Saturday, September 13, 2014

Happy Feast of John Chrysostom

Growing up in a Pentecostal church, the preaching was where it was at.  I mean, if the pastor could deliver a strong, make-you-really-think-about-your-relationship-with-God, and get-you-to-the altar sermon, then it was a good Sunday morning!  Please read NO sarcasm in this statement.  It was wonderful.  I have heard some amazing preaching in my lifetime.  It didn't have to touch the emotions, either.  If it was something that resonated inside the spirit, then it was a good sermon.

Don't get me wrong.  I have heard some very emotion-driven sermons.  They made me laugh.  They made me cry.  They moved me, Bob.  But the best sermons were ones that called me to change.  Called me into a more intimate relationship with Christ.  Called me to be more of who God made me to be.

There are very few sermons I actually remember.  But those I do remember have made a lasting impact on my life.  

One was given by an evangelist named Mike Brown.  I remember it so clearly.  I was a camper at a Kansas youth camp.  The message was entitled, "A Double Portion."  It was based on Elijah and Elisha.  When Elijah was about to be taken up to heaven, Elisha asked for a double portion of the spirit that rested on Elijah.  The invitation to us:  pray for God to give you a double portion of His Spirit.  I have never forgotten that.

Another was a sermon by my brother-in-law:  "God Is Bigger."  John preached this sermon during a time in my life when I was questioning everything God was doing.  Our family was undergoing some huge changes, and I wasn't a bit happy with God.  John reminded us all, though, that no matter what we were facing, God was bigger.  I have never forgotten that.

Just one more I want to mention in particular.  A sermon by Tim Dilena.  I don't remember the title.  I do remember the content, though.  He was preaching from Psalm 56.  Verse 8 particularly caught mt attention:  You have kept count of my tossings;   put my tears in your bottle.    Are they not in your record?  He talked about the Jewish teaching/tradition that tears were collected in a bottle, and saved for a time of mourning.  (Perhaps that the woman who anointed Jesus' feet with her tears was actually using a tear bottle.)  I was brought to a place of trust in God in which I realized that He cared about every teardrop that comes from my eyes.  Every moment of sorrow, He has "kept count of."  He cares deeply.

(I must mention here, too, that I have heard so many memorable sermons by my husband, I cannot count them all!)

Saint John Chrysostom was known by this title of "Chrysostom" due to his preaching.  He was known to have a "golden voice."  He lived about 350 A.D.  As New Advent.org states,  he "is generally considered the most prominent doctor of the Greek Church and the greatest preacher ever heard in a Christian pulpit."  Now those must have been some sermons!  He is considered greater than every preacher...ever.

One of his most famous sermons is called his paschal homily.  It is read every Easter in the Eastern Orthodox Churches.  Be prepared!

Is there anyone who is a devout lover of God? Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!  Is there anyone who is a grateful servant?  Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!
Are there any weary with fasting?  Let them now receive their wages! If any have toiled from the first hour,  let them receive their due reward; If any have come after the third hour,  let him with gratitude join in the Feast! And he that arrived after the sixth hour,  let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss. And if any delayed until the ninth hour,  let him not hesitate; but let him come too. And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour,  let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.
For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first. He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,  as well as to him that toiled from the first. To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows. He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor. The deed He honors and the intention He commends.
Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!  First and last alike receive your reward;  rich and poor, rejoice together! Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!
You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,  rejoice today for the Table is richly laden! Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one. Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith. Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!
Let no one grieve at his poverty,  for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;  for forgiveness has risen from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.
He destroyed Hades when He descended into it. He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh. Isaiah foretold this when he said, “You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below.”
Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with. It was in an uproar because it is mocked. It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed. It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated. It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive. Hell took a body, and discovered God.  It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.
O death, where is thy sting? O Hades, where is thy victory?
Christ is Risen, and you, O death, are annihilated! Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down! Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice! Christ is Risen, and life is liberated! Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead; for Christ having risen from the dead, is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

That is a soul-stirring sermon, is it not?  (Can I get an "amen!"?)

As much as I love the sermons, though, I have to admit that the greatest message ever told is repeated every time there is a Mass in the Catholic Church.  For the story of Christ's life, death, and resurrection are displayed very clearly as we hear the Gospel read, and the priest retells the story of the night before Jesus died.  We listen to the words of institution, "This is My Body.  This is My Blood."  And we remember His death until He comes again.

The greatest sermon of all (and I'm sure St. John would have agreed!) is the Holy Eucharist.

God bless you all, and have a wonderful Lord's Day!


Saturday, August 23, 2014

Rhyme and Reason

When I was in high school, I went through what many would call my "teen angst" stage.  If you're unfamiliar with this term, it is generally a "girl" thing.  Back in the day (1980's), this was usually expressed in diary journals and sad, dark poetry.  For me, my poetry was a way to express myself in words which I found hard to speak.  Most of my writing was an outflow of prayers to God.  A lot of "why me" type of stuff.  Very emotional, teen girl stuff.

I have often found that I can express myself more fully in written (or typed) words.  Thus, this blog!  However, poetry is not a genre I have commonly used in my adult life.  For this post, I make an exception.

Last night, as I was unsuccessfully trying to drift off to sleep, the following words were flowing from my heart to God.  My first thought was to jump out of bed and hurriedly write it all out.  Alas, jumping out of anything at my age is not the best idea.  And at 11:30 p.m., an even worse idea!

And so, without further ado, I give you my latest, and probably not even close to the best, edition of a poem from my heart:

This Grief

This is not a grief I have known,
This grey and misty path I now trod.
It is a mystery, and not an anguish
With which I desire to commune.

I have known the grief of death,
Walking through the sorrow of losing those
Who are the aged and the ill
Is not an unfamiliar path.
I have known this grief.

I have known the grief of sudden loss,
The unexpected passing
Of one too soon lost to this earthly life.
The young, or those who left our world
Swiftly, before it seemed their time.
I have known this grief.

I have known the grief of parting,
Saying my farewells to friends
To whom I owed a great debt
For sharing their life and love.
People who have impacted me eternally.
I have known this grief.

I have known the grief of disappointment,
When trust has been broken
And confidence in relationship rendered ineffectual.
The times of longing to once again
To have assurance of another person's honesty.
I have known this grief.

I have known the grief of anxiety,
Wondering if the fears in my heart
Are somehow going to come to fruition.
Desiring to trust my God to uphold me,
Yet still doubting at times if He will.
I have known this grief.

I have known the grief of personal sin,
Seeing in myself such lamentable insufficiency,
Knowing I have failed the God I love,
And wondering if His forgiveness
Is still mine for the asking.
I have known this grief.

I have known the grief of childlessness,
The yearning to feel that fluttering
Of new life within my womb.
Craving the gift of motherhood,
Desiring to fulfill a role of my dreams.
I have known this grief.

But this new grief is one I have not known.
For the son of my longing heart became
The gift given in answer to many prayers.
This young, marvelous person,
With whom I have spent my past 18 years.
And yet...

The time has come for him to be
A man in his own right.
An adult being formed by God,
But no longer under the watchful eye
Of his mother and loving father.
This is a grief I have not known.

Lord, please teach me now,
How to keep this grief in its place,
Not causing me to question
Your ways or your methods
Of molding my beloved offspring
In the image of Your own Son.
This is a grief I must let go.

It is time for me to know this grief.
Yet is time for me to release it, too.
It is time for me to allow You
To birth him into adulthood,
And the life You have as his destiny.
This is a joy I must know.

And so, my son, I entrust you
To the care of the One who formed you.
May my brief sorrow at our parting
Blossom into the great joy
Of seeing God fulfill the plan
He has had for you from the beginning.

Copyright © 2014 Joni Johnson. All Rights Reserved.

" 'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.' 
Jeremiah 29:11

Friday, August 22, 2014

Walking Through the Stages

Yesterday, my role in life took me to a new level.  Well, I shouldn't say it "took" me.  I'm still on the way.  I can't guarantee when I will arrive, either!

After a two hour journey, we delivered our son (and a good portion of his earthly possessions) at the doors of higher education.  A few hours and many drops of sweat (and tears) later, we departed for home.

If anyone tells you they are relieved to have their son or daughter off to college, please question them further.  There will most likely be underlying issues.  At least that is my guess.

This is one of the hardest roles I have lived to date:  Mom of a college freshman.  My little boy is now in the world of adults and life decisions and all that makes for growing up.  Am I sad?  Absolutely.  I miss him so much already!  Am I proud?  Without a doubt.

Was I ready for this?  Not nearly as much as I thought I would be.  But God is faithful.  And so, the God to whom I have entrusted my son since birth, I once again entrust him, as he steps out on the next portion of his own journey.

I'm still just a Facebook message or phone call away!  :o)


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Journeying With the Eyes of Faith

Photo by Neil Weaver Photography

Several years ago when I began this blog, it was all about our family's journey.  We were searching our way through to the Catholic Church, through homeschooling, and into a new phase of our lives.  Almost eight years later, I am truly amazed at the things God has done, and the multitude of lessons we have learned.

Another part of my blog has been to share some of my personal struggles and the ups and downs of dealing with panic attacks and anxiety.  Whew!  Now, that should have been a blog of its own!  Again, I stand amazed at the people God has brought into my life and the ways He has walked me through this winding, bumpy roller coaster called life!

Let me take you down a new path today.  This is a place God is leading me, and I'd like to invite you to join me.

Last Sunday, the Gospel reading for the day was from Matthew 14:22-33:

After he had fed the people, Jesus made the disciples get into a boat
and precede him to the other side,
while he dismissed the crowds. 
After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. 
When it was evening he was there alone. 
Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore,
was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it. 
During the fourth watch of the night,
he came toward them walking on the sea. 
When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. 
“It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear. 
At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” 
Peter said to him in reply,
“Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 
He said, “Come.” 
Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. 
But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened;
and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 
Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught Peter,
and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 
After they got into the boat, the wind died down. 
Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying,
“Truly, you are the Son of God.”

I had just finished reading Ted Dekker's first book in "The Outlaw" series, which is titled, "Water Walker."  Without giving away too much of the story line, one of the greatest moments of the book is when a young woman realizes the only way she can walk on water is to let go of all that inhibits her.  In her case, it is bitterness and a stubborn refusal to forgive.

Tonight, I finished the last pages of a wonderful series by Richard Paul Evans:  "The Walk."  The title of the last book is???  "Walking on Water."  Do you think God is trying to say something to me?  :o)

During Sunday morning's homily, our pastor, Father Joe, began by talking about our need to see God as our Father.  We so often treat God as if He is an abusive Father, instead of the loving, caring, awesome Father He is.  When it comes to the invitation to walk out on the water with Him, we focus more on the waves than we focus on the Hand outstretched to us, thinking it must be a trick.  He must want us to sink, right?  

As I was pondering these thoughts, the question came to my mind:  What is hindering me from stepping out of the boat?  And when I do step out, what is it that I focus on, instead of Christ?

"Don't be afraid to let go of your fear."

Now that seems to be a bit of an oxymoron, doesn't it?  But it's so true!  Even fear--as much as cripples a person--can be a sort of "comfort zone" in life.  It is a place we know, so it is easier than walking out onto those unknown waters in the storm of life.  In other words:  stick with what you know, so you don't have to try the new thing that might overwhelm you.  It is, in some ways, the same as a person who has become homeless.  Many times, even though this individual is given opportunities to leave the streets, move up in life, and separate themselves from their seeming circumstances of uncertainty, they choose the streets.  Why?  Because it's what they know.  Better to stick with what they know, than to face something new and unknown.

Really, though, what is there to fear?  If the One who created us is out on the water already, then it is a place of safety.  No matter what the circumstances my seem, it is the most secure place to be!  Life is an adventure, with many twists and turns.  Why walk that path alone?

Let's go walk on some water, friends.

"In the end, it is not by knowledge that we make our journeys but by hope and faith:  hope that our walk will be worthy of our steps and faith that we are going somewhere.  And only when we come to the end of our journeys do we truly understand that every step of the way we were walking on water."
                                                               ~ Richard Paul Evans, Walking on Water

Monday, July 28, 2014

Walk It Out

I have entered that time of life when the "middle ages" have a different meaning.  I have come to think that it refers less to an era of time or a time of life than it does to the middle of the body.  All the weight that was spread throughout my body all my life, has now decided to settle on the equator.  I used to be able to exercise for a couple of weeks, eat a bit healthier, and see that weight redistribute itself to its appropriate latitude and longitude!

These days, it seems that the more I walk and eat nutritious food, the more stubborn the battle is for middle ground--if you know what I mean?  Continental drift has a new definition as well!  :o)

I have noticed the same is true for things of the spiritual life.  In the past, it seemed that if I felt I was "settling" in my relationship with God, a few days of intensified reading of Scripture and a few added minutes of prayer would set things back into proper order.  The fire would rekindle, and all was well.


Lately, I have noticed the need for my effort.  Not that I am trying to "work" to please God.  I'm just noticing that additional reading and prayer are good, but not quite enough.  There is a deeper longing in my heart to return to the intimate relationship I know God wants, and a healthier lifestyle of letting Him be God in my life as He desires.

There is a spirituality called the "Ignatian Spirituality," which is worked out in "Spiritual Exercises."  As I wrote in my last post, there can be a Christian life of "coasting along in the rowboat," but progress is made by taking up the oars.  Whether I walk the way of the Ignatians or forge along another path, the important thing is to never get settled in the middle ground.

Physical fitness requires a discipline of mind, body, and eating habits.  So too, spiritual fitness requires a discipline of mind, body, spirit, and eating habits.

Let's get moving!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

When He Speaks

The big day--June 17, 1989
Newly weds!  circa 1991

25 years and still in love



Got to meet Paula in person!  Yay!

For those who aren't aware, I was away on vacation during late June/early July.  My husband and I celebrated our 25th anniversary on June 17th.  Back in 1989, our honeymoon was spent in Westcliffe, CO.  My sister and her husband graciously agreed to host us at their vacation home in Westcliffe.  It was an amazing experience, as our two sons had never seen the mountains before this summer.

Seeing the mountains again (it had been 23 years for me!) was more than awe-inspiring.  It was more like renewing an old acquaintance, as while I was growing up, I had spent most of my summer vacations there.  There are too many memories to share here, for sure!  The smell of the sweet grasses, pine trees, and cool mountain air are indescribable!  My memories are of a young, red-haired, freckle-faced girl with braids and a sense of adventure.  This older version couldn't keep pace with that young girl, but I still loved every moment!

One of the best things about our vacation (which also included a family visit to Kansas, a stop to see relatives in Indiana, and family time in Michigan!), other than seeing family, was the time away from daily life.  It was a time to strengthen family bonds and be rejuvenated.  Though physically tiring in many ways, it was refreshing in so many other ways.

Sangre de Cristo mountains
I have found that these experiences help me tune in more clearly to God's voice, too.  Over the past month, God has been speaking some definite things to my heart.  They may not translate well onto the electronic page here, but bear with me.  They are certain to be more fleshed out in future posts.

- God is faithful in every way.  Time spent worrying is time spent not seeing His faithfulness.

- Provision from God often comes by the means we least expect, and almost NEVER comes when we think it should.  But always on time!

- God wants us to live in an active, vital relationship with Him.  It is not enough to coast along, trusting in Him to save us from hell.  Anyone can sit in a boat, and the tide will eventually take them somewhere.  But the one who takes up the oars will see the destination more quickly and enjoy the ride immensely more than the stationary passenger.

Focus on the Family!
- God wants to be pursued.  He wants us to take on the challenge.  Paul encouraged his readers to "run" the race, "press on" to the higher calling, "rejoice" always, "stand fast" (active immobility?!), "make our requests known", "meditate" on the good things of God (active mind!), and "share".  All action verbs!

- God wants us to live out our faith in the world.  This is not a secret religion.  This is good news!  Our lives and lips should be proclaiming Him everywhere and to every person!

If you're reading these things, and thinking, "Yep!  Those are great things.  Basic, but true," I agree.  Very basic.  Very true.  Very great.  As I said, there is more to the depth of what God is saying, but this is the gist.



But the bigger challenge is now this:  to pray it into place.  (Something else God has been speaking to my heart.)  Get it past my head, into my heart, and into my life.

More next time...


Friday, July 18, 2014

Let Me Tell You About a Man...

There once was a man, young in years, yet wise.  He married his true love, prepared to make a life for them on the fertile lands of the Midwestern Plains.  He knew the soil, the seasons, and the life, as it had been his way of living since birth.  They shared their love of tending the soil, for nurturing each other, and, most important, their love for God.  As they began their journey of wedded bliss, however, there were storm clouds on the horizon.

For in a far off country, Communism was dividing the land.  Brother was fighting against brother.  The domination of the many by the few was unveiling the realities of the ideology.  Women and children were suffering and mourning the loss of their husbands, fathers, and sons.  The leadership of our country decided it was time to step in.

And so it was, that the young man--though just beginning his new life, and not yet even 21 years of age--was called by his country to fight on the soil of a foreign land.  Along with thousands of his fellow citizens, he boarded a ship for that land across the ocean.

The man entered a world he had never known:  a world of mortar shells and land mines.  A world where one false move could cost a man his leg, his life, or the lives of many other men.  A world of bitter cold and wounded soldiers.

He spent the majority of his days in an area known as the Punch Bowl.  This was an area that had been taken by the North Koreans, but which the Americans had determined to reclaim for the South Korean people.  Before the man was assigned to the Punch Bowl, 160 men had lost their lives there, as an overzealous commander had been more concerned about his medals than the lives of his men.  It was there that the man truly entered into the horrors of war.

Every day, he would witness young children on their way to school, in the midst of this war zone.  He would load a trailer with provisions for the men on the front lines, and risk his life to assure his fellow soldiers had  provisions. One of those meal runs could have easily ended his life.  As he and his buddy stepped into the bunker with buckets of food, a blast hit the food trailer attached to his Jeep.  That trailer ended up being kicked into a canyon, now a victim of the war, too.  Pieces of the shrapnel ended up in both men, though the man would not have his share removed until over 60 years later.

He would use that same Jeep on other missions as well, as he would often carry the bodies of the same men [he had fed] to a nearby MASH unit for medical care...or to a camp where the body was placed in a bag.  The man learned that every day could truly be his last as well.

One day, while driving along a rim area of the Punch Bowl, known as Heart Break Ridge, he heard a mortar round aimed at the fuel barrels he was transporting.  Though he was not hit, he quickly shoved the barrels off the truck, to lighten the load and make himself less of a target.  On some of those same roads, he taxied an airplane mechanic to assist a downed pilot.  He also spent time concentrating on NOT driving in the ruts of the road, in order to avoid the tell-tale wires of  land mines.  Many times, his cargo was of the high-ranking leadership--a cargo which he transported to the front lines and back.

At a certain point during his service to his country, he was given the privilege of some R&R in the country of Japan.  There, the man handed a very well-worn picture of his bride to an artist, from which the painter was able to compose a beautiful likeness of the man's young wife.

Near the end of the war, the man was commissioned to take a commanding officer from a port on the eastern coast, through miles and miles of forest, to a city in northern Korea, where the Armistice Agreement was to be signed.  However, at an American checkpoint, the two men were refused entry, due to a machine-gun mount on the rear portion of the man's Jeep.  Though the man did his best to negotiate a compromise, in the end, they were turned back, resulting in a long drive back through the mountains and to the coast.

The man faced death and danger every day.  But one day would stick in his mind forever.  Another soldier had been shot by a sniper, and the man was sent to retrieve his body.  The sniper, with uncanny accuracy, had shot the soldier in the head, which caused his helmet to land several feet away.  The man knew the soldier's wife would want her husband's helmet.  To his horror, when he inspected the helmet, the name inside was his own:  Vernon Davis.  Apparently, the two men had slept side-by-side the previous  night.  When dawn broke, the deceased man had accidentally grabbed the wrong helmet.  The man knew that it could have been his head in that helmet, and his body being sent back in a bag.  Yet the man, in the compassion given him by his God, wrote the letter which would be delivered to the soldier's wife, explaining how he had died for his country.  The man wrote many such letters during his time in that foreign land, though he was personally experiencing the daily struggle with the mortality of his brothers and the battle for his own survival.

Then the day came:  the man had his discharge and would return home!  However, again, not all was picture-perfect, for the man had contracted malaria.  He would see his girl soon, but also spend some time recuperating in a veteran's hospital.

The man did not speak of the incidents of the Korean War for many years.  He would occasionally mention positive memories, but never anything in depth.  Until last week, when the man sat with his youngest daughter and a photo album, and his memories came out, bit by bit.  The time had finally come for the stories--hidden inside for over half a century--to be shared.

Yes, the man is my father.  He is a hero.  He is MY hero.


Friday, June 27, 2014

Just a Misunderstanding

If there is one thing that is really hard for me (to deal with), it's being misunderstood.  Whether it is the intention of my actions, or the tone of my voice, or the look in my eyes, I want to be understood.

One of the prime examples is from the birth of our second son.  While in labor, and just minutes before he made his presence known, I was in the middle of a hard contraction.  The pressure against my lungs was immense.  I couldn't catch my breath.  I felt like I was going to pass out.  I gasped out, "I can't..."  But before I could say, "Breathe," one of the nurses rolled her eyes and said, "Oh, yes, you can."  Seriously?  I had my first son with no drugs whatsoever.  I know what natural childbirth feels like.  I wanted to scream at her, "I know what I'm going through.  I just can't BREATHE!"  But, alas, my next contraction hit, and my mind shifted to more pressing issues than straightening out the nurse.  :o)

More recently, the misunderstanding worked out in an unusual way, though.

While with my son at a campus visit, I was standing to the side while he was waiting in line for his breakfast.  A young lady was sitting nearby.  We exchanged the usual, "Hi, how are you?" type of pleasantries.  Then, suddenly, she looked right at me and said, "I know what you're thinking.  You're judging me!"  I was truly shocked.  I had no idea what she meant.  So I asked, "Judging you for what?"  Her response:  "You're thinking, 'What's wrong with this crazy girl, and why does she have some of her hair shaved off?' "  I could honestly reply, "I didn't even notice that.  What I was really thinking was that you're a pretty young lady."  And she was!  Only after she mentioned it did I notice the small area of shaved hair and the bright streak of pink in the back.  Later, as we were leaving campus, we exchanged hugs and I told her I'd be praying for her.  She definitely made an impression on me.  But not because of her hair.  The impression was that she was very self-conscious about her appearance and needed to be reminded that she was beautiful.  (That's not her in the pic.  Just a random pic.)

In pondering this, I think we often do the same thing with God.  When we're in the middle of a situation, we assume we know why God is doing what He's doing to us.  He's mad at us.  He's trying to teach us a lesson.  He's punishing us for a sin.

Honestly?

Maybe we should ask HIM what his intentions are.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways,
And My thoughts than your thoughts."  Isaiah 55:8-9