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March Newsletter: Jack

Posted on by Laura Posted in Newsletters | Leave a comment

Friendship is not a reward for our discriminating and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others.  CS Lewis

This past December at our Very Merry Christmas Tour I got an unexpected surprise. Just prior to the concert, Newsong’s drummer came up to me and told me this was his last NVMCT that he would be doing at the civic center. I was stunned! Jack (whose real name is Raymond and I have no idea why we all call him Jack) Pumphries has been drumming for the band for 26 years. We did our first Newsong concert on May 3, 1996. Since that beginning we’ve done 22 concerts with the band. Stunned does not really translate all the emotion and passion that that conversation brought to my heart. Jack (and Mark Clay, called ‘Poe’ for some reason, the band’s road manager and bass player for the past 25 years) have been like brothers to us. They’re cut out of the same ministry cloth to us. I really can’t explain why, I have no idea how, but each December when the band comes to town it’s like someone in my family is stepping off the bus and coming back home. We go from December to December and it seems like it’s from Monday to Tuesday. There doesn’t seem to be a clock or calendar to our appreciation for one another. That night, Jack and I shared every word we could possibly say to express our feeling to one another. I think I saw a little tear in the corner of his eye, I know there was one in mine. As we tried to find the words and compete with each other to find those words, I discovered that there were really no words to meet the challenge of Jack not coming next year. Lying in my bed that night after the concerts I was trying to put together why this ‘road-guy/ drummer man’ had come to be so valued by me. What had happened in those many, many years to make us so compassionate about the other’s life? We were such friends without ever really spending much time together. It’s not because we’ve shared very many experiences, never met Jack’s family or friends, no hunting or fishing trip together, no childhood memories. Simply, just a deep appreciation for how he cares, speaks, remembers so many moments with us.

What makes those kinds of friends so important, so special to us? I have a few people, dear friends that know me better than most other people. My wife knows me better than anyone else, but there are a few people that for some reason have tapped into being more than just acquaintances. Simplified, they are people that you have no fear being around. I guess there’s a trust that comes into play. And those kinds of friends always seem to be willing to encourage and support. They’re the kind of people that would cross over traffic to get to the other side of the street to greet you rather than turn their head and miss the opportunity to say ‘hey’. Most of those kinds of friends check on you on the days of your doctor appointments or emergency room visits, just to make sure all is ok. My really best friends smile and laugh when something wonderful happens to me; they share my joy when they see joy in my eye. I think most importantly, the friends I think of the most, are the ones I laugh with the most. Bottom line, those few best friends know me in some different way than other people know me. They don’t seem to struggle to forgive me often. I need that with my many personality weaknesses.

It often seems that friends are spiritual gifts to us. My very close friends, I think, were given to me and not made by me. In many ways I don’t deserve them. I don’t ever send them Christmas cards, seldom call them, never write them, don’t text them very often, but more importantly there is a heart connection rather than a Wi-Fi one. You can’t group my friends by things we all have in common. They are all over the place in occupations, interest, faith, age, and temperament. Some of my best friends have far different favorite things and many have slightly different expressions of the Gospel than I. For the most part, it’s like they just showed up in my life and volunteered to put up with me. In fact my really, really dearest friends are people that I can’t figure out why they are my friends. I can’t even remember how those relationships happened, when they started or what started them. It seems like neither side of the relationship necessarily needs the other but rather they just prefer one another.

Scripturally, Abraham was the first to be referenced as a friend of God. In 2Chronicles 20:7, Jehoshaphat expresses Abraham as God’s friend. James restates that reference in Chapter 2: 23. Chapter 33 of Exodus says that God spoke to Moses as a man speaking to a friend. Imagine Abraham and Moses being considered friends of God. Neither was perfect; both were flawed. They made mistakes, probably as many as the things they got right. Abraham was a moon-worshiper from the Chaldees. Abraham, a 100 year old man that fell flat on his face and laughed when God told him he and Sara were still to have a child. I’m sure what Abraham was thinking, doubting in his heart no doubt, as God declared he would be the father of many nations. Abraham’s claim to fame is for being put to sleep so God could do His thing for Abraham. Moses seemed to have an excuse for not accomplishing everything God asked him to do.

Our friendships, which much of the time can’t give rhyme or reason to justify the relationship, are small images or pictures of how our relationship with God works. Many of our friends chose us rather than us choosing them. (Sound familiar?) With God, who has impressed Him so much that He would be attracted to that person? Who is justified apart from the Blood of Jesus to stand in His presence? Yet, God stays, encourages, cheers us on, and delivers Mercy and Grace to us. He touches our sicknesses, anoints our head for the ministry, and permits us to be an ambassador of His giving Himself to us and others. He lives in believers’ hearts and walks hand in hand into our journey and our lives. As we have friends in our earthly journey, He steps into that circle of our relationships and joins with us daily.

Here, I was going to refer back and ask you to re-read the second paragraph in this letter and put Christ’s name in it, but I’ve decided to make it easy for you: In the presence of Jesus Christ you have no fear being around Him, He’s to be trusted because of His characteristic of being trustworthy. As a Friend, He’s the kind of friend that always seems to be willing to encourage and support, in fact, being present for that very particular purpose. He’s the kind of Friend that would cross over traffic to get to the other side of the street to greet you rather than turn his head and miss the opportunity to say ‘hey’. Actually, He crossed the whole universe to get to you and even more than saying ‘hey’, rewarded us by building a bridge to His Father and Their eternal Life. He’s not only aware of the days of your doctor appointments or emergency room visits, He’s there to comfort, to intercede and be present in our hopes, our fears and our prayers. Jesus finds Joy and pleasure when something wonderful happens to us; He shares my joy just as if it were His own. I think most importantly, at least for me, I image God with us always and I see Him smiling and enjoying the time spent with each and every one of us. Bottom line, He knows me the most, knows me inside, and forgives some of the things that go on the outside. I have often quoted the scripture in Acts that says: ‘I know you kick against the briars.’ He knows the difficulties and the struggles of this post-Adam life. And, amazingly, He does not seem to struggle to forgive me often, to forgive me good. Jesus teaches (John 15:13) that there is no greater love than that a man would lay down his life for his friends. That’s what He did for us; you are who He was talking about!

All gods proclaim dominion and often holiness. Our God goes much farther than that. Not only does He proclaim Holiness, but He’s established Holiness in the earth in/by/thru Christ Jesus. Even more astonishingly, our God equates His Holiness with a claim of Love and relationship, purposed in His friendliness toward us.

The Old Testament pattern of salting the sacrifice (Lev. 2: 13) before offering it to God was establishing and referencing His friendliness toward His people. E. W. Bullinger writes in his Greek Lexicon: ‘Salt is the emblem of perpetuity, and especially of friendliness perpetually preserved…The salt with the meat-offering betokened the reconciliation of man and the friendliness of God. All who have now made a covenant with Him by sacrifice are reconciled to Him.’ The whole Gospel, the whole incarnation, pivots on that Reconciliation. It first appeared in the sky as angelic on the night of Christ birth, ‘Peace on Earth, Good Will toward men’. That sounds pretty friendly to me.

Jack has been a gift from God to me. Actually, Jack, Poe, Eddie, Billy, Russ, and Rico have all been friends from God to our community of believers known as WBVN.

February Newsletter- Plans

Posted on by Laura Posted in Newsletters | Leave a comment

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts for Peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. (Jer. 29:11)

How many times have we had that quoted to us or have we shared that with others? Like that scripture, this letter is about God’s Will for us. I’ll narrow it down a bit. This letter is about God’s Will simplified in that this letter fits everyone’s life. In that scripture, God’s thought for all of us is to give us Peace and not evil, an expected end. From the original language, expected end can be translated to mean those things that God longs for us.

There are two words defined in the Greek biblical text for will. The first is closely associated with a ‘preferred’ will. The second is a Greek word holding a stronger, more intense meaning. The first implies more of ‘after some consideration’; the second implies His Will fixed, expressed out of the very nature of God. The first is exampled by Pilate in Luke chapter 15 when he asked the Temple priest, ‘What will you then that I should do with him, whom you call the King of the Jews?’ In other words, after reasoning about this issue, what do you suggest, what should I do about Jesus? The second is more exampled by Jesus statement: When you pray, say, ‘Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come, Your Will be done as it is in heaven, so in the earth.’ No reasoning required there, just a declaration of God’s eternal purpose for us.

God’s Will always dominates in our circumstances, no matter the circumstances; that’s our starting point. There’s no changing His Will, no shadow or turning of God. God’s Will for us is set and has been from before time; it was fixed before anything was set in motion to create earth or man. The Father, Son and Spirit always agree and are One in the beginning and still now. No wavering there, actually no persuasion needed. God’s Will for us isn’t determined by reasoning, or ‘after more consideration’; His Will for us is wise and good and consistent. For sure, it’s God’s will that all men are to be saved. God purposing that doesn’t guarantee that all will ultimately happen, but that doesn’t change His permanent Will that they would. Part of His Will is that God created man (and woman) to give us Favor, to encourage one another in Christ. He also created all mankind to be included in the kind of experience that they (Father, Son and Spirit) experience, the togetherness they share. We’re the ones that interrupt that purpose. God’s Purpose, that Will for man to share in Their lives, was hijacked in the Garden. That began and continues the generational struggle of all people.

In God’s Will, every life is a ministry. That doesn’t necessarily mean a five-fold ministry but a ministry just the same. I’ve heard people talk about stepping out of their secular life and entering into ministry life as though there was a separation between them. That troubles me, at least a bit. God’s plan for all was always to give Life to them; in turn mankind was to give Life away to others. We are to experience the pleasure in doing that, it’s a part of Him when we give. Lucifer stirred up a whole lot of trouble by taking God’s gift of worship and turning it into a possession rather than a gift to share; consuming the gift rather than passing it on. Then, that sucker turned and handed off his own failure to Adam and Eve. He persuaded them to enter into his failed system, opposing God. The chief worshiper wanted to be the center of attention rather than radiating worship back on the Giver of worship. Jesus reversed the falling away of Eden; he restored the relationship of God giving and people receiving and sharing. What had been stolen from mankind became the sole purpose of God entering mankind through Jesus Christ.

Often, we’ve become addicted to defining and establishing our own will, and in doing so, we’ve abandoned God’s Will. Perhaps that’s where a lot of our frustrations and tension comes from, even though we’re believers in Christ Jesus. We work full time at creating our results, establishing desirable ends independent of God’s vision for us. We played a song in the early 90’s that had a lyric requesting God to ‘come into my life’. In the order of God’s creation, the more correct lyric would be: thank You for letting us enter into Your Life. In the Gospel, God enters our world, so that we can enter into His. That’s why being in Christ permits us to: even in times of crisis, find Peace, in times of hurry, find Rest, and even in our guilt and shame, find forgiveness. We come to the places that seem impossible and they become possible. The broken get healed, the lame walk, the unreasonable hearts are calmed and the unclean become saints. In the simplest of terms, rather than writing our own journey, God’s Will for us is that we saturate and mingle our journey with Him. God has the inclination, the fixed character, to share, to care, to love, to help in our journey, no matter what circumstances the world throws at us.

God wants us saved! Not just in any one way but in all ways. The Greek word for saved is sozo and implies delivered, protected, healed, made whole and complete. His Will provides us a complete restoration: Body, Soul and Spirit. When we’re in trouble, or when things couldn’t be better. When we don’t have a clue, or when we are experiencing the mountain top of worship. In all those circumstances (and all those come to each of us) God desires us to a simple Trust. In the good times, in bad times, what are we saying about Him, more importantly, what do we believe about Him? Many times the test is not the circumstances, but it’s found in our response to having to deal with the circumstances. It’s the Will of God that we find Him trustworthy in all things, at all times. And, just like in the TV game show, that’s our final answer.

There’re many words to be read in the old and new Testaments, many ideas to be thought about. As a word of Wisdom, Paul taught that the Spirit of God encourages us to ‘rightly divide’ (2Tim-2:15) those words and thoughts to correctly interpret the Love of God. I say that to mention a phrase that caught my eye and heart years ago. It’s scripture that’s become a sifting screen for me when interpreting the Word of God. It’s found in Matthew 11:28-30. It speaks of a Rest that comes with knowing the relationship we call the Gospel. The last verse says: for my yoke is easy and my burden is light. How many times do we get ‘heavy laden’ trying to live the Christian life? When that occurs do you think we should assume that pressure is a yoke God has given us, a yoke to weigh us down? Is that His kind of yoke described in that scripture? Obviously, God was not saying the world would be easy for us to navigate. Actually, the world is described as trouble by God. He was not saying that the burdens of our own making or that the load of family, friends, neighbors, community, and politics would be light. But He was making certain, taking out all confusion, wanting us to remember that any yoke or burden of His hands would be easy and light.

God’s plan, His Will for us, is most accurately portrayed as bringing us through, being there in our journey. We desperately need to know that. Every outcome or each moment may not look exactly as we have planned, but He is with us and simply ‘stays’. That, in the strongest sense of the word, is that second kind of Will mentioned earlier; a determined companionship. It’s God’s natural impulse and desire to be with us without regard to deliberation or consideration. He doesn’t stop and think about how terrible or wonderful you are, He’s just for you– period. It’s a fixed Will about you. His Will is more passionate than a simple reasonable resolve. It’s akin to the biblical text that references God’s Jealousy. It’s not a jealousy established on God’s selfishness or authority. His kind of Jealousy is about an eager, vehement care for His people. He is jealous for you because of His passion to care for you. A Jealousy to do whatever it takes to reestablish a personal relationship with people, even to the point of letting those same people crucify His Son!

This is where we begin to Trust. Our coming to know this Will of God has a direct relationship to what we experience with God. Our beginning definition of God makes a huge difference in where we end up in our journey. For example, if I leave my house and have every intention of going to Chicago but I’m off direction by just a measly 1 degree on my compass, 1 little degree, by the time I’ve traveled 5 hours I will end up in Indiana or Rockford instead of Chicago. Our image of God, our interpretation of His Will, determines much of what we see and experience about God. It always comes down to a moment very much like Adam and Eve’s in that Garden. Their thinking about who they thought God was, their doubting He was giving them all they needed, caused them (and us) a world of trouble. Remember when Jesus asked Peter, for Peter’s own good, ‘Who do you say I am?’ That’s the first question we need to have answered on our journey with God. That was the issue in the Garden of Eden and it’s still the first issue people face today. The failure in the Garden was that Adam and Eve believed a lie about God. Much of the world is falling for that lie again today. Adam and Eve wrongly believed God was holding out on them. That God hadn’t quite made up His mind about them. Believing that, that little 1 degree of lie from Lucifer, changed the whole course of their and our lives. It only took a whisper to their hearts to persuade them away from the Truth of God’s Love. Sometimes we still fall for that whisper today.

January Newsletter-Horse & 2 Burrows

Posted on by Laura Posted in Newsletters | Leave a comment

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. Jas 1:17

I have a horse and two burros. Duke, Jenny and Baby. Why I have two burros and a horse is one of the frequent questions I get from people. Over the years, that question’s actually rattled around in my brain as well. That’s especially true when it’s cold and icy-snowy-wet and the only reason at all I have to go outside and leave my wood burning stove is to hay that trio of animals. Every time I go to the barn they make all kinds of ‘happy’ noise (if you’ve ever heard two excited burros bray you know what I mean), so excited about the ‘feed’ that’s going to happen. They really don’t add anything positive by way of paying their way. They don’t jump up in my lap and watch TV with me. Duke will never win the purse at the race track. My burros are hardly beasts of burden. All three really don’t do anything but add a burden to my life. Truthfully, they haven’t had anyone ride them in a dozen years, so really they don’t have a practical application at our place. But standing in the barn loft, pitching hay one sloppy Saturday of about 20 degrees, it occurred to me what I enjoyed most about the moment, what gave value to them, was simply the pleasure of caring for and about them. I get to do that; I do that voluntarily, independently of their ‘worthlessness’. (You know where I’m going, don’t you?)

Now this is where it gets a bit goofy because many times I see little things like this through the prism of the Gospel. I recently had a conversation with a friend who was expressing the depth of emotion she experienced having lost her dog. I think what makes us care so deeply for pets, family, country is simply the presence of God in the world, or better said in people’s lives. Through the experiences of caring in our human relationships, whether friends, family, pets, trees, we in turn experience some of the God Kind of Love, some of the ways He, His Son and The Spirit experience with their creation. We actually learn more about Him in those moments. It may even be that it’s not the things we care for that are special; perhaps it’s God permitting us to experience the way He cares that’s special. Letting us see how He sees is a gift. The emotions we feel, the joy, the tears, the terrible and the wonderful, all are met with emotions and faith originally provided by the Father. He rushes into our calamity and embraces; He smiles and cheers with us in our great moments.

‘We are not alone.’ We sometimes say those words without the deep commitment they should imply. Being with us is a very strong promise by the Creator not to leave us to ourselves. He is with us, He is in us, and He is around us. God’s world is not a place that has holes in it where He’s not present. In fact, Colossians Chapter 1 emphasizes that it’s necessary for God to be with us: ‘For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels- everything got started in Him and finds its purpose in Him.’ He holds all things together. (John 1:3) Simply, without Him nothing exists. The KJV says ‘by Him all things consist.’ In the original text, the word consist means ‘to stand near’. If He were not with us this whole thing would fly apart into infinity, having come from dust it would return back to dust. He spoke and the dust formed all of creation. All existence, everything that is, is only possible because of His presence.

According to Scripture, no one is completely qualified as good. Jesus emphasized only One is good. (Math. 19-17) Or, specifically, no-thing, man or any other thing is good. In our case, His good must rub off onto us for anything we do (or anything we are) to be considered good. By definition, good is measurable and attributable only to God. It has no human source but is formed and placed on the human heart by the Father Himself. Our hearts can reveal Him, express His heart, but they’re not uniquely good by themselves. In fact, according to Scripture, the simple human heart is full of evil, easily moved away from Him. Any good is Him and any of our goodness simply by being human is only attributable to the presence of the Spirit of God in our lives. (Again, James 1:17) Any good that’s exposed in our lives should be reflected back to the Father rather than absorbed by us. Our good is a light reflecting back on Him, not a sign of how wonderful we are. It’s not your ownership of good but your borrowing of good.

When we look over the crib and see our child for the first time we generally bond immediately; we’re seeing that child through His eyes and not our own. When that happens it’s the spirit of God that’s influencing you. And, just as that child has done nothing to deserve our response (we still Love it deeply), similarly the Father’s Love is set toward us. What we experience in the birth of a child, the love of a spouse, our family ties, the appreciation of a sunset, a deep blue sky, a starry night, yes, and the affection for our pets are His fingerprints in our lives that gift those experiences to us. When people say that there’s no proof that God exists, I see His evidence in each kindness, each occurrence of caring and compassion seen in our daily experiences. Our ability to experience the emotional, loving experiences is, in effect, testimony to Him. Even the occurrence of the terrible and the awful doesn’t prove there’s no God, they simply reinforce our inescapable need of Him. Man’s cruelty to man doesn’t prove the absence of God. Rather it confirms the nature of a creature that refuses to yield to the Spirit of God, the God of Peace present around them.

Because that horse and those burros are glad to be around me, excited that I’m a part of their lives, that in turn produces in me the freedom to care about, relate, and share moments with them. Even though they’re relatively useless, a waste of time, hopelessly unproductive, I still have a desire, after many years, to care for all three. That’s the kind of relationship God wants us to experience with Him; He likes being in our daily lives, wants to relate, care for us. And, even though we’re less than we should be to justify that care, God’s still glad to be a part. He likes caring for us in spite of us. Father, Son and Spirit are glad to have us around, eager to spend time with us. God’s attraction to having a relationship with us, in turn, permits us to freely relate, share and trust Him. Trusting Him creates a freedom to relax, to enter into the Rest that Jesus encouraged us to find. Yielded to that comfort, (and we don’t do that that much, or that often) we discover that the things we’ve worked so hard to create using our ability are in reality His gift to us. When I get out in the cold winter, the heat of summer, or go to the financial expense of keeping those animals, similarly, God is stepping into our world and voluntarily offering to meet your needs, and He enjoys every minute of it. It’s up to us to figure out how to enjoy every minute with Him.

My mother passed away in 2018. It’s too complex to express how the deaths of my father and mother emotionally affected my life. At each funeral I took a moment to dig deep into my heart to try and understand the presence of both sadness and peace. Sadness for the obvious reasons and the peace, well, I found it comforting just knowing and experiencing the gift of their love having been shared with me. In some way, the sadness was created by the very knowledge of having loved them. But at the same time knowing that love, in a more profound way, created the peace. Confusing? Let me say it like this. To have had God provide a flood of appreciation, to emotionally be gripped with such a thanksgiving for the two people that not only gave me life but provided an environment of character and grace. Their giving me the best chance of experiencing ‘Life’ caused tears of sadness and at the same time tears of joy. To experience the sadness of love also reinforces the value of having loved. Sometimes I feel like I’ve cheated at life by having experienced so many wonderful things simply because my parents gave me a strong example of how to discover those things. Those moments contained gifts that God placed in my heart to see the world from His perspective. The appreciation of all they had done and been to me was an immeasurable gift. Our compassion is not self-made but Him-created. I’ve often told people, those two days were the worst days of my life and the best days of my life.

God made us the kind of creature we are and empowered us to discover, through our experiences, the world He experiences. To see how He sees, to hear how He hears, to know how He Loves. The price of love is worth the cost of it. Profoundly, that’s exactly what the Father, Son and Spirit determined before the foundation of the world. That’s the kind of Love, the motivation that caused God to anoint the Son to come and die for us. He did that ‘for the joy set before them.’ (Heb. 12:2) That’s a God kind of Love, the good gift, that’s only available for us from above.