Posts Tagged ‘church’

My father lives in a different world than me.

He lives in Mallorca, Spain and the traditions are different in many ways. I always like to hear of the festivities for different occasions, so I sent an email asking him about Christmastide, and whether they decorate Christmas trees.  I received this long message which I want to pass on to my readers, complete with links and photos.  I am especially amazed by the snowflake lights.  At the bottom of the post you can listen to the song my father refers to in this message, sung by a child.

I hope you all have a meaningful Christmas celebration in honor of the Son of God who came to Earth to save us all.

Shalom,

Sister Olive

~♥~

Dear Dottir,

In the last decade or so, yes, Christmas trees, Santa Claus, elves and any commercialization possible has taken over.  Even here in this small village, in the little plaza up in town there is a Christmas tree with decorations.

Before this northern invasion, Christmas Eve was celebrated in the church, or quietly in the home, no tree, no gifts just a celebration of the birth and the mother.  Here on Mallorca and in Catalunya, they had another very strange custom. A young child sings the Sybila, a song of the Judgment Day. You can read about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Song_of_the_Sibyl 

I have heard it sung many times over the years, because when I directed the church choir we were up in the organ loft, waiting for our turn to sing various Christmas songs from the region.  It is a haunting melody, very difficult for a child to sing, so they practice it for weeks before, no accompaniment of any kind, just that pure “white voice” as they call unchanged voices here. Here it is sung in a little church by a woman: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cfirOs1RGIc

In the Cathedral of Palma they make a real production of it, with full choir, organ and a young woman singing http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8aYV_Kqv44g– these may be beautiful, but I prefer the single child in the Deya church, innocently singing about the end of the world.  Every year a different child is chosen.

Before also, the decorations were basically “nerulas” or white paper cutouts like snowflakes, hung across the nave of the church and in houses.  The streets still are blazoned with lights, as traditionally – I first saw them in Barcelona in 1969 and was amazed. Take a look https://www.google.es/search?q=christmas+lights+in+Barcelona&hl=en&tbo=u&tbm=isch&source=univ&sa=X&ei=nZfRULDuGOyY0QWeuICoBA&ved=0CEMQsAQ&biw=1024&bih=614

As for myself, you know me – Stephanie and I would sometimes walk and look at the world, especially the stars which are exceptionally bright in winter, just appreciating Creation, perhaps lamenting its ultimate passing…

I will be doing that alone this year for sure, and will send my love to you all.  What I see from my balcony is this:

 Poppy's Window View

Where Chopin stayed in 1838 for the winter, so I have good company.

At night it is lit up, blocking the stars until late, when they are turned off.

 Poppy's View at Night

What will you be doing?  Have you found a compatible church where you can enjoy the songs of Christmas?

Lots of love,

Poppy

~♥~

Here is the link for the solo sung by a child, my favorite of the versions so far:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nANDw8XOHhU

 ~♥~

The Song of the Sibyl

On the Day of Judgment
The good go to heaven for their services.

An eternal King cometh
Dressed in our mortal flesh
He certainly will come from heaven
To judge the century.

Before the judgment is passed
A great sign will show itself
The sun will lose its shine
The earth will tremble with fear.

Then comes a mighty thunder
The sign of a great anger
In a hellish confusion
Rays and cries resound.

A great fire will fall from the sky
In a stench of sulfur
And the earth will burn furiously
And a great terror afflict people.

Then comes the terrible signal
A major earthquake
The rocks will break
And the mountains will collapse.

Then nobody will have gold pieces
Silver or wealth
And all await sentencing.

Death will leave you penniless
And all collide
Only men remain crying
And sadness will cover the world.

The plains and peaks are all the same
Good and bad will be achieved
Kings, dukes, earls and barons
They will have to account for their actions.

And then comes, unexpected
The son of God Almighty
He will judge the living and the dead
The good go to heaven.

The Unborn
Cry from the wombs of their mothers
And with her cries say
“Help us God Almighty”

Mother of God, pray for us
You, the Mother of All Sins
You have the judgment merciful
You have that paradise is open to us.

You who have heard it all
Pray to God with devotion
With all your heart and fervor
That should save us.

 ~♥~

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I know an elder who used to tell me that thoughts are like birds that fly over your head.  You have no control over them, but you can prevent them from building a nest in your hair.  I always liked that analogy, and I seem to have more birds fly over than I can handle.  They come when I least expect them, sometimes in flocks and sometimes one at a time. So I just write about them.  Today this silly little bird flew over and reminded me about the nondenominational cookies.

English: Plateful of Christmas CookiesWhen I was employed at a bank some time ago, I had co-workers of many different beliefs. One of them did not believe in celebrating holidays.  So another young lady from a Baptist church came in one day with fancy home-baked Christmas cookies to give to everyone.  When she approached the woman who didn’t celebrate such occasions, she set the little plate of cookies down politely in her window.  She said with a smile “I know you don’t celebrate Christmas, but these cookies are nondenominational.”  The two women smiled and spoke politely to each other  and I enjoyed watching the meekness and affection between them.

I wish more people had that recipe and baked those nondenominational cookies.  They look prettier on the plate because they are not all the same kind. They taste better because they are seasoned to perfection, they are softer, and they don’t bite back.

~♥~

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The Way of the HeartOur society is not a community radiant with the love of Christ, but a dangerous network of domination and manipulation in which we can easily get entangled and lose our soul. The basic question is whether we ministers of Jesus Christ have not already been so deeply molded by the seductive powers of our dark world that we have become blind to our own and other people’s fatal state.

Just look for a moment at our daily routine. In general, we are very busy people. We have many meetings to attend, many visits to make, many services to lead. Our calendars are filled with appointments, our days and weeks are filled with engagements, and our years filled with plans and projects. There is seldom a period in which we do not know what to do and we move through life in such a distracted way that we do not ever take the time and rest to wonder if any of the things we think, say or do are worth thinking, saying or doing. We simply go along with the many “musts” and “oughts” that have been handed on to us. People must be motivated to come to Church, youth must be entertained, money must be raised and, above all, everyone must be happy. Moreover, we ought to be on good terms with the Church and civil authorities; we ought to be liked or at least respected by a fair majority of our parishioners; we ought to move up in the ranks according to schedule; and we ought to have enough vacation and salary to live a comfortable life. Thus we are busy people just like all other busy people, rewarded with the rewards which are rewarded to busy people.

All this is simply to suggest how horrendously secular our ministerial lives tend to be. Why is this so? The answer is quite simple. Our identity, our sense of self, is at stake. Secularity is a way of being dependent on the responses of our milieu. The secular or false self is the self which is fabricated by social compulsions. “Compulsive” is indeed the best adjective for the false self. It points to the need for ongoing and increasing affirmation.

Passage from “The Way of the Heart: Connecting with God through Prayer, Wisdom, and Silence” by Henri Nouwen

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I attended Mass recently, and I found the lyrics to this song to be haunting:

People, look east. The time is near 
Of the crowning of the year.
Make your house fair as you are able,
Trim the hearth and set the table.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the guest, is on the way.

Furrows, be glad. Though earth is bare,
One more seed is planted there:
Give up your strength the seed to nourish,
That in course the flower may flourish.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the rose, is on the way.

Birds, though you long have ceased to build,
Guard the nest that must be filled.
Even the hour when wings are frozen
God for fledging time has chosen.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the bird, is on the way.

Stars, keep the watch. When night is dim
One more light the bowl shall brim,
Shining beyond the frosty weather,
Bright as sun and moon together.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the star, is on the way.

Angels, announce with shouts of mirth
Christ who brings new life to earth.
Set every peak and valley humming
With the word, the Lord is coming.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the Lord, is on the way.

People, Look East” was written by Eleanor Farjeon (1881-1965) and was first published as “Carol of Advent”

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But of that day or hour no man knoweth, neither the angels
in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father. 
(Mark 13:32)

I visited an Episcopal church recently, and I asked a lady the meaning of the last line of the Doxology that says “World without end.”  She was a bit embarrassed and said she wasn’t sure, because she wasn’t really “up” on theology.  Then she approached a Sunday school teacher who didn’t seem to know either, although he tried to wing it.

I guess I’m funny that way.  I like to know exactly what I’m singing and saying in my prayers.  Whose world are we referring to?  Surely it doesn’t mean our world will never end.  Or does it?  Everyone thought the world was going to end yesterday, but it didn’t! Big surprise…

Jesus said He doesn’t even know when the end of time will be, so it strikes me as funny that people keep trying to figure it out.  Why do we play these guessing games? If only Christians would read the Bible more. Christ said the end would be like a thief in the night, and that’s a pretty straightforward analogy.  He said if you knew when a thief was coming, you could bust ’em quick.  But it’s not like that…we don’t know, so we’ve got to always be prepared. It’s aggravating, I know, but that’s just how it is.

P.S.  If you know what “world without end” means, please tell me…okay? I love to learn new stuff.

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To read the entire “Divine Doorkeepers” essay as one continuous page, please click on this link:

https://olivetwist.wordpress.com/essays/divine-doorkeepers/

I hope you have enjoyed this series.

Peace & Grace to You,

“Sister Olive”

~♥~

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“Divine Doorkeepers:  How Mystical Authors Usher Readers into the Spirit Realm” is a study of evangelical writers and how they use literary devices such as metaphor and simile to usher the reader in the door to experience the supernatural realm.  The books examined for this extended essay will come from Christian evangelical writers, revivalists, and reformers such as George Fox, Charles Finney, Dwight Moody, Charles Spurgeon, and continuing with writers to the present day.  The essay is an analysis of how they portray God and the workings of the Spirit to readers.

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(Excerpt from “Divine Doorkeepers”)

Dwight Lyman Moody was born in Northfield, Massachusetts and was one of nine children. His father, a poor farmer and stonemason, died at the age of forty-one while praying on his knees when Dwight was four years old.

Moody was a shoe salesman before he became a missionary. He acquired great fame as an evangelist in England in 1872. He was invited by Spurgeon for speaking engagements and was also promoted by him. Moody mentions Fox and Finney in his writings, referring to them as great leaders in reforming and reviving God’s work among the slumbering churches. He had a soul-searching tone that was similar to Finney’s, and he had a gift for spinning stories in such a way that calls upon the reader to extend the tales and draw more conclusions on their own.

For instance, he asserts that the spiritual needs of humans are as real and treatable as physical ailments. In The Best of Dwight Moody, he writes of the importance of fellowship by using a medical simile:  “Church attendance is as vital to a disciple as a transfusion of rich, healthy blood to a sick man.”  This statement is effective because he shows in the statement that even a disciple can become spiritually ill if he does not maintain his “health” by following the precepts of God and being in a community of encouragers.  It also allows the reader to conclude that the disciple could die in a spiritual sense from lack of encouragement and fellowship. He juxtaposes the physical man and the spiritual man and alludes to the healing blood of Christ through the transfusion simile.  By being inconclusive in his stories, he allows the reader to make more associations.

Moody believed in using simple and plain style. In Dr. Joe McKeever’s article called “Why We Need Parables”, he writes:  “Dwight L. Moody used to remind pastors to ‘put the cookies on the bottom shelf so everyone could reach them.’ What he meant–and what he practiced as well as it could be done–was, ‘Keep the message simple.’ Make it accessible to everyone” (par 1).  Moody, like Finney, used the idea of a courtroom when explaining why flowery speech was not his method for addressing an audience of unbelievers.

My friend, we have too many orators.  I am tired and sick of your “silver-tongued orators.”  I used to mourn because I couldn’t be an orator…

Take a witness in court and let him try his oratorical powers in the witness-box, and see how quickly the judge will rule him out.  It is the man who tells the plain, simple truth that has the most influence with the jury (Best 198).

This passage depicts the urgency that the evangelist feels to “plead his case” and why it is so important to be understood as opposed to merely sounding lofty and educated.  It also carries the reader to think upon the consequences of being “ruled out” and the injustices that may result, and he juxtaposes earthly and divine judgment.

He uses a similar method in this passage where he tells the story of a little boy who catches a sparrow, and he uses it as an allegory for redemption:

A friend in Ireland once met a little Irish boy who had caught a sparrow.  The poor little bird was trembling in his hand, and seemed very anxious to escape.  The gentleman begged the boy to let it go…but the boy said he would not, for he had chased it for three hours before he could catch it.  He tried to reason it out with the boy, but in vain.  At last he offered to buy the bird.  The boy agreed to the price and it was paid.  Then the gentleman took the poor little thing, and held it out on his hand…in a little while, it flew away chirping (Best 16).

The purchase and release of the sparrow represents the redemption of souls by the grace of God. Moody also allows the reader make other associations, and think of the weakness of the little bird being like humans without the strength of Christ, and wondering if the sparrow fully appreciated its freedom.  One might also contemplate how the sparrow had no concept of what had transpired, and thus could not feel truly grateful, and that man is often the same way towards God. The reader continues to make associations beyond what the writer develops in the piece, and this is artistic because by understatement, the author causes the reader to think further on the matter.

Moody uses a balloon analogy to speak to believers about how to walk in a manner that is pleasing to God and allows them to meet their full potential:

You know, when a man is going up in a balloon, he takes in sand as ballast, and when he wants to mount a little higher, he throws out some of it, and then he will mount a little higher; he throws out a little more ballast, and he mounts still higher; and the more he throws out the higher he gets, and so the more we have to throw out of the things of this world the nearer we get to God (Best 72).

This analogy is very thought-provoking and clear. The balloon was a familiar mode of travel during Moody’s day which makes it appropriate, and it gives readers a sense of the time period the writer is speaking from. One can also visually see the effect of abstinence and self-denial through this portrayal of the man in the balloon, and how the level of spirituality a man reaches is determined by what he lets go of.  This matter of weight works well in association with the subject of burdens and encumbrances, and the balloon connotes lightness of heart and freedom.  The writer allows the reader to visualize so they can comprehend the principle more clearly, which is quite superior to merely explaining the concept without the illustration.

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(From “A Cloud of Witnesses”)

Today is September 14, 2008 and I am standing before the church.  I can see Elder Thomas over my right shoulder as he reclines behind the lofty pulpit on a dark carved chair with velvety red upholstery.  To my left, his wife Annie and daughter Sheilah are seated with the church mothers, facing the altar.  I see Mother Lee opening her Bible, Mother General with her handbag tied to her walker, and Mother Hendrieth with weak shaky feet walking slowly down the aisle clinging to the arm of Donquarius.  Here comes Mother Craine towards the front row. The ladies hats are circled with lace and netting and brocade and braids of gold.  Their hats nod as the women whisper softly to one another.

To my right on the other side of the altar are the brothers: Deacon Williams with his stout strong frame, Deacon Hatten leaning forward with his hands on his knees, and Deacon Ronnie  wearing orthopedic pads and braces, while his crutches lean against the pew. His brother, Deacon Sammie stands near the white-gloved ushers at the back of the church.

Directly in front of me, I see Brother and Sister Spotford, who have been married a few months.  Her shoulder rests against his and their fingers are entwined.  Sister Hatten has come in from the kitchen to sit down next to where I usually am seated.  Sister Green, slender and graceful, is surrounded by her four lovely young daughters a few rows back on the right, and her mother rests at the end of the same pew next to the wall.  Sister Angela Passmore sits just in front of her, smiling softly and Sister Bertha is walking out of the office.

These are my brothers and sisters and parents by the Spirit.  Everyone is dressed in white today, because it is Missions Sunday, the second Sunday of the month.  How appropriate it is, considering the words I have been given about the bride. They look like a wedding party.

Today I shall be a mouthpiece for my Father. I have a message from the Spirit.  Two weeks or so ago, I was in prayer when I received this Word.  With apprehension, I asked God to give me a platform if it was truly His will for me to deliver it.  I never like to speak until I am sure.

Then it happened.  Sister Thomas, the pastor’s wife, called me yesterday and asked me to be the speaker this morning.  She said she would email me with the topic and scriptures.  After checking the email several times, I called her to let her know that her message had not come through.  I only had one night to prepare and now she was away from her computer, so she said “Just go ahead and speak on whatever you like.”

That is when I knew it was time.

I prayed earnestly last night, knowing that God had indeed given me the message and the platform.  The burden of the Word weighs heavily in my mind. I have no notes except for a scripture verse on a little card which is in my Bible.  All I can do now is to pray that His Spirit will come out of my mouth and do the work. Now it is time, and I am standing before the people of God.  This moment will always be frozen in my memory, as the day God let me speak with His voice inside of me.

I thank God for this opportunity to speak with you today.  This may come as a surprise to you, but God gave me a message for His people about two or three weeks ago.  I was in prayer by my bed after tossing and turning most of the night, as I kept pondering the state of the church, and why it is so powerless and hated in the world scene. I wondered why our district elder has been in his wheelchair for eleven years, and all of the saints together cannot pray well enough to bring about his healing. I kept crying and asking God, “What is wrong with us?  Where has our power gone?” 

The next morning, I awoke crying again and knelt by my bed and said, “Lord, why am I crying like this?” 

The Spirit of God broke into my thoughts, and said, “Because my heart is breaking, and I am sharing it with you.” 

“Why?” I asked. 

“Because the hearts of My people who are called by My name are not right before me, and I can’t come into my house, because I am holy, and I can’t come into an unholy place.” 

“Why are you telling me this, Lord?” I cried. 

“Because I want you to tell my people that I am holding them responsible for this lost generation, because they are driving people away from My Kingdom.”

I told the Lord that I would speak His words if He gave me a platform, because then I would know that they were true and not just my own imaginings or emotions. 

As you can see, God confirmed his message.  Sister Thomas called me yesterday to ask me to speak, so I am doing as I promised God I would do.

I will call this message today “The Bride of Christ”.

I will begin with a scripture in which Jesus is telling the Pharisees, “It is not enough that you will not enter the Kingdom of God yourselves, but you are also preventing others from entering.  You travel over land and sea to find one convert, and then you make him twice as much a son of Hell as yourselves.” 

Today, churches are still doing the opposite of what Jesus intended them to do. We are driving people away, instead of drawing them in.  The world sees the corruption and greed in the church and wants no part of it. They see through our programs and our polish and see everything for what it is.  Who do we think we are fooling?  We aren’t fooling people.  Or God, for that matter. 

There was a time when the world came to church when they had a need that they could not deal with on their own.  When they had exhausted all of their human powers and needed divine intervention, they came to church.  But now, the church is going into the world looking for what it has to offer.  One elder I know called this “spiritual adultery.”  The church is Christ’s bride, and has no part in the world. 

But we cut on our television and let the world tell us how to dress and wear our hair, how to make more money, and how to have a better sex life.  We have learned money-making skills from the world and are using them in the church. Religion has become a business today, a highly profitable business.

But God doesn’t operate like the world does. We should be focusing on God for all of our needs and letting Him guide us, but we are learning from people who are ruled by a different set of values.  We are citizens of another Kingdom, but we are bowing to the gods of the world. 

People make many excuses for why the church is so worldly.  “The church is a human institution” they say, so it can’t be perfect. But it is not a human institution, and it is supposed to be without a spot or blemish, according to the scriptures. It is a divine institution, and the first time the word “church” appears in the Holy Scriptures is when Jesus spoke of it to Peter and said “Upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.” 

The world judges Christ based upon its view of the church, and that is how it will always be, regardless of the excuses we make.  You cannot tell the world to ignore the church and look at Christ.  They know that the church is supposed to be founded upon Jesus. 

The Bride represents the Bridegroom. Married couples represent each other whether they are together in public or apart. Mrs. Spotford here represents Mr. Spotford and he represents her even when they are absent from one another.  

The church is Christ’s Holy Bride, and her only focus should be making herself as pure and beautiful as possible to meet Him. This is all that she should be concerning herself with. Pleasing Christ.

Think about a wedding you have been to.  The anticipation of the Bride is intense.  Have you ever seen a bride looking ugly or ragged?  No, the bride prepares herself to look radiant and graceful and without a blemish.  The crowd enjoys seeing the flower girls, the ring-bearer, and the bridegroom waiting there.  But all eyes are looking for the Bride to come down the aisle.  She is the centerpiece, the jewel of the ceremony.  When the piano plays the bridal march for her coming, the crowd stands and stares at her glorious elegance and beauty. Has anyone seen an ugly bride?  I never have. 

But the Bride of Christ isn’t looking good at all.  She doesn’t even look like a bride.  She looks like something else. (Chuckles come from the congregation.)

The world is looking for a suitable Bride of Christ, and cannot find her.  As long as the Bride is corrupt, the world will continue to play and behave as they do.  When the people of God get serious, the world will follow suit.  When worldly people observe the saints falling at the altar weeping and repenting, they will do the same thing.

We must address the greed and the corruption. God never said that money was a seed of the Kingdom.  The seed was the Word of God.  We must stop trying to sell Jesus and the gospel to people, and stop oppressing the poor by constantly nagging them for money.  When evangelists on television and in our pulpits tell us to sow a seed (referring to money), they just want to reap a harvest.  Jesus said the seed is the Word of God, and the harvest we are seeking is souls.  Not money.  People are being tricked by religious leaders.

Jesus said if we cause one person to stumble and turn away from Him, it would be better to have a millstone tied around our necks and to be cast into the sea.  God is not pleased with His church and the scriptures say that judgment will begin in the house of God. 

I had a dream once that I was standing in a hotel lobby and a man came running in shouting “We need a sanctuary!  We need a sanctuary!”  Then there was a sound of weeping inside one of the hotel rooms down the hallway, and the door was open so I saw the man run inside that room. 

When I awoke, the thought came to me that a hotel room is where you go when you can’t go home.  The Spirit placed the thought in my mind that God cannot go into His House anymore, so He has to go to wherever people really want Him; in the hotel room, on the street corner, in the jail, in the hospital.  

Many times I have felt like giving up on the church, because I am so weary of the lies and deception.  But I love Jesus so dearly. I also love God’s congregation, and I have a vision of the Bride of Christ glowing and drawing people to God with her radiance and beauty and gentleness and love.  I just can’t give up on this vision. I hope that you will help me make this dream come true.

I am going to kneel at the altar now, and you may join me there if you like, but first let me read this scripture from Revelation 19:7-9:

“Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb’”.

It is done and I kneel at the wooden altar, and there I leave some diamond tears as a gift for my Beloved.  He comes to my side and places His invisible hand upon me. He is pleased with my offering today.

Then I feel an arm around my waist and a cheek pressed against mine.  It is Sister Hatten who is kneeling beside me. “That was beautiful,” she says softly.  As I pull myself off my knees, Sister Michelle comes and embraces me tightly, then Brother Spotford, then the pastor.  Elder Thomas’s eyes are sparkly and wet.  “We need more messages like that,” he says with earnestness.

~♥~

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(From “A Cloud of Witnesses”)

Sister Brenda was the wife of Deacon Proctor.  I always loved to hear her rich melodious prayers, and the way she clapped her hands as she prayed on her knees.  She had a beautiful glow about her face, and fiery eyes.

She composed her own spiritual music, and I learned many of her songs.  She and her husband would say that Brenda had a terrible speech impediment before she became a believer, and she used to be ashamed to talk to people.  But she said when she was reading about Moses and his fear of speaking, the Spirit assured her that He would help her.  I couldn’t tell that she had ever had a problem, but the deacon says she stuttered badly at one time.

One day in church, Sister Brenda was testifying and said, “Sometimes when I ask people if they are saved, they tell me they are just to keep me from bothering them anymore.  So now when they say that, I ask them what they were saved from.  If they can’t answer that, they probably aren’t saved.  A person who is truly saved is always anxious to tell people what God delivered them from.”

Once Sister Brenda approached me at church and said, “I dreamed about you last night.  You were climbing up a ladder, and I was right behind you.”

“Wow, that’s a really good dream,” I said. “I hope you haven’t had any dreams about us falling into a pit or anything.”

She laughed and shook her head, saying, “Sister Olive, I would’ve called you if I had a dream like that, and I would’ve said, ‘We need to shape up and get back on track.”

Sister Brenda died before I had finished writing about her. It’s ironical that she reached the top of that ladder ahead of me, and I am still trying not to lose my balance or fall down.

She passed away suddenly one Sunday morning in June.  I was in Tennessee at the time, and Elder Foster called to tell me the bad news.  He said, “As I was driving into the parking lot, I heard sirens and saw the ambulances pulling up,” he said.  “I thought it was one of the older members who had been having health problems, but as I went in, I saw Sister Brenda on the floor in front of the altar and the paramedics working hard trying to revive her.  They finally put her on the stretcher and took her in the ambulance, and she died at the hospital the next day.”  Sister Brenda was among the youngest women in our church, so it was a terrible blow to all of us.

Deacon Proctor lost his mother several weeks after losing his wife, and is still holding on by faith and inner strength. Ella Mae tells me that she finds it almost unbearable for her to hear anyone else sing Sister Brenda’s favorite song in church.  I can still hear it right now in my mind:

Just another day that the Lord has kept me

Just another day that the Lord has kept me

He has kept me from all evil

And my mind stayed on Jesus. 

Just another day that the Lord has kept me

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Sister Shirley is a radiant saint with a gift of mercy.  I have heard her speak about how she loves to visit the elderly people in her neighborhood, and rub them down with oil and give them comfort.  She visits people in the care home and sings songs about Jesus to encourage them.  She doesn’t mind doing the dirtier jobs and dealing with the more aggravating residents who no one else has patience with.  There is one woman who always has stool under her fingernails, and a nasty disposition to go along with it, but Sister Shirley sits by her bed and cleans her nails and talks gently with her.

Sister Shirley has had a lot of tragedy in her life, such as the drowning of her son when he was a teenager.  One Sunday, Deacon Proctor asked her if it was okay for him to speak about her son and she nodded.  But as the deacon talked about being in the hospital room when Sister Shirley’s son died, I saw her glasses fogging up with a mist, and she kept taking them off to clear them.

Sister Shirley was once stabbed by a woman and was taken to the hospital.  The doctor told her that the knife had missed her heart by less than an inch, and that she could have died. The woman who stabbed her has been released from jail and Sister Shirley always speaks to her with kindness whenever she sees her at the grocery store.  The woman glares at her as if she is crazy.

Sister Shirley had a terrible marriage, but remains friends with her ex-husband and often speaks to him about Jesus.  She has a son in prison that clings to her desperately whenever she visits and often calls her just to talk.

Sister Shirley has a quiet faith, despite all of the bad things that have happened to her, and she is a beautiful example of the love and compassion of God.

 ╬

(For More Portraits like this, see “A Cloud of Witnesses” category or page.)

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“A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth.” Isaiah 42:3

I first saw and heard Elder Thomas at the district services.  He was hosting a Friday night Missions service, and I had never met him before.  He stepped up to the pulpit, a dignified and well-dressed man looking over his glasses at the congregation.  Because I thought his voice to be somewhat gruff, I thought that he must be stern and irritable, and that he was someone I would not want to annoy or make angry, because he wouldn’t put up with very much.  It is funny how we perceive people at first observance.

The second time I saw Elder Thomas was at a pastor appreciation service, and suddenly he ran down from the pulpit area to the front of the altar, where he began to dance in the spirit.  My whole conception was thus thrown out the window.

The third time I saw him, he was again at a district service, and he opened the service by saying, “You’re in the Holy Ghost headquarters now.”  I laughed when he said it, and my two guests also laughed about that.  I knew then that I really liked this man, and that I needed to hear him preach.

Soon thereafter, I visited a Sunday service at his church for the first time with my son. That Sunday, Elder Thomas preached from Ecclesiastes 12, and it was one of the most enjoyable and concise teachings I had ever heard.  Not only did Elder Thomas have a gift of teaching with great clarity, but he could make people laugh and enjoy the studying of it.  Whenever I cast a sidelong glance at my son, he was smiling a broad smile or laughing.

I don’t know quite where to begin to describe the incredible giftedness of Elder  Thomas.  He is remarkable in so many ways.  He says that when he was a young boy, he knew a great evangelist in the area named Mother Benjamin, and that he sought for God to give him a portion of the Spirit that was upon her.  He says it was quite difficult even as a young man to keep up with this tireless woman.  But, like Elisha who refused to leave Elijah, he followed her to the best of his ability until she left this world.

Elder Thomas is a gifted preacher, prophet, servant, shepherd, and prayer warrior.  He has a huge heart of compassion for the lost and suffering, and has a word from the Father of Lights for every occasion and every need.  He knows how to guide God’s flock to higher and deeper faith, and to their own personal callings from the Spirit.  I have seen people line up at the altar to receive “the Word of the Lord” from his lips, and I have seen God use him as a mighty instrument of mercy.

He has truly touched my life by his earnestness about the things of God, and his desire to see his people grow, and not wax cold and stagnant.  He knows how to encourage and how to correct, and with such skill and wisdom that only God could give.

(For more portraits like this, visit the page or category entitled “A Cloud of Witnesses”)

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(From “A Cloud of Witnesses”)

The first time I saw Deacon Wayne in church, I noticed how animated and joyous he was during worship services.  He would have made a great Levite priest in the tabernacle, because they had to wear bells along the hems of their garments, and they were forbidden to stop moving.  If those bells stopped jingling, they would die instantly by the hand of God.  Deacon Wayne was slender and constantly in motion, and was immensely graceful.  His bearded face had an Abe Lincoln honesty to it, and I could always see reflections of Christ in his persona and demeanor.  A few weeks after I met him, I learned that he was the son of Elder and Mother Foster, and this made perfect sense.  He was married to my dear friend Glenda.

Deacon Wayne was an incredible vocalist with the “Men of Faith” singing group.  His voice was rich and deep, and my favorite song that he sang was “My soul loves Jesus.”  He was very modest whenever I complimented him, and would say humbly “Pray for me.”  Whenever I asked him how he was doing, he would say “I’m maintaining.”  I liked this saying very much, because we have to maintain our faith, like we maintain our yard, our car, or our marriage.

Sister Glenda has spiritual dreams, and sometimes they reveal future events. When she first recounted one of her dreams to me, her daughter Tameika was twenty-nine and unmarried and feeling that she would never find a companion.  Tameika had encouraged by her friends to look for a companion through the internet.  She was matched up through a website with a man that she visited, and she found that he was disabled and unable to work or drive.  She told her mother about the man, and Glenda told her that God had something better for her if she would just wait on Him. Tameika told her mother that maybe she should give the man a chance, but her mother discouraged the idea.  Reluctantly, Tameika listened to the advice of her mother, although still thinking of the man.

About this time, Glenda had a beautiful dream.  She dreamt that Tameika was in a gorgeous wedding gown with a huge diamond ring on her finger, and she was just floating with happiness.  In the dream, they were in a church in Blountstown.  She recounted the dream to her Tameika, who didn’t take it very seriously.

A couple of weeks later, in the month of August, Glenda and Tameika were in Blountstown, and a preacher named Christopher came to a house they were visiting. He was immediately attracted to Tameika. The two of them went on a date that same night, and when they returned, the preacher told her family that he had “met his rib”.  The whole family was shedding tears of joy. Glenda told me that the preacher was “just precious” and that she was so happy for her daughter.  Her dream had been fulfilled.  The preacher gave Tameika a ring right after Christmas, proposing to her in front of her parents and sisters.

Tameika married Christopher a few months after, and he relocated.  I had the privilege of hearing him sing in our Mother’s Day service, and he delivered the message the following Sunday.  I can only say that he is amazing and kind and humble.

Another amazing thing to me is that Tameika’s entire family is so musically talented, and so is the preacher!  I have brought my guitar for visits to their house, and we sound like a professional gospel-singing group when we get together. I have learned from them that it is better to wait on God than to try to handle things ourselves, because we can really mess things up on our own.

About a year after their marriage, Deacon Wayne suddenly died. He had just arrived at the paper mill where he worked as a supervisor, and a young woman came in to give him the shift report.  As she began to read it, his whole body began to shake, and then he just slumped over.  The woman called for emergency help, but he died before anything could be done for him.

I remember that Friday night, because the Foster’s were all called out to the hospital from church, and his wife Glenda was supposed to sing a solo that weekend at the district service.  I am told that Deacon Wayne was gone before any of his family arrived at the hospital and no one got to say one single word to him.

His wife recounted the night of his death in great sorrow:

“He worked the graveyard shift at the paper mill, and I cooked him fish for his last supper.  Oh, Sister Olive, he kept telling me he was so tired, and I was trying to encourage him.  I rubbed the bald spot on top of his head while he sat at the table and I kissed him.  I reminded him that it was only two weeks until his vacation.

“Our new home had just been finished, and we were moving everything into it.  As I think of it now, it seemed like he was in an awful hurry to fix it all up, like he knew something was going to happen.  We had been decorating it and dreaming of many years together, and hoping for new grandchildren since our daughter had just gotten married.

“I feel almost like it’s my fault, and that I should have made him stay home, or done something different.”

She described the children crying themselves to sleep at night in their rooms, and how she was torturing herself inwardly. Mother Foster shared her anguish at church openly on several occasions, and Elder Foster suffered more privately. Seeing the grief that this family suffered made me realize that we have to cherish those that we love, because we never know what can happen.  I will always remember Deacon Wayne as a great father and husband and man of God.

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(From “A Cloud of Witnesses)

“Let your speech be always with grace…”  Colossians 4:6

I especially remember Mother Gladys’s straw hat, her faded dresses, and her wooden walking cane. I loved it when she would strike the tambourine and begin singing, “Oh I want to see him, look upon His face…” or “It’s gonna be the crowning day…”  She had a resonant voice, passion for the Lord, and a sweet and humble spirit. She was tall, slender and stately with a broad smile, and it was obvious that she was lovely in her younger days. She had tremendous faith in God and had an air of holiness and grace about her.

After Mother Gladys retired from her job at the school for the deaf and blind, she became the “nurse” of her neighborhood.  People say that she would walk house to house taking care of people who were sick or elderly.  She was always poor, but if you visited her she would go straight to her garden, and give away some of her fresh vegetables.  She never refused anyone the help that they needed.

She was a great encouragement to me personally.  After we had been having tent services for several nights and I had testified a few times, she was the first one to approach me with a warm smile and a hug, and say, “There’s that missionary.”  I felt honored by the way that she said it to me.

Mother Gladys was diagnosed with cancer, but she never lost her faith.  When I went to visit her she said to me, “If the Lord wants me to get up, I will get up, and if He doesn’t, I won’t.”

Whenever people visited her, she would say that she just wanted to “have church”.  Sister Doris says that when people would ask her what songs she wanted to hear, she would say, “Anything with blood in it” (referring to the blood of Jesus).  She never complained about her suffering, because she did not want to cause her family or friends more grief.  So she just stayed in her bed at home, and gradually stopped eating and speaking.  She was a sweet and godly woman her whole life.

I did not know her for long enough, because she died soon after I joined the church. It will be amazing to see her again someday in the Kingdom of God.

~♥~

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“At 11:00 on Sunday morning when we stand and sing and Christ has no east or west, we stand at the most segregated hour in this nation.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

~♥~

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(The Iris Diaries)

“The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word the one who is weary.”(Isaiah 50:4)

I met a young woman named Amber Fox at McDonald’s one morning.  She wore a beautiful plum tie-dyed Woodstock sweatshirt that drew my attention.  Her thick auburn hair was cut over her ears and above the neckline of her shirt, and she was very shapely and slim with dark blue jeans and sporty nylon sandals.  Her eyes were large and green, and freckles dotted her cheeks.  Her voice was strong with some sort of New England accent.

For some reason, we began almost immediately to talk about God and Amber said she had a hard time with churches, because she always felt so dirty compared to everyone else, and she would end up just going for food. “I don’t think people in church are damaged enough for me” she said, stroking her hair nervously with her fingers.  “They seem so perfect and they treat me like I’m possessed or something.”

“I’ve been damaged a lot too,” I said. “But thankfully, Christ doesn’t look upon us in the way that many church people do.  Just think about the kinds of people he hung around with.I was reading yesterday about the woman who had been bleeding for years, until she touched the robe of Jesus as He walked by.  Jesus felt power go out of Him, and stopped in His tracks, and asked who had touched Him.  When I first read it, I thought Jesus was angry with the woman for touching Him without permission.  But then it came clear to me that He knew how damaged she was, how she had been a reject from the temple for many years, and He didn’t want her to disappear into the crowd without talking with her.  He just wanted to take time and minister to all of her needs before she left.”

Amber’s eyes began to fill with tears and I touched her arm. She suddenly blurted out that she had lost count of how many abortions she had had, but she remembered at least seven. Her hands were shaking from deep anguish and the doorway of her soul flung wide open. After all of the condescension she had experienced from religious people, I marveled that she was willing to make herself so open and vulnerable.  She somehow knew that I would not judge her.

“Amber, God loves brokenness in people, and the scriptures say that He never turns away a humble spirit.  When someone is broken, God can get inside and start repairing the issues of the heart.  I love mosaics, and think they are especially beautiful because they are made of broken pieces.”   As Amber wiped away tears with her hands, she said, “This is so weird, because I have been making mosaics lately.”

I read from John 14, where Jesus says to let not our hearts be troubled, because He is going to prepare a place for us, so that we can be with Him.  I talked with her about the Holy Ghost that teaches us concerning all things, and Amber asked with surprise, “You mean that you can have a direct connection?”  “Yes,” I replied, and Amber was amazed by this.

We prayed together, and I encouraged her to keep on seeking a closer walk with God and His Spirit until she finds her peace, and that it would be as clear as a cloudless day. Amber was only passing through town that day, so I knew that I would never see her again.  But I often wonder about her and how she is doing.

(Name was changed for this woman’s privacy)

~♥~

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QUESTIONS?

Don’t go ’round confused– if you have anything you wish to ask me about my faith, my life, or my statements, please ask me.  I would like to have more dialogue with my readers, and to clarify anything that may be unclear.

If I am able to answer your question, I will do so in the most conscientious manner possible. Be aware that I don’t haggle over non-essential doctrine or anything that might create unnecessary controversy or division in the Body of Christ. We need more unity, and less fragmentation.

Also, it goes without saying-  I don’t know everything…don’t ask me the stuff your two-year old is asking you, like “How did God get here in the first place?” and “How come everything isn’t perfect?”  I might try to answer and make a real fool out of myself, but you wouldn’t want that, now would you?

So now that we’ve cleared up the ground rules, I am going to start a page entitled “Dear Olive,” so you can submit your inquiries using the “comment” link.

Peace Be With You,

Sister Olive

~♥~

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I wanted to share the titles of some of my favorite books and other writings with you, many of which I read during my graduate studies.

Please let me know if you have any recommendations to share with me. 

*************************

Augustine, Saint. The Confessions of St. Augustine. New York, NY: Barnes and  Noble, 1999. Print.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship. Trans. Chr. Kaiser Verlag Munchen by R.H. Fuller. New York: Simon & Schuster (Touchstone), 1959. Print.

Buxbaum, Yitzhak. Jewish Tales of Holy Women. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2002. Print.

Claiborne, Shane, and Chris Haw. Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals. Grand Rapids, MI: The Simple Way, 2008. 150. Print.

Claiborne, Shane. The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2006. Print.

Dubus, Andre.  Broken Vessels:  Essays by Andre Dubus.   Boston, MA:  David R. Godine Publisher, Inc, 1991. Print.

Edwards, Jonathan. The Works of Jonathan Edwards. Vol. 4. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1972. Print.

Elliot, Elisabeth. The Path of Loneliness. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1988. Print.

Finney, Charles G. The Autobiography of Charles G. Finney. Condensed and Edited by Helen Wessel. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1977. Print.

Fox, George. The Journal of George Fox.  Edited by Rufus Jones. Richmond, IN: Friends UP, 1976. Print.

—.”Selected Epistles of George Fox.” Renascence Editions. U of Oregon, 1998.Web. 4 Nov 2010. <http://www.luminarium.org/renascence-editions/foxep.htm&gt;.

Graves, Michael P. “Functions of Key Metaphors in Early Quaker Sermons, 1671-1700.” The Quarterly Journal of Speech 69.4 (1983): 364-378. MLA International Bibliography. EBSCO. Web. 24 Nov. 2010.

Hosek, Dr. Pavel. “How Does C.S. Lewis do apologetics?.” (2003): n. pag. European Leadership Forum Research Center. Web. 20 Dec 2010. <http://www.euroleadershipresources.org/resource.php?ID=76&gt;.

Jarman, Mark. “To Make the Final Unity: Metaphor’s Matter and Spirit.” 301-318. Southern Review, 2007. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 24 Nov. 2010.

Kierkegaard, Søren. Kierkegaard Spiritual Writings: A New Translation and Selection by George Pattison. New York: Harper Collins, 2010. 57. eBook.

. Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard. Ed. Charles E. Moore.  Farmington, PA:  Plough, 2002. Print.

—.  The Present Age. Trans. Alexander Dru. New York: Harper Row (Torchbook), 1962. Print.

—. The Journals of Kierkegaard (edited by Alexander Dru. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1959), 324.

Lewis, C. S. The Complete C. S. Lewis Signature Classics. New York: Harper One, 2002. Print.

—. The Four Loves. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1960. Print.

Maharaj, Rabindranath, and Dave Hunt. Death of a Guru: A Remarkable True Story of One Man’s Search for Truth. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House, 1977. eBook.

McKeever, Dr. Joe. “Why We Need Parables.” (2009): n. pag. Web. 20 Dec 2010. <http://www.biblestudytools.com/pastor-resources/11610729.html&gt;.

Merton, Thomas. The Seven Storey Mountain. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1948. Print.

Miller, Donald. Searching for God Knows What. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004. Print.

Miller, Donald, and John Macmurray. To Own a Dragon: Reflections on Growing Up Without a Father. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2006. Print.

Moody, Dwight L. The Best of Dwight L. Moody. 6th Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1971. Print.

Mouw, Richard J. Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World. Downer’s Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2010. Print.

Neihardt, John.  Black Elk Speaks: as told through John Neihardt by Nicholas Black Elk.  Lincoln, NE:  U of Nebraska P, 2000. Print.

Nouwen, Henri J. M.  The Inner Voice of Love:  A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom. New York, NY: Image Doubleday, 1996. Print.

—. The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society. New York, NY: Image Doubleday, 1972. Print.

Norris, Kathleen. The Cloister Walk. New York: Berkley Publishing, 1996. Print.

Savant, John. “Follow that Metaphor.” Commonweal 132.20 (2005): 17-19. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 24 Nov. 2010.

Sempangi, F. Kefa. A Distant Grief. Glendale, CA: Regal Books, 1979. Print.

Spurgeon, Charles H. Finding Peace in Life’s Storms. New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 1997. Print.

—. “Songs in the Night.” Spurgeon Collection on Bible Bulletin Board.  Tony Capoccia, 2004. Web. 4 Nov 2010. <http://www.biblebb.com/files/spurgeon/2558.htm&gt;.

Ten Boom, Corrie, and C.C. Carlson. In My Father’s House. Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1976. Print.

Vaswani, Neela. You Have Given Me A Country. Louisville, Ky: Sarabande Books, 2010. Print.

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I found these beautiful gospel precepts on the “Interrupting the Silence” blog by Father Michael K. Marsh, and they really summed up my philosophy about how to live in a Christlike way. They are not just useful for monks, but for anyone trying to imitate Christ.

Interrupting the Silence

These are the seven rules of a monk:

In the first place, as scripture says,

“Love God with all your soul and all your mind.”

Then, love your fellow human beings

as you love yourself.

Fast from all evil.

Never pass judgment on anyone, for any cause.

Never do evil to anyone.

Discipline yourself and purge yourself

from material and spiritual evil.

Cultivate a modest and gentle heart.

If you can do all these things

and see only your own faults, not those of others,

the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ

will be with you abundantly.

– Sayings of the Egyptian Fathers

It would be a mistake to read these rules as applicable to only “monks.” Too often we speak as if there are different spiritualities according to one’s state of life – lay, married, single, celibate, priest, monk. The truth is there is only one spirituality, that of…

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Here are some of my favorite poems, speeches, letters, sermons, and sayings. New passages will be added from time to time.

 

“With visible breath I am walking.

A voice I am sending as I walk.

In a sacred manner I am walking.

With visible tracks I am walking.

In a sacred manner I walk.”

Song of the Sacred Woman from Black Elk Speaks

 

“Sing and rejoice, ye children of the Day and of the Light, for the Lord is at work in this thick night of Darkness that may be felt; and Truth doth flourish as the rose, and the lilies do grow among the thorns, and the plants atop of the hills, and upon them the lambs do skip and play.  And never heed the tempests nor the storms, floods nor rains, for the Seed of Christ is over all and doth reign.”

Epistle #227 of George Fox

 

“We must free ourselves to be filled by God. Even God cannot fill what is full.”

Mother Teresa

 

“I like your Christ.  I do not like your Christians.  They are so unlike your Christ.”

Mahatma Gandhi

 

“At 11:00 on Sunday morning when we stand and sing and Christ has no east or west, we stand at the most segregated hour in this nation.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

 

“The Bible is very easy to understand.  But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers.  We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly…Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament”

Kierkegaard, Provocations 201

 

Letter from Birmingham Jail

“I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate…who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”…Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

 

Songs in the Night

“If it is daylight in my heart, I can sing songs touching my graces—songs touching my sweet experience—songs touching my duties—songs touching my labors; but let the night come—my graces appear to have withered; my evidences, though they are there, are hidden; I cannot clearly read my title to my mansion in heaven. And now I have nothing left to sing of but my God. It is strange, that when God gives his children mercies, they normally set their hearts more on the mercies than on the Giver of them; but when the night comes, and he sweeps all the mercies away, then right away they say, “Now, my God, I have nothing to sing of but you; I must come to you; and to you only.”

Anyone can sing in the day. When the cup is full, one draws inspiration from it; when wealth rolls in abundance around them, anyone can sing to the praise of a God who gives an abundant harvest.  It is easy to sing when we can read the notes by daylight; but the skillful singer is the one who can sing when there is not a ray of light to read by—who sings from their heart, and not from a book that they can see.

Let all things go as I please—I will weave songs, weave them wherever I go, with the flowers that grow along my path; but put me in a desert, where there are no flowers, and how will I weave a chorus of praise to God? How will I make a crown for him? Let this voice be free, and this body be full of health, and I can sing God’s praise; but stop this tongue, lay me on the bed of suffering, and it is not so easy to sing from the bed, and chant high praises in the fires…confine me, chain my spirit, clip my wings, make me very sad, so that I become old like the eagle—ah! Then it is hard to sing.”

Preached by Charles Spurgeon in the late 1800’s

 

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A Cloud Of Witnesses: Portraits of Faith

“He spoke as one having authority, and not as the scribes and the Pharisees.”

Deacon Proctor has been like a spiritual brother to me for many years, and we have enjoyed deep mystical communion.  He is tall and broad with a flat top haircut and a severely twisted hand.  His black hair has an ever-widening section of white on one side, and he has suits in an array of various colors.

Once I remember him teaching about the verse in Isaiah which says “Though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be white as snow.”  He looked at the arms of his suit and shrugged his shoulders and said, “It’s funny, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to wear this suit today, because it has a bleach stain on the side, but it illustrates this passage. “  The suit was appropriately wine-colored, with the white spot near the pocket.

The deacon’s movements are marionette-like, the tilting of his head, the raising and lowering of his arms and shoulders.  Affectionately known by Elder Foster as “Brother Love”, he is a tremendously gifted teacher and man of faith.  He was the Sunday school teacher before I was appointed to the task, and I was quite terrified about teaching after him.

I have never heard anyone teach as Deacon Proctor does. He is like a great waiter at a restaurant.  A bad waiter can ruin even the best food.  A professional waiter can make any meal even better, by presenting it with grace and style and timing. This is how Deacon Proctor serves the Word of God.  He presents it with love, simplicity and clarity so that even a child could understand it.  It is evident that he is a man who loves to study in order to gain more wisdom.

I asked Deacon Proctor one day about his deformed right hand.  He smiled and shrugged his shoulders and said, “It was from an accident a couple of years ago.  I was working on someone’s car motor with a rag in my hand.  I got distracted while I was talking and the rag was pulled into the fan belt along with my hand. It tore my hand up but I never felt any pain. In the hospital, the doctor kept saying ‘Why don’t you quit being so macho, and let me give you some morphine?’ and I kept telling him it really didn’t hurt.  I know that God kept it from hurting.

“Two weeks before the accident happened, I had a vivid dream about a cat clawing up my hand, and I asked Mother Foster what she thought it meant.  She avoided me for a week or so after that, like she thought I was weird,” he said chuckling. “After this happened, we all understood it.  The Spirit was warning me in advance.”

Another deacon from the church told me that it was incredible to him how Deacon Proctor never complained about his hand being mutilated, or about having to live with the inconvenience of it from then on. He behaved almost as though nothing had happened.

Deacon Proctor was also in a terrible wreck while driving a huge concrete truck, and he struck the driver side of a small vehicle.  He says he jumped out and checked the man’s breathing and pulse, and he was sure the man was dead.  He said, “I began to weep and kept pointing at the man and crying, ‘You can’t die, no, you can’t die.’  The ambulance came and the medics couldn’t revive him, so helicopter came and took him.  I found out later that the man lived and he is doing fine,” he said shaking his head.  “I really believe the Holy Ghost raised the man, because I kept pointing at him and saying he couldn’t die.  He explained how Jesus told His disciples that they would do greater miracles than He did, and the scriptures say God quickens the dead and calls those things which are not as if they are.”

The deacon frequently has dreams and visions and hears the voice of the Spirit.  On one occasion when I was feeling great anxiety, I had heard an inward voice say “Trust in Me.”  I went to church the following Sunday and Deacon Proctor said to me, “The Lord told me this week that I just need to trust Him.”  This surprised me, because I had not told him about the voice that told me the same thing.

Here is one of the most interesting dreams that the deacon told me about:

I dreamed that I was at a crowded fair surrounded by games and noise and music and bright lights. A man walked up to me and said, “Follow me” and then began to walk away.  I decided to do what he said so I walked right behind him.  The man kept talking to me over his shoulder, and I kept trying to get a look at his face and to hear him better.  With all of the noise and confusion of people around me, I could hear his voice, but couldn’t understand his words.  I never got a look at the man’s face, but I kept following anyway.  The man kept walking in all different directions, and I stayed right behind him the whole time.  The moon was really large up in the sky, and it had a face on it, which seemed to be watching me.

The next day, Deacon Proctor mentioned the dream to a co-worker at his job, because he wondered what it meant.  The co-worker said quickly, “It looks to me like God just wanted you to follow him, and he wanted to see if you would or not.”  The deacon almost cried when he heard it, because he knew that it was true. I added that I thought the face on the moon was the face of God watching from above the whole time while Deacon Proctor was following Him on the ground. Even with all of the distractions and amusements that could have lured him away, he did not turn aside.  I thought the fair represented the worldly temptations that can keep us from following God.

The deacon says he was talking with Elder Foster one day when the Spirit told him to go to his son’s house and pray.  He and Elder and Mother Foster walked to the house and no one was home. So they returned to the church where coincidentally, the deacon’s son pulled up a few minutes later with his girlfriend in the car. The deacon told him about his sense of urgency to pray for him. His son was not a believer, but he accepted the prayers of the three of them.

About a week later, a sense of heaviness came over the deacon during street services, and people noticed that he was acting strangely and pacing about.  Right after services were dismissed, Deacon Proctor learned that his son had been stabbed in the neck by the girlfriend that had been in the car when they prayed for him, and he had been rushed to the hospital. The deacon hurried there to see his son and the bleeding was so bad, that the family did not think he would make it.  But miraculously he did survive, and Deacon Proctor says that it was because of the prayer of intercession that had been offered a few days before, prompted by the leading of the Spirit. He said he shudders to think of how it would have ended up if he had not obeyed the Spirit and prayed.

Deacon Proctor has encountered many trials at work and the Lord has been faithful to protect him.  He told us one day at church about a series of events that happened to him.

One of his knees was hurting very badly one day at work and he mentioned it to one of his co-workers.  The man began to mock him and said that he was just faking it to get out of working.  Deacon Proctor ignored the man, and didn’t say anything.  The next day that man came in with his knee in so much pain, that he could barely walk on it for several days.

Then one day his elbow was hurting and he complained about it to someone, and they began making jokes about it.  That person developed a pain in their elbow that became so unbearable that they ended up having surgery on it.

Then a supervisor was bragging to people about how he was going to get the deacon fired and give his job to someone else.  The next day that man was fired, and Deacon Proctor was promoted into his job.  When reports got around about these events at work, the other employees became afraid because they realized that the deacon was under divine protection.

Deacon Proctor and I talk from time to time about the need for a true revival of the church, and he told me about one that occurred years ago in Saint Augustine.  Tent services were held outside, and an evangelist named Walter Camps came to lead them.  The revival went on for a month, and the Spirit moved so intensely that all of the bars in the surrounding area had to close, because they had no customers.

The deacon said he used to mock people who fell down when touched by preachers on television and other services he had attended because he thought it was a pretense.  But at this revival he went to the altar for prayer, and Reverend Camps asked him what he wanted prayer for.  Deacon Proctor told him that he wanted prayer for his mind.  The evangelist gave him a peculiar look then he put his hand on the deacon’s forehead, and Deacon Proctor fell down unconscious.  He testifies that ever since that day, he has never been the same and he has no more of the problems that he had at the time.  He also doesn’t doubt God’s power.

I feel immensely honored to know a great man of faith such as Deacon Proctor who is so wise, and yet so humble before God and man.

OLIVE TWIST ©2012

 

(Photo from http://simplyorthodox.tumblr.com/)

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A Cloud of Witnesses:  Portraits of Faith

Elder Foster is graceful with hands that swim like fish around him as he speaks. He bows from his slender waist and lowers his head slightly, greenish brown eyes looking up to others with humility.  His caramel-colored suit is well-tailored, his shoes polished, his white shirt crisp.

Mother Foster has amazing hats and weathered hands and I have seldom seen her silver hair.  She braids it tightly against her scalp and tucks it under her hats.  Her waist is nicely trim for an elderly woman, the collar of her dress edged with white lace, her black ballerina slippers small and cozy.  Her smile is broad and warm and her eyes always seem to look upward and inward to invisible things.

Elder and Mother Foster are my spiritual parents, and I am just one of their clumsy and confused children.

Elder Foster has ministered to his church for almost forty years, and he is still the most energetic pastor I have ever seen.  He seems much younger when he preaches because he jumps and shouts and runs down from the pulpit into the congregation.  His agility is amazing at these times.

He can be so fiery during his sermons, yet he is so gentle and humble afterwards, when he shakes my hand and says, “Are you behaving yourself, Sister Olive?” or “Be encouraged, Sister Olive.” I guess this is why one preacher who visited our church refers to him as a “Gentle Giant”.

Many times Elder Foster speaks directly to me about things in my life that he has no way of knowing, and he encourages or corrects me with great gentleness. I recognize in those moments that the Spirit is speaking to me and that I have to be obedient, if I want to grow spiritually.

Elder Foster once remarked, “You know the trouble with many of us is that we trust the mailman more than we trust God. When we address a letter and put a stamp on it and place it in the mailbox, we have confidence that the mail will arrive where it’s supposed to go.  We don’t call the mailman or the postmaster to keep track of the letter, or call to make sure it arrives at its destination.

“But when we address a prayer to God, we don’t have confidence that it will get to God, or that it will accomplish the thing that we are asking.  Our lack of faith is why many of our prayers are unanswered.”

Elder Foster puts more money into the offering plate than he receives from the district for his services.  He is always speaking about people who exemplify the life of faith.  He tells of a poor preacher who had no money, but went to the grocery store and got a cart and put the food he needed in it, and he prayed and trusted God to take care of him. The preacher walked up to the cashier lane, and a man stepped up with his wallet open and said, “Pastor, let me take care of that for you.”

Our elder also speaks of a minister who heard that someone in his church had died.  The minister went to that house and the man’s wife had covered him with a sheet as she awaited the mortician.  The minister said “The Spirit didn’t say anything to me about this brother dying.”  Then he pulled back the sheet and the man got up.

One Sunday a strange man came into our church to leave an offering envelope for a family member.  As he came down the aisle, I noticed the intensity of his face and eyes as he looked around nervously.  He hurriedly handed the envelope to Sister Shirley near the altar and left.

Elder Foster was preaching later in the service, and told us that he had had a dream the night before, about being down by the fish creek and meeting a man who was demon-possessed and that he had cast the demon out of the man.  When he awoke he thought that he must have eaten something the night before that caused him indigestion and strange dreams.  But then the man from his dream walked into church and left the offering.

The elder often speaks about the importance of preaching the gospel “in season and out of season”, because you never know when that Death Angel will come around and take someone.  He says that one night a phone call came for Mother Foster from a woman that she worked with at the paper mill.  Elder Foster did not want to disturb his wife while she was sleeping, so he told the woman to call his wife another time.  Mother Foster went to work the next morning and the woman had died.

Elder Foster also recounted this story with great sorrow:  “A man came up to me one Wednesday night after the service was over, asking how to get saved.  I was in a hurry that night, and asked him to come and see me on Sunday.  When he didn’t come on Sunday, I inquired about him and found out that he had died.  I have learned never to make anyone wait again, because the Devil will try to cut them off beforehand.”

Mother Foster is an amazing spiritual leader as well.  She diligently taught all of her children about prayer and faith while they were young.  Several of the Fosters’ sons are preachers now.  Mother Foster says that one of her boys, Aaron, used to preach through the open window from his high chair when he was a baby, and would tell people about Christ.  She says she used to have terrible migraines until one of them put his tiny hands on her and prayed, when he was only a little baby boy.

She says they have never had a lot of money but they acknowledge that God always provided for their needs.  Mother Foster once testified about a woman with five children that lived down the street from her years ago. Sometimes the woman would come to her door and tell her she didn’t have any food for her children.  Mother Foster said that she always bought just enough food for her family for seven days at a time, but she would open her refrigerator, and give the woman some meat and vegetables and bread for her children.  As Mother Foster gave the bag of food to the woman, she would say to her, “Now, come back around here this evening, because I want you to see what the Lord is going to do for me, because I gave you what you needed.”  She said that without fail, someone would show up before dinnertime, and knock on the door and say, “I just caught some fish, and I have more than I need.  Would you like some?” or someone would bring her greens and vegetables from their garden.  She says that God always provided whenever she was obedient.

Mother Foster told me an amazing story about a woman who asked her to come to her house:  “I went to visit this poor woman and she told me that her husband had been abusive to her for many years, and I told her ‘God would never want anyone to place themselves in danger. So we are going to take this problem to God, and pray that your husband will leave and never come back.  First I need you to go to the closet and get a pair of his shoes, and bring them here.’ The woman went and got his shoes, and I told her to put them right in front of the door, with the toes pointed as if they were about to walk out.  She did this and then we started to pray out loud.  We prayed and prayed with all our hearts, until I had a clear feeling, and I told her that it was done.  I told her she had to believe that God was going to do answer our prayers.  I said, ‘It might not be today or tomorrow or even this week, but you have to trust God.’  Well, it turned out that her husband came home that very night, and took all of his belongings and left, and he never returned home again.”

Mother Foster taught me to pray earnestly on my knees until I sense that the work is finished, and then to believe God.  My prayers were never answered until I learned to pray in the proper way.  Mother Foster taught me that God loves to act of our behalf, when He knows that He will be glorified in it.

I have learned so much from the Foster’s about living by faith, and “pressing on” until death, and I am eternally grateful for their testimonies, and their examples.

“Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.”  (I Timothy 6:12)

OLIVE TWIST ©2012

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OLIVE TWIST ©2012

“His voice was like a noise of many waters…” (Ezekiel 43:2)

A lady in lavender is summoned by the sea.  She steps to the shore in silver sandals.  She is alone and yet never alone. His voice rises like a wave. Only His voice can quench the fire in her bones.  She waits in peace for words from the depths of the ocean.  No one can see what she sees or hear what she hears.  A laughing gull cries, and the waves swirl around her ankles.  The sand beneath her pulls her inward.  She knows never to resist, but only to stand and wait and yield.  The sandpipers come closer and tip their heads.  The angel shells nod as they sink back into the sand.  The lady’s fingers search the sea breezes for strands and she weaves them into whispers.  “Yes” she says in reply to the ocean king.  The taste of salt is in her mouth. The waters recede and gifts are sprinkled around her feet.  She picks up crystalline shells and seaweed as intricate as ancient lace. Three seagulls cry together and she hears her secret name, given to her by the sea.  She slips her feet into her sandals and leaves the wind at her back.  Her silver hair reaches its tendrils forward, and her eyes see the path beyond the sea oats that are waving in the same direction.  “Ye are the salt of the earth, says the sea breeze.

The lady stops outside the prison door and sees herself in the two-sided glass.  She pulls her lavender shawl around her neck and shoulders to prepare for the coldness inside.  She waits for a beep and pushes the cold metal door open. She goes to the faceless woman behind the dark glass and asks to speak to the director.  A husky black man with oval glasses and a flat top haircut comes to the lobby and calls for her. He is wearing a navy blue polo with the facility name embroidered on the chest and matching khaki pants.  He talks into his walky-talky as he leads her over the scuffed floors and through bland bone-colored halls to his office.  She takes out her mother-of-pearl pen and fills out papers on his desk.  The two speak quietly in his carpeted cubicle and he shakes her hand softly.  She writes down some names of prisoners to visit, and he tells her what days she can come.  She rises from her chair and nods in gratitude to the man who opened the doors to her.  She knows the Voice who caused him to open the doors, but she always respects earthly authority. “He that is true, He that hath the key of David, He that opens and no man shuts, and shuts and no man opens…”

As she drives away, three mourning doves flutter over her windshield and light in the grass by the lake.  She smiles at the messengers and drives away.

Iris returns to the prison and is sent into a classroom with cheap plastic chairs and one grey table.  On the wall is a poster of a spreading green tree.  She remembers this tree from a dream.  She waits in silence.  An echo of footsteps and voices in the hallway makes her heart pound.  She twists the mother-of-pearl on her finger, and then rests her right hand on her knee.  She prays for power and grace. The heavy footsteps shuffle outside the doors, then a key turns the lock and in they come.  Young men in uniforms trudge in with hands behind their backs, heads low and weary.  Their brown plastic sandals scratch like chalk on a chalk board. One inmate is wearing red.  This means he could erupt in violence.  One boy is wearing orange.  This means suicidal. She sees tattoos and wrists carved with unknown symbols.  Her heart is grieved. What will she say to them?  The taste of salt comes to her mouth.  The young men sit down.  Their eyes startle her.  They seem so weak, so sad, so desperate.  She had not expected this.

Iris speaks softly with the prisoners, and the voice is inside of her.  The taste of salt is always on her tongue.  She is surprised how the young prisoners search her face, and look upon her as a mother.  She learns that it is not her, but the tides of the ocean are pulling upon them, and the living water is flowing out of her mouth and sometimes it trickles from her eyes.  Sometimes the prisoners cough up disfigured and unclean creatures upon the floor, where they writhe and squirm in their slimy grotesque forms.  When the salt water touches them, they cry out and die in agony at the lady’s feet.  The ocean king does the cleansing, yet the lady is rewarded as if she had done it herself.

Sometimes the water flows gently and softly. Sometimes it rumbles and powerful waves strike someone, and they are cast down and broken before the cleansing.  The will of the ocean determines the way the waters move and work on the souls in the room.  When the waters recede, the work is done and it is done well.

As Iris steps outside, a Great Heron watches her with one eye, from among the rushes.  The lady and bird nod reverently at one another.

The lady knows the power of stories.  If she can get a person to tell their story, a door cracks open and a sliver of light comes through, and suddenly she can touch their soul.  She has learned that anyone in the right moment, in the right place, in the right state of mind, can be persuaded to open the door of his soul.  She has learned to watch for the crack in the door.

It is a wonderful thing to be in the presence of stories.  It is a great net for catching souls. She watches the young inmates compete for a chance to tell their story.  They all rush in like seagulls with fierce eyes that spot a fish in the sea foam.  With eagerness they wait for their chance.  Her heart ripples with waves of joy at moments like these, when souls come out of their shells so raw and open.  They are all washed together in the tides of stories and passion and pain and love. Tears and smiles and songs come bursting forth, like hidden fish and shells from deep in the waters. This is the time when one might pluck a drowning soul from deep waters, like a luminous pearl.

In a room full of stories, a door springs open and God glides right in and glory takes place.  She witnessed it and it makes life worth living because souls make their statement and find their place of belonging.  It is priceless and it is real and it is satisfying beyond all words, in that realm where all souls fall silent.

“The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.”

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A Cloud of Witnesses:  Portraits of Faith

OLIVE TWIST ©2012

“It is nothing extraordinary to be holy.  You must believe it is a normal thing for everybody.” –Mother Teresa

A professor once referred to these stories as “hagiographic portraits,” and I agree with that assertion.  I am pleased to introduce my spiritual family in this fashion.  These profiles deal more with the mystical realm than the natural, but I have made every effort to enable you to see my friends in both worlds.

For those who have never had the privilege of observing holy people going about their daily lives, I am delighted to share this treasure.

“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset [us], and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1)

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