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"April 2024 Branches Article"

On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross, the emblem of suffering and shame; And I love that old cross where the dearest and best for a world of lost sinners was slain. So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross, till my trophies at last I lay down; I will cling to the old rugged cross and exchange it some day for a crown.

Hello friends of Elm Park and a very happy April and springtime to you all. Ah, the old rugged cross. I can’t even tell you how long I have had this hymn stuck in my head. As we approach Easter, I am reminded of the roads Jesus walked on His way to the cross. I am reminded of all the things that Jesus gave up for us. I’m also reminded of all the things we hold on to that we could let go.

This past March, Bishop Hector visited our church and delivered a powerful message. He invited us to close our eyes and bow our heads and to think of the obstacles in our lives that prevent us from being closer to Jesus. It doesn’t matter if we put them there. It doesn’t matter if someone else puts them there. The fact is they’re there. So how do we get rid of them? Do we pawn them off on someone else? No. Do we pretend they don’t affect us? No. Can we just give them away? YES! That was Bishop Hector’s invitation. He invited us all to think of whatever things are in our way, to pick them up, and to give them to God.

Do you know how I know this works? In 2009, after suffering a devastating arteriovenous malformation in her brain (akin to aneurysm) my wife, at deaths door gave her pain to God. In that moment, not knowing if she would live or die, she knew she would be safe and sound. In that moment she said she felt in her heart God telling her she wasn’t ready for eternity because her husband still needed her. That, I did. That, I very much did. Following an 11-hour brain surgery, I fell to my knees, clutching her doctors’ knees, weeping, and thanking him for his life-saving work. His response was “if you insist on being down there, please thank God, not me. It was my hands being used by God’s will that kept her here.”

Although I kept trying to fight it, in that moment was when I knew that God had things in mind for me. But here’s the human condition. Sometimes, we forget. In fact, I found myself very stressed out, very anxious, and very uneasy when I sat down to write this very article. I had so many things to get ready for…Maundy Thursday services, Good Friday services, Easter Sunrise services, Easter Sunday services. So much in so little time. To top that off, I had no clue as to what to write about this month AND I was much later than usual in getting my article to Teresa for publication because I had spent the prior week battling the flu.

But then I remembered what Bishop Hector told us to do. And I did it. And you know what? It worked. The words for this article came flooding in, and I then I knew how to handle everything else.

It works. Give it a try. A real try, with an open heart to God.                       

Your brother in Christ, Pastor John


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