Posted in Faith

Remembrance

Sometimes in life, you have to take the time to slow down, be still and just REMEMBER.

This past week, made me do just that.

Reverend Billy Graham passed away on Wednesday, February 21 at the age of 99. Seeing the post about his passing from my husband on social media, brought to mind so much of my childhood. I was instantly in tears. Growing up Lutheran, this man was well known, and his evangelistic association was renowned. My maternal grandparents talked about, listened to and gave on a regular basis to his ministry. Upon visiting my grandparents in their home, for as long as I can remember, I can hear my grandfather wanting me to sit down with him in the living room and listen to Billy with him. My grandfather loved watching sermons on the television or hearing them on Christian radio.

My mother has shared over the years with our family about her own response to Jesus through the message of Billy Graham. She felt the Lord ask her to respond during a crusade she attended when she was a young girl. My grandfather at the time was in a rush to get out of the parking lot and back home, so she never went forward, but she bargained with God in the backseat, saying that she would one day accept Him. And when she was pregnant with me in 1979, she heard the Lord prodding her again about her decision. She dedicated her life to Him on the couch while I was in utero.

As a teenager, I remember when Graham came to Cleveland for a crusade. For months beforehand, my parents and other church members were praying and preparing for the vast work that is involved in putting on a crusade. I went to prayer services at many local churches with my mom, and learned to pray specifically for the crusade and those who would hear the message. We would pray for peoples’ hearts to be ready and their ears to be opened. We would spread the message about the crusade with flyers and conversations. We didn’t have social media invitations we could send to our 300+ friends at once. It was word of mouth and print media.

6.11.94 bg crusade

On June 11, 1994, I asked my best friend who was Catholic at the time, to come with me. After all, it was Youth Night, and she was beginning to go to youth group at my church. Eighty-five thousand people were there that night. We went with my parents, and heard dcTalk, Michael W Smith and finally a message from Billy Graham. When the time came to make a decision, Laura and I looked at each other, and said we would go forward. We didn’t hesitate (I had remembered my mom’s regret for waiting) and we walked down the concrete steps at Cleveland Municipal Stadium during “Just As I Am” to the grass below, to be met by a man and woman who would pray with us and get us phone numbers of people to follow up with later. I’ll never forget the joy of walking with Laura, feeling a bond between us that was deeper than our already amazing friendship. My friend had heard about Jesus and wanted to know more! And I felt ready to commit my life to Him. It was an incredible evening, and one that I had tucked away in my heart.

Something that stands out to me, is Graham’s humility. Since his passing, everyone is putting their two cents in about who he was. Many who didn’t like him or his message have been trying to paint him as a homophobic political activist. And even knowing that those who hate Jesus will say the same of us, I saw how Graham responded. In each article, you would read how he had apologized for his comments and admitted his humanity. If he offended someone or misspoke, he owned up to it. He didn’t pretend he didn’t say something. He apologized for hurting others, but also wasn’t afraid to say what Scripture says. In one of his crusade messages here in Cleveland, he stated, “I am a sinner who belongs in the gutter with the rest of the sinners”. Just because he was a preacher who reached millions, didn’t mean that he saw himself any higher than any of us, nor was he. I admit I don’t see that in many other people who claim to follow Christ. I admire the man who can admit wrong, ask the Lord for help and take personal responsibility.

He also was truthful when he would say, “The word of God is offensive, because it demands a response. It demands change.” Many in today’s world don’t want that in their lives, and Scripture also predicted the worlds’ response to such accusations. Those who are content in their sin will refuse the gospel and reject it. We become comfortable living the way we do without regard for the Creator who designed THE WAY that works. We follow the flesh and then justify it. But that just doesn’t work. It creates the society we live in now, where everyone wants to have what others work for, where others want everything they want without regard for how it affects others, and selfishness and lack of personal responsibility is prevalent. We see the decay of society, and then bash anyone who draws attention to it.

Graham never beat people over the head with his Bible. He was a Baptist preacher, yes, but his message was never a list of dos and don’ts, but the one message that meant the most: YOU NEED TO BE SAVED, otherwise you will be in Hell. He wasn’t afraid to tell anyone what was in the Bible, because he knew the message meant more than our choice to live against it. The Bible has the power to literally change lives of those we love and share the Earth with! The Bible holds the cure for our sin state. It also is a mirror for our souls, so we can see our desperate need for a Savior. Coincidentally, when Jesus left the Earth, He had commissioned his disciples to continue sharing the truth of the gospel, that eternal LIFE is in belief in Jesus, people must repent from their sin, and be baptized to show their commitment to the family of Christ. Graham shared that message of us being sinners and needing a Savior and he did it well, because so many responded during his crusades because of his truthful messages and his godly character.

I can only imagine what the reception was like in Heaven for a man who was so humble, never stating that he DIDN’T need Jesus, and to actually look into the face of God on the other side. I cried tears of hope and joy this week, because it reignited a joy in my heart for what is to come. Those of us who believe the truth about Jesus’ death and resurrection know that this life is not all there is, there is so much more. Eternity is a long time compared to the blink of an eye we have in these bodies here on Earth. Remembering the work of Billy Graham and his hope of the world turning to Christ made me remember the Lord confirming for me in my heart that I am His beloved daughter, and I am loved beyond measure.

And with the mourning of Billy Graham’s legacy and his impact on my family, I was able to go to see Steven Curtis Chapman in Cleveland on Thursday, February 22. During my teenage years, I listened to Christian radio and heard about this guy who wrote songs. I found them catchy, so I would go to a local store called Lemstone in Parmatown and listen to CDs before buying them. Steven Curtis Chapman’s music would resonate with me while I was trying hard to follow Jesus. I bought “Speechless” in 1999. And hearing “Dive” made me realize that I could hang on the fence and do the church thing while still doing the “world” thing. Or I could DIVE into my relationship with Jesus and try to make a difference for Him, instead of trying to keep my feet in both worlds. Those lyrics are still tucked away in my brain! That song had such impact on my decision for Jesus.

SCC Dive

I bought my first car in 1999, plugged my Walkman into my cassette deck using an adapter in the car and would blast his music while driving. I even bought a specialized license plate: SPCHLES! I was all in, and loved the deep meaning lyrics that he wrote. Some of my other favorites were “His Strength is Perfect”, “I will be here”, “No Better Place”, “For the Sake of the Call”, “The Great Adventure”, “Lord of the Dance”, “Not Home Yet”, “I Am Found in You”, “Live Out Loud”, “Magnificent Obsession”, and “Much of You”. And listening to SCC sing those songs during his concert, it made me reflect on the impact those words had on my life as a young believer.

If you’ve read my blog before, you know some of my story, my heartache of a divorce and finding a reason for living in my later twenties. But through all of my years of life here, I have known that the Lord has something for me. He gave my name to my mother while she was still pregnant with me, not even aware of what sex I would be. I know He has a purpose for my life, but I also now know that my life is meant to glorify Him, not myself.

Two men that God has used to sow seeds of truth into my heart are Billy Graham and Steven Curtis Chapman. I love listening to biblical sermons and I also love songs that stick with me, that I can sing anytime and that give me hope.

I bring up the topic of remembrance, because Steven Curtis Chapman sang a song for us called “Remember to Remember”. He spoke about remembering moments of impact in our lives so that we could mark God’s faithfulness. Building altars was a practice typically done in the Old Testament, where people would take rocks and stack them up, to symbolize an altar of thankfulness, for themselves, for their children and for others to witness.

And I felt like last week God gave me the time to do just that. And to be honest, I think it’s going to become a practice of mine. I think it’s important to step outside of ourselves, and reflect on the people God has used to be a part of our lives, and who have helped us become who we are. I’ve got a list of family members, teachers from my Lutheran schools growing up, musicians, authors, magazine article writers, friends, Christian sisters, etc. And every now and then, I think it’s a great idea to sit back and think about their influence in my life. From someone as well-known as Billy Graham, down to a neighbor who texts for prayer requests…

Remember their message.

Reflect on how they pointed me to Jesus.

And then think about how I can spread that same message outwardly to those who have been placed in my life…

It’s your turn.

Who are the most influential people in your life?

Posted in Faith

Seeing purpose through pain

Fellow Bible readers: How many times do we read passages in the Bible over and over, but just once we seem to read it differently and where there once were just words, suddenly there are intricate jewels that are aimed directly at our hearts?

Gleaning wisdom

While reading a passage from Scripture this morning, my eyes were opened to an incredible characteristic about our Father.

In 2 Peter 3:9, the passage begins, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is PATIENT toward you…”.  I couldn’t even read on. The light bulb went on!

spiritual connection

I want to share with you two revelations I had.

My first thought was the countless times I perceived God as being slow.  Many times in self-righteous anger I had cried out, “What is taking so long?!”  I was also reminded of other times when Christian friends talked about making a difficult decision, but were still undecided because they felt God wasn’t answering their prayer.

We’ve all been there.  Don’t we initially blame God when things don’t happen the way we want them?  But oh when they do–to our unbelieving friends, we proclaim the goodness of God and miracles, answered prayers, yada yada yada…it seems we’re ready to parade Him when the outcome is what we want, not so much when we are told to wait.  We really need to check our hearts and be careful of how we “sell” Jesus.  That is certainly not His intended goal.

Let’s take a look at something about God we may have never noticed before.  In the above passage, it begins with the Lord.  God wrote the Bible using humans. He took the time to speak to all of us and state that He is very aware of our desire for him to “speed things up”.  How do we know this?  He stated how some count His being slow as slowness.  He is not a fool.  We are the created beings.

However, He also clues us into something more detailed about Himself.  He elaborates to say where we consider Him to be slow, it’s not that He’s taking his sweet, old-time delighting in our agony.  He is actually being patient.

So what is so significant about this revelation?  Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s break that down.  What does patience mean?  We’re usually waiting for someone or something, right?  So where we’re becoming impatient and restless, God is being patient…for who?  US!  He isn’t moving or fulfilling requests like a genie because He has a well-developed and thought out plan!  Imagine that!

Are you feeling as humbled as I am now? I can remember so many times that I’ve doubted God heard my cry, but maybe, just maybe He was waiting for ME to do something.  This reminded me of a time that I didn’t understand where my life was headed, and I was getting tired of waiting.

I was twenty-one years old and hating life because I had found out that my boyfriend of two years had allegedly cheated on me with a married friend of ours.  The pain I felt inside was pure anguish.  I uplifted this guy and thought so highly of him.  Maybe it was the “idea” of him, and not his true self that I was worshipping, but nonetheless, the hurt was unbearable.

I was working at an office in Broadview Heights then and I was on a break all by myself in the back of the office, facing the woods. It was snowing outside and I was freezing, but at the time I was a smoker.

I hadn’t had a serious relationship before this man, and in my fear of being alone, I didn’t want to leave him, though I knew I deserved better.  I was scared, because he was five years older than me, and I didn’t have the best self-image.  I figured it would be best to talk it out with him, forgive him and move forward, but the anger of betrayal kept eating at me, and I was afraid I would never be able to trust him again.

Somehow in the midst of trying to think about how to solve my relational conflict, a voice inside me said, “Maybe you should just end it.”  And I knew the voice wasn’t talking about my relationship, but more severely ALL of them….as in, my death.

Then I began to think about it…car accident, slit wrists, etc.  How would I do it?  I can’t even believe that I was entertaining details about how to die, because I knew I could never do it, however facing my boyfriend and our mutual friend was the hardest thing I’d ever faced, and I knew mentally I wasn’t ready for it.  Instead of dealing with the hurt, I wanted OUT.

Bear in mind, I realize the selfishness of these thoughts left no room to consider my parents, siblings, friends, etc.  I wasn’t worried about how my death would affect anyone else. I  just didn’t want to deal with my relationship.  Looking back, it’s absolutely absurd.

And as I was contemplating all of these crazy ideas that I’m certain now was one of Satan’s deliberate attacks on my soul, it began to snow slowly.  I was still standing outside, half of a cigarette to go, watching the snowflakes land on cars, trees and eventually my coat sleeve.

I began to cry, because I didn’t know what to do, and my feeling of being helpless was overwhelming.  I took another hit off the cigarette and then looked down at my brown Carhartt coat.

All of the snowflakes were beautiful.

I laughed to myself.  How could I find beauty in these flakes?  And inside my soul, I heard another voice, again-not my own, say, “I make each of these different for a reason.”

I almost choked.  I coughed a few times.

And I took a few minutes to see the designs and patterns of these crazy, beautiful snowflakes before they were absorbed into my coat.  I put out my cigarette and just let out the cry that was at the corner of my eyes.

I knew it was God telling me that He knew my problem seemed so enormous at that moment, and I was unprepared, but in the scope of my life, that one moment learning about the betrayal would not define me.

My Lord did.

He designs snowflakes so distinctly and unique from each other.  I am not sure if I ever took the time to pay attention to that fact, but God sure had my attention that day.

I was a new believer.  I had just given my life to God when I was twenty, and was still not fully surrendering all parts of my life to Him.  But I knew of His presence and I definitely knew His voice.  That day, I stopped the thoughts of suicide in their tracks.  That is the only time I ever considered something like that, and am thankful that God made it snow.  He took a situation that I deemed overwhelming and unbearable and gave me purpose.

I went home, talked with my boyfriend, forgave him and told him that we had to cut ties with those “friends” if we were going to stay together.  I also told him that I had trust issues and was scared.  Forgiving him and starting over at that point didn’t save us from a divorce six years later, but it definitely started a course of action in my heart that I would depend on God and choose to see the designs and intricate patterns of His creation–including myself.

The second revelation I noticed in the passage listed above is the purpose of that passage.  Second Peter chapter three talks about the end of days, or the day that the Lord returns.  To state in verse nine, that God is “not slow to fulfill His promise” means that He will not return until everyone has had a chance to hear of His love and mercy.

He is being patient in not wanting anyone to perish, but for everyone to have an opportunity to see Him through general revelation and meet with Him through special revelation.  He has revealed Himself, as Romans 1:20 tells us.  He definitely has constructed a well-maintained world that He is a part of, and He still interacts with.  However, He is promising that the reason He hasn’t come back yet is because there is still work to be done on our parts.  We are to continue to spread the message (Matthew 28:16-20) and when everyone has heard, through God’s patience, He will return to collect His children.

God does indeed love all of us.  John 3:16 tells us that He loves us so much that He gave His only Son Jesus Christ, a part of Himself, yet completely separate, to come to the Earth and die for us.  I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a picture of the Milky Way, but it’s where we live.  For some reason unbeknownst to us little Earthlings, God chose this planet and our people (red, yellow, black and white), to be saved from the lives we didn’t choose through sin.

This amazing God who created the universe, the stars, planets, people, species, water, atmosphere, etc.  is the same God who is calling you to know Him.  He wants you to see what He’s doing, He wants you to see love in His people and come to know the truth about true love.  I live in the United States and unfortunately here, a lot of us are blessed beyond measure but we take it for granted.  We have so much, and yet still want more.

Jesus didn’t die for us to have happy lives and live until we die with no use for anyone else.  He died and rose so that we could see the power of God through the defeat of death!  Without death to fear, WHAT IS THERE TO FEAR!?  NOTHING!  May you know Him and the power of His love.  Remember that He isn’t slow in anything, but He may be patient because He has a purpose…one that includes YOU.

Posted in Faith, Family

Does God take things away so we can be closer to Him?

Today I listened to Midday Connection on Moody Radio in Cleveland (WCRF 103.3FM) and the discussion was with author Dee Brestin, and her book, “The God of All Comfort.” I read through some comments on Facebook that had been posted and one of them caught my attention, enough to respond.

From Dakota Atkinson:
Question – I’ve heard that God will take away sometimes to get our attention. Do you think God would allow someone to be taken away by death in order for us to come closer to Him?

My response:
@Dakota, I don’t see why not. Death is not an end, but a beginning in Him. Ultimately, for believers, death is our way HOME. I’m not afraid of it, I welcome it, because we all must die to get into His presence. If our focus is on ourselves, then we tend to question how He could take something away from us, but if our focus is on HIM, then we need Him to heal our hurt and carry us through the grief. See Job’s response when God allowed Satan to take away everything Job had…he lost his wife, kids, belongings and STILL WORSHIPPED. I believe it questions our attachments. Do we really follow His call to leave everything and follow Him? Or do we attach ourselves to others, and grieve, not realizing that our true lover (GOD) is the one with a broken heart? Our relationships here must end at some point, and though that is heartbreaking, with time, we move on. Everything in the Christian life revolves around God and who He is. Blessings in the form of a spouse, children, family, etc. are from God, but ultimately the best gift is that of eternal life. If we lose everything, once we accept Him, that is the one thing we can still claim with confidence.

Thankfully, after feeling the Spirit move in me as I typed the words, I said a prayer that it would be received well, and went back to working.

Coming home this evening, I was relieved to see another person’s response to what I had said.

From Michelle Oliva:
@Dakota, I think Grace is on the right track here. I experienced several losses last year, and boy was I clinging on to God like I hadn’t in a while. Not only did I reach out to Him, but I began to step back and pray and ask about my God given purpose. It was only through God’s strength and comfort that I was able to grieve and come out on the other side, still faithful and hopeful. Best of all, I have a clearer understanding of my God give purpose right now and I have a real thirst for His words and presence in my life. I think if not for all the losses, I would still be on the same train…Grace, I might use some of what you said for my dad’s one year memorial ceremony.

May you be encouraged in trials, and not question out of lack of faith, but for reassurance of what He is doing, even when we can’t understand it.  Faith ALWAYS beats FEAR.