Thursday, November 7, 2019

Ten Sure Signs That God's Reign Has Begun

While Jesus was living in the Galilean hills, John, called “the Baptizer,” was preaching in the desert country of Judea. His message was simple and austere.... “Change your life. God’s kingdom is here.”
Matthew 3:1-2 (the Message)

What are clear and convincing signs that God's rule has begun on earth as it is in heaven?

1. When followers of Jesus all put their oversized homes on the market--or open them up to people in need of shelter.

2. When people are as likely to invite the poor, the hungry, and the stranger as guests as they are their friends and family members.

3. When the staff and leadership of our church institutions voluntarily live on less in order to further their cause, in the same sacrificial way their founders did.

4. When Christian colleges, universities and other institutions in the US are as interested in including believers from poorer parts of the world to be on their boards (via teleconferencing) as they are in recruiting big US donors as board members.

5. When the lines at our local Virginia Relief Sale Giving Table are as long as those for doughnuts or Brunswick stew.

6. When believers everywhere begin to lay down their arms, refuse to take part in war and other forms of violence and see their primary allegiance as being to the peaceable Kingdom-of-God-movement around the world.

7. When multitudes become pro-life, and when all pro-lifers become just as concerned about millions of children who are victims of famine, war and and other forms of violence--and about children being separated from their parents at the border--as they are about the fate of the unborn in the womb.

8. When people demonstrate greater dedication to earth care and care for the environment than they do to their lawn care.

9. When those with special needs are esteemed as highly as are celebrities with special gifts and talents.

10. When church and charity sponsored events generate even greater levels of enthusiasm than do sporting events.

What signs would you add?

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

(AP) Over 500 Prisoners Freed In Oklahoma!

My birth state, led by a Republican governor, did a wonderful
thing this week. Check this for some video footage.

I simply couldn't resist posting this. Click here for a CBS news segment with photos.

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- More than 450 inmates walked out the doors of prisons across Oklahoma on Monday as part of what state officials say is the largest single-day mass commutation in U.S. history.

The release of inmates, all with convictions for low-level drug and property crimes, resulted from a bill signed by new Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt. The bill retroactively applied misdemeanor sentences for simple drug possession and low-level property crimes that state voters approved in 2016.

Stitt has made reducing Oklahoma's highest-in-the-nation incarceration rate one of his top priorities and has appointed reform-minded members to the state's Pardon and Parole Board.

Releasing the inmates will save Oklahoma an estimated $11.9 million over the cost of continuing to keep them behind bars, according to the governor's office.

The board last week considered 814 cases and recommended 527 inmates for commutation. However, 65 are being held on detainers, leaving about 462 inmates to be released on Monday.

"It feels amazing to be on the other side of the fence," said Tess Harjo, a 28-year-old who was released Monday from the Eddie Warrior Correctional Center in Taft, Oklahoma.

Harjo was sentenced to 15 years in prison after her Okmulgee County conviction last year for possession of methamphetamines. She said she was surprised at the number of women she met in prison serving long sentences for drug crimes.

"I have met many women in here who came from a medium- or maximum-security prison who have already served 18 or more years," Harjo said. "It's ridiculous."

Steve Bickley, the new executive director of the Pardon and Parole Board, said Monday's release is the most on a single day, surpassing President Barack Obama's 2017 commutation of the drug sentences of 330 federal prisoners on his last day in office.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

8 Reasons I'm Grateful For My Place Of Work

I've been so blessed being a part of this agency since 1988.

I shared this at the Park View Church's "Moments in Mission" this morning:

In the spirit of the Thanksgiving season, I’m grateful for the generous support of your congregation for the Family Life Resource Center. You've been with us from the first, renting us our first office space right here in the south wing of your church in 1987. And you’ve continued to include us in your giving, which makes it possible for us to see people who don’t have health insurance or other means to pay for professional help, so we don't have to turn anyone  away for financial reasons.

I’m grateful for the vision of the founders of FLRC, people like Gloria Lehman, Sam Janzen, John Drescher and others who way back in the 1980’s saw a need for a counseling center to help couples strengthen their marriages and help bring healing to broken relationships and hurting individuals.

I’m grateful for the privilege of working with colleagues like Jim Glanzer, formerly of this congregation, and people like Terri Adamson, who is also our clinical director and who’s with us this morning, and with seven other dedicated staff members working under the leadership of Marie Bradley, our exceptional executive director.

I’m grateful for all of the wonderful clients I and others have had the privilege of working with, people from whom I’ve learned so much. In fact, I’ve come to see that tapping into the wisdom and insights people bring with them is one of most helpful things that happens in my office. We see counseling as a collaborative process where therapists are coaches and facilitators in helping people find solutions to problems.

I’m grateful for our being a part of a network of Mennonite founded mental health agencies, ten different inpatient and outpatient institutions from Kings View Hospital on the west coast to Penn View Counseling Center on the east, many of which started in the aftermath of WWII, when hundreds of conscientious objectors, people like Harold and Ruth Lehman from this church who served in terrible state-run mental hospitals, saw the need for humane kinds of treatment and help for people with mental illnesses. For a small denomination, we're blessed with a disproportionate number of such centers.
I’m grateful I can work in a faith-based agency, not where we are imposing faith on others, but where we can, as appropriate, encourage people to draw on their faith and their faith communities as an important part of their health and healing. Only a small number of our clients are Mennonites, but many choose us because we are faith based, and an equal number simply because we’re seen as a reputable resource for people in distress. Our case loads are full and we too often have to put people on a waiting list. 
And finally, I’m grateful to be working in collaboration with others in our community who are in healing and helping professions, and with pastors and congregations wherever possible in order to be a resource for promoting shalom, extending grace and effecting reconciliation in the kind of troubled times we live in.
Thanks for your support and prayers. 

Friday, November 1, 2019

Life Sentences Condemn People To Death Row

Lifer's are deprived of hope and left to die in places like this.
"I'd like to see our jails and prisons become more like greenhouses and less like warehouses."

- Commonwealth's Attorney Marsha Garst, in a presentation at a recent criminal justice conference

According to an Open Forum piece in the October 18, 2019 Daily News-Record a Rockbridge County man was sentenced to 170 years in prison in January of 2018 for downloading child pornography on his home computer. The commonwealth's attorney office had offered him a plea deal with a lesser sentence, but the defendant chose to have the jury trial he was entitled to under our judicial system.

Unfortunately, this resulted in his being convicted of multiple felony counts, each of which carried a mandated sentence by Virginia law, thus the 170 year total.

Our public prosecutors defended the multiple sentences on the premise that the children in these awful porn videos were being re-victimized with each download of this dreadful footage.

I am in total agreement regarding the seriousness of the harm done to children who are victims of this unimaginable abuse. But what constitutes actual reparation for this kind of unbelievable harm? A life sentence that completely eliminates the possibility of any reparation or redemption? Being condemned to die in a steel and concrete cage, in a de facto death row?

This negates Garst's statement that jails and prisons should be greenhouses for rehabilitation rather than warehouses for unending retribution. As much as I am against capital punishment, it could be argued that execution would be less cruel than being sentenced to a lifetime of being deprived of hope and simply waiting to die.

Having said that, I believe most societies would consider a life sentence to be disproportionate for someone guilty of being a virtual accessory to a crime (aiding and abetting the criminal act) but not having actually personally committed the crime (of subjecting a child to sexual abuse).

The other aspect of this case that needs to be considered is that if our constitution guarantees every person the right to a speedy and fair trial, might we in effect be punishing people (by threatening them with a possible worse outcome) if they avail themselves of that right? And if the lesser sentence associated with a plea is to be considered just, is a life sentence imposed by a mandated sentencing process to be seen as somehow more just?

I recently heard of a judge who makes a practice of publicly shaking the hand of the defendant in each jury trial and then turning to the jury with the words, "I have just shaken the hand of an innocent man (or woman)." The judge does this as a way of underscoring the principle that in our judicial system everyone is innocent until proven guilty.

With a plea deal, a person may feel forced into admitting guilt and forgoing a fair trial based on that presumption of innocence. 

Here's a link to the case cited:

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

At My Sister's Memorial Service

While not a biological mother, Fannie Mae was a
terrific mom to her adopted daughter Nina Ruth and
to scores of other babies and children she cared for
(The lighthouse represents some of her art work).
I shared the following heartfelt words at my sister's funeral yesterday:

In the past couple of years Fannie Mae would sometimes lament the fact that she didn’t have family like the rest of us siblings did. Today I would want to say, “Fannie Mae, look around you at all these people. Look at your family, not only the nieces and nephews and cousins but your church and community family of people who love you. 

On Fannie Mae’s behalf, and for all of the Yoder family, I want to express special appreciation for people like Alvin, Barbara Ann, and Sharon Schrock for being the best and most caring neighbors Fannie Mae could have ever had, for the sometimes day and night care they offered her. And for cousin Barbara Hershberger, who was like a sister, taking such an interest in her care and taking her to multiple doctors appointments and the like, way beyond the call of duty.

And what would we have done without Maynard Miller, her power of attorney, who with Shirley spent hours taking care of details about finances and so many other important matters in our absence. And thanks to Betty Hershberger for all the help she gave her with her email problems and for creating this wonderful program for us.

And for niece Mary Lois Schrock and all the other good folks at Blue Ridge Christian Homes for the exceptional care they provided, and for administrator Melvin Bender for helping make her stay there affordable for us and for Pilgrim church, who generously helped fund her stay. All of you and Dr. Marsh, went out of your way to help save her life and give her the best quality of life possible while she was there.

Then there was the compassionate staff at Mountain View Nursing Home, with niece Faith Hochstetler as one of her faithful RN’s, where Fannie Mae also received the best care imaginable during her last weeks here on earth. We’ve been beyond blessed by how everything has worked out and how many angels in disguise God has provided for her care.

And last but not least among these angels in disguise have been all of the good women from the Pilgrim church who often spent nights with her, and who signed up to spend hours of time with her during the day to help feed and care for her. You’ve been such Godsend, and we as a family don’t know what we would have done without you. 

I know I’m still overlooking all kinds of people I should name here. God knows who you are, and you will each receive your reward. 

So, for Fannie Mae and all of us, “Be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, for your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”

Saturday, October 26, 2019

One of My Favorite Heroes Just Passed Away

A recent time with my  remaining sisters. Now Fannie Mae
(on the right) is gone.
Today I wrote a draft of an obituary for a greatly admired and loved older sister who died just after 6 this morning after a long illness. 

I arrived at the Mountain View Home not long before the folks from the funeral home came for her body for Tuesday's burial.

Fortunately, I was in time for the Home's traditional "Respect Walk" for a deceased resident. As my sister's blanket-draped body was moved from her room to the hearse outside, some twenty staff members and voluntary service workers, some off duty, lined the hallway in silence and then sang "In the Sweet By and By" in beautiful four-part harmony as they followed my niece, one of the Home's RN's, and I to the vehicle outside.

Needless to say, we were moved to tears.

Here's the obituary copy:
Fannie Mae Yoder, 88, formerly of Staunton, died peacefully at the Mountain View Nursing Home at Aroda, Virginia, on October 26, 2019.

She was born August 15, 1931 in Hutchinson, Kansas, a daughter of the late Ben and Mary Yoder. Together they moved their family from Garnett, Kansas to Stuarts Draft, Virginia in 1946.

In addition to her parents, she was preceded in death by siblings, Mary Beth Shifflett and husband Harven of Free Union, Lovina Yoder and husband Ernest of Rustburg, Esther Yoder and husband Robert of Long Island, Lucy Schrock and husband Alvin of Staunton, Eli Yoder and wife Ruth of Floyd who survives.

Survivors include an adopted daughter, Nina Ruth Yoder, a sister, Magdalena Schrock and husband Alvin of Cumberland; brothers, Harvey Yoder and wife Alma Jean of Harrisonburg, and Sanford Yoder and wife Martha of San Carlos, Costa Rica. She also leaves many beloved nieces and nephews.

Fannie Mae spent much time of her adult life in service and mission assignments, not only in the states but in Newfoundland, Belize and Paraguay, where she served as a nurse-midwife and delivered over 200 babies. While in Paraguay, she was instrumental in helping Nina, a special needs child, being brought to the states for care and whom she later adopted as Nina Ruth Yoder.

Fannie Mae received an RN degree from Eastern Mennonite College and Riverside Hospital in 1964. She was employed by Riverside Hospital and Mountain View Nursing Home, where she recently became a resident after having first been in assisted living at Blue Ridge Christian Home in Raphine. She enjoyed music, art, gardening, reading and writing.

She was an active member of Pilgrim Christian Fellowship of Stuarts Draft, where a service will be held in her memory at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, October 29, 2019, led by ministers of the church. Burial will follow at Mt. Zion Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the Pilgrim Brotherly Aid Fund, Duane Weaver, Treasurer, 65 Milmont Drive, Stuarts Draft, VA 24477.

Here's a link to some other blogs about her

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

When Prayer Becomes a Martial Art

Prevailing with God is not for the faint of heart. 
We often associate prayer with quiet reflection and being submissive and receptive in God's presence. And there is much to be said for that kind of spiritual practice.

But as some of our lectionary texts from last week suggest, there is also a need for prayer to be about bold persistence and perseverance.

The Genesis 32 story of Jacob's wrestling match with an emissary from God is a case in point. Jacob had been seeking divine blessing all his life, and had earlier engaged in deception to receive that blessing from his dying father.

He was then forced to flee for his life to escape his older brother Esau's wrath, who sought revenge upon realizing that his younger brother had stolen the blessing that was rightfully his. Now decades later, Jacob is about to be reunited with his brother, who is fully armed and able to exact retribution for what happened years before.

Jacob is terrified, and spends the night separated from his family and his flocks, wrestling with his fears and with the possibility of reaping the consequence of the manipulation he had engaged in, yet still wanting whatever of God's blessing he can still manage to gain for himself.

What he gets after an exhausting round of wrestling with a God-sent man is a new name, Israel, "One who prevails with God," replacing the name Jacob, which means "deceiver." Meanwhile, he gives up many of his possessions as a peace offering to his older brother, trading one kind of wealth in hopes of another.

God clearly honors his persistence, and the seriousness with which he seeks God's blessing, this time the right way.

In the Luke 18 lectionary text Jesus tells the story of a widow who persisted in seeking justice from a disinterested judge until he finally gave in rather than having to be bothered by this persistent woman.

This parallels another story in Luke, chapter 11, where a man asks a neighbor to borrow some bread to feed a guest who had arrived unexpectedly in the middle of the night. Again, the person is rewarded for his boldness in asking for much needed help to feed a hungry friend.

A lesson we can draw from these stories is that prayer is to be a bold engagement with God, an intense collaboration in the mission of God's will being done on earth as it is in heaven. It is not a spiritual practice for the half-hearted or the passive, but for those willing to combine a persistent faith with passionate action.

"Then the Lord said, 'Learn a lesson from this unjust judge. Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly! But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?'”                  - Luke 18:6-8 (NLT)