Tuesday, April 1, 2014

New Beginnings

I wrote the following Forward for the book titled Your Perfect Father, Learning from the Best written by my friend Jayne Wilks and published by Tate in 2007.


Good Friday is one of those distinctive days in the church calendar when we commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Beyond the message of God’s redemption and personal salvation, we develop unique memories associated with the day. Growing up, I remember not being allowed to go to the movies that day or listen to the radio out of respect for Jesus’ death. If we had owned a television back then, that would no doubt have been restricted as well. I felt it always rained or was gloomy on that day as if the world was in mourning. Good Friday was one of those times you wanted to get through so you could move on and celebrate Resurrection Sunday.

Those memories took on a new direction eight years ago when I met Jayne Wilks for the first time at a Good Friday evening service at Englewood Assembly of God. I was an associate pastor responsible for pastoral care at the time. As the congregation sat solemnly through the service, it was difficult not to notice her sitting in one of the back pews. She looked bent over, as if carrying a most burdensome weight upon her spirit. It seemed like she cried through the entire service.

At the close of service and as people slowly dissipated, I felt the Lord prompting me to talk to her. I introduced myself. Through her tears, and with a tentative voice, she shared the burdens of her life. She told me about her anxiety disorder, depression, drug addiction, suicide attempts, and traumatic childhood. She was an unbeliever married and separated from a backslidden believer. She was emotionally unable to work and had to move back recently to her parents’ home. She was now living with her two children in the den of that home. Life could not be any more desperate. She was powerless and held captive by life-controlling problems and poor choices from her past. An acquaintance had taken her to church that evening. She figured she had tried everything to dull the pain of life; why not give God a try?

I prayed for her and left her with one message that evening: God can change your life. He may do it in an instant; he may choose to do it over a period of time. I did not know the timing, but I knew if she continually read and heard the Word of God, her mind would be renewed and she would become all God intended for her and her family. Isaiah 42:7 reminds us that the Lord will “open eyes that are blind … free captives from prison … and release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.” That was a promise from God for Jayne Wilks.

I saw her again at church on Easter Sunday. I saw her the following Wednesday evening for Bible study, and then the next Sunday, and the next. Over the years I’ve known her, I can hardly remember a time when the church doors were open that Jayne and her family were not in church. And for the longest time the tears never stopped flowing, even while she was sitting through all those church services. Yet God never failed; he always sent into her life the right person at the right time for the right purpose.

Life for Jayne did not change in an instant. Years of sinful and self-destructive behaviors resulted in consequences that needed a constant touch of God’s grace and mercy. When tears seemed inconsolable, God was faithful and sent witnesses into her life to help wipe away tears, to build hope, or to lift arms too heavy to raise and praise. Through it all, Jayne learned an invaluable lesson that we, as readers of Your Perfect Father, Learning from the Best need to live wholeheartedly. When we are willing participants in God’s restoration process, we learn more spiritual lessons, and God takes us farther than we could ever imagine.

When we are like Jayne, once living in the dark dungeons of life, desperation necessitates cooperation because the consequences are destructive. But for many of us whose lives seem acceptable, trusting God totally becomes a challenge. It is sometimes easier to experience God when you are laying in the gutter or sitting on an ash heap. The key is to see God in the small and mundane things of life, like picking splinters out of a child’s finger or burning dinner. Frequently, that is where spiritual lessons are learned but are often bypassed because they seem so ordinary.

We are all God’s kids; we all have a perfect Father. He knows best how to discipline us, to order our steps, and to mold us into his likeness. Jayne’s walk with God took time. Soon after we met, my wife and I counseled her about seeking a job to support her children. I learned she was a creative writer and a gifted artist. I felt that one day, God would use those talents for his greater good. This book is a testament to the leap of faith I experienced that day. It was also during that meeting I learned about her husband Shannon, an alcoholic off doing his own thing. I asked her two questions: Do you still love him? The answer was yes! Do you want to preserve the marriage? The answer was yes!

We prayed for Shannon and the restoration of his life and their marriage. The following Sunday, he walked into church with Jayne and their two children. At the altar call we prayed for Shannon. That day is a moment indelibly marked in my spirit as a demonstration of God’s power to restore what seemed impossible. Within a short period of time, Shannon was healed completely from alcoholism. Today, their marriage is a witness to the glory of God.

I have worked with Shannon and Jayne for years. One of the greatest joys of being in ministry and part of their lives was the time we co-facilitated small groups focused on life-controlling problems. Then one day it came to pass, like a parent releasing their loved one into adulthood. Restoration, perseverance, and obedience prepared them for maturity. They began to facilitate groups on their own. They guided other couples going through difficult marriages, and participated in ministry as God called them. They were given into the Lord’s service. I am privileged to have played in their lives a small part of God’s work in … opening their blind eyes, releasing them from the prison of addiction and mental illness, and releasing them from darkness into the light of Jesus’ love. Today, you most often find Jayne and Shannon smiling, not crying, and telling others what a difference Jesus and the word of God have made in their lives.

As a minister of the Lord, I have read the text books, I have prepared the Bible studies, and I preached sermons. Still, God used Jayne to teach me a lesson beyond Bible School training. Jayne believes every word in the Bible with childlike faith. If it says so … then she expects it to happen and come to pass in her life. And indeed, it did and continues to do so according to God’s will and timing. I pray all of us would live out our lives with this childlike submission, trust, and obedience.

So what are my unique views of Good Friday today? It is no longer about radio or television, or cell phones and DVDs. It is not about rain or shine. Today, there is not a Good Friday that passes that I do not think about the transformation of Shannon and Jayne and their children. What Jesus did on the cross of Calvary was not a momentary stop on the church calendar to get us to Easter Sunday. Good Friday was necessary for all the promises of God to come to fulfillment in our lives.

God bless each and every reader of Your Perfect Father, Learning from the Best. May you find this journey through someone else’s life-change an inspiration and an encouragement.

Robert Parlante

April 2014

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