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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).

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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.

 

Trials with a Tea

Published January 18, 2018 by Dawn

“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet, not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

Hot cup of tea in hand, I retreated to my bedroom this morning, set a fifteen-minute timer and sat down with the Lord for what was left of my morning before I had to leave for work. There’s not usually anything left of my morning, so this was a rare treasure I gave myself by getting up just a smidge earlier. I should really do this every day…

I’ve been quiet before Him for two days like this, purposefully. I cleaned “the chair” and took care of the laundry-in-limbo so I would have a special place for my time with the Lord. I just needed a newness because things have been stale and I’d become complacent. So I cleaned “the chair”, rearranged my room a little and now I have a quaint sitting area where I can have tea with Jesus.

Ok, now that you can visualize  … teatime this morning, the Lord shared something with me that really lifted a burden. I’ve been a victim to bad theology, and although I easily recognized it was false, some of it got into my heart. It’s that junk about God only having good plans for us, based on Jeremiah 29:11. We’ve created an entire doctrine based on this one scripture and I’m afraid it’s hurting people in the church. You see, the church is in a dangerous rut of delivering inspirational/motivational, me-centered sermons that convince people that God only wants them to be happy. Such a misguided notion tends to make people think, when things get uncomfortable in life, that it’s just an attack of Satan or a punishment for wrongdoing.

According to scripture, sometimes, hard things that break us are the will of God. I mean, it was in Jesus’ life. Also in Paul’s. And John. James. Peter. The list, people, is long. Many men and women in the bible endured hardship as the will of God. And do you know what’s missing in this scripture in Luke where Jesus, weeping droplets of blood, asks his Father to remove the cup because it’s a hard one to swallow? God’s reply. I checked all four Gospels and there isn’t one. God didn’t respond to him. Luke 22:43 tells us an angel came and strengthened Jesus, but he was strengthened to endure the road ahead. Golgotha. Betrayal. Torment. Death. All the will of God.

God did not even utter a word. I wonder if He was weeping just then. He knew what was to come. He purposed it. And Jesus didn’t deserve it. It wasn’t punishment. It was for a greater good. God’s greater purpose.

I desperately want people to understand that, while God desires our ultimate good, He is more concerned about working things out in conformity to His will than He is about rescuing us when things don’t feel good. Sometimes, He requires hard services and acts of obedience that take us beyond our own abilities and make us cling to Him as He teaches us how to walk the hard road. We cannot say that because something feels right, it must be what God wants because I have found that sometimes, things don’t feel right or good, but when I pray, God says to me (like he said to Paul), “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).

God sometimes brings us to places we don’t want to be. Asks us to be obedient in things we don’t want to do. I believe He does this to humble us, so we see our weaknesses. So we reach out for His strength. So we learn to depend on Him. One of Satan’s many lies is that God never gives us more than we can handle. Sure does make us feel strong, doesn’t it? But it’s a lie. God often gives us more than we can handle because He wants us to turn to Him and usually, this is the only way to get us to do that.

I share this from my heart, friend. I pray this word brings relief and leads to healing. God really does love us, and while He has good things in store, He also works mightily through trials and tribulations. The Bible says that “he comforts us in all our sufferings so we can comfort others with the comfort we received” (2 Cor. 1:4). Such trials are precious when they cause us to run to God. Those tender moments of being comforted eclipse even the most harrowing circumstances and remind us just how good our God is. I hope you run to Him, friend, and climb into His daddy-lap. He longs for you and is patiently waiting, even now, to tenderly gather you under His wings where you can find refuge. Be at peace!

Honoring God Through Unhappy Halloweens

Published November 1, 2017 by Dawn

For all the years growing up that I can remember, we didn’t celebrate Halloween. Somewhere in the Bible, something convinced my parents it was not honoring to God, so we never dressed up, never went trick-or-treating and never fit in on October 31st. Probably, there are a ton of Christian parents today who can relate to this. They have a similar story. Or, they did get to dress up, but were firmly convinced by mom and dad that “there is a good Halloween and bad Halloween … we are celebrating the good one.” They got to go knock on doors, smile cheesy and go to bed high on sugar.

Three weeks after becoming a mother, I dressed my daughter in the cutest bear costume and trudged through snow to the neighbor’s door for a kit-kat just so we could say she had a “first Halloween.” For several years afterward, we celebrated just like everyone else and my kids, for sure, were the cutest kids on the block. Then it happened: I began to study various literatures about the pagan ties to the holiday, the occult’s worship of this holiday in particular, and all the while 1 Thessalonians 5:22 resounded, “Abstain from all appearances of evil.”

You might have just rolled your eyes, but bear with me. I’ve read most everything that’s been written about Halloween. I’ve read the mommy blogs, where a well-meaning and genuine mother gives a heart-felt dissertation on why Halloween can be a fun outreach for the family, a moment to “be the light” in the darkness. I’ve read the Satanist’s giddy, mocking quip: “I’m so happy Christians let their children worship Satan one day a year.” I’ve read them both and I was ready to let this day go by without saying a word. As for me and my house, we call in Chinese and Netflix with the porch-light off. No big deal.

This year, I wanted to test the theory: Christians can use this holiday to reach the masses of unchurched people and people will come to Christ through our efforts.

Now, because handing out tracks is unscientific, in that I cannot accurately measure the amount of people who come to Christ through my efforts, I chose not to go that route. Likewise, how can I measure one’s acceptance of Christ by merely smiling and passing out candy? If we don’t talk about Jesus while they are with me, how will I ever know if my efforts to “share Christ” in such a way actually brought them to the foot of the cross? Lacking any other avenue of measurable means, I put a sign up on my front gate with the facts: No candy, but we have Jesus! Want Jesus? Knock! The door will be opened.

Yes, I did this. In the town my kids go to school in.

No one knocked.

No one chose to come to Christ when it was all I offered.

If I would have had a huge bowl of candy, I would have entertained the masses of strangers all over town but would any of them come to know Jesus … genuinely know Jesus, through my “evangelism outreach”? Would they dig any deeper than the bottom of their pillow case after a long walk home, to get to know my King? And all the while, I might have been showing my kids the opposite of what I preach:

  • That we don’t have to come out from among them and be separate.
  • That fear can be fun and exhilarating as long as they know that mommy is near.
  • That Satan is just a Halloween ghoul and witches are just people with green make-up on; the occult is nothing but a sham and Halloween fun.
  • That there is a good side to evil and everyone can partake because Jesus would never want us to feel left out.

Maybe this is just me rambling, but let me do so for a sec. The scripture clearly tells us that no one can even come to God unless the Spirit of God compels them to (John 6:44). Do I believe that all of these efforts to reach people are fruitless? No, not exactly. I believe God reaches people through any means necessary, and He works all things in conformity to His will. He can use even our sins and foolishness to draw people to Him because His purpose is unwavering even if we do things we shouldn’t. But are we honoring Him?

Does this matter to you like it matters to me? My heart broke the first time I had to explain to my kids that we would no longer be celebrating Halloween. No more huge buckets of candy, no parties, no costumes. This holiday fell off our calendar, so to speak. Yes, they have endured the pain of not partaking in something that brings a lot of joy to a ton of other kiddos. But isn’t this the reality of Christianity and sin in general? Don’t we want our kids to abstain from the things that dishonor God, even if the whole world is doing them? Then why do we make exceptions for this one holiday? Satan mocks God every year because of the millions of Christians who have chosen to justify their involvement in a holiday that glorifies darkness.

“I just want to honor God to the best of my ability,” I told them, through tears.

Here’s the truth, church: people will come to Christ as God compels them. That’s scriptural. God can use any means necessary, but He doesn’t need us in any way to do so. Be His hands and feet, but you don’t have to be so desperate to reach people that you worship at pagan altars next to the lost. Jesus didn’t do that. Did he eat with “sinners?” Sure. Did he engage in their sin so they didn’t shun him? Never. He was wholly set apart and different, and that’s probably why they were so drawn to him. He was weird and different, but full of love at the same time. Weren’t we called to be Christ-like?

Be Christ-like.

And, know that when you choose to be Christ-like, you will be treated as he was. Persecuted. Hated. The world will not accept you because it did not accept him (john 15:18). Even the church will mock and disdain you, my friend. Still, I encourage you to be Christ-like. The world will notice that you have been with Jesus (Acts 4:13). Not only, but your actions will please your Heavenly Father, which is worth more than the accolades any man can give. Be at peace!

 

The Agony of Our Father

Published October 25, 2017 by Dawn

Can we just not talk about it? I mean, I need to talk to you about something, but I really cannot actually talk about it. It’s still too raw. It still hurts and I don’t want to talk about it. But I need to, as an act of obedience, tell you the deep truth that was dropped into my spirit today. Do we have a deal?

Okay, so here goes: my son … my thirteen-year-old baby, my heart growing up to be a man … this boy that I love so much … he moved out a month ago. He’s been living with his dad. I can’t tell you all the prayers I’ve prayed, or the amount of tears I have cried. The fake smile I’ve plastered on my face to maintain composure around people because life goes on … I can’t tell you about these things just yet because I can’t even bring myself to talk about it with any real depth. The pain in my heart, the ache in my chest, the thoughts in my head. I can’t even.

Today, I got a call from school. They were just checking on him because he wasn’t there. I didn’t even know. I called his dad and found out he was sick.

Without me.

Today was the first day my son has ever been sick without me. He stayed home without me. The first time I didn’t hold him while he suffered. I didn’t even know he was suffering! I got off the phone and broke down in tears.  The Lord, being very gentle with me lately, whispered, “This agony you feel … I feel it all the time. My children choose to suffer without me too.”

Oh, my soul! My heart is breaking! Can this really be the agony God suffers through when His children suffer at a distance? This, guys … this is why Jesus came. Because for thousands of years before Calvary, God watched His children suffer the disastrous effects of sin. The turmoil of living outside of the will of God. The panic, fear, desperation … God watched his children suffer without him until he could bear it no longer. Then he sent Jesus.

But Church, even after Christ, there is still this war. This suffering. Endless agony. Christians living in fear and lost people living in sin. God’s heart, I now know, is breaking for us. How many parents have watched helplessly while their children have made bad choices and suffered drastic consequences? You know, then, the pain of a Father who loves his children. You know the feeling of desperation on their behalf. Can our Heavenly Father feel any less for his children?

If this is you … if you are suffering at a distance because you feel unworthy, I just want you to know one thing: God does not love you because of your worthiness. He loves you because he chose to as he lovingly knit you together in the secret place. He hasn’t changed his mind about you. You may have made choices against his will, and you might be suffering consequences, but you are no less loved than you have ever been because God is unchanging. If you feel the Holy Spirit leading you with this truth, I implore you to surrender and be led into the arms of God. He longs for you. His heart is yearning for your nearness just as much as you are yearning for his. Run to Him. He loves you.

Saving a Pastor Time and Money

Published October 2, 2017 by Dawn

My old job kept me in captivity most of the time. Captive to monotonous conversations I couldn’t get out of even for a phone call. I was a receptionist. I do recall, however, one of the shortest and most meaningful conversations of my life. I made an enemy in less than two minutes.

I didn’t mean to. It was really just a case of not thinking before I spoke, but it did two things: it freed me up to get back to work and delivered a gut-punch of truth I wouldn’t have muttered if I would have thought about it. After years of cultivating the precious habit, I now think before I speak (sometimes, rather than never) and usually give truth more tactfully, but this lady didn’t even see it coming.

A coworker of mine had sidled up to the counter and peered down at me while I ended a phone call. Poor lady. She was just trying to put some distance between herself and her own nightmarish conversation. But she picked me to talk to and that might not have been the best decision …

I’m not sure how the conversation started, but she was telling me about her second job. She was a social worker by day and a public speaker by … another day. Her topic: building the church. She traveled on the weekends delivering conferences on how to build the church through best business practice. My first question was pure curiosity: “People pay for that?” She bragged, “Yeah!” Then I did it. Engrossed by the idea and in the spirit of conversation, I mused, “That’s so weird! I mean, Jesus said in the Bible, ‘I will build the church.’ I can’t believe pastors pay for that!”

I kid you not.

She gave me a hurt look and without saying another word, she turned and walked to the farthest corner of the room and sat down. She gave me pitiful glances for the next half an hour and I just smiled dimwittedly at her because I had no idea how much I had hurt her ego.

I’ve been thinking about this for over a week now because for once, I finally understand why people pay for things like that. Someone told me a few Sundays past that they are seeking another church because as much as they love the one I attend, they preferred to be in a church where the youth are on fire for God. I agreed with her wholeheartedly, as that’s so important. Inside, though, it stung. I’m the youth leader…

When the Lord called me into youth ministry, I committed to God that I would never rely on gimmicks to build up a youth group. I told the Lord that day that I would simply teach the Word of God and let the chips fall where they may. I ministered for years to groups of three or four … sometimes two, and on some occasions, one. Every once in a while, the group would swell to eight, ten or twelve. Inevitably, though, I’d lose some and the numbers would go down again. Remembering that it’s important to be faithful in the little things, I have always just pressed on, teaching a message each week to whomever showed up that I had faithfully studied and prayed over all week prior. God was faithful to give me a word in due season and I was faithful to feed His sheep. I knew what she meant, though. We’re not, per se, “on fire.”

This friend’s comment, as honest and admirable as it was, hurt my pride. I went home and prayed in my closet, “God, if there’s someone else you want to move in here, please send them! I am not so proud that I won’t sit down and let someone else rock this for your glory. I wouldn’t mind being done.” I’ve been doing youth ministry for nine years.

I felt the desperation. I felt what many pastors must feel after faithfully ministering for so long to a congregation that is either dying or dead. And I finally realized that we’re all like the woman in the Gospels with the issue of blood. We’re dealing with a sickness that’s been persisting for so long, we’re desperate. We’re willing to throw money at anything that seems promising, even if it means paying someone to strategize about the carpet, the seating arrangements, the music and the length of the sermon. We’ll even trust a carnal businessman if he’s promising a positive change to the depressing state of our churches.

But, like her, perhaps our hope will not be found there. Jesus said in John 6:44 that “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them.” Unfortunately, that means we’ve wasted a lot of time and money, and fruitless effort, trying to do something no man (or woman) on earth can do. And I think we’re a little confused about what it means to be on fire, too. We can purchase the amazing theatre lights, go for broke on our musical instruments and shout the roof down, but that’s all just hype if people don’t leave services changed. As a teacher, I have seen many students go from Wednesday night youth to Friday night dances wearing the shortest and most revealing dresses and cussing like a sailor. Undulating with the sway of human depravity and hiding behind their sheepish grins when our eyes meet. These young people are not on fire, even if they raise their hands and worship or give the most eloquent testimonies.

Dear pastors and youth pastors, please don’t waste another penny on conferences that promise to make a difference. Trust me, they won’t. I’ll save you time and money by shortening the truth to this: touching Jesus in prayer and intercession is the only thing that’s going to work. Holiness doesn’t always look like a loud, boisterous service. God spoke to Elijah on the mount in a still small voice, not in the earthquake, wind or fire. You can’t replicate the work of the Holy Spirit and get the same results Jesus got. Be faithful in prayer, teach what God speaks to you and leave the burden to God. If you are desperate, good! That just means you’ve read and understand James 3:1, which says, “not many of you should become teachers, brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”

If you are afraid you aren’t doing something right as a minister, it’s okay. It’s humbling when you think about it: God chose jars of clay with hearts of stone to use to minister to the world. On our own, we are rather pitiful. We need God to infuse us. Infuse the worship and message we bring with His power and set people on fire because we can’t do that on our own. No matter how much we water down the gospel to fill the pews, we will not see people on fire for God in our own strength.

I hope this takes a load off. It does for me, at least. If you find this piece offending, I think it’s probably because you think too much of yourself. Jars of clay. Remember that. “We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this extraordinary power does not come from us, but from God” (2 Cor. 4:7). God bless, friends!

 

Maybe God Misses You

Published September 6, 2017 by Dawn

James Dobson said something to my mother heart when my kids were very young that haunted me since. He said, “At some point, a boy begins to push away from his mother.” He was talking about bringing up boys, and I was mostly resentful (then) of his wisdom because I faced the daunting task of raising a son on my own, and Dr. Dobson made it sound all but impossible. I have slowly conceded to his points, one after the other, as my son has shown how very much Dr. Dobson knows on the topic (in contrast to how very little I know). This past summer, this particular nugget of truth became revealed. My son wanted to be home as little as possible.

I have always, ever since becoming a mother, wanted my children’s happiness more than my next breath. I have lived for their delight. I have read all the psych books, poured over the scriptures, and done all that I could within my power to secure the perpetual joy and bliss of my kids. I will not sing my praises more than this, because perhaps I have failed … I don’t know. All I know is that this past summer, while my daughter clutched the apron strings just a little tighter in anticipation of high school (which we are ALWAYS reminded is really just a blur in the rearview mirror before you know it), my son pushed us away like we were a plague. The end of summer brought him back home long enough to find out his new boundaries for the school year, then he was off every evening after chores and spending the weekends with his friends again.

Last weekend, he asked me if he could go to his friend’s house and I told him no.

“But WHY?” The badgering began.

Can I admit something to you? I didn’t have much of a real reason. I told him it was because I wanted him to do his chores, which was partly true. He came home and did them, then asked again.

“No.” I just wanted to cry. Why do you want to leave me?

He was getting a little heated. “But I did my chores and I always go to my friends’ on the weekends. Why can’t I go?”

I stumbled through a list of excuses, all of which he had a great rebuttal for. He protested like a legal expert and I had to concede one after the other until I was left with nothing but the truth.

“I miss you!”

He just gaped at me. “Are you serious?”

Tears welled up in my eyes.

“I want you to stay home. I miss you being here.”

I wish I could say he melted then and there into my arms and told me he’d never go anywhere ever again. He didn’t. He actually continued to argue with me, and even though all I had was the truth of my heart’s cry, I used it to combat his defenses until he sulked to his room. I hugged myself and went to make dinner.

Then it happened.

“Mom, come in here.”

He was in his bedroom. I stepped into the doorway.

“I cleaned it up in here. Want to sit with me?”

Did. I. Ever!

To be invited into the sanctuary of my thirteen-year-old son … YES! I went in and sat on his futon. He laid down on his bed, pulled out his phone and ignored me for the next twenty minutes, but my heart was satisfied just being in his presence. When I finally got up to leave (because let’s face it, I can only be ignored for so long before I have to get up and actually accomplish something with the daylight left), he implored, “No, Mom, don’t leave me. Sit here with me.”

I excused myself to finish dinner and he trailed me into the kitchen and helped cook. Every time I turned around, he was leaning into me for a hug. For the first time in months, my son wanted to be around me. I was in heaven.

Do you ever wonder if God keeps us isolated from our friends so He can be with us? Do you think it’s because He misses us? Maybe it’s because He knows that if our attention were on other things, we wouldn’t turn to Him for companionship. Maybe all the times relationships have fallen through, friends have seemingly abandoned us, and family has forgotten we exist … maybe all of the times we felt society shun us was God’s way of giving us a gentle “no” that redirected our attention to Him. Maybe He has a longing for us that hasn’t been articulated so much as shown by a cold shoulder from the world around us. Maybe God just wants to be near us again.

Perhaps, too, we are like my son: pulling out everything we can to distract ourselves, even when God is sitting in the room, and not interacting with Him even though we want Him near. Is it enough to be in His presence? Of course! But we must admit … there’s so much more to God than nearness and silence. Oftentimes, we get this far and we feel like we’ve experienced all there is in our relationship with God, but if we venture out of our sanctuary into His world, and we follow Him as He does His thing, we will inevitably find that God is working on things and we can partner with Him. So often, we invite God to be a part of what we are doing. Perhaps it’s time to stop asking God to make something of us and use us, and instead, we come alongside Him while He works and help in what He is doing. There’s a huge difference, after all.

Yes, I believe God misses us more than we miss Him sometimes. I encourage you to turn your eyes to Him in your loneliness and allow His presence to bring you peace. Furthermore, allow Him to lead you out into the things that He is doing and graciously agree to be a part of His work, whatever He may ask of you. God bless!