Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Where God dwells

Our Mighty God fills the earth with His presence, not only the earth, but Psalm 139 ponders, "Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me. . . "But there is another very personal place that God inhabits. "I dwell in the high and holy place, but with him also who is of a thoroughly penitent and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble and to revive the heart of the thoroughly penitent--bruised with sorrow for sin." Isaiah 57:15

This verse leaped out at me the other day. Immediately words came to mind like brokenness, contrition, lowly in spirit, and meekness. But the word bruised clutched my heartstrings and locked itself into my spirit and brain for several days. It's still lodged there.

I've been asking myself, "Am I bruised over my sins?" Sometimes. I find it very comforting to know that God is moved by those who are bruised with sorrow for sin. He chooses to dwell or pitch His tent with the lowly of heart, with the humble, with the broken, with the contrite. If He chooses to encamp with them, it must mean that He is totally at home with them. This idea amazes me.

On the other hand, God hates pride. It is one of the seven things listed as an abomination to the Lord in Proverbs 6. He despises that "proud look (the spirit that makes one overestimate himself and underestimate others). He distances Himself from the proud but gives grace to the humble. In fact, God the Father is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity. That's why the Son and Holy Spirit intercede and translate our prayers with groans that cannot even be uttered. Our Great High Priest, Jesus, during his earthly life "offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of his reverent submission. Although He was a son, He learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek."

Are you struck as I am with his having to learn obedience? His humanity did. He passed, of course, with flying colors, but can you hear Him crying out in desperation for the cup to be passed and then relinquishing with all that was in Him to the Father His will for the Father's will, and then taking the cup back lovingly for your sake and mine? What was contained in the cup? The worst thing about the cup had to be the separation Jesus would suffer from His beloved Father. Another was the act of dying--the Perfect Darling of heaven, giver of life, allowing His own life to be poured out for you and me. How foreign it had to have been to Him! And what about becoming sin for us WHO KNEW NO SIN? What was it like to bear the evil encapsulated in that sin? How ugly? How dark? How downright wicked was the sin of the WORLD!? Can you even begin to imagine the bruising of His heart over the magnitude of that sin--the weight of the sin of the universe--every man, woman, and child ever born, having been born, and to be born--on his shoulders? I'm speechless. Without His willingness to bear the cup, Jesus would not have become our high priest. "For this reason He had to be made like His brothers in every way, in order that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God. . ."

Although the Godhead decided from before the foundation of the world that mankind would need a savior and made every provision for our salvation, the reality of the fact is, it cost the Saviour plenty of heart bruising, plenty of humility, plenty of contrition, and plenty of brokenness because He considered His deity something that He didn't need to grasp at. "Though He was in the form of God, He thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." "Yet it pleased the Father to bruise Him,"

Philippians also prompts us to "let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus." That is, the mindset that enables us to think more highly of other people than of ourselves. The mindset that decides to serve instead of exalting self. The mindset that doesn't freak out because someone else got the credit for something that originated with us. The mindset that allows for bruising.

Not bruising that results in my being paralyzed with guilt over my sin so that I become warped and am rendered powerless by remaining in the pit, but a bruising that causes me to see how sin hurts the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. A bruising that makes me turn from my sin to confession and cleansing. A bruising that leads me to the Rock that is higher than I and causes me to rejoice over the fact that Jesus is bigger than my sin. That even before I confess that sin, He is waiting with outstretched arms to hug me back into the fold, that I can climb into His lap washed by the blood, purer than a freshly bathed toddler, and that He sends me on my way accepted in the Beloved, resting in Him instead of wrestling in my sinful state, and sending me on my way once again to serve him energized by the realization that I have been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb and am whiter than the driven snow.

And beyond the bruising for our own sin, what if we were to allow ourselves to be bruised for the sin-sick nation we call America? The "In God we no longer trust" nation. The nation that kills multiplied thousands of innocent babies each year and calls it pro choice. The nation that has disavowed God by taking the right to take prayer out of its schools and has no room for the Bible in its classes or "teaching." That's what Proverbs 30 describes as futility--education without the Bible as its core or center of its curricula. It reads, "Surely I am too brutish and stupid to be called a man, and I have not the understanding of a man, for all my secular learning is as nothing. I have not learned skillful and godly Wisdom, that I should have the knowledge or burden of the Holy One." Again in Psalm 119:89,96-99 God's eternal word is esteemed above all. "Forever, O Lord, Your word is settled in heaven; it stands as firm as the heavens. I have seen that everything human has its limits and end no matter how extensive, noble, and excellent, but your commandment is exceedingly broad and extends without limits into eternity. . . You, through your commandments, make me wiser than my enemies, for your words are ever before me. I have better understanding and deeper insight than all my teachers because your testimonies are my meditation." Does Psalm 82:5 sound like a modern day commentary of American government? "The magistrates and judges know not, neither will they understand; they walk on in the darkness of complacent satisfaction; all the foundations. . . (the fundamental principles upon which rests the administration of justice) are shaking."

Daniel dared to stand alone and prayed three times a day . . . for the sake of uncompromising obedience to the God he loved. Was his influence enlarged and his position empowered or dwarfed by his stand? He forever has as the sought-after epitaph, "esteemed by God." Wow! Joseph's suffering, sterling character, and commitment to the great I AM resulted in the salvation of Egypt and surrounding countries through an intense famine and ultimately restoration with his dimwit brothers. God hemmed him in and then "brought him forth also into a large place."
Abraham believed God when promised his descendants would be more in number that the stars in heaven--though he would never see its reality--and his faith was counted for righteousness, all the while living in a tent.

Surely, we can ask God to bruise our hearts for this country so far fallen from its moorings of being founded on the Word of God, can't we? Is God lying when he says, "If my people--his people, not the unsaved--who are called by my name will humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land."? Of course not.

Could it be that there may be one more great revival before Jesus comes to get us? He can't revive a person who has never been alive. This can only come as we believers humble ourselves and become sin sick and repent. Unbelievers are dead to God. They're dead. We who are alive in Christ are the key to revival!

Wake us up Lord to prayer, to humility, to seeking your face, to turning from our sins, to requiring you to be our vital necessity, to being desperate for you. We plead for America, the greatest nation in the world. Please God be merciful to us for the sins we have committed corporately--for not honoring you as our true God, for spitting on your eternal Word, for mocking you through abortion, and for taking you out of our public schools, for laughing at your law, for losing our awe and fear of you, and for worshiping things that will pass away instead of worshiping you. We repent in sackcloth and ashes and beg your forgiveness.

Monday, November 17, 2008

My sister

Thank you all who have prayed for Gerry, my sister. On Thursday of last week we spoke of very serious, dire consequences that could follow her condition as she lay so still in her hospital bed. I came home from the hospital in a cloud of sorrow. It seemed her life was ebbing.

My niece and nephew tenderly bent over her bed to soothe her tired body, pat her arm, talk sweetly in her ear, tell her what a fighter she was, how brave she was, and how much they loved her. My nephew, Mark, called her "mama" and gently loved her through his kisses to her forehead, his stroking of her hair, his tears at the multiple tubes going into her body and contemplating where her status may lead. His TLC tore my heart out of my chest. I am positive bits and pieces of his life flashed before him from his childhood on up, and special memories filled his mind of growing up with a mom like Gerry. Perhaps he was wondering if they would have another shot at memory making as she lay there unable to do anything for herself.

Terri who has been at her side for the past two months has been a rock to the whole family. Thursday night she asked me, "What do you do without a mom? I call my mom everyday, sometimes more than once a day." We both teared up and hugged each other. I was so touched by their tenderness and profound love for my sweet sister.

I told Gerry as Terri, Mark, and I stood over her bed peering into her face, "Please come back to us. You can't go now. We all love you and need you. You deserve some pain-free years. . . " with tears streaming down our faces. Somberly, we left the room and eventually all went our separate ways with heavy hearts.

Friday was a turning point, and tonight I am so happy to report to you that she no longer has a breathing tube! She recognized faces again today, waved,and mouthed "I love you." The Lord has resurrected her from the dead. I asked one of her nurses on Friday what the difference was between a cardiac arrest and a heart attack. Of course, with a cardiac arrest, the heart just stops, so Gerry did die. They shocked her back to life with the paddles. Thank you so much for praying. She still has some woods to truck through, but wow! what a contrast to the first four dark days of post cardiac arrest, lower right lobe lung blood clot, collapsed left lobe of her lung, infection, low-grade fever, and intubation for this, that, and the other thing.

Please don't stop praying, and thank you for asking about her and interceding for her. I am so grateful, and so is her family.

Lord, we do not take anything for granted, especially life. We can't take a breath without your permission. You are the giver, sustainer, and taker of life. We owe you big time. Just a breath from your mouth or a look in our direction can breathe and regenerate new life into us. You are awesome. Someday EVERY knee will bow to you, of things in heaven, in earth, and under the earth. We choose to do some of that bowing now so that, when we join your angels who fall before your throne 24 hours a day in Glory to worship you right now, bowing our knee will not be a foreign exercise of worship. Thank you Lord. Thank you.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The brevity of life

My sweet, kind, loving, and nonjudgmental sister lies in critical condition in a hospital bed. On Sunday, she suffered a cardiac arrest and developed a blood clot back to back after having had surgery the previous week. Tears flow as my mind's eye transports me back to our younger years together. She is ten years my senior. I can so remember wanting to be just like her as a child.

Gerry married Paul when she was 18, and they soon moved to Topeka, Kansas, where he served in the military. I missed her so much and devoured her letters. The news of his honorable discharge 4 long years later was music to my ears.

My sister had endometriosis before it was diagnosed as such. Six years into their marriage, her doctor performed an experimental endoscopic surgery, excising pie-shaped wedges out of her ovaries. Ten and a half months later, a beautiful little girl was born to her and Paul, and they named her Terri. Almost three years later Terri's little brother was born. They were the darlings of our family.

I spent many weekends in their home which was right near a lake. We water skied and had picnics on the beach. Summers were glorious. I loved babysitting and just being with them. They have always been good people to be around.

While we were living in Africa, Gerry was the one who took care of Mom and Dad. Eventually, their aging caused them to depend on her even more. She was always there for them. When Mom could no longer care for herself, Gerry and I flew to Florida and staged their winter home to sell. We had days together to talk and work. I realized once again how much I loved her and how happy it made me to get a long block of time to spend with her.

She is so loved by her husband and adored by Terri and Mark. For the past two days her frail body has been unresponsive which has caused concern, but today she followed Terri's movements with her eyes and seemed more aware of her surroundings. Imagine surviving a blood clot and cardiac arrest! She's a tough little cookie.

Pondering her condition makes me painfully aware of the futility of my subconscious idea that nothing would ever happen to her. That life would always include her. That she is only a phone call away, and reminiscing over lunch is something we can look forward to. Not so. Not right now anyway.

For the past six years she has been in intense back pain. Couldn't stand, walk, sit, or lie down without it making her feel miserable. Yet I rarely heard her complain. Nothing worked: not the treatments, not the injections, not the therapy, and not chiropractic. Now after corrective surgery to strengthen her weakened and deteriorating spine, she lies listless. I want her back, Lord. Her grown children and husband want her back. Her darling grandchild, Katie, wants her back. Please, Father, give her some more time with all of us. Give her some pain free years. Restore what the locusts have eaten.

You all have hurts of your own. Disappointments. Heartaches. Shocking turns of events. Sorrows. Tragedies. The shroud of death may be encompassing your life. I pray these scriptures will soothe your soul as they have mine this week.

"Our" times are in your Hands Psalm 31:15

In your light do we see light Psalm 37:8

The reverent fear and worship of the Lord is your treasure and His Isaiah 33:6

Like a twittering swallow or a crane, so do I chirp and chatter. I moan like a dove.
My eyes are weary and dim with looking upward, O Lord. I am oppressed; take my
side and be my security Isaiah 38:14

He gives power to the faint and weary, and to Him who has no might He increases
strength, (causing it to multiply and making it to abound) Isaiah 40:29

For I the Lord hold your right hand; I am the Lord, Who says to you, Fear not. I
will help you! Isaiah 41:13

. . . In returning to Me and resting in Me you shall be saved; in quietness and in
trusting confidence shall be your strength Isaiah 30:15

The Lord of hosts--regard Him as holy and honor His holy name by regarding Him as your
only hope of safety. And let Him be your fear and let Him be your dread, lest
you offend Him by your fear of man and distrust of Him
And He shall be a sanctuary (a sacred and indestructible asylum to those who
reverently fear and trust in Him Isaiah 8:13, 14

The Lord God is my Strength, my personal bravery, and my Invincible Army. He makes my
feet like hinds' feet, and will make me walk (not stand still in terror) but to
walk and make spiritual progress upon my HIGH PLACES of trouble, suffering, or

May God add His blessing to the reading of His unfailing Word.

Friday, November 7, 2008

From 8500 miles away - Kikwit

Pastor Mboma Nicolas writes:

Greetings brothers and sisters in America! I am very happy to be sending you this message. I am Pastor Mboma Nicolas of the Laban staff in Congo, Africa, presently in Kikwit picking up salaries at Western Union on behalf of the 130 workers of Laban at Nkara, Iwungu, and Gombe.

We want to give you first of all warm hellos in the Mighty Name of Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Thanks to all of you who attended the recent anniversary benefit on October 23 and the benefit concert on October 12 as well. It is because of your sacrificial gifts that we are able to keep our children in school and university, buy food and clothing, and continue to minister in Bandundu, the largest province in all of Congo. We do this through Radio Glory, of which I am director, evangelism, Laban Bible Institutes, our dispensary, the Women's Literacy Center, and now we are just beginning to build a hospital. Hundreds of thousands of people in our area have to walk 2 1/2 days to get medical attention.

We thank Selah for the large love gift you presented to Tata and Mama Smith. Thank you for helping with all of the ministries here and for your vision for fresh water wells and Bibles for every hut in Bandundu. Thank you to Shawn, Greg and Nicol, Todd and Angie, and Jack and Molly and thanks to everyone else for your part in bringing people together to praise the Lord and help with the work here. We are praying often for you in America as you face the future. We especially are praying also for Todd and Angie and Nicol and Greg in the loss of your little babies. Bantima na beto ikele mawa mpenza. (Our hearts are deeply saddened). We mourn with you.

Next week the truck will travel from Nkara to Kikwit, where we are presently staying. to pick up fuel for the radio broadcasting, work, and evangelism. We estimate that 8 million people are hearing Radio Glory because of the letters we are receiving from listeners. Since there is no post office in the bush, the letters are hand delivered by people walking, riding their bikes, and through visitors passing by on MAF. (Mission Aviation Fellowship). Villages are experiencing less depression because of the hope of God's Word they are hearing each day on the radio. Marriages are being put back together. Souls are being saved through radio and evangelism crusades. As many as 1100 recently made professions of faith in villages and towns where our evangelism team preached and showed The Jesus Film.

We want you to know you are making a huge difference with your gifts for the Kingdom of God. We rejoice with you because of this, and we thank you for remembering us from so far away. God bless you all. Pastor Mboma Nicolas

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Could it have been Shekinah glory?

On October 23, 2008 our family gathered along with about 1400 other people at the First Church of the Nazarene in Northville MI to lift our Jesus high, to do our part to make Him famous, and to create hope for the Congo. Everything about this 70/30 anniversary benefit from the get go seemed blessed by God. After weeks of preparation, an incredible spirit of cooperation and blessing on the part of First Church, prayer, hard work by many, especially Claudia Marsh and Deb Baxter, some stress, the unrelenting roar of the evil one countered by faith and much anticipation as we asked God to strengthen what He had wrought for us, the evening was upon us.

The crowd made its way to their seats. Don Aupperle, station manager of WUFL Family Life Radio of Sterling Heights, opened in prayer. A holy hush fell over the audience as they listened to our son Jack, his wife Molly, and their friend Mariah open the evening. They were the perfect opening act. Shawn Lantz, our oldest daughter, offered a historical power point, introducing her Grampa Laban and Gramma Marcella, brave missionary pioneers who plowed fertile ground in the Belgian Congo and saw his diary plea entry of August 31, 1939 fulfilled before their very eyes during their 15-year career in Africa. His plea was an exchange of the 10,000 dental patients he had in Grosse Pointe, MI before leaving for the Congo for 10,000 souls in the Bandundu Province of Congo. It read like this, "Lord, I have covenanted for 10,000 of these precious people. I thank you for the fire you have kindled in my heart. May it never go out." This incredible legacy he left to his son, Jim, who remembers sitting in a dugout canoe watching 1,200 of the 10,000 converts being baptized two years after they made their commitment. There were at least 4 such baptisms just at Nkara alone. Shawn's presentation was stirring.

Then Selah made their way to the stage--vibrant, engaging, energized--and they were totally embraced by all. Their renditions moved us to tears. We all felt the pain and void left by Audrey's death along with warm hugs of shared suffering in the atmosphere as they sang song after song with a profound richness of depth that comes after burying a child.

Todd invited all of the family including grandchildren on the stage to sing, "Yesu Azali Awa", and Jim led "In the Garden." Some of the grandkids were totally comfortable with a mic. I wonder why. . . and you know, there is something special about an entire family praising the Lord in song. Unforgettable in our minds it will remain.

Our beloved and courageous son-in-law, Greg Sponberg, bared his soul relating the horrific loss of Baby Luke on May 27, as he passed into the arms of Jesus at the age of 71 days. His words were heartrending, hopeful, gut wrenching, uplifting, profound, relinquishing to the will of God, honoring to our Lord Jesus, depicting of a deepening relationship that chooses sweet surrender rather than a bitter clenching of the fists, demanding answers from an infinite God whose plan we will never grasp here on earth. He spoke of appreciating how many had helped Nicol and he bear their burden of grief. They could actually feel that burden bearing. His words were sheathed in grace, and his wounds have been amazingly coated by the salve of the Holy Spirit. Greg as the spiritual leader of their family has chosen to tenaciously hold on to the promises of God and his God-honoring message moved us all.

Todd interviewed Jim and me. We spoke of the hospital, Women's Literacy Center, and evangelism. That's what we love to do. . . talk about heroes of the faith with whom we rub elbows in the Congo. . . those who possess the real wealth. Their wealth is their faith--faith that can move mountains. That's what turns God's head. Here on earth, the Congolese are often the last--the last to be taken care of, the last to be noticed, the last if ever to be reported about on the evening news, the last to receive recognition of any kind--most of whom are birthed and deathed in obscurity--but over there on the other side of eternity, THEY WILL BE FIRST.

A brand new DVD was shown produced by Echo Media which depicts how hope for the Congo can be created through individual financial investment. That along with our new anniversary booklet designed by JCI Design were well received.

Robin Sullivan, of WMUZ Christian radio, was next. She gave a challenging invitation to partner with Laban Ministries, and partner you did who attended! My oh my, what an awesome love offering you gave. Detroit, we are so proud and amazed at your generous hearts! It astounds us and just grabs the heart of God I know that, in such a time as this, you reached down so deep and gave so hilariously that you outranked yourselves. You gave the largest offering at any one event Laban has ever hosted. Including pledges, one time gifts, purchases of Christmas ornaments for the Women's Literacy Center, monthly investments, and cash you gave a total of $38,000.

As astonishing as that is, there was more to come. After intermission Todd invited us back on stage, at which time he, Amy Perry, and Allan Hall (Selah) presented Laban Ministries with a check for $60,000! This money came through Selah concert attenders who gave to the facet of their choice on the Laban Mission Campus over the past two years, such as evangelism, fresh water wells, fuel for the radio ministry, supporting the 130 nationals on staff in Congo, and the daunting goal of Bibles for every hut in the Bandundu Province of Congo. They absolutely knocked our socks off by this stupendous gift! We had no idea Selah had been collecting these funds. How in the world can Dad and I even find words to thank you? We are so grateful.

Selah continued to sing their guts out. They gave everything they had. The Lord was so honored and so real.

Nicol was next. From deep, deep within her soul, she poured her heart out in word and song. Resurrection and Hold On made us lift our hands in praise to God Almighty for the sustaining strength and power evidenced and lavished on Nicol as she sang and on us as we listened. Greg comforted Nicol as she shed tears and testified that the Lord has been there every turn of the way. I held Angie in my arms as the pathos of Nicol's voice enveloped all of us and caused us to weep for loss of Luke and Audrey, for grace to sustain that loss, for victory over giving up, for heaven growing sweeter each day, for hope that the best is yet to come, for family unity, for healing, for the resurrection, and for Christ's soon coming triumphal entry and sweeping us away to be ever present with the Lord.

Nicol and Todd sang together. Selah returned again. The glory of the Lord filled the place. No one seemed in a hurry. No one seemed bothered by the fact that the program lasted almost three hours. We all gathered as a unit. It was as though God chose those who came, and it was very apparent that many who came were seeking his face. They came expecting to hear from the Lord. They came to glorify Jesus. They came to empathize with our family. They came with generous spirits and enlarged hearts for the kingdom of God. They came with burdens of their own. They came seeking healing for themselves and for us. They came. And God did an amazing thing. He showed up big time.

In the Old Testament, "the Shekinah was a luminous cloud that rested above the altar in the place of worship and lit up the room." Oh did His Presence light up the room that night and put our hearts ablaze with love and caused us to worship in spirit and in truth.

Thank you Lord for making yourself so real, for lavishing your love and peace on us, for bidding us to come and rest in your arms, for healing, for unending grace, for an outpour of love, for making us feel safe, cherished, delighted in, and loved beyond measure. We love you with all of our hearts.