Well Done

Today, I was going to write about the power of brokenness and how God can use our times of feeling abandoned to bring about good in our lives.

But then, late yesterday, I lost a good friend.

Craig was a fellow pastor in Ridgway.  He was probably the most cooperative pastor I ever knew – always looking for ways to bring churches and pastors together.

He was a truck driver who left what he knew to attend Bible college and seminary, who left Illinois and his family of origin to come to Pennsylvania to serve a church.

Craig was a friend who was always trying to build bridges, who for years hosted a weekly prayer time for pastors, who loved to play his bass with whomever was willing to worship with him, and who always seemed to see the good and the possibilities, even when things were the darkest.

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Ministry can be the most wonderful and most terrible of callings, professions, whatever you want to call it.  One moment, you can be experiencing the joy of playing a very small role in seeing someone’s life turn around; a few weeks or months or years later, you can experience a feeling of deep hurt and even betrayal as people you love and have poured your lives into refuse to return your phone calls.  Later, you might hear through the grapevine that they left your church and are attending another church because you offended them, didn’t have a big enough vision, or any of a hundred other things.  As a pastor, you sometimes experience the joy of working with a board that is united and desires to see God move, or the despair of working with a board that either questions your every move or directly opposes your every idea.  At times, it is the most lonely of callings; at other times, the most fulfilling and community-filled.  You are often misunderstood.  You pour your life into your church and your people, and in return, experience seasons of great appreciation, and sometimes, feeling unwanted, unnoticed, and taken for granted.  (Perhaps that’s being too real, but for most pastors, it is part of the reality of life in in a parsonage.)

Craig handled all these highs and lows, gains and losses, and much more with quiet grace, compassion, and love.  Although the last year of his life was very difficult, and near the end, his church was closed by the denomination, I never heard him complain or criticize anyone.  I learned much from him, but perhaps the most important and most consistent examples I saw were gratitude and the joy of worshiping, even when things were very difficult.

Cancer took Craig.  It stole a man with one of the largest hearts that I’ve ever known – a man who, with his wonderful wife Jean, raised 8 wonderful children, took in many abandoned newborns until they could be placed in foster care, and fostered many other children over the decades of their lives together.

Cancer stole a man who loved his family, loved his church, and loved his community – a man who didn’t just say that he loved, but demonstrated his love with his actions every day.

Cancer stole a man who was a gifted communicator, who used shovels and hats and playlists and all kinds of different props and costumes and whatever creative methods he could come up with to communicate his life’s message – that God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son for everyone.

Cancer stole my friend.

But cancer didn’t win.

Because as much as Craig loved people, he loved God even more.

As much as we all will miss Craig – as much as we will mourn and grieve his loss – we will also rejoice.

As Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 4:13, we “do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.”

Yesterday, Craig closed his eyes for the last time.  Well…for the last time until the resurrection.  Until Jesus returns.

Although I won’t see him, won’t be able to enjoy a cup of coffee with him at Joey’s, I know I will see him again someday.

What gives me hope, what I know for certain, is this:  that the moment Craig closed his physical eyes here, he opened the eyes of his spirit and saw his Lord welcoming him, arms wide open, a smile of joy on His face.

And in that instant, the first words Craig heard were these:  “Well done, good and faithful servant.  Enter into the joy of the Lord!”

Well done, my friend.  Thank you for running your race well.

Absent But Good

As we start to work through the issue of God’s silence or absence – whichever image expresses best how you feel – we need to remind ourselves of one absolute truth that is foundational to this subject.  Why?  Jesus taught a simple parable in Matthew 7:24-27, pointing out that truth gives us a rock-solid, firm foundation for our lives that will keep us secure when the storms of life and doubts and fears come at us.  But if we have no foundation of truth, and if we are disobedient to what we do know, then it’s just like building our lives on a foundation of sand that will wash away when hard rains or floodwaters come.  So one of the ways to prepare ourselves for those times when it feels like God is absent is to build a foundation of truth – a bedrock that we can always return to and rely on, even when our lives feel out of control.

Here’s the bottom-line, absolute truth that we have to build our lives on, and that will help us through times of feeling abandoned:  God loves you, and God is always good.

Why are there times that God feels far away, and it feels like He doesn’t care?

I don’t know.  But I do know that God loves you, and God is always good.

Why is there suffering in the world?

I don’t know.  But I do know that God loves you, and God is always good.

Why are there times when I feel Jesus has left me behind and I feel I am alone, and forgotten?

I don’t know.  But I do know that God loves you, and God is always good.

Why is it in a season of trial or trying to better your future He seems absent?

I don’t know.  But I do know that God loves you, and God is always good.

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On Monday, I shared with you a part of the “dark night” season that I went through.  It was a long, hard season.   There were times I wanted to give up on God, on myself, on life, on caring, on trying, on everything and everyone.  But this one truth gave me hope, even when I felt hopeless and helpless – God loves me, and God is always good.

My circumstances weren’t good; my life didn’t feel good; my heart wasn’t happy or even joyful; a lot of times, I felt alone.  But none of that changed God’s love for me.  And I knew that He was still good, even if my life didn’t seem good.  So I had to keep trusting that eventually, His goodness would be revealed in a greater way in my life.

Some of my problems were because of my own poor choices; some of them were because of my own wounding and past experiences, things that I wasn’t even aware were causing me problems; some of them were out of my control and beyond my ability to affect or to change.  But I had to keep trusting that God’s goodness was greater than my own “stuff” – that His goodness was leading me to a place of knowing, of understanding, of receiving healing and freedom.

I know that our experiences are unique and different.  We all have problems and challenges, but we all have different problems and challenges, and we all face them differently because we all have different baggage and different wounding and different coping mechanisms and different circumstances.

But in all of our differences, God is the same.  God loves you, and God is always good.

On Friday, we’ll talk more about how God can bring good out of pain, out of our questions and our trying times.

For today and tomorrow, though, here’s something to consider:  God loves you, and God is always good.

What are some ways, despite feeling that God may have abandoned or forgotten you, in which you can still see that God loves you, and that He is good?

You may be surprised at how easy it can be to see His love and His goodness at work, even when you feel abandoned or forgotten.


If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my new devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.

The Absence of God

Happy New Year’s, everyone!

Last year, before Advent, we were working through some questions that several of you had submitted to me – questions about following Jesus in our daily lives and dealing with some of the struggles that we can face on that journey.  Several questions dealt with feeling like God was absent, not listening or answering, or had simply moved on to something or someone else and had left someone feeling alone and forgotten.

In 1996, Jewel and I resigned from our church in Brandon, Florida and moved to Roswell, Georgia.  We were certain that God was calling us to leave the C&MA and to plant a church with the Vineyard movement, probably in the metro Atlanta area.  Over the next 4 years, our finances crumbled, Jewel’s physical and emotional health deteriorated, we moved 4 times, and we learned that we (1) weren’t church planters and (2) hadn’t been released to leave the C&MA. 

I was angry with God.  I felt abandoned for much of that time – it was like He was completely silent, no matter what I did, how hard I worshiped, how much I prayed, how much I read my Bible, or whose wise counsel I sought out.  I was so angry.  I can remember one night in particular when I went for a walk and a talk with God and I ended up yelling at Him – “Sometimes You really suck!”  Not very reverent, I know, and not something I would recommend.  But I’m grateful that He is big enough to handle our frustrations, our anger, our sorrow, our disappointment, and our honesty.  (If you doubt that, you should read the Psalms again.  David wrote some pretty harsh things in there!)

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Obviously, I came out on the other side of that season.  Looking back, although I would never want to go through it again, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.  God taught me things and grew things in my during that time that could never have happened without some of the pain that I endured.

So…let’s talk about feeling abandoned by God.  Because if we walk with Him for any length of time, at some point, it is likely we will go through a time like that – what some call the “dark night of the soul.”  We – all of us.

In fact, that’s exactly where we need to begin – if you wonder where God is, or feel like He is absent or has abandoned you, you need to know that you’re not alone.  You’re not the only person who is feeling that way right now; and you’re not the only person in the history of mankind who has ever felt that way.  (I know, I know – this doesn’t fix anything.  But it’s important to understand up front, before we dive deeper over the next couple of weeks, that feeling this way DOES NOT MEAN that (1) you are crazy, (2) you are alone, (3) you have been abandoned or forgotten by God, or (4) you are the only person who has ever experienced this and therefore you are unspiritual or unworthy or unloved or unheard.

Do you want to know something surprising?

Most of the people who have walked the closest with God throughout history have struggled at times with feeling that He was far from them.

Let me refresh your memory with some examples:

  • Elijah – the man who called down fire from heaven, and then prayed it would rain after a seven-year drought and saw his prayer answered – that guy?  He ended up fleeing for his life a short time later, and found himself under a tree, praying that he might die:  “I have had enough, Lord…take my life…” (1 Kings 19:4, NLT)
  • Moses – the man who spoke to God in the burning bush, stood up to Pharaoh, telling him to “let my people go”, and then was the agent through whom God moved to deliver Israel, had a conversation with God in which he expressed his fear at the potential of moving forward without God’s Presence with him (Exodus 33).
  • David, the “man after God’s heart” – shepherd, warrior-poet, king, and father of the Messianic line – wrote these words:  “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Psalm 22:1 NLT).  Those words, of course, were quoted by Jesus when He was on the cross.
  • Leading Christian evangelicals like Oswald Chambers, Charles Spurgeon (the “prince of preachers”), and D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones all wrote of times in their lives when they felt abandoned by God.  C.S. Lewis, who lost his wife to cancer, called out to God for comfort and wrote these words when he felt unanswered – “What can this mean? Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?”
  • Mother Teresa wrote of feeling tormented “by darkness and doubt within” after beginning her work in Calcutta.

So if you are in a season like that, remember – you are not the only one.  There are people around you who understand; there are spiritual giants who have gone before us who have endured the same thing and have seen God bring great good out of those seasons.

We’ll explore this more in the next few weeks.  But today, let me leave you with the words of Jesus – words that are truth, no matter what our feelings are telling us:

“Be sure of this:  I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  (Matthew 28:20, NLT)


If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my new devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.