Same T-Shirt, Different World

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On Sunday, after Doulos, I went to the Special Ministries service at 10:30 AM. I had a little trouble finding the room, but when I did step into it, there was no doubt I’d come to the right place. There were people of a wide spread of ages (but almost entirely adults) with varying disabilities, levels of responsiveness, and personalities.

Almost immediately, I spotted a young man in the middle of the group of about 20 people. He caught my eye because he was wearing a bright blue striped shirt, the same one I’d bought for Andrew at Target a few months earlier. He looked to be in his early twenties and he had a very handsome face. At first I thought he might be a volunteer…but when he opened his mouth or moved his arms, it became clear that he was a participant in the disabilities ministry.

For the whole class period, I was drawn to him. He was very much in tune with the teaching time, sitting on the edge of his seat to listen, and answering questions about the gospel correctly (though his speech was difficult to decipher). There was something oddly sobering about such a normal-looking guy in a t-shirt my husband often wears. So similar in some ways, yet so vastly different in others.

God’s sovereignty and providence are really all that lie between blessing Andrew with a typical, robust life and creating him with the severe disabilities I observed in the young man in the bright blue t-shirt. It was a powerful challenge to thank the Lord for knitting Andrew together from conception in a way that provided him with a strong body and healthy mental capacity. God could have created him with special needs and thus taken him down a very different path. He would still be fearfully and wonderfully made, just as this young man was, but Andrew’s life would have many difficulties that he doesn’t have to face. I was also reminded that a bad car accident could change our lives forever if Andrew (or I) were to sustain serious brain damage.

Basically, God used a t-shirt to fill me with a renewed sense of gratitude for the blessings in my life, not the smallest of which is a healthy, intelligent husband. It’s not a gift he bestows on everyone, but for whatever reason, in His good pleasure, He did that for us.

Never take your life and luxuries for granted…there are so many who know nothing of them.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thes. 5:16-18

No More Tears

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It’s been a rather draining week. Debbie’s sudden, strange passing brought a lot of tears and more grief than I would have imagined I would feel for her. I did learn from a neighbor that Debbie had a number of friends on our street. Somehow knowing that there were others she could talk to when I had my blinds closed helped lift the regret I was experiencing. Those friends will miss Debbie and her rambling stories and impromptu visits. She was loved and she has left a hole in other hearts besides ours. We still don’t know a cause of death, and may never. That’s okay. God’s helping me let go.

Death brings with it a sadness that cannot just “be fixed”. The night we learned that Debbie had passed away, I turned to two of my favorite Psalms (90 & 91). Rather than bring much felt comfort, the verses about how numbered our days are just added to the pain. I don’t say that to trivialize the power of God’s Word. It was as true as ever and my heart needed a grounded perspective. But even the greatest of God’s truths won’t remove the emotions that come with permanent loss. And I believe that’s on purpose. We experience deep sadness here on earth, but as believers, we do not grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thes. 4:13). When we grieve, it reminds us of the hope we have of a future in heaven. Someday, the tears and sorrow will be over and we will spend all our time rejoicing in Jesus and enjoying His (and our!) perfection. Losing Debbie is just another reminder to me of what an amazing promise Jesus gave me when He saved me. No more tears. Someday, that will be reality.

Unexpected Loss: The Gravity of Evangelism

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We have this retired next door neighbor named Debbie.

She’s from New Orleans and is in her sixties. She always wears crocks, jeans that are about three inches high-water, the same ratty blue pullover sweatshirt, and often, a large blue bathrobe. Recently, she got her mop of curly hair chopped off in a short buzz. Her normal speaking voice is a shout, so when you visit with her, the whole block can hear her side of the conversation.

We first started to get to know Debbie last fall.

We would visit with her on our way back from the mailboxes or as we left the house. I invited her to the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service, and she seriously considered coming, but in the end, decided not to because she knew how “different” her wardrobe is from most. But on Resurrection Sunday, she was sitting in church with us. Gradually an acquaintance has blossomed into what we think is for Debbie, her closest friendship. She’s started ringing the doorbell just to visit multiple times a week and sometimes more than once in a day. She is trying to sell her house and move back to New Orleans, but nothing is going right for her. Most of our “conversations” are Andrew or I listening to her complain. “I don’t got nobody,” she often says.

Andrew and I were both able to share the gospel with Debbie on separate occasions.

The last time, I sent her home with a New Testament and encouraged her to read it. But her frequent visits are sometimes annoying, especially since we work from home, and it usually means (for me) pausing my timer for 15-30 minutes in the middle of the day and chatting. Andrew noticed that she only comes when the blinds are open, so I have started working with the blinds closed some days to avoid the distraction.

Yesterday, it dawned on Andrew and I that we hadn’t seen Debbie over the last week, which is very unusual. Last night around 11:30 PM, we noticed two police officers walking in and out of her house. We got really concerned. Was she doing drugs? Had she died? Finally, Andrew walked over and asked the officers if everything was okay, mentioning that we hadn’t seen Debbie for a few days. “Everything’s fine, there’s no threat,” he responded. “She actually passed away.”

Over the next hour, we waited in shock as a coroner arrived with a body bag and gurney, and Debbie left the house next door for the last time.

I cried and cried and cried.

I had no idea I cared that much about this homely woman from the south. All I could think was, I should have kept the blinds open more. I should have been a better friend. Besides a niece in New Orleans, Debbie didn’t have any family that I know of. She had no job and no church. I could have loved her better. I shouldn’t have let her visits annoy me. I didn’t have to close the blinds as often as I did.

You never know.

I’ve often maintained that we should all be quick to share the gospel in our relationships, and not just rely on “friendship evangelism” to save our acquaintances, because you never know when it will be their last day. Here’s my first real example of that truth. We couldn’t be more relieved and thankful that God gave us both opportunities to witness to Debbie. We are confident that she died knowing what it meant to be saved. Perhaps God rescued her in her last days…we’ll never know.

I guess the moral of this heartbreaking story is, seize chances to share Jesus with the people around you, and love them like He does.  Love them in your actions and in your prayers. Love them so much that you don’t have any regrets if they pass away. I have regrets with Debbie. But thank the Lord one of them is not a failure to share the Good News with her.

“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?  For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.” (2 Cor. 2:14-17)

No One in 24 Years

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This weekend, I had to take a 30-minute taxi ride, during which I asked my driver if he thought he was a good person.

When he replied yes, I went over the Ten Commandments with him. If you’re familiar with The Way of the Master approach to sharing the gospel, you know the drill. I got to the good news of Jesus and what He did for us on the cross, making a way for sinners to come to God and be washed of our sin.

The cab driver had plenty of objections to the message and was familiar with it already, having supposedly read the Bible in its entirety three times. From the way he could quote Scripture, I had no reason to doubt the claim.

But here’s what struck me.

“I have been in the United States for 24 years, and you are the first person to ever talk to me about Jesus,” he told me as he dropped me off.

For shame, America. There are far too many believers in our country for it to be excusable that this man could live here for nearly a quarter-century and not hear the name of Jesus from one of His followers.

And lest you think that I share this braggingly, when I spoke with this driver I had just stepped off a four-and-a-half hour flight on which I had a captive audience that I failed to take advantage of. I chicken out far more often than I speak up for Christ, so I am scolding myself as severely as anyone. How often does every one of us pass by people who desperately need God’s truth? I know that this taxi driver is just one of countless people, some perhaps even in our direct circles, who have never heard the gospel message.

If Jesus is really the best thing that’s happened to you, what is keeping you from telling people about it?

When the subject of baseball came up in a three-minute conversation with a fellow traveler this weekend, I had no trouble telling him about my brother’s district title. Why? Because it’s exciting to me, and because there’s nothing embarrassing about bragging on my brother. Yet somehow, although I am deeply appreciative of and excited about my relationship with Christ, I fear man and what he will think if I talk about my faith. Half of me desires to shout it from the rooftops, the other half shrinks back in shame, not wanting to be labeled awkward, arrogant, or wacky. Such a mild form of persecution (really, it’s little more than social discomfort) is nothing in light of how Jesus suffered to save me.

When is the last time you stepped out of your comfort zone and talked to someone, stranger or friend, about what the Lord has done for you and can do for them? Could those who know you say you’ve shared Jesus with them? Do you make spreading the gospel a priority in your life? We’re all instructed to do so, but we sometimes go months, even years, without following this fundamental command. Ask the Lord to give you the courage to stand for Him and spread His love to the lost around you.

“So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” (Rom. 1:15-17)

Fervent Love: Prayer

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“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison—that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.” (Col. 4:2-4)

I believe that one of the the best ways we can fervently love the body is to bring one another before the throne of grace. Yet I find that this takes discipline.

It’s easy to say “I’ll be praying for you,” and then proceed with your day or week and never think of that conversation again. About a year-and-a-half ago, I realized I was doing this frequently. It’s the expected Christian behavior when hearing about hardships to respond with a promise of prayer, and although my words were full of good intentions, I often didn’t have the discipline to carry them out. Now, I only tell someone I’ll be praying for them if I truly intend to. Then I ask God to bring them to my mind in the coming days, and He’s faithful to do so. When I run into them later, it’s wonderful to be able to genuinely say that I’ve been praying for them, and to ask for an update on their situation.

I’m also learning that God uses my prayer for others to keep my heart tender toward them. When I’m struggling in my attitude toward a brother or sister, there’s no better way to fight that than to bring them to my Heavenly Father. I’m trying to make that my default reaction to feeling hurt or offended. It reminds me that I, too, am a sinner in need of grace and forgiveness daily.

Here are a few general suggestions toward fervently loving your spiritual family through prayer:

  1. When you say, “I’ll be praying for you,” discipline yourself to carry that promise out. Make sticky notes or set a cell phone alarm to remind you.
  2. Make a prayer schedule if you’re not remembering all the people you want to be praying for.
  3. Redeem your time. Pray in the car, at the kitchen sink, in bed as you fall asleep. You don’t have to be sitting on the couch with your hands folded to talk to God.
  4. Pray for the people who have hurt or are hurting you. Besides blessing them in ways you’ll never know, it will help you to forgive, love, and move on in your heart.
  5. Text, email, or call your brother or sister and let them know you’ve been praying for them. That can go a long way.
  6. Combat gossip with prayer. Stop talking about your church family and pray for them instead.

They Should Have Cried Holy

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I find it incredibly poignant to read the account of Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, torture, and crucifixion and replace those murdering Him with myself. To consider that had I been in the crowd that day, I would have been shouting for His death right along with the mob. I would have watched Him die, blind to Who He is. Dead in my sins, I would have had no more respect or love for Him than Judas did. Indeed, this was the attitude of my heart toward Jesus until the day that He opened my eyes to see His truth and recognize my acute need for Him.

I should have cried holy, but I cried “Crucify” instead.

It’s incredible to me that Jesus would take a heart of stone that is so hardened against Him and transform it into a heart of flesh. That He would look on my sin in compassion and love instead of wrath, and give Himself for my redemption. This and all that it means to the believer is what we celebrate on this incredibly Good Friday, and every day of the year.

“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8)

Another favorite Southern Gospel song of mine that speaks of Jesus’ crucifixion called They Should Have Cried Holy by Greater Vision.

Peter’s Eyes

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This week, I’m looking forward to putting an extra focus specifically on the work of Christ on the cross. Yesterday, Andrew pointed out something about that earth-shattering day that really a struck cord with me. Imagine the emotional pain that Jesus experienced when the rooster crowed. “And the Lord turned and looked at Peter.” (Luke 22:61a)

He’d Looked Into These Eyes Before.

In that moment, the Savior looked into the eyes of a man He had poured so much love, time, and energy into over the past several years. Eyes that danced in excited surprise at the huge catch of fish Jesus orchestrated when they first met. (Luke 5).  Eyes that were dark with fear as he walked on water toward his Master. (Matt. 14) Eyes that cried tears of joy when his mother-in-law was healed by Jesus. (Matt. 8) Eyes that just hours before had been bright with courage as he swore to follow Jesus even to death. (Matt. 26) Now these eyes looked back at his Savior in extreme shame. Peter was remembering their earlier conversation. “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.” (Luke 22:34)

Imagine How This Would Hurt.

I often think of how sad this was on Peter’s part to be so afraid of dying that he would swear that they were not friends. I’ve empathized with the extreme guilt and regret he must have felt after the fact. But I haven’t really considered the blow this added to what was already an excruciating day for Jesus.

Imagine going through the most extreme pain you can think of, for a crime you never committed. You know that in a matter of hours, after more suffering, you will die. Intensify those last hours of life further by imagining that you can see your best friend standing by as all this transpires, telling people he/she doesn’t know you. Wouldn’t it somehow help you to bear this burden if your dearest friend was weeping with you, praying for you, encouraging you? But instead they shrink in fear and pretend to be a stranger.

This is but one small piece of the pain that Jesus experienced on my behalf on the cross. He was abandoned and denied by someone He  had given everything for, while bearing unthinkable physical torture. He did this and so much more to set me free from sins I deserved to be punished for. I am so often like Peter, and worse. I have been afraid to share the gospel out of fear of what others will think. I have not lived my life as one bought with a price. Yet for these and all my other sins, Jesus experienced deep physical and emotional pain and gave His life. Hallelujah, what a Savior!