Broken But Useful

broken-but-useful

When I was young, our television quit. My Dad and I took the TV to the appliance repair shop in the next town. We dropped it off, drove home, waited a couple of weeks, picked it up, lugged it back into the house, hooked it up, and used it for a few more years.

Aside from making me feel old, this foggy memory illustrates something:

We live in a throw-away culture. 

If my television stopped working, I’d put it in the junk pile and head over to the electronics store to buy a new one. (I’d probably get a bigger one, too; don’t tell my wife.) You and I would agree that the time and money we’d invest in fixing a broken appliance would dwarf the cost of a new one.

It’s amazing what we throw away. People used to mend the holes in their socks and patch the knees of their jeans. They tinkered with the lawn mower until it began working. They rolled down the car windows when the AC quit. Today, it’s not that we lack the resources. We reason that fixing stuff takes too much time, effort, skill, and care. And, because everything we need is at our fingertips, it’s just much more expedient—and gratifying—to shop for something new.

And, I suppose, when we’re talking about electronics, clothing, appliances, or vehicles, that’s fine. 

But, what do we do with broken people?

Do we discard them? Or, do we invest in them? Do we shop for someone new? Or, do we renew our commitment? Write them off or embrace them? Ignore them? Or, draw nearer?

There are two types of brokenness

These affect everyone we encounter:

First, we are broken because of  the sin with which we struggle. Sin affects us all. We rationalize it. We compare it with the sin we perceive in others. We hide it. Keep it at bay. It breaks our relationship with God and with those we love. It consumes our time and takes our strength. And, by God’s grace, eventually it breaks us and sends us to the only One who holds the cure.

Given godly sorrow, repentance, and accountability, people who are broken by sin ultimately get an experience of God’s forgiveness, grace, and power.

Second, we are broken because of the trials we all endure. God permits dark days. He allows tests and trials. He guides us into valleys. He stretches us. He moves us past the margins of our strength and resources. And, he meets us in our brokenness, shining the light of hope and peace into our fear and upheaval.

Given time, faith, and ample amounts of courage, this type of brokenness is the distinguishing characteristic of a true servant of God.

What do we do with people broken people?

First, we understand that we are just like them. Then, we draw near. We offer accountability. We provide comfort. We bear burdens. We beat back loneliness with our presence. We shine light into darkness. We speak God’s truth. We restore. We remain for the long haul. And we help them discover their new place in service to God’s Kingdom.

The men and women who have been broken, only to experience the healing touch of the Father, are precisely the ones who are humble and hungry enough to be the most earnest and effective workers in God’s Kingdom. People can be both broken and useful. They’re not to be thrown away. They’re to be restored and released for the glory of God.

Why? Because God is a loving Father. He is in the business of redeeming all kinds of brokenness. He doesn’t just discard us and move on to someone new. He doesn’t get frustrated and walk away. He remains. He doesn’t turn his back, ignoring us until we give up and leave. He commits. He loves, forgives, heals, restores, and calls us to greater service than what we could have asked or imagined before being broken.

What about you?

If you’re broken, take heart. If you seek him, allowing him to do his work, there are great things ahead.

If you’re tempted to discard someone who is seeking God in his brokenness, reconsider.

Three Questions to Ask During Difficult Times

three-questions-to-ask-during-difficult-times

I’ve been a believer for virtually my entire life. And, in that span of time, I’ve experienced the whole gamut of exceedingly wonderful and heartbreaking-ly horrible experiences. It easy to reflect on the good times. It’s not so easy to dig deep and wrestle with the difficult times.

In addition to experiencing my own share of difficulties, I’ve witnessed others going through them too: inability to get pregnant, loss of a friendship, devastating diagnosis, rebellious teenagers, sick parents, and more. These situations all bring their own challenges. They all have their own set of emotions. And in the midst of these emotions, I have asked and have heard others ask variations of the same three questions.

They are the wrong questions:

1. Does this mean God doesn’t love me?

We imagine God to be a fickle, fair-weather, flavor-of-the-day deity. We think, when things are going well, that it must be because he loves us. Then, when things go bad, we begin to imagine that he’s changed his mind or maybe he was just mistaken about us in the first place.

2. Is that because of something I’ve done?

We can be tempted to view God as a cop who is waiting to catch us doing something bad so he can slap us with a ticket and a big penalty. When difficult times strike, one of our first reflexes is to review our behavior to see if something we did prompted God’s punishment.

3. If I’ll just ___ more, it’ll all go away?

We approach God like we believe he’s a genie. If we simply pray enough, read our Bibles enough, fast enough, do enough good deeds, then we won’t face difficulties. Or, if we are in difficult times, those good deeds might just be enough to tip the scales of divine favor back into our advantage.

Here are three better questions to ask during difficult times:

1. Am I going through this situation precisely because God loves me?

The Bible teaches us that God is love (1 John 4:8) and that nothing can separate us from his love for us (Romans 8: 35-39). God does allow us to go through difficulties as a form of discipline. He can do so precisely because he is a loving Father who knows and wants what is best for us (Hebrews 12:7-11). Whatever the situation might be, God loves us. He’s not going to take away his love. And, he can use what we’re facing to help us grow, reaffirming his love over and over.

2. How is God’s glory going to be shown through this?

One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the story of an encounter between Jesus and a man who was born blind. Skeptics, in an attempt to trap Jesus, asked him, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:1-2). They had bought into the theory that hardship—in this case, blindness—is the direct result of sin. I love Jesus’ answer because he obliterates that perspective. “Neither this man nor his parents sinned … but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him,” (John 9:3). The struggles we face are precisely the situations in which God’s glory shines most brightly.

3. How can I be more surrendered to and trusting of God?

Difficulties can crush us. They have the tendency to strip away all we cling to: our security, our reputation, our health, our sense of self. And, there’s no amount of spiritual or moral striving we can do that will merit God’s goodness and intervention. God is good because it is his nature. He intervenes in his creation because he loves us. The key isn’t in striving but in surrender. Not in self promotion but in humility. “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” (James 4:10). And, we cease our striving and learn to surrender and trust, we find out  that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose,” (Romans 8:28).

If you’re in the eye of the storm, even if it doesn’t seem to make sense, be sure to ask the right questions.

Ministry Highs and Lows

ministry-highs-and-lows

I love being in ministry.

I enjoy working at a church with people who are committed to God. It’s fantastic to know that my work has real, lasting meaning. No, it’s not a fairy tale like some might imagine it. There are real conflicts, real worries, pressures, demands and struggles. But, I’ve found that the good far outweighs the bad.

In ministry, it’s a privilege to share the highest of highs with people: weddings are conducted, babies are born, huge personal growth happens, people make decisions for Christ. And, I get to be there as a witness and partner.

In ministry, it’s also a privilege—albeit a heavy one—to share in the lowest of lows with those same people: jobs are lost, diagnoses are handed down, marriages split up, children stray, death strikes. Just as in the good times, I’m often trusted to be right there.

Ministry highs and lows overlap

Just this morning, I arrived at the office to a voicemail from an excited young man asking me if I’d be willing to lead him and his fiance through premarital counseling and preach at their summer wedding. Then, no sooner had I scribbled down his phone number, I learned that a teenage girl lost her lifelong battle with Cystic Fibrosis. The parents are going to hold a memorial service in our building in just a few days.

Exhilaration. Heartbreak. All in the span of two minutes.

Ministry will fill you with joy. It’ll also crush you.

It’s at times like these that I’m glad that Jesus was just as in his element at a wedding feast in Cana as he was at a grave site in Bethany.

I’m beyond grateful—in good times and bad—to be a part of the Body of Christ.

May God continue to purify her and prepare her for the Great Day when tears will be replaced with smiles, fear with security, sadness with laughter, loss with joy and hope with sight.

Disappointment

disappointment

I read this passage about Jesus’ ministry a few days ago. I experienced awe and disappointment at the same time:

A vast crowd brought to him people who were lame, blind, crippled, those who couldn’t speak, and many others. They laid them before Jesus, and he healed them all. The crowd was amazed! Those who hadn’t been able to speak were talking, the crippled were made well, the lame were walking, and the blind could see again! And they praised the God of Israel, ([biblegateway passage=”Matthew 15:30-31″]).

This beautiful passage comes in the context of the busiest season of Jesus’ ministry and maybe the pinnacle of his success in terms of follwership and acclaim. Again and again, he heals people’s physical symptoms—all the while mindful of the permanent solution he’d provide for their spiritual needs—mainly in response to their faith. Those with great faith who were beginning to understand that Jesus was God’s Messiah and those with just enough faith to know that the man from Nazareth had the power to heal, all of them received healing for their ailments.

It’s a beautiful picture of Jesus’ concern for the physical hardships of our lives. Even though he is God, he’s God in the flesh. There, on that hillside, sat a man who was uniquely qualified to understand the physical (and emotional, mental and spiritual) hardships of the people gathered to meet him. I would have loved to be there that day to see him heal and to watch the responses. It would have been awesome.

This is all great.

Handling disappointment when Jesus doesn’t answer

What do you do when he doesn’t provide healing? Next to those verses in my Bible was a note I wrote to Jesus several years ago after reading this same text:

“Why, Father, won’t you heal Owen? Why does he have to struggle so? I know you’ve blessed and rescued him from so much. I just wish he could get a break.”

Ouch.

What happens when you’re disappointed with God for not pulling through? If I had been on that mountainside with Jesus, presenting my sick son to him, would he have healed him? Would I have walked away disappointed? What would have happened to my faith as a result?

Well, I have stood on a figurative mountainside, my son in my arms, pleading with God to heal him. I’ve begged. I’ve cried. I’ve pleaded. But, no healing; at least not in the way I would have liked or in the timing I preferred. I’ve watched as others have faced that same reality. It hurts. It’s disappointing.

Here’s the key: Only Jesus is good enough and wise enough to know when to heal and when to withhold healing. Only he is just and loving enough to know when to allow one of his children to walk through something difficult. Only he knows when the man whose son isn’t healed will respond in faith in spite of the disappointment, and continue to respond in faith as he walks down the road.

That’s the path God has allowed us to walk—with his Son’s love and his Spirit’s guidance—for several years. And, even though I’ve been disappointed many times, I don’t resent him. I trust him even more. You see, all the people Jesus healed on the hillside that day eventually passed away. They discovered that physical healing is only temporary. I hope, in addition to freedom from physical pain, that each of these people experienced the type of faith in Christ that brings inner change, saving faith and eternal life—real healing.

If you’re disappointed with God, it’s OK to ask him a series of gut-level-honest questions. I have. I still do. And, the act of asking them and then being willing to wait has produced faith like I never could have imagined.

I pray he’ll do the same for you.