Snow Play in Big Bear

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Yesterday I took 3 of my kids up to Big Bear to go snow tubing, together with some good family friends. Apparently a lot of other people also had the same idea, so it was pretty crowded for awhile on the tubing runs. After waiting in long lines to get a couple runs in, we spotted another area that seemed wide open–no lines at all. Excitedly, we headed over with our tubes, thinking we could have it all to ourselves. But then we spotted the sign…

Image  Bummer!

Comfort through Humility

I had the opportunity to preach this past Sunday at the church of my good friend and fellow pastor, Jojo Ma. He has been taking his church, Crosslife Community Church, through the book of Job, and I got to preach from Job 39, which is part of God’s initial response to Job.

Whenever I preach or teach God’s Word, it feels like God ministers far more to me through the study and preparation than He does to the people who hear my message (though I’m trusting that He ministers to those who hear the Word too). So true-to-form, the text from Job was very meaningful to me in the place where I’m at right now.

At first glance, God’s response to Job seems a bit cold or insensitive, and not exactly what Job seems to need as he deals with deep suffering. But what became clear to me as I studied was that God’s response was exactly what Job most needed to hear at that point, and that it actually was a response that comforted him in his suffering. God humbled Job–He proclaimed His power and wisdom through all His questions–but there was comfort that came through that humbling process. Because in asking all those questions, God was not merely “putting Job in his place” but was proclaiming to him that God indeed was good and sovereign and purposeful in ALL that He does, even in Job’s suffering. Job found comfort in being reminded that there was a purpose in all that was happening to him (even if he didn’t understand it), that his suffering was not somehow outside of God’s control, and that death and suffering did not negate God’s goodness.

The suffering I face (in the seemingly unending struggle of parenting a special-needs child) pales in comparison to all that Job went through, but my response is often the same as Job’s–I begin to doubt God’s goodness and question His purposefulness. When I cry out to God for comfort, what I’m usually looking for is relief–a change in circumstances. What God often provides, as He did for Job, is not a change in circumstances but a change in perspective. He humbles me by reminding me how great He is and by helping me view my suffering through the lens of the Gospel and all that Christ suffered on my behalf. I don’t like to be humbled, and thus I often resist that humbling process, but what God made clear to me through this study in Job is that His comfort comes through that humbling. As long as I hold on to my pride and demand relief, I remain stuck in self-pity and despair, but when I submit to God’s humbling process I find, like Job, that He is sufficient even if circumstances don’t change.

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If you’d like to listen to the sermon, you can find it here.

In my sermon, I reference this excellent message from a CCEF Conference: “Death of a Dream: When Life Doesn’t Turn Out Like You Expected“. (Sorry, it’s not a free download, but it’s well worth the few bucks!)

Custom-Equipped for Mission

Not only are the seemingly negative aspects of your life (such as a traumatic family history) a part of God’s custom design to form you into the person He desires you to be, but the “positive” aspects are also part of God’s good and intentional design. That sounds like a no-brainer, but how many of us find ourselves wishing that we had someone else’s gifting or someone else’s experience or someone else’s personality? We might downplay our skills, thinking “Anyone can do that!” Or we might see a certain aspect of our personality as a liability rather than an asset. Or maybe we’re comfortable with how God has made us, but we don’t see how that could be useful for God’s Kingdom.

My kitchen got remodeled a few years ago, and as part of the remodel, we put in new cabinets. Those cabinets were customized for the particular layout and design of our new kitchen, but they were also customized for particular functionality. Drawers were placed strategically according to what utensils would be located there. Some cabinets were equipped with pull-out shelves to accommodate larger pots and pans. The spacing of the pantry shelves was designed to allow for larger items on the lower shelves. A couple of the upper cabinets got glass doors so that what is inside would be visible. Some “wasted space” next to the stove was converted to a narrow cabinet for flat baking sheets. The custom design was not just about how they looked but about equipping them for the function they would serve.

In the same way, the personality and skills and gifting and experience that God has given you is not just for your sake—to make you special and unique. It is that, but it is also more than that. God has customized those characteristics in you to equip you to carry out the particular mission for which He has designed you. The Bible uses the imagery of a physical body to explain how God sees the interworking of all those who belong to Him. Each individual Christian has a function that is vital for the proper working of the Body. You—and I—are designed by our Maker to fulfill a function in the Body of Christ that no one else can do. We are custom-equipped for a particular mission.

God has a reason for making me an introvert. Humanly speaking, it seems like it would make more sense in my role as a pastor to be a little more extroverted, but God allows me to connect with certain people in a particular way because I am introverted. My personality is designed specifically for the mission He has called me to. God has also given me a gift of approachableness—people seem to find it easy to share deeply with me. On more than a few occasions, total strangers have out-of-the-blue started sharing their problems with me, just because I looked at them or smiled. That gift (even if sometimes it’s uncomfortable) is part of God’s custom design that makes me effective in discipleship. Over the past 2+ years since our adoption of Anah, I have met more people affected by disability than I ever had before. The experience that God is giving me in struggling to care for a daughter with special needs is opening doors to carry out the mission of discipleship God has designed me for.

God has a mission for you as well—a unique function for you to carry out within His Body the Church. The personality, gifting, experience, and skills He has given to you are not randomly bestowed, but are custom-designed to equip you for that particular mission. So pay attention to the unique ways that God has shaped you, because in that He might be revealing something of the mission to which He has called you.

Custom-Designed Family History

[See part 1 to this post: Custom Discipleship.]

Have you ever wondered why you ended up in the family you were given? Have you ever questioned God’s wisdom—or His kindness—in allowing you to go through some of the events of your past? Have you ever felt stuck, like your difficult childhood has doomed you to a difficult adulthood? Perhaps you grew up with an absent father or an angry mother. Maybe you suffered abuse or major health issues or the death of someone close to you. Or maybe life was hard and there was never enough income, and you had to do without many of the things your friends enjoyed.

I believe God custom-designs a process of discipleship for each one of His children. His intent is to form our hearts more and more into the likeness of Christ, and He does that by creating a set of circumstances and relationships that uniquely and precisely fits each individual, to help us grow toward maturity and fruitfulness. Your family history (and mine) is not a mistake. It is not a failure of God’s grace. It does not mean that God was powerless to prevent the negative things that have happened to you, nor does it mean that He was angry or vindictive toward you by allowing those things to happen. No, as contradictory as it may seem, God designed your unique family history for a specific purpose—to grow you toward maturity and fruitfulness in Christ.

I have talked with some people who are convinced that their terrible family history has locked them into a miserable life in the present…and, not surprisingly, their lives are rather miserable. They are not growing toward maturity in Christ; instead, they are constantly bemoaning the past.

I have talked with others, whose family history has been just as terrible, and while they admit that the sins committed against them (or the difficult circumstances they faced) in the past have scarred them deeply, they are learning to see how God used those painful experiences to draw their hearts to Him. And others are moving a step further and starting to look for ways that God might use them to minister to others who have faced similar trauma in their growing up years.

A friend of mine from college endured horrific sexual and physical abuse at the hands of her father when she was very young. Understandably, there has been much pain and difficulty in dealing with that past, but God has poured His abundant mercy upon her, and she is now thriving as a wife and mother, serving God on the mission field in Asia. But what is most beautiful about her story is that God has taken her traumatic family history and transformed it into an amazing ministry. She and her husband now run a home for young girls who have been rescued out of the sex trafficking industry, and because of her traumatic family history, she can minister very effectively to those whom God brings to their home. (If you’d like to read her story, look up Deep Waters, by Jasmine May.)

God has a purpose for the history that He has brought you through. He did not abandon you in your darkest hour, but He carried you and loved you, and there is a unique and beautiful story that He is weaving through your life. May He grant you the grace to see His good design, even in the difficult—or traumatic—family history that you have experienced.