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A week of local missions

This week Dunkin and I got to participate in local missions with our 11th grade students.  Our week started with Innovation Charter School (ICS), a public elementary school.  Immediately upon arrival the school’s principal called me into her office to visit with a little girl named Mia.  She is a first grader and didn’t want to go to school that day.  After some conversation and finding out the names of her friends in class, I asked her if she would like to introduce Dunkin to her friends.  Mia joyfully went to class with her new friend Dunkin to share with her other friends Abraham and Peyton.  I was also blessed to discover that Mia’s teacher was a former student of mine from Calvary Christian Academy!  What a perfect first opportunity to share our “Message of Hope.”  I started with: “Dunkin and I have come to tell you the most important thing in the whole wide world…God loves you.”  We then went into our Gospel presentation complete with Dunkin hugging me when I recite John 3:16 (God so loved the world…) and a “high five” for the “Good News” that Jesus died for our sins and as I kneel Dunkin puts his paws on my knees so we pray to receive Jesus as our Savior.  We all clap at the end because now heaven is our home.  I finish with passing out “Dunkin’s picture” (our Canines for Christ card with John 3:16 and a prayer of salvation on the back) to all the students as they ask questions and pet Dunkin.  We did this for four classes at ICS that day!

On Tuesday, we went next door to Purpose Academy.  It is a small privately funded Christian middle school where some of the students from ICS continue their education.  Here also we were able to share our “Message of Hope” with two more classes. We stopped in at ICS to visit a second grade class and present our “Message of Hope” and of course to check on Mia.

Wednesday we went to Markham Elementary school, a public school right down the street from ICS.  At this particular school they requested we just sit in the media center and receive the students as the teachers brought them to us.  I heard the principal announce, “hello students, we have mentors here from Calvary Christian Academy again but they brought a special surprise with them today, a Golden Retriever Service Dog named Dunkin.”  For three hours we had a steady flow of students visiting us.  Most had difficulty communicating due to language barriers and several teachers told me that their students had never pet a dog before.  The teachers were very patient with the students, holding their hands and showing them how to gently pet his back.  It was precious.

In the media center at William Dandy Middle School is where we spent our Thursday morning.  I overheard an English teacher give instructions to write how they can best deal with their anger.  As I spoke with students while petting Dunkin, several expressed fear.  Two weeks ago a student brought a gun to school and daily they experience violence as students fight they told me.  I was able to pray with two students on different occasions and tell them of God’s love for them.  One of those students, David, I really connected with.  I returned the following day with a student edition of the New Testament and printed pictures of him with Dunkin to leave at the school reception office.  The receptionist was very excited to get it to him.  

Our last day of the week we decided to “stay home” at Calvary Christian Academy and visit our elementary school.  Because I teach so many classes, I don’t have time to go to that building and today was the opportunity.  We visited two classrooms (2nd grade and 5th grade).  What a joy!  The students embraced and loved Dunkin as he had been all week but when I shared the Gospel with these students they all recited John 3:16 with me!  

In total we visited about 10 individual classrooms where we shared the Gospel, spent over 6 hours in media centers letting the kids “pet the dog”  and interacted with over 250 kids passing out his card with the prayer of salvation on the back.

Hurricane Ian Crisis Response

Testimony of Team Dunkin

Every hope and dream for Dunkin even before he was born was that we would be a Crisis Response Team. 

I had responded to the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Parkland Florida with another therapy dog team in 2018 and became aware of my calling in this specific ministry.  God made the way for me to obtain and train a Golden Retriever puppy through the support of my administrators at the school I am working as a High School Teacher. 

Through our daily interactions with students and faculty, Dunkin was able to receive the socialization, desensitization and obedience training he needed to be a certified Canines for Christ Therapy Dog.  With the Crisis Response training I had previously and our desire to be a team, Canines for Christ provided that extra support and training to make us ready! 

With Hurricane Ian hitting the west coast of Florida on September 28, 2022 my heart broke for my neighbors.  I knew what hurricane devastation looks like responding to Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Florida as a Chaplain in 2018 and suspected similar in Fort Myers. Canines for Christ recently made a partnership with the Salvation Army and we got the call!  Excited and apprehensive we were able to make two deployments, Fort Myers and a week later to Port Charlotte. 

I expected to see flooded homes, destroyed mobile home parks, and broken hearted people, what I did not expect to see was joy and tears at the sight of Dunkin.  From the hard working, dedicated, and selfless Salvation Army officers and volunteers, to the variety of relief workers, to the homeowners and residents, they all embraced Dunkin.  His very presence, tail wagging and panting pink tongue brought pure joy to each encounter.  He provided the opportunity to share God’s love and hope as I prayed with people and listened to their stories.  The memory that stands out in my mind the most is when we visited a golf community.  Dunkin and I were escorted in the back of a golf cart as part of a caravan of golf carts carrying food and water to the residents of the community.  They would yell “Food, water, ice, Dunkin the Dog” as we drove through the streets of the debris lined roads.  As we pulled up to a building of previously flooded homes, doors wide open and people carrying various wet and mildewed belongings to the street corner, my eyes fell on one man.  He stood in his doorway just staring at Dunkin in the back of the golf cart.  He made a straight path right for Dunkin avoiding the offers of a hot meal and embraced Dunkin’s golden fur covered neck and buried his face.  They seemed to embrace each other as the man cried, probably for the first time since the day he “lost everything.”  They stayed that way for a few minutes, then the man just walked away.  The Spirit spoke to me, “he needed to do that for days now and you just gave him the safe opportunity to do it.” 

Thank you Fort Myers and surrounding communities for loving Dunkin and allowing us to love you back.  Jesus, remind them of your love that covers a multitude of sins and will comfort them into eternity. Amen.

The Ministry of Presence

“Ministry of Presence”.  As Billy Graham Rapid Response Chaplains we are taught that this is our role.  Simply to show up, be present.  I struggled with this role at times.  As a goal-oriented, “doer”, I wrestled with the instruction to show up and just be there.  Sometimes I would be overwhelmed with wondering what I would say to comfort these hurting people if given the opportunity.  That’s when I realized the struggle was real!  It was a prompting of the Holy Spirit to teach me there was more to just showing up but not the “more” I was thinking.

Since becoming an RTT Chaplain I have continued to have a heart to enter into the world of those hurting whether it is in death, sickness or natural disaster.  What draws me there I wonder?  Why is it that I’d rather go to a funeral than a wedding?

It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart. Ecclesiastes 7:2

Perhaps because I have recognized that in sorrow, in darkness His light abounds.  It is there we consider eternity because we are desperate for hope. 

And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.  Romans 5:5

I have discovered recently that the “ministry of presence” is less about my own presence and more about bringing the presence of God.

Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?

1 Corinthians 3:16

My physical presence has the opportunity to bring God’s divine presence.  A vessel of hope, peace, grace, mercy….love.

Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work. 2 Timothy 2:21

We are all called to this “ministry of presence”.   You don’t have to be titled Pastor, Priest, Chaplain.  Your title, if you have accepted Jesus Christ as Savior and surrendered your life to the ministry of the Gospel is Chosen. 

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 1 Peter 2:9

As followers of Jesus Christ we have entered into the call to be ministers of reconciliation.

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.

 2 Corinthians 5:18-19

Therefore, my brothers and sisters in Christ.  You are chosen, a priest with the ministry of reconciliation.  Filled with the Holy Spirit, our “ministry of presence” is to show up and allow His presence to be present.

Safely Tucked Away

“But God remembered Noah…” Genesis 8:1

We have all heard the story, seen the movies and childlike illustrations…Noah and the Ark.  We marvel at how Noah built that big boat and God told him to bring “seven of every kind of clean animal…and two of every kind of unclean animal…and seven of every kind of bird, male and female (Genesis 7:2).  As God brought the rains for forty days and the flood came, Noah, his family and the animals were tucked safely away.  I would like to imagine it was comfy and cozy aboard this ship, rocking gently on the flooded earth but reality is that is not true. The darkness, the sounds, the smells, not quite the cruise ship experience to say the least.  What about the feelings of fear thinking “I am the only one left”.  Although Noah had his family with him, I would imagine his thoughts had to go to wondering if he heard God correctly.  The entire world as he knew it was gone, destroyed and all he could do was float and wait.

I can remember a “tucked time” in my life.  He just left!  One day I was married with my husband living in the home with us and the next day he wasn’t.  He just left.  Alone, in my own boat, the flood of emotions and tears came as I tried to “get my sea legs”.  For Noah, the 40 days of rain came but even after the rain stopped he had to continue to listen and be guided by God as to the next step.  The Bible records that the water flooded the earth for 150 days (Genesis 7:24) and then “God remembered Noah”.  Now this is not a “remember” as in God had previously forgotten him, it is a remember as “to call to mind”. This is the same Hebrew word used for Rachel when God “remembered and opened her womb” (Genesis 30:22) and Moses after he fled from killing the Egyptian and God “remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” (Exodus 2:24).   God didn’t remember as in He forgot, He remembered as in it was time to call to mind and respond. 

In those seven years of marital separation, I thought God did forget.  Frequently I wondered if I had heard the Lord correctly, was I to continue waiting?  I can relate to Noah somewhat, can you?  Have you been or are you in a season of waiting?  Stuck on a boat, floating, with no land in sight?  Everything you know as “life” has been destroyed and you wait for God to remember? May I remind you as you read the account of Noah in Genesis 6-9 notice how “the Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become” (Genesis 6:5) and consider this…was this God’s grace to “tuck Noah and his family away” until the judgement had passed?  Is the season you’re in, the season of waiting, perhaps the ark of protection?  We can’t see the whole picture, we don’t know what God knows (past, present and future).  As I look back on those seven years of marital separation, I can only imagine what God was doing.  What I do know after that time, is what God did.  He fully restored my husband first back to Himself, then to our family, then took him home.  In the eighth year, James died in a motorcycle accident on his way to work.  God fully restored him, finished the work He promised to complete (Phil 1:6) then took him to heaven.  And Avery and I, were tucked safely in the boat, no doubt doing a work in our hearts as well. 

The day came, the dove was released through a window and brought back a freshly plucked olive leaf indicating new life on the earth (Genesis 8:11).  Soon after God said to Noah “come out of the ark” (Genesis 8:15).  The first thing Noah did was build an altar to the Lord and sacrificed a burnt offering of the clean animals God had provided on the ark. (Genesis 8:20).  Therefore, get ready Christian.  God has already provided what you will use to sacrifice to Him when the season is over.  Will it be your testimony of His faithfulness or provision for all to see?  Will it be the strength and wisdom He gave you so now you can encourage others?  Whether you are waiting on a spouse, a paycheck or healing, God may have you safely tucked. Rest assured the time will come to be “called to mind” because God always remembers.

Don’t lose heart

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last. Luke 23:44-46

This was the One…the One who claimed to be the Savior of the World…and he died?

Recently, I was able to put myself there, with his mom, with the women.  Watching the execution, the crucifixion of an innocent man, of God in the flesh!  “Why can’t they see, why don’t they know, why is all of this happening?”  The questions, the anguish they must have felt.  Hope lost.  Were they wrong?  What it all just a pipe dream?  Were they fools to believe? 

The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.  Luke 23:55-56.

What was left to do?  They returned home in obedience and rested.  The story ends there? No!

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” Then they remembered his words. Luke 24:1-8

Hope restored.  It was not as they had planned.  It was not how they imagined…the suffering…the crucifixion. But now it made sense, or did it?  It makes sense to us because we see on the other side.  I wonder, if I was one of those women watching my Savior be crucified, how I would have reacted.  Would I have rose up in frustration, taken to social media and blasted the Romans for what they did to my Savior?  Would I bash those against Jesus, name calling and personal attacks?  Or would I have gone home and rested because it was the Sabbath?

Seven years I prayed for restoration of my marriage, that my husband would surrender to the Lord then be restored to our family.  God did!  And just over a year later, he was tragically killed on his motorcycle traveling to work. 

“I voted for the man that I thought best held the values you teach Lord.  I prayed and fasted that you would appoint the President that would best allow us to freely worship you and protect the unborn and he didn’t win.” 

While I feel as though comparing the crucifixion of Christ, my husband death and the conceding of Donald Trump would be heresy and disrespectful, I found myself with similar emotions. 

However, through the contemplation of all three scenarios, I am reminded of Isaiah 55:8-9

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

The women at the cross that day, watching the brutal execution by crucifixion of God must have been horrific but then “they remembered his words” (Luke 24:8)

I encourage you today… “remember his words” and “don’t lose heart”.

Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. Galatians 6:9

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. John 14:27

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

Lord, forgive us our sins, have mercy on this Nation…come Lord Jesus, come.

When You Are Doing “Well” in the Midst of a Tragedy

It is often in adversity our true colors show.  It’s like that old illustration of the glass of water.  When the glass is full and it is shaken, what pours out?  If we are full of the Holy Spirit and shaken you will often see blessing, peace, good works under adversity pour out.  But if we are full of sin, you will often notice anger, frustration, selfishness and fear.  So what are others seeing “pour out of you” during this season?  Hard truth, hard questions, but remember, there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.   For Jesus came not to condemn the world but to save it.  (John 3:17) However, the Bible also says that whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy. (Proverbs 28:13). And who could use a little bit of mercy right about now? (my hand is raised). 

Therefore let’s take a listen to James: Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (James 4:7-10)

I hear the Spirit encouraging me first to submit myself to God. That prayer may sound something like this “Lord, forgive me.  I have been thinking too much about myself.  I fully submit my life, my day, this hour to you.” (2) Purify my heart.  “Lord, these are the areas of my life that have consumed me…..  I am grateful and overwhelmingly thankful for…. (3) Grieve, mourn and wail.  “Lord, I am grieving…. Hear my heart and the pain in it and may it echo yours.”  If you don’t have anything to grieve then grieve with someone else.  Find someone who has COVID19 and struggling for their life, someone who lost their job, a particular nurse, doctor, first responder and get the details!  Come alongside others that are suffering and enter in that suffering.  Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2) By doing all of this:  submitting to the Lord, purifying your heart, grieve and mourn, you can’t help but be humbled.

Most people will agree that in difficult seasons of life we find ourselves closer to the Lord and when “things are going well” we are not.  Here’s a challenge, make life ALWAYS a difficult season.  I am not saying put yourself in constant difficulty but in actuality I am.  You cannot control your life circumstances however you can control which life circumstances you engage in.  There are times when things may be “just fine” in your life but I promise you it is not that way for everyone you know.  Enter into their tough stuff.  Don’t shut off or ignore the news.  Really listen and ask more questions when people are asking for prayer.  Pray for opportunities to serve and comfort others.  “Putting your head in the sand” maybe fine for a short time, but if your head is in the sand make sure you are on your knees too. 

Thoughts from MSD

Blog #1: Processing days following

As I sat there in a room of hundreds of students and parents, listening to a victim of the Columbine shooting that happened almost 20 years ago, a sadness and fear overcame me. It really happened, Columbine which seemed like an unrealistic movie had happened in our community just last week. Overcome with dread for what these young people faced that day, it was the reality of what their future would look like that ripped at my heart the most. As I listened to her tell the story of that day, hiding under a table in the library as the shooter walked by, my eyes gazed to a dog lounging on the floor at the side of the room. Yes, a dog. At first glance I thought it was a security dog but as my eyes focused, the vest it wore said Canines for Christ. Our eyes met and mine were instantly filled with tears. This dog was not for security, it was for comfort.

Her name I would soon find out was Coco and she indeed was a therapy dog. I spent some time petting her and speaking to her handler when a young girl approached. She joined our conversation and rattled on about how nice Coco was and about her dog at home. Soon the conversation turned as she said, “I knew him, I’m pretty sure I hugged him once.” I asked her to clarify and soon found out that she was talking about the alleged shooter at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School just a few days earlier. We were able to get a pastor and the parents to this child as she was processing her knowledge of this alleged shooter. Barrier breakers, that’s how I can describe therapy dogs. With their sweet, soul touching eyes and unconditional, non-expecting love they allow humans to process emotions and thoughts. That’s what I witnessed that day, as Coco just laid there unassuming, I listened and we were able to get a young girl the help she needed.

Coco, an experienced German Shepherd Certified Therapy Dog

Blog #2: Back to School

It was time they returned to school. It was several weeks after the shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas and it was time for the students to go back to the place of the massacre. On February 14, 2018 a gunman entered that campus with a semi-automatic rifle, killed 17 and injured 17 more. Therapy dogs were asked to be at the school for any child that needed comfort. As we walked outside through the corridors of the cement buildings it was amazing to see the variety and number of dogs with their handlers sitting inside classrooms or outside at picnic tables silently petting the patient pups.

I had the opportunity to be with Coco, an experienced German Shepherd Certified Therapy Dog and her handler inside a classroom sitting on the floor with some students when one young man approached. He was very quiet and I sensed his sadness. We talked about how he loves the theatre but his expression did not match his words as I felt the overwhelming darkness that consumed his heart. I asked him “Are you brokenhearted?” For the first time, he looked at my eyes and nodded. To which I replied, “Do you know what the Bible says about the brokenhearted?” He shook his head side to side indicating he did not know. I said “God, is close to the brokenhearted. That means that God is right here.” As I tapped his shoulder, his eyes filled with tears and he said with the face of a little boy wanting to believe with all of his heart, “Really?” And I smiled and said, “Really. God will never leave you nor forsake you. He is with you and that’s why we are here. To tell you that.” His eyes shifted to Coco as he continued to stroke her fur and I prayed silently. Only God can penetrate these overwhelmed, dark hearts of grief and bring light, love and healing and sometimes he uses therapy dogs to help.

Her Name is Elizabeth

I knew I really needed to do this.  But it’s hard. Any change? Not all change is hard. Just when it involves money and memories. It has been 10 years since his death and now I find myself noticing what I still own 10 years later. In my mind it goes something like this: “I had this, wore this, used this, when James was alive.” or “I bought this after James died.” Why is it that the timeline of my life is governed by before and after James’ death? I guess we all have that. “Before you were born”, I would say to Avery. “After the flood, the hurricane…” I guess we all have those timeline markers.

But this “marker” still seems to define the time structure of my life. Noticing for some time now…we need new living room furniture. I wish I could get exactly what I have but new and clean. Easier to make that change, subtle.  The search begins. I have a budget, I have the money. It’s realistic but I struggle. Since he died, I struggle to make “big purchase” decisions. You’d think as a women with cash I would be ready to blow it but something causes caution or is it apprehension.  Regardless it is difficult. I think honestly it’s the memories. Even though I didn’t have all this furniture when he was alive, It brings me back to the memory of when we bought our first couch. How broke we were and had to finance it for 3 years just to afford it. How different things are today. You would think affording it now would make it easier, but it doesn’t. I wonder if I continue to get rid of everything we had together would I forget him.  As life moves on, stuff gets replaced would I forget him? Are memories dependent on the things we see and touch? I grapple with all of these thoughts and emotions all the while knowing I need to put on my big girl panties and just make a decision. Back to the same furniture chain store we have purchased from previously. A well dressed, young, pregnant sales women approaches us. We decided on the sectional on sale. Just needed to make  sure it fits.  She helped us measure it then handed me her card… Elizabeth. “Don’t forget me” she said as we walked out.  That night, I measured the living room and determined it would fit perfectly. Found it! The pieces were similar enough but better. I went online to order it. But I heard her voice, “Don’t forget me”. I could just order it  this way but she wouldn’t get a commission. “What’s the big deal”, I thought. But I just couldn’t press the purchase button. “God, do I need to go back to the store and order it from _______, what was her name? I couldn’t remember her name. A couple of days later, Avery and I went back to the store. We asked for Elizabeth (Avery remembered her name) and we made the purchase . As she was printing the receipt, I whispered to Avery “What’s her name?” She rolled her eyes and said “Elizabeth”. At the end of the transaction. I said” Elizabeth, are you a Christian?” She smiled and said “Yes”. I asked if I may pray for her and her baby. She agreed as I laid one hand on her shoulder and the other on the top of her baby bump. As I prayed,  I felt the baby moving. I struggled to hold back the tears but I sensed the presence of the Spirit in that moment as I prayed out loud for God’s provision and blessing on her, her husband, her 20 mo. old and this new life still forming inside her. As I opened my eyes and met hers, there was a different countenance on her face, a softness.  She said “Thank you, and may God bless you and continue to enable you to be a blessing to others as well”. We hugged and departed.After I got home, my mind went to the encounter with Elizabeth. “Don’t forget me”. I didn’t. God didn’t. The blessing I received today to pray for her and her family and the blessing she gave me back. I thought of how the baby moved as I prayed. Just like ELIZABETH! Suddenly I remembered.

“When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.” Luke 1:41 

It says in Luke Chapter 1 that Elizabeth was 6 months pregnant when Mary visited her. Just like this Elizabeth I was visiting in the furniture store. I can’t be sure my Elizabeth was filled with the Spirit after I prayed for her, but there was a definite difference in her countenance and evidenced by the blessing she spoke to me.

Tomorrow is Father’s Day.  Always a difficult reminder that Avery doesn’t have her earthly father. And although God has abundantly provided for us both as a greater Father there is still that reminder, that memory of what it “should be”.  At the end of Elizabeth’s dialog she says: “Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”  Luke 1:45.

This is the verse I taped to the front of my computer monitor at work for the years James and I were separated. I knew God would bless me if I just believed His promises. There would be times when I didn’t know exactly what those promises were but I could always come back to the truth that no matter what, God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5. He also promises:  “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Romans 8:38-39  His love and care for me is certain no matter what!

Today was a beautiful and timely reminder of that truth. Thank you God, that you are all powerful and loving. That you know the struggles of our hearts even before we can identify them ourselves.  Thank you that You are Avery’s Father. May she know the depth and riches of your love even greater this Fathers Day.  Bless Elizabeth, fill her with your Spirit. May she and her husband experience the greatness of your love through the birth and life of this child. In Jesus Name-Amen.


When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the Lord. 11 And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled his temple. 1 Kings 8:10-11

When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, 16 and the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from within the cloud. 17 To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain.18 Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights. Exodus 24:15-18

Now Moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp some distance away, calling it the “tent of meeting.” Anyone inquiring of the Lord would go to the tent of meeting outside the camp. And whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people rose and stood at the entrances to their tents, watching Moses until he entered the tent. As Moses went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the entrance, while the Lord spoke with Moses. 10 Whenever the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance to the tent, they all stood and worshiped, each at the entrance to their tent. 11 The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his young aide Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent. Exodus 33:7-11

I used to call it my “little black cloud days”.  It was those days when I just couldn’t shake it, the feeling of sadness, loneliness, sometimes despair.  When it was an effort to keeping moving forward and I longed to just get home and crawl back into bed, pull the covers over my head and sleep until it went away.  This would happen often after James died but then seemed to dissipate gradually.  Sometimes my “little black cloud” would linger all day, other times it would be just for a time, disappear and reappear later that day.  Not sure what caused it to come, linger, dissipate or reappear but after months and years of this I finally inquired of the Lord.  “Lord, is this just what I will deal with?  The grief?  For how long?  Will it ever totally go away?”  And as the Lord often does, He spoke gently to my heart, “Daughter, my precious one, make friends with the “little black cloud” because in it you will find me”.  Therefore, I did.  I welcomed that cloud and sensed His presence.  Did it take away the feelings of loneliness, or sadness?  No.  But it gave me hope, purpose and comfort in those feelings.  Reading the final days of Solomon building the temple for God in 1 Kings 8, I see I am not the only one that experienced the presence of God in a cloud.  As the priests consecrated the Holy Place of the temple, God’s glory appeared in the cloud.  Similar happened to Moses on Mount Sinai as he met with the Lord and when he pitched the tent of meeting. 

In writing this, 10 years after James’ death I can’t remember the last time I experienced my “little black cloud”.  Is it because I have passed the season of mourning and grief?  Or maybe it is because instead of experiencing the feelings of loneliness and sadness, God has replaced them with joy and gladness as I embraced His glory in that cloud. 

Those who have been ransomed by the LORD will return. They will enter Jerusalem singing, crowned with everlasting joy. Sorrow and mourning will disappear, and they will be filled with joy and gladness. Isaiah 35:10

Doctrine of Sovereignty

The doctrine of Sovereignty shows predominately in 1 Kings 3:5-15.  This is where the Lord appears to Solomon in a dream and asks him to ask for whatever he wants of God.  Solomon asks for a “discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong”. God is pleased with his request so God also granted him wealth and honor.

We have talked about God’s sovereignty before knowing that it is His rule, power and plan over all time, people and circumstances.  We get it, in our head, that He knows the beginning from the end and has all authority but do we walk in this truth?  That’s the hard part.  I spoke last week about control.  We all strive to have it but if we are really honest with ourselves we don’t want it.  Many times I find myself fully exhausted at the end of a day saying “I wish someone would just tell me what to do, what to eat for dinner, what to wear tomorrow or how to deal with so-in-so”.  Solomon was asked of God, “What do you want?”  His response, “just tell me what to do”.  He recognized God’s sovereignty.

I just walked through a tough season with my daughter, a transition….school life to real life.  As she graduated with her Bachelors in Nursing, passed her state exam, she is fully ready to be a nurse.  But was she?  The first few weeks were fabulous but as she started settling in and left alone to take care of 6 patients without a preceptor the anxiety, frustration, and lots of tears began.  This lasted several weeks to the point where I was really concerned if she was gonna make it through.  I struggled with God’s sovereignty.  He wasn’t caught off guard, He knew, He had been there with her in her first class at FAU and was now with her in her scrubs at Holy Cross Hospital. Remembering His sovereignty fuels our hope.  He doesn’t always explain our future but He does assure us that He will be there with us in our future.  Fast forward, it was like “overnight” and she was managing and managing well.  I ask her what happened, what got her over the hump.  She just smiles, shrugs her shoulders and says Jesus. I asked her, “did you ever just ask Him to do it for you?  She said “everyday”.  Well then, that’s your answer.  Sometimes we can’t explain it, He just shows up.  You’ve heard the phrase “sometimes you don’t know Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you got”.  I encourage you to get the best sleep of your life tonight – know that God is in control. 

The Parable of the Merchant and the Gem

There once was a merchant that owned the most beautiful jewelry store.  It wasn’t just any jewelry store however.  It was located amongst a promenade of stores on a riverfront. There were clothing boutiques, restaurants, candy shops and even other jewelry stores along this riverfront but nothing was more special than her jewelry store.  This jewelry store was special for many reasons but mostly it was because of what it contained.  It was inviting from the outside but inside it was brilliant. People would come to shop but many didn’t buy anything, they couldn’t, what it contained was priceless.  Some came to the store to just sit and enjoy the brilliance of the gems as they glistened in their glass boxes.  Others would converse with the merchant over the jewelry and at times try it on.  One thing was certain however for every shopper is that they left feeling encouraged and loved just being in the presence of the aroma of the sparkle.  The merchant would allow all those that desired to enter to come in but only a few were allowed to get close to the most precious gem in the golden case.  See this gem was so brilliant that at times it would cause those that looked upon it to get mesmerized.  They would think they could touch it and actually own it, but that was for the merchant to decide.  One day, a wealthy man who had all the qualifications to purchase the gem came into the store.  There have been men prior that have attempted the purchase but failed.  The merchant became more and more cautious over the years of those inquiring of the gem so she spent time with this man, asking questions and surprisingly she actually enjoying his company.  After some time, she let him touch the gem.  He left the store without purchasing it because the merchant felt as though something wasn’t “quite right” with the potential buyer.  She agonized over her decision to let him leave without the purchase and even asked a few other merchants their opinion.  She asked the clothing boutique owner, the ice cream shop owner, and even another jewelry store owner but her mistake was taking advice from those who don’t own a gem like hers.  Their responses led her to feelings of frustration and guilt.  She realized she can’t ask those who don’t have the honor and privilege of owning such a rare gem how to protect her own.  The merchant became very frustrated so she went to the owner.  He not only owned all of the buildings in the promenade but the river as well.  He always allowed the shop owners to sell as they wished but had the wisdom to manage what and how they sold. He offered this advice and wisdom freely but rarely did anyone inquire of him.  The merchant asked the owner, “how do I know who to sell my most precious gem to?”  The owner answered, that is for me to decide, not you.  See, I am the one that paid the price for that gem.  Actually, I own it, not you.  I gave it to you as a gift to give away however, every time you allow someone to touch it, you dull it’s shine.  Eventually, if you are not careful, with more and more exposure the gem will lose its brilliance and it will be just like all the other gems in the store, still shinning but not brilliant.  Patience, my daughter, he said.  I know you have allowed all to the enter the store, thank you for that.  You are so loving and caring to share the brilliance of your gems with everyone, that’s why they all come!  You have showed discernment as to who you allow to get close to the most precious gem, well done! Continue to use wisdom in that, but where you have failed is to fully guard that most brilliant gem.  Every time you allow someone to touch it or think they may be able to purchase it, you lie and that’s why you feel so frustrated.  Perhaps it is time you allow me to lock the gold case so only I have the key and when it is time I will unlock it. The merchant walked away from the owner, with a very big decision to make.  Would she allow the one who owns the shop, the river and ultimately the gem to guard it for her and decide when it is to be sold?  Can she enjoy being around many and share the aroma of the sparkle of the other jewelry in her shop and still keep a lock on the gold case with the most precious gem?  Will she stop asking others who have not received such a gift for advice and listen to the one who has all wisdom?  She walked along that river front allowing the sweet breeze off the water to calm her soul and speak to her spirit. 

She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her.

Proverbs 3:15

Doctrine of Justification

(weekly I write a five minute “doctrine talk” based on the doctrine in the passage of scripture we are studying in “People of the Promised Land 1 – Bible Study Fellowship”)

2 Samuel 22: 1-20

David sang this song to the Lord on the day the Lord rescued him from all his enemies and from Saul. He sang: “The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior;     my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety. He is my refuge, my savior, the one who saves me from violence.
I called on the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and he saved me from my enemies. “The waves of death overwhelmed me; floods of destruction swept over me.
The grave wrapped its ropes around me; death laid a trap in my path. But in my distress I cried out to the Lord; yes, I cried to my God for help. He heard me from his sanctuary; my cry reached his ears. “Then the earth quaked and trembled. The foundations of the heavens shook; they quaked because of his anger. Smoke poured from his nostrils; fierce flames leaped from his mouth. Glowing coals blazed forth from him.10 He opened the heavens and came down; dark storm clouds were beneath his feet.11 Mounted on a mighty angelic being, he flew, soaring on the wings of the wind.
12 He shrouded himself in darkness, veiling his approach with dense rain clouds. 13 A great brightness shone around him, and burning coals[d] blazed forth. 14 The Lord thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded. 15 He shot arrows and scattered his enemies; his lightning flashed, and they were confused. 16 Then at the command of the Lord, at the blast of his breath, the bottom of the sea could be seen, and the foundations of the earth were laid bare. 17 “He reached down from heaven and rescued me; he drew me out of deep waters. 18 He rescued me from my powerful enemies, from those who hated me and were too strong for me. 19 They attacked me at a moment when I was in distress, but the Lord supported me. 20 He led me to a place of safety; he rescued me because he delights in me.

David praised the Lord for his deliverance from all his enemies

Justification is not “just-as-if-I’d-never-sinned”. God’s holiness required Him to punish our sin. Jesus bore the penalty by dying for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. Justification is a legal term. In our justification, God, the just judge, pronounces our sins forgiven and pronounces Christ’s righteousness as ours. It’s the GREAT EXCHANGE.  Rather than being condemned for sin, believers are declared morally righteous in God’s sight and, therefore, we do not have to pay the penalty for past, present or future sins.  Romans 8:1-4

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature.  So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.

As we come to the end of the story of David’s life.  How will you remember him?  The shepherd boy chosen from the sons of Jesse?  The boy who killed the giant Goliath with a sling and a stone?  The patient warrior God grew into the king of Israel?  Or will you remember David the adulter and murder?  The one who pridefully drew a census that costed the lives of 70,000 people?

They say it takes 5 positive comments to cover one negative comment.  How many positive things in David’s life do we have to see to cover one of his sins? 

Justification silences all other accusers.

Accusers say, “You are not good enough” or “Look at what you have done.  If people knew that about you, they would never accept you.”

As a young girl I was often told “Tina, you talk to much.”  I hated when people said that about me.  I felt condemned, it crushed me.  It made me feel like what I said was not important and unnecessarily excessive.  I went through a season when I was afraid to conversate with people, that what I said would not be significant and accepted.  Now people say to me “Tina, when you talk, people listen.”  Glory to God.  What accusations (from others or yourself) are falsely imprisoning you?  What lie are you believing that keeps you from stepping out in obedience and faith?  Take that thought captive to the obedience of Christ Jesus. He loves you, you are forgiven, you are justified by the cross of Christ.  No matter what the voices say.  God has declared you not guilty, therefore there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. 

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