Three Years in Oklahoma

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It’s been three years since we unloaded our moving truck into a house that I’d only seen in photos on the realtor’s website. Hard to believe that I am beginning my fourth Oklahoma summer. In some ways, it seems like yesterday we began our lives anew here, and in other ways, a lifetime.

It really felt like a dream. We had endured some nasty, hateful people in Arkansas. “Your problem is that you’re a Yankee,” one man said to my husband. “You don’t know how we do things here.” Yes, this had to be a dream! This sort of talk is the kind you’d read in a novel about the Civil Rights movement, not real life in the year 2010! No way. And yet, it was truly happening. Hatred for fellow human beings abounded, but the real problem was hatred for God’s Word.

“Just hang on a little longer.” Terry would say to me, as I wept about the life I saw stretched out in front of me. “You can do this, it’s not the end. God sees us.” These words comforted my anxious heart. I didn’t want to believe that my future would include a lifetime full of snide comments, sneering expressions, and painful words said about us and sometimes to us. One man accused me of cheating at our Master Club program. The sting of those words, and the fact others’ believed them, was more than I could bear.  I recoiled from all fellowship no matter how benign. I feared everyone and trusted no one.  Each step I took from our parsonage down to the church building for services was intentional, determined, and for God alone. I remember thinking, “The Lord is walking with me. He goes with me down this sidewalk, into that building, and to my seat. He is with me, He sees me, He will stay with me no matter what.” The words tumbling around and around in my brain brought peace, and I made it, we all made it. One day at a time, one service at a time, one handshake, one greeting, and one round of small-talk at a time. Before I knew it, it was getting easier. Each step, each service, each moment – it all added up. It brought to mind Romans 5:3-4 And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope:  My experience brought hope.

And then one day, it was over. We were packing and moving. The church people were happy, but I was happier. We had survived! It had ended! I felt as if I should get a prize of some sort. But the true victories in life are not like that. It seems that prizes are only awarded for the irrelevant victories in life. The ones that count, well, no human being sees you win those.

On April 25, 2013, we came to Oklahoma, and I must admit, I was prepared to look long and hard to find the best in this new situation. I was convinced that all people are the same, with different names. I assumed we would face the same problems as we had in Arkansas. In our first business meeting at our new church, I held my breath and broke out in a sweat. I expected someone to get up and leave, or get angry, or say insulting things from their pews. It had all happened before. But, this time, it was different. They didn’t do any of those things. Everything went smoothly. People were – I could hardly believe it – smiling!

In that first year, I kept waiting for the other shoe to fall, as my grandmother would say. I kept expecting terrible things to happen, people to get angry at the sermons,  or at the outreach methods, the Sunday school, the missionaries, the funds, or me!  But, by the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, this has not happened. Three years, and no one has threatened us or spoken reproachfully about us. I really do not know what to think. There have been some difficult situations, but, the people here love God’s Word, and because their pastor strives to love it, too, then that is enough. They are content. Even when they disagree, they know that at the heart of it all, God’s Word wins, and that is all that matters.

Things may change someday. Someone might get angry or leave, and I’ll be right back where I started in this journey. I’ll feel the old feelings and I know I’ll cry all over again, I cry easily anyway. But I have realized that each day, and in each episode of life, I have a choice. I can choose to love people, and give them my heart, even if they break it, or I can run away and hide to protect myself. I’ve decided to risk it. If I get hurt, then I’ll have done it by giving my all, not just half. The Lord will be there to help me. I’ll pick myself up, and keep going.

But it might not be that way at all. I might just find that this is where my heart was meant to be all along.

With love,

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Maintaining a High View of God at Home

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The status on Facebook said something like, “Aced my exam, bills paid, gas in the car, thanks, Big Guy.” I cringe at the words  even now as I see them on the screen. It hurt me to read it all those years ago, and it hurts me still. The girl who wrote it was trying to thank God for her blessings. Her intentions were good, her follow-through was not. “Big Guy” might be what you call your son or nephew, but not the thrice Holy God of the Bible.

Today, however, God’s name and that of His Son, is bandied about as though it were a toy. I see it slung around on all forms of social media. The worst part about it is that I catch myself becoming desensitized to it also. I am trying to become more aware, as much as a mere human being can, at the reverence (or lack thereof) that I show the Lord. I am guilty of laughing at church humor on Twitter and Facebook, and I think that some of it can be laughed at without being disrespectful, yet, there is a time and place for humor, and there is a fine line between the two. I suppose at this point in my life, I’d rather err on the side of being “too serious” (though I’m a long way from that!) rather than being “too flippant”. This media-age is sickening though. People post photos of souls “they” have led to Christ, a person actually “praying the sinner’s prayer” with another, people praying at the altar with captions reading, “Look what God has done!” The problem with all of that is that you don’t really want people to see what God has done, you want us to see your part in what God is doing. You preached the sermon, or you sang the solo, or you invited him to church or “led” that soul to Christ – the emphasis is really on the created, not the Creator. And you know, if the one you invited to church wants to share on social media that you were a blessing to their life, then great! God’s Word says, Let another man praise thee, and not thine own mouth; a stranger, and not thine own lips. – Proverbs 27:2 

As I have worked to become more aware of this problem in my life, I was startled several weeks ago at the poem which my daughter was supposed to memorize for her 11th grade English class. It was called “The Creation”. We use a Christian publisher for our homeschooling materials, and 99% of the time, I’m in agreement with the content. That day, however, as I heard her read this three-page poem, I gasped! Here is the part that stunned me:

Then God sat down

On the side of a hill where He could think;

By a deep, wide river He sat down;

With His head in His hands,

God thought and thought,

Till He thought, “I’ll make me a man!

I realize that there is a certain poetic license that is used freely in literature, but when writing about the Lord of Lords and King of Kings, it is not appropriate to invoke the image of Him in distress. God never sat down, with His head in His hands. He never had to “think and think”. God is not at all like man. God’s Word says man was made in the likeness of God, not that God was made in the likeness of man. He is far, far above what the human mind -even the greatest minds of our day! – could comprehend. I had Lauren skip this poem. It may seem minute, but I used it as a teaching moment. Granted, it’s not much of a lesson in a world replete with disrespect for our Lord, but it’s something. I am trying very hard to maintain a high view of God in my life, and in my home. I want my children to reverence their elders and I definitely want them to reverence the Lord.

With love,

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Encouraging Words

I came across this image recently, and it certainly encouraged my heart. I enjoy reading Mr. Pink’s books, but I had never before read this quote. I hope it encourages other moms out there as well.

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I pray God will help me to keep a right spirit as I labor in my home today; and may He use my meager efforts to further His kingdom.

With love,

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Vintage Valerie: The Man I Love

In honor of  “Throw Back Thursday”, I’d like to share some photos of the man I love. More specifically, photos of the man I love, doing what he loves – preaching. We are preparing for our Bible conference which begins tomorrow night at 7 PM (if you’re in the area, please come by!), which has me thinking a lot about ministry life. We have been involved in either part-time or full-time ministry since we were married seventeen years ago. Here is a look back at our pastoral ministry which spans the last decade:

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A very grainy photo of my young (age 25!) preacher-husband, while preaching in view of a call in Louisiana, Missouri. We didn’t get the vote, which was devastating for our little family. We had been misled by a pastor in Kansas, and were basically left high and dry. We clung to the hope that this church would be the place for us. It was not God’s will. But God never let us down, even though men did. We never missed a meal and kept a roof over our heads despite earning only $13,000 for the entire year! This was also right before my dad died suddenly.

As I look back, my heart is overwhelmed with how God has loved us, cared for us, and led us. The Lord spent so much time with us, teaching us to let go of our own desires and cling to His. God used that time in our lives for much good and I am truly grateful.

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After many years of waiting, praying and hoping, he finally became a pastor on October 11, 2005! Here he is at the pulpit of Northside Baptist Church in Burnet, Texas.

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Here we are – two very excited parents with our three children: Lauren, 6; Mitchell, 3; Leslie, 5 months. We could not have been more thrilled! A dream had come true.

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Our auditorium in Texas.

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In April of 2008, the Lord moved us to Grace Baptist Church in Hope, Arkansas. We learned so much there through many valleys, but again, God was faithful. We are a work-in-progress and want to be willing to stay on the wheel as the Potter molds and shapes us.

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Grace Baptist Church auditorium.

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Here he is today, as pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Lawton, Oklahoma. As I look at the photo above, I can’t help but get a little teary-eyed. He was a great man when he began his journey ten years ago, but he’s even greater today. The Lord is purging him, refining him, making him more and more into the image of His Son.

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This verse seems appropriate to describe my husband:

For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!

1 Corinthians 9:16

I love you, Terry, and I love the Gospel that you preach. I count it an honor to be a fellow-laborer in this great work. I pray we have many more years to serve the Lord together.

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One Year in Oklahoma

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Wildflowers near the Wichita Mountains, June 2013

It’s hard to believe that we have been in Oklahoma for one year! I’m finally adjusting to life in the Sooner state. It’s not like I’m the pioneer woman or anything. I live in the city and that’s a good thing! (I wouldn’t know how to grow herbs, ride a horse or cook a tasty potroast for forty-seven cattle ranchers.) I still can’t believe we are home owners. That is truly a dream come true.

There have been a few things to get used to, and I’m doing it. I’m finally adjusting to the wind, which never rests, by growing my hair long enough for a pony tail. I’ve stopped jumping  a foot high every time Fort Sill fires something. We are part of a great homeschool group  – we’re just on the fringe of it, but “fringe” involvement is about all I can handle right now. Mitch has found a piano teacher that he likes. Lauren is about to volunteer at our library for the second time. We are about to complete our first year of homeschooling here, in a state with NO requirements for homeschooling! (Gotta love freedom!) The other kids have made themselves at home in their new rooms. Life has a sweet, harmonic rhythm which I love deeply.

Yes, I still get a little homesick now and then. I miss seeing the natural beauty of the natural state. I miss being an hour and fifteen minutes from my mom. But as I learned from Sarah, Plain and Tall: there’s always something to miss, no matter where you are.

I can’t brag on my church family enough, they are the sweetest people in the state of Oklahoma. They have made me and my whole family feel so welcome. I was nervous about my teenager adjusting to the move, but she loves it. In fact, the people have shown love for each of  the children. I can’t tell you how much that means to this mom! It’s scary pulling up your life and home, leaving everything you know to come to a church full of strangers. And it’s thrilling to watch those strangers become friends.

My first visit to Lawton, Oklahoma, was on February 8, 2013. Imagine how surprised I was to find that I’d left a piece of my heart in a place I had never been! Only God can do that. He prepared us for this place, and this place for us, in a way that only HE can.

He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.

Psalm 40:2

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One Year Ago Today

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One year ago today, it was a Sunday. Terry had an appointment in the afternoon. The appointment was with a group of men, a pulpit committee, at a church in Lawton, Oklahoma, and it was all happening over the telephone. One year ago today, after the meeting, he came in with a look that said, “It’s not the place.”  I let out a sigh – because we knew God was edging us out of our comfortable spot in Arkansas, but we weren’t sure where we would end up. I was sad, but also hopeful. After all, Oklahoma wasn’t on my “dream list” of locations. No offense to any Sooners out there, but the parts of Oklahoma that I’d seen weren’t all that great. So, I was sort of sad and sort of excited about who might call next.

A few weeks passed, and Terry got an email. The email said something like, “We’d like to meet with you and your wife, if she wants to come, for a face to face interview.” Wow! This was the place we’d given up on! What an unexpected turn of events! We went to that meeting in February. I was a nervous wreck. I talked too much, for one thing. The more nervous I get, the more I talk and the less I listen.They asked me about my parents. I told them my mom was in Benton, Arkansas, and my dad was in Heaven. At that point,  I started sobbing like my dad had died the day before! I wiped the tears and apologized and felt even more stupid. I went back to the hotel and thought, “Well, if they don’t call him, Valerie, it’s all your fault! You’re an idiot!”

All the way home the next day, I looked out the window and continued to feel as though I’d ruined everything. I probably even said to my husband, “You won’t get it and it’s all my fault!” Somewhere along the way, the Lord said to my heart, “Valerie, if I want you to be there, then you will be there. It’s all in MY power, not yours.” From that moment, I had peace. I felt great joy when they contacted us two (agonizingly long) weeks later and said they would like him to come in view of a call! We went on March 24 to meet them. Yes, I was nervous. Yes, I talked too much and I laughed too loudly. Yes, I worried incessantly. But I did feel more at rest in the Lord. (Hey, I’m a work in progress!) 😉

On March 31, they actually voted to call my husband as their pastor!  And it all began one year ago today.

I am learning many things in this life God has given me. I’m learning that He can take the girl voted “least likely to marry a preacher”, and have her marry a preacher. I’m learning that His plan is often different – and always better – than my plan. I’m learning that I don’t have great faith, but He can use me in spite of that. I’m learning that any forward progress in the Christian life is good – even if your eyes are squeezed shut and you’re just feeling your way along. I’m learning that a gorgeous landscape doesn’t make a place beautiful, it’s the people in that place that give it beauty.

And I have learned that Oklahoma is a very beautiful place.

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20 Questions to Ask a Jehovah’s Witness

This past Wednesday, my morning was interrupted by a visit from two female representatives of the Jehovah’s Witness group. I was not feeling well and in the middle of school, so the visit was a surprise to say the least. Before I even answered the door, I was scolding myself at how ill prepared I was. I cannot count how many times I have opened my doors to them over the years. Too many! And as I type these words, I am feeling the frustration at my ignorance anew.

Several weeks ago, one of our Sunday school teachers shared twenty questions to ask a Jehovah’s Witness. I know from experience that the JW’s are very prepared for any argument you pose to them. To say they are “indoctrinated” is putting it mildly. They are like an army of witnessing, and rightfully so: they believe it is their ticket to “paradise” and that persecution is adding feathers to their spiritual cap – so they love criticism! Wow. If only those of us who truly know the Lord were as prepared, as disciplined and as eager to face opposition as these false witnesses are! That convicts me.

One thing you cannot do to the JW is give them an opening to speak. Can their greatest strength can be turned into their greatest weakness? Perhaps so. Let them talk, but give them the things to talk about. Here are the 20 questions. May we all use this tool to get some of the Jehovah’s Witnesses to turn to the true Gospel, and may it begin in me.

*The following questions were written by Natalie Pappas in 1997.*

NOTE: Do not invite them into your home. Also, try to direct your questions to the “newer” recruit, the one who is more reluctant to speak. Please study these passages of scripture ahead of time to prepare yourself.

1. May I ask a quick question?
2. What gospel are you preaching?
3. Do you know there is only one gospel?
4. Do you have a Bible with you?
5. Will you turn to Galatians chapter one and read the first 10 verses aloud?
6. Do you know where the Bible defines the gospel?
7. Would you mind turning in your Bible to 1 Cor. 15, and reading verses 1-11?
8. Do you believe that you are only getting a chance for eternal life? Or do you know for sure that you are saved?
9. Would you mind turning in your Bible and reading 1 John 5:13 aloud?
10. Do you believe Jesus was resurrected? (They believe he died a spiritual death, and therefore, a spiritual resurrection.)
11. Can a “spiritual body” hang on a cross? Pay for our sins? Be buried in a tomb?
12. Is there anything in the context of these verses which would change the context from a bodily death to a spiritual death? A bodily burial to a spiritual burial? A bodily resurrection to a spiritual resurrection?
(If they say “Yes” ask them, “Where?” If they appeal to other verses, say “But those aren’t the verses we were discussing.” Also, if they start asking any questions or diverting to other subjects, simply tell them you don’t want to discuss that now. Stay on track.)
13. Did you know that Jesus himself prophesied that his resurrection would be bodily?
14. If/When they look at you in amazement, ask them to please read John 2:13-25. Feel free to share how much you enjoy studying God’s Word, the Bible. Tell them you appreciate their reading the verses in context.
15. Would you mind please reading John 20:24-29?
16. Was Jesus saying, “Here, Thomas, touch and see my FAKE hands, my FAKE side?”
17. Is it in Jesus’ character to be deceptive?
18. Can one be a perfect Savior and then turn around and be deceptive?

These 18 questions have given them much to contemplate. But before they go, ask them two more questions:
19. Do you go door to door and preach the gospel as it is defined from the Bible?
20. Are you going to change the gospel you preach now when you go door to door? (Clearly, you have proven several questionable items in their presentation!)

Thank them for coming by and giving you the opportunity to share the Gospel with them. Let them know you ALWAYS enjoy sharing the Gospel with others.

We are cautioned in 2 John 1:10-11 If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed:  For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds. Do not say “God bless you!” Or, “I appreciate what a great job you folks are doin’!” They are doing an evil work, even though it is often done in naivete or ignorance. Likewise, we do not want to be nasty or hateful. Christ came to share the truth with all sinners, just like me. I want to use this opportunity to do the same. 

You can print this post by selecting the green “Print PDF” button below this post. To use less ink when printing, just tick the “remove images” box at the top of the print menu, so you won’t print the picture. Then select “Print” or “PDF” at the upper left hand corner. If you select “PDF”, you will need to click the “Download Your PDF” button that will appear, and wait for the file to download to your computer. You can then save and print at your leisure.

I plan to practice these questions on my kids. Next time a Jehovah’s Witness knocks, I want to be prepared to share the Gospel. This is a great time to be alive, and to share Christ with others. I, for one, need to be a better ambassador for Him! (2 Cor. 5:20)

One more thing! Here’s a link to a site that will help in witnessing to JW’s. It is run by a former elder. It is called Comments from the Friends.

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