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?

Perfect Balance

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I read it first on a Bible cover, It was embroidered with red thread on a quilted grey paisley print. “One thing God has spoken, two things I have heard: that you, O God, are strong and that you, O Lord are loving” (Psalm 62:11-12). For some reason, I couldn’t stop staring at it.  I’m sure the woman who owned the Bible was a little concerned that I might try to sneak off with it. The verse captured me – and like the Holy Spirit often does, He asked, “What does that mean?” I quickly jotted down the reference and turned my attention back to the teacher.

When I got home I went to my concordance and started to dig. Guess what? Strong means strong and loving means loving. Well, that was . . . enlightening. But then the Spirit said, “Not the individual words, the whole verse – what does it say about God?” He is strong. He is loving. “Don’t separate the two words. What do they mean together?” God is strong and loving. And then I understood.

If God were just strong, we would fear for our lives. His power would overwhelm us and He might use His strength against us. If He were just loving, He could do little to help us. He would look on us with pity and sorrow for our sufferings, but could only pat us on the shoulder and wish us well. But He is strong and He is loving. His strength is perfectly balanced by His affection. His love is equally matched by the power to rescue. His love allows Him to see our needs and respond with compassion, mercy, and grace. His power enables Him to work mightily on our behalf, parting seas, holding back the sun, bringing down strong walls, and overwhelming enemies. And rising from the grave.

There have been many powerful men throughout history who had no compassion and left a wake of pain and destruction behind them. By the same token, many benevolent hearts offer empathy, but cannot render any real aid. God is sufficiently both; He cares and He moves. This, Beloved, is the God who listens to your heart’s cry and responds with power. He sees you. He hears you. He loves you. And He is coming to your rescue.

Hebrews: Jesus Understands

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Joy helping Nana make “pankins”

Every Saturday Joy and I make “pankins” (pancakes) for breakfast. She loves to dump all the ingredients into the bowl and “crush” the eggs” then stir the batter. It is our tradition and I love it probably more than she does. I handle the skillet, which is positioned out of her reach, always telling her, “Don’t touch the skillet, it’s very hot. It will hurt you.” This past Saturday, she discovered that for herself. Before I could stop her, she stretched across the counter and barely touched the edge of the skillet. She didn’t have a mark on her fingers but it sure scared her. Later, watching me clean up, she said, “Careful Nana, dat skillet is hot.” I’m pretty sure I won’t have to tell her again not to touch it.

The writer of Hebrews, in discussing Jesus’ final hours, said “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from what He suffered and, once made perfect, became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him . . .” (5:8). Just as we saw back in 2:10, Jesus was, is, and will forever be the perfect Son of God. So why would the Scriptures say He had to “learn obedience” – wasn’t He already obedient? Absolutely. He didn’t learn obedience for His sake. He learned it for ours.

Remember, the author has been building a case that Jesus is a worthy, compassionate high priest who can sympathize with us in all of our human struggles. He had previously said that “He had to be made like His brothers (us) in every way” (2:17). Including obedience. He didn’t need to learn obedience to keep him from the harsh consequences of disobedience like my granddaughter learned. No, it was to give us a high priest we could identify with. Perfect people are not much help to imperfect folks like you and me. His struggle to submit to the Father’s plan gives us the confidence to call out for His help when we are in the same battle. The best high priest is the one who can help us out of His own experience.

Beloved, what is that thing you’re clinging to that is so hard to submit to God? What has God called you to that you’re not sure you’re willing to do? Jesus understands. He can help you be obedient. He’s not so far above you that you can’t reach Him. He’s right there in the garden, on His knees.

I Saw God

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“I have seen the One who sees me” (Genesis 16:13).

Have you ever seen God? I’ve had people berate me for believing in a God I cannot physically see. But I saw Him this week.

Many of you know that my granddaughter had a major dental procedure done at Children’s Hospital in Birmingham. Because of the distance and the early check-in, we had to stay at a local hotel the night before. We had to have gas to make the trip. Joy needed things we didn’t have on hand. And I was broke. So I prayed. I didn’t tell anyone except God about our needs. A few days later, after teaching a Bible study class, I was handed an envelope by someone who didn’t know me. I saw God. The next day, I received a check in the mail from a dear friend. I saw God. I put it all in the bank and my husband and I headed to Waffle House to get a quick bite before we picked up the things Joy needed and hit the road to Birmingham. As we got ready to leave the server informed us that our ticket had been paid. I saw God.

We filled up the truck, bought Joy’s stuff, and headed up 231. When we checked into the hotel I discovered that only part of my deposit was available. I didn’t have enough to pay for our room. The hotel associate covered the $20 difference and I couldn’t find her the next day to pay her back. I saw God.

Joy had had a previous dental procedure by another dentist a few months prior that was handled badly and it had left her traumatized for several weeks. We were concerned about further anxiety, but Children’s is amazing. They gave her an oral sedative and she fell asleep in her Mommy’s arms, they took her to do the work, brought her back to the room and she woke up in Mommy’s arms. It couldn’t have gone smoother. I saw God. You all prayed for her. I saw God.

I know this is not my typical devotional, but I want you to know what God has done for me and my family. I want you to be encouraged that He cares for you also. He cares about your physical needs as much as your soul. Beloved, I want you to see God.

Hebrews: Why Did Jesus Come?

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Over the past several weeks in Hebrews, we’ve focused on eight theological reasons why God sent His Son from glory to this sinful earth. Let’s put them all together for a recap.

  1. God sent Jesus to “bring many sons to glory” (v. 10). To bring lost human beings – now redeemed – into His eternal family.
  2. He sent Jesus to earth to “Make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering” (v. 10b). Remember that “perfect” means complete and doesn’t imply that Jesus was every imperfect. His role as “the author of [our] salvation” was completed by his suffering on the cross.
  3. Jesus came so that He could present us to God as “the children God has given me” (v. 13). Children who were set apart for Him and transformed into His own image.
  4. God sent Jesus to “destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil” v. 14). Jesus came to fulfill God’s first promise “to crush the head” of the devil (Genesis 3:15).
  5. In destroying the devil, Jesus came to “free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (v. 15). As children of God, we do not fear the end of this life because we know that we have eternal life with Him in heaven forever.
  6. God sent Jesus to be for us “a merciful and faithful high priest” (v. 17). He is the only high priest who does not need to make atonement for His own sins before He can atone for ours.
  7. As our high priest, Jesus came to “make atonement for the sins of the people” (v. 17b). By His death, He made us “at one” with God as we were “me[a]nt” to be.
  8. God sent Jesus “to help those who are being tempted” (v. 18).  He suffered from the same demonic temptation you and I face. He understands and He is able and more than willing to help us.

All of this comes back to one core reason God sent Jesus to earth: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). God loves His creation. He wants to redeem sinful humans and restore the relationship for which we were created. He did that through His Son. He did that for you and me. Beloved, God gave the most precious thing in heaven to save you forever. Because He loves you.

Hebrews: When You are Tempted

One of the foundations of recovery programs is the helpful presence of those who have “been-there-done-that. The former addict can uniquely connect with and help the one struggling to break free from drugs. The same applies to recovering from alcohol, pornography, and all manner of bondage.  I have a dear friend who turned the shame of abortion into a powerful post-abortion ministry – she could offer another woman her hand and tell her, “been there, done that, let me tell you how God set me free.”

The author of Hebrews pointed to another reason that God sent His one and only Son to earth – “Because He Himself suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18). This verse is important because it also highlights the humanity of Jesus, that He was made as we were, and suffered just as we do.  Therefore He is in a unique position to help us when we suffer, especially when we face temptation.

What does it mean that Jesus “suffered” when He was tempted? The word used means “to experience or endure” often with a negative experience. Let’s be honest – most of us don’t  “suffer” with temptation. We don’t “endure” through it. Most of us give in to it without much of a struggle. Jesus faced temptation from the devil, but He did not give in (Matthew 4 and Luke 4). He also faced temptation in the garden before His arrest and crucifixion, but He did not give up (Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22).  

It is important to note that while Jesus suffered with temptation, He never sinned. If He had He could not have been our high priest and Savior. Peter said of Jesus, “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth” (1 Peter 2:22).  He experienced the full onslaught of temptation such as you and I will never face, and He overcame it. How? Love for His Father who sent Him and love for those He came to save. Indeed, He is able to help in our time of temptation.  If we will allow Him to. An old devout saint was once asked, what is your secret to living a godly life? He answered, “Every time I am tempted I look to God and say, ‘Your property is in danger.’”  Beloved, the next time you are in danger from temptation, reach out to Jesus. He understands and He will help you.

When You Don’t Know What to Do

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This is going to be short and sweet this morning because every time I’ve started to write, God would say, “That’s you talking, not Me.” I finally stopped and asked, “What do you want to say, Lord?” And this is His message today.

When Jerusalem was surrounded by a vast and powerful enemy, the king of Judah prayed, “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon You” (2 Chron 20:12).  Can you relate?  I’ve been there too. Recently. I had a situation that was breaking my heart but was also out of my hands.  I didn’t know what to do. The truth is, there was nothing I could do. So I cried out to God. I petitioned others – many of you – to pray with and for us. In the Scriptures, God defeated the enemy of Judah – they didn’t even have to lift a sword. God moved – and continues to move – powerfully for us as well.

Maybe you are at a place in your life where you don’t know what to do. You’ve tried and tried to fix the problem and nothing has worked. Or maybe the problem is so big you’re too overwhelmed to do anything. Go to God in your confusion and uncertainty. Go to Him in the middle of the chaos. Tell Him, “I don’t know what to do, but my eyes are on you.” Then keep them there. Based on the authority of His Word and my own experience, I can promise you He will move. You may not know what to do Beloved, but God does. And He will. Powerfully.

The Momentum of Sin

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I carried a fresh glass of tea to my desk and set it down to plug up my phone. I reached for the old empty glass and started walking quickly toward the kitchen, but I soon realized I had picked up the wrong one. I tried to stop in my tracks and turn around, but my momentum took me a step or two further toward the kitchen. But I didn’t want to go to the kitchen. I wanted to go back to my desk and get the right glass and then go to the kitchen. I knew what I wanted to do but I kept going in the wrong direction. That may seem like a scene out of a cartoon, but what it reminded me of was the momentum of sin.

Paul said, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:15-16,18-19). We want to be right with God. We want to turn away from sin. Yet our sinful desires set us in motion toward what our flesh craves. There is a war waging within us between our desire to please God and our desire to please our flesh.

How do we break sin’s momentum? First, by preparing ourselves for the battle. Paul said, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (12:2). Renewing our minds is a life-long habit of reading, studying, and obeying the Word of God and listening to His Spirit. The more of God we put into our minds the less room there is for the world.

But what do we do when the momentum toward sin is so strong? I heard of an older man known for his godly life who was asked what he did when he was tempted. He replied, “Well, I just say, ‘Lord, your property is in danger.’” Paul said, “Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (7:24-25). Beloved, the One who rescued you from death and hell can also rescue you from the powerful pull of sin. Just cry out to Jesus.

When You’ve Made a Mess of Your Life

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Ever seen your fingerprints all over the mess in your life? You’re in good company.  Psalm 107 tells of people who wandered into trouble, who rebelled against God and were prisoners of their sin, or in danger and “at their wits’ end” (v. 27) because of their foolish and selfish actions. In every case, they had no one to blame but themselves. They were suffering the consequences of their actions. Sound familiar? But the Psalmist says that God heard their cries and came to their rescue. He led the wanderers “by a straight way to a city where they could settle” (V. 7). He brought the prisoners “out of their darkness and gloom and broke away their chains” (v. 14). He “stilled the storm . .  and guided them to their desired haven” (v. 29, 30). Even when their distress was self-made, God answered their cries for help.  He did it all because of “His unfailing love” (v. 8, 15, 21, 31).

The God of Psalm 107 is listening to your cries. Wherever you are, whatever your circumstances, and however you go there, God hears you. Even in your lostness, your captivity, your disappointment, your mess, your failure, your sin – God is listening. ‘Despite your circumstance and all appearances, He has not abandoned you.”

This is why Jesus came. Romans 5:8 says “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were sinners, Christ died for us.” While we were without hope. While we were suffering the consequences of our actions. While we are in our miserable state, Christ came with the promise of healing and redemption and eternal life.  Check this out: in Hebrew, “ah” was the root word for “the Lord.” A name that ended in “ah” always referenced the Lord. Jesus is the Messiah. Do you see it? Jesus is Lord (ah) over the mess (Mess) I (i) made of my life.

In your hard circumstances where all hope is lost, God promises His rescue. Not after you untangle yourself from your messes. But while you are in the middle of it, in places you never thought you would be, Beloved, God is near and He is listening. Give your mess to Jesus Messiah.

A Word for the Weary

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David and his men returned home to Ziklag after a three-day trek to find the Amalekites had raided the region, burned their homes, and took their families captive. They did what you and I would do: “David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep” (1 Sam 30:4). Ever been there? I know I have. But after the weeping, he did something else, “David found strength in the Lord his God” (v. 6).

This morning as I sat down to my prayer journal, I wrote my usual greeting: “Holy Father,” then I stared at the empty page.  Some mornings that about all I can muster – just to call His name.

Because I’m weary.

Because I’m overwhelmed.

Because I don’t know what to do.

Because I don’t see any way out of my circumstances.

Then I remembered David and I determined to follow his good example.

Because the Lord said, “Come to me all you who are weary and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).

Because the Scripture says: “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you” (1 Pet 5:7).

Because He promised: “Whether you turn to the right or to the lift, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” (Is 30:21).

Because He acts on behalf of his people: “The Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and . . . the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground” (Ex. 14:21,22).

Just like David, I found strength in the Lord my God. His Word refreshed me and encouraged me. The Scriptures remind me of His unfailing, never-ending, always faithful love. His promises give me hope.

Beloved, what has you weary this morning? Grief? Despair? What is overwhelming you? Needs? People? Are you at a loss to know what to do? Do you feel like there’s no way out of your circumstances? There is strength and encouragement and peace in the Word of God. From Genesis to Revelation, you will find hope to refresh your soul and Joy to fill your heart. God has a Word for you today.