Amazing Moments of God’s Love

Divine Moments The world is full of stories about God’s love, with new stories unfolding every day. The Lord wants these stories to be told so that believers may be encouraged, unbelievers challenged, and so that he himself may be glorified. Some years ago, novelist Yvonne Lehman started collecting true stories into what is now known as the “Moments” books. These are a chance for you to share YOUR story too. An invitation from Yvonne…

One evening after a day of participating in a writers conference, several of us gathered in the hotel lobby to visit and chat. One woman told a story that had us all gasping with amazement at how God showed up in a fascinating, almost unbelievable way. Others began sharing their stories. Some were sweet, some humorous, others serious, but all were about experiencing God’s presence in unexpected ways.

I thought of the praise song, “Our God Is an Awesome God,” in which the words are repeated over and over. I’ve often wanted to say, “Go further. Don’t just repeat the words. Tell me the stories of your being amazed by God’s love.”

That’s what we were doing that evening. We were joyful, talking loudly, laughing, loving. Sharing those special times of our lives became a time of praise. Others joined us to hear the stories and share their own. The realization was that we all have awesome and amazing stories to share but we don’t always take time or have the opportunity to share them. I commented that “somebody” should put these stories in a book.

~~~

Two months later, Grace Publisher Terri Kalfas called me and said she was interested in that book I mentioned.

Book? I mentioned a book to Terri Kalfas? I questioned and she reminded me of that night when we had talked about God showing up in unexpected, miraculous ways.

But… I was a novelist. I didn’t write non-fiction other than an occasional article or devotion, and really didn’t care to. I hadn’t intended that “somebody” should be me. But I could at least contact people through email addresses, loops, Facebook, etc. … for Terri.

~~~

I was… amazed. Responses were immediate and so inspiring. Some of the authors were established, professional writers. Others were those in the midst of their writing journey. Several were not writers at all, but people who learned about what we were doing and they had a story to tell. Instead of trying to divide royalties between 50 authors, the decision was made to donate the royalties to Samaritan’s Purse. That compilation became an amazing book, Divine Moments.

Since that venture went so well, Terri suggested we try a book of Christmas stories. Although my preference was still fiction, I’d really been touched by these true stories, so I said, “Sure.” The second book became Christmas Moments. These ranged from light to serious, Santa to Jesus, disappointment to understanding, entertaining to edifying.

Then I was ready to return to fiction writing. But… my daughter, Lori, was asked to teach a Sunday school class. The first topic was Words of Jesus. She asked if I’d sit in and help if needed since I work with words. During the class session, members related times when someone’s words hurt or encouraged them.

Lori looked at me and said, “Mom, there’s your next Moments book.” What else can you do when your daughter is on a spiritual journey? Spoken Moments became the third one.

~~~

Though I had always preferred writing fiction, I was learning the value and great impact of non-fiction. The stories in these Moments books were changing lives – for readers and for the writers. Writers were thinking about the ways God had worked in their lives, the strength and weaknesses of their faith and the lessons learned. Beginning writers were gaining a by-line. Non-writers had a voice.

Each Moments book has been followed by another…and another…and another…each one on a different topic. For every book, I write an introduction and share my own articles on the theme of that particular book. God has taught me to remember how he worked in my life in so many different ways and know that my story may lead someone to him, or strengthen their faith.

More than what God was doing for me personally, he was showing me how he poured out his love on others. One author came to my Novel Retreat and gave her testimony of her family not listening to her talk about Jesus, but one of them read her article, shared it with others, and eventually her entire family became followers of Jesus. Others have written of hardships, loss, blaming God, turning from the faith, and how the love of God taught them lessons, was present in the difficulties, proved he had not abandoned them.  Amazing, how God uses the hardships and successes of others to show the world he is here, he does love us, and he never abandons us.

~~~

We now have 15 books in the Moments series, and more on the way. Since the first book, the authors have been excited to receive no payment for their donation of an article. Well, let me correct that. They receive no monetary payment. They’re experiencing the opportunity to share with others what God does in their lives and they witness about their faith. By donating our royalties to Samaritan’s Purse, we’re part of a ministry that cares for the physical and spiritual welfare of people throughout the world.

It’s amazing to discover the truth of the words of Jesus: “It’s more blessed to give than receive” (Acts 20:35). Sharing our stories of God’s love brings a sense of peace and joy.

Yvonne Lehman  Yvonne Lehman

Yvonne invites you to send an article (or prayer or poem that fit the theme) for one of the upcoming Moments books. Please send them to yvonnelehman3@gmail.com.

She’s  now accepting articles about:

Coronavirus (thoughts, even prayers or poems are all right too)

Can, Sir! Moments (primarily about cancer but may be any experience in which one determines, “With the Lord’s help, I can do this, or get through this.”)

Christmas Moments 2020 – (Santa, Jesus, light, serious)

Broken Moments (humorous or serious)

Lost Moments (humorous or serious)

Grandma’s Cookie Jar (warm, cozy articles about grandma, or a stereotypical grandmotherly feeling)

Beckie’s Story: From Blindness to Greater Vision

At the age of 33, Beckie Horter began to lose her sight. As her vision narrowed and the world grew darker, the Lord opened her eyes…and her heart…to His love for her. Here is Beckie’s story…

glasses-1246611_1920 Twenty years ago, my life changed radically. The diagnosis of a blinding retina disease put a stop to life as I knew it. Plans for the future got iced. I grappled with the impossible realization that over time my central vision would be erased bit by bit. First one eye, then the other. My condition would progress slowly, but predictably, and always with the threat of total blindness. I was 33 years old.

As I struggled to come to terms with vision loss, practical matters took precedence. Obviously I could no longer continue my job proofreading the newspaper; the pace was too hectic. I stopped driving a car, and ouch! That hurt. Daily matters like reading my mail and quick stops at the grocery store became arduous tasks.

~~~

About that time, my sister hosted a birthday party for my mother. I looked across the room where my big family was gathered, and I couldn’t tell who was who. I felt sick as I contemplated my blurry future.

I started to wonder…

Why had God allowed this to happen? Was I being punished? What type of future could I have as a legally blind person?

~~~

The grieving process set in. From denial to bargaining; anger to depression, and then back again, my emotions ricocheted. Peace eluded me. The final step—acceptance— came after much wrestling with God.

One morning as I searched the Scriptures for answers, I read Psalm 34:18: “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (NIV).

The verse leapt off the page! Surely this was written just for me. Although King David penned the words centuries ago, they fell fresh on my heart that day at the dining room table.

The words “brokenhearted and crushed in spirit” perfectly described my mood. But there was good news, too. The Lord was close, and He would save me.

~~~

Up until this point, my relationship with God was based on head knowledge alone. I had graduated from a Christian college. I believed. I had always believed, but now I knew more was necessary. God was calling me deeper.

I had come to the end of myself, and doctors provided no hope. My fear of going deeper with the Lord dissolved as I felt the words of Scripture tear down walls built over a lifetime.

The Holy Spirit moved in. The Bible came alive as never before. I realized God wasn’t mad at me or punishing me. The entire planet was under a curse. Our bodies included. Death was inevitable, but God was in the midst of the broken. He felt the pain and entered into it.

A crazy thought took root in my brain: Maybe I can do this blindness thing with God’s help. For the first time in years, a ray of hope poked through the gloom. A future seemed possible.

~~~

I prayed in earnest, and God brought committed Christian women into my life. I heard three simple words: “Jesus loves you,” and they no longer felt like a cliché. I found a Bible-believing church and got baptized. The pastor’s wife asked me to speak at a women’s gathering. There an older saint specifically prayed for writing opportunities to open up for me. A short time later, a shy friend said she felt led by God to tell me about a ministry seeking proofreaders for devotions. I applied and got the position.

These days I sit in front of a large screen television monitor, which doubles as a computer screen. I have published many articles. I have proofread many devotions and continue on my writing journey—albeit slowly.

Over the past fuzzy years of walking with God, I have learned that His love is far different than a Hollywood script. It is so much deeper and more surprising than the turn of a man-made plot.

Like a messy bird’s nest I recently discovered above my desk outside the window and under a metal awning, God’s love is uniquely formed for my situation. It’s personal.

Sometimes I marvel that twenty years have passed since my diagnosis. I remember how long and difficult the days were at first. I remember saying, “I can’t live like this.”

Although my physical sight is now worse than before, my spiritual vision is 20/20. When I look down on the bird’s nest as I stand on a chair beside my desk, I don’t see a mess. Instead, I see four fragile blue eggs huddled close. I watch the mother bird coming and going, carefully tending her clutch. I see new life about to burst forth, and I smile at the irony of God placing this nest where only I can see it.

Beckie Horter Beckie Horter

 

Martin’s Story: Surviving Divorce

Only too often human love, even the love of a spouse, fails us. In the midst of divorce, one man learned that God’s love never fails. Here is Martin Wiles’s story…

49b67884b78c91929caa3cbd29f61f01 Life was good—until I heard the words, “I don’t love you anymore.”

I had met Brandi* when I was 24 and had fallen head over heels in love. Within a couple of years, we were married. In the meantime, after a rebellious youth, I had also got myself back on track with God.

Growing up as a PK (preacher’s kid) riled me. After all, I was born at the beginning of several revolutions: sexual, civil rights, political. It appeared I had the rebellious gene too—although not inherited from either of my parents. They were straight-laced and obeyed the rules. Not me. When I was 14 the rebellious gene broke loose and stuck around until I was a young adult.

When God turned me back to Him, I remembered the call He had placed on my life when I was 12 years old, a call that entailed full-time preaching and full-time teaching. I had no idea how those things would work out, but I was ready to find out.

Now, to tell the new wife.

~~~

Six months after we married, I shared the news with Brandi: “I think God’s calling me into the ministry.” She seemed excited—and I was glad. I sure didn’t want to melt down a six-month-old marriage to pursue God’s will. Then came the hard part: an education I had not wanted after high school.

One and a half years after we married, we packed our things—and our ten-month-old daughter—and headed to a college eight hours away. No jobs lined up. No savings. Just a place to stay on campus, the clothes on our backs, and a few belongings. Four years later (and with one more child in tow), I graduated. Six months later, a church called me as pastor. One year later, I took a job teaching history at a local private high school. God had worked out the teaching and preaching thing after all.

Five years later, another church issued a call—one closer to our home—and we moved again. Things went well…for four years. By this time, our daughter was a senior and our son beginning high school. Old enough to care for themselves. Old enough that my wife no longer felt she was needed at home. Brandi wanted a job. The first she’d had outside the home since we’d married.

That’s when the trouble began.

~~~

Her work peers didn’t share her beliefs…or her lifestyle. Temptations poured in on her in record time and with unbelievable intensity. Whispers and questions arose at church. “Is everything okay with Brandi?” “Have you checked up on her lately?”

I knew something wasn’t right, but checking up? Didn’t that constitute distrust? “No, I haven’t,” I answered. Only to hear, “I think you need to.”

As Brandi moved up to assistant manager, her work hours lengthened. She filled in at other stores. Sometimes, she didn’t come home at all. When she did, I smelled aromas I recognized from my rebellious years. I saw things that made me suspicious. But she always had a good excuse, and I believed her. Until…

One night behind our closed bedroom door, out of earshot of our kids, she said the words I’ve never been able to dismiss completely from my mind: “I don’t love you anymore.” She didn’t want counseling. She wanted a divorce.

~~~

After one last attempt at reconciliation—reconciliation she didn’t want—I told her goodbye and said hello to three years of the darkest depression I’d ever experienced.

I had lost the person I considered the love of my life. The divorce also led to the loss of my job, as my church led me to understand that they wanted my resignation as pastor. So in addition to deep grief and loneliness, I faced great financial difficulty. If ever I had needed the Lord, I needed Him now. I read and studied my Bible more than ever . I prayed longer. I went to church more. Nights were the worse times. The verse that got me through was Psalm 4:8: “In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, O Lord, will keep me safe” (NLT).

Although few of my pastor friends reached out to me, many other friends, relatives, and family members did. God showed me His love through them, and His healing work began in my heart. The Lord also provided me with a secular job where my work peers didn’t care that I had been divorced.

I had given up on the thought of continuing in any kind of ministry until two things happened. First, I met a woman named Michelle who became my wife. Through her, God taught me to love and trust again, something I thought would never happen. Second, Michelle encouraged me to try to get back into ministry.

With her support, I sent out hundreds of resumes to churches. Most of them were ignored, but eventually one church gave me an opportunity, and, as time has passed, more have done so. I no longer depend on that for my full-time income (I teach at a Christian school), but I pastor bi-vocationally.

Eighteen years after I heard those fateful words, “I don’t love you anymore,” I have forgiven my ex-wife, established speaking terms with her, share several grandkids with her, and am doing what God originally called me to do. Proof that divorce can be survived—even though painful life changes and depression might be a part of the process.

The dark years after the divorce brought me closer to God and gave me a deeper understanding of His love, from which nothing in this world can separate us.

*Name changed.

Martin Wiles  Martin Wiles is a pastor, teacher, author and editor. You can read more from Martin at Love Lines From God.

Shonda’s Story: Not the Life I Imagined

Shonda blog photo I never imagined I would be the mother of a convicted felon. My husband and I celebrated the love of Christ with our children both in church and at home. We dedicated our sons to the Lord and taught them how to live according to Scripture.

I watched and learned from parents in our circle of influence. Their children did well in school, then proceeded to earn college degrees, find gainful employment, marry godly spouses, and start their own families.

Following the examples modeled for me, I made my loving mother checklist:

  • Christian education
  • Regular church attendance
  • Sports activities
  • Family vacations

I anticipated the same outcome I witnessed over and over again. After all, I stood on the promise of God that as a parent if I train them up in His ways, then they will never depart from it (Proverbs 22:6).

~~~

After my older son, Stephen, graduated from high school, he went to work and moved into his own apartment. His choice of friends raised concerns on my radar. When I shared this with other godly parents, they encouraged me not to worry as young adults go through a phase. “It will be all right,” they said. So, I turned my worries into prayers.

But then we got the call—he was in jail charged with serious crimes—murder and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Shocked, I couldn’t process the news.

With my heart ripped apart, my first prayer after learning about my son’s arrest came from Romans 8:28, which reads, And 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 (NLT).

I petitioned the Lord because only He could take something so traumatic and somehow turn it for something good.

~~~

Due to the nature of the crimes, there were those who suggested that I forget about him and let him rot in prison. But when I thought about my son, how could I let him go, just left to rot and waste away? What about God’s promises to me?

Standing at the crossroads of these two choices, I chose to love him as God loves—unconditionally.

Regardless of the consequences my son faced, even if that meant the death penalty or life in prison on this side of eternity, I did not want him to suffer eternal separation from God.

Because of His love for us, Christ took the death penalty for each one of us. And because of love, God promises to forgive us of our sins if we confess them. I wrote the promise from First John 1:9 on paper and sent it to my son. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness (NLT).

I cried out, “Lord, if I have to live separated from my son in this life, I don’t want to be separated from him in eternity.”

~~~

Love for my son compelled me to write letters to him five days a week sharing God’s love. Every day I sat with my Bible in my lap determined to receive an encouraging word from the Lord. As I read familiar passages, I saw God’s words through new filters.

The Bible is filled with testimony of people our present society would label as thugs and outcasts. Many biblical heroes started out as scoundrels. The Lord redeemed and restored the lives of liars, cheaters, adulterers, thieves, murderers, womanizers, prostitutes, and prisoners and used them to fulfill His purposes. This filled me with hope, and I shared this hope with my son.

Two months after his arrest, my son sent a letter with his decision to fully surrender his life to Christ. From that moment, I knew that no matter what happened, if we depart this earth or Jesus returns, we will be together in eternity. Peace filled my heart.

As we navigated the legal process with my son and his attorney, I noticed the Bible contains judicial themes. Particularly how we are invited to raise our petitions into the courtroom of heaven. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most (Hebrews 4:16 NLT).

~~~

Because of the Lord’s unconditional love, He desires to show us mercy. God granted mercy to Stephen with a twenty-year sentence, though he was eligible to be sentenced to life in prison. Even as a lawful captive to the state, he lives in a freedom that does not depend on a location, but on the Spirit of the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:17).

Stephen admits that our love for him led him to choose Christ and allows His light to shine through him in a place filled with darkness. He explained that inmates who are rejected by outside family often turn to gangs and violence.

Hebrews 13:3 says, Remember those in prison, as if you were there yourself. Before this, I never thought about prisoners, but now I remember them, as a part of me is in prison.

Over these years, God has demonstrated His faithfulness. Step by step, I witness the amazing love of God working everything together for good out of an excruciating situation.

Though this is not the life I imagined for my son, the Lord called me to live my life as a love story.  Because of His love, I share His unconditional love at times and in places that some avoid or may never give a thought to it—loving those in prison and their hurting families.

Shonda Savage Shonda Whitworth writes, teaches, and speaks at conferences and retreats to share the hope of healing and restoration we have in Jesus. After her son landed in state prison, she realized the hardships families of prisoners encounter. She and her husband, Eldon, founded Fortress of Hope Ministries, a nonprofit organization that offers hope to families affected by incarceration. Shonda transparently shares her testimony of living with a son in prison at ShondaWhitworth.com and FortressofHopeMinistries.com.

Shonda book

Shonda’s book is also available at ShopLPC.com and BarnesandNoble.com.

 

Sandy’s Story: When There are No Words

There are times when overwhelming loss leaves us without words. Sandra Merville Hart has known such a time. But she has also known the love of God that carries us through those days. Here is Sandy’s story …

Sometimes … God just cries with us.

That year, between the two of us, my husband and I lost three parents. Though I prayed fervently for a different outcome—one where they’d all be healed—for the third time in six months a hospice nurse told me, “We’re seeing the kind of things we see in the last twelve, twenty-four, to forty-eight hours of life.”

This time it was for my dad. The strong man who had been a rock, a safe haven for me and my siblings, lay dying. Mom had died five months earlier and my father-in-law a month before that. Could this really be happening again?

~~~

My dad had been the caregiver for my mom for several years. Her Alzheimer’s grew worse, requiring more time from me and my sister to cook, clean, and help care for Mom. Before my dad’s stroke, one of us had visited daily for many long months. His stroke started an avalanche of sorrow and grief.

For it seemed that God had opened a box, letting out all the bad things at once, and didn’t close the lid until the box was empty. Strokes, two cancer diagnoses, Alzheimer’s, a broken hip—it all tumbled down on our precious parents. Each day—sometimes each hour—brought new struggles as I watched the health of people I loved so dearly seep away.

My sister and I shouldered the brunt of these trials so that my parents never knew all that happened with social agencies, social workers, nursing homes, insurance agents, attorneys, nurses, financial institutions, and hospice staff. I felt like I was drowning, with no one to save me.

~~~

Yet it was my parents, my father-in-law, and my mother-in-law who suffered the most. Alzheimer’s didn’t prevent my mother-in-law from grieving her husband.

The worst part was that my parents were in different nursing homes for about a month. My mom was too ill to go see him and the insurance threatened to cancel his benefits if he left the nursing home. It was a nightmare.

Anytime someone asked how to pray for us, I said, “Pray that my dad’s nursing home finds room for my mom.” Four days after she was accepted for hospice care, she and my dad were reunited in the same nursing home. Unfortunately, hospital staff had called my husband’s family to be at his dad’s side to say final goodbyes, so I missed that joyful reunion.

It was that kind of year.

~~~

For all that we endured, I’m sure we were saved from events that would have made it worse. I’m grateful for the mercies extended to my parents during those dark days.

My dad’s cancer diagnosis came five months after my mother’s death. My siblings and I were left reeling from the blow. He lived two more weeks.

Our broken hearts grieved his passing yet rejoiced that he now walked hand-in-hand with his bride on streets of gold. No Alzheimer’s. No cancer. No stroke.

I looked up at puffy white clouds during his funeral and knew somewhere up there my parents had been reunited. They were happy again.

~~~

I never felt God abandoned me, though I wondered why everything had to be so painfully hard. I leaned heavily on God and my faith. There were many days when there were no words to express my feelings in prayer. I’m grateful that the Holy Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans words cannot express. Romans 8:26 (NIV)

No one can emerge from such experiences without being changed.

I’ve learned that caring actions like a hug, a genuine smile, a card, and a meal can give you the strength to make it through the day. I’ve learned how to care for someone who is suffering through difficult days.

And I’ll never forget how God loved my parents and provided for them when everything seemed hopeless. I prayed that He’d take the illnesses away and heal them again. It wasn’t to be. But I felt that God suffered with me and my siblings. Just as Jesus was moved with compassion for hurting folks, God shared our pain.

Knowing God shared our sorrow was one of the greatest blessings I received from that experience.

From all this sorrow, I finally understand. Sometimes God just cries with us.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Matthew 5:4 (NIV)

SandraMervilleHart_Headshot2 Please visit Sandy on her blog: https://sandramervillehart.wordpress.com/. And be sure to check out her newest book, Trail’s End, in “Smitten Novella Collection: The Cowboys,” releasing August 15, 2019!

Meeting God on the Horizon

Do you really believe that what you believe is really real?

~ Del Tackett, The Truth Project

Child's drawing When I was a child drawing nature scenes, I—like most children—harbored a strange perception when it came to the meeting of earth and sky. In truth, they didn’t meet at all. The sky was always a blue strip across the top of the page while the earth was a corresponding ribbon of green across the bottom.

In between was a whole lot of nothing. Just a huge patch of non-color in which hung the sun and into which the trees shot up their branches and the flowers their blooms. It was in this place of nothingness that the people made their homes and walked their dogs and had their picnics and lived their lives.

At that young age, I didn’t understand that there was something called a horizon, a place where the human eye perceives a meeting of sky and earth, a point at which blue touches green and all the gaps are closed and the picture is complete.

~~~

I wonder how many of us wander around in that place of non-color all our lives because we think that God’s heaven—with all of its accompanying mercy, goodness and joy—is up there while earth is down here and somehow, for some reason, “never the twain shall meet”?

How many of us live as though there is no horizon, no place where God’s Spirit leans down and touches the human soul?

~~~

I have lived that way myself. I have lived as though God only watches from a distance while I am tempted to despair, that he looks on in indifference while I have unmet needs, that he makes no move in my direction when I feel crushed by loneliness or feelings of isolation.

I’ve lived in this place of non-color and nothingness, though thankfully God allowed me only to pitch a tent in this desert rather than to build a permanent place of residence. He has helped me pull up stakes and has walked with me, pointing all the time toward the horizon, saying, “Meet me there.”

~~~

Heaven and earth do meet, and that’s the whole point of our existence. A maturing of faith, a growing in our knowledge of God, assures us that God is not up there but down here, right here with us, around us, in us, touching us, closing up all the empty spaces, making us complete.

In our despair, we find within our hearts a glowing nugget of hope that can’t be denied. In our need, we receive provision—an unexpected check, a loaf of bread, an anonymous gift. In our loneliness, we sense a love that wraps itself undeniably around our soul and, even in the darkest hour and sometimes even in spite of ourselves, never lets us go.

~~~

We have to allow God to be more than a pleasant thought or wishful thinking. He has to be more than an idea, a theology or a vague concept. We have to allow him to be what he is: Lord of creation, God of all mercy, a Father who through the death of his own Son Jesus tore open the curtain to the Holy of Holies and allowed us to enter into his presence.

We have to let his heaven touch our earth, every moment of every day. We have to live our lives on the horizon.

And we can. Because he himself brings us there. He created us to dwell with him there. On the horizon, he fills our lives with his love.

~~~

The joy of Jesus must rush through all the corridors of your mind. The heart must know He has come to guide, comfort, and help in the hour of need. There must be no doubt, no question that God has chosen to come and commune with His servant….I want God’s total presence. I want to flow in His river of love.

                                                                                             ~ David Wilkerson*

*From David Wilkerson, Have You Felt Like Giving Up Lately (Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell, 1980), pp. 55, 56.

The Gay Man who Met Jesus in a Pub

A War of Loves 2 David Bennett was a young man vehemently opposed to the Christian God, the Christian Bible, and to Christians themselves. So no one was more surprised than David Bennett himself when he became a Christian—and a Christian apologist at that!

In his memoir, A War of Loves, he tells the story of how he realized at a young age that he was gay. He came out to his family at the age of 14, and became radically involved in the gay rights movement in his hometown of Sydney, Australia. What he wanted for his life is what we all want: simply to love and be loved. He wanted to love someone, to have the right to marry him, and to raise a family with him.

But all his hopes and plans for himself were unexpectedly changed when, at 19, he met the love of Jesus in a pub in the gay quarter of Sydney. One might hardly expect Jesus to be in a pub anywhere, let alone in a gay section of town, though in truth such a place is exactly where Jesus reveals his love most powerfully. Certainly he did in David’s life.

~~~

That God would reach out to a gay man isn’t what amazes me. God loves those who are same-sex attracted as much as he loves anyone. This is a given, not a point to be argued.

But that God reached out to man who was radically opposed to him, that he would break through the barriers of erroneous thinking, of intellectual doubt, of the anger and bitterness that came from David’s encounters with God’s own followers—this is what amazes me. David’s mother, a new believer herself at the time of David’s conversion, put it well: “David, I prayed that if he was truly the God of the impossible, God would save you, because you were so impossible to save! Now I know he can do anything!”

~~~

Three things became evident to me as I read David’s story. First, he rejected God because he didn’t know who God really was. He envisioned God only as an “angry, distant deity,” a supreme being who created David as a gay man and then rejected him for being gay.

If this were true of God, then of course atheism would seem preferable. But when God broke in, he showed himself to David as he really is. As David wrestled to understand this unseen but overwhelmingly real Presence, he writes of a moment when “I realized…how tender and loving God the Father was! …He was close. He was kind. He was good and tender-hearted.” God, David discovered, was love. And his Word, the Bible, wasn’t an epistle of condemnation—especially for those who are gay, as David thought—but was instead a love letter, from a Father to His precious children.

~~~

Second, David saw God as condemning because he was condemned by Christians. In this, the church has been very, very wrong. What can be more shameful than allowing our judgments to stand between God and the people He is trying to reach?

The task of the body of Christ is not to condemn but to love. Only love can point to Love, and only God, once He has captured a human heart, can begin the work of holiness. We can no more cleanse another person’s heart than we can cleanse our own. To try is at best a waste of time, at worst a tragedy in the making.

As David himself put it: “Homosexuality is not an evangelistic issue. It is a discipleship issue.” No one will ever revere and be changed by God’s holiness until he first experiences God’s love.

~~~

When David Bennett encountered Christ, he became a new creation, but he did not become heterosexual. He remained same-sex attracted. As he studied the Bible, he came to the conclusion that he needed to live his life as a celibate gay Christian.

Those who think God should have made him heterosexual as part of the deal of salvation will be disappointed. To me, David’s choice is the triumph. And this is the third thing I took away from this book: In our humanness, so long as we are in this world, we are all broken in some way. Salvation brings forgiveness, but not perfection. Not yet. Our journey on this planet will always be a stumbling along on feet of clay. But God’s grace gives us the strength to choose sacredness over sin.

David will always be tempted by homosexual desires, just as the alcoholic might always be tempted to drink, the gambler to place a bet, the womanizer to cheat, the proud man to boast. We are all of us tempted to love this world more than we love God and to find our fulfillment in something other than him.

But David has chosen—with God’s help—to give up his greatest desire, earthly love and sexual fulfillment, in order to be in right relationship with God. And this is to me the height and the essence of living one’s life as a love story with God: choosing to love him above all things, no matter what it is we are tempted to love more.

~~~

Quoted material taken from: David Bennett, A War of Loves (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018), pp. 83, 80, 193, 165.

Donn’s Story: A Quiet Assurance

Donn Taylor led an Infantry rifle platoon in the Korean War, served with Army aviation in Vietnam, and worked with air reconnaissance in Europe and Asia. Afterward, he earned a PhD in English literature and began a long career in teaching and writing. Now 88, he looks back over a lifetime of walking with God, whom he has found to be a quiet abiding presence and a love that will not let him go. Here is his story…

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For I greet him the days I meet him, and bless when I understand.

–Gerard Manley Hopkins

My first meeting with God came when I was seventeen. A difficult teenager, I’d been baptized at fourteen but nothing changed. By seventeen I was asking questions for which neither school nor church gave answers. Who and what was I? Was evangelical Christianity mere emotion and self-deception? Did God really exist?

Then God Himself intervened. An older boy, worried about my rebellious conduct, prayed with me one night. Our prayers grew more desperate. Then, suddenly, we were overwhelmed by a terrible but wonderful Presence. This remains the most vivid and intense experience of my life. It lasted perhaps one second, and then we were left in wonder, awed but no longer desperate.

That experience was unique. In normal life my response comes in sequences: an event happens, I react to it emotionally, and then find its meaning. But in that unique experience all three came simultaneously within about one second of time. God did exist, and He cared for me.

I would like to say that from that moment I led a different and virtuous life, but it did not happen. I could not recreate the certainty of that moment. I repeatedly asked God for a call to service, but no call came. With no follow-up program and no guidance, I drifted. I eventually decided the experience was nothing more than extreme emotion. Illogically, I let dishonest conduct by Christian leaders convince me there was no God. So I left God. But though I didn’t know it then, He did not leave me.

In retrospect, I see that He led me into marriage with Mildred, a wonderful Christian woman. He led me through the Korean War unscathed and gave me the first two of our four children. One instance of His care stands out. I completed Army flight training without incident down to the final flight examination in the Aviation Tactics Course. A young West Pointer and I flipped a coin to see which one would be tested first. I won the toss, went first, and passed. On the second flight, the instructor crashed the aircraft and the student received severe burns. (He completed the course a year later.) Through God’s mercy, I continued with my family without drama. Through Mildred’s example, God moved me gradually back into professed Christianity and the solemnity of prayer. I came to believe that my experience at seventeen was genuine, and I am still awed by it.

Some people speak of an everyday friendship with God, including actual conversations: “God told me . . . .” I don’t dispute these reports, but my experience has been less direct. I am always conscious of God as the continuing ruler of all things, a Reality without whom there is no meaning or value. I am convinced that He controls the tides of history and many of the individual waves. (Though perhaps He leaves many waves to human free will.)  My experience of His leadership in my life, however, has chiefly been one of open or closed doors.

When I completed my doctorate, I wanted to spend my life probing deeper into English Renaissance literature at a research university. But those doors did not open. I will never know whether my status as a veteran and Christian screened me out, or whether I simply wasn’t good enough. It doesn’t matter. For in retrospect, I see that God protected me. The increasingly vicious political environment in those institutions would have chewed me up and spit me out. That has happened to many others, regardless of their professional quality. Instead, the Lord opened doors into denominational universities where political pressures were less intense.

Only twice have I had faint echoes of that original experience of God. I’ll tell of the second instance later. But the first came after my kindergarten-age son suffered a potentially fatal fractured skull. Getting him diagnosed and into treatment left us frantic emotionally. But in prayer, desperate prayer, I suddenly knew he would be all right. My tension disappeared. Years later, as a lawyer, that boy won a case against the state attorney general. When the Lord sends the “all right” signal, He means it.

Mildred and I both felt God’s assurance throughout her eight-year battle with ovarian cancer. Somehow, we both knew He was in control. When the doctor told us he could do no more, Mildred smiled and said, “I’m ready to meet the Lord.” Two months later, she embarked on the journey.

My second direct experience came soon after. I ventured into “listening prayer.” Once I asked, not in anger but in curiosity, why God had not answered my prayers for Mildred’s healing. Instantly, without my volition, words appeared in my mind: “She is completely healed in heaven.”

As I’d once asked for a call, I now asked God for a mission to give meaning to the remaining years my life. I received no guidance. But a door opened into what I believe is a mission that lets me be an encourager to more people than I ever have before.

So here, near the end of my days, I have not known the daily familiarity with God that some testify to, nor have I ever had a call to any form of ministry. But in retrospect I see that even when I was farthest from God, His silent guidance was with me at every turn, clear evidence of His love and care.

Donn Taylor portraits 12/7/07  Donn Taylor

 

Aggi’s Story: Drafted into the War on Cancer

Aggi Stevenson shared her journey through cancer on Facebook while she was living it. Whenever I read her posts, I marveled both at her faith and at God’s faithfulness. I asked her to share something of her journey with you, because in the worst of the battle she experienced the best of God’s love. Here is Aggi’s story…

There are no volunteers in this Army. Everyone diagnosed with cancer was drafted into the ranks of soldiers fighting this horrific disease. During the heat of the battle, warriors feel they are outnumbered, outmaneuvered, and powerless against the might and cruelty of the enemy. The loss of body parts, femininity, masculinity, and their crowning glory—the very hair of their heads—is staggering to the formerly healthy civilian.

In 2014, I was drafted into the war on cancer. For what I gained in the midst of battle, I wouldn’t exchange this experience for anything.

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Normally after a mammogram, I wouldn’t be wearing a soft robe in a private waiting room watching coffee drip into a paper cup while they decided if they needed more pictures for the third time. Just when I thought I could dress and leave, the doctor ordered a breast ultrasound. By then I was given the VIP treatment. The nurses offered me everything available to make me comfortable. We joked and laughed as they asked if I could stay even longer because the doctor wanted to personally perform the ultrasound again. While pretending to be oblivious to what was happening, my heart pounded and my head throbbed. Still smiling, I left with an appointment for biopsies.

Biopsies were done on both breasts and lymph nodes. The two-week waiting period seemed like an eternity.  Finally the day came to learn the results. When I arrived at the doctor’s office there wasn’t one person, patient, or staff in the waiting/check-in area. This can’t be good, I thought…and it wasn’t. The diagnosis was bilateral breast cancer and lymph nodes tested positive as well.

As the words, “I’ve—got—cancer” penetrated my mind, heart, and soul, I felt a comforting warmth, as if wrapped in a blanket fresh from the dryer. A heavenly peace enveloped me, and I experienced a calmness that was not my own. There were no tears, no fear, just peace and strength—exactly what I prayed for.

~~~

My husband, Jim, held my hand and remained quiet, his face ashen. We viewed the x-rays and chose the hospital, surgeon, and oncologist from a list of professionals we knew nothing about.

Afterward, we walked to the car in silence. As the car doors closed, my rock of a husband crumbled to pieces. I consoled him as he wept on my shoulder. Again I possessed strength that was not my own.

Was it time to leave my precious family?  Was God going to march me right into heaven? He could heal me or take me home. Realizing God’s perfect will was to draft me into battling cancer, I was okay with whatever decision He made. I had fallen helplessly into His hands.

~~~

In full armor, I fought a brutal war of losses. I lost both breasts, hair, control of bladder and bowels, the ability to walk, and the capacity to care for myself. I lost track of whether it was day or night, what day of the week it was, or how many days I’d been in bed. My breathing became labored with the least bit of exertion. I suffered blood clots, constant nausea, and nerve damage that caused my feet, legs, tongue, and lips to become numb. Once when I cried out to God that the writhing pain was too much for me, I remember nothing else until I woke up sometime later. He had simply put me to sleep.

Jim was a gentle and loving caregiver. He assisted with bathroom duties and lowered me into our jetted tub to soak my aching body. I remember times when I would awaken to his warm hands rubbing my bald head, pulling the covers up around my neck when I was cold, and kissing my forehead. I was vaguely aware of him putting my cap back on that I had lost in the bedding because he knew how important it was to me for my head to be covered.

~~~

Every two weeks I climbed into my tank, traveled to the battlefield, and engaged cancer. When I could no longer walk, Jim carried me, drove the tank himself, and pushed the wheelchair that held my withering body into battle. Every chemo treatment was worse than the one before. Each time, I left the cancer center in defeat, wounded and beaten yet again.

This life began to dim, and I looked forward to heaven.  The suffering finally became unbearable. Waving the white flag, I surrendered to whatever God decided to do with this warrior who was too war-torn to continue. The chemo treatments were stopped. Gradually I began to get stronger. I could care for myself again. I no longer had to be in isolation because of a damaged immune system. Three months later I had healed enough to undergo 33 radiation treatments and breast reconstruction.

~~~

I’ve been cancer-free since 2015. I now have the privilege and great joy of counseling and praying with cancer-fighting warriors and their loved ones. Any time, day or night, I’m always available to them.

Cancer took me into a deep and exciting relationship with God that I would never have known any other way. Through it all, God was faithful to supply what I needed, and the people I needed at just the right time. Family and friends all rallied around me and held me up. I saw God’s love in and through them, and especially in the tender and tireless care of my husband. God’s presence with me in the midst of the battle is indescribable, and to this day I find great difficulty putting it into words. The darkest days couldn’t touch the light show that was going on in my soul. God was so close, it was as if I could feel His breath on my cheek.

Mountaintop experiences are breath-taking, and thank God for them, but if we only had those exhilarating times we wouldn’t understand the breath and depth of God’s love. He loves us through our suffering as well. He’s still the same loving God in good times and bad.

aggi stevenson 2 Aggi Stevenson