Kenya today. I thank God that he gave me the miracle of time there with his precious people last summer. The Good Fridays of my life remind me of the joy and pain we all experience. How thankful I am that “our momentary, light suffering is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison because we are not looking at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen. For what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:17-18 NASB)

Lessons from Cornwall

By Lindy Thomas

Part 1. Questions

Ever have questions for God? Wonder if it’s OK to ask them?

Even those who were Jesus’ closest friends, who had traveled with him for years, had questions. Jesus could answer a question with another question in a way that might have been maddening to some. He also knew the future, which sometimes made his answers hard to understand for those listening.

This is Maundy Thursday, the evening that commemorates the Passover meal known as The Last Supper. On that day Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. He talked a lot about love during the meal.

Judas Iscariot had just mysteriously left the room. Jesus had told him to go do what he was going to do and John 13:28 tells us that “no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him.”

Jesus was trying to prepare his beloved followers for the unthinkable things that were coming, and to prepare them simply for their physical separation from one another. Their understanding was limited.

Jesus had just instructed them to “love one another” and said that they would be known as his followers by their love. Understandably, questions arose as Jesus encouraged them to carry on even when he wasn’t physically with them. Let’s look at some of the questions asked by those who were the most intimate with Jesus during his time on earth.

John 13:33-14:22 (emphasis mine): “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Simon Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.” Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” (verse 11) Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. If you love me, keep my commands. (verse 19) Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.” Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”

Do you ever have questions as a follower of Jesus?

What might you have asked if you were there?

The questions asked at that supper were questions that occur to most of us at some point in this journey we call life.

Before we tackle the questions, let’s look at salvation and what it means in a practical sense.

There’s excitement when we first decide to follow Jesus. We use the church-ese word “justification” but it simply means that our sin is pardoned. We realize that Jesus’ death provided what we could not provide for ourselves. At this point you might feel the relief of a burden of shame and guilt that has been lifted by his forgiveness. Maybe you’ve just discovered a community of believers and friends who are different from people in your past. A sense of God’s love and his presence may be almost palpable.

Others of us might have less of a sense of a particular moment when that decision was made. Instead it’s been a process of knowing him better and committing different areas of our lives to him as we grow. Salvation 1 Now we belong to Jesus. Everything will be great. We’ll walk together and then one day be together forever. This is what salvation looks like, right? Our sins have been paid for and we can stand before God as pure and forgiven people. Warning: cheesy heaven picture So what’s missing here?

The period between our beginning to follow Jesus (our justification) and our joining him in heaven for eternity (our glorification) is where we all live today. The term for this part of our salvation is sanctification. John Wesley identified sanctification as the process of change in a believer’s life from sinfulness into holiness. Salvation 3 In the conversation we just read in John 13 and 14, Jesus was preparing his followers for that part of their lives which would soon follow. The excitement of their new relationship with him and the thrill of walking with him were to end; the waiting to be with him for eternity was to begin. He had a job for them (and us) to do.

Just like the disciples, as we carry on after coming to know Christ, sometimes we’re surprised when life throws us challenges and curves.

Paul described this part of our spiritual lives in his second letter to the Corinthians:

“For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”

Think about the questions. Think of the patience, the understanding, the frank directness of Jesus as he answered. He knew these men well. He knew all that was coming. He talked about love above all.

The Path

 


Part 2. Why Can’t I Follow Now?

Jesus had resolutely proceeded to Jerusalem, knowing the danger. He had been hailed as a Savior as he entered the city, although most misunderstood what kind of Savior he would be. In a quiet moment celebrating the Passover meal with his disciples, questions arose.

Peter had asked in John 13:36 “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.” Peter asked, “Lord why can’t I follow you now?” In other words, let’s just skip this part and go on to heaven together. The rest of the story is familiar.

Peter thought he was ready to lay down everything, even his life, for Jesus, but Jesus knew he was not. Soon after this conversation, the situation got heated. Jesus was arrested, and Peter was immediately asked direct questions by people outside their circle. Peter didn’t immediately see the connection between the false answers he gave and the efforts Jesus had made to prepare him for this very moment.

Peter failed the first test. And the second, and the third. But Jesus had also known ever since he had declared “you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18) that Peter would come through the failures and the testing. He would later be the first to stand and declare what was going on when the Holy Spirit came upon them at Pentecost. Peter wanted to skip the second step illustrated below, but God had another plan for him. Salvation 3Now here is a point that we don’t want to miss.

WHO justifies us?

WHO will take us to heaven when we’re glorified?

WHOSE responsibility is our sanctification? 

We accept that God provides our justification; he is the only one who can make us righteous. We accept that he will make our glorification happen when he takes us to heaven, but all too often we think that the sanctification part is up to us. It’s important to realize that God is the one who accomplishes ALL of our salvation. 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 tells us “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through… The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.”

Now let’s look at Thomas’s question. He was the next one to question Jesus. Jesus had answered Peter (John 14:1), “Don’t be worried! Have faith in God and have faith in me. There are many rooms in my Father’s house. I wouldn’t tell you this, unless it was true. I am going there to prepare a place for each of you. After I have done this, I will come back and take you with me. Then we will be together. You know the way to where I am going.”

“Thomas said, ‘Lord, we don’t even know where you are going! How can we know the way?’”

“I am the way, the truth, and the life!” Jesus answered. “Without me, no one can go to the Father.”

In October of 2012, my daughter and I took a long-anticipated trip to Cornwall, England. Cornwall is the county at the southwest end of England.

England Map Cornwall Map

We hiked from St. Ives to Lizard, 70 miles along the very tip of the coast, over 5 days. Our guidebook was a plastic-covered folder with typewritten pages written by a guy named Russell. Here’s the introduction:

Guidebook

You may have figured out by now – this is one of the hardest things I have ever done. I definitely had my “What was I thinking?” moments. But something I learned years ago in a hospital bed came to mind, and it’s something I like to practice. At that time, as I struggled, I asked God to teach me in the moment, to show me something about himself. Now this trip was something I volunteered for, so don’t think I’m comparing a vacation challenge to some of the hard things life has handed you. But as I asked God to show me something about himself in the struggle, he gave me some beautiful illustrations regarding the work of the Holy Spirit and how I can “know the way,” as Thomas asked. Join me as I share a little – I hope you’ll see the lessons I learned.

 


Part 3. Conditions

Challenges.

Circumstances.

Conditions.

Does the path you travel ever look something like this?

Winding and uphill

Winding, uphill, hard to see where you’re going. Or this?

Path 2

Beautiful surroundings but still an upward path…

And then there are hazards and obstacles…

Obstacles

Sometimes the path is sheltered and safe for the moment…

Sheltered

… and sometimes things seem smooth and clearly laid out but the destination is still out of sight.

Long path

Sometimes life’s just a balancing act.

Straddling puddles

This is part 3 of lessons I learned on a very long hike. (Part 1, Part 2) For 5 days and 70 miles on foot along the southwest coast of England, this acorn was our guiding symbol.

Coast Path

The first day was 15 miles.

Instructions were not super detailed and the markers only appeared when they were absolutely needed. We found that if Russell (the author of our guidebook) didn’t tell us something, we probably didn’t need to know. Sometimes we just needed to figure it out. If the path seemed to split into 2 or 3 paths, they often converged later, so sometimes it really didn’t matter which one we took. Sometimes we failed to look at the book. Sometimes we got lost. Sometimes the book saved us. Reminds me of another book I know…

On day 1 we encountered the bogs. Tufts of grass growing in something that was sometimes dirt, sometimes mud, and sometimes calf-deep water that could appear to be fairly solid ground. You took your chances stepping on the “ground,” risking sinking, or you hopped from tuft to tuft, hoping to maintain your balance. You could follow in another person’s footsteps, which sometimes helped and sometimes got you in trouble (another life lesson?).

In the boggy areas I was always in danger of slipping (which I did & ended up covered in mud), but my biggest fear was that I always felt off-balance. As I grew more tired, I feared that I didn’t have the strength to keep my balance as I hopped on the unstable tufts of grass. I didn’t want to injure myself and create a bigger problem. Getting through it took care and balance, sometimes following each other’s footsteps and sometimes being careful not to step where the other had stepped.

Trying to figure out where to step to get across the water – can you tell by my body language just how encouraged I was at that point?

Where to step

Ever been there?

This is about ENDURANCE.

Hebrews 12:1 tells us – “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”

This hike helped me to see my life as a series of paths that I walk.

Conditions change.

Different actions and reactions are required of me.

As Jesus prepared his followers for difficult times to come, they had questions. As we further explore these questions, we’ll look at the journey we all travel between meeting Jesus and ultimately joining him for eternity.

I hope you will see that holiness and sanctification are worked in us by the Holy Spirit as we learn to act and respond in faith.

“So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” – 1 Corinthians 3:7 NIV (emphasis mine)

 


Part 4. Preparation

Part 4 of lessons learned while hiking in Cornwall, UK, about my own development and sanctification as a Christ follower.

My last post was about difficulty and endurance. Sometimes difficulties and the need to endure catch us by surprise, but if we think about it, we all know that life will eventually hand us challenges. We certainly knew that our hike would not be easy. So how did we prepare?

Strength and balance training before we left.

The interesting thing was that there is no way in flat Dallas that you can truly be prepared for the terrain we encountered. We did the best we could…

In everyday life, training involves study of God’s word and fellowship with other believers with whom I can process spiritual truth. 2 Timothy 2:15 tells us “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” While no amount of walking Dallas terrain could quite prepare us, once we got there we had Russell’s book. Reminds me of another book we all have access to.

Now Russell was not extravagant with words. He gave us what we needed and no more. We had to be watchful, and at times we had to wait until the horizon matched a little picture we were given.

Guidebook marker

 

Looking for marker

This was a point where we could easily have walked right by the turnoff if we had not consulted our guidebook. We had to be aware of our instructions, and to keep the picture before us as we walked.

How often do we forge ahead when God’s word might have offered a road map or illustration for a situation? We all have God’s word to strengthen us for the path we travel. Just as in life, however, on our hike we often forgot about the book and tried to figure out the path ourselves, or we didn’t think we had time to get out the book and look. A costly error a few times…

I love God’s economy of words in the Bible. He tells us all we need to know but he boiled it down to a book we can carry with us. Psalm 119:130 says, “The unfolding of your word gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.”

Another part of our preparation was to get good boots that supported your feet and stayed on when your foot sank in the bogs. Ephesians 6:15 addresses our footware: “…with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.” We’ll come back to the boots.

Recognize roadblocks. Ever ignore warning signs and live to regret it?

Warning no bikes Warning Bull in Field

Love the “no bikes” sign in this particular spot. Made you wonder who might actually try that.

As our first day wore on, it started to rain. As the rain and wind increased we debated whether to leave the coast and head for the road. Then suddenly our path was blocked by ponies. It happened that a bail-out path up to the road was right in that spot on our left. We took the ponies as a sign to go no further, walked into town on the road in the rain, and literally blew into the warm pub at our inn.

Psalm 32:7 says of God, “You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.”

Ponies in Path

The best meal of my life so far was the warm potato leek soup in that pub.

The next day we heard locals exclaiming about how severe the storm had been. If the locals thought it was strong, we definitely belonged up on that road. God provides a way of escape when the storms of life blow, and sometimes he gives us the roadblocks we need if we’re only paying attention.

The storm raged all night as we nursed our sore feet and laughed about the improbability of our whole situation. I also secretly hoped that it would be too wild to head out on the trails in the morning.

 


Part 5. Fog

By morning the howling storm had passed, leaving thick fog. The night’s rest had been amazingly restorative, and we had no excuse to stay put. After a great English breakfast, we set out in the fog.

Abandoned mines near Pendeen

Ever walked in a fog? A devastating loss, a frightening diagnosis, divorce, unemployment; many of life’s events can leave us feeling like we live in a fog, just feeling our way along for the next step. I remember once offering a novel to my sister to read, just one I had enjoyed, when she was going through a divorce. She declined to take it, saying that she was having a hard time focusing on anything at the moment and it would only frustrate her to have it on her nightstand. We all have those moments. But let me tell you what we found as we groped our way along in the fog. The beauty was close at hand. The mist had settled on the foliage and on beautiful spider webs.

Mist on foliage Spider Web Much of the beauty along the way was not visible until we were right at it. Later in the day we reached a part of the coast where the cliffs rose out of the fog and it was breathtaking.

Cliffs in fogAnd eventually, the sun came out and the softness was transformed into brilliant color again.

Sun 1 Peter 1:3-6 says “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.”

Psalm 5:11 tells us “But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you.”

And 1 Peter 5:10 – “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”

Day 3 brought some fun surprises. The path passed through 2 towns and was actually paved part of the way and easier walking. We sought a public restroom in Penzance and were directed to a Fishermen’s Mission.

Fishermen's Mission in Newlyn Penzance Looking around the Mission made me aware that when people live with danger as a matter of course, they can tend to be very conscious of the possibility of meeting their maker. We were traveling in John Wesley country. We had passed boarded-up and fenced-off old buildings which used to house Sunday schools. The area has a feel of being rather post-Christian. The Mission was a quick stop for us, but it was exciting to find God in an unexpected place.

Wesleyan Sunday School near Pendeen We later ran across this marker, set randomly in a stone in the middle of nowhere near the beach – “We have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens… Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty.” (2 Cor. 5:1, 3:17 KJV) I think that those who work at sea still have a sense of dependence on God. He hasn’t abandoned Cornwall. He hasn’t abandoned any of us but we sometimes need to see our own helplessness before we reach out to him.

Scripture Marker As we neared Marazion, our destination for the night, we began to see an island rising in the fog.

Approaching St. Michaels Mount It turned out to be St. Michael’s Mount, 6th Century counterpart to Mont St-Michel in France. We took a little boat to the island and initially we were too tired to even think of walking to the top. More uphill. And you had to buy a ticket. But I suddenly thought “this is probably the only chance either of us will ever have to see this” so I bought the last tickets of the day and we climbed some more.

St. Michaels path So what was the spiritual lesson of this day?

Don’t stop short of the glory.

“For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.” (Hebrews 10:36)

“To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God.” (Revelation 2:7)

The excitement of our discovery that day will pale in comparison with “what is promised” when we are in God’s presence.

St. Michaels Mount from Marazion, UK

 


Part 6. Back to Questions

So let’s return to our questions.

Our first question from Peter represents our uninformed enthusiasm. Peter asked, “Lord why can’t I follow you now?” He didn’t know himself. He had no idea what was about to happen and how he would respond.

Starting Out

I don’t know myself. I can’t be sure how I might respond in a tough situation. I don’t yet know what else Jesus has for me to do before joining him.

Question 2 from Thomas represents decisions and crossroads that we encounter as we serve Christ and grow closer to him. “How can we know the way?”

Diverging paths

Question 3 from Judas represents the confusion and hurt we can experience when things do not go easily or when we are opposed as we serve Christ. “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?” “But, Lord…” – how often is that our reaction to a word from him?

Worn Out

Jesus’ answers to the questions show a consistent message of love for one another and for the Father.

  • He promises the Holy Spirit, the “Helper” to be with us forever.

John 14:16-18 says: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever– the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”

  • He promises never to leave us as orphans.
  • He promises a day when we will behold him and live because he lives.

God showed me something about his Holy Spirit on our hike through our guide Russell. Abbey and I followed Russell’s instructions in Cornwall even though he was not physically with us. We had his book of instructions. We had maps he had provided.

We often forged ahead without reading the book because we didn’t want to take time to look. Maybe the wind was high or it was raining or we just didn’t want to pause. Sometimes we actually forgot we had it. But we had the book. We had the ability to call Russell if we needed to. We trusted Russell because he knew Cornwall and we didn’t. He had walked these paths.

How often do we fail to read God’s instructions or to call on him in prayer?

Bible in the Fishermen's Mission

Let’s finish reading what Jesus had to say in John 14, beginning with verse 25.

“All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me. Come now; let us leave.”

God provides a Helper.

His peace.

No fear.

Our purpose.

Jesus reveals the reason we were not able to be with him immediately as Peter asked.

John 14:29-31 tells us: “I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me.” 

The ruler of the world, who has nothing to do with Jesus, was about to wreak havoc, as he continues to do (v. 29). But Jesus overcame the evil one (“He has no hold over me.” v. 30). Until he comes back for us, here’s our purpose, our job is to let the world know of his love. (v. 31)

The “prince of the world” was allowed to come so that Jesus could show his love for his Father by going to the cross.

Jesus did exactly what his Father had commanded.

Jesus’ answer to Judas explained to the disciples their assignment of telling the world of his love for the Father and his obedience in taking care of the world’s sin. But he wasn’t going to leave them alone with this task. He promised them the Holy Spirit to teach, remind, help, and advocate for them.

Jesus charged Judas and the others with the incredible task of GETTING to tell the world about him.

Part of the armor God provides for us is “your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.” –Ephesians 6:15

Beautiful Feet

“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” (Isaiah 52:7)

“Spiritual growth occurs in a high commitment, high challenge environment.” –Margaret Fitzwater, The Navigators

Romans 10:12-15 quotes what we just read from Isaiah – “…the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

Cliff

How do I ENDURE?

TRAIN & PREPARE

RECOGNIZE ROADBLOCKS

HOPE & BE GLAD

DON’T STOP SHORT

KNOW THAT OUR PURPOSE
AND OUR PRIVILEGE IS TO
LET THE WORLD KNOW GOD’S PEACE

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.