July 11, 2020

Did I Hear You Correctly? by Carol Harrison

The writing has been rescued from where it lay in the trash of negative comments and share the writing for the praise of God and encouragement of others. Sometimes He allows a glimpse of the impact it makes in other people's lives and sometimes He just asks me to continue to trust and obey.

Have you ever had those moments where you need to ask for clarification, where the words, "Did I hear you correctly?"pop out? It has happened to me more times than I care to admit, including about things God is asking m
e to do.

Speaking in front of an audience had never been on my bucket list, not even a hint near the bottom. Writing had been an interest back before the advent of the phrase bucket list, but I shoved it deep inside after some comments I perceived as negative. They wiped writing from any list of dreams without even considering what God had in mind.

Years disappeared, life experiences multiplied, and God began to work on my firmly entrenched, heels dug in reticence about speaking and writing. First the pastor's wife, a friend since childhood, asked me to teach a ladies Bible study. She had confidence this was part of God's plan for me. She exhibited more confidence than I could muster, but I gave in and God used my love of learning, added a huge dose of passion for the ladies in the group, and pushed myself out of my comfort zone. Just when I believed God had finished this lesson of accepting challenges, a church ladies group asked me to be their speaker for a weekend ladies retreat.

Fear jumped up and screamed, "Say no! You can't do that! Tell them to pick someone much more qualified than you." I felt like Moses at the burning bush when God asked him to go and lead the people out of Egypt. I understood his hesitancy in Exodus 4: 10 (NCV) "But Moses said to the Lord, "Please, Lord, I have never been a skilled speaker. Even now, after talking to you, I cannot speak well. I speak slowly and can't find the best words."

Exodus 4:13 could have been my words instead of Moses, "But Moses said, "Please, Lord, send someone else." I had excuses galore. God reminded me, like He did Moses, of His faithfulness, and His ability to help me with words to say. I knew He had been with me through many other of life's struggles, trials, and new experiences - all those other times I had let fear try and chain me into my perceived comfort zone , all the times the nays needed to become yeas.

I obediently but hesitantly said yes, even though fear still ran rampant and I began to prepare. They had given me months of advance notice. I shared their request with friends who prayed with and for me. I learned so much on the vast subject for that retreat- The Power of Prayer. Little did I know what lay ahead.

Even once I arrived at the retreat and met some wonderful ladies, fear whispered , "Can you really do this?" I prayed and asked God to hush up that negative, inner voice so I could hear from Him. At the second session of my speaking, in the middle of the message, God gave me an extraordinary direction. It was so vivid I thought all the ladies must have heard it when He said, "Change your illustration!" I didn't want to change it and become more vulnerable than I already felt. God again commanded this change of illustration and once again I continued the message I had worked on for months while talking to God during all the steps of preparation. Why would I want to share that my son was not walking with God and I still was waiting for that answer to prayer?  But I obeyed.

After the session, three ladies asked if they could talk to me. The first two told me their story of a wayward adult child and how they were also waiting for God to answer their prayers. They thanked me for being honest and sharing my story. Then the third lady, an older woman, told us about her wayward son for whom she prayed for over fifteen years until He got right with God. I was humbled and encouraged.

Later that afternoon, I escaped to my room for some quiet time with God and to review of the evening's message. God gave another extraordinary direction so loud and clear that I knew without a doubt God was asking something of me. He wanted me to change my illustration for that evening  which would lead me deeper into vulnerability. God asked me to share with the ladies about the depression I experienced, the answers to prayer, and the people God used to walk with me during that dark time.

My immediate response went something like this, "God am I hearing you correctly? You want me to do what? These are very conservative church ladies and church people don't talk about things like this."

But God persisted and I relented to His directions. God gave me the words for that message and no one commented or asked questions once I finished speaking, but they didn't ship me home either. I had no idea why this message needed to be shared until the next day. A young woman came up to me after our Sunday chapel time sobbing so hard no words would come. She leaned into a hug and my shoulder grew damp with her tears. I had no idea what she needed but God said, "Pray." I prayed Scripture and generalities for her until the crying subsided and said, "I was at the end of my rope. I thought I was the only Christian woman who struggled with depression. I didn't know where to turn. Thank you for sharing."

The pastor's wife offered to walk with her through a journey of getting her help she needed now the problem had been named. I praised God. The question lingered "What if I wouldn't have listened to God's extraordinary directions?"

Since that weekend, a dozen years ago, many more things have happened in my life. About that bucket list - well God gave me a passion for sharing with others - even my peers. He brought peace to dwell where fear fought for control, allowing me to be authentic and vulnerable even with the difficult, dark times.

 Exodus 4: 11, 12 was true for Moses and for any believer today.

"Then the Lord said to him, "Who made a person's mouth? And who makes someone deaf or not able to speak? Or who gives a person sight or blindness? It is I, The Lord, Now go! I will help you speak, and I will teach you what to day."

Whether it is telling the stories orally or in writing, I am learning that God's extraordinary directions to this ordinary grandma can make all the difference to someone, including myself. I just need to listen and obey.

Carol Harrison lives in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and now embraces the gift of storytelling which God has given her and asks her to share, even when she doesn't completely understand the directions. She has four published books as well as a number of short pieces published in various anthologies and periodicals and looks forward to whatever adventure God has for her next.

July 10, 2020

A Word in Season by Sharon Espeseth

Fretting About Daily Concerns

I’ve had “issues” come up recently--times when I didn’t feel I’d handled things well. This isn’t the first time in my life that “issues” have come up, but I haven’t always acknowledged that I may, at times, have been part of the problem instead of part of the solution.

August 2019: Christie, Hank and Cale
One example involved phone calls regarding how and when our family could get together while being safe within Covid rules. Planning a simple gathering can get complicated at the best of times, but Covid, health issues, schedules and the weather also came into play.

My husband and I suggested we postpone the backyard party until Covid things settled down. Hank, the Norwegian, isn't a fan of going back and forth repeatedly to organize details. But who knows how long these safety precautions will be necessary?

What's the best way to get together?

We finished the phone calls with an indefinite postponement, which wasn’t what any of us wanted. That evening I fretted about it.

Abbie, Rob and Jenny
Hoping we can get together soon.
I also prayed about it, which felt a lot better than the fretting. But I took no action. The next day, our daughters, Christie and Jenny had figured out a plan. Finalizing a date still depends on the weather, but we’ll hop and pray for the best.

Help from the Written Word

I find help in my daily Bible readings, other materials and through prayer. I read Oswald Chambers, sporadically, or as needed. The day of the phone calls was our 45th anniversary, July 5. I opened My Utmost for His Highest to that date and found, “DON’T PLAN WITHOUT GOD.”

Chambers says we tend to think it's “inappropriate and unnecessary” to consult God on “the everyday issues of our lives.” We're inclined to pray about more spiritual, or at least bigger, matters, he adds.

I chuckled when I read in bold letters in the middle of the page, “Don’t plan with a rainy day in mind.” The possibility of rain was part of our problem with planning an outdoor, Covid-safe gathering. I read what Jesus had told his disciples. “Let not your heart be troubled.You believe in God; believe also in me.”

The words, “Let not. . .” indicate a command, not a mere suggestion. In other words, “Don't let your heart be troubled.” Chambers also clarifies that “God will not keep your heart from being troubled.” You need to do that yourself.

With these verses from the Bible and Chambers' thoughts on them, I prayed with more assurance about our small family party. I stayed out of arrangements, as I knew our kids would get us together in due time.

Resting in the Lord

In case I didn’t fully understand the message for July 5, I also read Chambers' July 4 message: “ONE OF GOD’S GREAT ‘DON’TS.’” Here he gives the verse, “Do not fret--it only causes harm.” (Psalm 37:8) The verse before that says, “Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him.” (Psalm 37:7) Chambers admits that it’s easy to do that until our little world is turned upside down. . .”

Today people in many countries know what it’s like when they “. . . are forced to live in confusion and agony. . .” For those adversely affected by Covid, or those who have loved ones who are so affected, life’s struggles can be overwhelming.

We may have disadvantages beside Covid concerns--like unemployment, chronic illness, loneliness, or financial woes. Right now, are we "hanging on" or are we “(resting) in the Lord and (waiting) patiently for Him”?

Is it possible to rest in the Lord when we’re in dire straits?"

Chambers asks that question. If “Do-not-fret” doesn’t work under trying circumstances, it won’t work anywhere else either. Why? Because “(resting) in the Lord is not dependent on our external circumstances at all, but on our relationship with God himself.”

For improving our relationship with God, Chambers quotes Psalm 37:5.

“Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass.”

I am often amazed when I come across a reading--be it in a book, a magazine, or the Bible--that expands on what I’ve been thinking about or something that I need to consider. To me, this is “a word in season."

I love Isaiah’s words in chapter 50:4.

"The Sovereign Lord has given me a well-instructed tongue,
to know the word that sustains the weary.
He wakens me morning by morning,
wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed.   

Heavenly Father, 

Help me to remember that my problems are never too big for You. Help me to better schedule my time so I can spend time with You, especially in the morning before the rest of my day gets rolling.
Help me to rest in You at all times. May my plans become your plans. And may all I do be done in love. Thank you for the good words I read, or give, "in season."


July 09, 2020

Sometimes God Skywrites by Steph Beth Nickel

Looking for Direction

Have you ever wanted unmistakably clear direction for your future?

This probably describes all of us, and sometimes God does, indeed, skywrite. This happened in my life shortly before COVID hit.

(These last four months—March-July 2020—have been challenging ones for all of us. Emotions all over the place. Uncertainty. Fear. Confusion. But none of it took God by surprise. I’m convinced that this is one reason He chose to give me such clear direction. He knew I’d need something to hold onto when the world turned upside down.)

Unexpected Direction

When I took on the office administrator job at our church (for the third time) approximately four years ago, I thought being done at 3:00 would give me lots of time to write and edit. But when I came home from the church, I had very little inclination to sit down at my keyboard and get to work. After all, I had put in a full day’s work—at least that’s what my brain thought.

Off and on, I would ask the Lord if He had something else in mind. Give up the writing and editing? Resign as administrator? Somehow figure out how to do both?

One day I was in the A/V room, where you could find me most Sundays. I was working alongside our Associate Pastor, which was unusual since he was typically in Kids Worship. He mentioned that a friend had told him that the administrator position was his wife’s dream job.

Because the pastor knew I was seeking God’s direction for my future, he suggested she speak with me. This was one of those Ah Ha! moments. I hadn’t been asking God to release me from the job. At that time, I wasn’t even thinking about the possibility. These were clear indicators to me that the Lord wanted me to pay attention to what was unfolding.

Surprisingly, Rita came to speak with me after the service. She had a lot of experience that would make her a great candidate for the job. Talk about skywriting!

I discussed it with my hubby and he was all in. (He’s the most supportive, encouraging person I know. So, this was no surprise.)

I left church that day certain of my next steps in a way that rarely happens. In fact, it had been over 35 years since God had skywritten in such a clear way—at least from my perspective.

This month’s topic is “Extraordinary Directions.” And I certainly think these events qualify.

When Direction isn't Clear

While I love it when things are this clear, I know that most of the time life is about doing “the next right thing.”

This saying has become almost cliché, but it’s so rich, so encouraging—especially in these uncertain days.

Often, we only have enough light for the next step, but that’s sufficient when we walk with the One who is the Light.

I’d love to hear about the times God has given you extraordinary directions, either by skywriting or showing you the next step on your journey.

July 08, 2020

In the Midst of Fear By Vickie Stam

I didn't hear God calling me that day back in 2016. My husband, Tony and I were attending our friend's 50th Anniversary celebration and were about to leave the church fellowship hall when Tony started talking to our friend's son, Dave. 

It's not surprising, Tony is quite the social butterfly and I sometimes think he doesn't like to leave any place until he has mingled with everyone in the room. I sat back down and continued talking with a girlfriend until I noticed that Tony and Dave had finished chatting.

We weren't even out of the parking lot when Tony announced, "Vickie.... we are going on a missions trip to Cuba!" The word, 'we' mortified me. "You are, but I'm not." I said without hesitating. Tony went on to describe what the trip would involve as if he hadn't heard me tell him that I was NOT going. 

Being a farmer, Tony was especially excited about the agriculture in Cuba and the farmers who were looking for help to purchase more land, grow crops and support themselves. The program was designed to help people expand or set up a new business and suddenly Tony had developed a strong desire to support the people in Cuba. I felt blindsided by all of his enthusiasm. 

"God called you to go, not me!" I exclaimed with a different sort of passion. You see, we had been to Cuba on a vacation just a few years before that and the entire time that we were there, I suffered from a painful heat rash and other traveling ailments that come when you travel to a foreign country. I just remember wanting to go home. I remember the afternoons I spent in our rented condo crying for God to make me feel better. How could Tony ask me to go back there? 

Our thirty minute car ride home felt much longer than normal. There was an uncomfortable silence that filled the air between us. Every time I looked over at Tony behind the wheel, I could see the disappointment on his face. I looked away and struggled to hold back the tears. Out of the blue, our once happy day turned bad. We were at an impasse, one that I feared was going to cause us a great deal of pain before it got better. 

When we arrived home, Tony continued to plead with me to go to Cuba. Now I was wondering why God would allow this to happen to me. My fear was turning to anger. I just wanted to go in the other room and hide. By the end of the day, I felt the weight of our conversation still bearing down on me. I sensed the only relief would be to give in, please my husband and God - even though I did not want to. 

A few weeks later, with Tony standing at my side I reluctantly signed all the paperwork and committed to going. It didn't relieve the pressure I felt. I still didn't want to go. In-fact, I felt a higher level of fear come to live with me. 

But once I was there, there was no turning back. I know that God used me in ways that I never would have imagined. The weather was actually cool for Cuba. There were a dozen of us on this trip and everyone else complained about the lack of heat. All the while I was feeling elated inside by God's goodness. "Just ask Vickie to pray for that. She seems to have a direct line to God," the others teased. I laughed because I knew they were all just kidding even if they really were hoping for warmer weather. In that moment, I thanked God and asked for the continued blessing of the cooler temperatures.

And I wasn't alone in my fear. Another woman on the trip had been battling with depression and anxiety for a few years already and also went because her husband wanted her to go - not because she felt God calling her. We immediately gravitated to each other. We became fast allies with more than one purpose in mind. "We can do God's work and support each other on the journey," we whispered to each other so no one would hear us. It didn't take us long to realize that God had put us together.  

I took all of my travel medication, I prayed for good health, for the people traveling with us, for the projects we were going to see and for the government to not witness us being the hands and feet of Jesus because they would be opposed to our mission.

It really was a 'vision trip.' Tony and I were thankful to have the financial means to go on the trip and to contribute to a couple of the micro-finance projects that we visited while we were there. Yes, God me gave the strength and support I needed to go on this trip. 

He opened my eyes to a world I would have otherwise never seen, a world outside of a vacation resort - the real world. A witness to the raw poverty of people with so very little, to a horse collapsing in the middle of the street from pure exhaustion because the owner needed the horse to work, to the injustice of their government against its people when they refused the farmers the feed they needed for their hog operation. And yet - I remember the smiles hugs and love we shared with those people. I truly felt that even in the midst of my fear God used me to do his work.   

July 07, 2020

A little salt goes a long way by Pamela Mytroen

I don’t see God’s supernatural hand when I’m in the midst of a storm; I see it after the calm. After that wounded day of 9/11 in September of 2001, I had responded by writing an article, which I had taken to our local newspaper. It was rejected. However, I was offered a job as a correspondent, which softened the “blow”. I began writing feature pieces for the paper but I was restless. I desired to share Christ with my community, to point the way to Truth.   
The world’s thinking had shifted as the smoke from 9/11 dissipated into the clouds. Christ was embraced at first as people grieved, but the thunder of suspicion and skepticism towards Christianity began to rock our world. I felt that if I didn’t quickly share truth with people, that our chances might crumble like the twin towers. The editor had assigned me to write human interest pieces and I was not allowed to venture out of that role. How could I write for Jesus in our paper now? 

Previously, the Pastors of our community had written a weekly column in the paper, but over time, as the Pastors moved on and a new editor was hired, that column disappeared. I longed to see God’s Word in print, taking on advertisements and news. I began to pray about it and God began to nudge me to take action.  

God whispers, seldom shouts, but it’s a whisper made of fire that burns deeply. I don’t like to be the one to give feet and action to my dreams, but God believes in us; isn’t that amazing? So He wouldn’t let go. I was and still am fearful about leading. A storm of doubt always rages inside me when I need to talk to people and make something happen, but God’s whisper had shot through me and I needed to obey.  

I could send an email to the newspaper office with my desire to see this column start up again. No, too impersonal. Or I could call. Again, too easy for the editor to say, “no.” I knew I had to go in person, which unsettled my stomach. I approached one pastor and shared my idea. He liked the idea of writing for the paper, but said he was too busy to help me. So I approached another pastor, who was very young, and new in his position. “Yes, of course, I’d be happy to come with you.” I suspected that our inexperience and youth wouldn’t stand a chance against this seasoned, curmudgeonly editor. I’d been told that the new editor was very secular and wanted nothing to do with Christianity in her paper. “She will run you out of her office,” one said. Another said, “She won’t publish anything Christian. I’ve been trying for 3 years.” I really hoped the editor wouldn't be there when we went to see her or that the office would burn down before we arrived. Anything to avoid being chased from her presence. Just before we went to the Times, this young pastor and I bowed our heads and prayed that God would open the hard heart of this editor. 

We were ushered into The Editor's office. She jabbed at her keyboard as we stood before her. She asked what we wanted while she scrolled through her screen, harrumphing and sighing. We sat down. She looked at us over her glasses and I shared how I would like to see this type of column start up again. The young pastor enthusiastically talked about his ideas of writing for the Times. 

I will always remember what happened next. The editor crossed her arms over her chest and stared at us. She said nothing. The silence condemned me – why did I think this had been a good idea? Then, she leaned back in her chair. It was one of those reclining office chairs. She kept her arms folded and continued to stare at me. My perspiring hands slipped on the plastic arms of the chair. Not only would she reject this crazy idea, but she would probably not trust me to write any more feature pieces. Her chair creaked as she leaned forward, preparing to announce her judgment. I uncrossed my legs, and planted my feet, ready to flee from her presence. 

The words she said burned their way into my imagination and seared my doubts to a crisp. “Yes,” she said, picking up her pen. “That is exactly what our paper has been missing.” 

The young pastor, who had believed all along, chatted with her and they began to put plans in place. It would be called, “Pass the Salt” The word count would be 300 and pastors from a variety of denominations in town would take their turn writing every week. About that time I began to breathe again and we left the office together. That was almost 20 years ago.

The salt is still being "passed" every single week. Storms continue to happen since 9/11, but during every one that our nation, province, or community endures, the Word of God is shared by our pastors. Like a rainbow, it arches over the fear and devastation and gives hope and light to our community. 

As I look back I see that although God’s whisper is so gentle, and can be snuffed out, that is how He guides me. He is so wise. He fought the battle in the heart of an editor. He paved the way to transform lives, and all He asked of me was that I take His hand, go along with Him that day, and watch Him do something amazing. We serve an extraordinary God who whispers calm into a storm.