Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Not too long ago I shared with a friend how God had given me a new appreciation for 2 Corinthians 12:9 ("But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me"). That new understanding came by way of a Satanic attack that caused my husband to become anxious, angry, and sullen, and which brought me to a point where I felt as if my sympathy had run dry.

It was at that moment -- when my mind was filled with unloving thoughts toward my spouse -- that the Holy Spirit revealed to me just what it means to have God's power perfected in my weakness. Because I was so desperate for His peace and direction, when I heard His gentle voice whisper, "Pray," I didn't hesitate but immediately repented of my sinful thoughts and admitted that I couldn't overcome the resentment in my heart. The Spirit's voice immediately grew louder and I was instilled with a wave of powerful, godly love toward my husband as well as a desire to show him mercy through the simple act of a gentle word and a smile.

That act of mercy was the turning point. Over the next few days my husband and I were unified in our prayers and our time spent in the Word, and we overcame the attack. Thankful to put the situation behind us and sure that things would be calm for a bit while I reveled in my new insight, I was surprised to find out that God had other plans.

The past seven days have been physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting: a "simple" switch of Web hosts for the church ended up in shambles; my nine-year-old daughter's tendency toward the dramatic went into overdrive more than once (more than a half-dozen times, in fact); efforts to provide local families-in-need with a Thanksgiving meal went awry; I (once again) caused my daughter to break out in hives by inadvertently feeding her food made with pea flour; my computer, for no apparent reason, decided to stop working; and to top it off, two of my chickens suddenly and very mysteriously stopped laying eggs!

On more than one occasion over the past week I have been tempted to forget what God had just taught me about His strength in my weakness---and more than once I came very close to the edge of that dangerous cliff. Thankfully, however, He is faithful and His Spirit never once stopped whispering to me, "My power rests on you." Now that this difficult period seems to have come to an end, I can look back and see that God allowed me to have one of the most troublesome weeks of my life so that, through each and every trial, I would fall back into His arms and be reminded of His perfect strength.

-Trish Gerstel

Saturday, November 7, 2015

As most of you know, today was a very hard day for many of us at church. This morning Doctor Victor Burdick (Doctor Vic) died, and while he is joyfully celebrating and meeting his Savior, the rest of us are left missing him. He has only been in the area a short time and yet was loved by everyone he met. Why was that?
First of all, Doctor Vic passed the love of his Savior onto everyone he met by being genuinely interested in their lives, both the good things and the struggles. He prayed for a large number of people on a daily basis and frequently asked for follow-up information about their situations so he could better direct his prayers. Doctor Vic also stepped into a leadership role simply by being a mentor and sounding board. He demonstrated Jesus’ long-suffering spirit by being long-suffering with others, particularly in caring for his wife. He strived to demonstrate the character and love of Christ in everything he did.
Doctor Vic also stepped-up to the plate and became involved in the church and its ministries even though physically he was limited in what he could do: He planned and prepared intricate Children’s Messages, read and frequently contributed to the weekly blog, wrote articles for the church newsletter ("The Buzz") based on his recent study of Scripture, he was a prayer warrior, and he willingly took on a ministry group as a deacon. Even though he could not physically serve communion or physically assist the individuals he ministered to, he supported them through regular contact and through prayer. Most of these things he did from the comfort of his own couch using his computer and cell phone.
Doctor Vic could have moved to Stephentown and become bitter. Bitter that he was not living on his own. Bitter that he was no longer a practicing physician. Bitter that his wife was struggling with dementia. Bitter that he was physically struggling with a disease that left him weak and out of breath, and that limited the time he could be away from home. Bitter that he could not actively participate in the church in a way that he was able to do when he was younger.
Or, he could have sat back rested on his accomplishments: He had served in the mission field; worked as a physician for many, many years; raised three successful children; been active in several churches; and served on the diaconate. He could easily have come to Stephentown in his final years and let the church serve him.
Many of us drop out of ministry when life gets hard, when we cannot do the things we used to do, or when we just decide we are too old (or too young . . . or too inexperienced) and someone else should step up to the plate. Doctor Vic was our shining example of how a Christian should live out their final years on earth. They should continue to be a servant of Christ in whatever way they are able to, right up until the end.
There is always a ministry you can be doing no matter what your age, health, finances, or skills. God can use you and wants to use you. When you die, the church should be left with a hole, and if they have to scramble to find someone to fill the ministries you were doing, all the better. Let Doctor Vic’s life be a challenge to your own Christian walk. Step up to the plate, figure out what type of ministry you can do based on the cards you have been dealt, and just do it.
Ellen Olson

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Parenting is hard - especially in those moments when you and your spouse don't see eye-to-eye on how to handle a child-rearing situation. Thankfully these types of moments don't happen very often in our home. Even better, my heart has been softened and I now seek out God's guidance so He can gracefully lead me through those situations when they do come up.

A few nights ago my spouse was disciplining our child and acted in a way that I found harsh. In the past this would have caused contention, maybe even an argument (maybe even an argument in front of the children!) - but not this time! Instead of immediately jumping in to give my opinion on my spouse's terrible parenting technique, I prayed to the Lord for His guidance, waited until the initial anger had gone, and then spoke with my spouse. Through God's grace my words were words that built up instead of tearing down, and my spouse and I both left the conversation feeling enlightened instead of angry and bitter.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. -2 Corinthians 12:9

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. -Romans 8:28

It is an amazing gift: When we read passages of Scripture -- or even another Christian's account of God touching their lives -- the Holy Spirit gives us a supernatural understanding of those words (John 14:26, 16:13) so that we are able to apply them to our lives and share them with others. A more amazing gift still is when God gives us an opportunity to experience His Word.

The gift of experiencing God's Word is something that has happened to me a few times (i.e., when I was so badly hurt by someone's words and actions that I didn't know what to pray, but I could feel the Spirit interceding on my behalf [Romans 8:26-27]; or when I was facing a situation that should have terrified me, but instead I felt a sense of peace because I focused on God's promises [John 14:27]) -- but without a doubt the events of this weekend were the most powerful imparting of the gift I've yet to receive.

Thursday afternoon I began to get a headache; that headache continued throughout the day on Friday, and by Saturday morning it reached a level where I (a stubborn mule if ever one existed) asked my husband to take me to the local urgent care clinic to get things checked out. With an initial diagnosis of lyme disease and a prescription for antibiotics, we left the clinic thinking that things would get better from there. They didn't. All of Saturday evening and throughout that night I was crying out to the Lord, asking Him to take away a pain so severe there really are no words to describe it. In the midst of my pain and my desperate pleas for relief, I felt Him guiding, telling me that He was not going to take away the pain, but that there was a reason; 2 Corinthians 12:9 and Romans 8:28 were continuously brought before me, and I submitted to His will.

As events unfolded Sunday -- beginning with a trip to the Emergency Room at St. Peter's and ending with a diagnosis of bacterial infection (possibly lyme, but possibly something else [it takes days to get the blood work back]) and even more antibiotics to take -- it was made clear to me exactly what the Lord had done: He allowed me to experience the initial pain because without it I would not have gone to the doctor on Saturday, learned that I most likely had lyme, and gotten my first antibiotics; and He had allowed the excruciating pain of Saturday evening/Sunday morning, because without it, this stubborn mule would not have gone to the Emergency Room, would not have received stronger intravenous antibiotics as well as a second prescription to take home, and thus would not have the correct medications needed to kill the bacteria besieging her body. The Lord allowed me to experience a pain unlike anything I've ever encountered, because without that pain I would not have received what I need to heal.

This weekend, I experienced God's Word, and that is a gift of grace beyond measure.

-Trish Gerstel

Monday, July 6, 2015

About Grace Notes in Music

For me, the music of the ensemble at Emily Olson’s wedding was a huge second blessing. As always, one has to marvel at the effect of notes in the music of the artists: The beginner plays the composition consistently, just according to the score, but the artist -- adding a few extra notes here and there, trills during rests, unexpected brief pauses between notes, a slight shift in the rhythm, added emphasis during certain passages -- makes for beautiful music. These "grace notes" are the musician’s unique effort in interpretation, to capture the mood of the composer.

Translate that into the life of the church: Beyond the church’s standard note-by-note order of worship there are these "grace notes" -- spots of humor in the sermons (planned and spontaneous), a child’s cry at a surprising moment in the flow of the service, freedom of members to interject a thought or a comment meaningfully, a young child’s funny remark during the Children’s Sermon, someone stepping aside during praise time to allow one seated behind them to read the verses on the screen, another's following a coughing old man to help him in the foyer, hearts open and vulnerable to share prayer needs, spontaneous clapping at exciting moments in the praise songs, an occasional "Amen" at an appropriate time. Would not the Composer be pleased?

Doctor Victor Burdick

Friday, June 26, 2015

My personality tends to be a bit "Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde." On a day-to-day basis I am "Type B" -- relaxed and flexible, I take things one step at a time and don't stress over bumps in the road. Once I've been handed a responsibility, however, a switch is thrown and "Type A" kicks in -- aiming at efficient perfection, I plan and organize things to the Nth.

There have been many times my Type A side has been an asset (I cannot imagine coordinating the Food Closet or homeschooling my children without the ability to organize), but it also has, like Mr. Hyde, proven destructive. All of that organizing and planning comes with a tremendous amount of worrying: If this piece falls through, the whole plan will be thrown out of whack, and then what?! Can I keep everything on schedule? What happens if . . . ?! And so on, and so on. The worrying is (obviously) stressful, and stress causes a plethora of unwanted physical and emotional side effects.

This Spring I began to once again plan for the Summer Feeding Program ministry, and Mr. Hyde made himself known: Dates were set, sign-up sheets were distributed, charts were made . . . all my ducks were in a row. And then reality happened; my ducks started to wander and my attitude quickly began to sour.

Thankfully, the Lord showered me with His grace when things started to get hairy -- especially in this past week when things reached an almost comical state of confusion. First and foremost, God urged me to be faithful in remembering Who is in control, and in doing so gave me a sense of peace; He also guided me toward humility and reminded me of the true purpose of any ministry, which (of course) is to show His love.

Faced with the circumstances of this week and left to my own devices I'd be a mess and the Summer Feeding Program would be in peril. But praise be to God that I am not left alone - I have the comfort and the strength of the Lord Almighty, and He is victorious!

-Trish Gerstel

Friday, May 29, 2015

Today (May 29, 2015), on our fifty-sixth anniversary, I was contemplating what would be a key factor in our marital longevity, and one word came to mind: Sabbath.

Each of us has attended SDB churches since conception. We were brought together at our Makapwa Mission in Malawi, as nurse-midwife and doctor, in its only medical outreach in the world.

The Sabbath has also had a big part, I think, in keeping us together in all the years since then: Each place we’ve lived—except Phoenix—has had an SDB church, and our involvement in them with our children in Sabbath worship, has given us a stability morally and emotionally -- or at least helped us through the “tough” times. Not that the Sabbath in any way keeps us together now – that’s fixed in the Rock, so to speak – but the Sabbath, as it is so important as a part of our life as we share in the Berlin SDB church family, adds a sort of final Crown of Joy to our lives. And all that, for the Grace of God.

Beth and Victor Burdick

Monday, May 11, 2015

At the request of Pastor Matt, I am sharing an example of God's grace as revealed through a time of anxiety:

As some in the church already know, I spent the majority of my life feeling worthless. The lies of the world, the lies of Satan, and my own refusal to completely give my life to Christ combined into one big mess! I was convinced that the only way anyone would see me as having even the smallest amount of value, was if I was perfect.

One of the many side-effects of my false conviction, was a constant need to "be on the go." If I wasn't doing something -- and doing it right! -- I wasn't proving myself. Thankfully, I was freed from this lie a few years ago when I finally decided to live in the truth of God's Word and to accept His love. But the old saying is true: Old habits die hard. Although I finally recognized that my true value lies in the eyes of the One who made me and died on the cross to have a relationship with me, I still found myself with a fairly constant drive to "go, go, go - do, do, do." Then, suddenly, I could no longer "do."

During the Fall of 2013 I wrenched my back to the extent that I found it painful to walk, to sit in certain positions, or to stand for more than a few minutes at a time. I grew anxious very quickly: How was I going to do everything I "needed to do?! Was I always going to be in pain?! Would I end up needing surgery?! In my anxiety I prayed to God for guidance, and He gave me comfort in knowing that He had allowed my back injury for a reason. Eventually I came to realize what that use was: God was drawing me near -- allowing me to see that I needed to rest in Him and to spend time with Him instead of constantly filling that time with "doing." What a blessing! The Creator of the universe loves me that much -- so much that, even if it meant physical pain, He would not allow me to continue distancing myself from Him.

This understanding -- and the thankfulness that it brings -- comes into my heart each and every day as I battle chronic sciatica (a result of the initial back injury). To quote a popular saying that was brought up in my Sabbath School class a few weeks back: God is good - all the time. All the time, God is good.

Friday, May 8, 2015

When I think of the struggles so many in our church are going through – work issues, health issues, family responsibilities, friends’ and relatives’ health and marriage issues – I feel especially grateful to God’s grace, that He has now sheltered my wife in I in the home of Joan and Jeff. Granted, we’ve had our share of struggles. I have a list of “stones of remembrance” - that is, the many ways in which God has intervened in our lives for good.

The current issues we have - lung problems, limited activities, and caretaking responsibilities - seem pretty small compared to what others are going through. But, thank God, His grace enables us to help ease the burdens of others through the power of intercessory prayer.

Doctor Victor Burdick

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

A little over a year ago the Lord put it on my heart to homeschool my children (then ages 12 and 7). After researching available Christian curriculums I felt confident that my children would have access to well-developed learning materials -- but I was less confident of my ability to administer those materials; I also was a bit frightened by the New York State law that requires homeschooled children grades 4 and up to test within the 33rd percentile (nationally) on standardized testing (my son is autistic and his last round of standardized testing placed him well below this requirement).

Despite my concerns I knew that I needed to follow the Lord's calling and presented the school district with our letter of intent to homeschool. To help assuage the fears that loomed overhead, the Lord encouraged me by consistently revealing the exciting advantages of homeschooling, such as the ability to school on a year-round schedule (something that's extremely important for my son) and the ability to shorten the school day.

When we began homeschooling in June 2014, it was a nightmare. My daughter was not having any issues but my son was another story completely; he seemed to be getting absolutely nothing out of the materials, and I was at a loss in how to help him. Each day I questioned my teaching ability as well as my son's ability to score high enough on the standardized tests -- but each day the Lord continued to encourage and strengthen me. Some days He would simply remind me of how much better a homeschool environment is for my son's learning needs. Other days He would reveal to me the reason for my son's struggle and how I could help him through that difficulty; the outcome of those revelations would be a joyful smile on my son's face as he realized that he is capable of understanding things he once thought impossible.

Little by little things have gotten easier (although we still have our moments!), and the Lord continues to lead us in our adventure. At the end of March my son took his standardized tests; we received the results yesterday:

Language, March 2014 - 9th Percentile
Language, March 2015 - 46th Percentile

Math, March 2014 - 13th Percentile
Math, March 2015 - 46th Percentile

Reading, March 2014 - 16th Percentile
Reading, March 2015 - 54th Percentile

All of this is because of God's amazing grace!

-Trish Gerstel

Friday, April 3, 2015

My sister-in-law has advanced Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and is confined to a power wheel chair. She is a disabled veteran and had recently planned a trip to Aspen, Colorado, to participate in the Disabled Veterans' Winter Clinic; when her aide said she couldn't go with her, my sister-in-law was devastated because this was a chance for her to do something special. When I heard about what happened I felt called to go with my sister-in-law, as it may be her last trip (MS is a disease that deteriorates the muscles in your body until function is lost, and effects the way you think).
Today is Day 5 of our trip, and every day is a physical challenge as well as an emotional challenge for both of us. By constant prayer and by God's grace I am able to do this! He has given me compassion, patience, and strength to perform in order to make this an amazing trip for my sister-in-law. As I attend to her needs I think of how Jesus came to this world to serve others, and this week I have strived to serve her as well as others who I come into contact with. Without Him I could not do it and I praise Him with all my heart!
"I can do every thing through Him who gives me strength." Philippians 4:13.
Stacey Sicko

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Over the past week or so I have been the target of several people's misdirected anger. This is something that happens from time to time and normally would not be a huge deal, except one of those people is my spouse. After several days of receiving "the silent treatment" and being subjected to unpredictable outbursts of anger and snide comments on the home front, it's that much more difficult to brush-off other people's nastiness.

By yesterday morning I was emotionally drained and particularly vulnerable; when my spouse abruptly turned away from me during a mundane discussion about a kitchen appliance -- walking out of the house without another word to me -- it was the straw that broke the camel's back. I found myself at God's throne of grace, tearfully praying for wisdom and strength.

While I lobbed my questions and pleas at God (I haven't done anything wrong - why is my spouse taking this out on me?! What am I supposed to do? I need You to do this, because I definitely can't!), He gave me a very clear and powerful answer: I began to envision scenes from the movie "The Passion of the Christ" (a very carefully-produced portrayal of what our Lord Jesus Christ suffered when He was beaten, mocked, and hung on a shameful cross for us), and the Lord said to me, "I endured this for you. I did nothing wrong, but I allowed myself to be broken because I love you. I am asking you to endure the pain from your spouse's anger because of your love for Me." With those words, and with my humble submission to His request, He has given me strength and peace to continue through this trial.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

As a recent member of the Berlin SDB church (since late 2013) I have been so impressed with the pervasive love that we all experience, that I have dubbed it “Almost Heaven.”  (Do the “I agrees” outweigh the “Are you kiddings"?) 

Granted, West Virginia -- which claims the same name -- has some problems (strip mines, recently polluted water, smoggy cities, and cattle with short legs on the uphill side), but it’s still Wild, Wonderful West Virginia!

And granted there’s a lot of evidence of pain and sadness, grief and sorrows in our church, but in spite of that -- or because of that -- Christ’s love spread among us covers it all, with exceedingly abundant healing and comfort.

Doctor Victor Burdick

Sunday, March 15, 2015

A few weeks ago I was saddled with a situation that, in the not-so-distant-past, would have been my undoing. Through God's grace, however, I made my way through with joy and an overwhelming feeling of being blessed.

Being asked to make changes within a project you oversee might not seem like a big deal to others, but to my old self it would have been "proof" of my worthlessness and would have sent me into a complete tailspin. Thankfully, through my relationship with Christ, I now have an understanding of who I am; because of this I was able to face the requests with a clear mind, one that was thankful for others' interest in the project and acutely aware that God's presence was the reason for that thankfulness (what a blessing!).

Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of Godchildren born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. -John 1:12-13

Monday, February 9, 2015

After spending several weeks preparing a sermon that highlighted the call to Christians to be constantly focused on God's glory and His gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, no matter the circumstances, I recently had a chance to literally "practice what you preach."

The amount of snow we received last Thursday was enough that my wife decided to forgo shoveling the entire driveway and instead wait for me to come home and use the snowblower. I admit, I was not overly excited about this decision (it had been a long, cold day at work and I really wasn't looking forward to spending another hour or more outdoors pushing around a machine), but God reminded me that instead of complaining, I needed to be thankful that my wife had taken the time to shovel our porch and walkway as well as a path from the house to the chicken coop, and that I had a snowblower to use!

Not too far into my work I noticed that the snowblower seemed to be getting warm, and so I brought it into the garage for a quick oil change. About 10 seconds after I re-started the machine, it broke a rod (the engine "blew up").

This was it - my opportunity to put into practice everything that I had studied and written into a sermon about Hebrews 13:9-16. This was my time to put aside old practices and instead focus on the Lord. I did not know it, but my response to this opportunity was being witnessed not only by God Himself, but also by my wife. This is how she described the scene to me the next day:

"I heard the snowblower stop not too long after you went out, so I kept looking outside while I was making dinner. I was really relieved when I saw you come back out with it pretty quickly. While I setting the table I watched through the kitchen window as you started the snowblower back up, and when I heard it make that sound I thought to myself, 'Oh boy!' I was certain that you'd start kicking at the ground and then tossing around the snowblower before dragging it back into the garage . . . But that's not what you did! It absolutely blew me away; you just stood there, looked up slightly, and then calmly walked the snowblower back into the garage. It was so amazing -- I knew that God was working in you, and I was seeing it right at that moment!"

Even though I'm a little embarrassed to admit it, my wife was right: If I had been in this same situation just three weeks ago, my reaction probably would have been a lot like she had feared. But through His Word and His Spirit, God extended grace to me and made it possible for me to handle the circumstances in a way that honored Him, by keeping my heart focused on what's truly important - God!