Rethink: The Power of Words

In this series, we will take a closer look at sayings and doctrines that are common place in streams of the church and talk about the truth and error of these sayings and doctrines.

The issue.

I’ve noticed a troubling trend among some charismatic Christians. There has been more and more talk about the power of our words and how they affect our situations. Usually it occurs in sermons where the people are encouraged to speak positive words into the air about their lives and situations. They are also told that much of what ails them (whether physically, financially, emotionally, etc) is coming from the negative words that they are speaking over their lives. The preacher will say “The reason you are sick is because you keep claiming you are sick instead of saying that you’re healed” or “Wake up and speak to the airways that you are blessed and all your bills will be paid.”

Why does this matter?

The verse used most often when people talk about the power of words is:

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits. (Proverbs 18:21 ESV)

Many have taken this scripture and used it exclusively to make a theology that states our circumstances are created by what our mouth speaks. The problem is that the Bible never mentions this. The closest we get to the power of words again is in the book of  James.

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. (James 3:1-12 ESV)

James talks about our words as righteousness or sin, not life-altering positive or negative powers.

Now the Bible does mention people speaking to themselves and stirring themselves up to hope and believe. David is a great example of this.

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar. (Psalm 42:5-6 ESV)

Did you catch what David did though? Yes he talked to himself, but He used memories of what God had done to change his mood.

Still, changing moods (going from anxiousness to hope, or sorrow to joy) is one thing. Believing your words can change your physical circumstances or can bring in extra finances is another. In fact, it’s unbiblical.

I stumbled on this tweet the other day and thought it summed up this point well. Nowhere in scripture is a person reprimanded for a sickness simply for “not speaking healing over their life”. What most people forget about healing is that we don’t heal anyone. God does and He needs nothing to do it. While faith is usually present where there is healing, it is still something that God does according to His sovereign will. Our words have little if nothing to do with it.

My biggest problem with the power of words thinking is that it is rooted is a few horrible things. First, it is rooted in Word of Faith theology that claims that we have whatever we ask and so if something is not what we like, we have the power to change it. This is prosperity gospel at its core and goes against the sovereign nature of God, the depravity of man, and God’s way of bringing maturity through suffering.

UnknownPower of words thinking also has deep roots into the same philosophy as the book “The Secret.” Here is a quote from this book:

“As you think, those thoughts are sent out into the universe and they magnetically attract all like things that are on the same frequency. Everything sent out returns to the source. And that source is you.”

Christianity Today has a great review of it.

This book and its thinking as been held high by people like Oprah and sadly the same kind of thinking has kept into many Christian’s theology.

Now I believe in faith. I believe in healing and I also believe in reminding ourselves that God is faithful to provide and that He wants to heal (and purchased our healing). I also admit that,particularly with emotional states, there is scientific data regarding the placebo effect, that what we believe can help us feel better, especially for issues and pains that are mainly mental. Most of what I’m speaking against though falls under “hyper-faith”, the belief that anything we see as negative is not God’s will and therefore can be changed if we have enough faith and do the right things (ex. if we pray enough, give enough, serve enough, obey enough, etc).

But remember what Jesus said:

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5 ESV)

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? (Matthew 6:25-27 ESV)

Little branches, I encourage all of us when I say: stop being anxious. Stop worrying whether your bills will get paid because you didn’t speak enough positive words over your life. Stop feeling the shame about your child because you did declare “you’re an overcomer” over their life everyday. Our anxiousness, worry, and negative words can only produce one thing: sin. Quit reading books that focus on the power of what we can do for ourselves through our words. Let us stop all the self-talk and using the power of suggestion on ourselves and start looking to our Father who knows what we need and is good to give them as they line up with His will.

When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent. (Proverbs 10:19 ESV)

Old Dogs and New Tricks

“Old dogs can’t learn new tricks.”

I’ve heard that phrase my whole life. Why do we associate this with people? Why do we use this term so we don’t have to change?

We as human beings hate change. But instead of resisting change shouldn’t we be heading towards change, constantly trying to get better and make better choices? I’ve had several older people tell me, “This is just the way I am. I can’t change” or “She’s not going to change and you aren’t going to change.”

Forgive me but I think that’s a bunch of nonsense. Becoming unteachable and unchangeable means nothing more than we have become “old and crusty”. I pray that I don’t become old and crusty but that I will be ever changing and heading towards my Jesus.

Now Jesus is a gentleman and doesn’t make me change all at once because that would be an overwhelming suicide mission. But He gives me little bit by little bit to work on. I will continue to work until the day I walk into His arms and wake in death to the after life with Him.

2 Corinthians 3:17-18

 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Favorite

A lunch with friends or family at Cracker Barrel.

A quiet afternoon floating in the pool.

Back to back (to back to back to back, etc) episodes of NCIS.

As Maria sung in The Sound of Music,
“These [were] just few of [your] favorite things.”

A 64oz cup of Coke (or later, Sprite) filled to the brim with ice.

A Florida Gators or a Miami Dolphins football game.

Getting your nails painted and your hair colored.

These were just few of your favorite things.

The family trip to Lake Tahoe.

Seeing the birth of both of your granddaughters.

Watching all your kids graduate high school.

These were just few of your favorite things.

Every time your tumor markers went down.

When you heard one of your kids (or your husband) come home.

When we sung of His faithfulness at church.

These were just few of your favorite things.

No longer held in a body wrecked by horrible pain.

Being able to run, breathe, jump, shout, and dance.

Seeing clearly with no need of contacts or glasses.

These are just few of your favorite things.

Seeing your dad, brother, and sister again.

Meeting the child, the one before me, who died in your womb for the first time.

Receiving the crown that was laid up for you for a race well ran.

These are just few of your favorite things.

Seeing the worship in the throne room with your eyes, no longer just a vision.

Casting your crown at His feet and worshiping with the multitudes.

Being overwhelmed with light and love all while being in His presence.

These are just few of your favorite things.

But after all of these things…

One thing overshadows them all….

Seeing Jesus, the One you loved for decades, face-to-face.

This is your favorite thing.

And when the dog bites and when the bees sting

When life gets hard, and the times seem cruel

When I’m feeling sad

Or mad

Or doubtful

Or weary

I simply remember your favorite things

And your favorite thing

And then I don’t feel so bad

Because I’ll be there, with you, one day too.

Until then mom, Happy Mother’s Day.

How To Help A Family Who Lost Someone

This past December, my mom died. I had the honor of doing her eulogy. The weeks and months that have followed since then have been a mix of heartbrokenness and yet of sameness. The lost of my mother still pains me and I remember her often, but I have not been left immobilized by it. While life is certainly different, our routines continue and life moves us on.

During this season, my friends and church family have been amazing supports. They have served and encouraged us more than I could of ever dreamed. They have cried with us and also have caused us to laugh. I could not think of better people (or pastors) than the ones at First Assembly DeLand.

As I was meditating on how blessed I have been to have such a strong church around me, I realized that there isn’t a guide or any helpful hints for people to help a family/friend through the loss of a loved one. I have read plenty of articles solacing the griever, but none about how others can help (and not hurt or frustrate) the grieving party. I thought that I would write this for people who will need it in the future. I am glad to say that for the most part (99%), my church was spectacular and nothing in this post is directed at them. It is written to help people understand how to best comfort friends and church family who are grieving due to a death.

Note: I am a ministry leader in my church, so much of what I write will have that in mind. Some of the things I will address are not so much personal help, but ministry help.

Paint a bigger picture of heaven.

In scripture we are told that our hope in this life is our home/life in the next. The apostles continually focus the Christian’s gaze to the glories that await us after this life. The problem lies when our view of the afterlife gets dumbed down to a heavenly playground where our loved ones are just chatting waiting for us. That doesn’t produce hope. That doesn’t satisfy our hearts that our loved ones are better than we can imagine. Neither do unbiblical, error-filled comments about loved ones turning into angels. Let me state this clearly: no human has become an angel after death. None. Not one. Though the comments may be mentioned as a sincere sort of comfort, they truly offer none.

Instead of focusing on the angels, or mansions, or gold in heaven, focus on Jesus. Focus on that their loved one is now completely satisfied worshiping their heart’s Desire. Focus on that their earthly struggle is over and that they are now pain-free, sin-free, depression-free, never more to hurt and never more to die. Talk about the joy they must be experiencing because of the beauty and goodness of God. That’s how the Bible talks about heaven, and that’s how it gives us hope.

Keep your grieving in check.

When my mom passed, there were one or two people who made a scene at her funeral. In truth, these people barely knew my mom. My thoughts about them were “I’m not grieving that bad, and she’s my mother.”

I understand that people all grieve differently and they are entitled to that. However, do it “in secret” (Matthew 6) and not in front of the family. Do you best to hold it together when you are with them. If the family is comforting you instead of you comforting them, then maybe there is an issue there.

Note: I understand that there are some cases where the family is estranged from the deceased and there are friends that were truly closer to the deceased than the family. I still repeat, keep your grieving in check. You may have lost a friend, but they have lost a blood member of their family and even if they are estranged, death has a way of bringing clarity to past issues.

Put a pause on your personal issues.

Much like the last point, the best way to comfort and help a family that is grieving is to not draw attention to you. Blessings and cursings can’t come from the same mouth. You can’t tell the family all about the positive and life-changing impact the deceased has had on your life and then the next day go all Jerry Springer on Facebook. That doesn’t encourage the family. If you are going to come forth as a testimony to their legacy, then make sure that you don’t act out during that time. Keep your issues in check. I understand that we all sin, but we can help and honor the grieving family by making right choices that show the positive impact that the deceased loved one has had on our life.

Also on a ministry side, be discerning. I understand that there can be “dark nights of the soul” and times of severe struggle in a Christian’s life as the Lord is refining them by separating the dross from the gold by using intense trials. I also understand that those times can’t be planned. However, I know that there is grace in those times to not be burdensome to another who is grieving. I know, personally, as a leader that the last thing I want to deal with is strife or bitterness in my ministry team while I’m grieving. In the midst of our personal issues and sin, press to get along and apply grace to overcome them instead of being a burden.

Do your job.

This one is almost solely a ministry-focused point. I have people often say that good leadership is when things don’t require you to be around in order to keep going. I agree with this. However, due to choice and our personal issues, the flow of ministry can start breaking down if people aren’t doing their job.

I had many people, particularly in our worship team, ask me if there was anything they could do to help out me and my family during our grieving. My mom’s death fell two weeks before Christmas and 10 days before our department’s Christmas production. What I wanted to tell everyone was that the best way you can help me, as a leader, is to simply do your job. Show up at practice. Be prepared. Have a good attitude. Be in unity with everyone else on the team. These things may not seem like much, but they kept me from dealing with issues and problems and instead allowed to process my mom’s death (and continue writing her eulogy).

Help with the basics.

That said, helping with the basics is a great way to practically help and bring comfort to the family. Offer to wash and fold their laundry. Offer to help clean and organize their house. If they have kids, offer to babysit during the day so that they can help plan the funeral, or offer to babysit a night or two so that they can get out of town to breathe. Many of my co-workers started a PTO donation. This was a big help for my wife and me. Yet, the best practical thing you can do is arrange meals for the family. Our family was a wreck before and after mom passed and not having to spend 1-2 hours each night preparing food was a blessing. We found the site “Take Them A Meal” to be quite helpful. It allows the family to give instructions and give directions without having to focus on organizing it. We were able to view a list and knew who was bringing dinner and what they were bringing. I can’t express how big of a blessing that was.

Don’t ask many questions. Give encouragements instead.

Finally, give encouragements more than you ask questions. Don’t ask a family member whose loved one just died “how are you doing?”. Rather, encourage them. Share funny stories and good memories about the loved one. Laugh with them. Cry with them. Remember with them. Remind the family of the loved one’s legacy, of how much they loved each member of the family, of the impact they made in other’s lives. This will not just help them at that moment, but months and years down the road.

Why We Fast

In the past I’ve written articles on how to better fast and how to end a fast, but I have never talked about why we fast. I know from personal experience that I can be fasting and not know why. I can be focusing on all the wrong things instead of what fasting is truly accomplishing.

I should start by saying: fasting earns us nothing.

We don’t fast to get more favor from the Lord or to be “more pleasing” to Him. We can’t do anything that would add to what Jesus did on the cross. Our righteousness, goodness, and deservedness starts and ends at the cross. God doesn’t listen to our prayers more just because we’re fasting. We don’t get any access to God while fasting that we wouldn’t of had without it. We need to shake free from asceticism, the belief that we can reach a higher spiritual level by our works, and rest in the finished work of the cross.

I should also say: fasting informs God of nothing.

Often over-zealous Christians believe that fasting shows God the urgency of a situation they’re praying for. They believe if they toil for hours in prayer and fasting God will hear their request and answer. But those people often forget that He’s God. He knows everything. No one can tell Him something that He doesn’t already know. Unlike us, He realizes the importance (or lack thereof) of every situation. He knew about every circumstance before time began, and He knew His response to each and every prayer before any circumstance came to pass or before any prayer was prayed.

So we then do we fast? We fast for us.

When I say that we fast “for us”, I do not mean to say that we are the end to which we are fasting. Rather, we fast because we are constantly trying to substitute ourselves for God as the true end. We fast because our flesh hates God and wants nothing to do with Him. We fast because our desires are not for Him. We fast to create hunger for God by intentional weakness. The weaker our flesh and its desires become, the greater our spirit (and His Spirit’s influence) starts ruling our lives.

In past fasts, I’ve looked for one thing that I could give up, whether media, food, etc. I’ve treated fasting like I was offering a great sacrifice to God. In hindsight, I was looking for the very least I could do. The point of fasting is about becoming as weak as you can be. Again, it’s intentional weakness. I tell people that if your flesh isn’t terribly uncomfortable, agonizingly so, you’re not fasting right. I’m not talking about food either. It’s amazing how I can go without food for a week but I can’t go without reading the news for a day; that to leave my iPhone off all day is such a struggle and that my flesh longs for it. My flesh agonizes without it.

We often substitute what we are fasting with something else. I may fast lunch but I replace that time I’m eating with surfing the internet instead. I should be using the time I would normally eat lunch with to spend time with God. That’s how fasting is supposed to work. We strip (aka “fast”) all the meaningless things we can, making our flesh intentionally weak, so that we can draw near to God. 

I remember one day when God said, “Crumbs.” I asked “What are crumbs? What do you mean?” He responded, “Crumbs are all the little things in your life you eat that fill you up so that you’re not hungry for Me. You snack all day on crumbs so you never come to the feast I’ve prepared for you.”

Our lives are full of trivial things. We spend so much time on our phones, checking our social networks, watching the news, surfing the internet, and goofing off. While these things aren’t evil, they are crumbs that tend to feed our flesh and strengthen it to the point that we don’t desire God. There’s a feast of glory that God has prepared for us. Yet we rather eat the crumbs of our flesh and maybe a little food that comes from the table when we hear a sermon, but we never take a seat at the table. We never feast on God when we’re alone.

There is a feast in the Bible. Let us fast so we may partake at the table.

Goals For 2014

I started stating my goals on this blog last year. I liked the motivation and accountability it gave me so I decided to do it again. I changed most of my goals this year. I feel it’s really important to have changing goals every year. If our goals don’t change, then we either aren’t reaching high enough or not trying hard enough. All of my goals last year are ones I will continue to do. These goals are more about building habits and long-term practices in my life, instead of just being things I do for only twelve months.

Learn people skills

This past year, I have realized that I’m quite a polarizing person. Most people either like me or hate me. Very few are in the middle, and they are usually drifting to one of those two sides. There are things I do that turn people off to me, and I don’t even notice it. It’s clear on their faces and in their body language, but I don’t see it. It’s time I learn those things and learn how to curb the negative polarizing side of me. My work leadership is taking the charge in this (per my request and their knowledge of it) since many of these things exist in my workplace. It will be a good testing floor for my progress. Since leadership is about buy-in, listening, trust, and team, I must learn these things and make them a natural part of my life. I’m sure there are many core things in my heart (like rejection issues from 20 years ago) that I will have to face, but God is good and sovereign. He will cause me to come out of this acting more like Christ.

Theological training

Las year, I wanted to grow theologically, meaning “knowledge”. I felt I didn’t do that well enough or at least not intentionally enough. This year I plan on starting actual ministry schooling through my church through the Global Church Learning Center. I’m excited to begin working on my BA-E. I’m sure it will be a lot of work but I’m grateful that I won’t be just learning knowledge, but also how to apply it and how to network.

I also desire to continue reading deeper theological books. I want to read my first systematic theology book this year. I really want to read Wanye Grudem’s Systematic Theology or the one written by John Frame.  I also want to read a longer and deep book on some theological point. Currently I’m looking at reading (the brand new) From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective.

I’m also excited to buy my first commentary next year. I’m looking forward to studying the Bible deeper than I ever have next year.

Write new songs

Last year was the first year that I didn’t have “write new songs” on my list of goals, and I didn’t write any (although I wrote parts of a few). I could go another year without writing. I’m not going to lie, writing songs for my church is one of the hardest things I do, yet one of the most rewarding. I decided that I wanted to focus on writing this year. I want there to be a set time every week that I write for a couple hours or so. I feel that is achievable with my busy schedule. However, I want to focus on what kind of songs I want to write.

  1. Congregational worship songs
    By the end of the year, I want to have written 2-3 songs that are melodic and memorable that my church loves to sing, while keeping the lyrical content fresh and highly theological and scriptural. I want to write songs that help people engage in worship but will also encourage them.
  2. Christmas songs
    It is my experience that most of our church members don’t fully engage in worship with traditional Christmas carols. I think that they may be too seasonal and familiar. I want to write songs this year for Advent 2014. Whether these songs are used in a Christmas production or just as worship songs during that season, I think it would help our church to have more Christmas songs that they can use to engage with God.

Currently, the worship ministry is planning on doing a songwriting workshop in the summer and also participating in the local (original song) music festival in November. I think these are going to be great helps and motivations for me to pursue songwriting with more focus and care than I have ever given it.

Lose weight

My wife will love this one. Thanks to some medical problems in 2013, I’ve lost almost 40 pounds, yet it will be easy to put it back on. After what I’m sure is years of my wife praying, I feel the Lord moving me to take better care of my body, so that I can do all He has called me to do with my family, work, and church.

Currently, I am planning on getting a few friends to join me and read/work through Rick Warren’s new book, The Daniel Plan. I have heard great things about it and I think it will be a good place to start. Thanks to the medical issues I’ve had, my diet has changed a good bit, but it needs to change more and I need to be more active. These are the two big things I look at changing early in the year.

The Eulogy of Bambi Manchester

I have the honor today of delivering my mother’s eulogy, to speak words about her life and help memories of her shine a little bit brighter. This is a daunting task. In thinking over her life, I wondered “how can I condense this woman’s spectacular life into just a few minutes of speech?” There’s no way I can do that justice. It would take me days to recount and talk about all her years. So rather than try to give a blanket summary, I’ve decided to focus on what defined my mom’s life: suffering. 

Anyone who knew my mom, even for a few minutes, understood that she suffered in multiple ways for decades. And while many here know some of the sufferings she went through, most have not known all of them, the reason why she suffered, or what was birthed because she suffered. This is what I want to talk about today.

Bambi Linn Ostendorf was born December 19th, 1958 at Charleston General Hospital in West Virginia. She was a funny kid who was always joking around. If you ever wonder where we, her children, got our humor from, now you know. She went through school and soon after graduating high school married a man named Gordon Tucker. They were married a few years before they achieved perfection: me. Just kidding. (Hey, I wrote the eulogy so I thought I’d embellish it a little bit…) Everything was good. They served at their local church, Trinity Assembly of God in Deltona. He was an usher and she was in the choir. Several years later they had Andrew and 20 months after him came Phillip. Three beautiful boys.

The night they came home with Phillip, Gordon looked at Bambi, denied any love for her, and walked out the door, divorcing her. This event changed her. It broke her. Everything she had trusted in, relied in, hoped in, seemed to crumble. The dreams she had of having a nice life, in a house with a good family was slipping from her fingers like how water does when you try to hold it. She didn’t give up. She mustered up strength, went back to college, and worked her hardest to get her life back on track.

That’s when it all started.

August 1991. Almost exactly one year after the divorce. Between school life and work life and home life, she squeeze in her scheduled mammogram and found out…she had breast cancer. God was merciful and gave her grace to overcome all her doubts, depression, questions, bitterness, and the like. She entered into remission and life seemed to be getting better, or at least a little more stable.

It was during this time that God would give her the greatest gift of her life: her husband Richard Manchester. God brought this man into her life, not only to be her husband and helpmate, but to be a father to her boys. In the years that followed, even as I was engaged, she often talked to me about him. She would tell me “Matt, God never told me that Richard would be perfect or that we would have an easy life. But He told that Richard would always love me and never leave me.”

I want to stop for a moment and say something. We are here today to celebrate and remember my mom, Bambi, but we honor her the most by stopping and honoring her husband Richard. Dad, I have watched you over the years take care of mom. The countless days and nights where she couldn’t get out of bed because of pain. You never left. When you promised to be with her “in sickness and in health”, you kept your word. Were you perfect? No. But did you love her and serve her till the end? YES. And I want to say to you as her son, but also now as a husband and father myself: thank you so much for everything you did. You have given me (as well as our church) a shining example of what it looks like for a husband to love and serve his wife. I want to stand today and applaud you for all your sacrifice. And I would ask all here to join me right now in honoring him.

Richard was great. He married Bambi, legally adopted us boys as his own, and then together they had two beautiful miracles: Reagan and Shelby. I say miracles because the doctors told mom that she should abort the twins. The chemo had ruined any chance for the girls to come out healthy and normal. But mom (along with dad) believed God and God was faithful to bring them forth with no issues.

For the next four years, Bambi would work as a home-health nurse. All those years of schooling while dealing with divorce and cancer seemed to be paying off. Times were good. We were having fun as a family. We as kids were constantly finding reasons to have our babysitters call 911. Life was normal again.

When most people are asked what Bambi’s greatest trial and suffering was, they without a second thought say “cancer”. And while cancer certain caused my mom great discomfort and pain, it took a far second place to that fateful morning on August 16, 1996..

Bambi was in Debary working, on her way to the doctors for an appointment before continuing the rest of her home health work, when another car turned in front of her and caused her to collide going over 40 miles per hours. Her dark green Dodge Shadow compacted to half it’s size. By the time Richard got there she was already in the ambulance in excruciating pain. It would be years before the doctors would realize she had muscle fibermilalga. My mom lived in constant pain from that moment to the day she died. The medication she had to take since that day was immense and it was usually just enough to help her get out of bed. Everyday was a waking nightmare of pain.

But as she was laying in the ambulance, waiting to be taken to the hospital, she heard God speak to her one of the clearest phrases she has ever heard from God: “I am going to give you plenty of time to seek Me.”  What would you do if you were in intense pain everyday? Bambi could of gave up. She could no longer work. She could barely get out of bed. She had (at the time) no quality of life. She could of dwelt in continual depression and become psychotic. She could of became bitter and offended with people and with God. Rather, and what makes her truly great in my book, is that she took her pain and used it to draw closer to God.

This began a season of seeking God that I have rarely seen in anybody else. She devoured everything she could concerning God. I have fond memories of every week or two going to Family Christian Bookstore in Daytona and every time leaving with a $300-400 receipt from books and worship cds. She bought every videotape the Brownsville Revival had to offer at that time. I told dad the other day that if it wasn’t for that season in her life of consuming the Bible and devoting herself to the spiritual disciplines, none of us kids would be where we are, serving the church as we do. And it all stemmed from the car accident.

Though she could no longer work, she started seeking God, asking Him what she could do. She became a youth worker and sunday school teacher. She then started and ran a hospitality ministry for our church. She was known as the “milk cake lady”. It wasn’t just baking for her, it was ministry. She started sewing again. She had learned sewing from her mother, Joann, and even used to make her own clothes. She sowed flags for church worship. (That got her the name of “banner lady”) She sowed handkerchiefs. She sowed bandannas.  But her most memorable things she sewed were her quilts. God would give her a picture of a quilt and she would go and make it, often praying over every stitch. Every quilt had its meaning and while mom did occasionally have dreams of starting a business and selling them…she often gave them away for free. Again, it was a ministry for her. She felt called to minister to women who were troubled, abused, forgotten, wayward, or hurt. She would talk to them, invite them over for tea (all the 5000 kinds that she had), share with them her story, pray for them, and often send them away with a present. I can’t count how many times I would hear her say “God woke me up to pray for someone last night and gave me a picture of a quilt for them. I need to go to Joann Fabrics and get the material.” Our $400 bookstore bill became a $400 fabric bill. She loved it. She loved being able to spend hours in prayer, talking to God, making these symbols of love.  She would spend years like this. Loving, serving, sewing, baking, praying. That’s who she was. During this time, she had learned to rest in God, to be just a child with her Father.

In August 2006, the family went down to Ft Lauderdale for a mini-vacation. For whatever reason, she decided to go jet-skiing. But as she was riding, she noticed that something was wrong. She went to the hospital and found out that the cancer was back and had eaten and disintegrated her entire right hip. At this point, she had been in remission for almost 15 years. But the cancer came back in force. She would spend the next 8 years fighting it, with rounds and rounds of chemo and other types of treatment. She was close to death many times and the church would pray and God would bring her back from the brink. Finally, the cancer moved into her brain and lungs, which led to her death on December 12th, 2013.

But what was the point of all that suffering? After all, if death was always the destination, why all the pain? Paul, in writing again to the church in Corinth, says in 2nd Corinthians 4:7-18 –

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.

(jumping down to verse 16)

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

We humans are fickle creatures. We spend all our lives dressing up, decorating, and improving our “jars of clay.” We make them so ornate on the outside thinking that we are helping show people the beauty of Christ. But all people see is the beauty of us. The only way for people to see the treasure inside the jar is to crack it, to break it. The less attractive and put-together the jar is, the more people see the treasure inside it.

My mom was a very broken jar of clay. The treasure of Christ and the revelation from His Word that dwelt inside of her was great, and the more broken she became, the more we had the privilege of beholding the beauty of Christ in her life. She told Richard one day that if she had the chance to stop the car accident and live pain-free for the rest of her life, she wouldn’t do it…because of how it brought her closer to Jesus. She could of fought the breaking. She could of resisted the suffering. Rather, she embraced it.

Paul, later in the same letter would say:

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10 ESV)

That’s what my mom did. She boasted in her weakness. She accepted it. Yes, she prayed for healing. She pleaded that the Lord would take all the pain and all the disease away. But she also took heart in James’ words:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4 ESV)

So while she believed that God could heal her completely, she also knew that He had a plan, a plan for her good, a plan for her completeness. So she embraced her suffering. She boasted of her weakness. In the end, Bambi didn’t die because cancer was strong. Rather, she died because she made herself intentionally weak. She knew the more that death was manifested in her body, the more that life would flow out into others.

I remember the last time she spoke publicly here at a ladies meeting. She had just found out she had brain cancer (which she knew was fatal). She sat right here. With a clouded mind, and stammering lips, she looked at the women who were there, and with shocking authority questioned them “If I can trust God with a tumor in my head that could paralyze me, can’t you trust God for your kids, your life, your marriage, your finances?” She should declare in her rock-solid faith, “In all the cancer and trials…I am only suffering light momentary afflictions. There’s an eternal weight of glory if I wait.” The more her “jar” broke apart, the more real and precious the treasure of Christ inside her became. She had one desire: to see the Lord. Not just to see Him in things (like in nature or in circumstances), but to see Him with her physical eyes, like Moses did. It wasn’t enough for her to come to church and have a nice life with a good family. She wanted God more than anything (though I must admit, a Coke and a good NCIS episode was next on the list). She longed for God and it was all the suffering in her life that cause Bambi to cling to Him.

As I end, I recently found a letter that mom wrote many years ago. I found it in one of her many journals and notepads. I don’t know when it was written or who it was written for or even why it was written. It was probably written 10-15 years ago, but the words ring true, and I think it would be just like Bambi to give us another small piece of treasure today.

Why? Why me? Have you ever asked those questions of God? Have you ever gotten an answer? If you are like me, you’ve not gotten one when you’ve asked possibly because we weren’t ready to accept the answer.

For me, one time sticks out more than the most. It was the fall of 1991. I was a 32-year-old single mother of three young boys attending Daytona Beach Community College working toward obtaining my nursing degree. I had seen my marriage come to an abrupt and painful end the year before and was trying to put the pieces of my life back together again. As if that wasn’t enough to cope with, I had been diagnosed with breast cancer  approximately three months earlier. I had a lumpectomy between semesters and then started chemo and radiation treatments along with a new seventeen credit-hour semester. I had always prided myself with being strong and being able to withstand things that would break others, but the successive blows were starting to wear me down. This morning in particular was difficult. I was sick from chemo, tired from radiation, and stressed from school. As I was combing my hair, large amounts were coming out. That seemed to be the last straw. In tears, I looked upwards and said in a very frustrated and angry tone: “Haven’t I been through enough? What more do you want?” I received no answer, audible or otherwise, just the same quiet comfort that I sensed during the long nights over the past one and a half years.

Approximately two and a half years later I was working as a home health nurse specializing in peds and oncology. I had completed school, was in remission, had remarried, and was now the mother of three boys and twin girls. Life was stressful but without painful crises. One of my patients was a 21-year-old IV drug abuser dying of AIDS. She was angry, non-compliant, and unrealistic as to her prognosis. My job was to provide medical care and to instruct on ways to prolong her life through compliance. She was proving to be a very difficult patient.

On this particular morning I came to her home with the intention of administering the meds that were ordered and go on with what was to be a very busy day. She didn’t answer the door as usual but it was unlocked. I came in to find her sitting on the couch practically hysterical. Her long brown hair was tangled in a brush and clumps of hair were in her hands. Immediately all my frustrations with her disappeared. It wasn’t so long that I had forgotten the trauma of loosing my hair. For the next two hours I sat and held her and soothed her as I would have one of my own children. I eventually got around to the medical care that I was there to give, but not until her hair was combed, we had talked about wigs, and she was able to smile and laugh.

As I closed the door behind me that morning I clearly heard the voice of the Lord answer the question that I had angrily asked Him years earlier. He said it was because of her. Because Jesus desired to love her where she was and in the way she needed to be loved. Without having experienced that pain myself, I would have never been able to show the compassion that Jesus wanted to show her. She didn’t need a tract, she didn’t need a message, she needed Jesus with skin on.

Ten years later I’m finding myself asking some of the same questions. However this time I’m not priding myself on how strong I am but learning to love the weakness that God’s dealings can bring in one’s life. 2 Corinthians 12:9 speaks of a weakness (a frailty, a feebleness) that makes room for divine power, a miracle itself. I find it to be a great mystery why the Creator of the universe would not only love me enough to give His only Son for my eternal life, but that this same sovereign God would desire to use me as an instrument of His love to a hurting world.

Jeremiah 23:11 says that He knows the plans He has for you. They are plans for good, not bad. They are plans to give you a hope and a future. God proved His love for us forever as His Son willingly gave His life for us at Calvary 2000 years ago. Today, He offers us abundant life and the opportunity to be His hands extended. It’s not an easy call.

“It’s not an easy call.” Looking at my mom’s life, that is the understatement of the year. But look around today, look at what is just a portion of the people God used Bambi to touch with love and life. If she was here, she would look every one of you right in the eye and lovingly ask you, “Will you let God do what it takes to draw you close to Him? Will you let Him make you His hands extended?”

My mom did. She said yes to that call. And now, she is receiving her crown and Jesus is telling her “well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your master.”

My mom had two final requests for when she passed. First she asked that Renee Modica would not try to resurrect her, and the second is that we would worship God passionately. So as the worship team is coming up, my sister Shelby will come and give us a call to worship. Thank you.

You can watch the memorial service here.