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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Near to the Brokenhearted

Last week, I ran some errands Monday morning, fully intending to follow my normal routine and post a blog update here by the late afternoon.  I had no idea that a tornado was about to tear through the middle of my town, leaving behind multiple dead or wounded and cruelly shredding homes, businesses, and landmarks.

I was blessed not to lose anything in the storm. I was blessed that all of my friends made it out safely (even though their house did not). I say we were blessed, that is, protected and rescued by God, even though much was lost.

I don't want to downplay grief. That would be cruel, and totally unlike God's response to the aftermath of a disaster. The Bible says, "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit," (Psalm 34:18 NIV). God is not far away, looking down at people without compassion. He has promised comfort to those who mourn (Matthew 5: 4), and He will be the one who will bring that true healing, as He promised long ago, "Then young women will dance and be glad, young men and old as well.  I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow," (Jeremiah 31: 13 NIV).

"Bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, 
the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise 
instead of a spirit of despair," (Isaiah 61: 3 NIV).

Now that we are reminded about God's response to disaster, we should remember what God asks of Christians in such terrible situations. Christians are told to, "Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn," (Romans 12:15 NIV).  Our attitude is so important!  Jealousy over those who fared better and callousness toward those who lost everything is out of place among believers, especially in the middle of disaster.

How do we rejoice with others when we are personally mourning? How do we mourn with others when we are rejoicing ourselves? This attitude cannot come from within ourselves. It is self-contradictory, and at its very root, it puts others first. It has to come from a tenderheartedness and selflessness born of God, not from ourselves. It has to come from a transformed heart, inclined to look beyond our own situation and respond to others as God does.  If you're struggling with a wrong attitude right now, just remember, "I can do all this through him who gives me strength," (Philippians 4: 13 NIV). God will help you through this, too.

Finally, for those who are far away and wondering what to do after this disaster (and I have had numerous people contacting me and offering financial help and donations after this tornado), I would say that your charity is helpful, but the most powerful and far-reaching thing you can do is pray.  Pray for people who do not know the Lord to turn to Him and be comforted. Pray for those who do know the Lord to be strengthened as they begin to regroup and rebuild. Pray for their protection, physically, financially, and spiritually, especially over the next few weeks. Pray for healing, for individuals and for the cities that have been affected by tornadoes, flooding, and other disasters over the last couple of weeks.  Above all else, model prayer for others, so they will remember to turn to God in their own troubled times.

Monday, May 13, 2013


Early in the morning, you might feel like a fish out of water when you climb out of those warm, soft covers into the cool morning air. You might be reluctant to move, even though you realize you must get up and face the day.

Similarly, sometimes, even though you know that God is calling you to move forward on something in your life, you may feel reluctant to climb out from between those "covers" of familiarity and habit and face that new challenge.  It's even worse when you think there might be a real risk, or a real danger, involved in taking that step.

I'm talking about where I am, I suppose, but I'm sharing this because I believe many of my readers are also facing major changes in their lives right now.  A handful of people in my immediate circle of friends are currently in the midst of big moves--career moves, address changes, etc.  Meanwhile, I've been "spring cleaning" my life for over a month, now, and I feel some major changes in my own career are coming soon.  In fact, these are changes I've been needing for quite some time.

But you know, even the change I need and have prayed for still scares me sometimes.  It's not the new horizon as much as the journey to that new horizon.  Things move so suddenly, when they move, and you never quite feel you have prepared for them enough.

I believe that the "journey" times in our lives are periods of a special kind of testing, to see how well and how faithfully we follow, and to teach us (again) that we can travel without the proverbial "kitchen sink" and still make it there alright.  If God is moving us, He will provide the essentials we need along the way, and prove to us that we don't need anything more than what He generously gives us (Deuteronomy 8:3).  Furthermore, He will take us to a "spacious place" (2 Samuel 22: 20), shielding and protecting us along the way, and establishing us with a special wall of protection when we get there (Psalm 91).

I don't want to drag my feet and complain like the Israelites in the desert, longing for the old familiar tastes of leeks and melons on the shores of the Nile (Numbers 11: 4-6). It is much better, by far, to eat the milk and honey God has prepared at the end of the journey! The old things left behind pale in comparison to what God has planned (Isaiah 43: 18-21).  It is also important to remember that what I get along the way is more than I could have ever thought to ask for (Matthew 7: 9-11).  I'm well-cared for, whether I'm coming or going, and God is looking out for me.

That "fear of the unknown" that scares us at the beginning of change can be combated with "trust in the known," which is the Lord and His provision.  He is faithful.  If you're "journeying" right now in your life, don't forget to trust the God who arranged the journey.
"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go," (Joshua 1: 9).

Monday, May 6, 2013

A (Controversial) Perspective on Using Your Talents for God

I believe in using my talents for God's service.  This is a common theme in a lot of today's church discourse, and I don't disagree with that.  However, I'm going to say something controversial, here.  Often times, the church is wrong about what individual Christians should be doing in God's service.

Obviously, it is not wrong to try to help people or be charitable.  It is good to do so.  We hear genuine needs every day, and we should care. We are heartless if we don't.

Still, there is a cookie-cutter mentality that has lapped over into the Christian world that has no place among us.

To begin with, there are people who have been told that they should help out at the soup kitchen, or build houses for people, or contribute large sums to their local charities, or go out as missionaries to the far corners of the world.  Unfortunately, they are the kind who can burn boiling water or who can't talk to strangers; they are flabby or uncoordinated, causing them to get hurt when they try to lift a hammer or a heavy board; they are barely middle class themselves, so they don't have much to contribute financially each month; and they are frightened and unequipped for the mission field.  Should they feel guilty?  Are they bad Christians because they are bad at all the typical "Christian" things to do?

I don't believe so.  I know there are readers who will say, "Don't make excuses," and I'm not intending to.  I am just saying that to make my first point: Everyone is talented at something, but not everyone is talented at everything; therefore, everyone should use their talents for God, but since everyone's talents are so varied, they should not all be doing the same things.

Rather than feeling guilty on some level for their failure to measure up to other people's abilities, Christians out there should be considering how their own God-given abilities could best be used.  The Bible compares a church congregation to a body, where each person works as a part, keeping the whole body healthy, and with each part being necessary and placed there for a reason (1 Corinthians 12: 12-27).  Perhaps there are talented individuals out there who have not yet realized that they, too are necessary, even though they haven't found their "niche" to serve quite yet.  They may not realize that they are created by God for a purpose,  perhaps to put "Christian engineering" or "Christian salesman" or "Christian deliveryman" on the map as a new way to serve God while showing His love to our fellow man--doing jobs that no one else could do as effectively.  Maybe they are the only ones in the whole world who can do the job.  They will never know, if they keep comparing themselves to others.

That brings me to another point I wanted to make: Christians shouldn't use the oddness or obscurity of their talents as an excuse to downplay them or refuse to use them.  A person's penchant for armpit orchestra could break the ice with a few laughs, opening doors to share his or her testimony with an audience; a talent for origami could help cheer up an elderly person or a sick child in the hospital; life experience as a parent could help a Christian man or woman mentor a struggling single mom at church or a young man who is trying to get his life back on track.  God can use any talent, since He made every person and saw in advance what each could do (Ephesians 2: 10), but God cannot use a talent if the talent holder knows better than Him what other people need.

Bloom Where God Plants You...
This leads into my last point: Where Christians are is where God can use them best.  Take Christian students, for instance. While they can reach out to the homeless in their towns, they might be best suited to reach out to their fellow students.  The workers at the local shelters cannot attend classes and live in the dorms, eat at the school cafeterias, or gather at places where the other students hang out.  If all of the Christian students feel they can only serve by working at the shelter, there may be thousands of young people who don't benefit from the help God sent Christian students to do on campus. God has placed each person where they are, for a purpose they alone may be able to fulfill (Esther 4: 14), so when the time comes, they had better be there to minister to the need that is there.

I'm sure there is more to be said on this subject, and I invite readers to add their comments to the discussion.  How best would you advise Christians to use their talents for God? Are there any more Scriptural guidelines I have failed to mention?