Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Word of God

“For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven,
And do not return there,
But water the earth,
And make it bring forth and bud,
That it may give seed to the sower
And bread to the eater,
So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
It shall not return to Me void,
But it shall accomplish what I please,
And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it."

Isaiah 55:10, 11 

Tonight, as I heard this passage read at our Easter Vigil, it became so clear to me:  the Word Isaiah prophesied about?  That's Jesus!

Every time the Scripture's authors wrote of the Law and Prophets, they spoke of it as the Law and Prophets, or as Scripture.  But every time the Word is mentioned, they are speaking of Jesus.

And Jesus has accomplished that for which He was sent:  our redemption and life!

Happy Easter!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday

For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps:
 “Who committed no sin,
Nor was deceit found in His mouth”;
who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously;  who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed.  For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

I Peter 2: 21-25 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

March Madness? Not me!

Well, that's not completely true.  I LOVE watching NCAA basketball.  I enjoy the competition, the crazy fans, cheering for my favorite team(s), etc.  Love, love, love it.

What I do NOT love about it?  The brackets.  I have never, ever filled out a bracket with my predictions of the winners.  Never.  It drives me crazy!  Picking the teams to win every game over two weeks' time, and then crashing when your favorite team doesn't even make it out of the first round?  I can't take the pressure!

So, every year, I print a bracket.  Then, as the games are played, I fill in the winner, so I can track which teams will be playing the next round of games.  Nice, safe, and low-stress.

The real reason is that I don't like the uncertainty of the "gamble".  I am not a risk-taker.  I want to know what's going on, have time to adjust to that matter, and then go on with life.  Very safe. 

The problem with this is that it severely limits my trust in God.  I cannot count the number of times God has told me, "Trust me."  No matter what the situation we were in or facing, those were the words He whispered to my heart.  "Trust me." 

But God, what if my team doesn't win?  (What if my plans are not Your plans?)

What if it's a close game? (What if I can't see the outcome until it actually happens?)

What if one of my favorite players get hurt?  (What if the road isn't easy, and people I love have to suffer?)

What if the coach gives the wrong play, and the other team capitalizes?  (What if Your directions seem unreasonable, and Satan attacks me with doubts and worries?)

What if I have the ball with only seconds to go, my team is behind, and I blow the play?  (What if I mess up and fail You and those I love?)

What if I play great defense, only to get called for a foul?  (What if, no matter how hard I try to serve You...I stumble and fall?)

Recently, He spoke once again to me..."I love You this much [the cross].  Trust Me."

I don't even trust myself, God.  How can I trust You, whom I cannot see, touch, or hear audibly?  How?

The wonderful thing about those NCAA brackets?  Every year there is a new one.  Some teams make it to the tournament every year.  Often, though, there are is at least one unexpected team.  Some small school that has an awesome, up-and-coming group of guys who play with passion.  New teams getting a chance to show their skills on the court.  There are always those great come-back games, or the last-minute buzzer beater that decides the outcome.

The wonderful thing about God, and the life He gives us?  Every time I do it wrong, there's  a new chance.  Or an unexpected twist I had not...expected: 

- Just when I think things couldn't be worse, a friend will come along to give me that "buzzer beater" moment.  A smile.  A hug.  A note on Facebook that God woke them in the night to pray for me. 

- A prayer that I had been praying for a very long time will be answered in a way that totally amazes me.  God doing things in a mind-blowing manner.  That "come from behind" and win the day moment.

- Strength coming to my spirit, even when I feel like I can't possibly take another step or dribble that ball one more inch.  That "I made it through to the final seconds" moment.

The amazing thing about trust?  The more I do it, the more I want to do it.  The more I see His faithfulness, the more I have faith in Him.  The more I learn to trust that my team will finally win, because it's His team.

So, maybe one year, I'll fill out the entire bracket before the first game is even played.

Or maybe not...!  After all, NCAA teams are not nearly as trustworthy as God!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Why Rome? (Or, What in the world has happened to Keith and Joni???)

Over the past couple of years, I have received several private messages via Facebook.  The common theme has been:  "I just saw on your personal info that your religion is listed as 'Catholic.'  How is that possible?"

Well, for anyone who has followed our lives over the past 11 years or so, this isn't a big shock.  For those who have recently reconnected with us via Facebook, it's a heart-stopper.  If this is your first time hearing it, I apologize, and recommend you go directly to your nearest ER--do not pass "Go," do not collect $200.  :o)

When I first began my blog, I shared our journey through several posts.  (And more here!) As the questions have multiplied, though, I thought I should give an updated post on the subject, as well as bringing everyone up-to-date on our lives.  So, here goes!

Keith and I were married in June, 1989, just one month after graduating from Central Bible College, an Assemblies of God college.  We lived in the Detroit area for the first two years we were married.  We were involved in ministry in Detroit, as well as being part of a team that worked to start a church in Highland Park (pastored by Tim Dilena and Roosevelt Hunter).  From there, we moved to the Kansas City, MO, area to youth pastor.  After that, we were in Swartz Creek, MI, as youth/young adult pastors in a home missions church.

We moved back to the Detroit area, and our first son was born during that time.  Keith worked at Detroit Teen Challenge as their evangelism coordinator.  We lived in Detroit for about 1 1/2 years (Grand River/Burt Rd., just a few blocks from 6 Mile Rd.).  Following our time there, we moved to Sault Ste. Marie, MI, where Keith pastored New Life Chapel A/G.  Our youngest son was born in "the Soo".

Earlier in our marriage, Keith had read a book called, "Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up?"  The premise of the book is that the early Church had a true Christian lifestyle and would have a better understanding of the faith, since they lived closer in time to the apostles of Jesus.  Keith thought it was a good book, but life and ministry took over, and on we went.  He revisited this book while we lived in Sault Ste. Marie.  This began a journey into reading the actual writings of the Church Fathers.

At the same time, he was planning to teach our church about the errors of the Catholic Church.  He purchased a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  He wanted to read their doctrine from their point of view--not the point of view of a Protestant.  He had many disagreements with what he was reading.  However, he also saw the beauty of the presentation of their beliefs.

As this all progressed, he was also very involved with the local Ministerial Alliance.  The men in this group became close, and worked together to spread the Gospel in our community.  One big project they undertook was the distribution of the "Jesus" movie.  It was sent to every household in our area, with the opportunity for people to return "interest" cards and be contacted by local pastors.  Keith headed this up, as well as being involved in the hospital chaplaincy, the local jail chaplaincy, and working as the "go to" pastor when a local funeral home needed someone to perform a funeral.  He was also the chaplain for our county hospice program.

He became friends with the pastors.  They were such a great support for each other.  However, it also triggered something inside Keith:  They were all Christian pastors, saying they were preaching the truth of the Gospel, and yet, there were also some major doctrinal differences.  How did he know that what he was teaching our people was "the Truth"?  Where was his authority to teach these things?  Every one of those men would say their authority was based on Scripture alone.  Yet they had those incredibly large differences.  Who was right?  And who had the authority to say who was right?

The more he read the Church Fathers, the more he realized that some of the things he was teaching were not in line with what they taught and believed.  And after all, who had the better view of things:  Keith Johnson in the 20th century, or those who were taught by the apostles and their disciples?

He spoke to our sectional and district leadership.  He spent a week at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary.  He was on a quest for the truth.  What he found was disturbing to him.  There were large gaps in the history we had been taught.  Gaps which had been filled in by the Church Fathers and the other early Church writers and apologists.  Something just didn't fit with him.

Without belaboring the point, he eventually told me what was happening.  Frankly, I was very upset.  He was calling into question many of the foundational things I had been taught all my life.  He was forcing me to know why I believed all I believed.  That was one of the hardest years of our marriage.  We had always been "one" in our journey.  Now, we were very divided.

At the end of that year, he received the paperwork to renew his ordination with the A/G.  In order to do this, he needed to sign a paper that said he believed and taught everything the Assemblies of God believed and taught.  He really wanted to be able to just sign it, and go on with life.  In his deepest heart of hearts, though, he knew that would be dishonest.  Finally, he said, "Joni, I can't sign that.  It would be a lie.  This is my decision to make.  My integrity is on the line.  We will make the decision of where to go from here together.  But this decision is mine.  I just can't sign it."  I knew he was right.  I had seen his study, struggle, prayer...I knew this was one of the hardest decisions of his life.  But I knew he was right.

He resigned the church.  We said our tearful goodbyes, and headed back to the Detroit area.

He had been corresponding with Fr. Ken Bieber, who pastored a small Charismatic Episcopal Church (CEC) in the suburbs of Detroit.  Keith and Fr. Ken had exchanged enough e-mails to fill three floppy disks!  Keith asked him all kinds of questions about early Church teachings, etc.  After we moved, we attended Fr. Ken's church for a couple of months.  The Holy Spirit spoke to both of us:  this is where you need to be.

Keith was eventually ordained a priest, and our bishop's council asked us to move to Ohio.  Fr. Ken had moved down the year before, and was pastoring two churches.  Keith was to assist at one of those churches.  He was made the pastor a few months later.  Long story short:  the church was a mess, and ended up closing.  We moved to Wadsworth, with the plan to possibly start over and begin a mission church here.

The CEC as a whole was also going through some major issues, and a huge split occurred.  We had neither the heart nor the desire to keep waging the battles.  Our bishop urged us to take some time away from ministry, and pray for the Spirit's guidance.  Since the closest CEC church was 45 minutes away, he also counseled us to attend other churches for a time.  We visited several.  We knew our time in the CEC was done.  God had released us.  We needed to find a new home.

We finally decided we would check out the Roman Catholic church nearby.  At first visit, we were impressed.  We both felt the presence of the Holy Spirit in such an incredible we hadn't felt His presence in a very long time.  After 2-3 months of talking to the pastor of the church, Fr. Joe, and attending a Mass here and there, we decided to check it out in a deeper way.  The Catholic Church has a program called R.C.I.A. (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults).  Fr. Joe suggested we attend some of the classes, and continue to pray.  The next 8 months were educational, difficult, and a time for a lot of prayer by our entire family.

On April 7, 2007, we were received into the Catholic Church--all four of us.

Now, this may still seem like a mystery to you.  How did we get from Point A to Point B?  The process I have (tried) to briefly describe took place over about a 18-year time span, but especially the last 11 years.  There were no hasty decisions.  There were no moves made without hours and hours of prayer.  We did not just "pick up and move" at any time.  These were years of anguish, study, prayer, and lots and lots of listening.

I have published many posts on the beauty of the Catholic Church.  I don't claim to know everything.  I do know that my faith has deepened in unimaginable ways in the past 6 years.  I do know that Keith and I are very united in being in the Catholic Church.  I do know that he has found the place for his authority:  the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.

I do not despise my heritage.  I cherish it.  I cannot say enough about the great love I (was taught) for the Bible and having a very personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  I am so blessed to have been taught to share my faith, and to rely on the Holy Spirit.  I revel in the joy of knowing that Jesus Christ died, rose again, and is seated at the right hand of the Father, making intercession for me.  The A/G and CEC both focused on allowing the Holy Spirit to use each of us in the gifts He has for us. 

And now, our family brings that into the Catholic Church.  May God use us as He deems best for His glory and His honor.

More to come...

Friday, March 08, 2013

Friday Reflection

I love you this much.

Trust me.

"For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit."
I Peter 3:18

Thursday, March 07, 2013

A Moment in Time

"Behold, I have taught you statutes and ordinances, as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land which you are entering to take possession of it.  Keep them and do them; for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’  For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him?  And what great nation is there, that has statutes and ordinances so righteous as all this law which I set before you this day?  Only take heed, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things which your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children’s children."
Deuteronomy 4:5-9 

Tomorrow will be the anniversary of the death of my grandpa Davis.  Grandpa was born in the early 1900's.  His childhood was filled with twists and turns.  They were poor, and for a portion of his life he lived in a sod house.  After marrying my grandmother, when my dad was very young, he spent some time at Southwestern Assemblies of God College, which was then in Oklahoma. 

He did pastor a small, rural church in their community for a time.  In my remembrance, he was a farmer and a Sunday school teacher.  He and my grandmother raised their children during tough times.  My father, who is the oldest, was born after the stock market crashed and the Great Depression had begun.  Kansans suffered through the Dust Bowl and did their best to keep their families fed.  

My grandpa was enigma to me.  He had a strong personality.  Yet, his laughter came easily at times.  One of my favorite memories were his weekly words to me.  He stood at the back of our church every Sunday.  When I would come by (often too quickly, considering I was in church!), he would reach out and touch my shoulder, and say, "There's my girlfriend!"  Another sweet memory is eating cold watermelon in their home on a hot summer day.

Grandpa had this huge board for checkers.  I don't remember ever playing a game with him, but I know my older cousins did.  And anyone who lived in the community knew whose red pickup that was coming down the road!

When I was in high school, Grandpa suffered his first stroke.  My grandmother practically lived at the hospital during his stay there.  The family tried putting him into a nursing home, but felt the care there was not best for him.  After he returned home, my grandmother, mom, and aunts all worked diligently to tend to him.  One bright memory from that time was during my senior year of high school.  I was assigned to interview three people who had grown up in our small town, regarding the history of our community.  Grandma, Grandpa, and I had some great laughs that day, especially when he told the story of the horse being spooked by the train!

In the years afterward, he had other strokes.  Eventually, he ended up in a "swing bed" situation at our hospital.  He lived out the rest of his time there.

In those years, I learned to know him in a whole new way.  His demeanor was somehow softer, and the years of suffering opened my eyes to the truth strength within him.  It was not easy to see this man lying in a bed, relying on others to feed him, and his short term memory so sketchy.  He did remember things from years gone by, though.  I remember sitting at his bedside, and seeing his hand curled up and useless.  I remember rubbing it, and wishing I could make the tension in it relax, so he could stretch out his hand again.  He could still make his silly little growling noise at me, though, and wiggle his ears!  

Grandpa passed away in 1990, less than a year after I got married.  One of the many things I regret is that my children never met him (or any of my other grandparents).  He would have loved watching them and laughing at their antics.  He would have shared his love for the Bible and the land.  (And probably his views on politics--he was a staunch conservative!)

I miss you, Grandpa.  My life is richer for the heritage you passed on to my dad and myself.  I look forward to seeing my "boyfriend" again some day!

Monday, March 04, 2013

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy...Afternoon

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

By Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.   
His house is in the village though;   
He will not see me stopping here   
To watch his woods fill up with snow.   

My little horse must think it queer   
To stop without a farmhouse near   
Between the woods and frozen lake   
The darkest evening of the year.   

He gives his harness bells a shake   
To ask if there is some mistake.   
The only other sound’s the sweep   
Of easy wind and downy flake.  

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.  

But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,   
And miles to go before I sleep.