Skillful at Work; Useful to God

My mother has not walked in over a year. She has been in a wheelchair, the victim of severe arthritis and a fall that broke her hip. The pain was so persistent and severe she could not sleep at night, and over the last week she told me three times she just wanted to die.

The orthopedic surgeon in Indiana told her there was nothing he could do for her. She would not walk again, and her pain would only get worse.

But on Tuesday, I watched her take her first steps in more than a year, and by Wednesday, the pain-inspired frowns and forced smiles she had worn for the past year had been replaced with a joyful smile, and the ebullient attitude of one who had begun to live again. This transformation happened because an orthopedic surgeon in Houston, Texas was skilled enough to do what many other good orthopedic surgeons could not—perform hip replacement surgery on an 86 year old with a fused, severely arthritic hip.

Ezra returned with a group of Jewish exiles from Babylon to Jerusalem under the imprimatur of Persian king, Artaxerxes, where God would use him to restore the Jewish religion in Judah. While Artaxerxes gave Ezra permission to lead, the Bible makes it clear the Lord was behind it and that He chose Ezra “For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the Lord, and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel.” Ezra 7:9-10. In other words, the Lord chose to work through Ezra because Ezra had developed the skills necessary to make himself useful to God.

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A Curious Common Denominator of Great Men

I read a lot of biographies. I’ve been particularly interested in the lives of Kingdom heroes who have changed to world, and as I’ve studied those lives, I have noticed that many of them have suffered a similar traumatic event before ultimately fulfilling God’s call on their lives, and that event is exile.

Moses was effectively exiled to Midian for forty years before the Lord spoke to him from the burning bush and sent him back to Egypt to be the leader and deliverer God called him to be.

David was exiled from Israel and the court of Saul into the desert where he spent years running from Saul until he returned to be king.

After his conversion on the road to Damascus, the Apostle Paul spent 14 years in the desert before returning to become the greatest church planter the world has ever known.

St. Patrick was exiled from England when slave traders kidnapped him and took him to Ireland , where he found God and his calling to be God’s missionary to Ireland.

John Wycliffe was exiled from Oxford, leading him to pastor the small church in Lutterworth, England for the last ten years of his life, where he would finally have time to translate the Bible from Latin into English.

Martin Luther was exiled by Frederich III to Wartburg Castle for about two years where he translated the Bible from Latin into German.

John Calvin had to flee his home in Paris for Switzerland during the Reformation to keep from being arrested, during which time he wrote the first edition of his Institutes of Christian Religion.

John Knox was captured by the French Catholics and held captive in a French Galley for 18 months as a slave and then ultimately fled to Geneva, where he was mentored by John Calvin before returning to become the great reformer of Scotland.

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Some Thoughts on the New Year

Each year, I try to set goals for the new year. It’s a good practice, and when I set those goals prayerfully I have that extra assurance and motivation that those goals should and can be achieved. Without being intentional, we become subject to all the random forces around us. Our lives become a crap shoot.

But even when we are intentional, the randomness of life can overtake us to the point we feel like the ship being driven by the wind and waves while we hold on for dear life. 2021 was such a year for me.

I travelled repeatedly across the country to help my parents move out of their home of twenty years into an assisted living facility, while my father was slowing slipping out of this world into the next. When he passed away in July, and I was planning his funeral, and dealing with the grief, I was diagnosed with a health problem of my own. Then in September, while on vacation–our first in two years because of the pandemic–I developed another unrelated health problem, that led to new tests, concerns, and more doctor appointments.

We looked forward to a good holiday season and had scheduled hip replacement surgery for my 86 year old mother with the hope she would be able to walk again, but two days before she was to travel here for the surgery, the results of a cardiology test showed a heart problem which required a catheterization procedure and postponement of the hip replacement.

About the same time we were learning about my mother, my brother was hospitalized with COVID-19. A few days later, he was moved into the ICU, and it wasn’t clear if he would survive. Fortunately, by the mercy of God, he turned the corner on Christmas Day, and while he is still in the hospital he appears to be on the road to recovery.

Then, my cousin died of lymphoma on December 30, 2021. He had not told anyone but immediate family about his illness, so we were shocked when we heard he had died.

All the events I just described largely defined my year, and yet, I had nothing to do with their occurrence. All, I could do was respond to them, while at the same time continuing to seek God, doing my work, discipling others, and pursuing the goals He gave me at the beginning of the year.

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Great Awakening Travel Journal-Day 3

Today we visited Concord and Lexington, Massachusetts, suburbs of Boston where the American Revolutionary War began. Ann is a bit of a revolutionary, which I think also fuels her Reformation spirit and anti-popery, and The Wife has always considered rules mere suggestions. So, it shouldn’t surprise you that the visit to Concord and Lexington was orchestrated by them.

I went along, but only after finding some eyewitness testimony to the Great Awakening in Concord. This took the form of an anonymous letter written to a minister in 1742, which is part of Jonas Bowen Clarke’s Collection of Papers at the Congregational Library in Boston. I wisely kept the content of the letter to myself until lunch, after The Wife and Ann had fully exercised their revolutionary impulses and were ready to get back to our trip’s theme.

On the drive to Lexington and Concord, I couldn’t help but try to provoke Ann and The Wife by asking if they thought a disagreement over taxation (i.e. taxation without representation) was a valid reason for revolting against authority.

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What I Learned In The Desert—2

desertLast year I came out of a desert experience, which I described in a previous post.

Here are the three things I learned.

1.  “Focus on completion, not perfection.” This is what I heard in prayer one day, and it was  a major breakthrough for me.

I’m a detail-oriented perfectionist, which is great when you have plenty of time, but the more successful one becomes, the busier one will become, and I came to the point where my desire for perfection met the limits of my time. This phrase I heard in prayer resonated in me in part because I believe it was customized for me, which is the beauty of the insight one gets in prayer because it comes from the One who knows you the best. After hearing this, I began to focus on getting things done instead of getting them perfect. Some things need to be perfect; some things just need to get done, but if you are a perfectionist, reversing the default from perfection to completion is liberating. Continue reading “What I Learned In The Desert—2”