Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Source of All Comfort

 I could hear his words of comfort and encouragement over the hum of the engine.  It was hard to believe that he had been so apprehensive about this trip.  He didn't think he had the skills or the knowledge to actually DO mission work.  Oh, and there was the other thing.  It was physical problem, a genetic abnormality.  It had affected his appearance, which had resulted in plenty of cruelty during his teen years.  He didn't want to make others uncomfortable and he didn't want to be the object of ridicule either.  In fact, he just wasn't sure he was the man for the job.  Yet, it seemed that God was telling him to go.  

It was almost 10:00pm as the van rolled along this winding West Virginia road.  Most nights had been noisy as we delivered children to their homes.  Songs, crafts, and Bible School refreshments helped pump up the volume.  But on this particular night, there was only the hum of the engine and the passionate voice of my young friend as he reassured a teen-aged girl about the gracious love God.  She was a gangling teen with glasses and a mild case of acne.  During the entire week  of Bible School, she had been quiet and withdrawn.  But on this particular night, my friend (who knew how it felt with be ostracized) simply encouraged her to talk.  And she did!  She began to speak about her awkwardness and the rejection she had experienced at school and in the mobile home park where they lived.  Her pain was real and my friend could relate.

There is no professional counselor or pastor anywhere who could have had a greater positive effect on her that night.  My friend simply focused compassionately on the reality of her pain.  He listened, he heard, and he understood.  He had been there.  With a Christ-like gentleness, he talked about family and church as support systems.  But his most comforting words were about the unconditional, life-changing, attitude-adjusting love of Jesus.  

She disappeared with a wave and a smile into the shadows around her front door.  At that moment, I understood why God had so strongly urged my friend to go with us to West Virginia.  There was a fifteen year old girl there who needed exactly what he could offer.  

Paul wrote to the Corinthian Church that it is ". . . God our merciful Father and the Source of all comfort.  He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others.  When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us."  2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (New Living Translation)  That's exactly what my friend did.  God used him to do for this young girl what I, a trained pastor, could not do.  In fact, there was no one else on our team who could have had as dramatic effect on her life.  Out of his own suffering, he offered empathy, support, love, and Jesus.  

So what pain have you endured?  What are you suffering through now?  If there is anything good that can come for it, it is that your suffering can equip you to be a channel for God's comfort and love to others.  When pain and stress invade your life, look to Jesus for comfort and hope.  Keep in mind that suffering offers preparation for opportunities to comfort others and offer them hope through a relationship with Jesus.  Do NOT become too busy or bitter to let Him work through you to help someone who is hurting,  

Philippians 2:13

Thursday, October 16, 2014

We Need Each Other

     All my life I've tried to fit in.  As a "late in life" child, I tried to fit in my family.  In my childhood, little league baseball was a way to "fit."  As I grew older, the peer pressure increased.  There were more sports, greater mobility (translated driver's license).  There was beer and music and rebellion.  I grew my hair long, popped an earring into my left earlobe, adopted a hippie dress code, all in an attempt to find a spot, a niche, a place of acceptance.  It's a different context, but it's the same reason that kids join gangs, men join fraternal clubs, and women join book or garden clubs.

     That's also why I was baptized and joined the church at age nine.  It was revival time, my friends were doing, and everyone seemed overjoyed.  Why not make my mother the happiest woman in the world for a while.  BUT, I did not really follow Jesus or even know Him in a life-changing way until I was 18 years old.  Then at age 20, I was called to vocational ministry.

     Can I trust you with a secret?  I still tried to find a way to fit in, even as a pastor.  Most of us search desperately for acceptance.  Many, like me, are searching for truth, answers, and meaning in life.  Some turn to the church hoping to find acceptance, encouragement, and love.  Unfortunately, subtle demands for uniformity have infiltrated many churches and even spread through our American culture.  The education system and the government both seem to discourage individuality.  Perhaps that why I felt so uncomfortable and inadequate in ministry for all those years.  Even as a pastor, I had been trying to fit in wherever I found myself.  And when that happens, it's often rooted in a desire to please others, seek their approval and acceptance, and to be liked.  But that is not what God created us to be or do.

     The psalmist reminds me in Psalm 139 of the unique stamp that God placed on my life when He knit me together over 60 years ago.  Read it carefully and slowly because it says the same thing about you.  The apostle Paul reminds me in I Corinthians 12 that it takes all kinds of unique individuals working together to be effective as the Body of Christ.  We ARE unique and glorious creations of our heavenly Father, but He also created us to need each other.

      Several years back, God said to me, "Zane, it's OK to be yourself.  That's how I made you."  That's not a license for bad attitudes or behavior.  It was a reminder that from conception, God had wired me toward certain things.  My personality type, my appearance, and my ethnicity are things that are woven into me.  My contextual setting, my opportunities, my experiences, & my "teachers" throughout life will influence me.  The same is true of you.  My prayer and hope is that I can be as gracious to others as God is to me.  Our differences in appearance, abilities, giftedness, and methods are God's way of reminding us that we need each other IF we are to function most effectively as a family and as the Body and Bride of Christ.

     So just be yourself.  Some will appreciate you.  Some might not.  But embrace the you that God created you to become.  Don't look for the approval of others.  Always speak and act for God's approval.  "Seek the kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and He will give you everything you need." (Matthew 6:33 NLT)   And remember, if you don't "fit in" because you choose to live for the approval of God, you're in great company.  Jesus Himself said, "If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first.  The world would choose to love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world.  I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you."  
(John 15:18-19 NLT)