Happy Nurses Week!

unnamed (1)Happy Nurses Week!

I am so grateful for so many who serve in this life-changing career; hearts full of compassion, extended arms of grace, and a light in the darkness. Personally, I’ve had the honor of working with the most amazing nurses for the past 7 years in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU). The Lord has humbled me through this ministry as He grants supernatural strength to walk with families through unimaginable tragedies and trials. Some of the darkest times in the life of a family take place in hospitals. You see families standing around their child with wads of tissues, praying, overwhelmed by the amount of machines and full of fear. For nurses, there are days when you are so exhausted (physically and emotionally) that you can’t help but just cry because of everything you’ve just experienced. I’ve cared for teens who have attempted suicide, babies that have been abused, children who have been diagnosed with cancer, a child who was fatally shot from a gunfire, sick children with no families around to support, and unknown diseases and illnesses that ravage the most vulnerable.

I’ve heard some say you just have to do your job and complete the tasks. Take away all emotion. However, I can’t. And I won’t. The essence of taking care of a sick child and their family should be the overflow of compassion; putting yourself in their shoes, and building relationships and trust as you seek to provide the best care possible. With life and death literally hanging in the balance, nurses give their all to save precious children. You put your thumbs on that baby’s chest and push, push, push, and push all that you’ve got as others run in and give medications, seeking to save this baby’s life. In the midst of loss within the PICU, you weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn. And in the midst of all the joys of seeing a child healed and recover to go home, you rejoice with those who rejoice (Romans 12:15)! Every tear is worth it because you realize that life is precious and it’s a gift. You realize that we don’t deserve good health but it’s God who sustains, provides and blesses. Your perspective on life completely changes as you hold a crying mother whose son has just died from cancer. Your perspective on life is humbled as you see a father and mother kiss their little girl’s forehead in tears as she fights for her life against a respiratory infection.

For me, I am privileged to work in a profession where I see the very best in humanity. I work alongside true heroes, those who selflessly work to make the world a better place. One of the greatest joys of my life is to be a nurse and to help bring healing and wholeness in the midst of hurt and pain. As a Christian, serving as a nurse is a tangible way to push against the affects of the fall (Gen. 3), and practice neighbor love (Mark 12:31). So, during this special week, where we celebrate the angels who watch over us in our time of greatest distress, please know, nurses, that you truly “make a difference.”

The Joy of Covenant Community

 

COLOSSIANS 3:12-17

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a grievance against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you are also to forgive. 14 Above all, put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. 15 And let the peace of Christ, to which you were also called in one body, rule your hearts. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. — Colossians 3:12-17

What comes to your mind when you think of the church? Ask people that question, and you will receive various responses. For me, a recent conversation at the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit where I work stands out. Nurses usually work in groups of three or four, and over the course of a 12-hour shift we have moments where we can talk and get to know one another.

During one of these breaks, I asked my colleague about her opinion of the church. She didn’t shy away from expressing her opinion, saying she doesn’t believe in God because everyone in the church is a hypocrite. She said she has friends who “go to church” whose behavior during the week doesn’t line up with what they profess on Sunday. I was heartbroken to hear this all-too-common response.

Sadly, many share her view of the church. Perhaps they have been hurt by gossip or have been betrayed by a church member. Perhaps the moral failure of a pastor has tainted their view of religion. For others, church is an obligation and duty with little joy.

On the opposite end of this spectrum are those who love church and are thrilled to be in a local congregation. They willingly sacrifice to be part of this community, and it is one of their greatest delights to gather together and worship. For them, walking through life severed from a worshipping community is unbearable.

As I have grown up in the church, the Lord has revealed more and more to me how precious the body of Christ is. When I interned under worship leader Bob Kauflin, he would always say, “We often look out on our congregation and see normal people, nothing special. But God sees His treasured possession. These are the people He purchased with the blood of His own Son (Acts 20:28). They’re precious in His sight. May they be precious in ours.”

The church is the beautiful bride of Christ for whom Christ laid His life down. Are we demonstrating mercy and compassion to others? Are we kind? Are we ridding ourselves of pride and arrogance, not desiring to exalt ourselves over others? Are we patient? We need to “put these on” as the covenant community of believers.

However, we are prone to failure. Paul knew this, and he told the believers they must bear with one another and forgive as Christ forgives. One seminary professor said, “No one has ever sinned against us more than we have sinned against Christ Himself.” We as a church can’t do this apart from Christ. Is the gospel transforming every aspect of your heart and your life? Is the world seeing Christ when they look at your church?

We have everything to be thankful for! May we be saturated with the gospel and with thankfulness in our hearts to our Redeemer, Savior and King. May the Lord destroy any sense of entitlement we might have. May we view everyone and everything in this life as a gift from God. Because of Christ, we can be compassionate and kind. Because of Christ, we can love. Because of Christ, we can forgive one another. Because of Christ, we can have unity and peace. Because of Christ and His Word, we can respond in song with joy. Because of Christ and the gospel, we can walk in thanksgiving.

What Matters Most? Diplomas or Dependence?

 

What matters most? Diplomas or dependence on God? I remember my seminary graduation so vividly. Although rain had been in the forecast throughout the week, the sun cast warm rays over the assembled crowd the morning of May 18 as Southern prepared to celebrate its newest graduating class.

 

As I sat among the 284 other graduates awaiting my diploma, my mind reflected over the last four years and the training I had just completed. So many thoughts and emotions flooded my mind. I realized that my seminary years contained some of my most joy-filled moments as well as some of the most trying challenges in my life. While at Southern I wrestled through my calling to vocational ministry, grew in gifting, waged war against sin, and dug deeply into God’s Word. Four years flew by. Never would I have imagined that I would make the lifelong ministry friends I have made here. Never would I have thought that professors would care for me and love me as their own daughter. Never could I have anticipated that during my time in seminary I would go through tailor-made trials that God used in my life to conform me more closely into the image of His Son. Truly, as I sat there on the seminary lawn, all I could do was marvel at God’s goodness in my life and realize how underserving of all these blessings I truly am.

 

When one thinks of graduation, most people think of strength because you’ve accomplished so much. You’ve finished the hard work. You’ve done your due diligence. You’ve crossed the finish line. However, if I am being transparent, I wasn’t feeling very strong in the moments before I received my diploma. When Dr. Adam Greenway called out my name: “Oksana Petrovna Viyuk,” I actually felt weak. As I walked across the stage, shook Dr. Mohler’s hand, and received my diploma, I was acutely aware of my own failings, feeling tired, and somewhat weary as I reflected on the pain and trials of the last four years. All I could do was look up and thank God for His faithfulness and strength. It was all Him.

 

During the ceremony, Dr. Mohler spoke a message that struck my heart. The words that continue to reverberate in my heart are what he said at the beginning of the ceremony: “I want to tell you graduates, as I look at you, you look very strong. You look good. You look healthy. You look ready. But you are not strong, and you are not ready. You are not up to the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ — not one of the ministers of the gospel of Christ is sufficient. Every single one of us at every single moment is dependent on another’s strength. We are never weaker than when we think we are stronger, and we are perhaps never stronger than when we sense that we are weaker.”

 

In that moment, truer words could not have been spoken to my anxious heart. The tasks ahead can seem dauting. The challenges of vocational ministry can seem overwhelming. For four years my professors have reminded me that PEOPLE are the ministry; helping them know and follow Jesus. This is a high calling and I know that as I embark on the next part of God’s plan for my life, ministry won’t get easy. In fact, it will probably get harder. However, I take comfort in knowing that ultimately God doesn’t need any of us to accomplish His plans. God is sovereign, and His plans are unstoppable. But He graciously allows us to take part in His redemptive work. Only God can change hearts. Only God can resurrect the dead to life. Whose power is sufficient to care for and save souls? Jesus Christ. These precious truths washed over my soul as Dr. Mohler charged me and the other graduates to rely on the sustaining strength of Jesus.

 

In short, the emotions and thoughts that I wrestled with during graduation encapsulate truths that I’ve learned throughout my time at Southern. One of these is that I can’t lead from my own strength. None of us can lead without Christ. We cannot lead people in ministry if we aren’t centered in the Word of God (Col. 3:17). We cannot lead when the Bible isn’t captivating our hearts and changing us from within (Eph. 4:12-13). We cannot lead when our pride is in the way or when we are seeking the approval of others (Prov. 29:25). We cannot lead when we view ourselves higher than others (Phil. 2:3-4). And finally, we cannot lead others without loving them like Christ loves His church (1 John 4:19). However, we can lead with the strength and grace that God provides. We can lead when our hearts are desperate for Jesus and longing for the Holy Spirit to move. One truth that my worship professors drilled into my heart is that the greatest need of our congregations is our personal holiness. We can only minister out of the overflow of our own hearts.

 

Jesus says in Mark 2:17, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” I’ve been a nurse in the Pediatric ICU for the last six years and I often think of children and families who get rushed to the ICU because they are critically sick. No one wants to be there, but they know they need help in time of dire physical sickness. A 13-year-old boy that I took care of, affectionately known as “little Phil,” got diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer. He knew he had to be at the hospital to get help from the doctor because he was really sick. He was weak and dependent on the doctor’s treatment. He couldn’t control his circumstances; all he could do is respond to the state of his sickness. He knew he needed a physician. This image resonates with me as I realize likewise that I can’t lead others until I truly know how weak and frail I am, and how dependent I am on Christ.

 

All our leadership should flow from the reality that we are poor and frail and in need of a Savior every moment of our lives. With a heart of humility, our hearts will treasure the Word of God and rely on the Spirit to do the work He has called us to. Let us rest in the completed and finished work of Christ.

 

So how do we lead and point others to Christ in God’s strength? The answer is that we must depend on God through prayer, trusting His promises as we seek to point others to Christ. Why do I rely on my strength which is vain, when I can rely on the strength that God provides so that He gets all the glory (Psalm 115:1)? What matters most in ministry? Diplomas or Dependence on God? Thankfully, since my seminary graduation, I’m grateful that God has shown me that while degrees and diplomas are wonderful gifts, depending on Him, His Word, and the completed work of Christ on behalf will be what sustains me through the ministry challenges ahead.

 

1 Peter 4:11 says, “If anyone speaks, they should do as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.”

 

Personal Ministry Thoughts about Biblical Worship

I’ve been studying at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for the past 4 years. Lord willing, I will graduate this May with a Master of Arts in Worship Leadership and a Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling. It’s been such a blessing and such a sanctifying experience. I’d like to share my testimony on what I believe about God, my guiding theological commitments, my call to Christian ministry, and specifically my convictions relating to worship ministry.

The Lord graciously saved me when I was twelve years old. My heart was changed the moment the Holy Spirit opened my eyes and heart to hear and believe the Gospel. I believe the Gospel is the good news that through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, sinful man can be reconciled to God. This saving grace is masterfully articulated by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8. My understanding of the Gospel is that man is saved by grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ. I believe that because of sin, man can never meet God’s standard of perfection and is spiritually dead apart from Christ (Ephesians 4:18). I believe that God must take the initiative in salvation in order for someone to enter into a relationship with Him. This is accomplished through the saving faith that God gives. I believe in God’s sovereign choice (Romans 9) in salvation but recognize God’s desired will that all come to salvation (John 3:16).

The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus lived a life of perfect righteousness and obedience to the Father. Stunningly, He did not do this for Himself but for His people. Christ has done for me what I could not possibly do for myself. He lived a life of perfect obedience, offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice to satisfy the just wrath of God. What amazing, underserving grace! Ever since receiving this precious gift of salvation, God has stirred within me a strong desire and calling to serve Him in ministry and steward the gifts He has blessed me with.

I desire to humbly lead people in worship through song that is both theologically sound and musically excellent, desiring to display worship as a lifestyle of praising God for who He is and what He has accomplished. Worship is ascribing to God the glory He deserves. Psalm 29:2 states, “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.” I believe that everyone is a worshiper. We can either choose to worship the true God of the universe or something He created. Harold Best says, “We are created worshiping. We naturally gravitate towards what we value and we ascribe worth to those things, whether it is God or something else.” I desire for people to see that all of life is worship as stated in Romans 12:1-2: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Worship is all of our life. Worship is the rhythm of God’s revelation and our response to it.

God redeemed us to worship Him privately, but also corporately. We are called to gather together as the body of Christ, encouraging one another and edifying one another in the faith. Emerging from the New Testament are six truths about corporate worship. They are: reading of the Word, preaching the Word, praying the Word, singing the Word, regularly observing the ordinances, and regularly giving to the work of the Lord. I am passionate about pointing others to Christ through singing the Word. Colossians 3:16-17 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Believers should pursue excellence in worship, and sing songs that present sound doctrine, and encourage appropriate emotion for the glory of God. The primary objective of those who lead worship must be to point congregants to worship God. Ministry leaders are putting words into the congregation’s mouth and shaping their view of God. This a weighty responsibility, and our liturgy should be based on the Gospel in response to God’s revelation. Scripture is authoritative. The Word of God alone provides the transformative power for Christlikeness in the lives of God’s people. The Bible as a whole moves in a large cycle revealing God first as transcendent and then as immanent. This rhythm—the rhythm of transcendence and then immanence—is the context through which Scripture reveals God and the way people in the Bible meet with God in personal or corporate worship settings. Worship services should be designed to re-tell the story of the Gospel.

Lastly, the greatest need of worship leaders is personal holiness. We can only minister out of the overflow of our own lives. Worship is a matter of the heart. We cannot deceive ourselves by hiding sin, or being like the Pharisees in the Bible. John 15:4-5 says, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me…Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” We can do nothing apart from Christ. He is the One who regenerates, convicts, encourages, and changes hearts. Our intellect, abilities, gifts, and experiences, though helpful, do not produce fruit. Only He can. Nothing is more essential to our effectiveness in ministry than personal holiness. We need to depend on the Lord, live in His grace, passionately pursue His truth, and labor for His glory. God calls us to be faithful in everything we do, relying on His grace and strength. We must serve as servant-leaders, emulating Christ’s love for His children in our approach, methodology, and convictions related to worship, striving with all our might to point people back to our gracious, loving, and worthy God.

Gospel Fidelity and Children’s Worship Ministry

“Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so…” Even to this day at age twenty-seven, I know all the lyrics to this song and multiple other children’s songs by heart. Who can’t remember singing these songs when they were children? Children soak up everything around them, including words articulated and behaviors displayed. Growing up, the children’s ministry at my church was not very strong. The teachers were faithful to God’s Word, but the songs were theologically light. But regardless of their depth or lack thereof, I remember the tunes and lyrics to many of these songs.

It wasn’t until later that I realized the importance of teaching the meaning of worship to children. In Christianity, the gospel is of primary importance. Therefore, music should be alive with biblical truth. Children’s music is no exception. Through Christ-centered songs and passionate gospel-centered leadership through the power of the Spirit, children will see the glory of God. Hugh T. McElrath explains, “Singing is the most practical theology taught.” Christian ministries and parents must realize this. If we want to teach children the true character of God, we should take advantage of every opportunity. Straightforwardly, worship is an underappreciated opportunity to inform children’s consciences, imaginations, and how they conceive of God.

Children and Their View of God

There is a direct connection between how we view someone and how we treat someone. When we have an accurate view of who we are speaking to, it will affect the manner by which we speak to them. It is the same way with God. If we want to find more enjoyment in him, revere him more, and worship him sincerely, we must try to understand his true character. Simply put, we must raise our view of God. A.W. Tozer said that what comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. We must disciple the next generation to view God highly and have a right view of him to the praise of his glory.

As ministries like Sojourn Kids and Sovereign Grace Kids have demonstrated, it is crucial that the children’s songs we write are biblically accurate, gospel-centered, accessible, musically excellent, diverse, and fun. We should write and choose songs that are simple and clear as they declare the truths of God and point children’s hearts to Christ. It is easy to focus children’s songs on things that are peripheral and relatively unimportant to the Christian faith. However, ministry leaders ought to keep the focus on Christ and the gospel in all aspects of ministry, especially children’s worship which has the unique ability to inform the imaginations of our youngsters. The Bible is about the revelation of God and what he has done that propels us to turn from sin and trust in Jesus, living a life in a manner that is worthy of the gospel. We know the gospel shares how God loves his children and has come to rescue them and as believers in Christ, and we’ve experienced the unfathomable, unceasing, and unconditional love God has for his children. This gospel is the power of God and is what saves us, so why would we sing about anything else? We must teach children to sing these truths so that they ring in their ears and, by the power of the Spirit, take root in their hearts.

As we teach our children, our desire should be for children to be captivated by the glory of God through the gospel. Martin Lloyd-Jones cautions: “We must be careful that we do not modify the gospel to suit various age groups. There is no such thing as a special gospel for the young, a special gospel for the middle-aged, and a special gospel for the age. There is only one gospel, and we must always be careful not to tamper and tinker with the gospel as a result of recognizing these age distinctions. At the same time, there is a difference in applying this one and only gospel to the different age groups; but it is a difference which has reference only to method and procedure.”[1]

The Gospel and Memorable Songs

Just like adults, children should be compelled to see the greatness of God through song – elevating their view of him – along with recognizing their own sinfulness through confession. In light of God’s holiness, children can see their own sinfulness and their need for Christ as Savior and, by the power of the Spirit, they will be driven to their knees in repentance before God. Songs should point them to Christ and all that he has done, so that children will marvel at God’s overwhelming grace. Children should sing songs in which they can confess their faith in Christ and be comforted that he will return and redeem this fallen world.

These matters cannot be taken lightly, but through prayer and much thought, we should pursue music in children’s ministry with excellence because it reflects God’s excellence in his creation. However, we must also keep our audience in mind and consider accessibility and the “fun factor” because children should sing with joy. After all, the psalmist says clap your hands and shout for joy (Ps 47:1).

Labor Faithfully

Lastly, I want to encourage all leaders involved in children’s ministry with the following reminder from Scripture: “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Gal 6:9). Being a part of children’s ministry takes faith because you likely won’t see fruit right away. It is also humbling because you most often don’t see the fruit of your labor as children come and go in the ministry. John Piper reminder is appropriate: “The Lord measures the faithfulness of our labor, not our success.” Honestly, it is not easy to do children’s ministry, even in churches where children’s discipleship is rightly prioritized. Unfortunately, Christians today are not very different from the disciples of Christ, who pushed kids into the background because children didn’t seem as important. Against this temptation we need to advocate for the importance of children and discipling them in the Word of God. Jesus’ view of children is instructive: he invites them to come to him. In a culture that spurns the vulnerable, we need to be faithful, tending to those for whom Jesus interrupts everything else. Many times you won’t see the results of your labors in this lifetime. We forget in the busyness of the day-to-day planting and watering of seeds that God causes them to grow (1 Cor 3:6-9). We can do nothing apart from Christ (John 15:5). Be faithful in loving the children in your ministry, be faithful to God’s Word, pray for those in your children’s ministry, point them to Christ and the gospel, and trust on God alone to work in the hearts of all his children.

[1] David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Knowing the Times: Addresses Delivered on Various Occasions 1942-1977 (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2013), 2.

 

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Cherishing Christ Through Cancer

There are journeys in life that mark you; experiences that forever alter your perspective on life and inform the way you view the world. For me, one of these occurred just over two years ago.

It was a cold, wintry January evening and I was driving to Norton Children’s Hospital for my night shift in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU).  Ever since becoming a pediatric nurse I’ve tried to take time on my way into work to pray before my shift.  In truth, I never know what kind of tragedy I’ll be dealing with or what kind of patient I’ll be taking care of.  I try to always go into work acknowledging my weakness before the Lord in prayer, expressing my need for God’s strength and wisdom as I handle situations that are stressful, challenging and heartbreaking.  In the PICU, we see everything including, children suffering with respiratory viruses, trauma situations, car accidents, cancer, and those recovering from all kinds of surgeries. I didn’t know what to expect that particular night but I asked God for strength and His grace to minister through me to the patients and their families that I would be caring for.

Shortly after clocking-in, the day nurse informed me that my primary assignment for the night was to provide care for a young boy who had just been transferred to us from surgery. I admit I was slightly apprehensive when I learned that the patient had stage 4 brain cancer. I would be responsible for monitoring him throughout the night and making sure that there were no complications as a result of the surgery.  This was a weighty assignment, but I trusted the Lord to give me wisdom and strength to provide the necessary care.

I didn’t know it during that first night, but as I watched this brave 13-year-old fight for his life, I was embarking on a journey of faith with this young boy and his family that would change my life forever. As one of his nurses, I walked with him over the course of the next year through further surgeries, increasing medication, and radiation. What I witnessed during this journey—courage in spite of adversity, faith despite a terminal diagnosis, and love through the ravages of cancer—is something I will never forget.

In January 2015, 13-year-old Philip Parks was diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer.  The diagnosis shocked his family. Little Phil was a healthy young boy. However, he started having continuous headaches which lasted for two weeks. After visiting his doctor, he was quickly diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer. His mother Lydia, and the family were devastated. However, she trusted God as she went about doing everything she could to fight for her son’s life.  The next 14 months were filled with hospital visits, research, surgeries and even an extended stay in Israel to see a specialist in immunotherapy.  I took care of Phil in the PICU after almost every brain surgery he had.  Without even trying to arrange my schedule to accommodate his surgeries, God always saw fit to have me scheduled on the days he would have surgery.  I realized that these were all divine appointments to be invested in this dear family’s life. I remember our first few conversations and how Phil and I stayed up all night talking. On one occasion, after asking lots of questions, and sharing testimonies, I looked into Phil’s eyes, and saw them slowly water up. He blinked hard to keep the tears from falling.  Slowly his bright smile turned into a frown, and he looked down.  He began crying and said, “I don’t understand why God has given me cancer.”  My heart broke.  As his tears began flowing, all I could do was cry and pray with him.  If only I could explain all that I felt that night.

Throughout all the surgeries and through all the pain, Phil always acknowledged his real feelings of sadness, doubt, and anger, but would always go back to the truths of God’s Word.  He was only 13 years old but he still trusted God above all! He knew that God was good and that God loved him. He knew that God loved him so much that He sent His Son, Jesus, to die on a cross for his sins. Phil knew this and treasured these truths.

What’s amazing, is that despite the torture of cancer, Phil would always ask how I was doing, or how the patient next to him was feeling.  He was always others-focused, wanting to serve and bless others despite however sick he was feeling. I remember once that as the surgeons were rolling little Phil into the PICU one night after his second or third brain surgery, the first thing he said to me when he saw me waiting in front of his room was, “Oksana! How are you doing?” I know he was in pain! Can you imagine? Brain surgery again!? What was his response? He smiled. He asked me how I was doing.  What an example.

I miss Phil. I miss him a lot. During his yearlong battle with cancer, I saw this young boy ask God the hard questions, while nevertheless maintaining a trusting attitude through it all.  Some of his last words to me were, “I’m not afraid to die anymore. I’ll be with Jesus.”  I will never forget the last time I saw him, a few days before he passed a year ago last April.  He was in a coma lying in the hospital bed, and as I sat next to him holding his hand, all I could was cry and sing to him the hymn, “Be still my soul.”

Be still, my soul, the hour is hastening on.

When we shall be forever with the Lord.

When disappointment, grief and fear are gone.

Sorrow forgot, Love’s purest joys restored.

Be still, my soul, when change and tears are past.

All safe and blessed, we shall meet at last.

He never woke up…He went home to be with the Lord a few days later…And then I will NEVER forget singing with Doxology at his funeral, this same hymn…I couldn’t hold back any tears, tears of sadness and tears of joy…

Cancer changes your perspective on life.  Each day is a gift from God; you never know when it will be your last.  Life is truly just a breath; it’s a vapor that is here today and gone tomorrow.  Little Phil’s greatest comfort was his belief that God loved him. Even in his waning moments he held on to this hope tightly, believing that Christ had saved him and would take care of his parents in his absence. Phil’s hope was in Christ alone, in His forgiveness and His resurrection. This is the hope of every Christian who has put their faith and trust in Christ. Our hope is that; we will be united with Him forever.  One day God will wipe away all our tears, and there will be no more sorrow, mourning, crying or pain (Revelation 21:4)  Little Phil is in that place, and I can’t wait to one day join him in our heavenly home with the Lord!

John Piper once said, “Cancer does not win if you die. It wins if you fail to cherish Christ.”  Little Phil cherished Christ.  Because of this, he will never be forgotten.  If you are going through a really hard trial may I encourage you with the truth that everything God ordains in our life is for our good, and His glory.  We may not understand what God is doing, but our pain is never wasted.  Christ will complete His work in you.  He is making you more like His Son, Jesus Christ.  Trust Him, and fight for joy.  The Bible says that we are surrounded by “so great a cloud of witnesses” as we run through this journey of life (Heb. 12:1).  Through Him who strengths us, let’s run this race with endurance, looking to Jesus, the author and founder of our faith. Through your trial right now, will you cherish Christ?  Little Phil did and he’s now cheering you on as you likewise cherish his Savior.

 

 

 

 

 

Our Hope in Christ during the Holidays

Christmas is one of the most exciting times of the year.  Family reunions, celebrations, gifts, lights, singing Christmas carols, watching TV classics, and festivities are all around! It’s a time we remember the birth of Christ and rejoice in the fact that God made a way for sinners to be reconciled to Himself through the coming of Christ.  We celebrate the fact that salvation is by grace in Christ alone! During this season we are reminded that it’s better to give than to receive.  We realize we don’t deserve anything in this life, but God in His goodness has given us so many good gifts.  It’s tempting to think we may need so many different things in this life, but God has addressed our greatest need of forgiveness of our sins through Christ Jesus.  Christmas is actually not about us at all.  Christmas reminds us how fallen this world is, and how much we need Christ.  Christmas makes us joyfully anticipate His return to make all things right again!

Along with celebration, the holidays can also be a really hard season for many.  This particular season has been very difficult for me along with others I know.  There are those who are experiencing their first Christmas without a loved one.  Some are entering the season with loss or the disappointment of an ended relationship.  This may be a season of constant worry and anxiety about the unknowns of the future.  This may be a season of just much pain and hurt.  Or this could be a season where you are watching a close friend or family member go through these trials.  We are called to carry the burdens of our friends, so you may be the only support someone has in their life right now. Personally speaking, I have friends who tragically lost a loved one, some who are experiencing lost relationships, anxiety, depression, divorce and a broken heart, difficult marriages, and illnesses.  I’ll be honest, Christ calls us for difficult work. Is this a difficult season for you personally right now? Are you carrying a difficult load personally this Christmas or sharing the load of a friend? I hope you find strength and encouragement to continue your perseverance and recognize your need for Christ. Yes, “Come Lord Jesus.”

One hymn that’s been on my heart this Christmas season is “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus”.  It’s a beautiful hymn for Advent that expresses the purposes of the Advent season.  We remember the birth of Christ and also powerfully desire His coming again.  We know this world is fallen and dark, but Christ is our hope.  “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).  We can rejoice in that despite our circumstances.  His promises are true despite what we may be feeling or how circumstances appear.  Christ is the One who was born to set us free from our fears and sin.  Let us truly find our rest in thee.  

Come, thou long expected Jesus,

born to set thy people free;

from our fears and sins release us,

let us find our rest in thee.

Israel’s strength and consolation,

hope of all the earth thou art;

dear desire of every nation,

joy of every longing heart.

 

Born thy people to deliver,

born a child and yet a King,

born to reign in us forever,

now thy gracious kingdom bring.

By thine own eternal spirit

rule in all our hearts alone;

by thine all sufficient merit,

raise us to thy glorious throne.

Tim Keller in his new book, Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the the Birth of Christ, writes, “Christmas means not just hope for the world, despite all its unending problems, but hope for you and me, despite all our unending failings.” Let that really sink in…How amazing! Praise Him for His grace!!!

May this Christmas season we rejoice knowing there is hope in Christ. Let’s love on those who are hurting, showing them the light of Christ through our words and deeds.  O come let us adore Him!

 

 

Comparison vs. Contentment

Pride…Envy…Bitterness…Self-loathing…Self-pity…Covetousness…Jealousy…These are just some of the sins that come with the heavy baggage of comparison.  This has been weighing on my heart this past month.  In the past two weeks alone, 3 sermons at church and at my school chapel have been on the topic of contentment in Christ alone.  The Lord has had so much to say about this topic, and has encouraged me and convicted my own heart at the same time.

I know contentment is difficult for all of us to embrace in our different seasons of life, but simply because of having talked to more women this past month about this as opposed to men, I’ve realized how much of a real struggle it is for us females. So although the issue is relevant to all of us, the following questions are directed toward my sisters in Christ.  Ladies, how often do you compare your looks to those of another woman?  You may even start to envy her beauty and lose sight of how wonderfully and fearfully the Lord created you.  Ladies, how often do you compare your spiritual walk to that of someone else’s? Do you find yourself envious of their godliness and lose sight of the personal race you are running?  Ladies, how often do you hold bitterness in your heart when someone else’s ministry seems to show more success than yours?  Ladies, how often do you bury yourself in self-pity when going through difficult circumstances or hardships, while watching a friend enjoy a joyous season of life?  We compare often and it’s DEADLY!

This example at Passion one year that I went has stuck with me ever since Christine Caine (founder of A21 campaign) spoke. She said that so often we want a formula of how to be like someone, or how to be successful in ministry, in church life, in parenting, in marriage, etc. Some people have asked her how she got to be where she is today.   Some people say they want to be the next Christine Caine, speaking at large conferences, having a big public ministry, doing great big things for God. And Christine would say, “That’s awesome. But you would have had to be born in a hospital in Australia, abandoned in that hospital by your mother. Then you would have had to be sexually abused for 12 years in Australia. Then you would have had to grow up in the poorest local government area in Australia. Then you would have had to make a whole bunch of mistakes and develop incredible patterns of destructive behavior.   Then you would have had to walk into a church 25 years ago on Sunday and gotten saved. Then you would have had to work in a youth center for the next 7 years and then run a youth movement in Australia for the next 7 years. Then you would have had to become the Hillsong network leader for the next 7 years, then plant some churches in Europe. Then you would have had to be walking in an airport in Greece in 2007 and seen some posters that broke your heart about the tragedy of sex-trafficking then would’ve started A21, and then would’ve been in 10 countries. And yeah that’s all you have to do to be Christine Caine. It just takes 48 years. Why I’m saying this is because our logic is ridiculous! We want a formula of success rather than the challenge of wrestling with the Holy Spirit to discover what the new thing is now so that we can do what God has called us to do. There is no formula. We need to get behind what God is already doing. We need to stop comparing and competing! I just want Christ’s image forged in me; in whatever profession that is, whatever season I’m in, whatever you’ve called me to do.” God is working through every person’s life entirely different for His glory. Every person’s testimony is unique. May we embrace how the Lord is sanctifying us particularly and focus on running the race for His glory instead of being distracted in sin and comparing ourselves to others.

 

John 21:15-23 says, “15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ 16 He said to him a second time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ 17 He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ and he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep. 18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.’ 19 (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’  20 Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, ‘Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?’ 21 When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, what about this man?’ 22 Jesus said to him, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? YOU FOLLOW ME!’”

 

God has a great purpose for each Christian, but we won’t realize it until we stop being busy comparing our lives to those of other people! God’s plans for others should not concern you, just like in this passage where God’s plans for His disciple John shouldn’t have been a concern for Peter.  Christ clearly says to Peter, “You follow me.” And don’t worry about what my plans are for others.  Our focus and our gaze should thus be on Christ alone.  The cross-bearing life is always worked out differently in God’s children.  As one pastor stated this Sunday, “There’s no cookie cutter discipleship; God deals individually and personally with each person.”  Just because you are suffering or may not feel successful in ministry, as your neighbor may be, doesn’t mean God loves you any less.  Rest in His Sovereignty.  This truth should put worship back into our souls.  God is doing a personal work in every Christian’s life, in mine and in yours.  Life is not about how many likes we get on Facebook or how many Twitter or Instagram followers we have.  Christ says, “You (insert your name), follow me.”  John the Baptist said, “He must increase, but I must decrease!” May we be humbled by God.  Learning your capacities and contentment is the path to joy.  Run your race with the promised grace that will sustain you until the end, gazing your eyes upon Jesus.