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The Strongman Competition

Published April 18, 2018 by Dawn

Just got back from the gym. Haven’t even had a shower yet, but I had to sit down with this one because … well, because it’s been on my heart a bit and I don’t want to walk around with this message inside of me any longer. I think it’s really important for the church.

I’ve been going to this gym for four or five weeks now. Carved a place for it into my morning by getting up an hour earlier, which I absolutely love. It’s the second-best way to start a day – the first is tea and Jesus.

Anyway, the first week or two going, it was really busy in the morning. There’s this loner girl who goes and lifts by herself. A few guys in there rocking out to their Bluetooth earbuds, oblivious to the world. They stand in front of a very long mirror and watch themselves lift weights. It looks like maybe it takes a lot of concentration. I saw this one group of three guys and one girl challenging each other to lift heavy one day, but I haven’t seen them since. Then there’s the water-cooler-guys. They come in and talk to each other and hardly lift anything. I don’t really blame them, though, because although I do get my sweat on each time I go, I’m really paying just to hang out with my mom and sister. It’s good fellowship time that we didn’t have before.

The second Saturday, we were going to go to Zumba in the morning but it was canceled because the gym was hosting a Strongman competition. I didn’t go, but apparently it’s a competition for really muscular people. They get together and try to outdo each other with different weights and lifts. Sounds agonizing.

The Monday after this competition, it was dead in the gym. We had to turn the lights on that morning. No one showed up while we were there. Or the Tuesday after. Or even Wednesday. Now, I know that when completing a marathon, you are encouraged to rest for several days after, because you have pushed your muscles to the limit and you don’t want to risk hurting yourself. But it’s been three weeks since the competition and most of these people have not returned to a regular program of morning work-outs. Loner girl comes in faithfully Monday through Friday still. I’ve seen water-cooler-guys twice in three weeks, and one muscular guy with Bluetooth earbuds comes sporadically throughout the week. For the most part, it’s been crickets at the gym.

I feel it’s kinda like ministry. You know, everyone prepares when something is going down. We get all hyped up to show what we’re made of. Super ready to show that we’ve got what it takes, measure ourselves against others in the ministry, and let others see the effects of our time in the Word. We are confident this is what we were made for, and we’ve been preparing these muscles for the Big Day. But when the spotlight fades, we sleep in again. We don’t dig into our words to know God so much as we dig to get fit for the competition. When the competition is over, we slack off in our discipline because we have reached our goal in it. We see that temporary finish line. The conference is over, the crowds have gone home and the necessity to stay sharpened is seemingly removed.

Here’s the thing: it’s okay to take a break. In fact, it’s necessary. None but Jesus can stay at 100% all the time. Put it all down and watch a ball game with your family. Sleep in on Saturday and have your tea with Jesus in the evening. Take a hiatus from the daily grind of ministry and relax for a day. A month. A year. Whatever you need. But don’t get lazy, because life is not a Strongman competition. We aren’t training for those moments, we should be living in them daily. There are opportunities all around us to pour out what God is putting into us, and if we do it in our own strength, we’re going to poop out fast and we’re going to get disheartened and quit. We have to start getting into our Word and praying daily as a matter of discipline to prepare for whatever comes, not for a Strongman competition. God often allows others to be in need around us when we feel the least adequate. Then we have to rely on Him. But if we’re in the Word and in constant contact with His Holy Spirit, it flows.

Listen, friend, you are a strongman. All that God has called you to do, He will put inside of you. You don’t have to work it up or study hard like the test is tomorrow. Just be with Him. He recalls scripture to mind when you need to speak it, and He gives the Word that heals, restores and leads to salvation. You are filled with the Holy Spirit to do the work God predestined you for and you are capable because the Holy Spirit is capable. It’s not all on you and you don’t have to prove anything. You just have to stay in intimate contact with the Lord through His Word and through prayer. Then you will be ready, whether the work looks like a worldwide revolution or rubbing the tingling feet of a loved one in a nursing home. Our first mistake may be thinking one is ministry and the other is not. There are opportunities all around us to do the work of God. Let’s not treat ministry like a once-in-a-lifetime and start seeing it for what it is: Life.

 

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For God’s Sake, Be That Someone

Published March 7, 2018 by Dawn

I probably have lice. I might have gotten it today … or yesterday. Or any number of days ago, because I did exactly what she told me not to do: I hugged the kid.

Being an elementary school teacher is TOUGH. I bring papers home to grade, grade during my plan, plan during my lunch and do recess duty in a skirt in the middle of winter. On top of that, I take tickets from kids who talk in the hall (which hurts me more than it hurts them), and hug kids who often have lice. That last one is where it gets me, though.

I was a day late into the news and found out today that a teenage boy committed suicide yesterday not too far from here. I cried all the way home from work. I wonder if he was the kid no one really wanted to hug in elementary school? I’m not judging anyone, because trust me, I cringe at the thought of getting lice. It’s a BIG deal. Cleaning everything in the house, not sitting on the couch for days, spending fanatical amounts of money to get rid of them … I get it. But are all those reasons combined good enough to reject a kid who needs a hug? Because this little girl is one of the hardest to deal with on the regular, and needs a hug every day, and I’m responsible for that!

I feel it internally. I can’t not hug a kid. I open my arms to that little girl daily and pray that all the love of Christ in me reaches her. I high five kids who’ve just picked their noses. It’s gross. I’m well aware of it, as my insides recoil sometimes, but I still high five, genuine smile and all, and do the thing because what if someone needs it?

I wonder what that teenage boy needed that he didn’t get from anyone? What kind of rejection did he have to endure to finally decide to take his own life? What kind of insignificant thing did people put up as a barrier to human interaction, and rob that boy? Not just rob him of interaction, but of joy. Purpose. Love. Life.

Seriously, we need to stop. Lice is VERY inconvenient, but it isn’t permanent. Stink is unwelcome, but it isn’t irreversible. Whatever other excuse we come up with, none of them are worth the risk of losing another student to suicide. Smile. A lot. Hug, every time they reach out with open arms. Forget about all the reasons you don’t really want to touch a kid and DO IT (appropriately). Kids need to know someone cares, and sometimes, they do not get that kind of encouragement at home. Be that someone. BE THAT SOMEONE! For God’s sake, people, be that someone.

Jesus was that someone. He said, “Suffer not the little children to come unto me” (Matt. 19:14). He let them interrupt him, touch him, hug him. Whatever they came to him needing, he gave, and he rebuked his disciples for not letting them come. I can’t imagine he didn’t lift them to God in prayer. He was exactly what they needed. He still is. Exactly what they need. And they will come to Jesus by coming to us. Let’s not turn them away.

Jesus Loved Judas

Published March 1, 2018 by Dawn

It’s comforting to think that Judas was alienated from the others. He was the only disciple willing to betray Jesus, and the Bible records him as a thief who protested the exorbitant and flagrant misuse of money, that Jesus otherwise saw as an act of worship. One would imagine Judas was left on the fringe of their ministry, distrusted because he was stealing. One would assume that, like us, Jesus was wary of Judas and often suspicious.

Perhaps these thoughts are comforting, but I think we might be absolutely wrong.

The Bible says Jesus was “tempted in every way, just as we are, but was without sin.” As I stood at the counter of my local bank waiting for my new debit card to be printed, I realized that Jesus loved Judas. This was perhaps one of the most hurtful events in Jesus’ life. This was the moment someone caused Jesus the most pain, did one of the most unforgiveable things that led to deadly consequences, and gave Jesus an opportunity to know what it is like for a man to be betrayed by his closest friend. He had to understand our pain, right?

I stood there with my eyes closed, listening to the worship music playing overhead. It was weird, really, to publicly worship along to the lyrics, “For I am crucified with Christ, and yet I live. Not I but Christ who lives within me. His cross will never ask for more than I can give. For it’s not my grace, but His. There’s no greater sacrifice.”  Or it would have been weird if I cared. I was so hurt, I was willing to stand there soaking in the sweet reminder of the Holy Spirit, that all of the painful things in life give me an opportunity to die to my own reactions.

Someone hijacked my debit card and helped themselves on Amazon with my paycheck. Amazon has amazing records … you can give them your card number and they can tell you who’s account used it. My heart might have hardened a little toward a stranger. But it wasn’t. It was a friend. Someone I love dearly. I was heartbroken. Angry, yes, but mostly hurt.

When I prayed about how to approach the subject, my heart was flooded with peace and the knowledge that this was another opportunity to add to my 70×7. This person has transgressed many times, always seeking forgiveness but never following through with repentant behavior. Given unconditional trust and being very undeserving. Given mercy upon mercy and not caring a lick. Just taking.

I know Judas loved Jesus, because when the magnitude of what he’d betrayed Jesus to hit him, he was so overcome with grief, he committed self-murder. If he hadn’t loved Jesus, he wouldn’t have cared so much. He just obviously loved himself a lot too. His self-love betrayed him, I would say. I think the same thing happened in my situation. An abundance of self-love stole this person’s vision until they were short-sighted and foolish. The act discovered and addressed led to genuine remorse. I do not doubt the sincere cry for forgiveness. I cannot deny the plea, because I am responsible to God to forgive as He has forgiven me. My love didn’t diminish in the least and although I am aware of the potential going forward, I cannot live in relation to this person with suspicion leading me, because it’s not loving.

None of this is my natural reaction, and that’s how I know Jesus loved Judas. I think it’s comforting knowing that the depth of our sin toward God cannot diminish His love, or His willingness to forgive us and walk with us as if we had never transgressed after we’ve been forgiven. I love that His mercies are new every morning. I am grateful for His grace, that instead of being demanding, is so beautiful that my right relationship with God isn’t because I am intimidated by His sovereignty, but because I am so very thankful. What a wonderful, amazing God we serve.

“You Should Probably Pray About That”

Published February 26, 2018 by Dawn

I was chastised tonight in the parking lot of the church. I pulled in to the parking lot, put the car in park and prepared to practice my song one more time before going into the building. I was supposed to share a special song at the end of the worship service and I just wanted to practice it one more time. My son sat in the passenger seat, sunk down as low as he could go, looking off into the distance with a hurt expression on his face. He had disappointed himself just a few minutes before we got in the car to go to church and his reaction escalated quickly until he was out of control. To be honest, he had disappointed me too, but I am learning that sometimes, the experience is enough of a teacher and I was not going to hurt him with my admonishment since it seemed like his own disappointment was more than enough.

His voice, just barely above a whisper, broke the silence in the car as I was scrolling through my music to find the track I was going to use tonight. He said, “Mom, I am hurting so much.” I looked over at him and said, “Bub, you probably need to pray about it. I have to practice this song.” I only had five minutes before service started and we were still in the parking lot. I turned back to the phone, pressed play, and started singing along to the music, hitting all the right stops and starts, nailing the song … while the Holy Spirit stared into me. How can you think this service to God is more important than the person sitting next to you?

I was deeply ashamed of myself. If the Holy Spirit is going to say that to me, that means that God doesn’t think my singing in church – even if it’s for His honor and glory – is more important than praying with my son. It seems that goes without saying, but I probably do this often. I’m a one-track mind kind of person. I get stuck on something, and I have to work really hard to maintain focus so I will finish things, or I don’t. I am an expert at ignoring distractions to get work done, but apparently, sometimes, I ignore the work while I get distractions done.

I was really affected by this chastisement, and when my pastor preached this evening on the Acts 2 church, it dawned on me that this isn’t just my problem; it’s the church’s problem. We have mastered the art of doing service for God. Man, we do, do, do. And when we have a moment of nothing to do, we plan for the next service we are going to do. But we have neglected the people around us time and time again. We want to minister to people, thinking we can make a huge impact on them and their circumstances, but how can we make any impact on the world around us if we aren’t willing to stop and pray? The world is saying, “I am hurting,” and the church is responding, “You should probably pray about that.” Then we turn back to what we were doing before and ignore the brokenness around us.

The men and women of Acts who experienced a great, sweeping heavenly fire weren’t adhering to a carefully thought out program. They were praying. They were waiting on God. They had agreed with Jesus to still themselves in prayer until the Holy Spirit showed up. When the cloven tongues fell, those men and women were equipped to do God’s work, and God’s work no doubt took them by surprise. Which of them woke up that morning determined to make a fool of him or herself? The people outside accused them of public drunkenness, but they were just filled with the Spirit of God. They participated in what God wanted to do through them, and thousands came to Christ. That’s never happened in my lifetime, and I think I know why: the church has prioritized ministry in such a way to keep people and appeal to people, but not really to reach out to people where they are and minister life to the dying, or pray with the desperately hurting.

This is a tough word, but trust me, friend, I am not pointing fingers. I am GUILTY of this. My own son! I think, if we want to see a move of God as in past generations, we have to get on our knees. He must become greater and we must become less. We have to stop the incessant programming that keeps God in a box, close our eyes for a bit and really press in past the distractions to know God, know His will and His heart for the people around us. We need to be reminded again how powerless we are without Him, and then pray for the Holy Spirit to empower us in our weakness. Only then will we see a mighty move of God, instead of mediocre acts of men and women.

Notice in Matthew 25, Jesus talks about God’s work, and it all involves people. Reaching out the people. Providing for the needs of others. Taking care of those in desperate circumstances. Casting out demons and working miracles are most certainly a work of God that He equips people for, but if we neglect those around us’ most pressing needs because it doesn’t fit into our idea of ministry, we have failed in what God called us to do. Jesus warned that many will say to God on that day, “Lord, didn’t I prophesy in your name and cast out demons, and perform many miracles?” But Jesus said God would tell them to depart, that He never knew them (Matt. 7). These men and women thought they were doing the Lord’s work, but God didn’t acknowledge them or their efforts! Why? Because, while service is most definitely what God enables us to do, we are still responsible to do His will in His timing.

The church has become indifferent to things that God could never turn away from. How many orphans remain institutionalized because God’s people haven’t responded to the need? How many young people are desperately searching for love and attention in things of this world because men and women of God haven’t stepped into the empty places left by broken homes? How many men and women are more concerned about finding the right one, because they have never been introduced to The One who, alone, can satisfy? “You should probably pray about that.”

Father, break our hearts for what breaks yours. Teach us to pray, Lord. Teach us to tarry in prayer, waiting for you to move us instead of being so busy that we miss what you really want to do through us.  Remold your church into the body of Christ as it should be, and teach us to do your work, and not our idea of it. You love people, Lord, and sometimes, it seems that we love the lights, platform and accolades. Forgive us for putting minor things in the place of major things and neglecting those around us while we chase our own dreams.

 

The Ministry of Jesus – God’s Will for You

Published February 8, 2018 by Dawn

It’s amazing the things God uses sometimes to teach us. The way He works into the fabric of our day, the little things He needs to show us to mold us and make us more and more like Christ. The other day, my schedule was upended two days in a row, and I found myself in a situation at work in which I had to shadow a student at her job sight: a nursing home.

We walked in and immediately jumped in line with a lady rushing here and there, all over the facility, passing out clean linens. She had no time to talk, no time to teach, and the student and I simply followed her, stayed out of her way and watched everything she did. At one point, though, I glanced into a room and noticed a lady in a dark blue shirt sitting bedside to an elderly man, slowly putting a full spoon of soft mush into his mouth and speaking quietly to him while he ate. She turned and looked at me as I stared, lost in this intimate moment. Her face was not soft. It was hard and she never smiled at me, though I smiled at her in a friendly manner. She turned back and scraped up another spoonful of food while I shamelessly watched, in awe. You see, though she didn’t smile at me or even seem remotely softened by my own smile, I looked at her and recognized Christ.

It dawned on me in that moment that I have spent so much time trying to figure out the will of God, trying to see what big plans He has in store for me. Fighting with life because I feel like there are many things hindering me from being all that God wants me to be. But what if God just wants me to be like Jesus in any circumstance? Willing to feed the elderly, or sit with the broken, or minister to a child’s heart simply by hugging him or her? What if God’s big ministry opportunities are really just the small things of daily life? That woman, in that moment, was more Christ-like than I, because my relationship with God is sometimes just a pursuit of the next big thing and a lot of anger and frustration in the between times. Sitting in a church pew wishing God would use the Word I’ve faithfully planted inside me. Wishing He’d give me a platform and an audience so I can minister truth because it’s like fire shut up in my bones. But could it be that I am missing all the daily things God could be offering to use me in? What does it mean to be Christ-like, anyway? Jesus didn’t base his idea of success in ministry on the number of people who showed up. Sometimes he ministered to the masses, and sometimes, he ministered to a lonely woman at a well or a desperate group of lepers. He didn’t really even set the world on fire. That fire started after His earthly ministry was complete. What if, ultimately, some of our greatest victories for the kingdom are seeds planted now that we won’t even see bear fruit because it happens long after we’re gone?

I swallowed my fear when that woman walked past me several minutes later. I ignored her hardened, smile-less face and spoke to her heart. “Thank you so much for what you did. For feeding him.” She said, without a smile, “Well, he had to eat.” I just started weeping. I know, it’s so unprofessional, but I couldn’t help myself. I had seen Jesus in her actions and I realized in that moment that what she was doing is more “ministry” than I do as a youth leader. As a teacher. What might have been humiliating to her, and often devalued by the world because of how degrading it seems, is exactly what Jesus would be doing. Helping the helpless. Loving in actions and not just words. Touching people instead of just speaking to them. I don’t think we’re doing it right if all we ever do is show up to church and sing songs and listen to a preacher preach. Even if we crack our Bibles open every morning and hit our knees every night. If we don’t have a relationship with people, putting our faith into actions such as these, our lives will amount to nothing, eternally speaking.

“Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?” (Matt. 7:21-22) Jesus confronted the ministry-minded here in these verses. In essence, what he wanted to make very clear is that these things might have a place in the work God gives us to do, but they aren’t “the work.” Micah 6:8 says that God wants us to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with him. James 1:27 says that God’s idea of religion is to look after orphans and widows in their distress and keep oneself from being polluted by the world. Then there’s the parable in Matthew 25:

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

In this parable, reaching out to those around them was literally their ticket into the Kingdom of God. Why have we focused on the platform – the recognition and busyness of teaching people what we know – and forsaken the real work of the kingdom? There are more churches than morgues, but the morgues are fuller than the churches could ever be, and they are full of people who needed to see Jesus but didn’t because the body of Christ (the “church”) is so inwardly focused. Narcissistic. Distracted by false prophecies about big ministries. We Christians spend so much time trying to find out God’s big plan and purpose for us, because we’re convinced we’re all so incredibly awesome and equipped for big things. Have we forgotten that Jesus said even he didn’t come to be served, but to serve, and give his life for many? Give his life. Live every day for others and not himself. Christ showed us what selfless love was. If we cannot live a life of service in obscurity, we cannot consider ourselves Christ-like. We have to wonder if God is pleased with us as we devote so much of our time daily seeking our own advancements, serving others with impure motives, so that we might be somebody in our own eyes.

I wonder if there would be less broken people in the world if the church got a little uncomfortable. A little less cliquish. A little more involved in the world outside the sanctuary doors. A little less worried about having a bright sign and a steeple. A little more like Jesus. Revival isn’t a well-planned sermon in a good location with a bunch of big names. Revival is dead things coming to life. And it has to start with the church. The body of Christ has been lethargic for so long. We need to reach out as the hands and feet of Christ, with his precious lifeblood coursing through us, ministering to the world like Jesus desires us to. First Corinthians 4:20 tells us that “the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk, but of power.” Our meetings are good and beneficial to the body, but they aren’t everything. Let them serve as rest stops, and there will be some who find their calling there, but most of us will be obscure instruments who will be last here. Forgotten. Forsaken. Used. Despised. Rejected. Scorned. Broken and belittled. God, help us to endure to the end (Matt. 24:13). In whatever way God chooses to use you, in whatever situation He daily places you, be faithful, friend. One day, the first shall be last and the last shall be first (Matt. 20:16).

Strength When the Struggle is Real

Published January 25, 2018 by Dawn

I sat here last night and wrote two or three sentences over and over, going back and erasing, writing something else. Nothing flowed because I didn’t even know where to start. A regular reader will have noticed a marked decrease in my blogging over the past two months, and I finally have a word that adequately defines why: stunned.

Like a deer hit with a high beam, I’ve felt taken off-guard. Hit hard and fast with an overwhelming barrage of things, and for a while, I didn’t want to talk about any of it because it would have been complaining and I am currently breaking up with self-pity. I didn’t want to go there. I wanted to share from a place of security and wholeness. So, let’s talk.

A little over two months ago, we took in a little boy who needed a safe place to stay for a bit. He’s six, adorable and more of a handful than I wanted to deal with. It was a God-thing, but it didn’t feel good. First lesson: our comfort is not God’s ultimate aim in life. We have to stop worshipping our comfort and refusing to do God’s will because it doesn’t feel good. Let’s just say this wisdom didn’t come immediately, but more of a chastisement. I was wallowing in my own self-pity and self-centered bitterness. Then, the Word said, “Whoever welcomes a little child in my name, welcomes me,” and immediately I was faced with this dilemma: who’s right? Me or God? I was hurting, but not right.

It’s hard to accept, with gratitude, a child who causes angst in your own children and purposefully annoys them to get their attention. A child who pees in the floor when he’s mad or upset. A child who moves like a sloth through his morning when you have to be taxi to three different schools before you head to work. A child who doesn’t do what you ask unless you watch him like a hawk, repeatedly disobeys, and is one more person not picking up after himself in a house full of people you were already frustrated with for the same reason.

This child has good qualities too, but I was so frustrated with the depth of sacrifice, I couldn’t take my eyes off the things that were causing me to choke, to give him any credit. Not only was my attitude unChrist-like, it was downright sickening. And I knew it.

Then, we added a third into what is now known as “the boys’ room,” (another thing grating on my already-hurting son), when I had to take in a short-term exchange student because they are my responsibility while they are here and this teen’s placement didn’t work out. He’s not a problem at all, but there were more sacrifices: Earlier mornings, shorter showers, less laundry days, putting on make-up in bad lighting and not having time to do my hair. Having one more person to pick up and drive all over every day. One more person eating meals and hanging the door open. My electric bill roiled my stomach!

On top of this – or maybe beneath it is how they feel – are my own two precious kids struggling with hormones, an absent father, pressure from school, pressure from teachers, pressure from friends, and needing me to console and love on them while inside, I’m kind of freaking out. When my daughter hit me with an “I miss my dad” at bedtime the other day, and all I could do was cry with her, the magnitude of how powerless I am in my life hit me hard.

Lesson two: hardships bring us closer to God, and that was why Paul gloried in them. I went to my room and prostrated myself on the stained carpet that desperately needs TLC. Inhaling dust and God-knows-what, I cried out to God because I do know that, although things seem out of control, He is absolutely still in control. I felt held.  I felt listened to as I poured out my soul. Then, I felt taught as the Holy Spirit reminded me that God’s aim in our suffering is to teach us obedience, perseverance, and all the strengthening words we need to help others in their suffering. Paul talked about being offered up on the sacrifice and service of other believers’ faith – he was talking about enduring trials so that the faith of others may be built up. His comfort, his desires, were the sacrifice. All so that others might come to really know God and His power at work on their behalf. This is such a beautiful thing.

I was also reminded that when you tell God you are ready to be used, you don’t get to pick the circumstances and it’s foolish to complain because God is answering your heart cry to be used. It just might not look like you want it to look. And it certainly never feels like you hope it will feel. God orchestrates our lives because we are His. While we are looking for miraculous and amazing things, God is in the people and places of ordinary, everyday life. So many of us will miss our moments to be used for His kingdom waiting on a stage and lights. If I refuse to be Jesus to this little boy, or this Chilean student, because they take up time that I could be holed up reading my Bible or writing, I’ve missed a divine appointment that I’ve prayed for simply because it’s not the way I envisioned my service to the Lord working out. But that’s not the will of God; it’s the will of Dawn. I set myself up as an idol.

When I thought I couldn’t possibly do another thing in surrender, God asked something else of me: I was asked to move our teen meetings at church to Sunday mornings so that the larger group of teens that attend on Sunday morning will participate in a service. I was reluctant, but I did it upon the advice and excitement of others and the peace I received in prayer. But as eleven bustling, energetic teens followed me up to our new classroom Sunday morning during the interim between worship sets, I faced my own fear: losing “my time.” Sunday morning is my time of truly pressing in to God. I mean, I have a prayer-life outside of church and my Bible and I are besties, but Sunday mornings fill me to overflowing like no other time of my week. It’s a time of release and abandon and submission. And when I close my eyes during worship, I feel alone with God and it is glorious.

I walked away from “my time” to teach a group of teens that sometimes, I feel, just want to mess around until the bell rings without really digging into the treasures God lays before us each week. Again, self-pity and bitterness sidled up next to me and cooed in my ears in patient understanding of my plight.

When I got home, I went to my room and laid my face on the dingy carpet again and told the Lord how I felt. Again, God comforted me and then reminded me of Jesus, climbing up a mountainside to pray and being followed by a couple thousand people. Or being chased by a boatload of them across the Sea of Galilee when all he wanted to do was mourn over his cousin, John. Jesus, who, of all people needed a break, stealing away for moments with God whenever the opportunity arose, but never insisting that a time be set aside specifically for him to pray. He made time of the moments in between, instead of making a god out his OCDs. Lesson four: It’s important to be filled, but God does not want you to make a god out of your set times to be with Him. He wants you to be available to minister whenever and wherever, and He promises to meet you in the in-between moments to strengthen and encourage you.

If all of this has taught me nothing else, I have learned lesson five, which is that people will drain us quickly. So many need Jesus, but they will come to us first and they will fill up on Christ through me and you. We are the first image of Jesus people see, and they will earnestly desire Him and seek Him out through us and we will pour ourselves out until there’s nothing left in the bottom of the cup. But emptiness is not God’s will in ministry. Fullness is. Springs of living water bubbling up inside of us. David said, “All my fountains are in you” (Psalms 87:7). We have to be with God in stillness and be filled. He is our source of replenishment. We need Him in order to be the hands and feet of Christ. If even Jesus needed him, how much more will we?

I can honestly say that circumstances have become so much easier, having heard these blessed truths. I can now look down into the freckled face of this six-year-old boy and see Jesus and my duty to Him. I can smile at this child without feeling the weight of the burden I thought he was. I can endure a host of students hanging out in my kitchen at eleven at night, eating my lemon meringue and stealing moments with a Chilean teen who will be leaving in a week. I can smile through the murkiness of mothering children who are experiencing inner turmoil. I can smile at God knowing that while I didn’t ask for any of this specifically, I did ask to be used and this is what it looks and feels like. I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.

 

Paul, A Prisoner of Christ

Published January 7, 2018 by Dawn

I sat down with the Word of God this morning, specifically praying that God would transform my heart and mind (Romans 12:2) and make me holy by cleansing me with the Word (Ephesians 5:26). I’ve needed it, as I have felt overwhelmed by the battle lately, abandoned in acts of obedience, and left alone to bear the burden of life.

My last long study session, I read most of Acts so I pulled the satin strip of a bookmark out as I flipped open my Bible and began where I left off at Acts 25. Paul was imprisoned and had been handed down from Felix to Festus. It seemed the will of God kept Paul captive to a succession of administrators who needed to hear the gospel. When Festus questioned him and thought to send Paul back to Jerusalem so he could finally put an end to Paul’s trial, Paul appealed to Caesar. This appeal guaranteed his continued imprisonment, and we later find, after Paul witnesses to King Agrippa, that if he hadn’t made his appeal to Caesar, he could have been set free. The men who had accused him years before had lost their fervency and forgotten their accusations.

I wonder, if Paul had known how close he was to freedom, if he would have went back. This man, whom God continually gave wisdom to and great discernment, did not have this one piece of information that could have been his get-out-of-jail-free card. The truth is, God had kept this information from him because it was God’s will that Paul go to Rome. Paul never questioned God in this because he knew that the fulfillment of his vision for ministry, the vision God gave him, was that he should minister in Rome.

I find this truth slightly discomforting: God’s will for Paul was a purposed captivity. We find through the next few chapters that God provided a relative amount of freedom and comfort, and even safety, in Paul’s service, but at the end of the day, Paul spent years in captivity – years as a prisoner – because it served God’s purpose.

In Acts 27, Paul’s captors defy logic and reason, ignore Paul’s discernment, and set out on a ship with 227 men during the worse time of the year for sailing. Their zeal to finish their assignment swept them headlong into a massive shipwreck. Fourteen days on a harrowing, turbulent sea. Days without food, living in constant fear for their lives, these men could have avoided all of this if they would have just listened to Paul’s Spirit-led advice. Because God, was gracious, though, the storm eventually drove them to Malta where all survived, although they lost their ship and all their supplies.

Almost as soon as they had reached the beach, Paul began to build a fire and a viper latched onto his hand. He should have died, but instead, he just shook it off and kept going. This part of the story has awed me for years. I marvel at Paul’s faith, but to him it was a simple thing: God had said he was going to Rome, so he was going to Rome. There was nothing that could keep him from God’s plan for his life, no matter how scary and deadly. Paul was settled in this knowledge and it carried him through every attack of the enemy to make him fear otherwise.

Not one to waste a moment of His minister’s life, God used the shipwreck on the island of Malta to bring healing to the nation there, spread the Gospel of Christ, and replenish His missionary-in-chains. He used every bit of the shipwreck – used Paul in that place – and prepared him to go on in God’s ultimate plan.

Chapter 28, verse16, tells us that Paul arrived in Rome, in fulfillment to the vision God had given him. This fulfillment came through captivity. Clearly, it wasn’t Paul’s plan; who plans to live his life in captivity? It was God’s plan which Paul submitted to because he saw himself as an obedient servant, not a master of his own life. This plan was good, even if it didn’t feel good.

The end of Acts, the end of 28, tells us that Paul was a captive in Rome, preaching the gospel unhindered in his own rented house. I just can’t get over this. He was fulfilling God’s ultimate plan for his life as a captive, but living as a free man in his own rented house and preaching the gospel without hindrance. That blows my mind! God fulfilled Paul’s vision and used everything Paul endured. He encouraged Paul through others and kept him safe by posting guards outside his house. Otherwise, Paul was “free” to minister to the Romans.

As I read all of this today, I was astonished. Never did Paul waver in his faith. Never did God waste a moment of suffering. And never did God allow Paul to be harmed as he fulfilled God’s plan for his life. Paul was obedient. He didn’t complain. He took everything that happened with such a deep conviction that God could use it and all he had to do was yield in all ways to God’s will. Everything that happened was an opportunity for Paul to minister and he did. He never worried about himself. He endured discomfort for the sake of the lost, and was led in chains everywhere God wanted him to go. Satan had no power in any of this. Anything that might have been the work of the devil was thwarted and repurposed by God.

Father, I want that kind of faith. I desire an obedient heart like Paul’s. Give me ears to hear and a strong, steadfast belief in your love and ability. Increase my faith, increase my love and give me a heart that desires your will above all things. If your will for my life requires me to be uncomfortable, I pray for a love for you that surpasses my own self-love, so that I can do your work unhindered by my selfishness. Thank you for your Word, that brings healing and comfort, that renews us and helps us to continue. I love you.