Maybe (Just Maybe) It’s Not About You

 

Maybe (Just Maybe) It’s Not About You

 

            A few hours ago a friend and I were musing about the difficulties we’ve experienced in our lives over the past year. “I wonder if God is taking a nap,” may have been uttered. Both of us have been through our fair share of suffering, but if it was a contest I’d have to say she is the winner, hands down. So in a lot of ways I remind myself that as bad as I think my situation is, it’s certainly not as bad as it could be (don’t we all try to make ourselves feel better with that statement?). Our conversation sort of ended with a, “Well, life sucks, time to go take a shower now.”

            As I’ve been doing a lot lately, I stood in the shower after our talk and stared at the wall, thinking, praying, complaining, questioning…and finally I just had to ask, “Why does it have to be like this, God? I mean, why does it have to take thirty years for someone to find out they’ve been married to a monster? Why has it taken me over a year of suffering without any answers or diagnosis? Why, if we have to suffer, can’t it just be quick? Why couldn’t she have found out about her spouse a year into her marriage? Why couldn’t I have gotten a diagnosis last year when this all started instead of being turned away time and again by doctor after doctor? Why, why, why?”

            Of course I know better than to ask “why,” but for some reason I chose to go that route with God anyways. And as it happens when things like this are going on, God has been strangely silent during my prayer times. But this time (maybe He’d heard enough whining?) He chose to speak to me. He said, “What if it’s not about you?” And that was it. He allowed me to stew on that one for a while. So I stood there staring at the walls, having just received a verbal crack upside the heart with a truth so simple yet so profound I couldn’t even respond.

            Then I thought of Job, how he probably suffered more than any human being in the history of humanity (besides Jesus), and how he never had the privilege of knowing the “why” behind his tragedy. Not that he didn’t ask, but God never answered him specifically (at least, not on this side of heaven). And then I think of how many people throughout the course of time have been helped because of Job’s story. How many people have suffered and turned to the pages of that book to find the answer to their “why” only to stumble across chapters 38-42, and realize they probably won’t ever know their “why” either, but somehow gaining a measure of hope from his story.

            Then I think of how much my friend has suffered, and I consider how much my spiritual life has grown just through knowing her, and as a result of watching her suffer. Maybe, just maybe, my suffering isn’t about me at all. You know, we say it all the time (and I hate hearing it, honestly) that “God is just teaching me a lesson right now, I’m trying to listen to what He’s saying” as if God is some cosmic sadist getting some sort of pleasure out of causing us pain, just to teach us a lesson. That is not the God I know from the Bible, my God isn’t a sadist. My God came to give me life to the full (John 10:10), not cause me misery in order to teach me something. But, that doesn’t mean pain or suffering isn’t a part of the process of life, in general. And who am I to presume to know the plans and purposes of God, anyways? How do I know what God is doing in someone else’s life as a result of my suffering? The truth is, I don’t know, and neither do you. We don’t know who is watching us or being ministered to through our pain. We don’t have a clue as to what God is up to about 99% of the time. We only know what we wish He were up to, or what we expect Him to be up to, and most of the time (at least in my experience) he rarely delivers as expected (I find He delivers far better than expected).

            I sit here and think of all the people who have influenced me in my life, and many of those people suffered a great deal. A lot of what God taught me had to do with watching them respond to their circumstances. And all of this gives me pause. Because if my suffering isn’t even about me, that means God is using me for some greater purpose in someone else’s life, even if I’ll never know who, what, or why. Who am I to be used by God? All of a sudden my “why” turns into an “Oh, thank you, God, for choosing me!” Not that I am happy about suffering (who is?) but knowing all of this actually has nothing to do with me gives me some measure of peace within the ugly process of hurting.

            Throughout the past few weeks God has brought a verse to mind repeatedly, and it’s worth noting here, “Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days” Ephesians 5:16, NLT. The reality is we are all going to suffer. Some of us will experience great loss. Some of us will die younger than we had thought. Some of us will be considered “Modern day Jobs” by our friends. Some of us won’t really suffer much at all. But one thing we all have in common is that from the moment we take our first breath, we are already beginning the process of losing time and dying. So as William Wallace shares in the movie Braveheart, “All men die, not every man truly lives.”

            Within the process of suffering a pathway to true living exists, through embracing the pain (not with a giddy, happy, la-la kind of feeling, but in an embrace of surrender) and trusting that God is choosing to use us in His master plan in ways we won’t be able to comprehend. That maybe this journey we’re on isn’t even about us, it’s about Him and seeing how intricately he fits the pieces of our puzzles together to bring ultimate life abundant to us and others, all for His glory. Like Joseph was able to say to his brothers, “What Satan meant for harm, God used for good.”

            Then again, maybe none of what I’m saying here makes sense to anyone but me. I don’t know. I just know that at least in my suffering, I am gaining a bit of relief in knowing it’s not about me at all. And I’m finding a way to be thankful in it, even excited about it, because I know God is working something incredible out. And whether I know what it is on this side of heaven or on the other, I will understand it eventually, and when the final picture is brought together, I know I’ll be smiling as Jesus looks at me and says, “It hurt, but it was worth it, don’t you think?” Yeah, it is, Jesus, it is.

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Fingerprints

Fingerprints

 

I’ve had a lot on my mind lately, but I keep coming back to the fingerprints. If my funeral was tomorrow, what would people say about me? What kind of fingerprints have I left on their lives? I hope they’d say I’ve left the fingerprints of Jesus, but I’m not too sure that’s what I’d hear, if I could hear the people speaking at my funeral.

 

I think about the past, and the many years I lived for myself, for my pleasures, chasing the lusts of my flesh. I encountered many people during that time who knew my dad was a preacher, who knew I was raised in church, but who also knew I was “promiscuous” and no different than any other “worldly” person. Those people don’t know me now; they only know the “me” of that time. I wonder what kind of fingerprint I left on their life about God, the Church, and Christianity. Sometimes the thought is more than I can bear.

 

And I think of my husband. I wonder what he would say. Would he describe me as the “Proverbs 31” wife? Would he say I left the fingerprints of faith on his life, or the fingerprints of a control freak that was selfish and an overbearing nag? Would he be able to say he understood a little more about the Jesus I always spoke of, because of my character, or that my character conflicted with the Jesus I preached?

 

My husband has seen me from the beginning to the end, from the best and the worst. He met me in my addiction/eating disorder days, he managed to stick with me through my crazy days of psychotherapeutic drug treatments, he even stuck around when I over-compensated for my failures and became a Pharisee beating him over the head with my Bible. He still stands by me as I serve in church, write, and pursue an education in counseling. He’s a quiet man, but supportive of me in all things. Sometimes I think he’s left more of a “Jesus” fingerprint on my life, despite our differences of faith perspectives. Certainly God has used my husband to speak truth to me in ways I haven’t always understood and sometimes even resented. God is good like that, and I am grateful for all He has taught me through my marriage. I love my husband more every day, and hope that if he were to speak at my funeral, he would say that his wife failed in some ways, but Jesus changed her life for the better, and through that, made her a better wife and better mother. But, if I were to die tomorrow, I’m not too sure that’s what he’d say.

 

I think about my friendships. I have a couple great ladies in my life who have been a huge support spiritually. Though we haven’t known each other long, we are spiritual soul-mates. They sharpen me as “iron sharpens iron” and draw me closer to God just through knowing them. They are leaving the “Jesus” fingerprint on my life. But would they say the same about me?

 

Without a doubt I know some of the friendships of the past two or three years did not turn out that way. I’m pretty sure some of those people would describe the fingerprint I’ve left on them like a crime scene photo. Ugly, bloody, brutal—selfish, argumentative, judgmental. Much like the people who knew me during my prodigal years, these people know the me of the Pharisee years. And sometimes the thought of that is indeed, more than I care to consider. I have tried to “fix” some of these bad encounters, but sometimes the hurts inflicted burn the bridges beyond what can be rebuilt, at least on this side of heaven.

 

And maybe most importantly, I wonder what kind of fingerprint I have left on my daughter’s life? Have I displayed the “Jesus” in the Bible verses she has memorized? Or have I displayed the version that says, “I only approve of you when your behavior is good.” If she were to stand at my casket, could she say her mother showed her Jesus? That her mother was real, honest, authentic, open, and also caring, compassionate, and ready to show grace and mercy?

 

Last weekend Pastor Pat delivered an excellent message (as usual) about “time”. Afterwards we received a sheet of paper to map out our life plan. It contained some key steps like identifying important relationships, our priorities, and how we want to be remembered. I haven’t been able to fill mine out yet. I’ve been somewhat paralyzed as I wait for the doctor to call me with the news. Perhaps the road I thought I would travel will not be what I envisioned even a few weeks ago.

 

Either way, I’m in a time of contemplation. No matter what happens, I know God has used this “illness” to get my attention and get me thinking about the fingerprints I am leaving on people’s lives, what I can do to possibly clean the messy fingerprints off the past and create new ones, and what I must surrender to God today so the new fingerprints reflect Jesus, not Rebecca.

 

 

Finally, I think of a message a great man of God and influential teacher in my life delivered a couple years ago in church. I’ll never forget these words, “The only thing that matters in life is your answer to this question: what have you done with Jesus? What have you done with Jesus?”

 

I’m not sure what’s in my future, but I know this: Jesus has set my heart free, and I hope and pray you have experienced that same peace and freedom that surpasses any human understanding. If you haven’t experienced this full life that Jesus wants for you, won’t you consider doing so today?

 

Having lived life “my” way I can say the end result is never worth the perceived freedom of making your own choices. God’s way is really better, really. It gives meaning to life, and a future beyond the few years we have here on earth. It makes all of this pain actually worth something. And even the happy times are more meaningful when God is present.

 

How do you want to be remembered? What kind of fingerprints are you leaving on the lives of others? What can you do to allow God to change that this very moment? We can’t change the past, but God promises that He will make even our ugly failures work for our greatest good if we would only choose to love Him today (see Romans 8:28). Today is the day to make new fingerprints. Friends, please don’t delay. You don’t know what tomorrow holds, but with Jesus, you can know that your tomorrow is safe and secure no matter what life throws at you. And that is the only place to be. His fingerprint of peace rests on my heart; I hope it rests on yours.

 

“This is my comfort in my affliction, for your Word has given me life.” Psalm 119:50

 

How Food Paves the Path to Forgiveness and Faith

**Originally published in The Christian Online Magazine, December 2012 Issue**

Food is more than a tasty treat, a temptation for over-indulgence, or an excuse to spend obscene amounts of money at fancy restaurants. No, food has a much greater significance. Food is a ministry—at least it can be. The following article highlights just a few examples from the Bible concerning food and its significance in our lives beyond tickling the taste-buds.

Food for Forgiveness

     Passage: Genesis 41-45

In the midst of a seven year famine, God paved the way for a divine appointment of familial restoration. Joseph’s brothers were forced to travel to Egypt to save the lives of their family by purchasing food from the Egyptian storehouses. Of course, they had no idea their brother Joseph, who they sold into slavery over a decade prior, would be the one standing between them and their hungry tummies.

In what is probably one of the most famous stories of the Old Testament, we see that Joseph chose to extend forgiveness to his wicked brothers (after first giving them the scare of their lives) instead of retaliating in anger. They came to him helpless and hungry, and through the use of food, God ushered in one of the most famous verses used by millions of Christians throughout generations:

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good, to accomplish what is now being done.” Genesis 50:20

God used a famine, a store-house full of grains, and some hungry men to bring forgiveness and healing to many wounded hearts. The food was the vehicle, but the deeper purpose was restoration. We need to look at our lives and see if there is unrelenting bitterness, anger, or resentment either in our hearts or the hearts of our loved ones. We are fast approaching Christmas but how many families will remain divided because of unresolved hurts? Maybe we are the vehicle God wants to use to bring the family back together. Ultimately we are only responsible for our own attitudes, but we can “set the table” for the rest of our loved ones to give that thing called “forgiveness” a try. Perhaps a holiday meal would be the perfect time for such an act of peace.

• Food for Faith

     Passage: Matthew 14:13-21

Jesus had just been told the news: John the Baptist, his cousin and beloved friend, had been killed. At a time when most of us, in the light of such news, would have curled up in the fetal position and checked out of life for a while, Jesus was afforded no such luxury. Instead, he was followed by mobs of people anxiously awaiting His every move—would he heal again? What would He say next? No one wanted to miss a thing!

The disciples urged Jesus to force the crowds to leave; besides, it was late and the people were probably hungry—they should just leave Jesus alone and let Him grieve. But what was Jesus’ response? He chose to sacrifice his own comfort and focus on the needs of the people. They were hungry—he fed them. In fact, he fed five thousand of them!

When we are met with difficulty and pain, we tend to turn our focus inward and withdraw from companionship. But in that pain we are offered an opportunity to reach out and help someone else. And yes, we can do that with food. Someone out there is hungry; someone out there has a need. Perhaps God wants to use our pain, not to feel sorry for ourselves, but to reach out and touch someone else with the generous spirit of giving our Lord demonstrated for us.

So as another year comes to a close and we gather at tables full of buttered biscuits, pumpkin pies, carved hams, and candied yams, let’s purpose to reflect a spirit of love, forgiveness, and selfless service to the world around us.

“In a word, what I’m saying is, grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.” Matthew 5:48 (MSG)

__________________________________________________________

profilepic3Rebecca Aarup is a health columnist for The Christian Online Magazine, a contributing writer for Encourage 365, founder and creater of S.E.R.V.A.N.T. Sisters, and has written devotionals/studies/articles for a variety of other publications. She just released her latest Bible Study The Word: Six Lessons from Psalm 119 which is available as a free download on her website or in print form from Amazon. Beyond writing, Rebecca is a wife, home-schooling mom, and Bible student at Liberty University. She lives in Glendale, Az with her husband Chris and 5 year old, Samantha.  You can read more from Rebecca by following this blog and following her on twitter and facebook.

The Worst Illness a Christian Could Get….

It’s one of the worst illnesses a Christian could get. Evidence of this cruel disease has popped up everywhere over the past several decades. No doubt, it has infected more believers now than ever before. Perhaps you have already contracted this disease without even knowing it. The symptoms are silent and deadly, spreading through thoughts and rationales. And how am I qualified to speak on such an illness? What gives me the right to draw attention to its ravages amongst the bride of Christ? Well, as the saying goes, “It takes one to know one.” I, too, have been infected with this deadly virus.

Where it all began…

Recently my husband, daughter, and I went to a favorite restaurant. We were quickly seated at the table where we proceeded to browse the tempting appetizers, entrees, and deserts colorfully displayed throughout the menu. Our mouths watered with anticipation. As the waitress approached I smiled as I usually do, getting ready to show my best Christian politeness while ordering. But the waitress kept on walking. She hadn’t even looked at me. A little disappointed I reasoned, “She probably has another table that was seated before us. No biggy.” But over the next fifteen minutes servers walked by our table, nary a one looking us in the eyes. My husband was irritated as my five-year-old grew increasingly hungry and restless.

“I think they’ve got ‘Somebody-Else Syndrome,’” I told my husband.

“What?” He asked looking confused.

“Every single one of them seems to think ‘somebody else’ will take care of us. And because they all have that mindset no one ends up helping.”

Eventually I went to the hostess at the front of the restaurant and explained our plight. It was still another five minutes before a server came to our table. As annoying as that situation was, God used it to speak to my heart.

So, what now?

I have no idea if any of those servers were Christians or not. It doesn’t really matter because the principle lies within the thought process. It goes something like this: the preacher brings attention to a need within the church and you nod, even pray about. “Lord, please meet this need. Please bring the right person along to help.”

Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with such a prayer, but it fails to really address the issue. Whether consciously or not, it has an underlying tone of, “Lord, let someone else take care of this, because you know I can’t do it.” Obviously there are legitimate needs that cannot be met by every individual. I know when my pastor shows slides of the orphanage our church funds in India that I cannot fly there and personally get hands on. I understand these things. So, before you post an angry comment, this is not about giving people a guilt trip. As I said before, I too have prayed such prayers and thought such thoughts.

But what would happen if we prayed, “Lord, what can I do to meet this need?” You see, such a prayer puts the ball in our court, and that makes us uncomfortable. Because the reality is, in most circumstances there is something we can do.

Here are some of the excuses I have used to rationalize away any personal responsibility in helping others in a hands-on way.

“I don’t have enough money. God wants me to get out of debt first before I donate financially.”

In this day’s economy, I have a feeling I am not the only one who has used this excuse. It’s tantamount to saying I need to stay at home and study the entire Bible inside and out before I go in to the world and share my faith or serve in the church or surrounding community. It’s a clever ruse tempting to keep us in the stagnant waters of selfishness.

“I don’t have enough room, I don’t have enough resources. I don’t have enough time.”

Once again I refer to the above explanation. If we wait until we are “ready”, until we have enough, are enough, or own enough, then we will never—I repeat—never make a tangible move forward because we will never be “ready”. There will always be more bills to pay, more books to read, more personal “needs” to gain. I am convinced this is one of the single greatest deceptions among believers and it has immobilized the church. While some are willing to write checks, few are willing to get their own hands dirty. Like I said, I have been there too.

If all of us sitting in the pews on Sunday are infected with Somebody-Else Syndrome, the needs of our communities, even the needs of our brothers and sisters, will never be met. And what a shame that is. Indeed, I know many unbelievers who are far more generous with their time and resources than Christians. And this becomes a roadblock for them. After all, why should they believe in God when the people who say they follow God are so self-absorbed and inward focused?  If that is what God is all about, just judging, pointing fingers at sins, and not actually doing anything else, then what is the point?

Service not Serve-us…

A couple of weeks ago my pastor used this phrase, “service instead of serve-us”. How true is this, though? If we had a mindset of “what can I do, Lord” instead of, “Lord, let somebody else step up” more needs would be met.

If it sounds like I’m worked up, I am. I write this with high emotions as I watch a friend in need being turned away. Too many Christians infected with Somebody-Else Syndrome. Initially, when I heard of her need, I prayed, “Lord, please meet her need.” You know what He said? He said, “You can meet this need.”

He reminded me of a verse I had recently posted on facebook and twitter:

“I want you to share your food with the hungry and bring right into your own homes those who are helpless, poor, and destitute.” Is. 58:7

“But Lord, you know this type of situation has turned out badly in the past. You know our circumstances, finances…blah blah blah.” It was clear what God required. I was given an opportunity to practice what I preach, to get my hands dirty; to sacrifice comfort and resources. And I admit, I hesitated. But I am glad that after a few minutes of spiritual wrestling I submitted.

But here we are again. The same friend in the same situation and I am left wondering, “If this person was a missionary or speaker, or someone famous, the same people who say they cannot help would be willingly opening their doors.” Maybe that is too cynical, but it’s what I am left with after weeks of watching my friend struggle.

Once again I know what God requires of me, and I am willing now because I have seen the blessings and spiritual rewards for following His voice. But I am still reeling over the occurrences of Somebody-Else Syndrome that has infected many believers today.

Who is willing to sacrifice comfort, time, and resources to meet the needs around them? Who is willing to take a dose of God’s word, God’s truth, and eradicate this disease lurking within? Who is willing to serve Him by serving others instead of serving self? It’s time we rise up and get uncomfortable. Our brothers and sisters are hurting and are being rejected by their own spiritual families. This ought not be! It’s time we say “Lord, I want to share my food with the hungry and bring right into my own homes those who are helpless, poor, and destitute.”

Egg-White Fury

Suggested Reading: Job 6:1-10

“This, at least, gives me comfort despite all the pain-that I have not denied the words of the Holy God.” Job 6:10 (The Living Bible)

 

The more things pile up the easier it is to react poorly in an insignificant situation. When my bank account is empty, my loved one is sick and the doors I wanted to go through have been slammed in my face-all at the same time-I get cranky. All of a sudden I’m irritated when my cats look at me funny.

The casualty of this inner war is unfortunate to be at the wrong place at the wrong time and receives the blunt force trauma of my egg-white fury.

I think of all the times I snap at my spouse (poor guy), curse at a jar I can’t open, or fly into a rage over a glass of spilled water. These are gross over-reactions to minor inconveniences. And through the lens of Job I see what went wrong. I allowed the greater surrounding circumstances in my life to dictate my behavior in the smaller situations.

So what do I take away from Job’s gag reflex? As much as he complained, as distraught as he was, as horrific his circumstances were, he was still able to say he did not deny the words of God. He remained faithful to his convictions despite insurmountable opposition.

I’d like to be able to say the same thing. I’d like to be able to experience difficulty without needing to release my anger on other people. I’d like to say the worst reaction I ever had was gagging over an egg-white. I’m not there yet, but God hasn’t given up on me.

Comfortable

Suggested Reading: 2 Samuel 23:8-12

Imagine an entire army running for their lives as the enemy draws near. Hundreds, if not thousands of men running in a panic seeking the comfort of safety. All of a sudden one lone guy stops running as his fellow soldiers fly past him. This one man decides he’s not going to run to comfort, he’s going to face the uncomfortable and trust God no matter what the outcome. Shammah turns around and faces the Philistine army alone, then, “The Lord brought about a great victory.” (vs. 12)

The mighty “heroes” of the Bible were used by God when placed in uncomfortable situations and each one of us has the potential to be a mighty warrior; there’s no reason God can’t work miracles through us as he did then. What is required? I’ll quote Pastor Pat on what he called “the Shammah Principle”:

He did what he could with what he had where he was.

With God, Shammah had everything he needed to achieve victory. Right now we are equipped with everything we need to be a hero. We have the Holy Spirit, God Himself, residing in us. The same God who uses one man to defeat hundreds of people uses us every day right where we’re at with what he’s given us.

Prayer:

Lord Jesus, open my eyes to the opportunities you’ve placed in my path to be your mighty warrior. Motivate me through discomfort and continue to develop my faith. 

(Patrick McCalla is the teaching Pastor at New Life Community in Peoria, Arizona. You can read more of how God is using him as an every day hero through his blog, http://www.patmccallablog.com/.)

Affliction in the Silence

 “When will you comfort me?” Psalm 119:82 (NLT)

“My eyes strain to see your rescue.” Psalm 119:123 (NLT)

Affliction in the Silence

“John the Baptist, who was in prison, heard about all the things the Messiah was doing. So he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, ‘Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?’” Matthew 11:2-3

Even greats like John the Baptist experienced the painful affliction of silence, when left to fester in our minds this affliction often leads us to doubt. John the Baptist had been sitting in prison, awaiting his death, and I am sure during this time he expected Jesus to come to his rescue. But as time went by he started to wonder if everything he preached, everything he believed, everything he based his life on was even true at all. Had he made one colossal mistake when he invested his life in Jesus? Reading these words of John is almost a reassurance; yes, doubt is normal!  If we continue reading through Matthew 11 we would also see that John’s doubts were calmed by Jesus’ message delivered through the disciples, which reignited his passion and devotion to Jesus. God often allows us to wait in silence and the appearance of unanswered prayers to build our faith and endurance. When we are experiencing the silence that leads us to doubt we need to go back to God’s word for our reassurance; this is where God gives us the comfort of confirmation that he is still at work, and very much caring for our every discomfort.