Do You See Them? (Still The Voices)

“. . .she told me that the only reason she came that first Sunday was because I was the first man who had ever talked to her like she was a real person.”

Forgiven much meme

Last week we talked about Jesus crossing the sea of Galilee in search of a lost lamb, leaving the proverbial 99 to find the one.

Sometimes the Lord would have us go to great lengths, travel great distances, to share Jesus with the lost and hurting. And that’s good, we are commanded to go into all the world to share the good news, that is the great commission. But we are also commanded to love our neighbors as well. Often times we miss what is right in front of us. We can fail to see the person right next to us that desperately needs Jesus, needs rescued, just as much as the fellow from Gadarene that we named Xander.

My wife Donna is good at seeing those people, the lost lambs, and because of that they are drawn to her. She was working with one such young lady at McDonald’s in Billings. Donna had befriended this young lady, a single mother struggling to make ends meet, and this young lady began to pour out her heart to Donna. She had found a safe place to be real.

Donna felt compelled to invite her to come camping with us on our big annual family camp out (Family being used pretty loosely and extending to pretty much everyone we knew.) Since the campsite was not too far from Red Lodge where my church is, and everyone knew me either as family or from church past and present, everyone who was camping planned on coming to our church Sunday morning.

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You know you’re in a mountain town church when you walk in and everyone smells like campfire smoke.

So anyway, this single mother and her one year old daughter, did indeed come camping with us. They had never camped before and Donna invited them to stay with us in the camper we had borrowed. I found this a little awkward but I thought she was  pretty brave to go camping with the preacher’s family, especially since she had never even met me.

Donna told me on Saturday afternoon while we were camping that her young friend said that she probably wasn’t going to go to church the next morning with us. I was suddenly very disappointed. I had only met her the day before but I knew Donna had been loving on her for a while and was very concerned about, and had filled me in on, all heartache and betrayal she had already been through in her young life by her parents and her ex-husband.

Later I saw her and her baby girl sitting at the picnic table in our campsite and I did something I hardly ever do, I sat down across the table from her, and tried to coerce her to come to church with us. I’m just not the kind of person who likes to put someone on the spot.

She didn’t know me, and she actually looked kind of terrified when I sat down across from her. But I looked her in the eye and said: “I hear you aren’t sure about coming to church with us tomorrow. I would really like you to. I know this might sound weird but I really think the Lord gave me the sermon just for you. And if you come I’ll give you one of my books; To My Girls” (Yippee— Hey I was desperate.)

I was desperate because I really did believe that the message I was preaching that Sunday was written just for her. I knew in my heart that she was why God had given me the message titled: You are Loved. To my relief and joy, she came. And she came back the next week, with her sister, both of them giving there hearts to the Lord in that first week or two and both attending quite frequently for a few years driving 60 miles all the way from Billings to Red Lodge to do so.

That young lady is still a big part of our life, her little girl calls me “Granpa” and 8 years later she still loves the Lord with all her heart and soul and is healing from a horrific past as she walks with him and seeks to learn how to live in this messed up world as she tries desperately to see the world through the eyes of Jesus rather than the eyes of a distrusting wounded soul who has every right to be angry and rebellious.

But she has allowed the Lord to still the voices that taunt and haunt.

no tuning back

I had been somewhat amazed for quite some time that she even came that first time, let alone again the next week and that she just kept coming. Especially with what seemed like such an awkward invitation from me, the strange preacher she didn’t know. Maybe it was the book, I don’t know, it had deeply touched many. I was sure love was involved, the love of the Lord, the love of our church family.

Then, one day we were visiting about that day, and she told me that the only reason she came that first Sunday was because I was the first man who had ever talked to her like she was a real person.

I knew she had been hurt and betrayed, seriously betrayed, by the men in her life, but his really startled me; no other man had ever treated you with respect!? —That doesn’t say much for the world we live in, does it?

How sad that people can go through life never feeling like people even see them, at least not as a person. I was kind of startled when she told me that, because of all the reasons I might have come up with for her coming to our little church—and returning— the fact that I had talked to her with the respect that I would give to any other person, would never have been one of them.

Donna saw her, then I saw her, that’s what it boils down to. I saw her through what was no doubt the eyes of the Father, a scared little girl struggling in a big scary world to be a mother and provider despite the worst the world could throw at her, a young woman who needed to know she was loved and that she was not alone. A lost lamb who had been betrayed in the worst way by her own father, her mother and then a husband.

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But Jesus saw her and sent someone to let her know.

We all need that; we all want to be seen;Somebody, anybody—see me for who I really am.” We all share this basic desire, and to some extent I think we all are a little fearful of being truly honest with one another for fear that we will be seen differently, so we either pretend for as long as we can, or we just go full blown; “I no longer care, the hell with y’all!”

At least that’s what we tell ourselves– But inside we are still dying.

The voices are still taunting us; “You are worthless, you deserve nothing but what you got— trust no one and strike first before you get hurt again.” Jesus would tell us otherwise.

Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman?”. . . Then He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” Luke 7:44. 50

 

Hope meme

 

 

Safely Through the Valley

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow. . .”

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One of the biggest privileges I have as a pastor is getting to dedicate babies to the Lord.

This morning we dedicated Rick and Cindy’s little girl Ashleigh. Truly a blessing that, unless you know the whole story, you can never fathom. Just as, unless you have experienced the grief of having walked through the valley of the shadow of death, you cannot appreciate the joy of getting to celebrate life like we did this morning as we gave a little life over to the care of the redeemer, to the restorer.

As the young shepherd boy become King once wrote:

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23

No doubt all of us have walked through that valley and have had to say goodbye to people we love, if we were fortunate enough to have time to say that goodbye. And if it was a child, you know it is especially hard. Nine years ago, this very week, I was doing another baby dedication for Rick and Cindy as we committed the soul of their stillborn daughter Hanna to the Lord.

It was a funeral that tore at my heart but at the same time boosted my faith and confirmed to me like few things ever have that faith is more than a feeling and that our God is alive and well and gives us faith and grace when we are not strong enough, when there is no earthly or tangible reason to have any. Not because I had it, but because I saw it lived out before me.

Nine years ago Cindy was pregnant with the second child they had wanted for twenty years, a miracle. Then, well into the pregnancy trouble struck, I won’t dredge up the details but it was dire for the baby. But, after a lot of prayer it seemed another miracle had happened and the baby was hanging in there, and then, after enough time had passed that it seemed the miracle was secured, the worst happened, the little girl was lost. The emotional roller coaster of hope and fear came to a bitter end as it appeared to plunge irreversibly into darkness.

And so, on a cold December day we committed her body, placed in a tiny stainless steel coffin, to the ground, and committed her spirit to the Lord who created her and loves her still. But, for those who are loved by God and called according to his purpose, darkness cannot hold us anymore then death can. “O’ grave where is thy victory and death where is thy sting.”— Destroyed on the cross, that’s where.

Now, here’s why my soul found restoration in the midst of this tragedy, I watched my good friends—who had every reason in the world to lose their faith, to turn their back on God for apparently turning His on them, and simply walk away, angry and justified—I watched them cling to Jesus. I feared for them. I feared that the pain and disillusionment would be too much for them and that their faith would be shattered, but it wasn’t. They walked right on through that darkness and feared no evil and goodness and mercy followed them.

Of course I was praying for them but nonetheless, I was amazed and blessed. Many prayers were being offered in that season by many people as we stood in the gap for them.

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I feared for them as a friend and as a pastor because as a pastor with the call to comfort the broken hearted there is nothing harder than having to explain to someone why God let the one they cannot imagine life without die. Theologies and platitudes have no meaning in times like that. But, what does have meaning, and it is something we cannot explain or understand, until we are in it, is the presence of God.

I knew God was real when I saw Rick and Cindy hang on to their faith and never waiver in their commitment to being a light to this world and in their belief that they indeed had a second daughter who they would one day get to hold and cherish, in the resurrection or when they join her in heaven as they await that resurrection day.

God sustained their souls and because, I believe, because they were faithful in their recognizing his goodness, they have seen a restoration in a way they would never have imagined. Yes there were tears, yes there was anger, but through it all there was faith, faith that what the enemy had meant for evil, the God of restoration could turn to good.

Hanna is safe and loved, her parents are living in the faith that will ensure their reunion, and she now has a younger sister; Ashleigh.

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The God of restoration saw a baby in need, a little girl whose parents were simply not willing or ready to be the parents she would need, but were committed to bringing her into this world and allowing her to live. So the Lord moved the reluctant mother to call uncle Rick and Aunt Cindy, whom God remembered and already had this planned when their Hanna went home early.

A few short months later Rick and Cindy were in a hospital room witnessing the birth of a healthy little girl whom they got to hold, name, and take home just as they would a daughter of their own. And now she officially is. Two weeks ago the adoption was finalized and today in her dedication to the Lord, they took the step of faith and obedience to commit themselves to raising her to the best of their ability in the ways of the Lord and to entrust her soul into his hands until such day as she can make that decision to make him her Lord, to choose whom she will serve.

On that day she too will get to experience the joy of knowing that she has a restored soul. A soul that we pray was never rent by the enemies wiles before she recognized and accepted the Love of her Savior with the faith of a child that will never waiver, just as her parents faith hasn’t.

That is why they are blessed, that is why they have been able to live to see this incredible restoration, and why we have been witnesses of it today.

So today we got to dedicate their third daughter to the Lord. And together, this family of five, will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Let’s read that whole Psalm.

Don’t just read it, own it.

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever.

Yetrday's troubles

God is good. He is more than good, he is love. He is not Santa Clause, he is not an insurance agent. We don’t just get to give him a list of things we want and wait by the tree for the presents to show up. We don’t get to file a claim for things that were lost and wait for a check. We get to live in the knowledge that we have a God who knows better than we ever will what we need as opposed to what we want. How those around us will be affected by the choices we make, and by how he answers our prayers.

Only God sees the big picture and understands how everything is tied together and will affect people he died for in years to come, even for eternity. God is shaping our eternity first and foremost. We must trust him with our todays if we want our eternity, our tomorrows secured or restored.

I know enough about people to know that you have probably experienced great restoration in your life, restoration in very important areas. But, if you’re like many, you may not recognize it and fully appreciate it enough to live in the joy of that knowledge. When you do, you will get that loving feeling back—soul restoration.

Only you can know what that will look like, you and your Lord.

And he has only just begun.

Shepherd meme

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Barbarians in the Kingdom

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