God holds up my life?
Driving home after a bowling trip with my two youngest, my son made a random statement while looking out the window, “God holds up my life”. I quickly replied, “yes, son He does.”
I’m not sure why he felt prompted to make that simple statement, but it got me to thinking. How often do we hear statements from people, but don’t really listen to them? My son just made a profound statement and I thought it was cute.
I remember a time when my oldest daughter, who was then all of 4-years old, tell me that she wanted to accept Jesus as her Lord. I smiled down at her and said, “that’s wonderful Alex, we can talk about it more when we get home.” We were at a youth rally, I was serving at that time as the youth pastor and trying to corral 12 teenagers. My pastor walked up to me and simply stated, “are you going to take her down to pray or am I going too?” Yup, I assumed she was just repeating something she’d heard someone else say, but when my daughter got down to alter she sat in a circle with a few other younger children and led them (didn’t follow them, lead them) in the sinners prayer.
Our children are an incredible source of inspiration, they have amazing discernment and they speak the truth…always, even when we really don’t want to hear it.
Jesus knew how special children were when He said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14
I am amazed on an almost daily basis by what comes out of my children’s mouths; both solicited and unsolicited.
This week during Friday Night’s at Tucson Central; our youth were reading John 3:16-18. Of course we all know this as the most popular verse in the bible. We learn it almost as early as we learn how to say Amen and or interrupt the pastors sermon at the most inopportune time.
I asked the youth to try and explain to me why this verse is so popular. I got all kinds of answers ranging from; it’s short, it’s easy and it’s written everywhere to it’s cool and Pastor say’s it a lot; then my 14 year old son says, “it explains the whole gospel”. WHAT!!!
It was yet another wake up call or at the very least get the wax out of your ears. We are surrounded by people who ‘get it’, we constantly read scripture and yet miss so much. Are we really listening or in our straining to hear God are we failing to hear the tree falling in the forest.
I want to be open to all that God has for me. That means that I need to be open to all He says to me. Sometimes the Holy Spirit speaks to me through my children, through strangers sleeping on the sidewalk, through scripture and even through individuals who make us uncomfortable or we don’t particularly want to listen too. The thing is, if we want to hear God we need to be prepared for his voice to come from anyone, anywhere at anytime.
Jesus didn’t just listen to the people around them, He heard them with ears full of love and compassion and mercy. Several times, even Jesus was surprised by what He heard.
“When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.” Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?” The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment.” Matthew 8:5-13
I want to listen with expectation of how the Holy Spirit is going to speak to me today, I hope you do too.
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A grade school teacher sent a note home to all parents on the first day of school. It read:
“If you promise not to believe everything your child says happens at school, I’ll promise not to believe everything your child says happens at home.”
All too often we tend to leave the things that should be said…unsaid and proclaim for all to hear those things that are probably best left unsaid.
What we should say, but don’t:
- “Weren’t you hungry?” “Yes why?” “Because you left half of your salad in your teeth.”
- Is that toilet paper on your shoe or are you giving your heels a train?
- No that dress doesn’t make you look fat, it doesn’t make you look thin either.
- Yes you really do sound like that on the phone, but only sometimes in person.
- Were you singing off key? Well, I don’t know, I guess it depends on what key you were aiming for?
Why is it so difficult for us to be honest with one another? We are so afraid of hurting someones feelings, offending someone or creating some kind of scene, that we allow our sisters to walk around with food in their teeth, wearing unflattering dresses with toilet paper stuck to their shoes while climbing into the choir loft. We feel more comfortable with hiding the truth, ignoring the truth or lying about the truth then we do speaking the truth.
In Ephesians 4:14-16 Paul begins to touch on how we are supposed to speak to one another, “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”
How many of you have a best friend? The one person, above all others, here on earth, that you trust with your life, your children, your deepest darkest secrets? The one person you can be completely yourself with and you don’t have to pretend with. They will tell you when you have lettuce in your teeth, if your singing off key and if the dress makes you…well not look thin?
If you have been blessed with someone like that you are indeed lucky. Cherish that person for that kind of love is worth more than gold. The truth be told, that is how it should be with all our sisters in Christ (yes and brothers too but today it’s about us ladies, sorry guys). My best friend would have not problem telling me when I’m being stupid (and has on more than one occasion) and I’ll listen to her, because she has shown me love and acceptance for decades.
That is where it all begins, Val and I have made intentional, emotional deposits into each others lives for decades. In our culture today, it’s rare that we have time, or make time to have more than a 5 minute conversation; followed by texts, emails, Facebook tags, Instagram picts and Snapchat memes. We think that’s enough to form a strong lasting relationship, then we wonder why, when times get tough, no one is there to answer the phone?
I have had the unhappy experience of seeing first hand what harsh words spoken in haste can do. How swift judgments and unsolicited ‘prayer requests’ can lead to devastating consequences for those both involved and included.
James gives us a very descriptive image of the damage an unbridled tongue (gossip) can do. (James 3) However, I feel Ephesians gives the best example of why we should be more careful not only of what we say and say it too, but also of who we listen too.
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you”. Ephesians 4:29-32
If we were to focus on just two things from this passage, “only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs”, and “forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” I believe the words that come out of our mouths would be very different.
If we spent more time building each other up and making positive emotional investments into each others lives, then speaking the truth in love would not only be easier, it would also be received with the same love and honor it was given. Imagine what our conversations would be like then, our relationships? Wow!
“To speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.” Titus 3:2
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Over the past few weeks I have been joining a group of friends praying for one of their relatives. A young woman, who through extenuating circumstances was in an unrecoverable state, comatose, on life support and declared brain dead. I joined the saints praying for her, for her family and preparing for the inevitable. Although I did not know her personally, I do know her family, and having been in a similar situation where I had to make the decision for my own daughter, felt deeply for everyone involved.
While we prayed, my heart prepared for what I believed would happen, what I think everyone believed would happen. She was taken off of life support, and while her family stood by, waiting for the end, she opened her eyes. Yes, she started breathing on her own and began to speak. As her family prayed God moved.
Yes it would be easy to attribute this ‘miracle’ to medical means. Perhaps she wasn’t really brain dead, perhaps she was about to come out of the coma herself, perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. I am not a medical professional, I am believer that miracles happen every day; in big and small ways. As I was contemplating what had just occurred and watched the tears, the emails and the text messages fly, I had one question in my heart…why?
Why was this woman worthy of miraculous intervention and my own innocent 13-year old daughter, not? Why did I have to sit and listen to her heart slowly stop beating when taken off life support and not her voice saying “mom I love you”? In the midst of my emotional struggle I remembered something very important.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9
First, as my creator, God does not owe me an explanation. Second, I can’t begin to understand all that is the universe and the plans that He has made for each of us. Plans He made long before each of us was born, plans to grow and perfect us, plans to bring us closer to Him and to bring Him glory.
I remember, years ago after Alex had passed, when we were going through the process to be licensed as foster parents. It was a rigorous process (as it should be) and one night after our class, I prayed. I asked God that whatever His plan was for our family that He would make it so out of our comfort zone that we would know it was His will. Never in a million years would Chris or I have imagined we would, in just two short years, adopt not one but three children.
Our daughter Alex had serious health issues, outside of her liver transplant there was significant cognitive challenges brought about through years of progressive brain damage. She would have lived with us for the rest of our lives, which we knew and embraced. However, we would probably never have considered adding to our family by adopting. Would I chose them over her, or her over them…no, I could never make that decision. His thoughts are not my thoughts and His ways not my ways. He can see the whole picture from the beginning of time through to the end. He can design that which I cannot begin to comprehend.
He doesn’t owe me an explanation, because chances are I wouldn’t understand it any way. And you know what, I’m OK with that. The God and creator of the whole universe has my best interest at heart. He wants only the best for me, as attested in scripture by his promises and experienced in my every day life.
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”. Jeremiah 29:11
Time after time God has shown His love for me; He provides, saves, redeems and restores. Jesus forgives, defends, and heals. I have never been given occasion to doubt or question, although I still do, usually when I don’t get my way.
If you have ever struggled with the question of why; why me or why not me, don’t despair. This is a question we all meet at some point. The answer is both easy and terribly hard. We don’t need to know why, we need to trust that God, the creator and designer of everything has a plan, and nothing, nothing can keep Gods plans from being fulfilled.
“As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow. This will be for the Lord’s renown, for an everlasting sign, that will endure forever.” Isaiah 55:10-13
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And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. John 14:13-14.
I loved growing up in the 80’s. We had great music, awesome clothes, less than awesome hairstyles and the best movies ever! I know, I know, what does this have to do with being careful what you ask for, well there is a saying that is quoted throughout one of my favorite moves, The Princess Bride these words are spoken by a poor young peasant to his beautiful young mistress. At a point early on in the movie she miraculously realizes that every time he responds to her requests with these words, “that what he is really saying, is I love you”, deep sigh. How romantic right? Yes teenage girls across the nation swooned and dreamed of their Wesley finding & rescuing them and falling madly in love.
The words spoken in this movie express more than just the romantic love we associate with these characters. These words express a willingness to sacrifice everything for each other. Walking away from what is secure, known and safe. Wesley will sacrifice his very life for the opportunity to be together…sound familiar? The love that Christ feels for us is such that He gave up everything…EVERYTHING, so that we would not be separated from Him. He left heaven, came to earth as a man, lowly and simple, sacrificed Himself in the most unimaginable way, so we could experience real relationship with the Father.
And if that weren’t enough, he promises to give us whatever we ask for in His name. He wants to give us exponentially more than we could ever comprehend. Jesus’ love is such that He sacrificed Himself to reunite us with the Father, but also such that He WANTS to give us every good thing, not everything we want, but every good thing.
Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow. James 1:17
His love is such that he won’t give us any less that what is the very best for us. We ask for what we want and His response is, “as you wish”. However, just like when our children ask for a second helping of ice cream or an extra hour after curfew, we aren’t going to give them what we know is NOT in their best interest…no matter how much they beg and plead for it.
“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” Matthew 7:9-11
Recently my prayers have been along the lines of, “God give me patience!”, or “Jesus make me more like you”, or my best one yet, “Lord give me your heart toward others”. These prayers, He loves, these prayers, He answers…sometimes in ways that aren’t comfortable or easy. You know what His answers have been, here are the children I gave you, now let’s stir them up into a frenzy…practice that patience. You want to see people, to love them as I do, go to where you are uncomfortable going, see how they live, see their struggles, now go and love them, right where they are.
He is answering my prayers by refining me, allowing me to enter into situations that will test my patience, bringing me into relationship with people who may stretch my comfort zone. Showing me how He sees the world and not allowing me to judge with my own eyes but to love with His. My heart has been broken, my eyes have seen what I cannot un-see, my patience has been tested to the point of breaking…I have grown.
I used to be afraid of these kinds of prayers, I would make them halfheartedly then wince at what I expected to be the ensuing pain of it all…it didn’t come. Oh don’t get me wrong, when you ask God to refine you, He will and it’s not always comfortable, but He isn’t out to hurt you or break you or beat you down. He wants you to grow strong and mature into the person He created you to be. He will never allow you to be pushed beyond a point you can bear.
“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13
Scripture also tells us how God will work alongside us to help us on our journey toward becoming more like him.
“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 11:29-30
Never be afraid to ask God for anything. His answers will shock and amaze you, no prayer will go unanswered, sometimes the answer may be no, or not now or, OK hang on to your hat and see what I will do. No matter what you ask, expect an answer…always.
Your identity is in Christ.
That statement in and of its self is HUGE; however, we still fight the concept. Our work has become our identity. Our happiness is based on our work status and whether or not our job fulfills us. We want to find a partner who is as ‘dedicated to their work’ as we are. We talk about finding ‘work life balance’ not ‘life work balance’.
In a world where we are inundated day in and out on TV, social media, news, virtually every media outlet you can think of with finding and elevating our career satisfaction, it’s no wonder that so few do. After all, if hundreds of people can make millions of dollars teaching others how to be happy in their jobs, there must be a lot of unhappy employees out there. Work, job, career, vocation have taken the place of the only thing that can truly fulfill our lives…Christ.
No I am not saying that you shouldn’t work or that you shouldn’t want to be happy with the work you do. I’m saying that we should not be spending disproportionate amounts of time worrying, being anxious and crying over our jobs.
Recently I’ve had several individuals come to me with challenges that are rooted in their job satisfaction. They don’t feel appreciated, valued or perhaps challenged. They don’t feel they get paid enough or that the stress their job creates is wearing on them. I too have had some doubts recently about where my ‘career’ fits into my life. Then I read something that began to alter my perception of my job.
“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” Colossians 3:23
It doesn’t say work heartily for the things you like to do, or are fun to do, it says ‘whatever you do, work heartily as for the Lord and not for men.’ It doesn’t matter if I’m at home folding socks (which I HATE doing) or weeding my garden (which I LOVE doing) I am called to work heartily as if I’m doing it for God Himself. If we begin, just begin to start seeing our jobs as something we do for the Lord, not something we do that takes the place of the Lord, our feelings might change.
God does not want you to hate your job. Yes, that is another truth. God has given you the work you have to do, regardless of what it is, He can bring amazing things forth from it.
“I know that nothing is better for them than to rejoice, and to do good in their lives, and also that every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor – it is the gift of God” Ecclesiastes 3:12-13
The Lord blesses us with employment so that we have meaningful work, to provide for our families (2 Thess 3:10-13), to provide for those in need (Eph 4:28), and to live as part of the body of Christ (Eph 4:11-16) He does not provide us this work so that we become the work, or so that work becomes our life.
All the labor of man is for this mouth, and yet the soul is not satisfied. Ecclesiastes 6:7
I have spent the better part of my adult life striving to be the best at whatever I do. Early on I discovered that I could receive all kinds of positive reinforcement, awards, accolades and advancement if I worked harder, smarter and longer than anyone else. I achieved great success in the world…at what cost? I had a fancy office on the Potomac, traveling 3-weeks a month away from my family. I would introduce myself to people I met using my title as if it were my last name. I could never just be Betsy Stuetze; no, my true identity was found in what I did, my job title, not who I was. For the record; I was lonely, sad, scared, and desperately empty, and none of this could be cured by my job, my office, or my expense account.
Over the past year, some of which I’ve been serving as a bi-vocational pastor, I have learned that when you keep your (secular) work in its proper place, it can be incredibly satisfying. Our work can be a blessing to our families, others and ourselves. Our work can glorify God. Our work can have far reaching impact on those around us, however, it is not supposed to define you.
“Let every detail in your lives – words, actions, whatever – be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.” Colossians 3:17
“Mom, I want to be spider man”, “mom can I be wonder woman?”, “mom, mom, can a girl be baby Groot?” This is what I hear on an almost weekly basis these days. My children are obsessed with super heroes. They love the idea of heroes; those who are willing to do whatever is necessary for the greater good, despite the personal pain and sacrifice they must inevitably endure. Several years ago, when my oldest son was 8-9 years old he was obsessed with Indiana Jones and dressed up as him for three years running. I still have the cloth whip he carried that plays the Indiana Jones Theme Song. Da da dum dum da da dum! Yea I play with it sometimes too…truth be told it’s in my office and my whole team gets a kick out of it.
He loved that Indiana Jones had a seemingly super power where his whip was concerned however, his real super power was actually that he was smart and cared about keeping people safe. I remember when we watched the last Indiana Jones movie together, Nik kept telling me, “Mom it will be ok the hero always wins.” Then there was the scene where Indiana got a bit of a beating and Nik covered his eyes and began to worry if Indiana would still be victorious…of course he was, and Nik looked at me beaming…”see I told you the hero always wins.” Such faith he had in his hero.
It’s funny how we crave the idea that there are those in the world who are willing to serve a greater purpose than themselves, even to the extent of sacrificing their lives for it. We believe that honor, and nobility are something to be admired and looked up to. It’s almost like we were born with the innate desire to seek out that which is greater than ourselves.
“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” Romans 1:20
Perhaps it not that surprising after-all. Being made in God’s image we have the ability through Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit to share in God’s divine nature. We are created to be like Him who is noble, loving, forgiving and full of mercy. It is natural then that we look for these ‘invisible qualities’ here on earth.
The question is, why do we feel the need to create imaginary and fantastical versions of heroes to worship, as opposed to worshiping the one who embodies everything we seek?
In Philippians 4:8 the apostle Paul writes, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
Does this list of characteristics sound familiar; true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy? Is Paul describing Superman, Wonder Woman, Captain America, or Spiderman? The list of characters could go on and on, none of them exemplify all of these characteristics, all of them represent some. The one difference seems to be that each of our heroes is mortally flawed. Whether its pride or vanity or kryptonite or a relationship or greed, we imbue each of our heroes with characteristics that make them more like us. It’s easier to believe that a hero could exist if they weren’t perfect. So, we worship the flawed over the flawless. Is it because we want to make our heroes more like us, bringing us to a more equal footing? Or is it simply because we can truly comprehend flawlessness?
God is flawless, sovereign, omniscient and omnipotent. He is perfect, He is love, He cannot make a mistake and will not cause harm. We can trust Him completely and be confident that He is who He says He is; always has been and always will be.
While heroes remind us of our innate desire to experience the divine in humanity, there is only one true source for that divinity, Jesus Christ. He is the one hero who embodied all that is divine. His flawlessness, purity, nobility is what we truly seek, Jesus was fully human and fully God. Why would we seek something less, why would we worship that which is flawed and broken when we have what is perfect.
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