Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Call to Gloversville, Part 1

When Bob completed requirements for his Master of Divinity degree in December 1976, we were finally ready and eager to begin full-time ministry. The New York District of the Assemblies of God's "Missions Advance New York" (M.A.N.Y.) program, accepted us as new church planters. In January 1977, we made a reconnaissance trip to New York to determine where we would open a new church.

The Assistant Superintendent of the New York District, Rev. Leon Miles, who headed M.A.N.Y., had told us to take a map of New York State, compare it with a list of churches in the district at that time, and ask the Lord to direct our attention to the location He wanted us to go to start a new church. Both of us felt drawn to the  twin cities of Gloversville-Johnstown, "Gateway to the Adirondacks," in Fulton County, about 45 miles northwest of Albany, the state capital. There was no Assemblies of God church in the entire county. Neither of us had even heard of Gloversville prior to seeing it on the map.

The Wednesday evening before we left, even though we wouldn't be in church that Sunday, I went to the weekly choir practice at Central Assembly, as was my custom. Our large choir always took prayer requests and had a time of prayer at the beginning of each practice. That night, I asked them to pray for our safety and God's direction as we traveled to New York to decide where we would open a new church.

After choir practice, Irene Holsinger approached me. "Where in New York do you plan to go?"

She was a retired lady who was an active supporter of Evangel College (now Evangel University), whose son, Calvin Holsinger, was a professor there. We had known her for two years. She and her husband were members of our Sunday school class of retired ministers and missionaries. It was no secret to the class that we planned to go to New York to start a church soon, but this was the first time she'd spoken to either of us about our plans.

Previously, the district had asked us to look at Saugerties, just an hour's drive north of Newburgh, where Bob's folks lived. "I'm not sure," I said, "but probably somewhere in the Mid Hudson River Valley."

She looked me in the eye. "You ought to go to Gloversville. My daughter lives there. Her husband is the superintendent of schools, and they need an Assemblies of God church."

I felt like someone had turned on a light bulb. It sounded like a Macedonian call (Acts 16:9). That was the first time anyone had ever mentioned Gloversville to either of us. Was God using her to confirm that He was leading us in that direction? She gave us the Everharts' contact information, and the next day we called them. They invited us to stop by for lunch on our way from Newburgh to the district office in Syracuse.

January 1977 went into history for its severity with blowing snow and subzero temperatures. Buffalo received 20 feet of snow that month. And we drove from Springfield, Missouri to Newburgh, New York, in the worst of it. When we got bad gas in Ohio and broke down on the freeway, we huddled in our Volkswagen Super Beetle as snow whipped and whirled around us, rapidly dissipating the heat.

Every time a semi approached, Bob would open the window and hold out a simple red paper sign with "Send Help!" in white letters. After half an hour, we were chilled to the bone, and our feet were numb. We were thankful for the prayers of our church choir. Finally, a help truck drew alongside. Six-year-old Bobby and I climbed into the warm cab of the truck while the driver and Bob worked on the car.

After a brief visit with Bob's folks in Newburgh, we headed to Syracuse. On our way, we met with Barbara and Glen Everhart, who quickly became fast friends. When they had first arrived in Gloversville, they told us, they had put a notice in the newspaper to see if there was any interest in starting a church and had received no response. They were heavily involved in a church in Schenectady. They didn't encourage us to come, but they offered to assist us in every other way should we decide to come.

At our interview with the district officials, when they asked, "Where do you feel God is leading you to go?"
Bob answered, "To Gloversville."

Immediately, the Presbyters burst out in praises to God. "I just drove by there recently and prayed that God would send someone to Gloversville to start a church," several said.

Little did we know at the time that we were being thrust into the challenge of our lives! Knowing definitely that God had called us to that specific community gave us the confidence when the hard times came that we were in His will.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

"Give Him a Bigger Job!"

While my husband was studying at the Assemblies of God seminary in Springfield, Missouri, in the mid-seventies, we began attending a large Sunday school class of mostly retired missionaries and ministers. The class always opened by singing a hymn out of the hymnal. My husband saw a need and began collecting the hymnals at the conclusion of the class to prepare the room for the choir to assemble there before the morning worship service.

One week, as he began to pick up the books, the teacher of the class, Mother Flower, suddenly called out, "Give that young man a bigger job! He's been picking up the hymnals every week. It's time to give him more responsibility."

Mother Flower, a matriarch in our Fellowship, was one of the charter members of the Assemblies of God. Her husband served for many years as the General Secretary. Together, they wrote and published The Christian Evangel, a magazine that became the forerunner of The Pentecostal Evangel. In addition to raising six children, who also served as outstanding missionaries, pastors, and district and national officials in the Assemblies of God, she wrote much of our early Sunday school literature. What a privilege to sit in her class. Even at 86 years of age, she always had a fresh lesson, no reruns.

This remarkable woman then asked my young seminarian husband to be the substitute teacher for her class of retired ministers! What an honor!

A year later, when we accepted the call to plant a new church in New York State, that class of retired pastors and missionaries became our prayer partners.

That incident reminds me of the parable Jesus told in Matthew 25 of the stewards left to care for their master's estate in his absence. The two who put the money to work and doubled the original amount were rewarded and given bigger responsibilities.

The Apostle Paul compared God's kingdom to a garden in which some plant the seed, others water, and others reap, but it is God who makes the seed grow. Many pastors and missionaries have worked long and hard in God's fields sowing the seed of the gospel and watering it with their tears without seeing the harvest. Then others come and the work grows and many come to the Lord. That time of great reaping would not have been possible without the faithful sowing and watering of the seed. A missions hymn, "The Songs of the Reaper," by Rev. W. A. Spence, puts it this way: "But the tears of the sower and the songs of the reaper shall mingle together in joy by and by."

My lifelong goal has been that at the end of my days on earth I will hear my Savior say to me, "Well done, good and faithful servant." I take comfort in the knowledge that God doesn't reward us on the basis of our success in the eyes of the world but on our faithfulness in doing what He has called us to do.

Galatians 6:9 encourages us to not "get tired of doing what is good. Don't get discouraged and give up, for we will reap a harvest of blessing at the appropriate time" (NLT). I want to work in God's fields in such a way as to deserve His words of commendation, "Well done, good and faithful servant." Don't you?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

They Killed My Son Today!

When my son was young, the agony Mary must have experienced watching her Son die on the cross became very real to me. On her bed that night, how she must have been haunted by His suffering as she relived that awful day !

They killed my son today! I pound my pillow trying to expend my rage. Angry tears pour down my cheeks.

"Crucify him! Crucify him!" That's all I can hear. I clamp my hands over my ears, yet still I hear their yells.

Just last week the crowd wanted to crown him king. Today, they shouted for his blood. How fickle they are! His trial was a mockery of justice. And Judas--one of his closest friends. How could he betray him?

John has been so kind. The house is quiet now. But this stillness only seems to magnify the sickening thud of the hammer driving those spikes into his hands and feet. Oh, God, will I ever be free of those sounds?

His hands. I held those baby hands, and the fingers closed tightly around mine. Those small boy hands patted my arm so gently when I had a headache. Those young man hands became calloused working in the carpenter shop with Joseph. Those manly hands blessed the little children, healed blind eyes, raised the sick, multiplied the loaves and fish. They never did anything wrong. Why would they pound rusty nails into those loving, kind hands?

His feet. I remember his first steps. Joseph had just come in and Jesus, forgetting himself in his pleasure of seeing Joseph, let go of the table and tottered toward Joseph, saying, "Up! Up!" I remember listening for his footsteps each evening when he and Joseph would come home from the carpenter shop. His step was always the first to ring out on the cobblestones. He was so full of life. And now he's dead.

Oh, my son, my son! I'll never hear your gentle voice again. You'll never sit down with me after supper and tell me of your dreams. I didn't always understand what you said, but just being with you, listening, was enough.

What are these words coming into my mind? "This child will be rejected by many in Israel...And a sword will pierce your very soul." I'd nearly forgotten those words of Simeon. Is this what he tried to tell me?

Words my son spoke suddenly begin to vibrate in my soul: "I am the resurrection and the life."

Could it be? Do I dare to hope? You raised Lazarus. Do you have the power to raise yourself from the dead also?

What's this strange peace settling over me? Dawn is near. Perhaps I can sleep awhile.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Donkey's Story

 This Sunday is Palm Sunday. I love to write stories of how it might have been behind the scenes in Bible stories. If the donkey Jesus rode into Jerusalem could talk, here is the story he might have told:

I had always wished I were a horse. Standing beside my mother, I often watched the horses go by carrying Roman soldiers. How important they seemed! Once, I even saw Pontius Pilate, the the Roman governor in Jerusalem, ride by. His horse acted so proud. I nickered. If only I could carry a king. But I knew kings didn't ride donkeys.

Still, I was anxious to grow up, to be useful, no matter what my life's work would be. Whenever Isaac, my master, needed a worker, I would bray in my deepest voice, trying to attract his attention so he would let me help. But he always chose my big brother instead. I felt useless and unhappy.

Then today, two men untied me. I could hardly believe what was happening. At last, I was going to be useful! I was a little nervous, but I walked as tall as I could, ears up, back straight. I may not be as regal as a horse, but I would do my best.

I wondered what these two fellows had in mind for me. Who was this Jesus they said needed me? Isaac seemed to think he was a good man--a prophet, he said.

As we neared Bethphage, I saw a small group of people gathered around a man. He looked rather ordinary, until I got close enough to look into his eyes. His eyes--how kind and gentle they were...yet sad too. I'd never seen eyes like his before.

The two men, "disciples" they called themselves, draped some of their clothes on my back since I didn't have a saddle. I stood very still as the man they called Jesus climbed on my back. I sensed his calmness, and I wasn't nervous anymore. Slowly, we walked down the dusty road toward Jerusalem. Clip-clop, clip-clop.

Soon, many people began following us. They spread their garments in the road to make a soft path for us. Some people cut palm branches and waved them as they all began to sing, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!"

By this time, everyone in Jerusalem was asking, "Who is this?"

"It's Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth," his disciples answered.

Then, someone shouted, "Let's make him our king!"

Suddenly, I remembered the old prophecy of Zechariah, "Look, your King is coming to you. He is humble, riding on a donkey's colt." I was carrying the King of the universe on my back--Jesus, the King of kings, the very Son of God! Why, this was better than all of my dreams put together! I was blessed above all donkeys.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

All Things Beautiful in His Time

This has been a particularly hard winter across most of the United States. We've had record snows, record cold, and harsh winds. On social media, I have read many pleas for the snow to stop falling and for spring to come.

I remember the winter-spring of 1974 in Springfield, Missouri, while Bob was preparing for the ministry. February saw temperatures in the 70's. We all joyfully shed our winter clothes. The trees and flowers began to bloom! Then March brought a week of near zero temperatures. Ice encrusted the blossoms. Flowers froze. That year's yield of fruit was nearly nonexistent.

My father, now a retired pastor living in Central Washington, often reports on the snowfall in the Cascade Mountains that feeds the mighty Columbia River, praying that it will be sufficient for the ranchers to irrigate their crops of timothy hay, their money crop as well as food for their cattle. The orchard owners, too, depend on irrigation to grow the luscious cherries, plums, peaches, apricots, pears, and apples for which the Yakima and Kittitas Valleys are known.

These examples provide object lessons for us that God has set an order in His universe, springtime and harvest, winter and summer--all are necessary in their proper order. Temperatures too warm too early or too cold too late set up conditions for failure of the fruit crops. In the dry western states, the winter snows in the mountains are necessary to provide water for irrigation of farmlands in the valleys. The melting runoff fills rivers and reservoirs that supply drinking water to the cities. Too little snow results in devastating drought.

So it is in our lives. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 tells us that "for everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven." The passage goes on to list those activities both negative as well as positive. Then verse 11 announces, "Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time." Snow in the winter is beautiful. No snow in the winter just like freezing cold in the summer kills.

In Romans 8:28, 29, the Apostle Paul declares that "we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son." I have noticed in my own life that it is in the most difficult circumstances of my life that I have grown the most.

I once heard a story of a farmer who complained to God that He hadn't sent the elements when needed for his crops to grow. God promised to send rain and sun whenever the farmer asked. The farmer planted his crops. He prayed for rain, and God sent the rain. He prayed for sun, and God sent the sun. Everything seemed to be growing just fine. The cornstalks were tall and green. The farmer was happy.

Harvest time came. The farmer checked an ear of corn to see if it was ready for cutting. To his shock, the ear was too small and deformed. He checked another ear. It too was stunted. Every one he checked was substandard. "Why, God?" he asked. And God replied, "You forgot to pray for the winds and storms to buffet the corn and get the juices flowing that cause the corn to develop healthy, full-sized ears."

Of course, that is a made-up story, but we get the point. We need the buffeting winds of life's storms in order to become like Christ, who endured so much yet set an example for us to follow.

So, "weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning" (Psalm 30:5, NLT). Snow may fall for a season, but then comes spring with its myriad displays of colorful flowers. The snow melts and fills the rivers. The earth is watered and everything grows green again. After the Great Flood of Noah's day, God set His rainbow in the sky as a promise that "as long as the earth remains, there will be planting and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night" (Genesis 8:22).

In His time, God makes all things beautiful, even me--if I will allow life's trials to make me better, not bitter.