Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Keep Up the Good Work!!

 For all my fellow followers of Jesus who might be feeling a bit discouraged in your work, here is a story that might help you.  

His name was Herbert, but most folks just called him Buddy.  To a Sunday School classroom full of ten and eleven year old boys, he seemed to be a hundred years old.  He had grown up during the Great Depression, so I'm sure his formal educational opportunities were limited.  Why in the world would he subject himself to the unruly behavior of an unappreciative group of boys Sunday after Sunday?  Perhaps I have an answer.

I was a member of that class.  I don't remember a single lesson he taught.  I remember no powerful principles for life that he imparted to us.  What I DO remember is that he was there every Sunday. Consistently, faithfully, patiently, he attempted to teach a class of boys with very short attention spans and a variety of interests that seemed much more exciting than a Sunday School lesson.  

12 years later, I remember Buddy standing in the waiting room of the Intensive Care Unit.  In a matter of days, my father's heart had failed and he was snatched from us at the age of 59.  Once again, I cannot remember anything that Buddy said that night, but I will always remember that he was there when we needed support.  

I've thought of Buddy often over the years, wondering if he ever knew the positive effect that his faithfulness, patience, and love had on that class of boisterous boys.  I haven't kept up with my classmates, but I do know one whose life was eternally affected by the quiet, consistent, caring presence of that simple man.  It wasn't what he SAID that influenced my life.  It's what he WAS.

Buddy is a beautiful example for Sunday School workers, pastors, youth workers, coaches, and mentors who might feel like giving up. If that's you, please take a page from Buddy's playbook.  Don't worry so much about what to say.  Just be there!  Be patient, consistent, and loving.  Stay the course! Do NOT get weary and discouraged.  Those things spring from the heart of the devil with the intent to make you give up.  DON'T LET him WIN! The positive effects might not be evident yet, but you are having an effect.  God will use you to change some lives, just like He used Buddy to change mine.  

I never told Buddy how much he meant to me, but I'm sure he knows now.  One day, when God calls me to my eternal home, Buddy will be one of those to whom I will say, "Thank you for giving to the Lord, for I am a life that was changed.  Thank you for giving to the Lord.  I am so glad you gave."  (Ray Boltz)

In writing to the Galatian church, Paul told them, "So let's not get tired of doing what's good.  At just the right time, we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don't give up!"  (Galatians 6:9 NLT)

Nothing you do for others in Jesus' Name is every wasted. NOTHING!   So Keep Up the Good Work!!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

If You Feel Blessed But Stressed . . .

 . . . you're in good company.  

I was listening to "Let the Waters Rise" by Mike's Chair.  It seemed appropriate for my mood.  I, like each of you, sometimes feel the weights and pressures of life closing in on me.  It's easy to turn our focus toward the those things that stress us and the danger in that is simple.  You can't focus on two things at once.  Mike's Chair reminded me of that.  Take a look at these lyrics:

 Don't know where to begin.  It's like my world's caving in and I tried, but I can't control my fear.  Where do I go from here.  Sometimes it's so hard to pray.  You feel so far away.  I am willing to go where you want me to.  God I trust you. 

There's a raging sea right in front of me, wants to pull me in, bring me to my knees.  So let the waters rise if you want them to.  I will follow You.   

I will swim in the deep, cuz You'll be next to me.  You're the Eye of the storm and the Calm of the sea.  You're never out of reach.  God, You know where I've been.  You were there with me then.  You were faithful before. You'll be faithful again.  I'm holding Your hand.  

God, Your love is enough.  You will pull me through.  I'm holding on to You.  

Stormy seas often produce flooding.  In 1989, scores of people took shelter at the Lincoln High School shelter In McClellanville, SC to escape the fury of Hurricane Hugo.  That shelter almost became a death trap as the storm surge flooded the building and required many adults to hold children over their heads as they sought refuge on the roof.  The rising waters could have quickly taken the lives of many of the 400+ folks seeking shelter that night.  By the grace of God, no one died there.  

I was pastoring in North Charleston at that time.  I met with some deacons who tried to persuade me to focus more on the JOY of following Jesus when I preached.  Their chief complaint was that I spent too much time talking about valleys, storms, and difficulties.  My explanation didn't change their minds, but I still hold to it.  MOST of life for MOST of us is lived in the storms and valleys and flood waters of life.  Whether it's health issues, employment issues, relational issues, financial issues or any other kind of issues, following Jesus does NOT guarantee that those things will dissipate. When we come to faith in Jesus, the only guarantee we have (other than the certainty of heaven) is that HE will be with us in those valleys, storms, and flood waters.  

Don't fall into the trap of thinking that walking in God's will means the absence of stress.  It doesn't!! You need only to read the Psalms and Ecclesiastes to discover the distress of David and Solomon.  You need only to read of the persecution of the early Church, the stoning of Stephen, the killing of James, the thorn in Paul's side, and the Hall of Fame in Hebrews 11 to discover that following Jesus really IS taking that hard road (Matthew 7:14 NLT).  It's not for weaklings, cowards, or quitters.  

In Matthew 14:22-32, notice that Jesus could have stilled the winds and waves on the Sea of Galilee that night, but He didn't.  Surely it would have been easier for Peter to step out onto a sea as smooth as glass.  But when Jesus told him to step out, the wind was howling and the swells continued to crash against the boat.  As long as Peter kept His focus on the Christ Who called him, he could literally rise above the normal effects of the storm.  BUT, at the moment he changed his focus from Jesus to the rising waters, he began to sink.  At that point, Jesus reached out to rescue him and said, "You of little faith.  Why did you doubt?"  

For most of us, life will continue to confront us with issues, dilemmas, and stresses of every sort.  The winds will continue to howl and the waters will rise and fall.  Between all the mountaintops, we'll be forced to travel through the valleys.  WHY?  Because that's where ministry is needed.  Those valleys and stormy seas will be littered with hurting, frightened folks and we can point them to the One Who can help them rise above it all.  

So when you find the waters rising in your life, ask yourself a couple of questions:
1.  Have I lost my focus?  Am I distracted from Jesus?

2.  What is it that He desires to teach me in this storm or valley?  Is there someone that I can help because of my experience?  How will He use this to strengthen my witness?  

Distress comes to us all.  Fear is natural.  Questions are OK.  But obedience is the key.  Even when we're afraid . . . even when we don't understand . . . even when there seems to be no answers, keep your faith and keep your focus on Jesus.  His love is enough and HE will pull you through.