Mourning Mary

In the last decade or so, I have had no more conflicted times than recently. Not because of worry; no one has died, or been hurt, or lost their way. But a huge change has occurred, and one that leaves me in a place to be more conflicted than anyone else in our beautiful church.

My journey to believing firmly in female leadership in the church started well over 20 years ago, when my pastor at the time repented to our whole church for “hating” women – for putting them in a lesser place than men in our church. His discoveries in scripture and deep convictions were a huge beacon for me. As a new believer, really looking at the bible for the first time with open eyes rather than just reading as I had been told, I saw many women in leadership, which was the opposite of authoritative teaching at the time. I told myself that what I was seeing in scripture must be a mistake on my part, and that I just needed to submit, and everything would be okay. It didn’t feel good spiritually, and it didn’t line up with scripture, but it made me look good on the outside!

When pastor Mike shocked our entire church that day, I felt free to go to him with the questions I had. He gave me advice that spans all subjects, and guides people as they learn from anyone. He told me to go back to the bible, start at the beginning, and read it all again as if I had never been told anything about the content, then see what it said on the subject. So I did. Conviction often comes in waves, with a quick little tingle in your conscience at first, then a tug, then a big pull if you listen. If you don’t listen, Holy Spirit will back off, and try again later. You will be left in the ignorance you currently choose to maintain. I can tell you God regularly challenges me on things I thought I knew – He keeps me on my toes. It’s a good place to be, spiritually – it allows for change of direction with ease.

So, having seen in scripture as a whole that women were leaders, I had to change my perspective on verses that seemed to say otherwise. This took an openness of mind that allowed for re-programming what I had been told (in error) for years. It wasn’t easy, as it was deeply ingrained. But through intense studies, the change did come.

Then I met Mary Todd. She was pastoring a church in Marion, MT. It was a small, intimate affair, held in the evening in an airplane hangar. My daughter and I had been invited by a friend at a time when I was searching for “my” church, and I had no knowledge of the congregation at all; we went to enjoy the community of believers.

So, when I walked in and saw a female pastor I was surprised, and had to immediately deal with all kinds of emotions, and to put aside what I had grown comfortable with in lieu of what God had for me that day. I remember telling myself “this is what you believe is true, so what is your problem?” I listened carefully for God’s Word to be rightly handled, and it was.

This is not to say that Mary is perfect, but that she is wonderful. I personally was healing from years in a very controlling spiritual environment (not related to pastor Mike). Mary was comfortable with Holy Spirit in her own life, and refused to take Holy Spirit’s place in mine, or in the lives of others. A great deal of growth occurred quickly for me because of the freedom in Christ that I had under her leadership. This is not to say she didn’t call me out occasionally for straying from God’s Word. She is firm, but she is free. My respect for her leadership soared. When someone with that much love inside calls you to a better way, it quickens a positive response in your life. Morale improves without the beatings, if you will.  😊 Mary, as you all know, is also open to hearing feedback or correction from anyone.

“I am NOT your Holy Spirit” was an answer I heard over and over until I knew that if I honestly believed God was calling me to do something, I should weigh it against scripture and prayer, and then move. Mary was not a gate keeper. She was a beacon, as we are all to be. Sure, there is the occasional mess, but God and Mary have grace, and actually enjoy the learning process. That kind of freedom promotes massive personal growth, and also allows for accelerated church growth. No spirit of fear = a true spirit of power, love, and a sound mind. Lots is accomplished that way, in a person, and in a church.

I began to work with her closely, in freedom and mutual growth, submitting to God and one another, and really getting things done for The Kingdom. Further, I had an excellent example of what a godly husband looks like by watching her husband, Rick. All these gifts were bestowed on anyone who wanted them, including my daughter. Mary mentored and loved Rheannon as she grew in The Lord, in her own gifts, and in freedom.

Pastor Mary officiated at my wedding 4 years ago, and she and Rick have remained an influence in our lives, to our great benefit.

When I moved to Idaho, Rheannon continued to move in her giftings and to become comfortable with the calling and authority our Lord has given her. Mary lifted Rheannon up through trials, errors, and victories. Our little church grew and changed as it had combined with Purpose Church Kalispell and all the wonderful people and giftings there as well. What a time! So much healing, growing, and exploring.

About 8 years or so from when we met, Mary is called to run for Congress, and so is stepping down from her role as Senior Pastor in our church. As well, Rheannon has stepped into the role of Interim Pastor. As one who loves both people dearly, and sees the call on their lives, I support them both, but you can see my dilemma.

Watching Mary move from her pastorate to this new phase in her life is like having something wonderful physically, and painfully, pulled out of me. Watching my daughter do what I have long seen her gifted and called to accomplish is like watching a hardy plant take off and bloom with gusto – seeing Holy Spirit leap into action, and anticipating the wonderful fruit that will grow and feed many.

For many weeks now I have wept at the “loss” of Mary’s awesome leadership, and wept at the “dawning” of a new thing in Rheannon’s life.

This next week is Pastor Mary’s last active week as lead pastor, and the following week will be Rheannon’s first week as interim pastor. Tears of joy and sorrow mix together and run down my face and neck.

Weep with me.

Leaona Huston
November 27, 2021

Turn Key

The Free Dictionary (by Farlex), defines “turn key” as “Supplied, installed, or purchased in a condition ready for immediate use, occupation, or operation.”

Have you ever bought a new home?

There is a loveliness about walking into a house that is fully built, and ready for you to live your life within its walls. You can let out a sigh of relief, walk in, put your clothes away, and go cook a meal. You don’t have to pound nails, or pick colors, or wonder about tile. It is ready for you, and provides everything you need for your wellbeing and comfort.

Those who have built their own homes might stand up here and say there is nothing like the feeling of accomplishment that comes from building your own home, nor do so many take such care of the place as when they have built it themselves. One can also relate this to homes passed down by parents to children. Some children will cherish the gift, others might not.

Ungrateful recipients tend to let a place go – to put off proper upkeep, or disrespect things that were given them by people who cared a lot about them…oh, and about the heirs, too. Heirloom pieces to one – “vintage” to others who may prefer ultra-modern. Further, there are always the folks who believe they could have done better, and just start ripping things up without thinking what the consequences really are. Forgetful, at least. At most – disrespectful.

Ge 2:8-16  The Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Now a river went out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it parted and became four riverheads. The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one which skirts the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. And the gold of that land is good. Bdellium and the onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is Gihon; it is the one which goes around the whole land of Cush. The name of the third river is Hiddekel; it is the one which goes toward the east of Assyria. The fourth river is the Euphrates.

Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it. NKJV

The garden was like that…turn key. Every tree that is pleasant, and good for food. Lots of water. A place to relax, enjoy life, and talk with God every evening. A place to know their creator – the creator of the garden – to really build a relationship, and learn what rulership was meant to look like in its purest form.

But it wasn’t enough for them. They looked for more. They didn’t stay grateful for what they had been given. Mankind failed to daily see afresh the miraculous provision given to them, and sought. They sought. They allowed confusion and pure greed to dampen their love for their surroundings, so lovingly crafted and shared with them.

So, when the temptation came (they always do), they fell. They did not hold on to loyalty, to beauty, or to love, but reached out to find “more.”

Dt 6:10-13 “So it shall be, when the Lord your God brings you into the land of which He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give you large and beautiful cities which you did not build, houses full of all good things, which you did not fill, hewn-out wells which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant — when you have eaten and are full — then beware, lest you forget the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. NKJV

Time and time again we read how God blessed his creation – his people, and they said “thank you” but quickly noticed the things other people had, and sought in their hearts. They sought different foods, different land, and different idols.

Seeking from a place of emptiness is understandable. It is why we turned to Jesus in the first place. But we can, if we are not careful, forget that temptation has a whole lot of promises for us, promises that require us to step out of the garden to accept. No more turn key…oh, wait…just a new kind of turn key. New stuff. But we haven’t really looked into the beautiful nooks and corners of the place we already have. If we had sought in our own garden, there would be so much to learn, to feast upon!

Those of us who had our “own” house for quite a while before moving into the one that Jesus provides remember. We remember how much it cost. We remember the pain, the arrogance, and the insecurity. We remember the ever-present aloneness, no matter where we lived. We remember the seedy neighborhood, and the fear.

But, that is behind us, thank God!

Now, we just need to remember in gratitude, and do our wandering into the nooks and corners of our own places within the Kingdom of our Creator. We just need to remember what “stuff” evil promises, and refuse to make the trade.

After all, we are already home.

Leaona Huston
November 19, 2021

Location, location, location

In Revelation chapter 2, God speaks to the believers in Thyatira through a vision given to Saint John. It’s an intense, specific letter that is not a chapter long, but longest of all the letters written to seven churches in a large surrounding area.

In studying this letter, I was wandering around my back yard contemplating its contents, and I asked God what He wanted me to focus on for a report I was writing and the answer really kind of threw me off, even if it was quite direct. God told me to focus on the location of the city. That was it. Odd. So I went inside, out of the beautiful fall sunshine, and looked up the city location.

Thyatira was located at the base of some mountains, near the river Lycus. It was small, and writers about the region use the word “insignificant” when describing the town. It was, however, located on a road used for trade between other, major cities in the greater region. It served the military, and the travelers between those cities, so there was a lot going on in town even though it was just a stop between destinations.

So, why did God want me to focus on the location? Because believers in Thyatira were constantly given opportunities to spread the faith via the people passing through. From there, God’s Kingdom could advance in many directions, and into large population centers.

That little town put a lot of pressure on the local church, too. But, even though they were being invaded by pagan worship and pressured by the local tradespeople to shut their mouths or lose work (or worse), the faithful believers among the church body in Thyatira were commended by God for doing more for the Kingdom than when they had started out.

Rev 2:19  “I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience; and as for your works, the last are more than the first.”

They “bloomed where they were planted”, even though it was a difficult job.

So what do we do with this?

Have you ever been in a store, or other public place (or private, for that matter) and saw someone and felt the nudging of Holy Spirit to go speak with them, and maybe even pray with them? Have you ever felt called to intervene when something was happening?

Do you ever feel called to hold firm to your faith when someone is putting out an opinion you know to be less than God’s Best for His children? Do you speak up, or do you cave and run from confrontation?

There you are, right where God knew you’d be. Small store, warehouse, parking lot, sidewalk, friend’s house – wherever. Name a location, it doesn’t matter. God knows where you are, why you are really there, and He knows your great potential to inflict damage to the plans of the enemy through Holy Spirit.

Okay – hard question. Have you ever been in any of those situations, and whispered “God, if I am supposed to do this, give me a sign.” I know I have. Of course, there is no OTHER sign given. You are already there – you have the choice to move toward the situation, or leave and let God’s Work fall to the ground until He sends someone else (remember Esther – who did not take comfort in knowing another would come and deliver her people, but prayed hard and then headed in).

What was I thinking, asking that question?! There I was, standing in the perfect location to do something, and I let my pride stand in the way, and then blamed God by asking for a sign!

Holy Spirit is given to us to flow, not to be contained. Christians are built to overcome, not to embrace apathy. Apathy is the cork we place in a bottle of cool stream water so it can become stagnant; slowly seeping away and refreshing no one – not even ourselves.

As Christians, we look forward to what we will do for God after His Return, and rightly so. But God wants us to be practicing NOW. We may not always get it right, but with God there is room to grow. We need to hold onto our faith with gusto as we move, not just be a vessel of clay, sitting quietly and refusing to give water to the thirsty.

Rev 2:24: “But hold fast what you have till I come. And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations —”  NKJV

Opportunities are all around us. We should at least be watching for them, but also seeking them out. Wherever we are, that is where the opportunity lies. It is the premium position from which to serve.

What need will there be for us to have power, if we aren’t going to hold fast to our faith, and overcome?

Next time we see something and feel God compelling us to move – to overcome – let’s remember that we are placed where we need to be, and God has already spoken to us.

Leaona Huston
November 9, 2021

To the Young…of Orcs and Victory

“…and that’s for my old gaffer!”

There is a part of the Lord of the Rings trilogy (Return of the King – 2003) where Sam beats the tar out of a bunch of Orcs who are holding his BFF hostage and torturing poor Frodo.

They had started a fight amongst themselves over their own desires for treasure, and Sam went in and cleaned up what was left of the crew, seething with righteous anger against the doers of terrible evil.

As the Orcs fell to their demise, Sam brazenly announced who and what he was fighting for, as had David in his great and decisive battle with Goliath (1 Samuel 17:45).

Sam’s final pronouncement came in honor of his father as the last of the enemy was careening into oblivion.

Where did all this come from? What gave Sam the capacity to be a person who’s loyalty to Frodo extended to the point of leaving everything he had and enduring slow, agonizing suffering without food, water, or even much sleep? Sam even went on with Frodo after all those hardships believing the mission would end in their deaths!

How was Sam able to see dangers that Frodo, deeply burdened, could not? What gave Sam understanding? What gave him the wisdom to make decisions based on what he saw?

Why did Sam follow and protect his BFF even after a weakened Frodo had fallen for the lies of the enemy and rejected Sam? How did Sam know he was Frodo’s only help? Why did he become righteously angry and ready for battle instead of dejected, and wandering away back to the comforts of his own shire? Others had already done so…

I think Sam’s declaration answers all of these questions. Just like David’s battle cry in 1 Samuel 17 as he ran to the fight with Goliath armed with the weapons he alone had been given by God in his life experiences, rather than new weapons, untested, given to him by a king (who relied on weapons of war instead of God); Sam had been “armed” for this moment by all his “old gaffer” had taught him in his life to the point when he left, and also the lessons learned as he traveled on his mission. That openness to learn as he traveled was a huge gift to his whole team.

It’s not that Sam didn’t make mistakes. Young warriors will always fail here and there (as do old warriors), but failure can be a teacher – a lost battle who’s lessons can, by choice, be engaged to win the war. That is exactly how young warriors become veterans!

Sam remembered what he’d been taught, learned from his mistakes, and humbly but confidently went on to win the war, carrying Frodo, who’s strength was gone, up the last mountain to victory, just as Simon of Cyrene helped Jesus carry the cross the last part of His journey up the hill to Victory (Matt 27:32).

The whole time, the good that Sam’s father had taught him was pulsing inside; alive and growing as Sam moved toward and through his noble task. And Sam did not forget. Not only did he remember those experiences and lessons in his heart; but, in the middle of a battle, he gave a shout that resounded through the battle ground, and echoed off the walls into the darkness. He made his gaffer proud!

“…this one’s for my father!” (our language 😊)

He knew where his strength came from; he embraced it, and did his father’s work as he shouted out his name. (In a fun way, it reminds me of football players waving at the camera and mouthing “hi, mom!” from the end zone.)

Sam won the war, and returned to the shire with new strength, and a better understanding and confidence in who he really was. So much so, that he was emboldened to seek the hand of an awesome spouse, though he had been too insecure before.

What wonderous adventure will God send you on? Are you watching and learning now so you’re prepared then? The size of your adventure, or at least your success in that adventure, will depend on what is in your heart when the wave comes that requires you to ride hard to victory.

Pr 2:1-15, and 20-22

My child, listen to what I say,
and treasure my commands.
Tune your ears to wisdom,
and concentrate on understanding.
Cry out for insight,
and ask for understanding.
Search for them as you would for silver;
seek them like hidden treasures.
Then you will understand what it means to fear the Lord,
and you will gain knowledge of God.
For the Lord grants wisdom!
From his mouth come knowledge and understanding.
He grants a treasure of common sense to the honest.
He is a shield to those who walk with integrity.
He guards the paths of the just
and protects those who are faithful to him.
Then you will understand what is right, just, and fair,
and you will find the right way to go.
For wisdom will enter your heart,
and knowledge will fill you with joy.
Wise choices will watch over you.
Understanding will keep you safe.
Wisdom will save you from evil people,
from those whose words are twisted.
These men turn from the right way
to walk down dark paths.
They take pleasure in doing wrong,
and they enjoy the twisted ways of evil.
Their actions are crooked,
and their ways are wrong…

Follow the steps of good instead,
and stay on the paths of the righteous.
For only the godly will live in the land,
and those with integrity will remain in it.
But the wicked will be removed from the land,
and the treacherous will be uprooted.   NLT

Who are you listening to? Where are you taking your heart, mind, and soul for nourishment? Would your father be proud?

Sharpen your swords, and prepare for a great adventure!

Leaona Huston
October 31, 2021

Atmospheric River, or Flowing Stream?

Have you ever felt spiritually parched, or numb? How long had the situation existed before you were able to identify it? You probably don’t have a good handle on that second question, because spiritual drought is usually something we walk into slowly.  It’s not like breaking out onto the desert from a verdant forest, but more like going from the tropics to a forest, to a field, then to rocks, then hot, sandy hills with snakes and scorpions. There are lots of places to stop and even turn back on the trail, but we become comfortable with our surroundings, and forget to check our compass.

In Idaho, we had about 2 hours of sunshine today, the first in at least 4 days. It took a lot of work for the sun to force its way through the mass of gray that has owned the Northwest for most of a week. They are calling it an Atmospheric River.  I welcomed the warmth, but had been praying thankfully about the rain for the whole time I was stuck in our house. It wasn’t just a little rain, either. It poured constantly. Being in the high mountains, we have not flooded, but some lower areas have.

The western portion of the United States has been in drought for many years now, with forest fires and stunted vegetable growth, as well as our beautiful evergreen trees dying all around us, slowly shedding pine needles all year, leaving huge piles of fire-starter beneath them. The floor of the forests are all tinder dry, so it doesn’t take much for a massive blaze to wipe out so much beauty. On top of that, we had an invasion of locust this summer, driving cattle from decimated fields, and eating our vegie gardens down to the nub. Our lakes were infested with algae growth from the heat, too.

So much devastation occurs when drought lingers. That’s why I have been so thankful for the rain. Cool, fresh, living water driving out the locust, sustaining the trees – our shade, and filling a very dry earth that was tired and stressed.

Prayer and time in God’s Word are the shade and water that keep us from spiritual drought.

I have seen some incredibly difficult circumstances catapult someone into such a state, but most of us go willingly; in fact, we help it along. We are busy. We are distracted. We put our job, or family, or fun, or phone (or whatever – fill in the blank) ahead of our relationship with God. But we usually do that slowly, just a bit at a time, and telling ourselves that we’ll get back on the trail tomorrow.

Pretty soon we are hip deep in brush and can’t see the trail, or parched from walking in the heat, and beginning to feel faint. Sometimes we faint and drop before we realize where we’ve gotten ourselves. I’ve certainly been there. Interestingly, we can easily look up and get mad at God when this happens. The mirror can be harsh, so we avoid it.

Jesus never fainted. He gave everything He had, but never dropped out…never quit. He held His own all the way to the cross. His habits of quiet time and prayer, pursuing a deep understanding of God’s Word, obedience, and refusing to be overwhelmed or rushed kept Him ready to give to the community around Him what was theirs, without letting them take what was not. He recognized distractions or misdirection, and dealt with them quickly, moving on with His Mission.

His disciples grew tired in prayer, so weren’t ready for the intense trial that was right around the corner. Some fell, others wandered around confused. But Jesus did come back to rescue them, to renew them, and to set them on a better path.

It occurred to me today that Jesus is our Atmospheric River. There is more than enough refreshing for everyone. He can come and take away our spiritual drought, and sooth us when we are tired and stressed.

But, there is a better way – we could choose not to leave the stream. We could plant ourselves by the living water so it flows next to us all the time. We could set time aside for God every day, and let Holy Spirit be our compass, guiding us through the hard stuff, keeping us from distraction, or misdirection. I want to do better at that. I want to be a person who dwells with God, instead of visiting occasionally, or wandering off and then screaming for a rescue, which would certainly come. God will not forsake us.

I would rather have a house by a stream, than a cave in the desert, waiting for a flood. I would rather have living water, than an atmospheric river that comes only rarely after much hardship.

Jeremiah 17:7-8

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
And whose hope is the Lord.
For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters,
Which spreads out its roots by the river,
And will not fear when heat comes;
But its leaf will be green,
And will not be anxious in the year of drought,
Nor will cease from yielding fruit.  NKJV

Let’s choose to plant ourselves by the river, to be filled with hope, trusting and well fed, and then able to feed others. Let’s be life-long friends of Jesus, not visitors.

Leaona Huston
October 27, 2021