Treasure In Earthen Vessels

Discovering the Indwelling Holy Spirit

When There Are No Words April 12, 2018

[Dedicated to Drew Wright, a true soldier of the cross, who in his darkest moments and deepest sorrow gave glory to God.]

 

The saying “There are no words” grips my heart. I don’t use it lightly. To me it is an expression of deeper pain than the little inconveniences of life can bring. I did use it recently though, in the days following Christmas Day 2017. An event occurred that brought such deep wounding to my soul that there was nothing else to say.

 

By all accounts it seemed to be a normal Christmas for Susan and Bill Wright, friends of my family for over 30 years. Since they were expecting their first grandchild, it was sure to be a memorable one as well. What could be more joyous in this joy-filled time of the year than the anticipation of a new baby? Friends rejoiced with them as they waited and celebrated life at every stage.

 

Their son, Drew, and his beautiful wife, Shannon, were 32 weeks pregnant with Baby Asa James. He was already held tightly in their hearts, but it would be a little longer before they could hold him in their arms. Shannon’s parents had moved from another state to live closer to their first grandchild as well. The entire family was entirely prepared to welcome this special little guy into their lives.

 

Yet, three days after Christmas something went terribly wrong. There had been no way to prepare for the events that would unfold over the next five days. Drew’s first message on Facebook on December 29th stunned readers:

 

“Yesterday morning was the hardest day of my life. My best friend and bride, Shannon, passed from this life and entered heaven. We don’t know all the details, but Shannon became unresponsive and was transferred by ambulance to the hospital. She never regained consciousness, but gave birth by C-Section to Asa James Wright.”

 

The tragic news shocked family, friends, and members of the church where Drew serves as Student Pastor. As the story spread on social media, hundreds and perhaps thousands of Christians began to pray for the family and especially Baby Asa, as his tiny body clung to life. The next Facebook report was a request from Drew:

 

“Asa is the most beautiful thing and looks just like his momma. Asa is in critical condition and is being treated by doctors for his best chance at survival. I humbly but boldly ask that you would pray. Pray for Claudia and Todd as they lost their daughter, pray for Clayton and Lindsey as they lost their sibling. Pray for my family as Shannon was the daughter and sister they’ve always wanted. Pray for me. I am hurting and broken, but I know God is good. Lastly, pray for a miracle for Baby Asa. He needs our Big God to show up in a big way.”

 

During the next few days, friends and family surrounded Drew and his infant son with support, comfort and prayers. Because of the Internet, I was aware of what was happening to my friends. A picture of Baby Asa’s tiny body connected to high-tech medical devices with tubes and tape was difficult to take in; yet many prayer partners helped bear the burden of brokenness and grief.

 

More questions than answers filled our hearts as we continued to call upon God for a miracle. How could this be happening? How will this young man survive such sorrow? How can he declare that God is good in the midst of sheer heartbreak? Is there any purpose anywhere in this tragedy?

 

On December 31st, Drew’s closest friend and co-worker, Cody Brumley, spoke for many hurting souls:

 

“In the mighty wake of hurt, we do not seek God’s deliverance from it…we seek God’s presence in it. We run to God bleeding, broken, confused, in disbelief…because nowhere else can we be comforted, answered, loved, and pieced together.”

 

With each report the heart-wrenching pain grew worse. Another picture showed Drew’s youth group praying and calling out to God in behalf of their leader. A part of me wanted to pull away and know less about this tragedy, yet my efforts to protect myself were futile. We are a body—the body of Christ—and when a part of us hurts, the whole body hurts.

 

Later that same day, the family was told that the doctors had done all they could for Baby Asa and that they would begin to focus on an end-of-life plan. Once again, Drew informed his prayer partners:

 

“We still hope for a miracle, but are coming to grips that this may be God’s outcome. Specifically pray that Asa’s short life will have an ongoing ripple effect for the sake of the gospel and God’s goodness in the midst of tragedy.”

 

A picture surfaced on January 2nd that caused me to finally utter the phrase: There are no words. Drew held Asa close to his heart while others encircled him, laying their hands on his shoulders as he prayed and dedicated his baby son to God. He described those moments like this:

 

“Today we got to be together to celebrate and dedicate Asa James to the Lord and his story to the glory of God. Sometime in the near future he will most likely breathe his last breath, but in the midst of hurt and pain and questions and fear, I am filled with joy—joy unspeakable that has no words, but just is living in me. God, only you know the impact this young man’s story will have and we trust you with that. God, I trust in you through all of this. I know that Shannon is getting to be what she was designed and destined to be—to be a mom. And today I am thankful for that. Thank you to everyone for your prayers and continued prayers for me, my family, and this community. Pray that God will use this as only He can….”

 

Drew’s prayer reminds me of a prayer by another young man, who facing something so painful and indescribable, prayed “Nevertheless, not My will, but Thine be done.” Just like his Savior, Drew yielded to the Father’s greater plan. For it is there in the place of surrender, that true joy—the joy he spoke of—can be found.

 

The following day, January 3, 2018, Asa James Wright slipped away from us and entered heaven where he is held safe in the arms of Jesus and his adoring mom.

 

When the family announced that a memorial service for Shannon and Asa was to be held the following Saturday, my heart pondered how they would prepare for such an event. The sorrow seemed too deep—the wounds too raw. The faith of many, including my own, had been tested. Would the faith of many stand and not fail?

 

As I prayed for my friends about what the next few days held for them, the Holy Spirit took me on a journey down memory’s lane. You see, there had been a time in my own life when tragedy had robbed me and my family of a loved one. We too had felt the pain, the emptiness, and the confusion that comes when a loved one is snatched away too soon. In that moment I heard His gentle whisper:

 

“It was in those dark days when it felt like you were living in a dream and not knowing where you were or how you’d get through the next day or the next hour, when you needed a strength much greater than you own, that something supernatural showed up and carried you.”

 

Oh, how well I remember what my sweet Jesus had done for me in those dark days. For when there are no words, there is grace.

 

His grace had held me up. His grace had strengthened me. His grace had gotten me through that dark valley and carried me safely to the other side. I instantly knew that He would do it for my friends as well. And He’s likely done for you, too.

 

Jesus promises to comfort us in our sorrows, to heal our broken hearts, and to give us peace that passes understanding, if we will trust Him. His Word has never failed His followers and it never will. And so we trust. ~ Janie Kellogg

 

‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,

Just to take Him at His Word.

Just to know that He has promised,

Just to know “Thus saith the Lord.”

Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him!

How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er;

Jesus, Jesus, Precious Jesus,

Oh, for grace to trust Him more! ~ Louisa R. M. Stead

 

 

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An Uncommon Easter March 30, 2018

The choir would be gathering later that evening to put the final touches on our Easter Cantata. I sought for some words of inspiration to share with them since technical issues had robbed our last practice of any spiritual connection whatsoever. We had worked hard for weeks and now Easter Sunday is only days away. How might we tap into the true message of Easter, rather than focusing on the mere performance that lies ahead of us?

 

During my morning quiet time, I read several devotionals that focused on Passion Week. Quite unexpectedly, the Holy Spirit dropped the word “uncommon” into my heart. I was reminded that us humans often become so familiar with people, things, and concepts that they lose their uniqueness—their wonder—and thus, their impact on us. I questioned if that is what we have perhaps done with the Easter story.

 

Has the story of Christ’s suffering become common place? Are we calloused to the brutal beating of our Savior’s back, or is it simply too gruesome for us to consider? Is that thorny crown just a part of the imagery, yet we miss the stinging pain inflicted by each single thorn pressed into His brow? And what about the mocking and ridicule He endured—are we oblivious to the agony of cutting words upon the heart? He bore that heavy cross with a weakened body, only to reach the most dreaded place of all—the hill on which He would shed every drop of His royal blood for the ungrateful lot of humankind. And in the worst of the worst moments—when even His Father couldn’t bear to look upon Him—He asked that they would be forgiven because they did not know what they were doing.

 

I don’t know about you, but to me that has all the markings of “uncommonness.” When reviled, Jesus reviled not again. When charged with claiming to be a King—which He was—He said, “As you say.”  Even his closest friends watched from a distance as He died alone. He himself admitted that He could have called ten thousand angels to rescue Him, yet He didn’t, for that would have thwarted the plan of God. This gruesome death was His purpose and He would see it through to the very end—not part way. No, He wouldn’t pronounce His assignment too difficult to complete, nor waver in His belief that this was God’s plan. He would not question who He was or what He came to do. Rather, He endured the cross and pushed through until He could declare before heaven and earth that “It is finished.”

 

Uncommon to mankind? I should say so. Uncommon to you and me? Certainly. There is no commonness of man to be found anywhere in His story, yet we are much like the disciples that fled in the garden. We are capable of standing with Peter and deny that we know Him. At times, we too question His claim to be King. It’s even possible that we would join the ranks of those who jeered and cried out “Crucify him!” Most assuredly, we identify with the lot of followers who looked on from a distance. And the ones who were clueless about what they were doing—they could actually be our next of kin.

 

So how might the word uncommon inspire us? My prayer for myself is that I will never again think of the cross as common. May I never forget the expensive price tag attached to my soul, or take for granted the love of Christ that caused Him to take my place. God forbid that I should ever think that forgiveness is simply Christian jargon, as if God were handing out free raffle tickets for a big prize. I pray that I never underestimate the pain He endured to make me His child, and that I never forget His kindness extended to me is the greatest gift I will ever receive. And lastly, I pray the word “common” never enters my thought process again as I reflect on that incredibly awesome resurrection morning when Christ broke through all the barriers and cinched my own resurrection from death, hell and the grave. Oh, it truly is an uncommon story.

 

As the choir mounted the stage and took their seats for our final practice, I challenged us all to consider what a privilege is ours to present this uncommon story of an uncommon Savior, His uncommon sacrifice, and His uncommon resurrection to many Easter Sunday visitors who perhaps still see Jesus as merely a common man.

 

With a renewed energy and an abundance of adoration and praise filling our hearts, we pulled off a pristine rehearsal. Wishing all of you a very Happy and Uncommon Easter. ~ Janie Kellogg

Photograph by Mark Rouk, Oologah, Oklahoma

 

 

 

Have You Seen the Star? December 20, 2017

Filed under: Holidays — Janie Kellogg @ 12:45 pm
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I never know how or when the inspiration will come for my annual Christmas post—I just know it will. This year, it happened the day after Thanksgiving, when we took my stepson, Wade, to a movie. The choice was simple—animated, not too long, and a positive message. The newly-released Christmas movie Star was sure to fill the bill.

 

Entertaining, delightful, and yes, inspiring! As we got back into the car, we had many takeaways to share with one another. First, we loved the genuinely stubborn donkey named Bo. After chasing his own dreams, Bo decided to turn around and go back to help Mary, the one who had shown him kindness. In the end, by following God’s plan instead of his own, Bo found the desire of his heart—to carry a King on his back.

 

Second, there were those really-bad dogs that pursued Mary relentlessly because their wicked master wanted to kill her. Yet, when Bo bravely intervened and had them headed toward their death, he chose to show mercy instead. In reality, the really-bad dogs were themselves prisoners of the wicked one. Perhaps they were worth giving another chance. After receiving compassion from Bo, they too came and worshipped the Baby King.

 

Lastly, there was Mary’s faith—it never wavered as she remained oblivious to the threats that swarmed around her. Because Mary knew God had given her this assignment, she was confident that nothing could keep her baby boy from being born. She trusted the God who had decreed it so, His choices for Jesus’ make-shift nursery, and the weird menagerie that became the welcoming party.

 

So is Star simply a cute movie, or is there a message for us? I believe the later. Like Bo, we stubbornly chase our own dreams. But somewhere along the way, God’s kindness catches up with us and we make a turn around. It’s then that we realize following God’s plan is the only way to have the desire of our hearts. And aren’t we reminded by those really-bad dogs that our world is full of really-bad characters who are also being directed by the evil one? Is it possible that they can’t see how they are being used by the great enemy of all mankind? Perhaps, some mercy and compassion from us might turn them around. After all, haven’t we been given a second chance? And then there is Mary’s faith—oh how I need it, how we need it! In a world full of darkness, disorder, and danger, could we learn to be oblivious to the threats? Could we see our God-given assignment and then trust the One who has decreed it so, His choices for our lives, and even the weird people He places along our way? Perhaps we could, that is, if our faith wasn’t so small.

 

As Christmas approaches, I must ask, “Have you seen the Star yet?” Have you caught a glimpse of the deeper meaning behind that familiar story of Jesus’ birth and how it applies in the here and now? My prayer for all of us is that we will begin today to follow God’s plan, to show mercy and compassion as we go, and that our faith in God will grow BIG as we embrace the New Year.

 

Christmas blessings to all ~ Janie Kellogg

 

What Do We Really Want From God? July 18, 2017

The ink was barely dry in my journal after I finished writing What Does God Really Want from Us? when the Holy Spirit prompted me to turn that question around—What do we really want from God? Interesting thought, but doesn’t He already know what we want from Him?

 

Of course, the answer is yes, but I sensed that I was being pressed to look deeper into my soul, as to what I want from God—well, other than salvation, health, protection, finances, and success! After all, don’t we all want a life of well-being? I think that is commonly true, but I knew in my heart of hearts He was asking me a pointed question: What am I expecting God to do for me if I am living for Him?

 

I recently listened to an audio devotional called “The Slippery Slope of Discontentment” by Mike Harland, a spokesman for Lifeway Worship. Being a worship leader himself, Mike was able to speak into the lives of other worship leaders about how we assess our ministries. He said we often blame our lack of success on what we don’t have. We say that if we just had more resources…more choir members…more great soloists…a better sound system…a different pastor…a bigger facility…more time…more, more, more. That, my friend, is indeed a slippery slope.

 

My preacher son, Brent, has a saying that fits here as well—“More isn’t always better.” It’s sad to admit that our culture, including church culture, has taught us to believe if we had more of whatever, we would be happier, more successful, accomplish greater things, and last but not least, we could bring more glory to God.

 

So, do I know my own heart? What am I reaching for? What do I expect to be the end result of my efforts and my sacrifices? Am I expecting God to make me a great writer? A great singer? A great choir director? A great speaker or teacher? A great soul-winner? Am I expecting more and greater gifts, or am I content with the ones God has given me?

 

I don’t have the answers to all of those questions, but I am asking the Holy Spirit to show me my own heart. I fear we have allowed much positive thinking and destiny-driven preaching to sway the church toward discontentment rather than embracing God’s true plan for our lives.

 

In his best-selling book, The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren tells us that we were born for a purpose—God’s purpose in putting us on planet earth. God knew beforehand what gifts and calling we would have; He knew in advance our circle of influence, our level of education and opportunity; and He knew what we would accomplish during our time here. In fact, God saw it all before we were born. “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Psalm 139:16

 

So are we actually doing what He purposed for us or are we off on some detour doing our own thing? If He determined that our influence would be a small circle rather than far reaching, will we be content? If He decided that we would be a simple servant doing the Father’s will rather than great in the eyes of the world, will we be content with that also? What if He has chosen for us to suffer for His glory?

 

I don’t have the answers to those questions either, but I do know that many Christians, including me, always seems to be reaching for something greater—yet never quite getting there. Ever wonder why greatness eludes us? If God chooses that our lives bring glory to Him as an ordinary person—not some superstar—shouldn’t we submit to His choosing?

 

I think the best response to What Do I Really Want from God, is this:  I want God to show me His ordained purpose for my life and then help me be content with whatever He has chosen for me—not something great that I’ve dreamed up on my own. ~ Janie Kellogg

 

 

What Does God Really Want From Us? July 12, 2017

Have you ever thought about what God wants from you? I know I have. When we listen to various preachers, teachers, and authors, we’ll likely get a lot of different answers. They will vary from things like “dying to self” to “crawling up in God’s lap and calling Him Daddy.” The first one makes us squirm and the second makes us squirm, too. No one wants to die to self because it’s painful, and many of us don’t know God well enough to crawl up in His lap.

 

This morning I asked myself that question and the Holy Spirit dropped a rather simple answer into my heart. It is so simple that we only need to look at our earthly fathers to confirm it. Whether a heavenly Father or an earthly father, what they want is for their children to make good choices in life. Making good choices today will ultimately result in a life that glorifies either father, heavenly or earthly.

 

The Bible gives us a great story about making choices—the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:39-42. I suspect there’s not a woman alive that hasn’t heard that story—you know where Martha is killing herself in the hot kitchen and Mary is relaxing at the feet of Jesus. We mostly relate to Martha because we’ve been there and done that. But Jesus had strong words for Miss Martha. He said that Mary had chosen “what is better” and it would not be taken away from her.1

 

Let’s analyze their choices. Martha was concerned about much serving. Sounds like a good choice to me, especially if I’m having lunch at her house. But her little sister made a different choice to sit at the feet of the Savior and learn from Him. Surely much work ranks higher than just sitting, doesn’t it? Did Jesus really mean that spending time with Him is more important than serving others? But what about church work—wouldn’t it rank higher? Probably not even church work, or ministry, or missions. I seriously believe Jesus is telling us here that nothing trumps time with Him.

 

If that is the case, then we can determine that time in His presence outranks all other activities, bar none. But there is good reason behind Jesus’ position. You see, there are great benefits that come along with making the choice that Mary made and Jesus so adamantly defended. It’s like putting the oxygen mask on yourself before putting it on your child in an airplane emergency. You’ll be of little help in saving your child’s life, if you haven’t taken measures to save your own.

 

Jesus knows that if we will sit at His feet and drink in the spiritual refreshment that comes from being in His presence, we are then—and only then—equipped to go out there and love the world He sent us to reach. And that, my friend, is a life that will glorify our Father!

 

Think about it like this: With one simple daily decision to spend time with God, we can give Him what He wants most from us—to make good choices. While I am clearly aware that we can’t reduce pleasing God to one single choice, it is a place to start. In fact, we can bring a smile of approval to our Father’s face before this day is over. Go ahead, be a Mary and sit for a spell! ~ Janie Kellogg

1Luke 10: 38-42 ~ As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

 

Erica the Beloved May 15, 2017

[I have created a new category on my blog called “Amazing People” for stories of those special individuals who have touched or influenced my life as well as the lives of countless others. Erica Rutherford was such a person. I know you will enjoy her touching story, and in the end you will understand why I call her—Erica the Beloved.]

 

I will never forget the first time I saw Erica. It was January 6, 2003, and my husband and I had just arrived at the Oasis of Hope Cancer Treatment Hospital in Tijuana, Mexico. We came here as a last resort since all conventional efforts to treat my husband’s fast-growing prostate cancer had failed. Isn’t that what you do—one last ditch effort to halt the inevitable?

 

It felt strange being in another country, although the atmosphere at this facility and the warmth of the staff were comforting. I had done my research and believed this place to be what its name suggested: an oasis of hope for those who had none.

 

Knowing no one, we made our way to the dining hall for the evening meal. There she was—Erica. The fact that there was not a single hair on her bald head was totally overshadowed by her award-winning smile. Her soft hazel-green eyes sparkled with hope. With her pretty head tilted to one side and in a slightly slurred voice, Erica introduced herself as “Erica the Wonderful.” Within seconds, I knew that she was indeed wonderful, just as she had claimed. My heart struggled to accept that this wonderful young woman was in a battle for her life. Although cancer had invaded her twenty-seven year old body, she vibrated with life as she spoke of future plans.

 

Within a few days Erica and her mom, Carol, seemed like family to me. Each morning, the resident missionary held a Bible study and prayer time for family members and any patients who could make their way to the third floor. Our hearts fused together as similar stories were shared about the war in which we were all engaged—beating cancer. It didn’t matter what kind of cancer we were fighting—it was clearly the same enemy that had attacked our lives. If we had nothing else in common—we had a genuine hatred for the “C” word.

 

Erica had tongue cancer. Her doctors had misdiagnosed her illness over and over, wasting valuable time while giving the edge to the disease. It started as a small sore on her tongue, but like most mouth sores, it didn’t go away in a few days. The doctors tried to tell her that she had herpes or that it was from the Pavlova virus. There was just one problem—Erica was still a virgin who had never even kissed a boy in her life. She had not done drugs nor taken a drink of an alcoholic beverage. There was simply no explanation. Carol described her daughter like this: “I don’t even know where this child came from—she was so special.”

 

After watching Erica around the hospital for a few days, I took the liberty of renaming her “Erica the Beautiful.” Since she was both wonderful and beautiful, I had only added another dimension in describing the angelic creation of God that she was. Yet, as I now contemplate this one called Erica, not only was she “Erica the Wonderful” and “Erica the Beautiful,” she was much more. Those who saw her carrying her IV stand up the stairs instead of waiting for an elevator might call her “Erica the Incredible.” Those who heard her stories of numerous surgeries and countless Chemotherapy and radiation treatments might think of her as “Erica the Courageous.” For the fortunate souls who heard her testimony of God’s saving grace, she was “Erica the Faithful.” To all who had the opportunity to simply be in her presence, she was “Erica the Charming.” To her loving mom and family members, she was “Erica the Adorable.” And to all of us whether family, friends, or only a brief acquaintance, she was “Erica the Unforgettable.”

 

I have often marveled at the confidence of the Apostle John. John did not refer to himself as “John the faithful disciple,” or “John the eloquent writer,” or even “John the close friend;” but rather, “John the one whom Jesus loved.” What confidence! What an amazing relationship with the Savior! I believe that is the same relationship Erica had with the Lord Jesus. She was the one whom Jesus loved. Yes, even greatly loved. And while we knew Erica as wonderfully beautiful, incredibly courageous, faithfully charming, and adorably unforgettable, yet the One who created her knows her best as “Erica the Beloved.”

 

Our stay in Tijuana lasted only three weeks, but my relationship with those I met there continues on today. In time, we all had to say good-bye to the special person in our lives that had brought us to the Oasis of Hope Hospital. Yet, we stayed connected through phone calls and emails for our hearts had been linked for eternity. Within two months of arriving back at home, on March 31, 2003, God’s holy angels came and carried our angel, “Erica the Beloved,” to be in the presence of the One who loves her most. She was and is His Beloved. ~ Janie Kellogg

 

 

More Than Physical Therapy May 4, 2017

Filed under: Christian Growth — Janie Kellogg @ 8:34 pm
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It felt really strange, almost as if my head had been gently detached from my body and laid to the side. I was learning to trust my highly-recommended physical therapist as she tried to put my head back where it belongs. This was my fourth therapy session, and each session was growing in intensity. I wondered what she would do next.

 

Apparently, I had injured my neck at some time in the past, and now my head was off-center. It had been this way for so long that my new center felt more comfortable than my true center. Yet, my charming young therapist was determined to get my head on straight once again.

 

She worked the muscles on either side of my neck, removing the knots that had developed. A stretch here and a pull there—attempting to relieve the pain I had endured over the previous four months. She said the stretching and pulling would strengthen my neck muscles so they would eventually be strong enough to hold my head in the correct position. That should stop the pain.

 

As I contemplated her strategy, I thought about the spiritual struggle I was currently going through. Perhaps my physical condition and my spiritual condition had some things in common. Could it be that some of my spiritual muscles were sagging and I had found a more comfortable place to exist that wasn’t my true center? Things like slouching in prayer or slacking in Bible Study; yielding to selfish thoughts rather than Christlike ones, and even stooping to self-pity because things weren’t going my way in an important area of my life. Could it be that the worst symptom of all was my drooping faith to believe that God was still in control of my circumstances?

 

As my therapist continued to do her highly-skilled work on my neck, I smiled at God. I had caught a deeper meaning of my therapy session on that beautiful spring morning. Yes, my neck muscles were being strengthen to do what they were designed to do, and now I clearly saw that it was time to strengthen my spiritual muscles as well—the muscles that keep me on true center—true to God and true to my inner being—a woman after God’s own heart. Who knows, maybe some of that pain will go away, too! ~ Janie Kellogg