Monday, October 28, 2013

Love and Obedience: The Connection

Brody forgets to hang his towel up... a lot.  He leaves it in the floor of his room and sometimes on his bed still wet.  I've told him a thousand times not to do this, that he can hang his towel on the towel rack that was made for that purpose and use it more than once.  It's an ongoing thing.  I've scolded, yelled even, and become completely irritated by the fact that Brody forgets to hang his towel up…  a lot.  But the other day, I went downstairs where he was and being filled with love for him because he really is the  best kid ever...  He's kind and generous and thoughtful.  He never gets in trouble.  He makes wise decisions.  He hangs with the good kids.  He IS a good kid, very good, even though he forgets to hang his towel up... a lot.  I gave him a big hug for the morning, just a good morning hug really, and told him that he was such a good boy.  "You're such a good boy, Brody," I said,  "such a GOOD boy.  I am so proud of you."  He loved the hug and the compliments.  After I patted him on the back a few times just out of a mother's sheer happiness with such a fine young man, Brody held up his finger and said, "Wait a minute."  He walked to his room, picked up his towel out of the floor, and hung it on its place. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Thoughts to Ponder

I go down to our farm in Chilton County a lot.  There's lots of trees and plants and grass there.  But there's no t.v. or internet or phone except for my cell.  I can listen to the birds and cut flowers and put them in a vase.  Maybe I work the garden or dig up weeds, but the main reason I go there is because it's quiet.  I can think there.  I'm not tempted to do housework or laundry or watch t.v.  I can be alone with God.  I can be still and think and pray. 

I think that our culture is so tuned in and plugged up that we miss the quiet goodness that nature provides.  We don't have to think because the answers are so readily available to us.  You don't know who Genghis Khan is?  Google him.  You can find out in two shakes of a lamb's tail.  Never heard that idiom used?  Google it.  You'll know where it came from in...  You get the picture.  In all that information, something is lost...  the ability to think things through, to wonder, to dream, to ponder. 

Our world is moving forward so quickly that the "facts" are being lost.  Take the word "crucial."  It means decisive, important, or significant.  That's what a current Webster's dictionary says, but I have an old "Handy Edition" published in 1944 by the John C. Winston Company that defines crucial as cruciform (cross-shaped), intersecting, severe or searching.  How this very useful, modern word came to be is a testament to the Christian heritage of our forefathers.  So, the next time your history teacher tells you its "crucial" that you do your homework, you could tell him/her with certainty that it's not quite "that" important. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Love: The Most Excellent Way

Love is a hard word to define, but we've all experienced it.  Haven't we?  Look in the dictionary and you'll find something like "strong affection" or "warm attachment."  That's a little lacking, isn't it?

Love is strong.

Have you ever really loved someone, I mean REALLY loved someone?  I have.  And what I feel for the people I love is so intense, it IS hard to define.

Here's why:

The Bible tells us that God is love.  God IS love.  It doesn't say He created love or that He's the source of love or that He gives love...   It says HE IS LOVE.  That's why it's so hard to wrap our minds around what love really is.

We may not be able to put our finger on it, but we do it.  We all love, don't we?  And, we've all been loved.  We crave it, and we can't help but to give it.

Why?  Because we were created in God's image.  If God is love, and we were created to be like Him, then of course it's in our nature to love, to love God, and to love one another.  That's how it was always supposed to be.

But sin entered the picture.  We still have the remnants of God, of love, in our nature, but now we have something else too.  We have a sin nature as well.  And the two natures are so unalike that they battle each other.  Sometimes the sin nature wins out, doesn't it?  But sometimes the God nature wins.  The key is to not let the sin nature win the war.

The only way we can truly override this sin nature in us is by the Spirit of God.  In a natural born person, these two natures are gonna go at it naturally, but when a person is born of the Spirit, then He has a helper.  It's like we get a double dose of the God nature.  Because when we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we're given the Holy Spirit to help us in the battle.  It doesn't mean the battle isn't still on; it just means you've got a helper in this life, in this world.

We live in a fallen creation.  There's sin and death and disease and war and famine and all kinds of bad things going on out there that can really get you down.  People always ask, "If God is good, then why does He allow bad things?"

The answer may shock you.  He does it out of love.

He doesn't want us to be in love with this fallen world.  He wants us to be in love with Him.  Because He is greater than anything this world has to offer.

A few years ago, I had to bury my son, Bronner, my baby.  He was only 2 1/2.  I should have been crushed by it, but I wasn't.  Because God showed me that He didn't take Bronner to hurt me, but to teach me, to refine me, to use me.

Just after Bronner went to Heaven, I had this moment of desperation.  I had many moments of desperation, but during one of those particularly desperate moments, I cried out to God to tell me, "WHY?"

"Why the Children?  Why do you take the children?"

I said to God, "There is nothing worse than losing a child!  Nothing!  I know you lost Your Son, but you got Him back after three days!  Three Days!"

And I heard God speak to me in my Spirit.  "But what about the others?  They're all Mine.  You're going to get this glorious reunion with your son, but I won't get that with all of Mine."

And I understood.  I got it.  And maybe for the first time ever, I had compassion for God.  Because I know that He created each person to seek out and to find Him.  He'll never make you love Him.  He'll never make you obey Him.  But, He wants you to because He loves you.

I know that I will be with Bronner again.  I'll hold him in my arms and I'll kiss him and I'll love him forever.  I know this by faith.  It's my hope.  God has given me this, and I CAN endure the pain of separation because I know it's only temporary.

I can see that God took Bronner away from me for a time, for a season, so that some of His children would come back to Him forever.

God is love, and everything He does, EVERYTHING, is out of His great love for you and for me.

God is love, but He is also just.  And His holiness requires a reckoning for sin.  But even in this, He provides a way of love.

"Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends."

"Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends."

Jesus did just that.  He laid down His life for you and for me to pay the penalty for sin so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.

"In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, He has overcome the world."

And because He has overcome this world, we can too.

We can walk in the way of love.

In 1st Corinthians, Chapter 13, the Apostle Paul says, "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give away all that I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing."

If God is love, then we can put God in place of the word "love" here and understand that Paul means that without God, it's all pointless.  Anything he ever did apart from Jesus Christ, the Lord, gained him nothing.  People place their faith in a lot of things, but unless it's God, the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that I believe 1 Corinthians 13:13 gives an illustration of, then you gain nothing.

1 Corinthians 13:13 says:  "So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three, but the greatest of these is love."

It is by the work of the Holy Spirit that we have faith.  It is by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ that we have hope.  And it is God, the Father, who loves us so much that He would send His only Son to die in our place.

Love is the greatest of these because love came first.  If not for our sin, we wouldn't have to hope, we wouldn't have to have faith, because we wouldn't be separated from God.

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."

"For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

I ask you today...  Is there anything greater than the love of God?  Is there anything more pure and holy?  Is there anything better?

Why would you choose anything else?

Love God.  Serve Him only.

And why not?

God is patient and kind.  He doesn't envy or boast.  He isn't arrogant or rude.  He doesn't insist on His own way.  He isn't irritable or resentful.  He doesn't rejoice at wrong-doing but rejoices with the truth. God bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things... for you. 

All of it is for you and for me.

Let's pray:

Father God, may your Holy Spirit be alive and at work in the world today.  Open the minds and hearts of everyone who reads this to believe that Jesus Christ is Lord, yesterday, today, and forever.  Teach us by Your Word that You love us, that You gave up Your Son to pay the price for our sins, and that if we believe this by faith, that Jesus died and rose again, we will have eternal life in Him. Give us strength, Lord, for the battle.  Clothe us with your Spirit that we may walk in the way of love.  Test us and try us, Lord, that we may be perfected in You.  Fit us for Heaven and take us to live with You there until that time when You bring us back to the earth and every tear will be wiped away and death shall be no more.  Give us to eat from the Tree of Life and let us see Your Face.  And the grace of the Lord Jesus be with us all.  Amen. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

In the World but Not of It? Yes, but... How?

This morning, I was reading through some messages and found one I felt compelled to answer knowing all the while that I would want to post it here.  It's a good question, one we should all be asking.  I'm betting that some others are wondering the same thing especially with Christmas just behind us.  I hope so, and I hope what I've written here will help you in your walk with the Lord today.  For privacy's sake, I won't say who the letter is from, but I do want to share both the letter and it's response.  Here they are:      

"Hi Sherri. I feel so awkward emailing you, and I'm not really even sure why I am.  I have just been praying about something and long story short I happened upon your blog and found some of the answers.  I have listened to the show for years, and I mourned the loss of your sweet baby boy as so many others have. I'm not sure why I never read your blog before...I think it's just because I was supposed to read it now. Anyway after reading your blog and listening to Rick preach your baby's funeral I just have this burning question. I just wonder once you "get it" - once you know that nothing we do here matters unless it is for the kingdom- how do you find joy in all the other stuff? Do you forever feel guilty for spending money on something you know you don't really need but that you just want? Do you struggle with the activities that your kids do and the time they spend doing them? Do you feel led by the spirit to know when you are crossing those lines? I just feel the sincerity and wisdom in the words that you write. And I guess I am hoping you can impart some of that wisdom on me. I just struggle with that fine line between being in the world but not of the world. Anyway, I just want to say thank you for sharing your heart and for taking the time to write down the words that have become the answers to another's prayers! Thank you!"

No, I'm so glad you did. This is a great question, the best question, the thing all Christians should be asking, and the thing I have struggled with the most. After Bronner went to Heaven, I wanted to die... literally. I had no love for this world anymore. I found myself lying on the pool deck one day looking into the clouds wanting to fly up into them. I felt at that moment that I could, that I could just give up my spirit and rise up to Heaven with God and with Bronner. As I lay there, I closed my eyes as if to go, and then I heard the names of people I knew were not Christians and may never find the Lord if I weren't here to help show them the way. I stood up and the moment was gone.

I was never suicidal, never would I deliberately take my own life, but I felt that I could, if I desired, give up living. Even before I lost Bronner, I had felt this. When I was pregnant with him, I began to have a great fear of losing one of my children and had even discussed it with Rick. He and I both agreed that we couldn't go on living after something like that. I said that I would just crawl up in bed and die. We even joked about it a little agreeing that he would have to stay and take care of the other children. It was all hypothetical then.

Looking back, that seems almost idolatrous to me, and, in fact, it may have been. I have always loved the Lord, but He has taught me that I must love Him more than anything, even my children. God was drawing me nearer in the taking of my youngest son.

Brody was in first grade when Bronner went away, and I was having a real hard time living in the world. I expressed this to his sweet teacher one day when I was dropping him off. She told me to look at the world through the eyes of a first grader, that there was more for Brody in this world, and that I would have to be here for him through it all. Another mom I know who has lost a son said she struggled with the very same thing. She said that "the world had lost its luster" for her. She told me to just "do the next thing" and that I would find life again. So, yes, it is very hard to live in this world when your heart, treasure, baby, and God live elsewhere.

Then, we began to go on mission trips and see horrifying conditions of life in other places, and that made me want to help them. I stopped feeling so sorry for myself and began to want to help others. I always knew that I wanted to stay to raise my other children, and I knew that my role as a wife was to be a comfort to my husband through his pain and grief. So, leaving the world was never a real desire, just a fancy I guess. I know that there's something so much greater than what this world holds, but what I live for within it is the work God has given me to do. He wants me to raise my children in the fear and the admonition of the Lord. He wants me to love my husband and to be a helper to him. He wants me to write and speak and teach in His name. He wants me to give generously of my time, talents, and resources to further His kingdom. Those are the things I live for.

I recently took my children on a surprise trip to New York City for Christmas, and I had a good time. I really did. But, it's not really my thing. I didn't do it for me. I did it for them because there is still a wonder in them that has gone away for me. There's a song by one of my favorite artists, Kristyn Getty, about that very thing. She asks, in the song, for God to not let her lose her wonder. I do find wonder in some things, things like flowers and birds and babies. I love to see the excitement and wonder of my children about almost anything. They were so excited about our trip. Brooks said the best part was the surprise. They thought they were going to our farm to take Christmas pictures, and when they protested that "this isn't the way to the farm," I pulled out a gift for them to open. It was the tickets to the shows we were going to see.

"Are we going to see a play?" Brooks said.

"Keep reading."

"New York City, New York!!!"

And, I agree. The surprise was the best part. He had worked so hard studying for finals, and this was just the thrill he needed to start his holiday break off right!

It was fun and a memory he'll always have, I hope. I gave him this gift because I love him and because I knew he would enjoy it. There is nothing wrong with that. God, Himself, wants to lavish us with good gifts, and He will one day. We do want to give good things to the ones we love if we can. I would give the whole world a trip to New York City if I could. But I am called to raise my children. And I am.

I haven't always felt this way. I know exactly what you're feeling. I have so felt buyers regret. I don't really anymore. I buy things because I love people. I buy things to make my home more lovely and comfortable for my family. I buy things to look nice for my husband. I think this is good. God calls us to be hospitable, and He has also created women to love beautiful things. The women I met in India were fascinated by my diamond wedding band. They had never seen diamonds. I mentioned this to the man who ran the ministry we worked with there commenting that "women everywhere are the same." And he said, almost a little accusingly, "Oh, how so?" And I said, "We all love beautiful things." He was a little taken aback and had no reply. I think he thought that maybe I was right. Those women had nothing, but they wore beautiful clothing. They wore the same sari everyday, but it was one that was very ornate and lovely. That's part of being a woman, I think.

For me, though, the difference is priority. If I were given a choice between sponsoring a missionary or buying a new dress, it would always be the sponsorship. If we keep our lives in balance, with God right in the center of everything we do, then it's okay. I have begun to ask the Lord about purchases and activities. He always confirms me in my spirit. If I feel wrong in my spirit about something, I know it's not the right choice, but if God gives me overwhelming peace about something, as He has many times, then I know it is His will. For instance, I took my parents on a trip to Ireland a couple of years ago, not for a mission trip but just to give them a good gift, and I felt not one ounce of regret about it. The Lord wanted me to do this good thing for them out of love. We did the same thing for Rick's parents, taking them to London the following year.  Now, we all treasure those moments together so much. Because it's not about how much we spend or what we do, it's a way to express our love for one another. Yes, I sponsor missionaries and children in Africa and ministries in great number, my church, etc., but the people who get the most of me are the people I love the most, my family, my friends.

That's what it all boils down to... love and peace. If you love someone and God gives you peace to give them a great gift, then do it. We do live in this world, and we have to make the best of it. We follow the Lord's leading in all things. He's right there inside of you to give approval or disapproval to everything you do. If you'll listen to that nudging of the Spirit, you'll know.

Another aspect is trust. Some people worry that if I do this or that, I may run out of money. I don't really ever worry about that. I don't worry that Rick will lose His job or that I have to save tons of money for the future. I feel that God will always provide for me no matter what. If the economy fails, if Rick loses his job, if America... whatever! God speaks of this very plainly in Matthew 6:19-34: "Do not lay up treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also... Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value that they? ...Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' ...your Heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you."

I really think that is why I am at peace with my life... I seek FIRST the kingdom of God and His righteousness. He knows this and has provided abundantly more than I could ever think or imagine. I look forward to my life in Heaven very, very much, but I know there is work left for me here in this world.

I will... that is my answer to God. Yes, Lord, I will do all that you ask or require of me. Yes, this, and more will I do, because I LOVE YOU... more than I love this world... more than anything, Lord, do I love YOU.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Christmas Towel

I smiled as I took it out of the drawer, the Christmas towel I keep with the other hand towels at our farm.  I use it year round, and usually I think how silly I am to do so.  But today when I took it out, it was in season.  All year, I use that towel and it never really makes sense to me.  But today I used it, and it did.  Christmastime is here!

It made me think of all the times I have to remind myself of the reality of Heaven.  All this preaching and teaching and Bible study and mission work to convince people of what we believe will all be over with one day.  There won't be any need for it because we'll all know Him, from the least of us to the greatest.  One day, we're going to look up and see His face.  The season for our salvation will come.

Sometimes, I think people are so self-satisfied that they can't really understand true desperation.  My longing for Christ's return may be foreign to many, but somehow I think that we all come to that place, the end of the rope, the brokenness that makes us turn, to cry out for help.  And when that time comes and the promise of eternal life is given, we say we're saved.  But you could think of it like this, that the hour of salvation hasn't really come yet.  We're still walking around in this dark world, a world filled with war and hatred and greed.  We live in a world that's dying.  I've been all around the world now, and I've seen death.

I once sat by the bedside of a very young woman in India who was so shriveled up with disease, she was but a wisp, and she hated it.  She hated her condition.  We couldn't speak each other's language, but I knew she was glad I was there.  She wanted me to pet her, to rub her back, to give her a few sips of water.  She pointed to her emaciated arms and shook her head and then let it fall to one side as if she could barely even look at herself in the state she was in.  I tried to comfort her.  I made a cradle with my arms and rocked them back and forth and then pointed to the sky.  She knew what I was saying.  She held up two fingers, made the cradle sign, and pointed upward.  I understood.  She had two children in Heaven.  Poor girl.  She couldn't have been much older than Brandi.  Her life would be better after she left this world, her present darkness.

That was the day we spend at the Mother Teresa Center in the city formerly known as Calcutta.  This girl had been taught about Jesus, and I hope and I pray that one day I'll see her again in another world, in another day.  I'll see her wearing her brightly colored sari; and her big, brown eyes will be sparkling as she introduces me to her children.  Bronner and I will spend the day together with her and her children.  I don't know if they're girls or boys or one of each.  We didn't get that far in our hand signals.

It's for people like this young Indian girl that the dream of Heaven and a new earth is more than a hope.  It's not just a desire anymore, a nice thought.  It's raw desperation, something you want so badly that without it, nothing else matters.  If not for Heaven, why live at all?  If not for Jesus, what light is there?  I saw her pain.  It wasn't just physical pain.  Her pain reached into the depths of her soul.  She remembered herself as a beautiful young girl running and playing, but life had not been kind.  Her heart cried out for more.


Can you relate to that?  Can you understand why I want something more than what is?  Yes, technically, I'm saved in the Christian sense.  But saved from what?  Certainly not the heartbreak I saw in the eyes of this beautiful but dying young woman.  Certainly not from the disappointment of seeing dreams and lives shattered.  Certainly not from darkness itself and the travail against it every waking moment.  No, there's a salvation to come that is even greater than the promise my faith gives me.  Salvation will be my reality and existence only when THERE IS NO MORE DARKNESS.  Only when the Creator and Giver of light and life itself rides upon the clouds will my darkness be stamped out forever.

Today, I pulled out a towel that was in season.  Maybe tomorrow, I'll no longer have to dream of streets of gold or of holding a precious boy that I've been missing like crazy.  Maybe tomorrow the season of my salvation will come.  Maybe.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Speech Given to Pleasant Grove First Baptist Church Last Spring:

There are a lot of voices out there. The world tells us it’s all about us. You deserve a break today. You’re worth it. Do whatever you feel like. Nobody will ever know. Isn’t that what they mean when they say “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”?

And Satan, himself, will tell you all kinds of lies like “Well, you’ve blown it now. You’re not good enough. You’re not worthy. What would God want with the likes of you?”

Or, sometimes, “You’re good enough. You don’t need Jesus to be saved. There are many ways to heaven, and besides there’s no hell anyway.”

Lucifer became Satan when he came against God, because Satan means adversary. To justify himself, he accused God, thus becoming the devil, because devil means accuser, and that accuser is out to steal, kill, and destroy that which does not belong to him, us, for we are God’s workmanship. We are His creation.

In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve chose to listen to the voice of Satan, God’s adversary. God had clearly told them not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, one commandment, just one, and they couldn’t keep it.

Do you realize we never had to have the knowledge of evil? If Adam and Eve would’ve obeyed, none of us would have ever seen evil, destruction, or despair. If Adam and Eve would’ve obeyed, we would have known only that which is good. And, if they had obeyed, none of us would have ever had to die, not Bronner, not Nick, not even Jesus.

God had said to his creation, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

You shall surely die, not maybe and not probably, but surely.

You idiots! How could you mess up perfection? How could you mess up in the Garden of Eden? You got to walk with God everyday in the cool of the day. You knew God. It’s not like you didn’t know Him. You knew and had seen God, and you listened to a stupid serpent?

None of us would have ever done that, would we?

Or, would we?

Isn’t that what we do all the time? We know God, but we choose to shut Him out. We won’t listen. We think we know better than God how to live our own lives, and so we choose our own way.

And the world goes right along with us. It says, “Don’t limit yourself to Jesus. That’s old fashioned. Try something new and hip from the eastern religions like Budhism, and if you’re really daring, why not even Islam? God is God, right? Doesn’t matter what you call him?”

People will say, “Homosexuality isn’t a sin. You were born that way.” Or, “What man can stay faithful to one woman his whole life? Everybody has affairs; you shouldn’t feel so guilty about it. And to his wife, “girl, you know I wouldn’t put up with that. You need to just go on and leave him.”

So many voices.

And in the midst of it all, there’s a still small voice deep in our hearts beckoning, “Come. Come to me and I will give you rest.” “Cast your cares on me, because I care for you.” “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” “I am the bread of life. Take and eat of me and live forever.” “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

“Seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on our own understanding, and in all thy ways, acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.”

Listen. Listen for God’s voice. He will help you. He will direct your paths. Listen and trust Him. You can trust him, no matter what life throws at you. Don’t let Satan tell you to give up. Press on. Fight the good fight. Run your race, and in the end you will be more than conquerors in the fight. You will win, if you do not give up, the crown of righteousness and gain eternal life.

What is not worth that? Nothing. I can endure. I can stand. I can because of Christ.

Abraham was a man who trusted God even when God asked him to sacrifice his own son, the same son God had promised to establish his covenant through. Abraham didn’t wait either. He knew God’s voice and he trusted Him, so he got up early in the morning, the bible says, to go and do exactly what God had told him to do. He didn’t want to. He loved Isaac. He had waited a lifetime for him. Isaac was the son of promise for Abraham, yet he was willing to bind his own son, lay him on an alter, and draw up his knife to slay him.”

Rick said, “God didn’t ask us before he took Bronner, and it’s a good thing too, because I don’t think we would have been so faithful.”

God says, “Trust me.” “It won’t always be like this.”

Satan will come to sift you like wheat here in this world. But there’s someone praying for you, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, Jesus. Jesus is praying for our endurance. That we will be able to stand against Satan’s scheming and when his fiery darts come our way, that we will hold up the shield of faith and fight, that we will press on even as the pangs of Sheol encompass you.

Jesus said, “In this world, you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.”

An angel stopped Abraham from sacrificing his son on the alter, but there was no angel there to stop the hand of God from pouring down his wrath upon his own son with whom he was well pleased, the son he loved. No angel stopped the Roman soldiers as they beat and mocked and nailed Jesus to the cross. No angel stopped the plan of God that was formed before the foundation of the world.

God, himself, was the one who made skins for Adam and Eve in the garden, killing an animal to clothe them. The first sacrifice was made by God himself, and so was the last. Jesus offered himself up on the alter of sacrifice as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”

When God took my son, my sweet baby Bronner, I kept saying, “But we were so happy. We were so happy God.” And He said, “But I want you to be holy.”

God wasn’t so interested in my happiness here on earth but in my holiness forever. He lay this cross upon me to test me, to try me in the furnace of affliction. He wanted me to suffer as Christ has suffered. But why?

The bible tells us in Romans 8:17 that anyone who is to be glorified with Christ, at his second coming, must also suffer with Christ, now.

And 1 Peter 4:1 says, “let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing so.”

Then in 1 Peter 5:10, God’s word says, “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”

“In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, Jesus has overcome the world.”

Now let’s go to 1 Peter, chapter one, and read together verses 3-9:

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith--more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire--may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls."

God in taking my baby wanted me to see the world for what it really is, fallen and cursed, but that one day the curse will be lifted. This world, as it is, is not heaven, no matter how hard I tried to make it that. Life here on earth isn’t perfect nor can it be, not now. God didn’t want me to set my hopes on what I could see but rather on what I couldn’t see.

I can’t see Bronner anymore, but I know him. I had touched him and loved him and kissed him. I know he’s real. I’ve seen him with my very own eyes, and because I know Bronner’s real, that makes the place where he is and the person he’s with that much more real to me too.

God wants us to know He’s real, and that His inheritance far outweighs any suffering we experience now, and that his abode, heaven, is worth waiting for.

The heroes of faith from Hebrews 11, Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Joseph, Moses… "all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better county, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city."

The Apostle John said, “I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.' And he who was seated on the throne said, 'Behold, I am making all things new.'”

It won’t always be this way. Jesus is making all things new.

So we wait for it with patience knowing that although God won’t always shield us from the storm, he’ll be there waiting it out with us, and when the wind and earthquake and fire are gone, we’ll be ready to listen for the sound of a low whisper.

I heard God speak to my heart so many times in the days and weeks and months following my life’s most terrible storm. That very night he assured me that this was his will. I heard him pray through me, not my will but thine, oh Lord, be done. I didn’t pray that, but it came just the same. It was the Holy Spirit within me because all I wanted was my baby. And I was begging, prostrate, laid bare before the Lord, begging for my son’s life to be restored as Isaac’s had been, and then I heard within my own soul “Not my will but thine, Oh Lord, be done."

God had a purpose and a plan in my baby’s dying, and no plan of God’s can be thwarted. I knew this was God’s will, and I had listen for what He was going to teach me through it.

The next day I heard him say to my spirit, “Rick is not your helper. You’re his.” I had not even thought about that. But God came before me. See ’cause He knows me, and he knew that in my flesh, I was going to start blaming Rick for not being there to help me with our three boys that night. But God was taking me to a new place with him, a place led by the Spirit, who knew this had nothing to do with Rick or with me or with anyone else I might try to blame.

God had plan and a purpose in my baby’s dying, and no plan of God’s can be thwarted.

God gave Rick a dream and in it, he was battling a demon. He was screaming scripture at what looked like a woman dressed as a gypsy, and she was screaming back at him. And he fought with this demon for what seemed like hours before he grew tired and had to sit down, but when he sat down, I stood up, and started battling the demon in his place.

God was showing us that Rick and I are a team, and when one of us gets tired, the other will be there to pick him up. Our marriage is stronger than ever and God is using us together to fight against evil.

One day, I received a book in the mail, and on the back, there was a bio of the author. It said he was pastor at such and such place, he went to such and such seminary. He had a wife. I can’t remember her name, and four children, one of whom has gone on to be with the Lord. His son drown just like mine had.

I read that and burst into tears, and I started pleading with God to tell my why. "Why the children? Why so many children? Why do you take the children of people like this pastor who had given his life for you, God, and why Bronner, a baby who couldn’t have been more loved or more wanted in this world. Why? Why the children?" And I said, “God, there is nothing worse than losing a child. Nothing.

I know you lost your son, but you got him back after three days. Three days!"

And he said to me, “But what about the others? All my children I have to send away from my presence for eternity. You’re going to get a glorious reunion with your son, but not all of my children will I see again except on that day when they rise again only to die a second death.”

We’re all God’s creation. It’s His breath that gives us life. We’re all His, and God saw fit to take my happy life away from me - for a time - in order that many lost souls would be turned to Him, that he wouldn’t have to send them off to die a second death but that through the testimony of a small child named Bronner they would live forever.

See ’cause death has a way of waking people up to the reality of itself. And they start asking questions like “What if that had been my child? Or, what if it had been me? What would happen to my soul if I died today?"

God had a plan and a purpose in my baby’s dying, and I had to get on board with it, so I could help carry on to completion what God had started.

I had a dream of Bronner swimming through the water. All I could see was Bronner and water, water above him and water below him. But he was swimming through that water with a huge smile on his face and he was beautiful. He didn’t have on any clothes, and he looked like a little Valentine cherub with his milky white skin, red hair and red lips. And he was happy.

I had that dream on a Saturday night. And on Monday, I received another book in the mail. It was from a woman from Dothan whose little son Luke had drown the day Bronner was born.

I started reading Within the Gates, a little book written over a hundred years ago, and there I read about a woman getting her first glimpse of heaven and she was swimming through the River of Life... water above her and water below her and she felt exuberant.

I knew what God was saying. He was saying "Bronner came to me through the water, not the water in your backyard, not the water in your pool, but he came to me through the waters of the River of Life, and he’s alive just as Jesus is alive and they are in a place where the River of Life flows through and no unclean thing can ever enter there."

Bronner’s more than o.k. He’s exuberant. He’s surrounded by the glory of God and he is filled with joy. And I know he’s running though heaven with reckless abandon, because that’s how he is. He was my runner. He loved to run.

Still, our family wanted to reclaim that water in the pool in our backyard. We wanted to overcome evil with good, so we planned a baptism in the pool in our backyard. Our son, Brody, was six almost seven at the time. He had already asked Jesus into his heart and wanted to be baptized anyway. So we planned a ceremony for April 26, 2008 in the pool where his brother had gone to heaven three months before.

That morning as I was preparing everything, I blew up about 50 balloons and in each of them I placed bible verses and prayers or praises. We were going to release the balloons at the end of the ceremony to lift our eyes heavenward. We hoped that Bronner could see them. But as I was taking them through the door to take them down to the pool, one of the balloons popped, just one, and a bible verse fell at my feet. It said, “I will fight for you, you need only be still.”

I felt God had given me that verse to tell me He was there and he was fighting for me. He wanted me to be still, to rest in him. He is for me, so who can be against me? Nothing can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus, my Lord.

After the ceremony, I found another little scrap of paper that had fallen from where one of the balloons had popped in a tree, and all it said was “love.”

About that time, I started noticing dragonflies everywhere, and they were always this baby blue color that made me think of Bronner. I saw them at his grave, around the pool, at our farm, everywhere, not just a few but hundreds of baby blue dragonflies so close I could reach out and touch them.

I felt like God was trying to say something to me through those dragonflies, but I didn’t know what. I thought maybe he was letting Bronner come sit with me for a while. I didn’t know, but my friend, Brenda, told me that after her dad had died, she kept seeing these little yellow butterflies. She didn’t know why either until one day she was walking into a church and she saw a little caterpillar crawling around in the grass, and it hit her why God kept sending her the butterflies. “We, here on earth, are like the caterpillar, but her dad in heaven is like the butterfly.”

"That is an awesome message, Brenda, but why does God keep sending me dragonflies?" She didn’t know, but she did know it was the Lord’s comfort, meant to show me and teach me something.

I didn’t know anything about dragonflies, so I looked them up on the internet, and I found out that a dragonfly goes through a metamorphosis just like a butterfly does, but dragonflies start their life out in the water.

Now that made sense. God wanted me to know that Bronner’s life didn’t end that night in the water. It began.

A dragonfly lays its eggs in the water, and when they hatch they’re a little nymph that lives in the water for up to three years, and when they’re ready, they climb out of the water on a reed or a stick and when their skin touches the air, it begins to breath and through a little slit on their backs out comes the full grown dragonfly, wings outstretched in the shape of a cross.

I also found out that there are about 500 different kinds of dragonflies, but the one I kept seeing, the baby blue one, is called a blue dasher. How appropriate for my little runner, my blue dasher! Isn’t God cool?

Then, we started noticing sevens. Bronner was the seventh member of our family. He had seven letters in each of his names, William Bronner Burgess, 777. He was born May 27, 2005. May’s the fifth month, so numerically, it’s 5-27-2005. Add the five and the two in front of the seven and the five and the two in the back of the seven, and you’ve 777. He lived 2 years, seven months, and 23 days. You already have one seven. Add the 2 two’s and the three together and you have another seven. The last full year of his life was the seventh year of this century, 2007. He even had three sevens in his social security number.

Seven is the number in the bible that represents perfection, fullness, completion. It stands for the seven days of creation, and it’s mentioned upward of 50 times in the Book of Revelation, the completion of God’s plan and purpose for the earth as it is and ushers in the new heaven and the new earth.

God wanted us to know that Bronner’s life on earth had been complete and perfect at 2 ½ years. He had fulfilled the purpose for which he came. God himself had formed the days for Bronner when as yet there were none of them.

I talked about the sevens in a speech I did that August, the year of Bronner’s heaven-going. It was my home church, Shades Mountain Baptist, and I got a call that afternoon. They had taken up an offering for Bronner’s Memorial Fund that day, and they had collected $7,777. One woman had written a check for $1.23. Do you realize what a miracle that is? How God had to work in the hearts of everyone there to come up with that amount.

God’s confirmation…

But, you won’t believe when I tell you. It happened again. Betty Bussey and I spoke the next August, August 2009, at Frazier Memorial United Methodist Church in Montgomery. They took up a collection, and Betty and I were still there having some lunch after we talked and the Women’s Director came and told me that they had collected more than $7,000 for Bronner’s Memorial Fund. She was excited because she thought that was a large amount, and I said, “Seven thousand what?” She said, “I don’t know exactly, but I can find out.”

I told her the reason why I was asking. She had no idea what had happened at Shades. But she left the room, and when she came back, she said, “The collection was $7,777.77.” And 77 cents. God is real. God is real and He is working among his people. Look around, you’ll see him. Listen for his voice, and He will speak.

Tune in. He has something to say to you.

You’ll know when God speaks, and you’ll know the other voices, too. We know who’s speaking to us. We’ve eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We know the difference. We know the difference between good and evil, and we have the same choice to make that Adam and Eve had to make. Are we going to listen to the voice of God, or are we going to listen to the voice of the serpent?

Every day we choose to live either by our flesh and the desires of the flesh or to live by the Spirit of God which brings peace and power and wisdom.

Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”

Follow Jesus to the cross right now. Cast your cares on him, because he cares for you.

Jesus came not to condemn the world but to set it free from the law of sin and death. He brings life and light. He is Jacob’s ladder to heaven. He is the door of heaven. He is the narrow way. The Spirit of God testifies with our spirit that Jesus is the only way no matter what the world says.

And we are called to follow Jesus no matter where He takes us. Follow Him. It’s not easy road that Jesus traveled. No, The Lamb of God was slain, and He tells us to be slain also. Die to yourself; live for God. Love not your life so much as to shrink even from death.

I’m studying the Revelation in Community Bible Study right now, and I see it over and over and over again in that last book of our bible. People choosing what is temporary over what is eternal. The world offers a lot right now, wealth, fame, education, entertainment, and sometimes even happiness.

Choose holiness. Choose the eternal. Choose God. He’s already chosen you.

Come to Jesus, right now. Listen to his voice calling you. Come. Come to me all you are weary, and I will give you rest. I am the bread of life. Take and eat of me and live forever. I will never leave you nor forsake you.

Some of you may need to say to God, I’ve accepted your free gift of salvation, but I want more of you, God.

Some of you may be in the midst of a great trial yourselves and want to fall at the feet of Jesus and give it all to him.

So, I’m going to ask all of you to come and pray at this alter. As many as can, come and pray. Whatever God has laid on your heart today, tell him, talk to him. Pray to him and listen for his answer. I’m going to give you a few minutes alone with God at the alter, and then I’ll voice an audible prayer including a prayer of salvation to close us. So, come, pray at this alter right now.

Sometimes, I know it’s not easy to take that first step alone, so here’s what I want you to do, look to the person sitting next to you and say, I’ll go with you. I’ll go with you.

(Time of Silent Prayer)

Lord God, thank you for your presence here with us today. Thank you for loving us and sending your son to pay the penalty for our sins on the cross. We know that the penalty for sin is death and that Jesus died for us so that whether our bodies are asleep or awake we might live together with him. Let us not be content with the things of this world, but let us have a passion for what is to come. Let us be eagerly awaiting the day you come for us, Lord Jesus. Set our minds on things above not on earthly things, and give us peace that transcends all understanding, and we will rejoice in you, Father. Lord, I pray that if there are any here today who aren’t sure of their salvation, who have never accepted the atoning sacrifice of the blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, that today will be the day they make their salvation sure. Pray with me right now: Lord, I know I am a sinner and all my righteousness is like filthy rags compared to you. I confess my sins before you and ask for forgiveness. I believe that you, Jesus, are the Son of God, that you bore the wrath of God upon yourself, and that you died and were raised on the third day. I pray to receive you as my Savior and my God. I pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit, the comforter, to help me abide in Christ always and that when I come to die, I will be with you forever. In Jesus name I pray. Amen.

With every head bowed and every eye closed, if you prayed with prayed that prayer with me just now, just look up at me for a second. Acknowledge Christ before men, and He will acknowledge you before His father. So, look up.

Know that this is just the beginning of your journey with Christ, and you’re going to need help. Get involved in church. Get involved in bible study. And never cease to praise Him. Praise guards your heart from losing its joy. Sing praises to him. Get some cd’s and sing in the car. And pray. You can’t establish a relationship with someone unless you spend time with them. Spend time with the Lord in prayer and reading the bible everyday. I would recommend getting to know the person of Jesus Christ first through the gospels. The Gospel of John would be a great starting point, and then I’d go on to Romans which is the most complete statement for the basis or foundation of our faith, a very important book of the bible.

Now, lift your head if you have determined today to listen for God’s voice and His leading in your life, that you will trust him no matter what life throws at you, and that you will walk the path that Christ lays for you knowing that life with Christ brings joy and peace but that sometimes it brings sorrow as well and when it does you are determined to endure it, to stand, and press on, running your race until it brings you to the gates of heaven.

That should be everybody…

Let’s commit together today to listen more, to not run aimlessly through life checking off boxes in a to do list, but stop and listen and look around for what God has for us, that we will be still more before the Lord and that we rest in the hope of his salvation.

God bless…