Where the heart is…

 

For Scott and Squeaky, wherever you are my prayers are with you.

My mother-in-law Deann just walked out the door from a three day stay with us. It took about three months to come down to see us and what took three months came and went in just under 72 hours. Goodbyes are a hard thing to endure.

Both my wife and I grew up in a loving parental atmosphere. We are not shy as to what real love is: the sacrifice of it all and the drudgery of the mundane for the ones you care about. We both have parents who have sacrificed so very much for our well being and who have made sure we recognized the face of true love when we see it. I myself remember my Father and Mother indoctrinating me with the true meaning of love day after day. They always backed it up with the actions necessary to validate it. Likewise my mother-in-laws love for her daughter is evident. I can see it every time my wife parents our children with the love that she has learned from her mother. Our stay here is in fact lonely. We don’t have any friends to call up and fellowship with. We don’t have our family an hour down the road. We are here with the Holy Spirit and our faith. It’s easy for people, especially family, to simply say “pack up and come home, there’s school here.” The truth is that it’s very enticing but being in God’s will is oftentimes lonely and challenging. It isn’t an easy and beautiful thing. It’s filled with long goodbye’s and see you soons, that usually end up many months later. It’s a sacrifice we have chosen that is for the better, not for ourselves but for the guys like Scott and Squeaky, who are homeless and all alone in the world. These two precious men are just two people we’ve met and ministered to since we’ve been here. Scott told me he has a son in Ohio. He wanted a son so bad for so many years and now he just had him and he can’t see him. His sons name is Christian and he’s a year old. I’m sure glad that my wife and I came to New Orleans if for no other reason but for the time we spent with Squeaky and Scott. I looked into the eyes of these two men and I saw a tremendous amount of pain. I saw a void that I once knew myself. I wish I could have done more for them than I did but if nothing else they know just how much Jesus loves them. 

Home isn’t where the heart is despite culturally popular belief. The heart is a divided conundrum that will deceive you and if you are not consciously seeking the cross then you’re heart will rest in the womb of the world. The presence of God is where the heart longs to be. It’s the very reason why we are celebrating easter some 2000 years later. The very death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was so that one day we could come back home because He’s where the heart really longs to be. 

If you feel that longing in your life and you haven’t been able to figure out what it is then may I introduce that longing to you? His name is Jesus Christ and He just can’t wait to throw His loving arms around you and give you the hope that one day you’ll be home with Him in Heaven. 

One day we will all be faced with the presence of eternity and where our hearts are at now will determine where they will rest forever. Where’s your heart at?

For my brothers and sisters in Christ may I ask that you remember these two men Squeaky and Scott in your prayers? It’s not a big thing to ask for and the best part is that it’s free. Pray that God will relentlessly pursue them and that He will show them His love for them and that His pursuit for them will not be in vain but a triumphant victory for Heaven. 

                                                                                                                                – Joshua

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A Dark Night of the Soul

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Right now, as I’m writing this, there are hundreds of thousands of people praying; by the time you finish reading this, a number of them will already have been answered. Jesus has heard them, taken them to the Father, and pleaded on their behalf. The little seminary in Jinja, Uganda is filling with students seeking the promises of Jesus Christ. There is a small village in China at this very moment experiencing unimaginable movement by the Holy Spirit. Believers in Australia, Norway, Italy, France, Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, Germany, India, Ireland, USA, Canada, Iceland, Norwich, Sweden, and many more countries all over the world are experiencing supplication with the very Author of creation. Some of them are experiencing tragic loss, miraculous healing, restoration, spiritual desolation, and true revival. The Holy Spirit is penetrating prison walls, family quarters, concentration camps, bars, sex clubs, drug slums, and back alleys. He is cross-culturalizing and filling in the gaps. No power is greater. He is unstoppable. God the creator is getting glory, as I type, and continues as you read this. He will continue to get the glory for eon’s after this fragment is written and forgotten. The very God who created every single person that has ever lived, the very God who breathed the universe into existence, the very God who walked alongside Abraham, is at work today. He’s everywhere. No matter what the world says, God is most assuredly on the move. He is not dead.

When my wife and I moved to New Orleans, I was expecting something miraculous to take place inside me. I was expecting God to grace me with His grand presence by immersing myself into seminary life. What I didn’t expect was a dark night of the soul. For those of you who have never heard this term, I will elaborate. St John of the Cross wrote a poem in 1577 entitled “Dark Night,” describing the soul’s journey into supplication with God. Although some claim “Dark knight” reflects the meaning of the phrase “dark knight of the soul,” this isn’t the case. The phrase has been used by the Roman Catholic church to reflect a time period of spiritual desolation in which you do not feel or hear God’s presence in your life. A 19th century French Carmelite, St. Therese of Lisieux, confessed her own experience to her fellow nuns, “If you only knew what darkness I am plunged into.” In the 18th century, St. Paul of the cross experienced this for 45 years, until he finally recovered. Mother Teresa of Calcutta has had the most extensive case, lasting from 1948 up until her death in 1997, with brief interludes. One of America’s most beloved Pastor/ Evangelists, Charles Spurgeon, spent a large part of his ministry experiencing this. Sometimes it was so great that it left him bedridden.

When we look at the Bible and what it says about these dark nights or spiritual valleys, we get a clear picture of just what God is trying to tell us. It is a reoccurring theme that rings out. Many of our fathers in the Bible experienced this spiritual desolation: Elijah, David, Job, and Joseph, just to name a few. In the second chapter of Job, his wife told him to curse God and die. Then, he responded to her by rhetorically asking her whether or not we should accept only the good things of God and not the adversity. The author writes that Job upheld his integrity (Job 2:9-10). David writes of his valley in Psalm. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4). In 1 Kings 19, Elijah felt such depression that he asked God to take his life. Joseph expressed to his brothers that God had allowed the things in his life to happen for a good reason (Genesis 50).

Even Jesus experienced the dark night that all of us go through, and He had never even sinned. Matthew 27:46 says, “’and about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’” Jesus was actually quoting Psalm 22:1. Jesus did not say this because God had abandoned Him. God cannot abandon Himself but rather He said this to fulfill the prophesy of Psalm 22,  which was a prophesy to Jesus’ type of death.

God never leaves us. “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6). Though I am experiencing a great “dark night of the soul,” God has not forsaken me; He never will. This is a biblical promise for all who love and obey Him. I may not feel God’s presence in my life right now, but I can still see it all around me. God is still here, even if I can’t see him. If travailing towards the cross means trudging through the valley, then I press on in faith that one day I will see my resurrected King.

—Joshua

Mary, Mother of Jesus

 

The Hebrew name Mary has always been extraordinarily popular, dating back to the time of the New Testament. At least half a dozen women mentioned in the Bible bore the name Mary. For this reason, Jesus’s mother is often identified as “Mary, Mother of Jesus.” Mary was a beloved follower of God. Because of her faithfulness, she was chosen to bear and care for the Son of God.

Every time I read about Mary, I realize a new connection I have with her, directly or indirectly. She was a young teenager when she became a mother. My sister turned 14 years old shortly after the birth of her first daughter. Her favorite lullaby to sing to my niece was “Mary, Did You Know?”. When I became a mother two years ago, I found that the same song had a new meaning to me. Suddenly, I had a new connection to Mary, as I tried to imagine how it must have felt to hold Jesus as a babe, and to wonder at the marvelous miracles to come from him (Luke 2:19). The birth canal is the channel of life; Mary gave birth to the channel of Eternal Life for all of mankind.

Before I became a mother, I nearly became a divorcee. Like Mary, I experienced a time when my husband wanted to divorce me because of something I did which brought disgrace to him. During a difficult time early in our marriage, my husband and I were arguing before a trip out of town to spend Thanksgiving Day with his family. The argument rose to a peak, and I decided not to go with him. He refused to take me back home, but headed towards the Interstate instead, in a rage. We both had reached a point that we did not trust each other, and I called the police. All I wanted was to get out of the car, and at that moment, I could not come up with another solution. Being pulled over and having a policeman put handcuffs on you as strangers drive by peering out at you is a very embarrassing, disgraceful scenario. What brought disgrace to my husband is in no way comparable to Mary’s premarital pregnancy. We were out of God’s will at the time, but I could not continue on that path with my husband. When the policeman told my husband to get out of the vehicle, and we parted ways, I was putting the future of our marriage in God’s hands. I was trusting that He would fix what we had allowed to spiral out of control. And He did. At first, like Joseph, my husband’s immediate response was to seek a divorce (Matthew 1:19) But, God placed a love for me in my husband’s heart and, over a period of six months or so, directed my husband back to me. We both committed to being servants of God, and He healed our marriage, then blessed us with four children.

If I reach back in my memory bank, I can not recall the day that I met the man I call Dad. But, just before my 18th birthday, my mom confessed that my “Dad” is not my biological father. He adopted me when I was two years old. Through my mom’s eyes, I can see how grateful Mary must have felt towards Joseph for raising Jesus as his own son, because that is what my dad did for me (Matthew 1:24). Like Joseph, my dad provided for me financially and cared as much for me as for my siblings. Sadly, nothing is mentioned about Joseph once Jesus began ministering. I suppose we can assume that Joseph died before Jesus’ crucifixion and left Mary to be a widow, as Jesus asked his beloved disciple to care for his mother just before he died on the cross (John 12:27). Similarly, my dad left my mother around the time that my marriage was healed, which would be the ultimate jumpstart to my ministry alongside my husband. Now, I pray for God to send someone to care for my mother both spiritually and financially, be it through a godly husband or the salvation of one or both of my brothers.

Finally, I feel that I can connect with Mary in that we both were raised naively in a small town, only to be swept into the world of travel once married. I lived in the same house for seventeen years, but I have moved eight times since I’ve been married. With Joseph, Mary traveled to Bethlehem, to Egypt, to Israel, and back to Nazareth. She submitted to Joseph, just as Joseph submitted to God.

Although I feel drawn to her life story for many reasons, the only aspect that I truly  wish to share with Mary, Mother of Jesus, is her character.  The mere fact that God chose her to be Jesus’ mother is proof enough that she upheld great moral character. The angel Gabriel referred to Mary as one who was highly favored by God (Luke 1:28,30). As Christians, we are all called to live like Mary. Elizabeth called Mary blessed and praised her faithfulness to God (Luke 1:42-45). Mary’s response was to rejoice and to sing praises to God (Luke 1:46-55). She was humble, referring to herself as a servant of God, even as the flesh of God formed inside her womb (Luke 1:38,48). She was knowledgeable of God and understood His equally infinite attributes of justice and love (Luke 1:50-55). She sought the wise counsel of her elder cousin Elizabeth (Luke 1:56). Mary honored and submitted to her husband, as she trusted him and followed him faithfully (Matthew 2:14-15, 21-23, Luke 1:4-5). Joseph and Mary obeyed the law of the land by responding appropriately to the call of a census (Luke 2:1-5). As well, they obeyed the Law of the Lord by presenting Jesus to God and giving the appropriate sacrifices (Luke 2:22-24). They continued to raise Jesus in the church, keeping all the Laws of the Lord (Luke 2:39-41). Even when Jesus was grown, he honored the teachings of his mother, as it is written that he read in the synagogue on the Sabbath Day (Luke 4:16).

From Mary I have learned to humbly accept God’s will for my life, whatever that may be. I have learned that I should submerse myself in God’s Word and sing praises to Him always. As a mother, I observe that I should teach my children God’s commands, emphasizing the importance of loving and encouraging one another. As well, I should teach them to thirst for God by instilling habits of spiritual discipline in them and daily pointing out miracles of God which they may otherwise overlook. When I am in need of advice, I will seek counsel from people who are older and/or more spiritually mature than I. Where my husband leads, I will follow and submit myself to him as unto the Lord. I will conduct myself as a citizen with upstanding moral conduct and integrity, displaying the Fruits of the Spirit and confessing my faults.

As revered as Mary was in God’s eyes, we must all remember that she, too, was a mere human. The same story is repeated in three gospels of Jesus telling the crowd he was talking to that anyone who follows Christ is equal to his mother (Matthew 12:48-50, Mark 3:33-35, Luke 8:21). Then, as he hung on the cross, He (God) spent some of his dying seconds showing Mary gratitude by assuring her that she would be taken care of (John 19: 25-27). The ultimate lesson Christians can learn from Mary is to follow the will of God. Even if at times that means feeling great agony like Mary felt as she watched her son die, God assures us that He will always take care of His flock.

–Raye

first family photo
Aniston and Jonah
M&M First Family Photo
Madeline and Magnolia