Thursday, March 27, 2014

In His Presence

As a counselor, I have the privilege of listening to the sacred stories of my clients. Many of those stories are filled with pain and brokenness. Recently, I began counseling a client with a severe abuse history. From childhood right up until early adulthood, this client's life was filled with fear and anxiety. By God's grace she was able to marry a man whose compassionate heart allowed her to be herself and receive support and encouragement. In one of our last sessions she shared with me the story of her near death experience after a horrible car accident. There have been many books written and quite a few T.V. interviews with people who have had such an experience. However, to actually talk to someone face to face about their personal encounter with God was life changing. As I listened intently, her story captured a familiar Biblical pattern experienced by those who had encounters with God. My client remembers being face down and not able to move any part of her body, not even to lift a finger. She then heard the familiar words, "Do not be afraid" as she was lifted up off the ground. She knew in her spirit where she was and that God was speaking to her but it took time for her mind to stop racing and catch up. God spoke to her about her healing and just before she returned to earth, He told her He loved her. She reported that those words, "I love you" poured through her spirit like "liquid honey." I must admit I was awestruck and filled with joy for her. However, at the same time I felt somewhat envious. Here was someone that experienced what I believe we all have a desire for, to be in God's presence face to face. I began to feel sorry for myself and see my life and ministry as having little impact. Last weekend I traveled to New Jersey to officiate the wedding of my cousin. After the service, people came up to me and the comments were overwhelming. One gentleman, a doctor, was particularly impressed and stated he had never heard a service like that in all his years of living. After returning home I began to ponder what had happened at that service. Why were the comments so powerful? What I came to realize was those in the room were in the presence of God. The word of God going forth spoke to their souls. The writer of Hebrews tells us, "For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." (Hebrews 4:12) It occurred to me that I am always in God's presence and I don't need a near death experience to affirm that it is true. The Lord knows what each of us uniquely needs to experience in our lives to bring healing in those areas that are broken and wounded. I believe the severity of my client's suffering may have required such a supernatural encounter so she could remember that experience during her darkest times of despair. In my case, the Lord needed to remind me of the power of His presence working through me to not only heal my own wounds but allow me to help heal the wounds of another. I am reminded of Jesus' words to Thomas after the resurrection, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed." (John 20:29) My spirit also resonates with Job who in conversation with God after his trials declared, My ears had heard of You but now my eyes have seen you." ( Job 42:5) I don't know how deep my client's faith was before she "saw" the Lord but I am grateful that God opened my eyes to see that no matter what I am doing I am always in His presence. 
Shalom,
Pastor Sheree

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Learning the Lesson

Sometimes it is easy to get focused on what is not happening in our lives as opposed to what is right under our noses. I have been focused lately on what I perceive as the slowness of God's movement in my next season of ministry. I had committed myself to not forcing anything to take place but rather to,"wait on the Lord" as the Scripture exhorts us to do many times. However, it seems that my spirit grew weary of waiting and I became somewhat depressed. In Mark's gospel, the disciples are distracted by the magnificent architecture of the temple. They are focused on the "big picture." However, Jesus tells them to refocus their attention as He declares, "Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down." (Mark 13:2b) The disciples are fascinated and Peter, James, John, and Andrew asks Jesus when this will happen and what signs will herald their fulfillment? Jesus goes on to answer their questions. (Mark 13:5-31) What I found interesting is that many of the "signs" that Jesus presents to them come out of everyday life and recognizable occurrences. Often I find myself looking for something extraordinary to happen to know that God is listening. Perhaps, I think to myself, some unusual cloud formation will appear or something so out of the norm that I know for sure it's from God. One of the signs Jesus spoke of caught my attention. "Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door." (Mark 13:28-29) Scholars believe that the "it" Jesus was alluding to was His second coming. What connected for me is related to a poinsettia plant I received last Christmas. If you are familiar with these plants, their leaves are bright red and at some point lose their color and the remaining leaves turn green. I happen to like the vivid red color and had heard that you could restore the leaves to their original Christmas red. I went on line to discover how to do it. Basically, the method involves plunging the plant into total darkness for 14 hours a day. According to the instructions on line, the change in color would occur in about 8 weeks if one was consistent. I decided to use a dark garbage bag to accomplish the task. The project started out with good intentions but within a week became cumbersome. I decided to give up and was frustrated and saddened. I told myself that I would just have to live with the green leaves. However, about 2 months after I abandoned the project during one of my low spiritual and emotional moments, I went into our den one morning. To my surprise, there was one small leaf that was red! I immediately stopped and had to look a couple of times to believe what I was seeing! I felt God affirming that He was with me and the red leaf among the other green ones reminded me of Christ and the sacrifice He made for my sins and those of the world. Ironically this red leaf happened to appear just a week before the start of Lent. I came to understand that these small everyday "signs" were just as significant as some supernatural phenomenon. I had no real hope that the poinsettia plant would yield any red leaves again. Similarly, I was running low on hope that God would move me on to the next season of service for the kingdom. But just as Jesus told his disciples to "learn the lesson from the fig tree", in some way God was telling me to "learn the lesson" from the poinsettia plant. The lesson that the next new season of ministry in my life was near. So I will keep persevering and thanking God for His gentle reminders that the best is yet to come.
Shalom,
Pastor Sheree