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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Be The Fuel

The following is the printed form of a talk I gave to a group of about 50+ junior high kids on Sunday.  The talk was a good twenty minutes long, so be prepared to read for awhile.  Meanwhile, I can safely say that these words are not mine.  Even in my best writing moments, I could not have produced this.  While I quoted Joe, Christen, and even a brief moment from my wife, Steph, what you see is the work of God.  He wants this message spread.  As it says towards the end, a spiritual wildfire is growing quickly.  Be a part of it.  If you read this, and it inspires you--ACT.  Pass it on to someone else: Maybe someone that needs to meet God...maybe someone who has strayed from God...maybe just someone who is going through a rough time.  I don't need (or even want) credit for this--they're not my words.  Omit my name and pass the MESSAGE along.  God's message.  But don't stop there.  This is not some chain-letter.  Go to church.  Return to church.  Take someone with you.  If you're asleep at your church--maybe it's time to find a different one that will wake you up.  Go to your Bible.  Return to your Bible.  Join a small group.  Find a study or book that you can do with your loved one/family.  In short--GO TO GOD.  RETURN TO GOD.

And bring as many people with you as you can...


Why are you here?  Have you ever asked yourself that question?  “Why am I here tonight?”  Is it to hang out with friends?  Get away from your parents?  Play games?  Watch skits?  To have fun?  To grow in your spiritual walk with Christ?

I know why I’m here.  I am here to share a moment when God healed in an amazing way.

What is a miracle?  In the Bible, we see Jesus perform numerous miracles.  Feats that are impossible for man to do, or even believe unless witnessed himself.  One of Jesus’s most remarkable miracles happens in John 11:1-44, when Jesus brought Lazarus back from the dead.  It starts when Lazarus was sick.  Medicine had failed him, and he was on his deathbed.  When Jesus heard of this, He said in verse 4, “’This sickness will not end in death.  No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.’”  Basically—He called His shot.  Lazarus—someone Jesus loved—was not going to die.  Jesus would save him, and the world would see this miracle and glorify God because of it.

By the time Jesus reached Lazarus, it was too late.  Lazarus was dead.  Mary—whom Jesus also loved—ran to Him in tears, and said (starting in verse 32), “’Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’”  Going on to verse 33, “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.  ‘Where have you laid him?’ He asked.  ‘Come and see, Lord,’ they replied.”  Verse 35, “Jesus wept.”

I want to pause there for a second.  That verse is known most often as the shortest verse in the Bible.  Two words: Jesus wept.  Placing it in context, however, it is a powerful…POWERFUL moment.  Jesus was SO moved by his friend’s death and by the faith of those who loved him that He cried.  What happens next in verses 36 and 37?  The typical human response.

“Then the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’  But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’”

In short…if He really is God’s son, He could have performed a miracle.

So what does Jesus do?  Tells them to roll the stone away from Lazarus’s grave.  Everyone kind of looks at each other, then at Jesus.  Um…he’s been dead for four days…I don’t think seeing him is a good idea…he’ll be pretty ripe by now.  Jesus says in verse 40, “’Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’”  So they rolled the stone away.  Jesus doesn’t walk in—instead, in front of everyone, he yells, Dude!!  Quit messing around and get out here!!  Lazarus comes out and Jesus is like—SEE?!

I’m drawn to this passage because two weeks ago, I witnessed a miracle.

My brother’s name is Joe.  He’s twenty-eight.  He’s married to Christen, who is twenty-nine, and they have two children: Audrey (5) and Hudson (3).  There is nothing remarkable about them.  By society’s standards, they are invisible.  They have pretty solid musical talents…they are highly intelligent people…Christen taught for one year before becoming a stay-at-home mom, while Joe has worked a variety of jobs basically to help make ends meet.  The world has no clue who they are, however.  They don’t stand out.

In the spiritual world, however, they are superstars.  They’re both part of one of the most renown church choirs in the country (Christen sings, Joe plays bass guitar).  They both have blogs that focus on their faith.  They both read book after book about all-things related to God.  They can quote scripture like no one’s business.  They spend literally all day Sunday, every Sunday at their church—we’re talking 14-16 hours sometimes.  They spend 2-3 entire evenings at their church—for choir practice, prayer meetings, various other ministries.  The list continues in mind-numbing fashion.

Now that you have met this beautiful family, I will let Joe’s words tell our story.  This is from his blog: “Christen, my wife, has had semi-regular migraines since she was a girl. Generally, there would be one a month, maybe less.  In October, she had 6 such migraines. This was our first cause for alarm.  In November, she began to experience dizziness and periodic double-vision.  It was also at this time that the hearing in her right ear lessened, essentially hearing as though she were holding a finger in her ear at all times.  In December, she began to feel nausea in addition to the other symptoms. Fortunately, she had seen a neurologist in November who had scheduled her for an MRI.

“Christen went in for the MRI at 8:30pm on Wednesday, January 4.  When she came out, several doctors were looking over the images, and they had us immediately walk over to the ER because they saw something that concerned them.

“After some time, we were seen by a representative of the neurosurgery team. She informed us that Christen had a few 'lesions' on her brain, that we were going to be admitted overnight, and some more of her teammates would be by in the morning to talk to us in more detail.

“The next morning, we met with the neuro-oncologist to go over the images on the MRI. They showed that Christen had tumors in her brain that were sizable and of concern.

“The neurology team decided to biopsy the most concerning of the tumors, which was located in the central part of her brain, relatively deep (thus making it inoperable). The biopsy took place on Friday, January 6.

“During the biopsy, there was a small amount of bleeding that took place, and so they ran a CAT scan on Christen prior to waking her up from the anesthetic. They determined that there was no reason to do any emergency surgery and so she was sent to recovery and then the ICU for the night.

“This gave me the opportunity to do what I really needed to do: go to my car and break down.

“I have never had a panic attack, nor am I much of a crier. I do cry, but it is not that often. In the car, I sobbed and was breathing in such a way that, if I had allowed for it, I could have hyperventilated. I think it's the closest I've ever been to all out panic. I was certainly fear-stricken. And I had words with God for the first time (we had been praying all along, but by this I mean I had it out with Him). I asked Him not to take her. I told Him that I know she's precious to Him, but she is to me too. I told him I didn't want to give her to Him. This is selfish, I know, but this was the reality of where I was.

“After composing myself, I went back into the room, prayed for Christen by her bed, and then went home for the night so that I could rest and prepare for what was going to be a long, hard weekend.”

That was written at one in the morning on Saturday, January 7.  At 8:30 am the next day, I received a phone call telling my wife and I to come to Chicago immediately.  Medicine had done all it could do.  Christen was going to die.

When we reached the hospital, the waiting room was packed with friends, family, and members of their church.  Prayers were being uplifted everywhere.  Over the previous week, Joe had put out prayer requests on Facebook.  His hundreds of friends reposted his requests on their walls.  Their hundreds of friends did the same.  There were people all over the state…all over the country…all over the world praying for Christen.  Entire churches praying.  Literally hundreds of thousands of people were praying for a miracle—for some woman they had never met—to be healed.

Think about that for a second.  Christen was invisible on this earth to the majority of the public—but because she was a spiritual warrior princess—there were HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of people praying for her that week.

I return to Lazarus.  What did John 11:4 say?  “Jesus said, ‘This sickness will not end in death.  No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.’”  We clung together at that hospital.  We waited for that miracle.  Only God could save Christen at that point.  Only God could heal her.

Sometime in the early morning hours of Monday, January 9—Christen passed away.

So where’s the miracle, you ask?  You’re not alone.  Sadness hit everyone.  People thought, “But I prayed!  Where was the miracle?”  Others thought, “I am not nearly as strong a Christian as these two…why would God take her and not me?”  Some started to question their faith.  Some asked, “How can this be God’s will?”

Again—I turn to the words of someone much smarter than me, my wife: “It ISN’T God’s will.  None of this is God’s will.  It was never God’s will for us to die.  Sin brought pain and suffering into the world.”

See…here’s the thing: No one aims for the mediocre.  In sports, the cliché saying is “We have a target on our back.”  Who says that?  The best team.  The defending champion.  Whoever is in first.  The team in third place never says those words.  When assassins strike—who do they shoot at?  The cab driver?  No…they try to kill the President.  When 9/11 happened—the terrorists went after iconic symbols of America: the Twin Towers, the Pentagon…not the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, Illinois.

Why?

Because they want to strike fear in mass doses.  You kill the king, the civilians will scatter.

Who do we know that feeds on fear?

Satan is not interested in me.  Why?  Because I’m invisible in the spiritual world.  But he had all kinds of interest in Christen.  He attacked her with everything he had.  Migraines.  Dizziness.  Hearing loss.  Vision loss.  Nausea.  And finally—a TUMOR.  Then he sat back and watched the rest of us scurry around in fear.

God looked at this—He looked at the months and month of excruciating pain Christen was looking at with chemo and radiation—and He said, “No.  You don’t get to do this.  I will not let you hurt my child this way.  I’m taking her home.”

To which Satan replied, “You idiot!  That’s only going to make my job easier!  People will question you.  Christians will turn their backs on you.  Non-Christians will say—‘See!  There IS no God.  Otherwise, why wouldn’t He save such a powerful Christian woman?’”

That’s when God smirked and responded, “No.  Because I’m about to perform a miracle.”

And He did.

Miracles are hard to believe in unless you witness them for yourself.  I was there.  I was there at Christen’s funeral service when the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen took place.  We sang.  Christen’s choir sang.  There was a sermon.  You know who gave that sermon?  Joe.  You want to talk about strength?  You want to talk about a spiritual warrior?  Joe preached to over 400 people at his own wife’s funeral.  When he was finished, the pastor of their church prayed—and while he prayed, he suddenly felt moved to make an alter call.

At a funeral.

And that’s when the miracle occurred.  People who did not know Christ, found Him.  Christians who were lost, returned.  Christians who were sleeping—ME—woke up.

Do you see it yet?  Do you see the miracle?  Evil struck at a spiritual warrior princess.  Satan murdered the very BEST of us…and LOST.  People were not turned away from God…they came sprinting TO Him.  Before that service, 400+ people were crying and hugging, depressed and somber.  When that service ended, 400+ people were crying and hugging…and LAUGHING.  We were full of LIFE.  God injected LIFE—Christen’s spiritual life—into all of us…and we KNEW it.

You think it ended there?  That’s not how God performs miracles.  He wants the world to know.  Those of us who were there, spread the word.  We returned to Facebook to share what happened.  We texted friends.  We spoke to friends.  Those friends shared with their other friends.  Word spread like a spiritual wildfire…and is still spreading.  I’m here tonight, spreading that word.  At work this week, whenever someone has asked my wife how she’s doing, she’s responded with, “Do you have 15 minutes for me to share my heart?”  Others are doing the same.  Those hundreds of thousands of people who were praying for Christen are continuing to spread the word.

Christen wrote a blog.  If you want to be challenged—read it.  I dare you not to be moved.  What are her words on this subject?  Do you know your neighbors?  Are you sharing your life with them?  Do you intentionally engage people around you for the sake of loving them?  People aren't projects.  They are people created in the image of God.  He loves them and he has a plan for their lives.  We often spout that out, but do we share His heart for them?”

God had a plan for Christen.  He has a plan for me.  For you.  Want to know the dirty truth?  Sometimes—it’s going to suck.  Life is hard.  I’m not here to answer the question “Why do bad things happen to good people?”—because, news flash, we don’t know.  It’s not our JOB to know.

Another quote from Christen’s blog: “Do you believe in God?  Do you believe that He is good?  He is.  It's not easy to truly believe that He is good.  Life is such a struggle for most of humanity on this planet.  We feel the injustice that our fallen world leaves us to cope with.  It hurts.  Sickness, betrayal, slavery.  It can weigh you down in a second…(but) you have to come to a place where you ask the question, ‘Is God good?’”

Let’s say your family is about to take a long road trip for vacation.  You don’t know how to get there, but fortunately the world has provided us with GPS…and GPS knows where to go.  We trust the GPS to get us to our final destination.  We know that at the end of the trip, something awesome is waiting for us—but sometimes the trip there is rough.  We have to drive over bumpy roads or through treacherous weather.  During those tough patches, we don’t question GPS, because we trust that it knows where it’s going…and we know that that final destination is paradise.

God is our GPS.  He knows the road we’re about to travel and most importantly, He knows our final destination.  It’s not our job to know God’s plan for us.  It’s our job—this is the absolute foundation of faith—it’s our job to TRUST that His plan is good.  The POINT of faith is the belief that God knows what He's doing, even if we don't...even if we don't like it...even if it sucks...even if it hurts us or the ones we love...........and—ready for the worst part?—ACCEPTING IT.

Romans 8:28 is one of the most misquoted verses in the Bible: “And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  People read that and think that life as a Christian will be easy.  To fully understand it, you need to read clear through verse 39.  What Paul is saying in the entire passage is that even the difficult experiences of life can be used in God’s overall plan for good.

Christen’s earthly body is gone.  We miss her.  We’ll continue to miss her.  We feel pain over this loss.  Even God is sad.  If Jesus wept for Lazarus and the faith of those who loved him, you can bet Jesus cried on January 9.  But if God’s overall plan is GOOD, then we have no choice but to believe that taking such a beautiful person is part of something bigger than us.  Something AMAZING.

It’s happening right now.  I hope you can feel it.  Something stirring in your chest.  God is trying to get through.  Christen’s death has caused a stirring in the spiritual world.  Don’t believe me?  During the week she was in the hospital, her visitation, and her service, over 1000 people came to see her.  Her blog, which started in October of 2010, began with one reader…her mom.  Over time, that grew to a steady 50 people reading her words.  Now?  During the last month, over 20,000 people have visited her site.  Does that sound like the works of an unremarkable, invisible woman on this earth?

Two months before her passing, Christen wrote this: “I need You more than ever before.  Lord knows, as we begin November, I rely so heavily upon His mercy and His grace.  For since as long as I can remember, I've suffered headaches.  Now, I've stood for healing in the past.  Many people have fought this battle on their knees on my behalf.  But no.  I'm not discouraged.  God is a good God.  He is faithful.  He's all that I want.  I do desire healing.  I believe I will be completely delivered from this illness, but even if I'm not—God is good.  You know, I get really weary of saints proclaiming the goodness of the Lord only when circumstances turn out as they would like.  You know that even if nothing went ‘right’ and if I am never delivered from migraines, He is good.  He is faithful and He is worthy of all praise.

“I know His ways are higher than mine.  His thoughts are far beyond my own.  I trust in Him and allow His purposes to be fulfilled in my life.

“I desire to live a selfless faith so on that day Jesus Himself will say to me, 'Well done, my good and faithful servant.  Enter into the joy of your Master.' (Matthew 25:21)  And I want to take as many people with me as possible.”

And she is.  I’m an English teacher, so forgive my grammar lesson, but pay attention to the tense there.  She IS.  Present tense.  She IS taking as many people with her as possible.  Hundreds of thousands of people prayed for healing.  Christen’s body was unable to heal.  However, due to her love of God and Joe’s love of God, many people were brought to Christ for the first time.  Many others were reminded of their lost faith and brought back into His glory.  Healing?  I think that prayer was answered in a big, BIG way.

I’m here tonight to share this message.  I’m here because I felt that stirring in my chest and decided to ACT.  I won’t lie.  I’m terrified.  I’m terrified because I know this isn’t it for me.  God’s plan—my GPS-led road—isn’t at its end.  I don’t know what lies ahead, and that scares the crap out of me.  But I know that it’s good.  In the end, in the future I cannot see—it’s good.  So I’m on the road, and I’m trying to gather as many people with me as I can.  Road trips are always more fun with loads of people anyway.

So let me ask you again.  Why are you here?  More importantly, where are you going next?

4 comments:

  1. Where am I going to go? Where ever God takes me, I guess.

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  2. Amazing words. Thanks so much for sharing this with all of us. Our lives are forever transformed because of Christen - who truly was a spiritual warrior princess. I'm so grateful to the Lord for the years I was able to spend with her and be impacted by her life. I believe that the spiritual wildfire has only just begun. May the road trip you speak of lead us to revival.

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  3. The revival's happening. Steph and I felt that stirring at the service. I've never felt anything like that before...and the reason I know it's happenING (and not happenED), is that we can still feel it. It would have been easy for that feeling to pass after a day or two, but it's still here around us. I'm reading Facebook posts...blogs...text messages...conversations at work or with friends...........more people are talking about faith and grace, sharing stories, sharing love--sharing God. I hate so much that it took THIS to make it happen, but as Joe said at the service--He does all things for good, so we must be in store for something amazing. I just hope this is only the beginning of something so much bigger.

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  4. I have intentionally avoid the book of Job during all of this. We know the story, and I wanted to find something elsewhere. Today, I flipped to the book for the first time. I was using my student Bible, so I came across a lesson titled: "What Job Teaches Us about Suffering." Number 10 said, "Suffering can be used for a higher good. In Job's case, God used a time of very great pain to win an important, even cosmic, victory over Satan." Thought that was perfect for what we've been discussing for nearly three weeks now.

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