When Misery Becomes Ministry

“Lord, why do I have to go through this? It is awful. It is painful. It is scary. Why?” Ever thought that? Yeah, me too. More than once. And recently. I’ve also wiped tears from someone’s face who said much the same. The question looms large in our minds: “Is there a purpose for all this pain?” Let me encourage you friend – I believe there is. Paul put it this way, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Cor 1:3-4).

Alcoholics Anonymous understands that a recovering alcoholic is uniquely qualified to help another find sobriety. Bosom Buddies brings a breast cancer survivor alongside one who is newly diagnosed. I have a dear friend who has a powerful ministry to post-abortive women because she made that same choice years ago. Because of my past experiences, I can sit across the table from a someone dealing with childhood bullying, sexual abuse, divorce, rejection, ridicule, depression, self-esteem issues, financial failure, a wayward child, uncertainty, and the fallout of their own sinful and foolish choices and say, “Been there, done that, and let me tell you how God got me through it.”

Paul continued his thought saying: “For just as the suffering of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows” ( 2 Cor 1:5). It’s like that old game of “Barrel of Monkeys,” where you link the arms of plastic monkeys to see how many you can pull out of the barrel in a conjoined string. All these things I’ve been through make me uniquely qualified to link arms with another and help them out of the barrel. In the end, we hopefully become a long string of survivors pulling more and more people out of despair, depression, and hopelessness.

One thing of which I am certain to the marrow of my bones: God wants to take your misery and turn it into ministry. He wants to use you and your story and your scars to speak hope and life into another suffering soul. You can sit and stew in your pain or you can help Him pull monkeys out of the barrel. Beloved, which will it be?

Why Do You Worship God?

Sunday morning as I walked Joy to her “Honey School” class we walked past the sanctuary and she asked me if I was going to the big church to sing. I said yes. Then, like all good three-year-olds should do, she started peppering me with “Why’s.” “Why do you want to sing” “To worship God.” “Why do you want to worship God?” “Because I love God and because He is great,” I answered.

All of creation worships its Creator. David said, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands” (Ps 19:1). Every rumble of thunder is a call to praise. The trees clap their hands in worship (Is 55:12). The rocks cry out His praise (Luke 19:40). Birds sing. Crickets chirp. Frogs croak. The sound of their worship fills the skies. I love to worship. Corporately, privately, with shouts, and through tears. I love Sundays with my church family, all our voices blending together to praise the One who saved us. If you see me when I’m driving you may catch me belting out a song with one hand on the steering wheel and the other raised to the roof. You might want to proceed with caution. And worship is not just music. I usually write out my private worship – words are my love language. But the sweetest worship is singing of the goodness of God in lovely harmony with my granddaughter.

We are commanded in Scripture to worship God but the purest worship is voluntary – no, more than voluntary – it is drawn out of us from deep within. Like the angels in Isaiah’s vision who called to one another, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory” (Is 6:3). It is the response of our spirits to the Spirit of God. I think that when we get to heaven and stand in His presence, worship will be more than something we want to do, it will be something we have to do just by the sheer majesty of His glory.

Joy’s question stuck with me all day.  I mulled it over and over: Why do I worship God?  I realized the answer I gave her was true. I worship God because I love Him. I worship God because He is great. I worship God because He is worthy. Beloved, I encourage you to ponder her question: “Why do you worship God?” Then do it.

But I don’t want to, God!

I love the Word of God with all my heart. The Bible has transformed my mind and heart and life. It has become my passion, my calling, and my ministry. I believe every verse is true and right. I believe as Paul said, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man [or woman] of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-7). I honor the Scriptures as the authority over all creation – especially over me. But I don’t always like what it says. Sometimes the Bible meddles. Like Philippians 2:14: “Do everything without complaining or arguing . . .” Uh-oh.

I believe that obedience to the Scriptures is vital to God’s people. It was a major issue with the Israelites. They wanted God’s blessings without obedience. I strive to obey God every day. I don’t always get it right, but I so want to follow Him and walk in His ways. But sometimes I do so with a chip on my shoulder and a bit of an attitude. “I’ll do it God, but I really don’t want to.” “I will make this sacrifice, but it’s not fair, they’ve done nothing to deserve it.” “Why do I have to take this on God? Don’t I have enough on my plate?” I’m like a petulant child stomping her feet in protest on the way to bed. I sure hope you’re nodding your head in agreement, otherwise, I’m the worst kind of Christian.

But Paul said God expects obedience with a humble and grateful spirit. That is exactly what Jesus did. Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus went to the cross – to His death with Joy. How could that be? Crucifixion was a horribly painful and humiliating way to die. Because He knew what the end result was going to be. Granted we don’t have that same advantage. But we have the same Heavenly Father who has never failed us, who works all things to fulfill His good purpose. We have a God we can trust when we are told to do something hard.

What is the end result of our humble obedience? We “become blameless and pure children of God [who] shine like the stars in the universe” (v. 15). In other words, we become like Jesus. And that is the desire of my heart. How about you, Beloved?

The Measure of My Faith

“Now this is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent”  (John 17:3).

One morning not too long ago I had the urge to grab a tape measure and measure the distance between my head and my heart. 22 inches.

“What does that mean Lord?” I asked.

“That is the difference between what you know in your head and what you know in your heart.”

I have a Bachelor’s degree in Biblical and Theological Studies and I am working on my Master’s. Thus far I have seven years of studying and pounding out acres of papers, reports, and tests.  I read scores of pages every week in my textbooks and have taken numerous studies of books of the Bible. I’ve dug into words and context and history and I’ve loved every minute of it. I’ve learned about the Bible, God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, creation, Israel, the Church, prophecy, doctrine, apologetics, theology, eschatology, ecclesiology, Christology, – and yes, even algebra.  None of that makes me an expert – far from it. In fact, I’ve barely scratched the surface. Still, all that knowledge does me no good if it just sits in my head and never reaches my heart.  It’s like a seed lying dormant on the surface rather than under the ground where it can put down roots and grow strong.

I used to think it was enough to learn all I could know about God, but I’m finding that when it’s all head-knowledge, it doesn’t move my heart – and my heart is what God is after. My heart is where change happens. So how do I make all this knowledge transition from my head to my heart?  Honestly, that’s a work of the Holy Spirit.  But I do have some responsibilities, such as coming to study the Bible with an attitude of humility and inviting the Spirit to teach me, then meditating on what He has revealed.  Oh, and then living it out. It’s the practical application of the Scripture that makes it take root in my heart.

Twenty-two inches isn’t much on a tape measure, but it is the difference between knowing about God and knowing God. I’m not satisfied with a head full of knowledge anymore.  I want to know God with all my heart. How about you, Beloved?

Footprints

I came across “The Footprints” poem the other day. You know the one about the person who dreamed of seeing two sets of footprints in the sand – one was their own and the other belonged to Jesus. At certain points, the second set of footprints disappeared and the dreamer was dismayed that Jesus would abandon them at the hardest points in their life. The Lord assured them that He would never leave them, especially during trials and testing. He said, “When you saw only one set of footprints, It was then that I carried you.” That is a beautiful and encouraging image and expresses the heart of our Savior in our times of suffering.

Later, as I was studying 1 John I read this: “Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did” (2:6). A different thought came to mind.  What if, when I questioned Jesus about that single set of footprints in the sand, He said, “That is when you followed me so closely that you stepped right into My footprints.” Oh! What a commendation that would be! That’s the goal of the Christian life, to emulate Christ in every way. To walk as He walked. To speak as He spoke. To give as He gave. To love as He loved. To be holy as He is holy. The first believers were called “Followers of The Way” until were dubbed “Christians” meaning “little Christs.” Not just because they claimed allegiance to Him but because they patterned their lives after Him.

I’m sure you know Romans 8:28: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Have you ever wondered what His purpose is? It’s right in the next verse, “to be conformed to the likeness of His Son” (v. 29). To be “little Christs” in our generation, walking in His very footsteps so that there’s nothing of us left behind –  only Jesus. That’s my desire, especially as I see my granddaughter following me everywhere I go.

How do we do that? How do we “walk as Jesus did?” By keeping our eyes fixed on Him. By knowing Him through His Word. By living according to His Spirit (Rom 8:5-16). One footfall at a time. Beloved, what do your footprints say about your life?

When Life is Meaningless

“What is the meaning of life?” I asked the man sitting across the table. I was interviewing him for an assignment in my apologetics course in college. My interviewee shrugged and said, “I don’t think life has meaning. You are born an accident and you do the best you can to not screw anything up before you die.” “That’s pretty sad,” I thought to myself. But his answer made sense because he was an atheist. His whole focus was on the span of time between his date of birth and his date of death. It was all about him. He reminded me of someone in the Bible – King Solomon.

Solomon was the son of King David. The Lord granted him extraordinary wisdom to rule the nation well. His great wisdom made him hungry for knowledge, which is not a bad thing, except he decided to “test [himself] with pleasure to find out what is good” (Ecc 2:1).  He said, “I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure” (v. 10). And his conclusion? Not as good as we might think. Why? Because everything was all about and for himself.

He “built houses, made gardens, bought men and women to be slaves, owned huge flocks and herds, amassed riches, had hosts of entertainment, and a thousand women to feed his sexual appetite. All of this was “for myself (v. 4-8).” He also gained a pretty big ego saying, I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me” (v. 9). Yet, when he “surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless” (v. 11).

When life is all about self, life is meaningless. That’s why my friend had such a sad outlook. But when our lives are about the glory of God, we find real meaning and purpose and passion. A life lived for self is wasted. A life lived for God is full and rich. That was what Solomon realized when he said, “Here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecc 12:13). It was the wisest thing he ever said.

In the age of “selfies” is it any wonder that life feels so meaningless for so many? How about you, Beloved? Is life all about the unholy trinity: me, myself, and I? Maybe it’s time to change your focus.  

Hebrews: Persevere

I’ll be honest, some days I just want to quit. Quit school. Quit writing. Quit trying. Life is full of some precious – but heavy – responsibilities right now. Everything revolves around my granddaughter and her needs right now. I don’t have much time for me and what I need to do. I stay up late doing schoolwork. I get up very early to write. I try to snatch 30 minutes here and there to prepare a Sunday School lesson. I’m tired. But I can’t quit. Not school, writing, or teaching, and certainly not being a grandmother. And so I press on.

The Bible has a lot to say about not giving up; the two words that biblical writers used most frequently in their encouragement were endure and persevere. Both of these words share the same root meaning: “to be in a state that begins and continues, yet may or may not end.” But they each have another word attached that makes all the difference: endure includes the word hypo meaning “under”; while persevere attaches the word epi, which means –“on” or “over.” The writer of Hebrews said, “You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised” (Heb 10:16).  He is exhorting his readers to overcome the pull to walk away from Jesus in an environment that was hostile to Christians. Not unlike ours is becoming.

His statement begs a question: “What, exactly, is the ‘will of God’?” Jesus spelled it out plainly: “My Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life” (John 6:40). To believe and keep on believing until you receive the eternal life that Jesus promised. Believing – faith – is not a one and done in the Christian life. It’s not some decision you make one day when you walk the aisle and get baptized. It is an every day, moment-by-moment decision you make and continue to make to take one more step with Him and one more and one more.

I am a busy person, but school and teaching and writing and even being a Nana are not God’s will. All the things I’m doing are God’s call on my life, but His will for me is to believe in His Son till He brings me home. And never give up. I know a lot of you are busy like me. Just make sure, Beloved, in all the things you do to serve Him, that you are in His will all the way to the end.

Foot-washing

He rose from his place, removed his outer garments and took the towel and basin to the pitcher of water, and poured. Imagine the shocked silence that filled the room at the sight of Jesus, their beloved Teacher, kneeling before the first man, removing his dusty sandals and touching the filthy feet before Him. Surely all that could be heard was the splashing of water as He moved around the room. Peter wanted to spare His Lord such humiliation and drew back his feet, but Jesus refused to pass him by. When the task was done, Jesus told them to take His example and live by this expression of humility and service.

Something strikes me about it this scene. John (who was the only gospel writer to record this scene) never says that anyone washed the feet of Jesus that day. Perhaps one of them did, but surely John would not leave out such an important detail.

There will come a day – sooner or perhaps later – when I will see Him face to glorious face. When I bow before Him in grateful adoration, I want to wash my Jesus’ feet. I want to hold those beautiful feet in my hands. I want to splash water from the River of Life (Rev. 22:1) on His feet. Yes, Mary washed Jesus’ feet. But the feet she washed did not bear the scars from the cross. Those precious marks would come after His act of holy love. I want to touch the imprints left by the nails and kiss the scars that bought my redemption. I want to show Him “the full extent of my love” (Jn 13:1 NIV). I want to wash my Savior’s feet. The feet that kicked against the swaddling clothes in the manger. The feet that carried the Teacher to the shores of Galilee. The feet that walked the dusty road of the Via Dolorosa. The feet that bore the weight of His body and the weight of my sin on the cross. I want to wash those beautiful, glorious nail-scarred feet that speak of this sinner who has been set free.

The King on a Colt

As was the tradition, thousands of Jews flocked to the city, and one question was on everybody’s lips: “Would Jesus come into the city for the Passover Feast?” The people were all abuzz with reports of His miraculous deeds – in particular, raising Lazarus from the dead. The religious leaders had given orders that anyone knowing His whereabouts should report it to them, for they planned to arrest Him on sight. His previous entries into the city were quiet, without any show of publicity. Now, however, with deliberate purpose, Jesus publically presented Himself as Israel’s Messiah and King. He chose a time when all Israel would be gathered in Jerusalem, a place where huge crowds could see Him, and a way of proclamation that was unmistakable.

He made his way into the city, seated on a young colt, to fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah: “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your King comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zec 9:9/John 12:15).  The people lined the road praising God, waving palm branches and throwing their cloaks in front of him to provide a “royal carpet.” They shouted “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (Matt 21:9) – which meant “save now!” – because they recognized the fulfillment of the long-awaited prophecy. Praises rang out loudly and joyfully: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the King of Israel! (John 12:13).

Yet once inside the city gates, as strangers asked: “Who is this?” the answer was different. “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” From Messiah to Prophet. First, One who “comes in the Name of the Lord” – now one who comes from Nazareth-a city despised and disregarded by the Jews (John 1:46).

Don’t we still do the same? In the Sanctuary on Sunday morning Jesus is Lord and we sing His praises with voices raised. But what happens we the crowd changes? Do we tuck Him inside the cover of a dusty Bible? How do we respond to the question, “Who is this?” Is He just a “good teacher, a man of peace”, or maybe even a fool? He can not be Lord on Sunday and disregarded on Monday. To which crowd do you belong, Beloved? Who is this Man to you?

Burning Ropes

In yesterday’s post, we talked about the refiner’s fire. Today is another hot devotional. Daniel’s three companions, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow and worship the statue that Nebuchadnezzar had erected in his image. They declared their allegiance to the God of Israel and said, “The God we serve is able to save us . . . but even if he does not we will not worship your golden image” (Dan 3:17-18, para). That infuriated the king, and he ordered the men to be bound and thrown into a fiery furnace that had been stoked to seven times its normal heat. It was so hot it instantly killed the soldiers who tossed them in.

But the king saw something unexpected in that fire. “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods” (3:25). When the men came out of the fire they were unharmed, “not a hair of their heads [was] singed, their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them” (3:27). How’s that for a miracle!

What stands out to me isn’t just that they survived but that the only thing that was destroyed by the fire were the ropes that were used to bind them. Just as we learned in Peter’s story, God often uses fire to free us from the very things that bind us and hinder our usefulness to the Kingdom. God’s enemy – Nebuchadnezzar – tied up the three Hebrew men. God’s enemy – satan – is still binding up the Lord’s people to destroy them and exalt himself as King over heaven and earth. But God uses the very flames that are intended to devastate us to instead free us.

I don’t know what ropes the enemy has used to try to tie you up (or down). It may be an addiction to alcohol, drugs, or pornography (or something “innocent” like eating, shopping, or gaming). It may be pride, habitual lying, shoplifting, or gossiping. It may be a hard, painful past or an overload of responsibilities that are crushing the life out of you. Whatever it is, it will take the fires of heaven to set you free. But don’t fear the furnace of affliction Beloved. Jesus will be in the fire with you and only the ropes will be burned. You will walk away without one hair singed and not even a trace of smoke.