Endurance and encouragement

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.” Hebrews 12:1

I live and work right outside Memphis, Tennessee, home to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. This facility has done great work in helping treat childhood cancers, and I know several patients – including the daughter of our Lead Pastor – whose lives have been saved there.

Every winter, St. Jude hosts a fundraiser marathon. The hospital’s policy is that no family pays a dime, no matter their insurance or financial status, and this event is one of their biggest sources of funds. Hundreds of people from across the country run in a full marathon (that’s a daunting 26.2 miles), a half marathon (13.1 miles, just as bad) and a 5K (a little more my speed at 3.1 miles, but STILL). Last year, several of my friends participated, and this year one of them, our Creative Arts Pastor, has decided that our whole church staff will run.

(HA. HAHAHA.)

(I’m doing the 5K. Go small or go home.)

For those of you who don’t know me in real life, I’m not a gym rat. I don’t even run when chased. I commute half an hour each way to sit at a desk for around eight hours, then do other various non-athletic things until I return home, sometimes 12 hours later. If not for my dogs, I’d come in and never leave the couch. Netflix is my spirit animal. The thought of moving my feet for that long in front of some of my closest friends and thousands of strangers terrifies me.

But, I’m no party pooper. So I’m doing it. Except, I figured if I couldn’t even WALK 10,000 steps a day (the current recommendation from experts in America, and about five miles) how could I RUN any at all? So before I begin my training to run, I have started a regimen of walking. I’m making sure that no matter what, I get those steps in every day.

Thankfully we live in a technological era, and I have some pretty competitive friends with similar goals, so we’re challenging each other to “races” on our fitness trackers. I don’t know how these ladies do it (well, a couple have toddlers to run after) but I struggle to keep up! No matter. They cheer me on, just the same.

And they cheer me on in my Christian race, too.

We get endurance from their encouragement.

I am blessed with great friends who send me encouraging scriptures and pray for me when I’m having a hard day. And I check on them if we haven’t talked in a few days, and let them know the sun will shine again. We go through happiness and heartbreak, loss and gain, together. I have their backs, and they have mine.

And that’s how we get from Point A (our salvation) to Point B (the end of our journey) without losing our hope (or our minds). We have people who have done this before, and people who are doing it now, and they’re just waiting on us to take the first or the tenth or the 10,000th step. We can’t do this alone! I would be much less likely to start this training, much less complete it, if I wasn’t getting constant reminders from people I care about and who care about me. And I’d have given up on living life for Christ a long time ago if I didn’t have people holding me accountable and giving me encouragement.

If you have accepted Jesus, you are a witness to the “life of faith.” You may not be far on your journey, but you’re further than someone. You can turn around, look at who is struggling, and cheer them on. You can help them find their endurance and make it across the finish line.

You can be an aid station on the marathon of life.

You can make it, and you can help others make it too.

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Lay it down

“I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.  There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:11-13

Jesus told His disciples that the best way for them to show love was to lay their lives down. Of course, He was foreshadowing His own death, and letting them know that sacrificing Himself willingly was the greatest show of love. As He urged them to do the same, I wonder what was crossing their minds?

Not many of us are asked to literally give our lives up for those we care about. Yes, we hear stories of heroic first responders, law enforcement officers, or Average Joes putting themselves in harms way. Most parents would give their children their life vest if they were on a sinking ship.

But in today’s highly opinionated world, I can see a different angle to this story.

When we see an argument on Facebook or Twitter, are we quick to jump in? If someone posts his or her opinion on a political or spiritual matter, or links to an inflammatory story, do we chime in with our two cents? When a ministry figure is publicly shamed, do we pick up our pitchforks and join in the fray?

What would Jesus have done?

Jesus didn’t defend himself to his accusers. He kept silent before them and let His miracles speak for themselves.

Jesus didn’t open old wounds, or inflict new ones. He bound up the brokenhearted.

Jesus didn’t shame. He said stop what you’re doing, and do better.

What does it accomplish when we who call ourselves The Church bicker and fight in public forums, in plain sight of those who are looking to us for the answers we claim to have? If we can’t decide whether it’s Godly to have fog machines and stage lighting, why would they think we know The Truth on a personal level?

If we join in the division this world already sees all around, how will they know that He prayed that the Church would become one as He was with His Father?

If we add our voices to the chorus of “I told you so,” how will they believe that we serve a God who forgives AND forgets their sins, who restores broken lives?

In America and many other nations we have a right to say what WE want. My question is, are we saying what HE wants?

I have personally had to learn this lesson over the past couple of years, as I have witnessed so many disheartening things take place in our country. But I’ve also learned that as much as I love the United States and am thankful for my freedoms, my first allegiance is to the Kingdom which will have no end. I am a citizen of the USA, but ultimately I am a citizen of Heaven. I am not bound to a political party, but to the King of Kings and it to Him that I will answer.

It’s not wrong to discuss social, political, moral, or spiritual issues. There is certainly a time and a place for such things. But God help us if we take our “right to speak” and let it become a stumbling block to the very friends and neighbors we say we’re trying to reach out to.

 

 

 

No wasted stories

“All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. We have plenty of hard times that come from following the Messiah, but no more so than the good times of his healing comfort—we get a full measure of that, too.” 2 Cor. 1:3-5 (MSG)

There’s an old axiom that says “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” If that’s true, there are times I should be able to bench press a Buick.

One of the most important, and I think most effective, aspects to the Christian walk is sharing our experiences with others. It can be intimidating. It can be humbling. It can be downright humiliating.

It can also be life-changing – for you, and for the person you are sharing with.

Sometimes, we tell our stories from a pulpit, and sometimes we tell them from a park bench. Our pastor says God has things prepared for you, and you prepared for things. And you might not realize it yet, but everything you’ve gone through has been preparing you for the assignment that He has prepared, in advance for you!

Are you a “more experienced” parent, talking to a new mom or dad? Or have you battled the demons of addiction, made progress, and have the opportunity to give hope to someone still in the midst of the battle?

Have you had to forgive a spouse an infidelity, or are you the offending party who has had to ask forgiveness?

Have you walked through a season of spiritual dryness, or downright turning your back on God? Believe me, you aren’t the first, and you won’t be the last. Some parent needs to know that her wayward child isn’t hopeless. Some parched soul needs to know that there is a way back to the Father.

Some parts of our story are beautiful. Some, not so much. We can’t rewrite our history, but I’m here to tell you that none of it will be wasted. It might be sooner, or it might be later, but God will use what you’ve been through to help someone else. Every mile you’ve traveled matters. We have to be open to sharing with others what God has brought us through, even if it makes us look not-so-smart at the time. We’ve all made mistakes, and we can’t dwell on the past. But we can use it for God’s glory and for the benefit of others we travel alongside.

No matter where you’ve been or what you’ve done, you can focus on using your pain to bring healing to others. You have cause to rejoice, fellow traveler. You have reason to lift your head high.

Life hasn’t killed you, and someone needs to see you bench pressing that Buick.

A tale of two daughters

“But when Jesus heard what had happened, he said to Jairus, ‘Don’t be afraid. Just have faith, and she will be healed.’ Luke 8:50

In Luke 8, we have the tale of two daughters.

One daughter is the child of a high ranking official. She is young, and very, very ill. Her father comes to Jesus and pleads for her healing. He is desperate. Jairus loves his daughter, and he doesn’t know what he will do if He doesn’t come through for her. Jesus starts her way.

Meanwhile, another daughter is pressing through to get to Jesus. She is very, very ill. She is equally as desperate. She hasn’t had human contact in so long, and she doesn’t know what she will do if He doesn’t come through for her.

The second daughter has been ill as long as the first daughter has been alive.

The amazing thing about this story is that Jesus has enough to supply healing for both.

It’s unlikely that the grown woman fighting for a touch will make it to Him, but make it she does. Her faith tells Jesus all he needs to know.

When He is delayed, their group is met by a servant saying that Jairus’ daughter has died. It is unlikely that a girl can come back from such a fate, but she does. Her father’s faith in continuing the journey tells Jesus all He needs to know.

We all have different struggles, but the same Jesus can take care of them all. We all come from different places, but the same Jesus can meet us right where we are.

Wherever you are, whatever your need, He is right there. And your faith in Him tells Jesus all He needs to know.

 

Do the right thing

“Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.” James 4:17

What are you supposed to be doing? Right now?

I don’t mean laundry. Or walking the dog. Or, “the work you actually get paid to do instead of cruising the interwebs.”

What are YOU supposed to be doing? Because if you aren’t doing it, well, then that’s a problem.

Are you supposed to be praying for that person who has gotten on your last nerve?

Are you supposed to be encouraging the lady who sits in the cubicle next to you, who walked past with slumped shoulders this morning?

Are you supposed to be leading that Bible study, that small group, that mentor circle?

You know what it is you’re SUPPOSED to be doing. Now all that’s left is the doing.

Do the right thing, y’all.

Nothing

​Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.” Matthew 19:26

My God is so big, so strong and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do.

There it was, in the song of a child in the church nursery. Reminding me of a time when I helped lead it in children’s ministry, complete with hand motions. 

My God is so big, so strong and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do.


There it was, coming back in a devotional writing.  Reminding me that everything is under His power. 

My God is so big, so strong and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do.

There it was, God’s assurance to me as I reached out for a lifeline.

My God is so big, so strong and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do. 

What is your “impossible” thing today? I have a few. I bet you do too. It might not be today that we see them become “nothing.” Really, we might have been waiting for years and feel like maybe this one thing is out of His purview. Well, I’m passing along this snippet to all of us.  today. I know I’ll be singing it all day long. 

My God is so big, so strong and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do. 

Priorities.

“But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do,
    what God is looking for in men and women.
It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor,
    be compassionate and loyal in your love,
And don’t take yourself too seriously—
    take God seriously.” Micah 6:8 (MSG)

Recently, my good friend Google alerted me that there was an accident ahead on my route to work. My daughter and I had to take an alternate route through a residential section.

She was marveling at the sizes of the houses we passed. (Probably because our own humble abode comes in at well under 1000 square feet). I told her that as adults, we have to decide how much house we NEED versus how much we WANT. We have to prioritize, and make sure we’re meeting the needs of ourselves and our family, without going overboard in an attempt to impress someone or fill a hole in our own selves.

Above all, I told her, our priorities need to line up with God’s.

He hasn’t made a mystery of what’s important to Him. In Micah 6:8, He says He wants us to be fair, be just, be compassionate, and be loyal. Oh yeah, and to be humble before the Lord, instead of thinking too highly of ourselves.

God makes it sound so simple, doesn’t He? Yet we constantly have to be reminded of His priorities, as the ones the world offers try to invade and take over.

Let’s reassess today. Let’s make sure that what we’re doing, for Him and for others, lines up with His words. Let’s set an example for our families and the world around us by the way that we order our lives.

Express delivery

“In the evening his disciples went down to the sea, got in the boat, and headed back across the water to Capernaum. It had grown quite dark and Jesus had not yet returned. A huge wind blew up, churning the sea. They were maybe three or four miles out when they saw Jesus walking on the sea, quite near the boat. They were scared senseless, but he reassured them, “It’s me. It’s all right. Don’t be afraid.” So they took him on board. In no time they reached land—the exact spot they were headed to.”
John 6:16‭-‬21 MSG

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:

We serve a God of suddenly. 

Sometimes, our deliverance takes awhile. God is waiting on us to “get it,” to work though a process, to grow to a certain point.

Other times, He shows up and shows out. He comes in and like a the supernatural being He is, saves the day in one fell swoop.

Now, I don’t know why He chooses to make us wait sometimes, and delivers instantaneously others. I don’t know why some people get miraculous healings that doctors can’t explain, and others get their healing on the other side of Glory. What I do know is that God not only has the totality of our lives in view, but everyone else’s as well.

I want all my prayers to be answered “jiffy quick” as my Pastor’s wife is fond of saying . I want Him to bend the laws of gravity, time, and space for me every single time. But I have to remember that He is in charge, not me. And whether He snatches me up out of my problem, or works His plan out through my waiting, He will give me whatever I need at that exact moment.

Shalom, shalom

“You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!” Is. 26:3

My daughter is a full-fledged teenager now, but her mouth somehow hasn’t gotten that memo. Her jaws are stubbornly holding on to four “baby” teeth, and the orthodontist said they had to go. This morning was Round 1.

Now, my daughter is no girly-girl. She’s not afraid of very much. She’s my partner at our weekly Krav Maga class, and she will straight up leave me black and blue. She’s half my size, but she’s thrown me to the ground on more than one occasion. But somehow, when it comes to medical procedures, she gets a little…antsy. Every time I’ve mentioned her dental work, she’s gotten sullen. Last night, she was trying to figure out if the dog had any germs to give her so she’d get sick and miss her appointment, and this morning she drug her feet, hoping to make us late.

But we’ve talked before about ways to keep her mind calm. She loves to listen to worship music, especially the songs they do each week at our youth service. So she’s downloaded some on her phone, and this morning she decided she’d listen to them on the way to the appointment.

We prayed this morning before we went in, and I specifically asked God to help her have those songs playing in her head during the procedure. When she came out a little later, she was the picture of calm. She said she had indeed had a private concert in her head, and that it had made a big difference in how she felt.

I told her that she’d unlocked a great tool: She’d done her part (by keeping her mind focused on God, and not her problems). And He’d done His part, by keeping her heart and mind grounded and peaceful.

In the Orthodox Jewish version of the scripture in Isaiah, the phrase “perfect peace” is “shalom shalom.” Any time the Word of God repeats a word, it means an extra measure. So “shalom shalom” means EXTRA peace. PERFECT in scripture doesn’t mean “without fault.” It means “lacking nothing.” So, meditating upon God and His word brings us peace that lacks NOTHING. An EXTRA MEASURE of peace. Peace that helps us navigate the world around us, and the storm within us.

So, our part is to learn about Him, to focus on Him, to keep His word in our hearts. And His part is to put our minds to rest, to calm our fears, to give us peace.

God’s peace, like every other aspect of His nature, is perfect – lacking nothing. Rest secure in that knowledge as you focus on Him today.

Seeing right through you

 “All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

I bet you look around you and see folks who “have it all together.” I bet that if you met me in real life, you might even think I have it all together! (Ok, maybe not, but humor me here.) You look at the people in the pulpit, on the stage, and even the greeters in the hallway with the big smiles on their faces and think, “Man, I bet they didn’t have to pull hen’s teeth to get their kids out the door this morning!”

Newsflash: They probably did. Or, they had a “discussion” with their spouse on the way in. Or, they had to mitigate a fight between their parents. Again. Or, they had to figure out which bill was getting paid this week, and which one would just have to wait until later. Don’t these bill collectors know you can’t get blood from a turnip?

But if the people you see around you aren’t transparent, how will YOU ever know they had to go through something just to make it to their pew today? If the people on stage don’t let you know that they’ve gone through the valley, how will you know that God can get you through too?

I’m not suggesting we tell all our business to everyone we meet. I am suggesting that the Bible clearly says that God brings us through trials so that we can reach back and help others. But if we pretend like we have it together all the time and never HAD any trials, how is that glorifying God and redeeming our struggles? How are those around us supposed to come to us for prayer, or point to us in faith, if they don’t know what we’ve been brought out of?

I know you’ve been through some mess. Because I have, too. And so have your pastor, and the praise team member, and the pianist, and the smiling face in the parking lot. And God has brought us all through it (or is still bringing us through). So ask Him who you need to share with today. And if you’re in the middle of it, ask Him to show you who will be that understanding shoulder or that monument of faith. Let the God of all comfort bring some comfort in or through you.

Can people see right through you?