On Sharing the Gospel

 For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. 2 But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. 3 For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. 5 For we never came with words of flattery,[b] as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness.
1 Thessalonians 2:1-5

We often put so much pressure on ourselves when we consider sharing the Gospel.  We worry if we’ll say that right things, or get stumped by a question we can’t answer.  In our desire to represent Christ well, we freak out and get silent, shamed by our own sin.

But there’s never any shame in sharing the Gospel of Christ.  It’s not supposed to be hard. It’s not supposed to be scary. Just as we breathe by the grace of God the oxygen He provides, so too, should we share the glorious news of Christ Jesus as Savior.

When Paul and his companions brought the Gospel to Thessalonica, they knew their purpose.  Because they had joyfully received the salvation of Christ, they were driven to share it with boldness!  Not for their own honor, not for praise among men, not by any personal motivation.  

Having undergone incredible adversity and rejection, they continued to move forward with confidence, no matter what they might have been thinking. It wasn’t strategy, logic, or even fear that compelled them.  It was love. Love received by them from God through the forgiveness of sin, and desirous love for the lost bestowed on them by Christ.

 Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. 7 But we were gentle[c] among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. 8 So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.
1 Thessalonians 2:6-8

They loved like a mother loves her infant child.  They sought to care for, endure, and speak into the people in Thessalonica because they loved them.  They shared deeply of what Christ had done and also shared deeply of themselves! They opened up and got vulnerable. They were real people who likely tripped over hard questions, said stupid things, and feared potential judgement from the people they were sharing with.

It sort of puts things into perspective doesn’t it?  I know I am so guilty at times of looking at the apostles as “super” Christians, infallible Bible scholars with infinite debate and oratory skills.  Especially with Paul and all that talk about learning under Gamaliel and being a Hebrew of Hebrews. They were all so well qualified, right?  

Me? Well, I’m just a pretty girl from Texas who got saved at five and never took a Bible class, and that’s all I need to make me qualified.  I let Jesus become the Lord of my life. At five years old, I knew very little, if anything, about the sinful nature of man, or anything about the Bible.  But what I did know was that Jesus died for me and saved me from my sin, and I wanted everyone else to learn what I had learned! I wanted to run up and down my street, knock on every door, and share with everyone about Jesus and how He had saved me.

Oh, the faith of a child!

You don’t have to be a Bible scholar!  You don’t have to be “called”! The moment you accept Christ you are meant to share it!  You’re meant to be real with the people you come in contact with, give of yourself with love and compassion, and let everyone know that you are who you are because Jesus saved you. 

That’s not supposed to be hard, my friends.  

9 For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10 You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. 11 For you know how, like a father with his children, 12 we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.
1 Thessalonians 2:9-12

They followed the example of their savior and leaned on Him.  They portrayed Christ in their own bodies by diligently and faithfully allowing Him to work through them.  Everything they did mirrored their personal recognition of who Jesus was to them, how He had saved them from their sin, and empowered them to serve others as He did.

When Christ is in you, it’s okay (and even encouraged!) to let Him do the talking! I promise you, He will say what needs to be said.  You can’t screw it up. Christ will be glorified.

13 And we also thank God constantly[d] for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men[e] but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. 14 For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews,[f] 15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind 16 by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them at last!
1 Thessalonians 2:13-16

When we speak the Gospel of Christ, He will defend it Himself.  No hindering will stop it. And people we find Him. They will find Him and follow Him regardless of the cost because they will see the fruit of His love fulfilled and advanced through you.  

The testimony of your own life with Christ is all you will ever need to share His Gospel.  Just like when you found Him, He will work through you to find others. So, don’t let fear of failure, lack of Bible knowledge, or insecurity of calling deter you from giving your whole testimony of what the Lord has done for you with every person you can.  That will be for His glory and joy as well as your own!

17 But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, 18 because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us. 19 For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? 20 For you are our glory and joy.
1 Thessalonians 2:17-20

 

Teach Me, Oh Lord

Do you ever feel like God is trying to tell you something and you think you’re hearing Him only to discover that He’s still talking and you don’t get it?  I realized last night that I wrote two consecutive blog posts about basically the same thing. Using a lot of the same verses, I wrote about the joy that comes after the suffering.  Even the titles were similar.

I didn’t notice until last night.

I wasn’t listening as clearly as I thought.  Don’t get me wrong, I want to listen and I was listening.  I desperately want to hear God’s voice. How am I supposed to function properly without the Lord’s direction and guidance along the way?  

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
Psalm 119:105

Without the light, how am I supposed to see?  Without God’s voice to guide me, how can I get anywhere?  

I’m missing something and it’s something important.  Unfortunately this isn’t one of those blog posts that’s full of great information or insight.  Instead it’s a blind girl trying to find hope and direction from a voice I don’t fully hear sometimes.

It’s like talking on the phone with someone when you don’t have a good signal.  You hear a part of every other word and you might grab the jist of it, but never the whole thing.

A week and a half ago, after the main part of church was over, a guy I never met before came over to me and wanted to pray for me.  I said ok and he began to pray and suddenly started prophesying. There’s a lot to it that I won’t go into, but I went home and wrote it all down.  I wanted to remember it. I wanted to hear God’s voice in it.

Then, last Sunday I went to a church I love dearly but don’t get to regularly attend because of ministry obligations.  My teenage daughter went with me and after the service she asked a lady (a friend of mine) to come and pray for me.

Guess what happened?  She began to pray and then started prophesying almost everything that the Lord had given me the previous week from someone else at a different church service with a different congregation. 

You think God was trying to tell me something?  It’s like these two people had read my deepest thoughts, and were speaking into them in ways only the Lord could do.  There was so much love. No judgement. No condemnation. Just love.

Then there’s this whole business of the two blogs in a row talking about the same thing.  Same verses, same message, same feelings. I feel pretty dense right now. But you know what?  I’m not going to beat myself up over it. That’s not the point.  

God never uses shame to get His point across.  He’s a good father. He’s so patient. His love is so fierce and true and righteous.  My God is not a God of shame. So, I’m not going to even say I need to listen better. I’m not going to say I suck at hearing God’s voice.  Nope. I’m not going to roll that way.

Instead, I’m going to listen.  

8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.
Psalm 32:8

He’s teaching me tenderly so that I may learn and then teach others.  There’s something in that I don’t want to miss. In fact, I refuse to miss it.  I will accept a little bit of gentle correction, a bit of embarrassment, and receive the truth. I’m going to admit I’m not hearing it all and ask for more wisdom, more humility, and more correction.

5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.
James 1:5-6

Lord, I want to hear Your voice.  I want to trust all that You have given me and nothing else.  Sift through the static for me, God, so I can hear only You. There’s something you want me to learn.  There’s always something. And I don’t want to miss any of it. Teach me. Correct me. Discipline me.

12 Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O Lord,
    and whom you teach out of your law,
13 to give him rest from days of trouble,
    until a pit is dug for the wicked.
14 For the Lord will not forsake his people;
    he will not abandon his heritage;
15 for justice will return to the righteous,
    and all the upright in heart will follow it.
Psalms 94:12-15

Jesus has become my righteousness.  He has made me whole and pure in the eyes of God, my Father.  I want to be taught. I want to learn. I want to overflow with the wisdom and knowledge the Lord asks me to steward, whether the knowledge is for me alone or for me to share.  I want what He wants. His way is right. My way is broken.

16 Who rises up for me against the wicked?
    Who stands up for me against evildoers?
17 If the Lord had not been my help,
    my soul would soon have lived in the land of silence.
18 When I thought, “My foot slips,”
    your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up.
19When the cares of my heart are many,
    your consolations cheer my soul.
Psalm 94:16-19

Only in God is there victory.  Only in God is there rescue. Only in God is there deliverance.  Only in God. Only in God. Only in God. 

Let me be in unity with You, Lord, as the Father and Son are in unity.  Let us all be in unity with You, Jesus.

Precious Lord Jesus, You say it all.  I believe You. I trust You. I want what You want and to be in You as You are in the Father.  And I know that even this is the longing of Your Spirit within me. The Spirit that cries, “Abba, Father!” I’m crying out to You, Lord.  I’m crying out to You alone.

Jesus prayed,  20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
John 17:20-26

 

Complete Joy

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
Matthew 11:28

Sometimes I just get tired and defeated and I want to give up.  It hurts. I have war wounds that never seem to heal. I get delivered from one thing only to be devoured again by something else.  What’s the point of fighting? 

I say these things to remind myself that it’s okay to fall short.  It’s okay to be broken and sad about it. Really. It’s okay. This isn’t actually about you.  At least not in the ways you might think. The suffering of the Christ follower always has purpose.

10 So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Isaiah 41:10

I stumble and fall, but I get back up again, even when I don’t want to.  I get up because I am weak and broken and yet I am triumphant. Yes, you heard me right.  It’s about triumph. It’s about trust in that triumph. Pain and failure are always an opportunity to need God desperately and find that He is utterly faithful, utterly strong, and utterly victorious.  Always.

39 The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord;
    he is their stronghold in the time of trouble.
40 The Lord helps them and delivers them;
    he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
    because they take refuge in him.
Psalm 37:39-40

Jesus looked really, really defeated on that Roman cross.  I think Satan thought he’d actually done it: defeated the King of Kings.  But we all know what happened next. After suffering horrifically, after scourging and mocking and humiliation, after slowly bleeding out and getting weaker and weaker, after agonizing asphyxiation, Jesus allowed himself to die. 

And that looked like the opposite of deliverance. Especially when we recall Psalms 37  “…he delivers them from the wicked and saves them…” 

Jesus couldn’t have victory over death until he’d experienced it.  

21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.
1 Peter 2:21-24

Death wasn’t the end for Jesus, and it’s not the end for us.  

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. 2 And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. 5 And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6 He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”
Luke 24:1-7

That pretty much says it all, right?  

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
Isaiah 40:29-31

So when the time has come to suffer again, and I’m feeling weary from the pain, I will look to the cross of Christ and find my strength.  I will remember the suffering that leads to victory, and my joy will be as Christ’s.  Death isn’t the end.  

john-1511

I Changed my Mind, Let’s Talk About Suffering

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. Romans 8:14-17

I was going to talk about being joint heirs with Christ.  I was going to talk about how Jesus elevates us to an equal place with Him.  I might have even talked about how the Lord sees men and women equally, and calls us all “sons” with the same privileges that entitles us to.  But I changed my mind. 

I changed my mind when I got to verse 17 in Romans Chapter 8.  

17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. Romans 8:17

Did you catch that last bit?  The part about suffering? Ya, the hard part.  How did Christ suffer? How do we suffer with Him?  Why do we have to suffer? 

Admittedly, this is a subject I’m well acquainted with.  I’ve suffered a lot. I’ve suffered with severe depression.  I have PTSD from past trauma I have endured. I’ve had one physical ailment after another: cancer, Guillain-Barré syndrome, chronic blockages of my intestines, sepsis (more than once!), pneumonia, hospitalizations, severe arthritis. The list endures as Christ endures.  Because of Christ I endure.

Suffering is not fun.  But there is peace in the suffering when we suffer with Christ. Because I’ve suffered a lot, I know this peace well.  Retrospectively, I consider it a gift well earned. I’ve seen things. Felt things. Learned things. All from suffering.

2 Count it all joy, my brothers,[b] when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4

Who ever wanted to count suffering and trials as joyful?  Joy is for celebrations, for victories, for fun times. It certainly isn’t a go to feeling for suffering.  And yet, there it is. Right there in the Bible. In the Holy book of Jesus. In the inerrant Word of God.  

But here’s what it doesn’t say: We won’t have pain, we won’t struggle, we won’t anguish over it, or feel afraid. Think back to the Garden of Gethsemane.  That’s that time before the cross where Jesus sweat drops of blood. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never sweat drops of blood. 

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2

For the joy set before Him, Christ endured the suffering.  He looked beyond His current circumstances, beyond the pain, beyond the fear, beyond the shame.  He focused on the outcome.  

Suffering is a tool for perfecting our faith.  It refines us and tempers us. In the suffering we see the endurance and peace only Christ can give us.  But we also receive the greatest gift in suffering, the gift of hope.

3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:3-5

Hope is a powerful thing!  The hope of what will come from our suffering  creates such a faithful witness to the world! When we hope in Christ’s enduring love, we can accept the enduring suffering that comes from this evil world.  

We can endure, because we have hope!

Lord, help us to endure the suffering that the world brings us.  Thank you for being the perfect example of what suffering looks like, and also the ultimate example of victory that You are.  We have been promised Your victory, Jesus. We are your joint heirs. We will endure for the joy set before us, because we have your Holy Spirit.  We have Your love and your freedom to endure whatever suffering this broken world pours on us. Let us drink from your cup of suffering and receive the supernatural peace that only You can provide.  We love you, Jesus. Help us rejoice in our suffering for what it will teach us and train us for. Amen.

 

Just Show Up

I can really get frustrated when God doesn’t tell me His plan.  Doesn’t He understand that I need to know? I’ve got things to do, people to see!  How am I supposed to do that effectively if I don’t know the details of His plan?

God has a chuckle every time I talk to him like that.

The sad thing is, I know full well I don’t need to know every detail of His plans for me.  I just don’t. How would I ever learn to trust Him if I always knew what was going to happen?  But I’m ornery. I’m stubborn. I wanna know, dangit!

God is so gentle, though, isn’t He?  He’s patient and kind. He knows how much I love Him and how much I struggle with trusting Him.  So He shows me love instead of wrath.

The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands,[a] forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” Exodus 34:6-7

When I was in the hospital, God did something that I can’t stop thinking about.  (To be honest, He did a lot of things I can’t stop thinking about!) He showed up, faithful and true, while I was sedated and saying all kinds of weird stuff.  

I wasn’t really there in my mind.  I was intubated, sedated, in terrible pain, and I definitely didn’t know the plan.  But God did. And He showed up. 

Over and over again, people have been telling me how the Glory of the Lord was there with me in the ICU.  It overwhelmed people with love and peace and light.  

I didn’t need to know all the details.  I still don’t know them all. I will likely never know.  Propofol and Fentanyl did a great job in handling my pain (apparently) and giving me solid amnesia for two weeks.  Like John Snow, I knew nothing.

And God showed up. 

That was all I had to do, too.  I showed up. I showed up in delirious pain, full of drugs to keep me “comfortable”, and I demanded nothing.  I was just there.  

God is so good.  All we have to do is show up.  Really. We don’t need to know anything else.  I’m learning this slowly. But God is patient with me.  I will forever worship Him for His love is enduring and patient and kind.  

 8 And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped. 9 And he said, “If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.” Exodus 34:8-9

Stiff necked as we are, God shows up.  Why should we try do anything more?

 

I Will Declare What the Lord has Done

My doctor told me I was going to die if I didn’t have surgery. He said that the surgery was very risky and there was a high risk of complications and even death.  What I heard was: it was likely death either way. Surgery was scheduled less than a week later.  

The day before the surgery the pain in my abdomen became excruciating.  An ambulance took me to the hospital. My daughter said she could hear me screaming from the waiting room as they wheeled me upstairs after being admitted.

I woke up two weeks later still in the ICU.  There had been complications. I’d been on a ventilator for ten days. My lungs failed. My kidneys failed.  I got pneumonia. And finally sepsis. From what I understand from the story, I should have died multiple times.  But instead of dying I lived. Miraculously. Doctors were flabbergasted. 

My poor husband.  It had to be so hard to be pulled into a private room and told I likely wouldn’t survive the night multiple times.  How horrible.

Our God had different plans.  People began to rally prayer for me.  I had people praying on six different continents!  As I’ve recovered, multiple people that I didn’t even know have come to me to introduce themselves and tell me how God had laid me on their heart in a powerful way to pray.  

A friend of mine at church organized prayer in her home and enlisted people to pray everywhere she went.  There was a 24 hour prayer vigil. They put my picture on the screen at church and had a special prayer time for me every week.  Streams of concerned people came to the hospital to pray over me and my family. A doctor even asked my husband who I was that so many people kept coming to pray for me.

Who am I? I am loved by the Creator of the Universe.  I am His.  

I’m recovering well now that I’ve been home for a few weeks.  My wounds have been healing at a miraculous rate. The wound care doctor was blown away by the speed of healing.  And my strength has returned quickly. That’s God for you. Because of God’s mercy and because of the prayers of the saints, I am alive. When, at the Lord’s leading, people come together to pray, miracles happen.

I am so thankful for the Lord’s mercy and for His hand over me.  And I am humbled by all of those who prayed for me without ceasing.  Thank you. I’m alive.

I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done.
Psalms 118:17

Oh Mighty Man of Valor

And the angel of the LORD appeared to him and said to him, “The LORD is with you, O mighty man of valor.”
Judges 6:12

I’ve had a lot of people tell me I was courageous.  At times in my life I’ve felt like I was. I even have “Be strong and courageous” tattooed on my wrist.  But there are times when I just want to hide away from the world and stay “safe”, afraid and in the dark, but safe.  

But as I was praying this morning, the Lord reminded me of this verse from Judges.  Poor Gideon was hiding in a hole, afraid of getting killed, when he had a visitation and a calling from the Lord.  

Gideon felt and acted like a coward.  And that’s sometimes what I do. We all do it, right?  But that’s not what God sees. He doesn’t see our fear or failings.  He blotted out our transgressions, our fears, our cowardice, our doubt.  

Our God defined Gideon as a mighty man of valor before he’d done anything valourous at all.  But if you are familiar with the story, you know what happens with Gideon. God patiently, pleasingly, persistently guides Gideon into discovering who God made him to be.

We need to remember that.  We aren’t who we think we are.  We were made with a purpose, to be God’s ambassadors.  We were made to be strong and courageous, not by overcoming our fear and doubt, or fighting through our circumstances, but by God.  God made us strong and courageous. We walk confidently into battle because of Him.

As David said so confidently, as a kid with a slingshot against the world’s definition of a “mighty man of valor”:

“You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.”
1 Samuel 17:45

I think that one of the most important things we can learn from scripture is that we don’t have to rely on ourselves.  God is with us. And what a great relief that is. I don’t know about you, but I’m really done relying on myself. I put all my money on God’s power within me.

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
Romans 8:31