Saturday, December 25, 2010

Hope During the Holidays

While most of the country has spent the last month in a frenzy of holiday shopping, baking and decorating, we sometimes forget those experiencing pain during this season. Earlier this month I read a lady's blog that chronicles her years of struggle with infertility. She confided with her readers that while she receives countless Christmas pictures in the mail of her friends' cute kiddos, the holidays are very sad for her. Longing for a child of her own she has renamed Christmas a "helliday", instead of a holiday.

As a mother, and a woman with my own history of infertility and miscarriages, I hurt for this young woman. I know the pain she feels during this season. Yet there were some aspects of her struggle that I cannot relate to. During my years of infertility, I experienced hope; not a hope of having children one day, but a hope that Jesus would give me joy despite my circumstances. Hope that I would enjoy peace in life whether I had another child or not. Hope that no matter what trials I faced here on earth, eternal life with Jesus would far outweigh it all. And Christmas was always a joyous time, not a "helliday". Why? Because Christmas was about CHRIST, not me.

As I think of this holiday season, my heart goes out to friends and loved ones facing trials even now:

* My aunt and cousins who lost their dear 43-year-old son and brother this summer
* My cousin who lost her mother unexpectedly after Thanksgiving some years ago
* My father-in-law whose mother (and my husband's grandmother) just passed 
* Two sister-friends who recently suffered miscarriages
* The single mama holding it down, loving her children and the Lord with all her might
* The wives, children, parents and siblings of fallen U.S. soldiers on foreign soil

And there are many others bearing heartaches this Christmas. You may be one of them. Please know that above all, God loves you passionately, dearly and immeasurably. He came to earth as a little baby, suffered physical and emotional pain and died on a cross for you and me. Trust me -- He understands pain. He understands your pain. And He won't waste it. He'll use it to draw you to Him, grow you up in Him, make you more like Him. Romans 8:18 says "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us."

I pray you find rest during this sacred season and wholly depend on Jesus through it. I've written a short poem to celebrate this beautiful Christmas evening...

Love,

Carla



'Twas the Night of Christmas

'Twas the night of Christmas, when all through the house,
Every creature was thankful for his or her loved ones, friends and spouse.
The gifts were displayed under the tree with care,
In hopes that Christmas joy would always be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of the Christ-child danced in their heads;
Meanwhile my husband and I reminisced about Christmas day,
The joy of Jesus' coming chasing our sorrows away.

May you too enjoy the love of Jesus tonight,
And I pray that His joy would overcome your worst plight.
Tonight I exclaim with all of my might,
"Trust in Him! He is the Way, the Truth and the Life!"


Sunday, December 5, 2010

Joys and Pains of the Ministry Life: Part III

This is the last post in my series examining the challenges of life in the ministry, although I may revisit this topic sometime in the future. This series has apparently blessed many of you. Some of you are pastor's wives, some of you lead ministries in your local church, some of you serve para-church ministries, and all of you are fellow Christians at various churches around the country. My prayer has been that you would be encouraged in whatever work the Lord has called you to.

I cannot continue writing without thanking you for reading and supporting my blog. The feedback you have given me -- through blog comments, facebook messages and emails -- have encouraged me to press on with my writings.  One brother sent a message to my husband about my blog that lifted my spirits on the very day that I needed it. I had been wondering to myself, "Is anyone even reading this anymore?" Well, the Lord answered that question through that brother. I appreciate all of you for cheering me on. Please continue to read and share my blog site with anyone that would be blessed by my posts, including those who have yet to place their faith in Christ.

So, moving on to our last challenge...

Challenge #3: Being Put on the Front Lines of God's Army


When I thought of how to wrap up this series, my mind continually turned to the issue of spiritual warfare. Wikipedia defines spiritual warfare as "the Christian concept that the Devil and demons attempt to thwart Good and the will of God." Now I ain't come here to preach y'all, but believe me, spiritual warfare is real, whether we believe in it or not.

One of the most difficult things about ministry -- and the Christian life, for that matter -- is this persistent presence of warfare. Like the cloud of dirt that follows Pig-Pen from the Peanuts cartoon, this warfare becomes a constant unwanted companion, especially for those in ministry. And why is that when we are most God-focused and committed to our spiritual disciplines (like reading our Bibles and consistent, fervent prayer), do we find spiritual warfare most prevalent in our lives?



Take the following examples from my life:

* When Anthony and I first married, we were elated about our new life together as husband and wife. We knew God had so much in store for us, and eventually the children that would come from our union. Unfortunately our first year was also the hardest year of our marriage as we struggled with unrealistic expectations, disagreements and disappointments. There were days we felt like we were swimming upstream, against the current of life. There were nights when we both sensed an evil presence in our bedroom. I wholeheartedly believe that we were fighting against demons that were working feverishly to break us apart. Married people, remember that your spouse is not the real enemy. Your boss, your coworkers, and your ministry partners are not your enemies. Ephesians 6:12 says, "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the power of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."

* When Anthony began full-time ministry, some of our most tense times were immediately before Bible study, small group ministry, prayer meetings or church services. There have been many Sundays when at least one of my children, or maybe two or three of them, have undeniably lost their minds. The first service that Anthony preached at the Little Rock campus of Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas, I was a total wreck for the first fifteen minutes of church. I had left on time for church, but managed to get lost using a GPS. Come to find out, the church is located on a street that has been recently renamed. So why didn't someone send the memo to my Garmin GPS?

* When Anthony and I moved to Arkansas this past summer to join the pastoral staff of Mosaic, I was excited that God had called us to serve this wonderful multi-ethnic ministry. However, at the same time I was overtaken by fear, doubt and insecurity. Even though some of my struggle came from the natural need for security for a woman that had relocated twice in twelve months, I know that a portion of my fear root was spiritual as well.

While each of these examples is layered with intricacies: human limitations, sinful natures, and our wills warring against ourselves and others, I know that a common denominator for each is spiritual warfare. The enemy didn't want Anthony and I to remain married. He doesn't want him working full time for a ministry that invites people of every race and tribe and tongue to worship together. He doesn't want me to experience joy as the wife of a pastor. And he doesn't want me to experience the abundant life that God has promised His children.

Guess what? He doesn't want the same for you either.

God's Grace for the Challenge of Spiritual Warfare:

Ephesians 6, verses 10-18 lists God's weapons for spiritual warfare. I encourage you to read through that passage and meditate on the grace and power God has given us to fight our real enemy. But I want to focus on two particular weapons. The "sword of the Spirit", which is the Word of God, is our only offensive weapon. Brothers and Sisters, we've got to stay in the Word to fight our enemy. We've got to stay in the Word to fight our own wills even.

Brothers and sisters, let's purpose to fight together, side by side.

Fighting with you,

Carla