Under Angel Wings


Monday, June 29, 2009

An Unexpected Gift

Yesterday was an amazing day. On Saturday I was happily busy getting together some things to give various friends at church on Sunday: a birthday gift for my deacon sister, a photograph and a book for one woman who had requested them, and another set of photograph and book for a woman friend who is ill, along with a card to send her prayers and best wishes.

I was so happy to be taking these things to my dear friends, and I was feeling that special glow of the giver. Do you know what I mean?

When I saw the expressions of happiness on the faces of those receiving my offerings I was doubly happy. What a blessing it is to give!

My husband and I were sitting in our seats, waiting for the service to begin, when in walked John and Kathy, a couple who I had not seen in church for awhile. I was so excited to see them, I just jumped up and gave them both a huge welcoming hug. I was so glad to have them at church with us again!

After hugging Kathy, I looked down and saw that she was wearing the most gorgeous necklace. I was immediately struck by the bright, sparkling, heavenly colors of the crystals, then I saw the incredible cross and I was amazed by it. It is made of crystal prisms that reflect all of the other colors, and it has a silver cross imbedded in the center.

I told Kathy how beautiful it was, and she said she had made it. Thinking that she might be making them to sell, I told her I would love to order one and pay her for it, whatever she asked. She just smiled, and we sat down to get ready for the service.

During coffee hour, Kathy came up to me, and I could see by the look on her face that she was experiencing some strong emotion. She started talking, and holding up her hand, and the necklace was nestled in her palm. My heart began to constrict when I realized that she was giving the cross to me...

My mind was tumbling, as I tried to grasp what she was trying to say. She wanted to thank me, I think, for the warm greeting of love I had given them before the service, and she told me how much it meant to her. By this time I was feeling all the conflict of the receiver of a spontaneous, unplanned gift, especially a gorgeous gift handmade and obviously loved by the giver.

Some kind of confused protest started coming forth from my lips, but she would have none of it. I realized immediately that to accept her gift was the kindest, most loving thing I could do.
I put it on, and wore it for the rest of the day, all the while trying to think of some way to reciprocate. Sometime, and in some way, God will open a door for me to do something so special for someone else.

The hardest thing is that Kathy mentioned to someone yesterday that they were going to move away, and I didn't find out until after they had gone. I am so saddened to think that we might not see John and Kathy again, but I will always have Kathy's Cross to remind me of her gift of true, Christian love.

Proverbs 18:16 A gift opens the way for the giver and ushers her into the presence of the great.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Jerry, Awesome Dad

In honor of Fathers' Day I'd like to share a little bit about our friends from church: Jerry, his wife, Darlene, and their daughter, Genni.

Jerry has had a number of careers in his life, as well as fathering six children. He's been a drywall contractor, a commercial pilot and a flight instructor, and he is retired law enforcement. Now his favorite way to relax is playing golf. He plays 36 holes, three times a week!

Jerry was born in Lincoln, Nebraska. He met Darlene in Eugene, Oregon, and they were married in 1972. Their daughter, Genni, pictured here, is their 5th child out of six. She is 33 years old.

Genni was born with Rett Syndrome, a genetic disorder that presents itself in early childhood. It is a very rare disorder, occurring almost exclusively in female children. Genni needs total care from her parents. She comes to church every Sunday with mom and dad and is an important part of our parish family.

Jerry spent a lot of time growing up with his grandmother, a woman of strong Christian faith. She was actually a member of the Womens' Christian Temperance Union. Jerry received a strong foundation in Christianity in those years, but he really began building his faith while searching for answers about why Genni would be born with this disorder. He started to read the Bible from first page to last, and in the reading of it, he found the answers he was looking for.

Today, Jerry is an awesome man of God, and a wonderful dad. He recently shared his testimony in the form of a sermon, titled, Sermon on the Amount. What can I say? Jerry and Darlene both have great senses of humor. So here is Jerry's testimony. What they say is true: without the test, there can be no testimony! May God bless Jerry, Darlene, Genni, and their family.

Most of us are probably acquainted with the scripture that admonishes "Do not put the Lord your God to the test." We may not know exactly where it's located in the bible, or who said it or even the circumstances under which it was said, but we're at least familiar with the idea of the warning and most of us tend to take it seriously. I think we all agree that it's a very bad idea to challenge God to any kind of a contest. One place where we can find this warning about not testing God is in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 4. It was at the end of Jesus' forty days and forty nights of fasting in the desert. Satan had taken Him to the top of the temple and said to Him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: " 'He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.' " Jesus answered him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the Test.' " It was good advice then and it sounds like real good advice now!

Interestingly, however, there’s a place in the scriptures that's not as well known, where we're specifically invited to put God to the test. This lesser known invitation is found in the 3rd chapter of the book of the Prophet Malachi. Verses 6 through 10, where the Lord is speaking: "I the Lord do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you," says the Lord Almighty. "But you ask, 'How are we to return?' "Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. "But you ask, 'How do we rob you?' "In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse__the whole nation of you__because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the Lord Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it."

I became aware of this scripture about thirty years ago and when I first read it, it spoke directly to my heart. It was just as if my name was written there on the page. I was instantly and acutely aware that God was speaking directly to me through this passage. It was I who was robbing God. I’d gone through all of my adult life, to that point, without ever giving a second thought to giving anything at all, let alone a tenth of my income, to the church or anyone else having anything to do with God's work. But just like that, I knew, beyond any questioning, that God was speaking directly and personally to me. I prayed to God right then and there, "Forgive me, Father, I didn't know. From this day forward I promise I will return to you a tenth of everything you give to me.” Prior to this time, I had the attitude that whatever money I had was mine because I earned it, and if God wanted money, he could get a job. He was better able to earn it than I was. But now I knew, without a doubt, that everything I had, or would ever have, belonged 100% to God and all He required of me was to return a paltry 10%.
I wasn’t expecting anything in return but I was, nevertheless, confident that God would, indeed, 'Throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing.....' that I wouldn't have room enough to hold it all. The thought of all rewards aside, I was driven by the knowledge that it was my absolute, non-negotiable duty to return to God a tenth of all that I received from that moment on; for the rest of my life. And, did God open those floodgates like he promised? Did he ever!!! Instantly! I’d like to share with you, very briefly, a few of the things that immediately began to happen to me and my family. At that particular time our family was as financially challenged (that’s a euphemism for broke) as we've ever been and we had virtually no discretionary income. A friend came to me and asked if I would like to have his Ford pickup. It was an older model but it ran good and had a nice straight body. I told him "Sure, I'd like to have it, but I don't have any extra money." He said "Did I ask you to buy it? If you want it, it's yours. I'm giving it to you!" I thanked my friend out loud and thanked God in my heart.
Well, the Lord must have figured that a pickup wasn’t complete without a canopy so a short time later, on a Sunday morning, as the family was driving to church, we went past a house that had a pickup canopy sitting in the front yard on a pair of saw horses. It had a large sign on it which read, simply, "Free." For one second I considered stopping but I knew my duty was to God and that if God wanted me to have that canopy, it would still be there after church. And, of course it was! So, after church I put my new canopy on my new truck.
It wasn’t long after this happened that we moved to Montana. We took very little of value with us; Mainly personal items. One of the things we took was an old couch. I don’t know why we bothered to take it with us because all we ever did with it was store it here and there. It was primarily a nuisance and so we finally decided to just take it to the dump. One Saturday night shortly before the couch was dumped, I was standing out in our rented garage talking with God and I said, "Lord, I know I don't have to tell you that I don't have any money to put in the offering plate tomorrow morning but I just thought I'd mention that if you wanted something you'd have to get busy pretty soon. Within minutes my next door neighbor showed up and was standing in the garage with me and said "How much do you want for that old couch?" I didn't know what to say and so he offered, "I'll give you ten dollars for it." I said "You just bought yourself a couch." I went into the house and told Darlene what had just happened and she was tickled. She said "That's really great. I was wondering how we were going to buy bread and milk." I told her that we couldn't use any of the money, because it all belonged to God and every cent of it was going into the offering plate at church the next morning. Her faith was strong enough that she didn't argue the point. When we got home from church that morning, the phone started ringing and didn't stop until I had $500 worth of sheetrock jobs. A cynic might say, "Aw, God just wanted another $50. bucks out of ya." You can bet he got another $50. bucks.
A short time later, near Halloween, I'd used up all of the money that God had given us and was on my way down the Bull Lake Road to give a bid on a sheetrock job. As was and is my custom, I was talking to God as I drove along, and I mentioned that it would be nice if I could somehow get a pumpkin for the kids to carve for Halloween. I realized it wasn't a priority and that their lives wouldn't be ruined if they didn't have a pumpkin. But I mentioned it to God anyway. Well, I didn't see this pumpkin fall out of the sky, but I've driven many tens of thousands of miles all over this great, God-given country of ours, and I've never, ever, before or since, seen a whole, undamaged, fresh pumpkin sitting upright on the shoulder of any highway anywhere. But there it was, looking for all the world as if it had just been placed there by the hand of God. There were no houses for at least a mile in either direction.
God continues to perform miracles in our lives to this day. Sometimes we have to stop and think about them because we're so used to having them happen. It's all too easy to take God's constant love for granted. No one has appointed me to tell you, or anyone else, how to live their lives. I have been selected, however, to testify to the love and goodness of God and to give witness to the miracles that God has performed in my life. I know, just as surely as that pumpkin was sitting alongside the road, that God is waiting anxiously, eagerly, patiently to perform the same kinds of miracles in the lives of all His people who put their trust in Him. In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Many thanks to Jerry for allowing me to reprint his sermon on my blog.