Friday, August 28, 2015

Pray for the Hook to Be Released

“Pray for the Hook to Be Released”

Rev. John Rice

In the fall of 2008, I was invited to bring a healing ministry team to the Diocese of Durgapur, located in the northeast area of India, to help train and equip their clergy in the area of Jesus’ healing ministry. After several months of intense preparations, our team arrived on a Saturday in early February 2009. We were tired from the thirty-two hours of travel, yet we were excited and uplifted through the prayers of family and friends. Little did we imagine what God had been preparing.

Our one week course, “Equipping the Saints for Jesus’ Healing Ministry,” began the following Monday. After initial introductions, worship, and joyful singing, the teaching began. Dr. Mike, a retired surgeon from Charleston, South Carolina, taught about praying for physical healing. At the end of his talk, he asked if anyone needed prayer for a physical ailment. All the clergy turned to one of their own, a pastor whose face was very swollen on one side. We invited him to come up so that we could demonstrate praying for physical healing.

He told us he was either stung or bitten by an insect nearly a week ago. As a result, half of his face swelled immediately and grew much worse as the area became infected. He took antibiotics with no relief, and he was still experiencing considerable pain.

Our team laid hands on him and prayed for healing. After about six minutes, we paused and asked him, “Is the pain any less?” He said, “No.” So we began praying again, with still no noticeable results. About that time, one of our team members, Kay, came over to me and whispered, “You need to pray for the hook to be released.” I looked at her and said, “What?” She said, “I keep hearing the Spirit say, 'You need to pray for the hook to be released.' I don’t know what it means, but that is what we need to pray.”

I had known Kay for several years and had come to trust personal messages that she often received from the Holy Spirit during times of healing ministry. So, more from my sense of trusting rather than my understanding, I asked the team to lay hands on the pastor once again. I prayed, “Jesus, in your name, I command the hook to be released in this swollen, infected area.” The pastor immediately turned to me and said, “Something just popped and the pain is already less.” (It turned out that the stinger from the insect had a barb that was embedded in the tissue of his face. The “pop” he felt was the release of the barb!)

At once we offered prayers of thanksgiving and praise to God for the healing that was happening before our very eyes. We prayed for the Holy Spirit to continue to minister to this pastor and to bring complete healing. By the end of the week the swelling was gone, and the wound was totally healed. This was the first of many miraculous healings we witnessed during our trip to India. Thanks be to God for his love, his guidance and his healing presence!

Friday, August 21, 2015

My Spiritual Awakening

My Spiritual Awakening

Sandra Costin

I was born in Newark, New Jersey into a dysfunctional family. While living with my family, good times could be described with these words: alcoholism, abuse, shame, self-doubt, fear, enablement, avoidance, loneliness, denial, and name-calling. The list would be longer if I were to describe the bad times.

I attended a Catholic school through eighth grade. The church and the school were both located at the bottom of a high hill. To help the residents living on the top of this hill, the church rented a beer hall which also served as an additional location for Sunday services up there - eliminating the Sunday transportation problem. It was in this beer hall that I first began attending church. Consequently, my first real church experience was in bar room with folding chairs. The place stank with stale odors of smoke and liquor consumed the night before. The supply priest, with his back to the congregation, said the service in Latin. My mom would drop me off so I could attend; then she would drive away. I remember feeling abandoned and confused.

My first Christian mentor, whom I call my "earth angel," was Grandma Mary. She came to stay with us once a year and even slept with me. Each night she would pray aloud for a long list of people. She was the happiest person in my life at that time. She loved the Lord - inside and out. She was definitely my first Christian role model and a "seed planter" for me. [Now as an adult, I follow her example by praying nightly and by reading my Bible.] When she was not there, I lived fearfully. Although my future seemed hopeless, I still dreamed of what a good life could be.

I married my high school sweetheart. In spite of my being blessed with two daughters, my 30-year marriage was a failure and could be described with these words: co-dependency, betrayal, depression, resentment, jealousy, self-pity, pride, divorce, rejection, guilt, and al-anon. However, I continued to dream of a happy future which included traveling someday - seeing such places as the Sistine Chapel in Rome. Although I had some hope, I was relying on myself to make it happen.

In 1994, after my divorce, I met another of my "earth angels". Betty Harris, a first grade teacher in New Jersey, asked me to help out with Vacation Bible School. During the last 30 minutes of the last day, she told the students to turn in their Bibles to John 3:16. The first child to find it was rewarded with reading it aloud. Hearing this verse -

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

It began to dawn on me that it was I who was broken, wounded, and even a sinner. I had never thought about that before. However, I did know that every day was painful and hard. I felt my life was futile with no end in sight. I realized I was in desperate need of this SAVIOR. That day I heard these words in my heart - not just in my head!

"For the Lord sees not as man sees. Man looks on the outward appearances, but the Lord looks on the heart."

Later that day, I asked Jesus Christ into my heart. I sobbed for three hours - happy tears! In spite of this new joy, my life did not change immediately.

My next "earth angel" was Jan. She asked me to be her helper at the Geneses Nursery School located in the Presbyterian Church. I began learning the Bible along with the three, four, and five year olds. What a loving environment to be in at such a painful time in my life!

God knew what I needed before I knew. I could not go on any longer by myself, because myself was what got me into this mess in the first place. He was truly showing His love for me. I handed Him a huge list of my needs. My husband was gone, and my daughters were acting out. I had a seventy-nine cent check balance. I had a house and yard to keep up. I was contending with appointments, lawyers, a crisis invention therapist, restraining orders, and court dates. My mom was dying of cancer. And it goes on and on... Inside myself I was saying, " I can't! I can't!" But GOD could! And Jesus came to my aid just as the Bible says God keeps His promises.

God heard my cries and has given me more blessings than I ever dreamed possible. Dick, my husband now, is truly heaven sent, and we are blessed with nine grandchildren. Since our being married, not only have I gotten to see the Sistine Chapel in Rome, but we have actually experienced living with other cultures in West Africa where the people truly love the Lord. We have even lived in Saudi Arabia where Christians worship in secret, or at the embassy, or on a military compound. And now... we live here in Florida and are a part of a loving church home! It is amazing what God does! My life has been transformed!

I am still co-dependent, but now it is on Jesus.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Listening to God

Listening to God

Bobbi Vogel

One night in March of 2014, I had an interesting dream. It was a vivid, detailed portrayal of the events surrounding Christ's birth, but portrayed as a walk-through event on our church grounds. Although thinking it odd that the dream occurred in the spring of the year, I became even more perplexed when the same dream kept reoccurring night after night. I told my husband about the dreams and confessed to him that it was now becoming troublesome.

In April I met with Reverend Sarah and shared what I was experiencing. She sat quietly, not offering any insight or asking any questions. Finally she said, “And what are you going to do about this dream?” I was really taken aback by this comment and did not know how to respond. She went on to suggest that I write the dream down and share it with others to see what they thought - I agreed.

Reverend Sarah’s wisdom was right on target! After the very detailed and clear dream was put into written words, my nightly vision of a Good Shepherd enactment of the Christmas Nativity immediately ceased. As members of our church family read the story, they encouraged me to proceed. I put a steering committee together, and we jointly agreed that we must breathe life into this dream!

In May, with no budget and the support of a relatively small church family, the steering committee developed a blueprint based on the explicit details of my dream. There were many facets to this production; each one to be handled by volunteers. It was amazing to see individuals stepping forward and sharing their talents: electrical and technological skills, artistic and creative prowess, construction knowledge, and networking savvy. Some donated financially; others prayed and ran errands. Even the community contributed to the production. Full Sail College not only provided the lighting equipment but their expertise as well. The Boy Scout troop that meets at our church volunteered their services. Even All Souls Catholic Church shared their children’s choir. We all worked so hard, never questioning the dream or why it occurred, but determined to bring the story to life.

By December 14 our efforts culminated in a live, eight-scene nativity production located on the grounds of the Good Shepherd Church. Each display represented a specific Bible verse that was posted nearby. Members of our church family dressed in period costumes represented the characters in the verse. The realistic backdrops and professional lighting brought each set to life and created the sensation of being in the Middle East during Christ's time.

I will never forget the feeling I had when 6:00 P.M. on December 14, 2014, finally arrived. The Good Shepherd Episcopal Church campus came alive as church family, friends, and total strangers reverently walked the luminary lighted path experiencing the wonder of Christ's birth. The attendance exceeded our expectation. The journey ended in the church parish hall with refreshments, fellowship, and live entertainment. The evening was wrapped in hope, love and joy.

As I reflected on the nine months of preparation, I realized God uses many avenues to speak to His children. When I would not slow down long enough to listen, He showed me over and over again in my dreams what He wanted accomplished. When our steering committee encountered obstacles, a path was always cleared, or someone stepped up to do what had seemed at first impossible.

Thanks be to God for being so persistent - even when we don’t understand or won’t listen. Thanks be to God for being so consistent - leading us and knocking down barriers all along the way. And, thanks be to God for being so loving and for reminding us that this is all about Him, not us.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Hearing God's Call in the Midst of Chaos

Hearing God’s Call in the Midst of Chaos

Marilyn Bellonci

The bottom had fallen out of my cozy little life. Separation from my husband, the loss of our home, and personal bankruptcy had shaken me to my core. However, I knew I had to keep myself together for the sake of my young son. I was struggling to support him on a minimum wage income. On the brink of homelessness, I felt desperate and alone.

I was raised a Southern Baptist but hadn’t seen the inside of a church in almost thirty years. Yet, seemingly out of nowhere, I felt a deep desire to talk to a priest – not a preacher, but a priest. Strange, I thought for a Southern Baptist, but the idea kept growing and nagging at me for quite a few weeks. Finally I got up the courage to call the Catholic Church and make an appointment to see the priest. He listened quietly to my saga. Then he told me how much God loves me, prayed with me, and said he would continue to pray for me. He introduced me to one of the nuns of the parish, a very special woman who would eventually change my life. I felt at home there and was invited to come back any time.

On the way home from the church, my 10 year old car broke down in the middle of Maitland Boulevard on the bridge over I-4. I was stranded in the middle of rush hour traffic in 95 degree heat, surrounded by angry drivers who were honking horns, cursing, and shaking their fists at me. Not only did I have no way to contact anyone since cell phones were not yet common, but I also had no one to contact for help. I began to cry – once again overwhelmed by LIFE.

Then I remembered where I had just been, and the soft-spoken priest who had reminded me of God’s love. A feeling of peace came over me. For the first time in many, many years I began to pray. “Jesus, if you can hear me, please help me.” Literally within seconds... a light blue pickup truck pulled up in front of me. An older gentleman with white hair got out and asked if I needed help. He raised the hood of the car and seemed to know just where to look. He pulled out the fuel filter. He said it was clogged and he couldn’t unclog it. BUT he had been to the auto parts store that morning and “SOMETHING” had told him to pick up a spare fuel filter!! Amazingly, that spare fuel filter fit my car, and within a few minutes it was running again. After thanking the man and wrote out a check to reimburse him and drove home - rescued by an angel in a blue pickup. The check was never cashed.

I went back to that church the following Sunday and every Sunday after that for years. I learned about a God who loved me just as I was – broken and imperfect, a God who became my personal friend and confidante, who taught me to “Be still and know that He is God.” I know that He holds me in the palm of His hand. He has brought many little miracles to my life.

Since that period of time, my life has been anything but smooth. Circumstances changed, both at the church and in my own life. Eventually I stopped attending every Sunday. Sometimes I still lose my way, but God continues to call me in the most amazing and personal ways. Now he has led me to the Church of the Good Shepherd where I feel I have found a home. And if I should become lost again, I know my Shepherd will find me. I know I will hear Him calling even in the midst of my life’s chaos.