Evangelist Crying

 

 

Being an Evangelist can be tough, even agonizing work. I speak from experience. You have to dump everything – all  dreams, expectations, pride, and heart. Sometimes you have to cry in front of everybody. Then you let Jesus pick up what’s left of you to use for His purpose and His alone. 

 I was an evangelist of sorts, once. My relationship with Christ was still new and in the throes of oblivion. I simply adored the One who had set me free and I wanted to serve Him in any way He asked. Washing and ironing clothes for three peer-pressured girls was not my idea of serving in the Kingdom. Nor was making four breakfasts, four lunches, and planning meals for five exactly what I thought the Lord had in mind. Driving from school to school, making beds, chasing three dogs? No, this was not the mission field to which I deserved to be assigned, I was certain. 

     “…He said to Him, ‘Yes Lord, you know that I love You.’ He said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’” (John 21:15)

      Just two months before Easter the call came from Claudia, our adult Sunday School Class leader. Claudia was a businesswoman dressed in tailored grey suits, low black heels, and a tight hair bun. She seemed to me to very disciplined and void of emotion. Every so often I would catch her peering at me through her glasses.

     Over the phone, Claudia told me in preparation for Easter, our group would be studying Jesus’ last days on earth. 

     “We would like you to teach the six week study.” Her voice was monotone. Was she joking, really looking for a childcare superintendent during the session? I would have accepted that request, though not wholeheartedly.

     Claudia was serious, “We’d like you to teach the class. Just six weeks.”

     This woman had not heard as a kindergartner I had been pulled off the stage wailing, or that I had flunked speech class in my senior year of high school.

     What was she thinking? What was Godthinking?

     My first thought was “NO!” but I asked the Sunday School Leader what she wanted me to teach. What exactly would be the topic?

     “Jesus.” 

     “I’ll do it.” Who would turn down Jesus? Either I would fail or Jesus would come through for me. 

“And because of Him you are in Christ Jesus who became to us wisdom from God…”(1Cor 1:30)

Immediately I began studying. I read through every Bible translation I owned, researched concordances, borrowed books, memorized Scripture, and prayed while I made lunches, sorted laundry, and ran the vacuum cleaner. By the time I was ready to teach the Sunday School Class about Jesus, the Savior and I were Best Friends Forever. 

For consider your calling...not many of you are wise according to worldly standards…” (1Cor 1:26)

     “We’ve got this.” I told Him. I did not tell Him about my nerves that were beginning to choke me. Burgeoning with facts and burning with passion, I stood before twenty or so adults in our class that included friends, my husband, and Claudia. After a quick prayer and a deep breath, I opened my mouth, and started to cry. Horrified by my behavior, I gulped back a sob, only to start over again. I could not talk; every word brought on a fresh onslaught of emotion. I stood there in my tear-stained mess, frozen, until Claudia led me outside the room to the water fountain. 

     “You don’t have to go back in there, you know,” she suggested. 

     I found my voice, or God’s voice found me. “If I don’t try again, I’ll never be able to go back.” With mascara smeared and swollen eyes, I walked into the classroom, apologized, and taught my first lesson.

     I wish I could report that the following lessons were easier for me, but they were not. Though the attendees and I never suffered another meltdown, I continued to be jittery, emotional, and entirely dependent on the mercy of Jesus. I felt like a failure in my mission field and was humbled that at least I had not been fired. I was actually glad when Easter arrived and my only responsibilities were to go home to fill baskets and cook a ham. In His wise way, God had shown me the richness of my tasks.

     Years later as I stood in line at a bagel shop, the gentleman in front of me turned and greeted me by name.

     How did he know who I was and who was he?

     “You probably don’t recognize me,” he said with smile, “but I’ll never forget you. My wife and I were new in the area when we attended the church where you taught a Sunday School Class on Jesus.”

     Oh dear.

     “You cried,” he continued, “but we were impressed that in spite of your anxiety, your passion about Jesus kept you with us and you stuck it out. So, we joined the church, and now my wife and I are serving there as its Youth Leaders.”

     I stood there, bagel bag in hand, tears streaming down my face.

     As Christians we all want to serve Jesus as best we can, even better than we can. He called us to “feed my sheep”, so we try to prepare gourmet meals and travel the earth with riches from America. If it so happens our Lord deems it necessary for us to evangelize, we strive to do it with eloquence, no crying allowed. We must remember, though, it is not our effort He wants, only our willingness to go and serve where and when He calls. 

 “…‘I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness’ …” (John 1:23)

Literally.

 

     

 

     

Prayer Pilgrimage

 

A few years ago, every so often, my grandson and I would meet for lunch just to “catch up”. In reality, Alec ‘s teen years was a full season of challenges, joys, and passions, and he wanted to tell me all about it. These lunches with my Grandson were treasured occasions for me and I would let nothing interfere with them. I cleared my calendar, turned off my cell phone, embraced my anticipation, and made certain no distraction would … disturb our time together.

            Reflecting on those sweet encounters, I have begun to wonder if I could visit with Jesus that intimately in hopes of knowing Him better and feeling more deeply His love. It is with this intent that I am going on a “Prayer Pilgrimage” during Holy Week.

With trepidation and anticipation I asked the LORD to share with me His conversations with His Father as He walked through the most difficult and glorious days of His life. I believe as I embrace my time with Him each day of Holy Week, I will learn vital truths about living and dying intentionally - just as He did. Perhaps, I will understand more fully how to pray with confident trust-through despair, danger, and discouragement.

            The Bible tells me, with Jesus we can call to our Father and know we have His attention.

            “And because you are His sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4-6)

This motive of a Spirit-directed and Christ-mediated prayer connects us deep into the heart of God, so we can know beyond any doubt He is a Father of good promises.

            Is it possible to be so intimate with our Savior to grasp His passion, agony, and victory through His prayers the last days of His life? Perhaps the Holy Spirit will give us a revelation of God’s goodness and trustworthiness that Jesus knew and experienced.

By reading and grasping the events and essence of each day during Holy Week…we can learn how to pray for 1) trust and obedience, 2) purification and passion, 3) wisdom, knowledge, and boldness, 4) peace, 5) surrender to God’s Sovereignty, 6) trust in the darkest hour, and 7) the everlasting promises of God (see John 5:5).

What will those prayers, teach us? Perhaps they will release us from bondages and free us into a deeper relationship with God. Surely, just as the love I felt from my grandson during our deep conversations and uninterrupted visits time together, we can come to know and feel the Father’s love in a very real and lasting way.

Let us all embark on Holy Week’s Prayer Pilgrimage, first with a cleansing prayer to clear away obstructions of guilt, anxiety, and disillusioning distractions. Second, with the assurance that it is because of the Victory of the Cross … all guilt and sin is wiped away.

“…by grace you have been saved – and raised up with Him and seated us with Him in heavenly places.” (Ephesians 2: 5-6)

We are welcome to enter into Jesus’ conversations with His Father. This is our privilege and His Promise.

Keeping Kingdom

Keeping Kingdom

            There is a place to go with grief, despair, and suffering. When grief gnaws, despair drags, and suffering suffocates, there is a place to breathe, when the hope of breath seems lost.  It comes to us in our overwhelming need – the Kingdom of Heaven. In this place of grace, confusion and anxiety are replaced with peace and trust. There is no need to understand and nothing to fear. God is sovereign and trustworthy.

            “God’s Kingdom is in our midst” (Luke 17:21) – Jesus Christ is with us and we are not alone. Our Rescue, Rock, Fortress, Stronghold, and Prince of Peace keeps us in our weakness. We are kept by grace until the power that moved Christ to the Cross and kept Him until the work of the Kingdom was done conquers our grief, despair, and suffering.

            Kept in the Kingdom we wait resting, breathing, trusting until Love arises. We realize our greatest need has not been relief but restoration in the Resurrection Power of Christ. In our weakness God keeps us in His Kingdom of Grace. He is in our midst until the day the Son rises again.

            

Grace in the Deep

           

             When Jonah opted for a cruise instead of obeying God’s command to go to Ninevah, he found himself at the depths of the sea. In the belly of a fish. The story of the obstinate prophet is comical on one hand and arresting on the other. We all remember the great fish of the sea large enough to ingest a whole man, and we can imagine the horror of being encased in the gurgling smelly gut of a sea monster. (Jonah:1-2) What we can’t imagine, until we read about Jonah, is at what lengths God will go to give grace. All the way to the bottom of the sea, and farther.

            Ultimately, at the end of all his resources, Jonah has an epiphany, changes his attitude and prays. In spite of his fear, distress, and misery, Jonah acknowledges that God is with him and hears his cries. With thanksgiving he promises to sacrifice what he must to do what God wants.

            “And the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon dry land.” (Jonah 2:10)

            Undeserving, disobedient, rebellious Jonah was drenched in messy redeeming grace. He was saved from the sea to bring God’s word to a lost people.

            I love this short story because it celebrates God’s relentless grace not only to a pouting prophet but also to a land of naughty people.

            Tim Keller wrote, “No human being is so good they don’t need grace, or so bad they won’t be given grace.”

              Lately I’ve been wondering where grace is for the good person. Where is God's saving, merciful, peaceful grace for the haggard man standing on the street corner with a cardboard sign, the family whose child is killed by a drunk driver, and, closer to home, my friend in the last drawn out stages of cancer while his wife of merely five years, still trusting Jesus, holds his hand and gives him water with a Q-tip? If God is bountiful in grace and offers it abundantly to those who have chosen to turn from Him, where is His grace in the pain and suffering of innocent, righteous, and devoted Believers?

            Paul may have thrown these same questions, albeit with more eloquence, to the Giver of Grace when he was afflicted with a debilitating physical, emotional, or abusive problem that kept him from becoming more effective in his call to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles (II Corinthians 12: 7-10). He must have been frustrated and disappointed, maybe devastated at first, when he imagined his whole ministry falling apart. Where was God’s grace when this fully chosen, sacrificial, righteous man-of-God was stopped in his tracks by a thorn?

            I can relate to how Paul may have felt. I once had a ministry focused on faith and fitness in which my physical stamina and strength played a big part. Since I was older than most fitness instructors at the time and had once been fairly sedentary and overweight, my empathy and energy resonated with many people suffering from lists of poor habits and lost hopes. My encouragement to have faith in the plan God made for each one of us to be “prosperous and in good health” restored new hope and healthy lifestyles for many clients.

            When rheumatoid arthritis made its painful way into my joints I was rendered miserable and immobile most of the time. I had to leave behind my active lifestyle and fitness ministry, and I railed at God the whole way. It just did not make sense. My mantra, “Movement is life” seemed to be a cruel joke. Where was the grace in this?

            God had words with Paul and I am so grateful for them. He basically told the ailing Apostle to stop complaining and get on with his work. It was just that Paul’s work was going to be different now, bathed in God’s grace.

            “…My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness.” (II Corinthians 12:9)

            Paul’s affliction became his strength because he had to depend on God to continue his ministry. Now, because of his reliance on God and gratitude for the ability given to him to continue to address the churches of Europe, his passionate messages were real, humble, and empathetic. Jesus Christ from the Cross was given the glory, not Paul’s appointment, credentials, or eloquence.

            After decades of pain, surgeries, and deformities, I, too, learned to trust God’s plan. The confidence I once had on my image as a Fitness Guru changed to humble gratitude for just being able to move. My mantra took on a more important truth, one that I could share from experience: movement is what God gave us to live abundantly in His Kingdom, no matter how fit we are. Where at first I despaired my disabling disease, God poured grace on my hardened heart, giving me a fresh message to share and a supernatural joy that even helps me laugh at my crooked hands.

            Until we really get grace, we cannot live the life God, in His sovereignty, has chosen for us. Yet, His grace comes in different ways than we expect and usually comes when we are under water feeling like a fish has swallowed us. The life and work God calls us to is always much different that our plans, dreams, or visions. Many times it carries us through hardship, suffering, pain, even grief – the refining sacrifices Jesus made at the Cross so that we would know we are never alone in our afflictions.

            With God’s grace, Paul said, “Therefore I will boast the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest on me.

              So, this is grace – the power of Christ resting upon us during our greatest need.  We don’t have to strive in our weakness to be stronger, calmer, or better. Grace calls us to rest in Christ as He gives the power to face what had before seemed impossible.

Salvation belongs to the Lord.” (Jonah 2:9) Jonah declares, just before he is lifted from the sea. This, too, is our promise.

              The choices are God’s and the reasons are His alone. The grace He gives is sufficient for the rebellious and especially the righteous.  His undeserved favor is enough – the perfect amount of kindness going beyond what is deserved. This grace is the power of Christ resting on us to cover our weaknesses, keeping us secure and at peace with Him. Grace pulls us from great seas of doubt and despair to a place of trust in the goodness of our Sovereign God.

 

           

             

            

Unwrapping Lazarus

Jesus didn’t come to earth to prove or talk about God. Jesus lived to show us God, and how to live like God.

As I meditated during the Easter Season while away from home and in a transient lifestyle, I prayed for a clear message that would bring me back to the Cross. It was in the story of Lazarus that I found the miracle waiting to be unwrapped.

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FIVE HUSBANDS OR MORE

 

     The story of the Samaritan woman who met Jesus at the well can be haunting. Like this woman who had secret relationships, we all have sins we would rather not talk about. In many ways we can identify with her. There are days when we feel beat down and plain worn out. We just want a fresh start, like a glass of cool water, and all we get is the stale repetition of every day failure. We just want to be left alone.

         The Samaritan woman goes to the well where she can sulk in peace.   The Man just needs to move away. She doesn’t want to talk, like sometimes we don’t want to pray. There is nothing more to say. Asking for help is hopeless. There have been too many mistakes, grudges, and hurts.  We have nothing more to give. Our well is dry. Why is He asking us for water?      

         Even if we could give Him water, it would be contaminated with our filth. We cringe at His request. Our faith is frazzled. We thought we knew God, and for the longest time we have tried so hard to be good. The Samaritan woman’s faith in the God of Jacob had given her the same dry results as our efforts have been to please God. We have been drinking from the wrong well.

         “The woman said to Him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I will not have to be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.’” (John 4:15)

         Fresh water? Revival? Sure, everyone can use a fresh start, a new attitude, and a kick in the behind. But everything seems the same. We are here at the well again. What, Jesus, can You do for us now?  How in the world can You refresh our mess?

         The woman had husbands and Jesus knew it.

         ”Go call your husband, and come here.

         His gentle hospitality is arresting. He invites the woman to bring her husband for His living water? Really?

 “I have no husband!” The woman is shaken and confused. So are we. What sins are we so aligned with that we are stuck in their control, like bad relationships? Who has arranged our pity party?

“You are right – you have five husbands and you are living with a man now,” Sounds like this Samaritan gal has had quite the party herself.

The truth stings. What the Savior knows and reveals exposes the sins that have us trapped. Like our friend from Samaria, I have been bound to “husbands” of my own.

The one with the strongest hold of all is pride. How devious pride is to make me think I must be perfect, even better, than everyone else, smile always, out hostess the hostess, and hide my age with more mascara and spin classes. How tightly I have clung to this arrogant, vain companion so I can measure up to the world’s standards.

The second “husband” taunts me by making me afraid that people think I am dumb, dramatic and delusional. Fear has a great time pulling me into thinking I am not creative, just a little crazy. “Stay home with me!” fear implores, trying to convince me to stay close and avoid adventures or new experiences. “You’re too old to take risks,” I am reminded over and over.

I have also lived with judgment, which always hooks up to pride.  It’s easy for me to recognize judgment as my eyebrow raises when I see really short skirts like I wish I could wear, hear words like “me” and “I” used incorrectly, or sit next to a loud obnoxious fan at a football game. My flirt with judgment always puts me back in the arms of pride.

The times I have spent with bitterness and selfishness have been dark and deep. I’ve tried to convince myself that I can’t relate to selfishness because I enjoy giving gifts and other pleasantries to people. But selfishness convinces me I want presents, too, and when I think about it too much, selfishness turns to greed. That’s when bitterness sets in. Together, the three of us console ourselves in the most pitiful way.

Of all my metaphorical husbands, shame is the most persistent one, like the man Jesus told the love-lost woman she was still living with. Like super glue, it just won’t let go, constantly reminding me of my weaknesses and how unholy I am to a God who calls me to be as holy as He is. Shame plagues me when I stoop to temptation, snap in defense, and skip church. Never quiet, especially at night when I try to sleep, shame hisses reminders of failures and blunders from my past. Shame sneers, “Tomorrow is going to be just as bad. You are a loser.”

Except, tomorrow is today and I am at the well reading about the Samaritan woman. Here in the fourth chapter of John, Jesus gives us His water so we can live free again. His Love is a thundering waterfall crashing through our bondages, washing away the stigma of our sins.

This is what you and I, along with the Samaritan woman, have needed all along! Then and now, we must come to the well of Living Water and be drenched in the knowing and forgiving Love of Jesus.  

The story of the Samaritan woman at the well is a lifeline to those of us who think our sins are hidden away in the corner where we hide. Jesus loves all of us in spite of ourselves, no matter how many “husbands” - or sins - we have. If we’ll just ask Him, He’ll rip us out of those corners and throw us back into the world dripping with Love.

Drink up the water Jesus pours and live!

“For with You is the fountain of life…” (Psalm 36:9)

 

 

 

 

        

         

Do You Want To Hold The Baby?

No need to be quiet. You don’t have to tiptoe. Just walk right in with your open heart. What you see has been waiting for you and is very much awake! Ever so gently, pick up your Bible. Do you sense its weight pulsing in your hands? Pull back the cover and caress the pages. Listen to the story of God whispering through your fingers.

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God's Gift List

It doesn’t seem fair that the Christmas season, so full of celebration and goodwill, brings with it stress, short-tempers, and exhaustion.  The holiday chaos has nothing to do with the meaning of Christmas. In spite of the fact that the essence of Christmas celebration is “Christ is born!” and “God is with us!”, we leave Him behind as we scurry about doing our shopping, gifting, and entertaining. No matter how we try to scale down the holiday schedule, new obligations and unexpected mishaps foil our best-laid plans. There have been too many years of my adult life when December 1st signaled a twenty-five day marathon, with flickering Advent candles at the finish line.

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Chaos & Creation

I wonder if I will ever learn. Day after day I am given opportunities to proclaim the name of Jesus Christ, to express His love, even to share the Gospel with another. I want to be that kind of Christian. The kind who reaches out to others, even strangers, pats them on the shoulder, and says, “God has impressed upon me to tell you Jesus loves you so much,” or “May I pray for you?” But, no, I let so many sacred opportunities pass me by. What is God going to do with me?

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Our Greatest Hope

I am writing from my chair at the Infusion Center where the medicine that keeps the inflammation from searing through my joints is being pumped through a needle into my veins. While I hope the medicine will give me relief from debilitating pain, I have three hours to reflect on a greater hope.

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Lost Keys, Pickle, & Pew

Spiritual confusion is not a bad thing, unless we handle it wrong. Learning to trust God when things go awry reminds me of a story about the man who had partied a little too much and discovered he lost the keys to his car. Under the bright glare of a street lamp, he crawled on his hands and knees to search for them. A man walking by, seeing the frustrated party-guy clawing through the grass, asked him what he was looking for.

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Seasons: Then & Now

Last Sunday our church was alive with the exuberance and pubescent voices of our congregational teens. Their passion for Jesus was palpable, their songs and hymns about worship blessing God, Jesus making the weak strong, and death having no victory, rose to the rafters.  The energy of youth in its prime is a mighty force and when connected to the all-providing love of Jesus, it changes lives. I’ve seen it happen.

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Lessons of a Ballerina

I have had the pleasure of attending our granddaughter’s ballet recitals for twelve consecutive years. She danced in three different ensembles this past Saturday - two ballets, and one jazz piece. Although Josselyn was one of many lovely and accomplished dancers, her radiance from the stage not only delighted me, but struck me with a lesson I had forgotten. Some lessons are harder for us to learn than others. God has a way of bringing them back around again.

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Look For His Gate

What gate do you like to go through to spend time with the Lord? Where do you go to search for an answer, make a decision, change your mood, ask for forgiveness, or reflect on the day? Where do you go to inhale the Holy Spirit and exhale Grace?

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Don't Throw in the Towel

Satan would have had me throw in the towel. I needed spiritual therapy, possibly CPR.  My spirit was sprained, almost broken. I felt injured, offended, rejected. My worship lost its power, my prayers were weak, and my faith was faltering. The hope I inhaled was hot and instead of praising God, I choked on my words.

 

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Diverse Excellence

A group becomes a team when its members set a common goal. The personalities and paradigms of the members may be different, but, if their commitment is true, the goal will come to life. Often the variations within can be difficult for the team and cause diversity. We know this because we’ve been involved with all sorts of teams at one time or another, and each of us has had to learn to cooperate, bite the tongue, look the other way, and give a little, or a lot, for the common good.  A team’s ultimate success depends not only on the people, but also on the integrity of the goal.

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Forevermore

Forty-eight years is a long time to live with one person. For my husband and me, these years have included career changes, financial adjustments, illnesses, celebrations, and the ongoing miraculous expansion of our family. Together we have experienced joy, anger, confusion, and an awe of the One who orchestrated it all. Through it, we have stayed together because God Almighty has bound us with His love. We have seen His miracles and mercies for almost five decades, and we are still learning about the commitment of marriage.

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The Miracle of Adoption

“She is a miracle, you know.” My brother gazed at the child wearing an over-sized polka dotted bow celebrating the crown of her sun-splashed head. Our entire family, several from out-of-town, had gathered to indeed celebrate this little girl’s third birthday, and to introduce her to just one part of her very large family.

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