Monday, October 27, 2014

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of God

I was recently asked to speak to a group of baseball moms, and the first thing I thought about was America.  I don't know if baseball is still "American's pastime," but it is certainly a part of who we are, a part of our heritage and culture.  Americans like baseball and football and lots of other sports that are wholesome and good and fun because that's who we are, wholesome and good and fun.  I've been around the world and have seen places where this isn't the case, where kindness and compassion aren't the norm.  I've seen poverty and sickness and injustice like you can't find here in America.  A lot of it has to do with oppressive governments, but most of it lies in the prevailing religion of the land.

I have a book called Jesus in Beijing written by David Aikman, the former Beijing bureau chief for Time magazine.  In it, Aikman writes about a study done by a leading research group in China.  They wanted to find out what makes America so great.  This is what they said, "One of the things we were asked to look into was what accounted for the success, in fact, the pre-eminence of the West all over the world.  We studied everything we could from the historical, political, economic, and cultural perspective.  At first, we thought it was because you had the best political system.  Next, we focused on your economic system.  But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion:  Christianity.  That is why the West has been so powerful.  The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics.  We don't have any doubt about this."   

China knows what makes America great.  Do we?

William Tyndale was an Englishman who lived from 1494-1536.  I share his story here because he was a man of conviction who lived and died for what he believed in.  He was a clergyman with a gift for languages who felt called by God to write a translation of the Bible in his native tongue.  The problem was that it was illegal to do so at the time.  He had to go into hiding to to do the work.  He had completed the New Testament and much of the Old when he was caught, strangled to death, and burned at the stake.  Two years after his martyrdom in 1536, King Henry XVIII authorized the Great Bible to be read in the newly established Church of England.  The Great Bible drew heavily from Tyndale's work as did the Geneva Bible released in 1557.  But the top dog of them all came in 1611 when the King James Bible was printed and released, just 75 years after the death of William Tyndale who had laid the foundation for its publication.  Within a decade, in 1620, the pilgrims set sail for America.  On board the Mayflower were two Bibles, the Geneva Bible and the King James.  Before those pilgrims ever set foot onto Plymouth Rock (and no coincidence that it was a rock either ), they had formed a compact that drew them together as a society that was based on what they had learned and read of God and His law, His standards, and His freedom in those Bibles.  That Mayflower Compact set the groundwork for the law and the liberty that would prevail in the yet to come United States of America.

Two things we can glean from this story:

1.  Never underestimate the impact that one person can have on a society and on the world at large.

2.  America was founded upon the truth of God's Word, and that, most assuredly, is where it's goodness comes from.

America has done and still does a lot of good in the world.  We provide food for the hungry, shelter for the weary, and send out the Truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ everywhere.  We are the peacekeepers of the world keeping evil at bay.   I read a book this summer called Unbroken by Laura Hillebrand about an American POW during WWII who had been captured by the Japanese.  We have all heard of the atrocities of the holocaust and what happened in Germany under Nazi leadership, but I had never really studied or read about the horrors that went on in those Japanese war camps.  The prisoners of war in Japan were beaten and starved and tortured in ways a normal human being couldn't fathom.  There was a great darkness there.  Louis Zamperini had been an Olympic runner.  His athleticism was probably one thing that kept him alive.  The other thing was the conviction that someone would come for him.  Salvation did come.  When the American bombers finally flew overhead and tipped their wings at the prisoners, Zamperini knew he would survive the war.  He did and lived to tell the story. 

America is a force for good in the world.  As I've said before, a strong America doesn't just benefit America.  A strong America is important for the whole world.  Our values, beliefs, and religion are needed everywhere.  Salvation came that day for Louis Zamperini in the form of American fighter pilots, but true peace came to his soul through Jesus Christ years later.  Believe it or not, it was at a Billy Graham Crusade.  Never underestimate the impact one person can make upon a society and upon the world.  William Tyndale and Billy Graham certainly prove that point. 

A few weeks ago, a friend of ours called Rick to see if he could fill in for him at a church in Russellville, Alabama, for a Wednesday night service.  Scott Dawson, an evangelist in the tradition of Billy Graham who speaks at churches and youth events around the country all the time, had double booked himself.  His conflict was that he had promised to take his teenaged daughter to a One Direction concert on the same night.  Of course Rick understood and gladly accepted the request.  He later got a call from the church where he would be speaking that a young man in their community had been involved in an ATV accident and was clinging to life in the ICU.  He was a star football player for the local high school team.  Rick knew it was no accident that he was the one called there to comfort and encourage that community at such a tragic moment.  Rick's message was basically this:  that this is a world where star football players cling to life in the ICU and where beautiful baby boys drown in their own backyards.  Bad things happen in this world, but if you know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, this is the worst of life you'll ever know.  But if you don't know Him, this is the best you're ever going to get.

Many gave their lives to Christ that night including at least one of the football player's teammates.  Tragedy works like wildfire in the Christian church spreading it like nothing else can, mainly for the reason that Rick gave in his speech at the church that night.  People want more than this.  Tragedy makes us realize that things aren't right, right now, and it makes us want more.  It makes us want what we were created for, God - holy and righteous and good.

Some of the players on the football team asked their coach and team chaplain if they could be baptized on the football field after practice in honor of their friend and teammate and brother.  Who could deny a request like that at a time like that?  The boys were baptized, but somehow a group from Wisconsin called "Freedom From Religion" got wind of it and began to threaten the school, coach, and chaplain with a legal fight because of it.

It seems the most illogical of complaints to me.  First of all, how far away from Russellville, Alabama is Wisconsin?  How could they make any claim at all that their freedom was infringed upon?  And what freedom can they claim from religion?  It is religion itself that is protected as a first amendment right, not the lack thereof.  I don't believe the "Freedom From Religion" group has a leg to stand on, but the point is that they exist at all.  Groups like these have never before existed in America, nor should they.  No one has the right to be free from religion, not in the way they expect.  They expect me to be quiet, to sit still and let them take away my religion, which tells me to bold in proclaiming the truth of the gospel to any and all who will hear, to be a light and a witness to an unbelieving world, to spread the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ Jesus EVERYWHERE.  That is my religion, and to prohibit my free exercise thereof is a violation of the constitution upon which this great nation was founded.

"But take heart," Jesus said, "I have overcome the world."  Jesus is greater and more powerful than anything.  He conquered the grave.  He has the power of resurrection.  He holds the keys of death and Hades, and He will triumph over all evil with the breath of His mouth.  He is King of kings and Lord of lords, and He will reign forevermore.  With this kind of power on our side, what are we afraid of?

"No power of Hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from His hand."

Be bold, brothers.  Be of good courage, my sisters.  Fear not, for He is with us.  We are living in a day when we will have to stand up and fight for what we believe in.  We are living in a day when we must be bold.  We are living in a day when we must say with the Apostle Paul that "it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body whether by life or by death.  For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." 

If the rest of the world is an indication of the health of the church, then let the persecution come, for a persecuted church is a thriving church.  Let it be.  What will come will come.  I will not fear persecution.  What can man do to me?

"What then shall we say to these things?  If God be for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?  Who shall bring any charge against God's elect?  It is God who justifies.  Who is to condemn?  Christ Jesus is the One who died--more than that, who was raised--who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.  What shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?  As it is written, 'For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.'  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  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." (Romans 8:31-39)

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Work of Worth

"Every woman has a story," says the tag I snipped off my Village Artisan handmade necklace that I bought from the woman I want to tell you about.  I've known Kristi Griem for a long time.  Her husband is the minister of missions at my church.  When I wanted to go to Israel for the first anniversary of Bronner's Heaven-going, he coordinated the trip.  He also coordinated the one Kristi and I were a part of that kind of begins this story.

We were two of nine women from our church who visited a work ministry in India called Freeset in May of 2010.  What I mean by work ministry is that the mission is to give women caught in the sex trade another choice.  Freeset employs women who live and work in Sonagacchi, the largest, most infamous red light district in Kolkata, India.  Instead of selling their bodies for profit, the women are now employed to sew unique handbags of jute and old sari material.  A sari is the beautifully draped and usually colorful and ornate traditional dress of Indian women.  Freeset also makes and sells fair trade tee shirts, but they'll tell you that they are in the business of freedom.  The women in Sonagacchi aren't there by choice.  Many of them were trafficked and even sold by their own families when they were young girls because of dire poverty.  No one wants to sell their daughter, but maybe they felt that was their only choice.  Freeset and others like them want to break that cycle of prostitution and give women hope, life, and gladness.
Kristi Griem, Work of Worth COO

Kristi has always had a heart for the poor and a passion for justice, but something awakened in her on that trip.  Maybe it was anger, anger at the exploitation of young girls, and in that righteous anger, she knew she wanted to be a part of it all.  She began working for Freeset in the USA giving voice to the women who formerly hadn't one.  "I feel a particular calling to exploited women.  I want to give them another option.  I want to help give them dignity."  While working for Freeset, Kristi discovered many other groups doing similar work and realized she could help in a bigger way.  "I like connecting people," she said.  "What I can do is connect the need to the impact point."  That's what Work of Worth is all about.

The Village Artisan jewelry and journal I bought were made by women who have been "employed in dignity" in Northern India, the rice bag in Mumbai, the scarf in Bagladesh.  They'll still feature items from Freeset, but this way more and more women and girls can be impacted.  There are even men involved.  "We're really excited about some leather goods we'll be getting in soon," she said.  The concept behind Trinajit Leather Works is to employ men in impoverished areas so that selling their daughters is no longer a necessary evil.  That way we stop the trafficking before it begins.  And the artistry is impeccable, hand sewn works done in the old ways.  Everything Work of Worth International sells is a work of art.  That's the best part to me.  We, the consumer, can get really cool hand made products and know that what we're buying is so much more than a bracelet or a scarf.  We're buying hope for a human being because we are all a "Work of Worth."  I just love that! 

Kristi, Chief Operations Officer for Work of Worth,  along with Executive Director Barry Morehead and Brendt Blanks who works with volunteers and online sales want to invite you to the Work of Worth Launch this September 9th from 5 until 8 p.m. at the Christian Service Mission in downtown Birmingham.  There will be music and food and, of course, Work of Worth products to buy.  "It's a great opportunity to participate in setting someone free," Kristi said.  The address is 3600 3rd Avenue South, Birmingham, AL 35222.  I hope to see you there!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Turning America on Its Heels

Like many other Americans, I became increasingly concerned about the direction our country was headed during the 2008 election year.  We could all see the change happening.  It was a movement away from the Judeo-Christian values our nation had been founded on.  I knew that those values were what made America so great.  Liberty and freedom are a God given right to all people declares our Constitution.  Not only were we free to worship and live and speak by our own convictions, we had become a defender of freedom around the world.  I believed that an American on the decline would be disastrous not only for ourselves but for everyone.  I prayed.  I asked for forgiveness for our collective sinfulness as a nation.  We had become too worldly, too much like everyone else, and that is not God’s calling for His people.  He asks us to be holy, set aside for His purpose and His plan, but many of us had become so focused on the so-called “American dream” that we had forgotten our true calling and place in the world.  Of this, I repented and prayed according to 2 Chronicles 7:14, “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from Heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

It was about that time that I met Gary Palmer, President of the Alabama Policy Institute, a conservative think-tank here in Birmingham.  He felt strongly that women could play a vital role in turning America on it heals back toward its noble heritage.  It was from this idea that a Political Action Committee was formed called Allied Women.  I was one of the founding members of that group, and it was Gary Palmer who mentored us and brought us up to speed on some pressing issues.  He believed we needed to start at home, focusing on the Alabama State Legislature, uprooting the old and putting in some new, fresh faces we believed would stand up for ethical laws and standards that were more fitting with Alabama’s highly conservative and Christian constituency.  We did, and the Alabama State Legislature was overturned in 2010 for the first time in more than 100 years.  With the new Republican legislature it was easy for then Governor Bob Riley to push through an ethics package he had been hoping to pass for years.  We were in full support of more ethical standards in politics and legislation in Alabama, so this was a wonderful victory and step in the right direction.  During this whole process, one of the big issues facing our state at the time was gambling.  Interested parties had targeted our state to push for legalized gambling in Alabama.  We also fought against this and won. I have since left the board of Allied Women to focus more closely on other callings from the Lord on my life.  However, I know Gary Palmer to be a man of conviction, passion, heart, character, and knowledge, a man who loves America deeply, the true America, the one George Washington led to victory in the Revolutionary War because he knew it was right, the one who hates tyranny and loves freedom, the America who defends the weak and the oppressed, the America that is "a city set on a hill" shining the light of Christ to all points of the compass.  That is why I will cast my vote tomorrow, June 3, to send Gary Palmer to Washington to represent Alabama’s Congressional District 6.  I will vote for him because I know he believes what I believe and that he knows how to make a difference.  He’s not really a politician.  Gary is an American, a patriot, one who really cares and who has the fortitude to fight for America and for "freedom loving people everywhere."

I will also cast my vote tomorrow for Arnold Mooney in the Republican primary for Alabama State House District 43.  I will vote for Arnold Mooney because I believe he is running for the right reason, to give back.  So many people go into politics to make a name for themselves.  That is not the case with Arnold Mooney.  He has been a businessman for much of his life.  He has raised his family and is now a grandfather.  He feels called by God in this season of life to serve publicly, not for himself but for the good of the people of Alabama.  He knows that career politicians were never called for but that ordinary citizens like you and me should offer themselves as public servants when God calls them to that.  And that’s where he is.  I believe him to also be a man of character who can be trusted to make wise decisions concerning Alabama.  So I hope you will join me in voting tomorrow, wherever you are, for men and women who are getting in the race to serve not themselves but God.  “For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”  (Rom. 13:1b)  Let’s do our part in bringing about change in the right direction for our state, our nation, and our world. 

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.