Sunday, April 28, 2013

God's Chosen People

This past week, my family and I visited Philadelphia.  Kevin’s ongoing experimental eye treatment requires follow-up visits which we have turned into annual vacations.  This year we decided to take the girls and show them the many historic spots of that great city.  We built many great memories this past week, enjoying that time away as a family.  Kevin made the comment that the hotel room seemed much more comfortable this year.  I agreed that it did indeed, and yet we weren’t sure why.  At one point, Kevin mentioned that he understood what it was.  “It’s the girls,” he said.  “That’s why it seems like home.”  I agreed wholeheartedly.

Philadelphia has grown into my heart in the past four years.  I’ve probably made 7 or 8 trips out there, and truly God has given me a love for the city, as well as the people.  Each time that beautiful, familiar skyline comes into view in my small plane window, my heart always leaps.  And each time I watch that same skyline fade out of view past the window, my heart always feels a bit of sadness.  Truly, Philadelphia has made its way into my heart.

The day we were to leave, Friday, I told Kevin that I wanted to walk once more around the city.  He gave me his blessing, and I left him with the girls to finish up the last minute search of the hotel room for any lost items that may have been overlooked.

I started walking toward Independence Hall.  My heart thrills each time I see the sight of this great building where God brought together the people and circumstances to form this great nation.  Our Nation’s history is an amazing testament to our great God indeed.  There is no other explanation for why the impossible became possible…13 absolutely different and very self-centered colonies came together in compromise and an attitude of serving the greater whole rather than themselves alone. 

As I stood on that beautiful green lawn stretching out in front, I noticed a woman jay-walking across the street.  I quickly realized she was the same woman I had talked with briefly the day before.  She is the kind of lady that sticks in your memory…you won’t easily forget her, and she does not fade into any crowd.  She appears homeless, and rolls a small pink open-top cart behind her.  The layers of sweaters and the pink child’s sweater that she has draped around her shoulders immediately alert in my mind that this is the same woman from the day before.  A choice is immediately before me…follow the leading of the Holy Spirit and go after this woman, or follow my fears and continue my stroll.

I chose the former, with much trepidation.  As I walked down my side of the street to cross at the crosswalk (no jay-walking for me!), I lamented the fact that I had nothing to offer…no tract with the Gospel, no money.  I felt empty-handed and cheap, until the Spirit of the Lord whispered into my ear… “Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I thee; In the NAME OF JESUS CHRIST of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”  I had everything I needed to speak to this woman…the NAME OF JESUS!  Courage poured into my heart as the Lord Himself ministered to my need of the hour.  I crossed over Market Street, and quickly followed the path I had last seen her take.  I spotted her with her pink roll cart sitting on a park bench as she sorted through the items inside (the same exact position I had found her in the day before).  I said, “Hello.”  She looked up, startled.  I started again, “Hello, we met briefly yesterday.”  She replied, “Oh, yes, you are the woman with the children.”

The day before, the girls and I had taken a short walk around the backside of our hotel as we waited for our taxi driver to arrive.  We had walked down a beautifully cobbled foot path past a Jewish Synagogue, and that is where we had met this woman.  I told her “Good morning.”  She looked at me, and I ventured further, “It’s a beautiful morning.”  “Yes, it is,” she had agreed.  She then said emphatically, “My skin has a problem right now.  I AM NOT on drugs.  I am going to a doctor this afternoon.”

Now that the Lord had brought her back into my path a day later, I asked her how her doctor visit went.  Honestly, I thought she may have made that up, but she quickly told me all about it in a way that I felt that she truly had seen a doctor.  (She later mentioned that she was going to the doctor because someone did this to her skin…that it was a legal issue.)  I then said, “I am glad the doctor was able to give you answers.  I’ve been praying for you.” 

She said, “I am a woman of prayer as well,” to which I replied, “Oh, you are a Christian!”  She immediately corrected me, and said, “No, I am not a Christian.  I am a Jew.  My Messiah is still coming.  He is NOT Jesus.”  I then said, “Oh, so you are one of God’s chosen ones!” 

I could see her face light up with joy that someone recognized who she was.  “I am indeed,” she happily replied.  “I am one of His chosen people.” 

“I am thrilled to meet you, a Jewess,” I replied.  “I have been fascinated with God’s chosen people for some time, if not a wee bit envious, but I am very thankful that I have now been counted as one of His through Christ.” 

“Oh, no, you are not one of His chosen people unless you are Jewish.  Christ lived, I believe, but He was not the Messiah.  Our true Messiah is still coming,” she replied.

“With all due respect,” I said gently, “I believe He has already come, and died on the cross in our place, so that we might go free, so that we might be able to have a personal relationship with God.  His name is Jesus.”

“No, No, No!  Jesus was not the Messiah.  I don’t believe all the terrible reports that they made about him that he drank the blood of his followers, BUT he was not the Messiah.  Our Messiah is still coming!” she repeated even more emphatically.  I could see that I had reached an absolute block in our conversation.  At this point, I tried a different approach.

“Okay, I understand that we believe very differently about this.  You are entitled to believe as you choose, just as I am.”  She nodded her head emphatically.  “However, we do have something in common.  We both serve the same Old Testament God.”  She nodded her head, and appeared very interested.

“Would you mind if we prayed together right now?”  “Okay,” she said, hesitantly.

“You pray for me in your way, and I’ll pray for you in mine.  Would you like to go first or shall I?”

“You go first,” she said quickly.

“Now, I am going to pray the way that I normally do.  Please don’t be offended if I say something that you do not agree with, because I am sure that I may.”

“I understand,” she said.  “You HAVE to.  You have to pray the way that you believe.”

 Accepting her offered grace, I placed my hand on her and proceeded to pray.

Thank you, Lord, for this beautiful morning.  Thank you for this lovely park, the trees, the birds, the warmth of the sunshine…all of which speak Your Name.  Thank you for all the people that are in the park this morning, each one uniquely created by you.  Thank you for my lovely new friend…(PAUSE).

I looked at my new friend, and said, “You know, I haven’t even gotten your name.  What is your name?”

She replied, “Hannah.  My name is Hannah after the Old Testament Hannah, you know, Samuel’s mother?”

I replied, “I love your name, Hannah.  It’s beautiful and the story of Hannah and Samuel is one of my favorite.”

“Mine too,” she replied.

We again bowed our heads, and I began once more…

Thank you for my lovely new friend Hannah.  Thank you for helping her to find answers at the doctor.  Thank you that her health issues are being cared for.  I pray health and wholeness to Hannah’s body for Your glory.  I pray that You bless her with every spiritual blessing, and give her peace and a greater understanding of You.  Thank you that we were able to meet.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

She said, “That was a very nice prayer.  Now, for us, we pray...

Shalom.  (I personally love that way of beginning to pray.)

She obviously didn’t know where to go next with her prayer, and so she began speaking to me.  In the midst of speaking to me, she would say something like, “Give Amanda and her family health.”  Later it was “Give Amanda and her family safe travel today.”  It was obvious that she wasn’t entirely comfortable with the idea of praying and the idea of a personal relationship with God was entirely unfathomable, which made sense considering that Christ would not have paved the way for that to be possible, since she was yet awaiting her Messiah.

Through her prayer, however, I felt completely cared for by her.  She was offering me a piece of her heart, and I received it gladly.

Then her prayer began to get very personal and revealing.  She said…

And I have very much anger in my life, because of what others did to my family, because we were Jews.  Anti-Semitism (behavior discriminating against Jews) has destroyed so many of my family.  My mother came from Romania and she and my grandparents were very unjustly treated by Nazis.  And many people hate Jews, and I have hate in my life for people.  But now that I’ve met Amanda, I know from the love in her heart that this is not always true.  Some people like Amanda love Jews and I now wish to be more constructive with the anger in my life, because not everyone is like what I thought.

At that point, I understood what God’s purpose was for me in speaking to Hannah.  He wanted Hannah to know Christ’s love, and He used my faltering attempts to speak that love to Hannah.  In Hannah’s mind, Christians were responsible for the hurt to her family.  Adolf Hitler, among many others, did his destructive work in the name of Christ.  Many others proclaim Christ and yet do not love.  And yet, she could not deny, that here before her was a Christian who loved her, and not only her, but her Jewish heritage. 

God had been preparing me for this assignment for many years.  Probably nearly a decade ago, God gave me a love for His chosen people.  I received a card with a picture of Jerusalem on it.  I taped the verse “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: ‘May they prosper who love you.’” (Ps. 122:6).  Many times I would glance at that card, and whisper a prayer for God’s chosen people.  Through those prayers, my heart grew more and more in love with God’s chosen people.  When I spoke those words to Hannah, I did not say them out of obligation.  I truly love her and her people.  And I know that God allowed her to feel that love.

I do not worry that I have no “fruit” to show for my encounter with Hannah.  She is, as of the point of our conversation, still lost.  She does not know or believe that Christ has set her free from sin and death.  She has rejected Christ; she believes that her Messiah is yet coming.  However, I planted seeds within her heart.  She now cannot lump Christians into one Jew-hating group.  She now has received Christ’s love.  She is now forced to rearrange her thinking, and process this new information.  I believe that Hannah will know Christ as her Messiah, in God’s timing.  It was not my assignment to rescue her, but rather to love her.  I rest that He is her Messiah, not me.  I am simply grateful that He used me to plant a seed.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Jesus, the Sweetest Name Given in Heaven and on earth

My brother Robert recently incubated some pheasant hen eggs. Around twenty came into the world full of life, ready to make the most of their days here. But three little ones were immediately aware that life can be a place of suffering. Their little legs wouldn't do what they had been created to do. My heart bled as I watched their movements. They so desperately longed to do what instinct told them they could do...walk about freely. I so desperately longed to fix their legs and help them to walk freely, to free them from their prison, and the certain death that would follow such a handicap. They would never survive, helpless even to get a drink for themselves. I wanted to help, but instead, I could only watch helplessly. My daughters stood with me silently watching, eyes wide with sadness as they became aware of the suffering of these tiny birds.

I couldn't tear my eyes away from them...I cried silently inside, "Oh," I didn't cry only for three little pheasant chicks, but for all the suffering in the world and everyone affected by it. God created a beautiful world, perfect in every way. He wanted us to enjoy the beauty and serenity of it; instead we chose our own way. He didn't stop us from choosing our own way; He could have, but then would He truly be love? Forcing us to stay with Him where we are safe? Even though He knew what we were opening ourselves up for, He let us have the free choice to walk away from Him. Imagine the stabbing pain in His heart as He knew what our now-chosen father Satan, would do with us? He knew that our choice to serve ourselves and have our own way meant that we opened ourselves up for the enemy of our souls to wreak whatever havoc on our lives that he chose. He even knew of the suffering of three little pheasant chicks thousands of years later, that would be a result of this choice for man to be his own.

And He cared! Praise God He cared!!! He would not leave us in the pit we had dug, but chose to offer us a way out. We still have a free choice, and no one will make it for another. It is yours alone to make, but the way out is there. The hand of salvation is offered and we can walk in freedom from the hand of the enemy! JESUS, the sweetest name in all of Heaven and earth...there is none other name given wherewith we can be saved! Praise Him! When He hung on that cross bearing all the sin and suffering of every soul that has ever and will ever tread this sod and said, "IT IS FINISHED!", He meant that. At that moment it was finished. Those who believe in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins now reign! We are sons and daughters of God, with Christ's own righteouness imputed to us! When God looks at me, He doesn't see Amanda as the sinful person that she is. He sees me as Christ, fully righteous. 2 Cor. 5:21 "God made him (Jesus) who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." And so, even though three little pheasant chicks still suffer unjustly, even though the battle seems lost, THE WAR IS WON! Hang in there, dear brothers and sisters in Christ! We reign because of Him!

Friday, April 30, 2010

Recognizing Idolatry

How many 'idols' do I have in my life? This question has been burning in my mind for some time. A few months ago, my daughter Ava was going through a toy catalog with a typical carnal mindset. Every page that she turned to, she said, "I want this for my birthday and this for my birthday and this for my birthday." I went before the Lord for wisdom in how to get to the root of this materialistic attitude that I saw in her. It was tempting to simply deal with her behavior (the typical 'if you ask for one more thing, you'll get nothing'), but I knew that her heart was where she really needed attention. God revealed to me that her heart was building idols out of the things in that magazine. Idolatry? You may think that is too harsh of a term for a three-year old. However, truth remains that anything that we want more than God, we are idolizing. I went to Ava and asked for the magazine. I told her that it had become an idol and that we would have to put it away for a time. She shed tears, but handed the magazine to me willingly. After about two weeks of distance from the magazine, God poured out onto Ava's heart the strength that she needed to look at the magazine without idolizing it. Praise His Worthy Name!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

A Fresh Perspective

Last night as I was lying in bed waiting for sleep to overtake me, my mind was reflecting on my many shortcomings and weaknesses. I said to Kevin, in a rather discouraged voice, "I am so weary of dealing with my flesh." Once more we lay in silence, until Kevin, tongue in cheek, said only this, "I like your flesh." We laughed together and enjoyed a special moment of shared tenderness.

I am so blessed by a husband who loves me without reservation, who is my spiritual leader, and yet, at just the right moment, gives me a fresh perspective and helps me to laugh at discouragement. In Christ, we ARE overcomers. Because of this TRUTH, we can laugh at the hopelessness of becoming holy, because it isn't us that does it. We can rest in Him.

Thank you, God, for the blessing of a husband who is just plain FUN to be around, and who keeps this serious-minded woman from caving in on her own seriousness.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Blessed be His Name

It is only right for me to give my Maker some sugar after all He is to me...God, you are awesome! Thank you for all the good and perfect gifts that you give. It is fast becoming a joy to give up my will for Yours. "He who began a good work in me will be faithful to complete it."

Well, hello! I am Amanda Swartzentruber and we do live down Gardenia Lane. Lots of life happens here and we are blessed. We are a household striving to serve the God of the Holy Scriptures, and although we are most certainly unfinished, we are finding the grace to overcome as the needs arise. (And do the needs ever arise!!!) God is so faithful. May you find refuge from the storms of life in His arms...blessings to you and yours.