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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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

 

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

 

I’ve lost the faith, but not all October 29, 2016

2016 has been a hard year for those of us who try to live by our faith. While I can honestly say that my faith in God—the faith that matters most—has not failed one iota, my faith in many other things has. Here’s why.

Never in my lifetime have I seen Americans marching and shouting to kill the police men and women who are willing to die to protect them. Never in my lifetime have I seen people indifferent to such atrocities as shown in the Planned Parenthood videos of the murder of innocent babies. Never in my lifetime have I witnessed tolerance of blatant corruption in high places, at all levels of government and on both sides of the aisle. Today, I have lost faith in people and in government.

Furthermore, I have been a proud Republican all of my life—that is, except for a few months when someone convinced me it would be better if I changed parties so that I could make a difference at the local level. Later, I decided I didn’t care because I was a true conservative at heart, and I changed my registration back. My Dad was the 8th person to register as a Republican in the county where I grew up, so you can see I didn’t exactly grow up in “red” country. I have always believed the best of the Grand Ole Party and had faith that it represented my values. But come January, I will register as an Independent. Today, I have lost faith in my political party.

I have also watched “political correctness” re-shape the American church. We Christians have been shamed for clinging to our guns and Bibles, and we accepted the shame without resistance. In our churches, we have been suppressed to withhold the truth of God’s Word if it might in any way, shape or form offend anyone for doing anything, including sin. We have watered down the Gospel of Jesus Christ that has given us so great a salvation until the next generation can hardly recognize it, much less experience it. Our culture has influenced the church much more than the church has influenced our culture. Today, I have lost faith in the organized church.

Yet, all is not lost. There are some things in which my faith still stands tall and strong. First, my faith in God has not faltered, and I pray it never does. He has always been faithful to His Word, His Name, His people, and His promises. You and I can bet the farm and everything else on God’s faithfulness!

I have not lost faith in the Constitution of the United States, and I hope I never do. Our forefathers did an incredible job of framing it 240 years ago, and while some have tried to interpret it to suit their fancy, it still stands tall on the world stage as the model and envy of every modern civilization. I have not lost faith in its ability to ensure the freedom and justice for all that’s embedded within its structure.

And lastly, I have not lost faith in love. God is love and He created mankind—out of love. He has a plan and purpose for every life—out of love. He sent His Son to die a sacrificial death in order to save us from eternal damnation—out of love. He is in control of this world, as well as the rise and fall of every leader and every nation—out of love. He has a group of born-again, blood-washed, Spirit-filled believers who will be witnesses of His redeeming grace as long as the earth remains—out of love. And when He says enough is enough, He will take His own out of this sin-sick world to spend eternity with Him—out of love!

Make sure you know where you stand. And if your faith feels that it is failing in some areas like mine does—whatever you do, don’t let your faith in God fail! Faith in God is all that will matter in the end—and it’s nearly the end. ~ Janie Kellogg

 

Could This Year Be “That Year” for You? January 14, 2016

Current day America is in a mess, and the world is in an even bigger mess! It seems to me that we are headed downhill toward final doom. How’s that for optimism about the New Year? Not so much, huh?

However, I do have some positive thoughts about this year. For instance, I believe that 2016 can be a great year for the church. It could actually be our finest hour as we become eye witnesses of the return of Jesus Christ. That event is on my mind a lot lately.

I currently feel that I do not have the power in my life to withstand the persecution coming to all Christ-followers. I also feel that I do not have ability to lead the women that I teach or to write God’s message to my blog readers. The question must be: What then can I do to get prepared?

I desire to surrender my life fully to the Lordship of Christ—my Holy House Guest, who lives within me. I long to fully obey Him, but cannot find the power to do so. Romans Chapter 7 is my testimony, too. Yep, it describes me to a tee. I expect many of you grapple with the same issues.

God knows my heart, and yours, and He bids us to come closer. On New Year’s Day I was entertaining the thought that 2016 might be the year I actually figure it out. After all, I’ve read dozens, if not hundreds, of books on the deeper walk, the inner life, and the secret place. Perhaps I will finally tap into it—this year.

And then on that first Sunday morning of 2016 my pastor preached a sermon titled “That Year.” My heart leapt within my chest. I could hardly believe my ears as he began to read this Scripture:

“Then the manna ceased on the day after they had eaten the produce of the land; and the children of Israel no longer had manna, but they ate the food of the land of Canaan that year.” Joshua 5:12

I grabbed it immediately as a word for me—it clearly resonated with what I had been thinking. So, I declared right then and there: This year would be that year for me to enter the Promised Land.

I’ve read about the Promised Land for decades. I know what it is filled with: milk and honey,1 so they say, and luscious fruit—large grapes—really big and juicy ones! I’ve longed to enter there.

What about you—have you ever longed to enter there? Some theologians believe the Promised Land refers to heaven; others for the here and now. I believe the latter. Regardless, for me it’s not about the fruit, the milk, or the honey. It’s about power in my own life to overcome this pesky flesh I struggle with.

Romans Chapter 8 tells me that it can be done, after all Paul did it. Many saints of old have done it. Why not me? And you? What if the Promised Land is the place where we finally have the power to fully obey the Holy Spirit and no longer yield to our flesh? Or the place where we begin to eat of the produce of that bountiful land—begin to partake of the power to say “no” to those things we don’t want to do and “yes” to the things we do want to do? Sounds logical.

If so, it’s clearly time for us to enter there.2 If not now, when? But we must remember that it takes faith to enter that place. The doubters didn’t please God then. They won’t please Him now either. Although it was promised to them, their unbelief kept them from inheriting it at all.3 Unbelief is clearly not a good route to take. But for those who believed, they moved forward by faith to claim the Promised Land as their own.4

Could 2016 be “that year” you and I move forward by faith to claim the Promised Land as our very own? Believers believe. I believe. Do you? ~Janie Kellogg

Small footprintKey Scripture: Therefore, while the promise of entering His rest still holds and is offered today, let us be afraid, lest any of you should think he has come too late and has come short of reaching it. Hebrews 4:1

1Exodus 3:8; 2Hebrews 4:1 3Hebrews 3:19; 4Joshua 21:43

 

A Thanksgiving Scene We Will Never Forget November 27, 2015

Thanksgiving! Oh, the joy of being with family is almost too precious to describe. The scenes are incredible! We gather around to welcome the newest members; we measure the height of kids growing tall; we recognize personality traits that remind us of a one taken away; and we surely take notice of the graces of life more apparent in each of us. We look on as our offspring learn to be ducks in the bigger pond, and we cherish their successes. Life simply evolves, not without its pain and sorrow, and yet we give thanks.

It’s in scenes like these that the giving of thanks is so appropriate, for in all of them—sacred or sad—we thank the One who gave them to us. His instruction manual tells us to give thanks in everything.1 We not only can, we must; for the Giver of Life does all things well. While we may not always like what is handed to us, He who gives it makes no mistakes.

We can call it acceptance, for that is exactly what it is. Acceptance of what our Heavenly Father has chosen to give to us. I love the story about a little girl who was born both deaf and dumb. When questioned why God would have made her so, she thought for a moment, and then with trembling hands boldly wrote out her response: “Even so, Father, for it seemed good in Your sight.”2

What kind of faith does it take for acceptance like that?  How do such young eyes see such mature truths? And what about us—do we know the meaning of acceptance? Or do we spend our time and energy trying to change that which was given?

Acceptance is what thanksgiving is all about. It is that deep swelling of faith within us that eventually rises to the surface and says, “What God has chosen to give is good and I am thankful for it.” We may not understand it or fully embrace its treasure, but we are still grateful to the God who gave. And why is that—because He can be trusted.

It is comforting to know that one day we will see things more clearly—for we shall see Him as He is, as well as all the things we haven’t understood. We only know in part now and see through a glass dimly.3 But just hang in there—a new day is about to dawn.

The Apostle John wrote about a future scene that is very different from our unexplained ones. Here is a paraphrased glimpse of what he saw just up ahead. Please read it slowly, even out loud, and try to see if you can picture yourself there, in this scene:

I heard what sounded like a mighty shout of a great crowd in heaven, exclaiming, Hallelujah—Praise the Lord! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God! His judgments are true and sound and just and upright. He has judged and pronounced sentence and doomed the great harlot who corrupted and demoralized and poisoned the earth, and has avenged the blood of His servants. And again they shouted, Hallelujah—Praise the Lord! Then the twenty-four elders fell prostrate and worshipped God Who sits on the throne, saying, Amen! Hallelujah—Praise the Lord! Then from the throne there came a voice saying, Praise our God, all you servants of His both small and great. After that I heard what sounded like a shout of a vast throng, like the boom of many pounding waves and like the roar of terrific and mighty thunderpeals, exclaiming, Hallelujah—Praise the Lord! For now the Lord our God, the Omnipotent, the All-Ruler, reigns! Let us rejoice and shout for joy—exulting and triumphant! Let us celebrate and ascribe to Him glory and honor for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His Bride has prepared herself.4

I certainly have my favorite phrases, such as “a mighty shout” (not a timid one); “a great crowd” (God has a big family); “all you servants of His both small and great” (small comes before great, just like Jesus said they would); and “His Bride has prepared herself” (Oh my, we must be ready for the wedding). Are you?

That is a thanksgiving scene we will never forget. I trust that I will see you there! ~ Janie Kellogg

11 Thessalonians 5:18; 2Matthew 11:26; 31 Corinthians 13:12; 4Revelation 19-Selected excerpts from the Amplified Bible.

 

Calm the Storm or Calm Me July 30, 2015

For most of my Christian life I have thought the biggest goal in prayer was to get the storms in my life calmed down—you know, like Jesus did for the disciples on the Sea of Galilee. I think differently now.

A few months ago I began preparing to teach a Bible study titled “Experiencing Peace.” Apparently, God thought I needed the opportunity to live what I was about to teach. In the past two months there have been, not one, not two, but three huge storms arise on the sea of my life. And when I say huge, I mean really B-I-G!

Remember the story of Peter walking on water?1 I can easily find myself in that story, but instead of walking on the water with Peter, you’ll find me hanging onto the boat for dear life along with the other eleven disciples. They unexpectedly found themselves in the middle of the sea, tossed about by huge waves and contrary winds. Yep, that describes my life for the past few months.

Before the first lesson of the study was ever taught, the Lord told me He was going to teach me something new. You see, I had been out on that troubled sea before where the massive waves and contrary winds blew up unexpectedly and almost took me under. I thought I had learned some great faith-saving techniques from that previous experience that I could share with others. God had something else in mind.

Here is that something else: God doesn’t have to calm the storm in order to give His child peace in the storm. How many of us have thought the best answer for any of our storms was for God to remove it?

If we look at the life of our Savior, we’ll find that the Father didn’t always remove the storms in His life; in fact, I don’t believe He removed any of them. And when Jesus was about to face the severest of all storms—the cross—He prayed, that if it were His Father’s will, this storm would be removed. But then He did something remarkable: He gave His Father permission to leave it there.2

We now know that God had a bigger purpose for that storm than calming it—our very own redemption, mine and yours, were wrapped up in the center that storm. It was completely necessary for Jesus to endure it; and He did. And I am certain that Jesus had peace in the midst of that storm!

Before facing the cross, Jesus had told His disciples that He was giving them His peace—the kind of peace that can be experienced right smack-dab in the middle of the fiercest storm, even one with ginormous waves and winds.3 Apparently, it worked for Him.

The song writer of Who Am I, recorded by Casting Crowns in 2003, got it right.4 These lyrics suggest something we can ask God to do for us in the middle of our storm: “Who am I that the voice that calmed the sea, would call out through the rain, and calm the storm in me?”

Our first step to attaining peace is found in giving God our permission to do whatever He deems best in any set of circumstances. Our prayer might sound like this: Dear Father, I ask you to calm this storm; but if that is not your will, then I ask you to calm me. It is then left up to God to do whatever He chooses. That, my friend, is called trust.

One of my three personal storms has now come and gone, uneventful I might add. The other two are presently calm; yet I know another storm can blow up at any moment. Storms are like that.

The issue here is how you and I will face our next storm. Can we trust our Father like Jesus did and leave the outcome in His hands? If so, we have already found a place of peace and rest. ~ Janie Kellogg

Small footprintKey Quote: Leave yourself open to the circumstances of His choice, for this is perfect acceptance and rest in the will of God. If you do so, you are not a fool—you are in the company of the brave! For accepting the will of God in this way, “You became imitators of us,” Paul writes, “and of the Lord.”4 ~ Amy Carmichael

1Matthew 14:22-33; 2Matthew 26:39; 3John 14:27; 4John Mark Hall; 5Amy Carmichael, You Are My Hiding Place, Bethany House Publishers, Bloomington, MN, 1991, Page 77