Tag Archives: hope

Faithful Obedience II

“I think we’ve overstated that God is the God who wants us to obey. Obedience is not the end game. Obedience is only our calling so that we can step into our freedom.” – Erwin McManus

A few weeks ago, my girlfriend asked me to certify a single student in CPR. Although the ask and the circumstances were unusual, I honored her request. I was blown away by the experience. It continues to live in me, teaches me something deeper everyday, and is a place of strength from which I can draw when the day seems long. Whenever I go to this well, MercyMe’s You Are I Am comes to mind – I’ve been the one held down in chains beneath the weight of all my shame. I’ve been the one to believe that where I am You cannot reach.The veil is torn and now I live with the Spirit inside; the same one, the very same one who brought the Son back to life. Hallelujah, He lives in me.

The student humbled himself to accept any circumstance to get where he was being led. Hungry and apprehensive, he followed his faith that led him to the church where our gracious God hand-delivered him the hope he had been longing for. In a heart-felt act of absolute humility and vulnerability, he shared his tearful story with me. He said, 2 ½ years ago he was a school bus driver. He showed up to work everyday on time. He was married and has two daughters. He had his own place and he provided everything his kids needed. If he had to cut grass or pick up trash to get something extra, he had no problem doing that. He spent time with his family and everything was great. On his bus route, there was a little girl who was always late leaving her house. The rules allowed for him wait only three minutes for a passenger and then he had to go on to his next stop. Sometimes he would wait 10 minutes for that little girl because something told him he should. He knew in his heart that she was better off getting on the bus everyday than staying at home.

One day, his bosses called him into the office and told him a woman had accused him of getting off the bus while kids were still onboard and the engine was running. They said he got in a lady’s face and threatened her, then got back on the bus and drove off fast. Without even asking him his side of the story, they just fired him. Since then, he hadn’t found steady work. Pretty soon, he couldn’t pay rent on his apartment and his family got set out. He was separated from his family because his wife took the kids and moved back in with her mother so they would have a place to stay. He stayed here and there when he could but was mostly homeless. It didn’t take long before his marriage fell apart too. It was crazy! In a flash, everything was gone and he couldn’t figure out how or why.

His mother wasn’t in a position to give him anything. Every time she saw him, she offered him encouragement and prayed for him incessantly. She told him to have faith because God would work everything out. His sister told him the same thing and prayed for him also. Day in and day out, he remained homeless, hungry, and without hope. Whenever he was at his wit’s end and felt trouble looming, he went on long walks or rode his bike to remove himself from whatever mischief was lurking. He was proud of the fact that he could go anywhere and do anything as he was not restricted by an arrest record or conviction. But finding permanent employment and stable housing continued to evade him.

A few weeks ago, his former employer called him at 4pm on a Friday afternoon. They told him that someone had written a letter and cleared his name. They told him he could return to work the following Monday only if he could produce a valid CPR card because his certification had expired.  It turns out that the mother of the little girl who was always late for the bus, was addicted to drugs. While on one of her high spells, she fabricated the story that led to the man’s termination. The mother was later arrested and sent to a rehabilitation center for treatment. After her release and in a attempt to make amends, she provided a sworn statement to the man’s employer and admitted that her allegations were false.

He was elated about getting his job back but felt choked by the pressure to get re-certified in 48 hours without any support. He called everyone he knew. The best they offered him was the chance to buy a fake card from a document vendor on the street. He went to bed that Friday night feeling hope slipping back through his hands.

He woke up early Saturday morning and set out on a long walk to gain focus. As he was passing a building, he saw his sister’s car in the lot. He went in the building to find her. He found her and she introduced him to my girlfriend. The siblings told my girlfriend about his desperate search for a place to get certified in CPR on short notice. My girlfriend called me to see if I could do it. Holding on to hope for the next 14 hours, the man again felt himself losing his grip on the glimmer of hope he gained half a day earlier. At 9:00pm, he received a call from his sister telling him that the woman he met earlier found some lady who had agreed to certify him at the church at 11:30 the next morning. He fell asleep at his mom’s house that night while tearfully praying to God, asking for Him to make a way to allow things to work out so he could take the training and be able to provide proof to his employer that he had done what was asked of him. To him, having stable employment seemed so close, yet felt so far away. To help soothe him, his mother read this scripture to him before he fell asleep, 4 May you always be joyful in your union with the Lord. I say it again: rejoice! 5 Show a gentle attitude toward everyone. The Lord is coming soon. 6 Don’t worry about anything, but in all your prayers ask God for what you need, always asking him with a thankful heart. 7 And God’s peace, which is far beyond human understanding, will keep your hearts and minds safe in union with Christ Jesus. 8 In conclusion, my friends, fill your minds with those things that are good and that deserve praise: things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and honorable. 9 Put into practice what you learned and received from me, both from my words and from my actions. And the God who gives us peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:4-9 – GNT)

He woke up the next morning and came to the church. He spent several hours working hard to earn his certificate and was happy to know he could return to work with dignity and honor.

For the both of us, the Spirit illuminated the reward for obedience. Obedience brought him to a place where he could tell his story of how others set a trap for him so he would fall and fail; yet God delivered Him. He is now humble. What man designed to break him, God used to bless him. His trials cracked him in a way that allowed God’s light to shine through him. He now believes his can be the man God called him to be. Obedience allowed me to see the work of the Mapmaker as He drew the lines and created the path upon which this gentleman would start his spiritual journey. The experience reinforced that there are no coincidences. God’s name, El Shaddai, means All-Sufficient One who blesses with all manners of blessings. The gentleman’s name means dark or black; the culmination of all color in the vacuum of eternity. My name means God’s promise. Putting it all together – God used the two of us to deliver the message of His promise of many blessings and an assurance of eternity to those who are faithful and obedient to Him.

You’re the one who conquers giants. You’re the one who calls out kings. You shut the mouths of lions. You tell the dead to breathe. You’re the one who walks through fire. You take the orphan’s hand. You are the one Messiah. You are I am! You are I am!! (MercyMe)

Faithful Obedience

A few weeks ago, my girlfriend came to my house at 9pm. Her visit was unusual as folks call me before they come by and it is rare that I entertain anyone so late. Nonetheless, she arrived, hurried and on a mission. With a sense of urgency and directness in her tone and mannerisms, she asked me if I could certify a student in CPR the next day. As I began to explain that I didn’t have a class scheduled for the next day, she cut me off and said, “I need you to do this!” In an act of sheer and gut level obedience, I said “yes ma’am”, as I had never experienced such insistence and exigency from her. I explained that I did not have a classroom available and did not know how I could find one in such short notice. She smiled, said she had a place in mind, and reminded me that God works all things out for His greater good. She then dialed a number on her cell phone and said, “Hey! She can do it. Tell him to show up at the church at 11:30 in the morning.” She asked me for a cup of tea to go, told me to find a trustee at her church when I arrive, and said there is bound to be an unoccupied room available. She then scurried on her way. I thought to myself, “Lord, what has the cat just drug into her life and what am I about to get myself into? How can this possibly work when the church holds its largest service of the week at 11:00 and it lasts for two hours?” The Spirit reminded me that the power of obedience to Him has the ability to turn the impossible into the easy.

I was restless and anxious when I laid down. I fell asleep while reading this scripture, “To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have been given a faith as precious as ours: 2 May grace and peace be yours in full measure through your knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. 3 God’s divine power has given us everything we need to live a truly religious life through our knowledge of the one who called us to share in his own glory and goodness. 4 In this way he has given us the very great and precious gifts he promised, so that by means of these gifts you may escape from the destructive lust that is in the world, and may come to share the divine nature. 5 For this very reason do your best to add goodness to your faith; to your goodness add knowledge; 6 to your knowledge add self-control; to your self-control add endurance; to your endurance add godliness; 7 to your godliness add Christian affection; and to your Christian affection add love. These are the qualities you need, and if you have them in abundance, they will make you active and effective in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1-8 GNT)

The next morning, after attending service at my own church, I drove 25 miles to my girlfriend’s church. When I arrived, I found a trustee who took me to the basement of the building and led me from room to room, looking for an empty space. He eventually told me that the best he could do was to allow me to use the child care class room for two year olds. He then cautioned me that the lyrical dancers from the special church service would also have to use the room to change clothes after their worship dance.  He unlocked the classroom door, wished me good luck, and returned to his post. As I entered the room, I said, “seriously! Let me see if I understand this. I have a strange adult male student in a classroom with Lilliputian furniture that we have to share as a dressing room with female dancers.” About that time, the heft of the music from the gospel organs began to fill the space. The Spirit said, “settle down. Your calling today is only about obedience and has nothing to do with questioning the Caller.” I nodded in acceptance, set my equipment up as best I could, and then went back to the lobby to wait for the student.

I called his name to two people I imagined might be him. They each told me I had the wrong person. Then a thin guy with a tight pullover and over-sized jeans walked in. He was holding his belt loops on one side to prevent his pants from sagging. I called his name and he answered, “yes ma’am.” After exchanging greetings, we returned to the basement and began our training, adjusting the volume on the computer aids as the church music  softened and then thundered between dances numbers. There was a rhythmic cadence to the interruptions to our lessons as dancers entered every 10 minutes or so to change their outfits.

We completed the video, lecture, and question/answer part of the training.  As I needed to set up the space for the practical exercises that would simulate recognizing and reacting to a breathing emergency, I asked him to stand in the hallway near the wall. When I looked up, I realized that he was facing the wall with his fingers interlaced behind his head and his feet spread far apart, as if I had placed him in a pre-arrest position. I thought, “Oh goodness! I am dealing with a convicted felon; a vulnerable soul whose expectation is that those who are in a perceived position of power will take advantage of him.” In that moment, he seemed willing to take whatever abuse I might dole out simply to walk away with an authentic certification card whose twin-looking faux could have been bought off of the street in a matter of minutes. I immediately began to pray, asking the Spirit to help me stay focused on why He brought me to this place and asked that my work be honoring and pleasing to Him. The lyrics to MercyMe’s You Are I Am came to mind –

I’ve been the one to shake with fear and wonder if You’re even here. I’ve been the one to doubt Your love. I’ve told myself You’re not enough. I’ve been the one to try and say I’ll overcome by my own strength. I’ve been the one to fall apart and start to question who You are.

 We worked through the practical exercises and he did well. I had already made up my mind that I was not going to give him a written exam because he was not well schooled or articulate. Doing so would have been a test of his reading comprehension, an exercise he would have likely failed. Nonetheless, I gave him 15 minutes and told him to use the time to study his manual in preparation for the exam. When time was up, I told him to put his manual away. I told him I wanted to ask him a few questions before the exam began. I asked him to tell me something new he learned in the class. He sighed! I said, ” just tell me one thing new, not everything in the manual.” He sighed again and then began to sob uncontrollably. I sarcastically said under my breathe, “Uh, what act of obedience am I supposed to follow now?” The Spirit said sternly, “chill and be still!”

After a few minutes, he recomposed himself and said, “I am a 40-year old grown man and I am sitting up here crying. It’s because you are a complete stranger; yet you cared for me. You are genuinely interested in my learning and you allowed me to earn something of great personal value to me. I have never had that experience before. You see, there are people I have known all my life who don’t mean any good for me. Here you are, a random stranger, and you care.” The Spirit then whispered, “Look, listen, and feel applies to more than just CPR, huh? In God’s great plan, humble obedience leads to the promised land. In all you do, remember whose you are and stay focused on what you were called to do.” Jeremiah 29:11-14 immediately came mind, 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. 12 In those days when you pray, I will listen. 13 If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. 14 I will be found by you,” says the Lord. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.” (NLT)

Sonic Footprint

If anyone questions whether there is a God, He is always fully present.  If anyone asks if He hears our prayers, glance at who He places in your presence.  If anyone wonders if He answers those prayers, look to the present to see how gloriously he responds.  If anyone inquires about His expectations of us, teach them how His love demonstrates His present responsibility.

Faithful living brings a heart full of hope and a life of love and joy.  Each day, we draw the picture of faithful living by the sonic footprint (the pattern and mark our words are leaving on others) we place on those around us.

Below is an excerpt from an earlier post.  At the time, I was trying to keep a positive sonic footprint while I was in the middle of a storm.  You see, I believe that economic independence is obtained through education.  Two years ago, my dream of my offspring having that seemed to be going up in smoke.  The anguish I experienced was soothed only in the comforting arms of prayer and through the encouraging words of others.  God sent a prophet to me to let me know everything would be okay and charted a course my daughter could take to get where she needs to be.  She is now on that course.  She has pulled herself together and will soon enter community college.  Enjoy!

While I was working at guest services today, a man on the security team named Aaron Hope approached me and began talking to me.  His opening words included a comment on the emblem on my shirt. The emblem was my daughter’s high school and mascot.  He told me he graduated from there just a few years ago.  He talked about his positive experiences there as well as his challenges and struggles.  His story included examples of his involvement in many activities, his laziness as a student, the encouragement of his parents, and his eventual and close-call path to graduation.  I explained to him the grip fear has on me as I see my daughter in the exact same place while running out of time to correct her course.  He laughed at the similarities between the two of them.  He gave me some tips on clever ways to encourage her and let me know that his educational path ended with a college degree.

He was honest with me about the three university rejection letters that were the results of his less than perfect grades.  He talked about having to apply to the local community college and finally getting accepted.  It was a challenging experience for him because he knew he was a smart kid who had failed to apply himself.  His decisions led to a less than desirable result.  He was left behind as he watched his friends go away to four-year universities while he stayed at home to attend junior college.  Through the experience, he found motivation to succeed.  He regularly attended community college classes, paid attention, and made good grades.   During his first year at the school, he visited a high school friend who got into a state university just two hours away.  After visiting the campus just once, he committed to doing what it took to get admitted.  The next year, he transferred there.  He suggested that I take my daughter on a campus visit to the university and informed me that it has an undergraduate program and a follow on professional school program in my daughter’s area of interest.  He ended the conversation with reminding me to be prayerful and patient because everything was going to work out.  He then smiled and went on his way.

I believe this experience was God’s plan.  God knew about the emotional meltdown my daughter had the day before when she realized the deep whole she was in because of low grades.  He heard her cry out in my arms that she was slipping into a spiral and did not know how to stop it; that she is one of the smartest people in her group of friends but has the lowest grades because she hasn’t been studying like she should; and that she performed poorly in her sporting event the night before because she was tired as she can’t sleep because she is worried about passing her classes for the quarter.  God’s spirit moved me to stay at home Saturday night to be with her instead of coming to church.  He knew I was feeling fearful about her future, alone, and helpless.  He also knew I needed a constructive example of an encouraging person who would make me feel good, to help me through the moment as well as to assist me with improving my sonic footprint.

Sooooo…to bring me into the fold, I was struck with an issue of importance to me, my daughter.  God worked it out that I would be standing alone in His house the next day.  He sent a handsome and physically fit young man who is half my age because He knew that would catch my attention.  He sent a messenger named Aaron Hope – a brother and keeper from a high place bearing a strong and confident prospect.  (Aaron is Hebrew for teacher, lofty, exalted; also Moses’ older brother and keeper by God’s command.  Hope means to cherish a desire with anticipation.)  Because I was vulnerable, I was able to hear God’s voice and was encouraged while receiving a lesson on how to advance His kingdom.  Through the 10 minute interlude with Aaron, I was left with this:

  1. With Great intentionality, God sent his exalted teacher to remind me to stay optimistic and faithful as events of the future occur by His will and in His time.
  2. 5 “Before I started to put you together in your mother, I knew you. Before you were born, I set you apart as holy.  I chose you to speak to the nations for Me.” Jeremiah 1:5
  3. As I wait, I must be an Aaron Hope by being positive with my words, leaving others feeling good and God led.

1 Peter 1 (MSG) tells us:

3-5 What a God we have!  And how fortunate we are to have him, this Father of our Master Jesus!  Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven—and the future starts now!  God is keeping careful watch over us and the future.  The Day is coming when you’ll have it all—life healed and whole. 

6-7 I know how great this makes you feel, even though you have to put up with every kind of aggravation in the meantime.  Pure gold put in the fire comes out of it proved pure; genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine.  When Jesus wraps this all up, it’s your faith, not your gold, that God will have on display as evidence of his victory. 

8-9 You never saw him, yet you love him.  You still don’t see him, yet you trust him—with laughter and singing.  Because you kept on believing, you’ll get what you’re looking forward to: total salvation. 

10-12 The prophets who told us this was coming asked a lot of questions about this gift of life God was preparing. The Messiah’s Spirit let them in on some of it—that the Messiah would experience suffering, followed by glory.  They clamored to know who and when.  All they were told was that they were serving you, you who by orders from heaven have now heard for yourselves—through the Holy Spirit—the Message of those prophecies fulfilled.  Do you realize how fortunate you are?  Angels would have given anything to be in on this!

13-16 So roll up your sleeves, put your mind in gear, be totally ready to receive the gift that’s coming when Jesus arrives.  Don’t lazily slip back into those old grooves of evil, doing just what you feel like doing.  You didn’t know any better then; you do now.  As obedient children, let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God’s life, a life energetic and blazing with holiness.  God said, “I am holy; you be holy.”

17 You call out to God for help and he helps—he’s a good Father that way.  But don’t forget, he’s also a responsible Father, and won’t let you get by with sloppy living.

Do Life Big

“What seems to us as bitter trials are often blessings in disguise.” – Oscar Wilde

To the many women in my life who have prayed for me this year: Thank you!  I have needed it, it has helped, and I am back.  The summer was rough but it is now behind us.  Fall is upon us and it is time to live in this moment.  Each day in the month of September has been better than the last.  When I awakened this morning, the first thought on my mind was the need to release the relentless thoughts of the challenges of the most difficult 42 days of the year.  There have been 215 other absolutely fabulous days in the same year.  I will not allow this difficult minority to haunt the fantastic majority any longer.  I made it through and am here now to press on towards greater things.

Our God has given us a spirit of courage and a charge to do life big.  There is much to accomplish in the vineyard and little time to get it done.  The growing season is behind us and the harvest is upon us.  Now is the time to dream big and dare to fail; throw caution to the wind and live out our purpose; leave isolation behind us and live out loud; abandon doubt and love boldly; press on and be optimistic.  Solitude is sinful when there are so many souls searching.  The glass menagerie, the ornamental exhibit of 42 captives, has shattered.  The pieces of pain have been laid at the foot of the cross, in an acknowledgment of what they are and an acceptance that we are not in it alone.   In His time, He will take what is left, multiply them, then divide them so they can be used for His glory.

The commentary in The Voice translation in 2 Corinthians 13 tells us, “Weakness looks like failure in the eyes of the world, but…weakness is an avenue to share in Jesus’ death and, therefore, in His life as well.  The challenge is to remain faithful even in the difficult times, even when there is no one left to provide support.  It is in these times that God’s power and comfort are most evident.  This call to embrace weakness and suffering is difficult.  It is normal to run from pain.  But the examples of Jesus in the Gospels, of Paul in his letters, and of David in the psalms are of finding God’s strength in times of weakness.”  “Keep, keep On…. Never Say Die… When in the midst of sorrow, you can’ t see up when looking down.  A brighter day tomorrow will bring.  You hear the voice of reason telling you this can’t ever be done.  No matter how hard reality seems, just hold on to your dreams.  Don’t give up and don’t give in although it seems you never win.  You will always pass the test as long as you keep your head to the sky.  You can win as long as you keep your head to the sky.  You can win as long as you keep your head to the sky.  Be optimistic!”  Sounds of Blackness – Optimistic

If anyone understood the harshness of this world, the Son of Man did.  He left His place in heaven and laid it all on the line just so we can live in eternity with Him.  His suffering was great and he paid the ultimate price for us.  Through it all, God was with Him.  Through His obedience, He fulfilled the scriptures so we would never be separated from Him again.

Mark 15:15-37 in part tells us, “15 When Pilate saw that he could not persuade the crowd to change its mind, he…had Jesus publicly whipped, which was the normal prelude to crucifixion.  Then he had Jesus led away to be crucified…17 They put a purple robe on Him and made a crown of thorns that they forced onto His head, 18 and they began to cry out in mock salute.  19 For a long while they beat Him on the head with a reed, spat upon Him, and knelt down as if to honor Him.  20 When they had finished mocking Him, they stripped off His purple robe and put His own clothes back on Him.  Then they took Him away to be executed…24 And so they crucified Him, divided up His clothes, and cast lots (an ancient equivalent of rolling dice) to see who would keep the clothes they had stripped from Him.  25 His crucifixion began about nine o’clock in the morning…29 Those passing by on their way into or out of Jerusalem insulted and ridiculed Him…33 At noon, the day suddenly darkened for three hours across the entire land.  34 Sometime around three o’clock Jesus called out in a loud voice.  Jesus: Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?  Jesus was speaking, as in the psalms, ‘My God, My God, why have You turned Your back on Me?’…37 Then Jesus cried out with a loud voice, and He took His last breath.  38 At that moment, the curtain in the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.

The commentary from the VOICE translation of Mark 15 explains, “The tearing of the temple veil is a picture of what Jesus’ death has accomplished.  The temple sanctuary is divided into two sections: the holy place and the most holy place.  The most holy place is a chamber so sanctified that only the high priest can enter—and then only once a year.  There God’s presence is manifest on earth.  A long curtain divides the two areas, and at the moment of Jesus’ death it is torn in two.  The veil that serves as a means to protect everyone but the high priest from the power of God’s presence is no longer needed because Jesus, on account of His sacrificial death, gives everyone access to God.  Only God Himself can rip the curtain in two ‘from top to bottom,’ opening the way for people to come into His presence.”

Our God is with us from beginning to end, through all of our triumphs and trials.  What made the victory of conquering the mountain so sweet is that we traversed the valley first.  The climb was steep, intense, and arduous.  But we did it because we remained faithful and persevered with the support of others who believe in His vision.

Jesus came to earth and lived out His mission, which included many trials, challenges and difficulties.  His example was to go all out and to be all in without regard for how hard it might be.  The challenges of the summer taught me many lessons and I now know that they were each a blessing in disguise.  Through my weakness, I gained strength; because of adversity, I received wisdom; in my moments of despair, seedlings of hope blossomed.  “If things around you crumble, no you don’t have to stumble and fall.  Keep pushing on and don’t you look back.  I know that storms and strife cloud up your outlook on life.  Just think ahead and you’ll be inspired to reach higher and higher.  You’ll always do your best if you learn to never say never.  You may be down but you’re not out.  Don’t give up and don’t give in although it seems you never win.  You will always pass the test as long as you keep your head to the sky.  You can win as long as you keep your head to the sky (you can win child).  You can win as long as you keep your head to the sky.  Be optimistic!Optimistic

11-13 And that’s about it, friends.  Be cheerful.  Keep things in good repair.  Keep your spirits up.  Think in harmony.  Be agreeable.  Do all that, and the God of love and peace will be with you for sure.  Greet one another with a holy embrace.  2 Corinthians 13:11-13

Now that you know there is nothing standing between you and Him, what’s stopping you?  What is your calling in life?  Whatever it is, pursue it earnestly.  Leave nothing on the table and no room for regrets.  He is with you and your sisters are praying for you.  What power against you can prevail?  Now go get ‘em!  Whatever He is calling you to do, do it big.


Where is God?

Suffering is a part of the human condition. Hope is a virtue necessary for survival. To have hope, one must have faith – in something. For many of us, faith in the good news of the gospel is what we grew up with and what we crawl back to in times of suffering. Perhaps we were heavily churched and always in a relationship with Christ. Maybe we knew of Him, were on the edge of discovering Him, the verge of knowing Him, or the fringe of a relationship with Him. Perhaps we deliberately left Him in defiance or in search of ourselves only to discover that since we were made in His image, finding our true selves is completely dependent on communing with Him. Whether it was our desire to alleviate the emptiness found in the foxhole of overindulgence, the anguish ignited by the wars of jealousy and oppression, or our realization that God’s good living is better than the best of our own ways, we are with Him now. Our faith in Him gives us hope for a great today and a better tomorrow. We all go through this thing called suffering and are typically better for it on the other side. Three years ago to the day, my sanity slowly slipped away; not rooted, I fell into the gray; an in-between, unfamiliar place. I was floating. Uncertain, yet not so unaware; the answers were begging to be shared; everything reflected everywhere; and I was blinded by the glare. Misread, misunderstood. Welcome to the human race! The starting line appeared without warning. The gun was shot, but the sound was much too faint. Now I, I’m in the human race. (Janna Audey – Human Race)

I heard two stories of suffering this week that touched my heart to its core. One was of an unforgettable boy who lived in an always forgotten spot up in the darkest cut in the deepest, most backwoods part of the hood. The other was of a memorable boy who lived in a beautiful home in a prominent suburb with all of the amenities one could desire. The two are stories of innocence lost in tragic events that changed the trajectory of both of their 3-year old lives. Faith makes me believe that there will be hope for the future in the first instance and belief in God’s faithfulness to His people that hope is alive in the second case.

The first story is that of a little boy who lived in a local inner city multi-family block of buildings – a place riddled with aggression, violence and gang activity. The complex is so negatively intense that pestilence, misery, brutality and savagery are pillars so strong that they can be felt like static electricity in the air. There is a one-way descend in and a one-way climb back out. On approach to the entrance, the sensory overload of screaming voices, slamming doors, drug-scented air, gun fire in the distance, and rodents rustling amongst the masses, can be overwhelming. Yet inside, infants and toddlers crawl and amble through the fierceness of these forces; sometimes cared for, other times not even noticed. Sometimes the sounds of their innocence (crying) disturb the hostility masquerading as peace simply because there is sixty seconds of silence. A little boy passed away. His cause of death was blunt force trauma and his body was found in a nearby dumpster. A father figure member of his household is allegedly being sought for questioning. Where was God that night?

The second was the story of a little boy who was enjoying the company of extended family on a sunny summer weekend in the comforts of his beautiful suburban home. The accidental spill of gasoline in a utility room and his relative’s attempt to clean it up without noticing that there was a gas powered hot water heater nearby, caused an explosion. The fire that followed shorted out the house’s electrical system and trapped his relative inside. Although his father was able to move him to safety, the little boy watched him break windows with his bear arms in futile attempts to save the relative’s life. When his father finally reached their relative, it was too late. The boy not only lost an intimate loved one but was also left to hold his father’s sopping crimson-colored fileted arms together until emergency personnel could arrive. Where was God that day?

Matt Redman’s lyrical version of Job 1:21 gives us guidance during those times: Blessed be Your name. When the sun’s shining down on me; when the world’s ‘all as it should be, blessed be Your name. Blessed be Your name on the road marked with suffering. Though there’s pain in the offering, blessed be Your name. Every blessing You pour out, I’ll turn back to praise. When the darkness closes in, Lord, still I will say blessed be the name of the Lord. Blessed be Your name. Blessed be the name of the Lord. Blessed be Your glorious name. You give and take away. You give and take away. My heart will choose to say, Lord, blessed be Your name (Blessed be the Name of the Lord).

Where was God in the life-altering experiences of these two boys? I do not have the answers to what He was doing or why, but I believe that both events were always a part of His plan to pursue His lost people and bring them back into a relationship with Him. He was there – with the knowledge that the anguish suffered was not eternal, but the life given as a result would be. Although very difficult to understand, in the squalor as well as the sunshine, these two boys were counted worthy by Him to serve a heavenly purpose. While one’s innocent soul has been lifted up and is permanently residing with the Father, the other has become a Godly man who is living out the gospel through his ministry of music with his earthly father. Grant it, God did not cause this wretchedness and despair to occur, but he did allow it to happen in furtherance of His kingdom and will use it for the good of mankind. In the book of Job, Job questioned God about why He put him through so many difficulties and hard times. God listened to Job for a while and then reminded him that He is God and there is a plan. As Job heard God, he understood and repented. God – “Why do you confuse the issue? Why do you talk without knowing what you’re talking about? Pull yourself together, Job! Up on your feet! Stand tall! ‘Can you catch the eye of the beautiful Pleiades sisters, or distract Orion from his hunt? Can you get Venus to look your way, or get the Great Bear and her cubs to come out and play? Do you know the first thing about the sky’s constellations and how they affect things on Earth?” Job – “I’m convinced: You can do anything and everything. Nothing and no one can upset your plans. You asked, ‘Who is this muddying the water, ignorantly confusing the issue, second-guessing my purposes?’ I admit it. I was the one. I babbled on about things far beyond me, made small talk about wonders way over my head. You told me, ‘Listen, and let me do the talking. Let me ask the questions. You give the answers.’ I admit I once lived by rumors of you; now I have it all firsthand—from my own eyes and ears! I’m sorry—forgive me. I’ll never do that again, I promise!  I’ll never again live on crusts of hearsay, crumbs of rumor.” (Job 38:2-3, 31-33 & 42:1-6 – MSG)

My reflection on the two events has me here:
1. To be hurt is to be human
2. Suffering is all around us
3. Sometimes the most innocent are the hardest hit
4. Through tragedies come great triumphs
5. Regardless of the circumstances, God is always there.

The experiences of these two boys unfortunately are not too uncommon. Some events are notorious while others are not deemed news worthy. As believers, we are summoned to be fishers of men who were called to make a difference. Whether we teach the first boy’s villagers how to pray, or we take a few minutes to pray for the ministry of the second, action isn’t optional. We are all in this together, hand in hand, as He called us to be; to bring the good news that builds faith, instills hope and fosters the belief that He is with us and will never forsake us. “Knelt down by the Oceanside, contemplating death and life; Connected to the man by my side; knew little of the thoughts in my mind, reached in and touched the waves. The baton was handed to me. And no one’s ahead of me, yet I’m not alone in this race…(Human Race)

To The Limit

“Often the very things that you think have disqualified you are the ones that qualify you to do what God has called you to do”. – Christine Caine

John the Baptist understood that personal peril is sometimes the price paid for doing the right thing.  Matthew 14 tells us a story of the then ruler of Galilee who married his brother’s wife.  John courageously stood up to the ruler and told him about the inappropriateness of the marriage to his brother’s wife.  The ruler jailed John for speaking the truth and later had John beheaded as a trade-off in a game of pawns.  However, John was confident and resolute in the face of difficulty and danger.  He was “all in”, beating down the flame of fear with the fan of faith, even in the most daunting situations.  David Foster tells us in Through The Fire, Through the fire, to the limit, to the wall…I’d gladly risk it all.  Through the fire, through whatever, come what may…I’d take it all the way; Right down to the wire, even through the fire.”

John the Baptist had a unique way about him.  The bible describes him as wearing camels’ hair with a leather belt and living off of locusts and wild honey.  The bible does not speak to any special training John had to qualify him to do the incredible things he did.  But his off-the-beaten-path approach made him extremely resourceful and gave him an understanding that with God, focus, and discipline, anything is possible.  He was all in and in it to win it.

A few years ago, I was vacationing in a coastal city near the Pacific Ocean with some friends.  One of my friends had mobility issues but was unwilling to be deterred from full participation in all activities.  One afternoon, we set off on a snorkeling trip.  I was simply tagging along with the group as I had no desire to snorkel.  With a floatation device I was okay in the water, but I had only taken a few swimming lessons and was not a good swimmer.  We set out on a 40 ft vessel with several other passengers.  Our boat pulled into a very narrow lane with several other boats to off-load the swimmers and snorkelers.  I felt a bit uneasy because there was too much going on in a highly congested area; too many swimmers and too many boats in too small of an area in very choppy water.

All passengers, except me and a guy, got off the boat and into the water.  After a few minutes, a voice told me to put my equipment on and get into the water.  At first I hesitated because I could not discern if it was the Spirit or my ego talking to me.  Eventually, in an act of obedience, I sat on the bottom step of the ladder, put everything on and got into the water.  It took a few seconds to settle my nerves.  I then adjusted my mask and stuck my face in the water to see any marine life beneath me.  There wasn’t anything swimming below me.  I thought, “okay…I have been tricked by my ego into entering these crowded waters.  Thankfully I am only a few feet from the boat.  I am done.”  As I took my now fogged-up mask off to find the stairs to the boat, I noticed that there was something wrong with my mobility-impaired friend.  Without a second thought, I put my mask back on, stuck my head in the water, and kicked as hard as I could until I reached her.  By then, she was panicked.  She had a sense of  loss of control as she was being battered by the waves and was swallowing too much water.

When I reached her, I tried to make her feel a little bit more secure by turning her towards me, wrapping my legs around her, and taking her mask off so she could see me.  Whatever sanity she had left was then surrendered to full-bore panic.  At that moment, she began to fight me.  She then pulled away from me, floundered and flailed under a catamaran, and grabbed hold of the chain on its lowered anchor.  I put my face back in the water and kicked towards her until I reached her again.  I began to ask her what was wrong.  Whatever she was yelling at me was immediately muffled by the roar of the catamaran’s engine being turned on.  I took off my fogged-up mask, I guess to stare death in its eyes.  Instead, I saw the chain of the boat’s anchor begin to rise with my friend attached to it.  I called out to God and surrendered.  I admitted that I was in way over my head.  I committed to accepting His will, following His guidance, and never quitting.

He led me to grab her waist and then to climb up her back, with the hopes that the pressure of my weight would drop us from the chain.  When it didn’t, I wrapped my legs around her ever-rising body and rocked back until we fell.  I then laid on my back with my arm around my friend’s neck and kicked as hard as I could to exit from the front underside of the catamaran.  I then yelled the names of the others in our party and told them to call for help as I held my listless friend.  Other swimmers immediately came to our rescue and summoned the help needed to get us back safely.

2 Timothy 1:7 tells us, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline”  Obedience has a hefty price but that doesn’t change that it is the right thing to do…and look at the difference it can make in someone’s life.  Obedience doesn’t require specialized skills.  But, it can place the least likely person in a position to help.  When we take God with us and we take a focused and disciplined approach to doing what he asks, He uses our uniqueness to make great things happen.  Remember, “The impossible is where God starts and miracles are what he does.” – Christine Caine

What are the difficulties in our circumstances that test our convictions?  Are we willing to be obedient at all cost?  Are we willing to let our faith take us through the fire, to the wall, to the limit?  Or will we be daunted by fear and hold back?  While it was faith that let Peter walk on water, his doubts about the limits of God caused him to sink.

Chris Tomlin says it best in No Turning Back with, “This is my heart cry, though none go with me; the cross before me, the world behind me.  This is my anthem: my life for your fame.  My every move bring glory to your name.  I will follow you (I have decided, I have decided).  I will follow you (I have decided).  No turning back!  No turning back!!  No turning back!!!  No turning back!!!!”

The experience has brought me here:

  1. Panic can turn a terrible situation into a tragedy
  2. Faith brings clarity and breeds courage
  3. The impossible becomes the likely when God is in control
  4. Our all is not His limit

God has no limits to what He can do.  So take it to the limit and see what He will do with it!  “The mountains shake before Him; the demons run and flee at the mention of the name King of Majesty.  There is no power in hell or any who can stand before the power and the presence of the Great I am.  Hallelujah, Holy Holy, God almighty, Great I am.  Who is worthy, none beside Thee, God Almighty, Great I Am.”  Great I am – Phillips, Craig, and Dean