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Archive for November, 2010

WHEN YOUR LIFE FALLS APART

“I have a question for you.”  Paul looked directly at me, his gray-blue eyes intense, but kind.  “Has there ever been a time in your life when you doubted God?”

I was taken aback, not just by the question, but by who was asking.  Paul was homeless.  Yet, he was a regular at the weekly neighborhood Bible study.  Tonight’s topic was When Your Life Falls Apart, and Paul had just been sharing in our small group about the hardships of the last several years – losing his job, not being able to find more work, getting kicked out of his apartment because he couldn’t pay the rent, and now having to live in a government shelter.

What did I know about Paul’s life?  How could I possibly relate to him?  But as he searched my face.  It was as if he could sense something below the surface – that even though we were from vastly different situations, we both understood what it was to suffer loss.

“Yes, I have doubted God,” I responded.  “There was a time when I was very angry at God.”  Taking a deep breath, I was suddenly flooded with painful memories from that terrible night six years ago.  The phone call at 3am.  Jennifer’s trembling voice on the line, telling me that her sister, Libby, had been killed in a head-on car crash.  The shock and disbelief.  The angry questions “Why God?  Why did You let this happen???”

“I felt like everything in my life came crashing down that night,” I told Paul and the others in my small group.  “I was grieving.  I was angry.  Nothing seemed to make sense.  But in the end, the one thing I clung to was that God was still with me, and He still loved me. I had to trust Him, even when I didn’t understand.”

Paul nodded sympathetically, still looking at me intently.  “I could tell something was bothering you tonight,” he said at last, concern in his voice.  “I could see it in your eyes.”

Mumbling that I’d be right back, I escaped to the bathroom, locked the door behind me and cried, overwhelmed by what had just happened.  I’d come to this meeting thinking I would minister to people like Paul.  But tonight, just by listening and caring and understanding my pain, a homeless man in Germany had ministered to me.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”   2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Going Vertical!

MJ

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IS IT OKAY TO SAY NO?

“Is Tomas here?”  The woman at the door searched my face anxiously, hugging her coat tightly around her to block the wind.  I held the door open slightly, not sure if I should let her in.  Her name was Sabrina.  Yesterday afternoon she’d come to our Bible school in southern Germany.  She’d been looking for a place to stay – “only for a few weeks.”  Finding a sympathetic ear in Tomas, one of our students, she’d talked to him in the kitchen for three or four hours about her desperate situation.  But it seemed that she had more problems than we could help her with.

I wanted to tell Sabrina that Tomas wasn’t home.  I wanted to protect him.  This was supposed to be his free day.  The students had just returned from a week-long outreach in Berlin, and they were exhausted.  They needed to rest.  But I couldn’t lie.  Reluctantly, I let her into the front hall, telling her I’d look for Tomas.

“You don’t have to see her,” I offered, when I found him reading on the couch.  “I could say you’re not available.”  But Tomas got up with a tired sigh and headed for the front door.  He couldn’t say no.  “She needs someone to listen.  That’s what we’re here for, isn’t it?”

Of course, he’s right.  That’s what we’re here for.  We want to be available to help those in need.  And yet… Is it OK to say no sometimes?  Is it wrong to take time for ourselves, time to rest?

Did Jesus ever say no?  Did He ever turn people away?  Mark tells us that crowds of people from all over Israel followed the famous Rabbi wherever He went.  There were so many people coming to hear His teachings and be healed of their diseases that Jesus and the disciples didn’t even have time to eat! (Mark 3:19-20, 6:30-32).

I feel I can relate a little bit.  Our Bible school in Germany is in the middle of a neighborhood with a lot of alcoholics, drug addicts, and homeless people.  Often our staff meetings or Bible lessons are interrupted by people looking for help – a meal, a job, a place to stay.  How can we turn them away?

Yet several times in the Gospels, we see that Jesus dismissed the crowds and sent the people home (Matt. 14:22-23, Mark 6:45-46). These people had real needs!  How could He send them away?  But Jesus knew He needed to have time alone, time with His Father, time to pray and to rest.  Even Jesus had to say no sometimes.

I struggle with setting good boundaries in ministry and in my personal life.  I have a hard time saying no to people who want my time.  It’s difficult to know when or how to take time for myself.  But Jesus says, “learn of me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt.11:29). I can follow His example.  And I can ask Him to help me learn when to say yes, when to say no, and how to rest in Him.

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

Going vertical!

MJ

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ABOVE THE CLOUDS

A thick haze shrouded the Beijing airport as I boarded the plane for the U.S.  Settling into my seat, I looked out my rain- splattered window at a dreary scene, all in shades of gray.  Then the fog enveloped us as the plane began its ascent.  Streets, cars, and buildings below disappeared completely.  All was gray and dark.

Then suddenly we broke through the cloud layer to a dazzling sunshine!  The rays of the sun reflected on the smooth carpet of white clouds below, almost blinding in its brilliance.  A deep blue sky stretched endlessly in every direction.  I’d never seen anything so beautiful.

“This is reality,” I thought.  “This is what life should be.”  I thought of all the millions of people in the crowded, polluted city below.  Day after day they live under the heaviness of that gray haze, never knowing what life could be like in the sunshine.

I know what it’s like to live under dark clouds of depression.  When I first returned from four years in Asia, I was physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted.  I was living every day in a thick fog.  And I thought that’s the way my life would always be.  But over the weeks and months, through prayer and counseling, Jesus brought healing.  I started to see the first rays of light breaking through.  And He gave me hope that things could be different.

Are you living under the heavy clouds of depression? The rain of discouragement?  The fog of doubt?  Life doesn’t have to be that way.  Let Jesus break through your darkness and bring you His light.  There IS hope and healing in Christ! Come up into the sunshine – above the clouds.

“Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and He saved them from their distress.  He brought them out of darkness and gloom, and broke their chains.”  Psalm 107:13-14

Going vertical!

MJ

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THE LONG JOURNEY TO FREEDOM

The African sun beat down on the roof of the village schoolhouse in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  As they waited for their teacher to come back from a meeting, twelve-year-old Pappy and his classmates heard a sound like approaching rain in the distance.  Curious, Pappy went outside to investigate.  But it wasn’t rain.

“Get back inside!” yelled his teacher, running toward the classroom.  Suddenly bullets began hitting the walls and the roof of the school.  The students scattered, screaming with fear.  Looking back, Pappy saw that some of his friends had fallen in the fire of bullets.  They didn’t get up again.

Pappy didn’t stop running.  The rebels were recruiting children as young as seven years old for their army.  It wasn’t safe for him to stay in his country.  With two other boys he met along the way, Pappy began his long escape.  Traveling on foot and by ferry, the three boys hid from rebel soldiers in Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania and Zambia, covering a distance of more than 4,150 km.  After two long years, they finally found safety in South Africa.

Speaking to 300 German teenagers at a Christian youth conference, Pappy told of the bitterness that took root in his heart as he remembered the horrors he’d seen in his country.  He was haunted by images of his classmates being gunned down in front of him.  But there came a point when he was convicted by Jesus’ command to love our enemies and bless those who persecute us (Romans 12:9-21).

“I realized I needed to forgive the soldiers who killed my friends, the men who raped my sister, the rebels who destroyed my country.”  As he forgave, he was set free from the anger and hatred that had consumed him for so long.  Speaking in a low voice filled with conviction, he continued, “You can’t move on with your life until you forgive.”

What is holding you back from full peace and freedom in Christ?  Who do you need to forgive?  Don’t let unforgiveness infect your spirit.  Release your hurt and pain to Jesus and receive His healing.  Jesus wants to set YOU free!

“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.”  Isaiah 61:1

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