Saying Good-bye…

For the first 14 years at Heritage I was “the pastor’s wife”; then 27 years ago I became a staff member.  When Kari was in 2nd grade and Heather was in 5th, I began working here part-time; when they were in high school, I started working full-time. Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, I’ve entered the doors of our church (first in Moline and then in Rock Island).  I’ve had the title of Christian Ed Pastor, Women’s Pastor, Assimilation Pastor, Small Groups Pastor, Teaching Pastor, Missions Pastor and Connections Pastor…and those are just the ones I can remember right now.  :)

Now, in a matter of days I’m not going to have any of those titles anymore.  My office is cleaned out.  My books are packed.  Soon my email will be shut down and someone else will occupy my office.  And this phase of my life will be done – this phase that’s lasted a lifetime and yet that has passed like a blink of an eye.

To be honest, I don’t know what to do with that.

My emotions are continually up and down.  My thoughts constantly are jumbled with what it all means.  My whole being tries to take it all in.  But I really can’t quite do it. 

I do know one thing:  I have loved my life at Heritage.  Oh, it’s been hard at times (really hard at times!)  and there have been many times that I’ve wanted to go somewhere else where surely the grass would be greener.  But oh, the joy, the privilege, the gift of spending a life-time at one church!  It has allowed our roots to go deep in peoples’ lives.  It has allowed us to see fruit that short-term pastors never get to see.  It has allowed us to experience such amazing love and support and encouragement from people.  It has given us the gift of knowing and being known.  We are blessed beyond words.

This weekend John and I will turn our church over to Shawn with great confidence and anticipation, believing with all of our hearts that  the Lord has brought this man to us…believing that he will lead our church to even greater places of effectiveness for the kingdom.  He is truly a man of God.  John and I have said over and over to one another that we simply could not leave this place at this time if it weren’t for Shawn and our utmost confidence in him.  How we praise God for Shawn and how we pray for him.

But for us, it’s “What’s next?”  We will take May, June and July off as a sabbatical.  To make this transition most successful, we won’t blog, we won’t be in communication, we won’t email during that time…We’ll just be gone.  Then early in August we’ll come back to Heritage for a kind of send-off to head to Battle Creek.  We don’t know what lies ahead; we only know that the deepest desire of our hearts is to help people come to know the love of Jesus in a deep, intimate, meaningful way.  That’s no different from our desire for these past 41 years…only the place and people will be different.

So, to all of you who have our heart, who have shared life and heartache and blessing and joy with us:  we love you beyond words.  Keep growing.  Keep loving.  Keep living for Jesus.  Keep helping this church be all it can be for Him.  That’s the greatest gift you could give us.

(I’ll be blogging again in August.)

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and build up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”  Colossians 2:6

Amen. 

 

I MUST TELL JESUS

Ever since writing last week’s posts on prayer, the words of an old, old song have been going through my mind. I grew up singing it; it’s washed over my heart and soul countless times since I was a kid. It still has precious meaning to me. Since I haven’t been able to get these words off my mind, I decided to share them with you.

Maybe you’re going through some deep waters today and need to let these words wash over your soul.

I must tell Jesus all of my trials,
I cannot bear these burdens alone;
In my distress He kindly will help me,
He ever loves and cares for His own.

Refrain:
I must tell Jesus! I must tell Jesus!
I cannot bear my burdens alone;
I must tell Jesus! I must tell Jesus!
Jesus can help me, Jesus alone.

Tempted and tried I need a great Savior,
One who can help my burdens to bear;
I must tell Jesus, I must tell Jesus:
He all my cares and sorrows will share.

What must I do when worldliness calls me?
What must I do when tempted to sin?
I must tell Jesus, and He will help me
Over the world the vict’ry to win.

I certainly don’t know what Elisha Hoffman was experiencing in 1893 when he wrote these words, but I can tell that he had a relationship with his Savior that was rich, deep, meaningful and intimate. I’m convinced that prayer enables that to be true in all of our lives.

We MUST tell Jesus.

“Cast all your anxiety (cares, troubles) on Him because He cares for you.” I Peter 5:7

Simple Prayer

All my life I’ve believed that prayer is simple, simple, simple.

By that I mean that prayer is simply talking to my Lord, my Savior, my Best Friend, my Guide, my Shepherd, my Everything. (And of course, that also makes it unbelievably profound.)

I love those times when I get on my knees before my Lord and pour out my heart to Him. I love those days when I spend a long time in prayer. These actions are essential in my life. However, they don’t represent my entire prayer life. My desire, my goal, my intent, is to stay in communion with my Savior all day long!

I believe that’s His desire, goal and intent for my life, too. Why? Because then deep, meaningful, constant relationship is occuring between the two of us. It’s John 15 really happening in my life: I’m remaining in Him, intimately connected to the Vine.

In his book, “The Praying Life”, which I’ve mentioned earlier, Miller writes about this kind of praying:

“Most of us simply want to get rid of anxiety. Some hunt for a magic pill that will relieve the stress. Others pursue therapy. While antidepressants and counseling have helped many people, including me, the search for a ‘happy pill’ or ‘happy thoughts’ will not stop our restless anxiety. It runs too deep.

Instead of fighting anxiety, we can use it as a springboard to bending our hearts to God. Instead of trying to suppress anxiety, manage it, or smother it with pleasure, we can turn our anxiety toward God. When we do that, we’ll discover that we’ve slipped into continuous praying.”

I love that! It’s what I believe to be true about “simple prayer”. It’s turning to our Savior in everything. Sad? Then pray. Anxious? Then pray. Depressed? Then pray. Happy? Then pray.

Miller goes on to write, “Instead of hunting for the perfect spiritual state to lift you above the chaos, pray in the chaos. As your heart or your circumstances generate problems, keep generating prayer.”

Oh, what a Savior! One who cares about every single aspect of our (sometimes) chaotic lives! Oh, what a privilege to pray to the One who cares about every single aspect of our lives! May we, His children, develop such an intimate relationship with Him that we find ourselves talking to Him all day long (and throughout the night as we awaken.) About everything. That’s simple prayer, yet so profound.

“Pray continually”. I Thessalonians 5:16

“A Praying Life”

I’ve just finished reading a book that is having a profound impact upon my life. It’s called, “A Praying Life” by Paul Miller. The Holy Spirit is using this book to call me to greater committment to being a pray-er, to greater depth in my prayer life, and to greater excitement as I lay myself before the Lord to use as His tool to make a difference in this world as I pray.

I can’t even express how much I believe that the Lord wants His children to be pray-ers. I’m convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that it’s the avenue to greater power, greater effectiveness and greater evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.

But, oh, how hard it is to pray: to pray more than flash prayers, to pray for longer periods of time, to pray until we sense that we’ve really connected with the Lord and are praying His will. I know personally how hard it is! I’m sure you do, too.

Everything wars against this kind of praying: busyness…fatigue…distractions…over-scheduling…TV…social media…people…lack of self-discipline…the need for visible accomplishment…and on and on the list could go.

We think that our lives are unique in all of this. We think that this crazy, hectic life of ours makes it impossible to pull away and carve out time for prayer. But if only we’ll look at our Savior’s life recorded on the pages of the Gospels, we will be amazed at the demands upon His life. Yet we’ll see continually His committment to and need for time alone with His Father. (Miller writes that “if Jesus lived today, his cell phone would be ringing constantly”!)

I keep going back to the thought that if the Son of God needed to carve out time (away from people and busyness and needs and hurts and problems) to be with the Father, who in the world do I think I am to live life without doing the same? Do I really think I’m strong enough, capable enough, loving enough to handle life on my own?

Miller puts it this way, “If you are not praying, then you are quietly confident that time, money and talent are all you need in life. You’ll always be a little too tired, a little too busy. But if, like Jesus, you realize you can’t do life on your own, then no matter how busy, no matter how tired you are, you will find time to pray.”

Wow.

You’ll be hearing more from me about prayer this year. I’m going to pursue this amazing avenue of intimacy with my Savior through prayer that I’ve been given. And I’m going to help as many people as possible to do the same.

Prayerfully,

Patty

In This New Year…Blogging?

Blogging is hard for me.

I don’t know why exactly. It’s not that I don’t like to write; I do! It’s not that I don’t have lots of things that interest me about which I’d like to write; I do. It’s not that I don’t want to help people through writing; I do. It’s not that I don’t see the value of writing; I do. I mean, I have been helped immeasurably through the writings of others!

But blogging is still hard for me. If you check into this blog very often, that’s pretty obvious!

I think about blogging fairly often, but then I get busy with life and I place blogging at the bottom of my “to do list”. In fact, it often doesn’t even get ON the list.

Yep, blogging is hard for me.

I’ve thought about simply eliminating even the idea of blogging. Perhaps I’d feel less guilty if I said, “Blogging? Nope, I don’t do it. I leave that to others.”

But there’s always a little niggling (is that a word?) thing going on in me about blogging that I can’t seem to completely put it to rest.

“Maybe I could write something that could make a small difference in someone’s life.”
“Maybe I can encourage people to love Jesus more, to fall in love with His Word more, to live more Christlike, to give more or love more or laugh more…”
“Maybe blogging will even be good for me as I share with others what is happening in me.”

So, since I can’t seem to get away from that little “niggling”, I’m going to give it another try. Since I LOVE new beginnings (a new day, a new month, a new year), I’m going to attempt to blog in 2014. I can’t promise that I’ll be consistent, but I’m going to try to make a tiny bit of difference by writing.

But I think blogging will always be hard for me.

We’ll see.

Patty

Forever Grateful For This Guy

Tomorrow I celebrate 41 years of being married to John Bray! I am totally amazed at how fast those 41 years have gone – like a blink of the eye! I thought I would write down just a few of the reasons I love this guy so much. Here are the ones I’m willing to share. :) The are in no particular order.

**In the words of the old Bobby Vinton song, “I love how you love me”. John has loved me like no one else (other than Jesus, of course). I know it sounds a little self-centered to say that one of the qualities I love most about HIM is how he has loved ME, but it’s always one of the first things that pops into my mind. I am so overwhelmingly blessed by the love of this man for these many years. He has loved me unconditionally, regardless of my faults and shortcomings and indiocyncricies. He has poured out that love for me in thousands of ways throughout my adult lifetime. He serves me, praises me, encourages me, prays for me, believes in me…and on and on I could go. That unconditional love has shaped my life in a powerful way and I will be forever grateful for it.

**I love his love for the church of Jesus Christ. He has steadfastly and unconditionally loved the church, regardless of its fauts, shortcomings and idiocyncricies. (Sound familiar?) For the first 10 years of being at Heritage, he tried to run from his call to serve the church, but the Lord wouldn’t let him go, and finally he came to realize that he was created to pour himself into the body of Christ, especially here at Heritage. And because of answering that call, our lives have been richly blessed and filled as we’ve seen countless lives come to know the life-changing power of God through His Holy Spirit. I will be forever grateful for this sacrifical committment he made and kept over a lifetime.

**I love his love for his kids and grandkids. Oh, how he loves Heather and Kari. Oh, how he loves little Stella and Leo. He cherishes every moment he gets to spend with them. Watching him read and play and laugh with them fills my heart with love for him. I will be forever grateful for his sacrificial love for those whom I love the most.

**I love his ability to STILL make me laugh, after all these years. When we were first married, we would look into the future and wonder what we would look like decades later. I remember telling him, “Just keep me laughing for the rest of our lives.” And he has surely done just that. It’s true that sometimes I may roll my eyes at him in exasperation for his rather stupid comments, jokes and thoughts, but all in all, I still think he’s one of the funniest people I know. I still love it when he says or does something totally unexpected that makes me burst out in laughter. What a blessing to live with someone like that! I will be forever grateful for his crazy sense of humor.

**I love his kindness. I grew up in a volatile family, with lots of yelling, screaming and swearing. That left some scars on my life, causing me to HATE raised voices, angry words, and demeaning comments. Then I met John and found this person who was self-controlled in his words and attitudes and actions. He was SO KIND! For our first years of marriage I kept waiting for the shoe to drop – for him to throw out his own angry and critical words. But he never did. That provided such a safety net for this slightly damaged psyche. I will be forever grateful for such kindness.

**I love his committment to allow me to be his PARTNER in ministry. It doesn’t happen so much in today’s generation of young leaders, but in my generation it wasn’t quite as common to see wives raised to the level of leadership that John has always done with me. I wasn’t to be relegated to a part of the church or a part of ministry that was “normal” for pastors’ wives, but rather he always wanted me working/serving where I was most gifted. If that meant preaching, then he wanted me to preach. If that meant leading, then he wanted me to lead. If that meant going off on a Monday to spend four hours in time alone with God, then he took care of the kids. I will be forever grateful for a husband who wanted my own usefulness in the kingdom as much as his own.

As I read over these words, I realize it comes across as sounding like a fairy-tale where things were easy and care-free. But we all know that fairy-tales don’t really exist, and neither has our own marriage been a fairy tale. We’ve had to repent and apologize to one another at times. We’ve had to discipline our tongues and attitudes in order to guard one another’s self-images. We’ve had to protect our own minds from letting them wander to “other pastures”. We’ve had to grow green grass in our own “pasture” so that it would be easier to want to remain where we are. We’ve had to pray for one another. We’ve had to sacrifically love when it would have been easier to rant and rail on the other’s shortcomings. Yes, it’s not always been easy.

But oh, it’s been worth it. So worth it. I’m infinitely blessed by this love relationship.

Happy Anniversary, John. I hope we have many, many more.

Trying To Express My Gratitude

Last Friday our church honored our 40 years here at Heritage with a wonderful party/tribute that was full of laughter and tears. It was one of the most precious nights of my life because many people whom I love so much were there: John’s brother and sister-in-law; my brother and sisters and some of their children, my own kids, my best friends for nearly 50 years, and many from our church family.

At the end John and I both got to speak and share our own feelings. I thought I’d share some of what I said that night. (I’m not including all of it since it was over 10 minutes.)

“Knowing this weekend was coming, I began thinking of a word-picture that would allow me to express my love and appreciation to all of you who mean so much to me. Since I’m such a reader I decided to use the analogy of my life as a book and all of you are the people who have written on the pages of that book, helping me become who I am over these many years.

I was amazed to realize that if my life is viewed as a book and each day as a page on that book, there would be about 22,600 pages! And each of you has written on these pages to some degree or another.

(Then I shared about our our siblings, our best friends, our kids, and our grandkids. And finally:)

**John. What would my book look like if you had never begun writing on it? I was only 19 when we first fell in love, so of those 22, 600 days, about 15,695 pages have been experienced with you.

We’ve raised kids together, served together, pastored a church together, experienced the highest highs and lowest lows in life together, laughed and cried together. And we have loved each other so greatly for these 43 years.

So much of who I am is because of you:

 If the pages of my book show a person with any measure of self-confidence, it’s largely because you’ve believed in me and told me that I could do anything.

 If the pages of my book show a person who is a leader in any way, it’s largely because you always encouraged me to use my gifts, with never a shred of fear that any success I achieved would minimize or overshadow yours.

 If the pages of my book show a glimpse of a woman laughing and enjoying life, you would be much of the reason for that. As I so often say, “You still got it, Ralph!”

In my mind’s eye, when I get to heaven and spend a few years praising Jesus for His loving redemption, my next bit of praise will be for the precious gift of the love of John Bray.

**My church family. Oh, how you have shaped the book of my life!

We’ve grown up together, haven’t we? We are family. And as family, we’ve hurt one another at times, but we have loved more than we’ve hurt. We’ve had stresses and trials at times, but we’ve experienced more joy than sadness and heartaches.

And most importantly, we had made a difference on this earth for eternity.

We’ve seen countless people find salvation in Jesus Christ and we’ve watched them set their feet on the path to eternity with Him.

We’ve seen broken people find hope in their lives when there was no hope.

We’ve seen so many find freedom from addictions that threatened to destroy them.

We’ve seen marriages restored when it looked like divorce was inevitable.

We’ve seen people find a place of belonging when they had never experienced it before.

We’ve seen people find meaning and purpose outside of money and possessions

And on and on I could go.

I guess the best way I could describe it is this: We’ve seen countless lives transformed by the almighty power of the living God when no one would have thought it possible.

Together we’ve made a difference not just for this life, but also for eternity.

And we’ve done it year after year, for 40 years! Not many people ever get to do that. Our roots go down deep in one another’s lives. Our love goes just as deep as those roots.

When I think of our lives together, I paraphrase the apostle Paul’s words to his co-laborers at Corinth because they so describe how I feel about you, “You are my letter, written on my heart, known and read by everybody….the result of our ministry, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God…” That’s what you truly are to me, my Heritage family, my brothers and sisters in Christ.

**And finally, to you, Jesus. And now, words truly do fail me. Of those 22,600 days, you’re the only one who has walked every single one with me. I began to realize your love and presence at the age of 6 when I knelt down at that old red vinyl couch and asked you to be my Savior. Since that day I don’t ever remember a time when I didn’t want to love you, serve you, live for you and glorify you. I wish I could have done all of that better, but you have been so patient.

Yes, words fail me when it comes to you, Lord. How could I ever put into words my gratitude for redemption? How could I ever express my love for your Word that has so shaped and guided my life? How could I ever thank you enough for your precious Holy Spirit who indwells the believer and helps us live the life you call us to live? How could I praise you enough for this deep, meaningful relationship that I’ve experienced with the Lord of Lords and King of Kings – who is also my best friend, closer even than these earthly friends whom I am blessed to know and love?

No, there are no adequate words. All I can do is daily give this book back to you and tell you that you can use in any way you choose. I’m yours, all of me, for now and for eternity.

In closing:

To all of you who have written on the pages of my life’s book. (I wish I could call each of you by name):

I say, “I love you and I’m proud of you and I thank you”, even though that’s a bit like saying to the Grand Canyon, “That’s a big hole.” The words just don’t describe the situation. But I still say them because I can’t come up with anything that does better justice to how I feel about you.

With all my heart, I thank you for all for all these years of loving me, accepting me, praying for me, growing up with me, walking through life with me.

I close with Lou Grant’s words that he said to Mary and Ted and all his buddies at WJM TV,

“I cherish you people”.

Prayerfully…

Today in Heartstrings we finished a six-week series on the topic of prayer. At the end of the class one of the women asked a question that kind of slapped us all in the face. She essentially asked, “Knowing all that we know about prayer, why don’t we pray more – especially with other Christians?” It is a question that all of us who profess to love Jesus should ask. “Why don’t we pray more?”

My friend’s question reminded me of a commentary I recently read on Ephesians 3:14 where Paul is kneeling before His Father and praying for his beloved friends. These words stir my heart:

“Perhaps we enter into the activity [of prayer] so often that we have lost the sense of privilege it should engender. It may be easy for us to forget that in spite of our sin we are allowed by grace to speak one-on-one with the Father who is perfect and holy. We may overlook the fact that we who are limited in power have access to enter before the One who spoke all things into existence, and who could just as easily speak again and make all things cease to exist. We may become so accustomed to our activity that we forget how ignorant we are and how all-knowing God is. We may forget that few of us ever will have the unique privilege to be found in the audience of our elected officials, and yet we all have the freedom to come and go at will before the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Now wonder Paul knelt in prayer.” (NIV Commentary)

I don’t want to ever lose the sense of wonder and amazement that with every breath I take I can also offer up a prayer to my Lord of Lords and King of Kings, my Best Friend, my Shepherd, my Anchor, my Counselor, my Guide, my Intercessor, my Redeemer, my Hope, my Everything.

Won’t you join me in this amazing, fabulous, precious gift we’ve been given…to pray.

Revive us, Lord

“…[R]evive us, and we will call on your name.” (Psalm 80:18)

“Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?” (Psalm 85:6)

“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.” (Psalm 19:7)

“Hallelujah, Thine the glory; hallelujah, Amen. Hallelujah, Thine the glory. Revive us again.” (William Mackay)

“Please, Holy Spirit, do a new, greater work in your people…even this weekend.” (Patty Bray)

Help me, Lord.

It’s almost over, this fasting “experience” that has touched me, convicted me, humbled me and taught me. Yesterday something else was added to that list.

I had a proverbial slap in the face when a friend of ours wrote John about her own experience. She told him that when she starts struggling with her own fast, she uses it as a nudge to pray for all those in the world who are going hungry. I did a quick google search and was sickened to read that tonight 1 billion people will go to bed hungry and 200 million of those are children.

My 10-day fast is almost over and I can go back to eating whatever I want. They can’t. What do I do about that? What do I DO? Nothing? Something? Anything?

I read Isaiah 58 and realize that fasting in and of itself doesn’t mean much to God. (Read that chapter and be convicted.) I’m reminded again that I have so far to go on this spiritual journey.

Now I have to pray about what my own next step will be.

“Is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen…to share your food with the hungry…?” (Isaiah 58:6 and 7)

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