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Friday, July 22, 2011

A Field of Wealth Inside My Pain

I've found out I'm allergic to pain. Sometimes it causes swelling, irritation, loss of breath, aches, and a host of other problems. Pain hurts. And I don't like it.

But I can't avoid it. Usually. Life brings it--unexpectedly at most times. And yet, Jesus gave me something supernatural that not only gets me through the pain, but enables me to thrive in the midst of it. It's called JOY!

The disciple whom Jesus loved (John) wrote about this abundant joy. It's abundant because one more drop of it will cause it to overflow. And He gives it to us in abundance when we follow what John says in 1 John.

1:3-4 -- that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.

The aspect of fellowship seems to be the main theme throughout this book. And John doesn't waste any words describing the realness and depth of the kind of fellowship that Christ desires to have with us and desires us to have with one another.

He says in 2:3-4 that we "know" (meaning a deep, intimate, experiential knowledge) God if we obey His commandments. And the commandment he talks about next in chapter 2 is "loving one another!" Then he describes this love as all giving, sacrificial, toward those who don't deserve it, and taking the initiative. Now that's love. That's real fellowship with others.

AND, that's fellowship with God. It's fellowship with God because, according to John, if we are not loving one another this way, then we are not loving God.

So think about the painful experiences in your life. I have mine in mind. Our daughter, Kristina (9 years old), is currently battling a rare cancer. Scary. Heart-wrenching. Heavy.

HOWEVER (and I really mean HOWEVER), others have entered our lives, felt our pain with us, and helped carry this heavy burden. And we have sought to do the same with others.

The result? We continue to find a field of wealth inside our pain. During the days of sorrow and ultimate stress due to difficult news we receive...during the times of anguish and desperate desires to be out from underneath this heavy load...during the times when we feel hopelessness alongside our helplessness, He speaks. And He splits open the sky and showers us with His bountiful and abundant joy.

And then, in the mist of our tears, rays of light slice through the dark clouds. Truth is spoken despite our dark, lingering feelings: "I am your God. And I am here."

Suddenly, strength seeps into our pores. We find power that enables us to take another step. And at times we can run and dance. Other times, we gently walk. And with each step He walks alongside us. Often times, when we turn to see His face, we end up seeing the faces of those in our local church who are carrying this burden with us. The body of Christ.

That's fellowship. That's love. That's joy.

That's living above the common.

Are you pursuing this kind of obedience to our Father?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

You Finish the Story...

As I walked out of the shadows of my loneliness, I saw a man standing in the sunlight. His silhouette gently transformed into color as I cautiously approached him, and he turned to face me.

I have dreamed of this moment for all my life; albeit, I knew not what this moment would entail. I had been afraid of the exposure of my darkness. I have betrayed, lied, lusted, coveted, and stolen. My innermost thoughts had been evil, and I was most expecting this moment to be the cup of wrath I had deserved.

My expectations were proven wrong. What I thought would be shame from his countenance towards me was actually a simple smile. But not just any smile. A grin from ear to ear. Eyes wide and brows raised, as if he had been anticipating this moment for a long time.

At first I was tempted to turn around to see from whence I came, but the eagerness in this man's face was compelling me to remain the eye contact. And then, as small as a beam of light and as fast as it travels, a seed of passion was ignited deep within my soul. The desire for something I knew not drastically grew with an anticipation I had never felt.

He stared at me. He could not remove it, and in front of him was his canvas. He motioned for me to approach him, and I did. With a sudden newness of expectation I approached him and viewed his canvas. It was a painting of another world--another time. Another dimension, even. And I found myself wanting to be there.

Yet the painting was unfinished. I looked to him and asked about the unfinished part. It was as if his eyes spoke to me. He had applied the foundation of base colors and structure. He had supplied the architecture. Then he handed me the brush. It was my turn.

I looked at him with happiness, and grabbed the brush. With enthusiasm overwhelming my heart and my lungs full of fresh air, I applied my stroke of genius. But then I dropped my brush.

I had caused a stroke and the color was black. It ruined the painting, and I was heartbroken. I knew the man was disappointed in me. He needed someone who knew how to paint--someone with artistic talent and skillful hands. I admitted--I was neither. How foolish I had been to pretend to be someone I was not.

Then he lifted my face to see him. And he smiled at me. There was supposed to be anger, but I saw only gentleness. I had expected (and would have accepted) him to reject and remove me from his canvas. But he just smiled. Then he stooped down and retrieved the paint brush. He handed it to me and directed my attention back to the canvas.

He lifted his right hand to the black smear I had caused. As he wiped it clean, it was replaced with a bright crimson. Then he instructed me to continue to paint. But this time, I looked into his eyes as my brush created a beautiful masterpiece--a masterpiece where the center was a wave of red that brought out the other colors so magnificently.

And then he spoke. He said he was proud of me.

"But I messed up," I replied. And his returning comment reminded me that my black streak had been removed.

I stood back to see the whole canvas. I took in the entire picture. And that's when I realized the truth...

(You finish it. What is the truth? Conclude the story.)

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Final Flight: A Beautiful Picture

The space shuttle Atlantis just lifted off the earth for the last time. It takes thousands of brave NASA workers to make this happen, and millions just watched it all over the world.

Everything has to work just right. In fact, at only 31 seconds left before take off, the clock stopped to check on a “failure.” As soon as a camera revealed all is OK, the countdown resumed, and the shuttle lifted with precision.

Such a beautiful picture, this is, of how Christ orchestrates His Body on earth. His Spirit gives gifts to each newborn believer for the purpose of edifying His Body. And these gifts are given with supernatural precision. With His guidance, we can follow Him and amazing things happen.

Your local church possesses the gifts of the Spirit, and when they all work together, amazing things happen. However, just as tragedy has struck NASA when something went wrong with two shuttles and people lost their lives, tragedy strikes a church when the precision of our gifting is neglected.

Lives are hurt. Hearts are broken. But when we follow His commands as given in His Holy Word, something incredible happens. It works.

NASA must be patient, pure (precise), thoughtful, optimistic, brave, educated…

Sounds a lot like His Church. Patience, purity, thoughtfulness, educated in His Word…

When we just follow His guidance, we live above the common!

(1 Cor. 12-14)

Friday, July 1, 2011

Wanna Be a Superhero?

Yes, you do.

Oh, come on. You know you do! You know you lay in bed at night fantasizing that you can stop bullets with special powers, or you can fly, or you can...whatever. You know you do. Don't lie to me.

All superheroes have three things in common: they are secure in their purpose, they are determined to follow through, and they are not cowards. Well, OK, at least by the end of the movie they become these things.

There are three things I've learned from the life of the Apostle Paul: he was secure, determined, and he was no coward.

Check it out in Philippians 1:12-14.

12 But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, 13 so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; 14 and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

I think it's safe to say Paul faced setbacks in his life as a believer and follower of Jesus. And it's pretty safe to say he came across many various kinds of difficulty when it came to spreading the gospel, planting churches, and motivating Christians to shape up. Furthermore, he certainly was no coward. Experienced fear? Of course, but he was no coward.

Look at it more closely:

1. Setbacks Reveal Security - (v. 12) But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel.

Paul was in jail. His peeps thought this meant the end of the gospel. Paul told them otherwise.

We should be secure in the fact that God will spread His gospel no matter what setbacks the enemy brings. We all face setbacks: financial issues, health issues, problems with your co-workers, problems with your boss, death of a loved one. Will we really allow setbacks to be a dictator that prevents us from sharing His truth to a dying world? Or will we believe God may have a purpose for these setbacks? And will we believe God is powerful enough to use these to spread the gospel through us?

2. Difficulty Reveals Determination - (v. 13) so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ.

The Roman palace guard consisted of about 9,000 soldiers. Wow! They all heard the gospel because of the determination of Paul while under great difficulty.

We should determine to obey no matter what difficulty arises. Are we really going to allow difficulty to rob our determination to fulfill God’s #1 desire: that all men might be saved? Will we allow ourselves to be so caught up in the affairs of this world that we lose sight of His passion? Or will we choose to believe that God is powerful enough to use difficulty to spread His gospel? Don’t you think we should just do what He says and share it?

3. Conflict Reveals Cowards - (v. 14) and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

Most of the brethren. That means not all. That means some were cowards. Harsh words, you say? I call 'em as I see 'em. Some were overcome by fear and chose to be defeated by the conflict rather than be a part of God's victory in spreading the gospel. Do I know how this feels? Yes, I most certainly do.

We should realize how invincible His gospel is and how powerful He is in us. Are we going to allow conflict to turn us into cowards? Are we really that weak—that spineless—to choose fear over His power within us? Fear is common, but have we forgotten who God is? Or will we see God on His throne and worship Him by overcoming our fear of sharing the gospel? We are strong, because He is in us. His gospel is invincible because He will spread it. And He wants to use us.

At the end, there will be victory. Question is: will we be a part of it? Those who choose to live above the common will be. You can choose today!