My wife Nicole is ridiculously talented artistically. And whereas most artists’ talents are
restricted to one or two mediums, Nicole’s abilities know no bounds. In fact, she loves finding something that is completely new to her and figuring out how to do it.
We all possess something that no one else does. It is a big part of what makes us unique. Whatever that gift is, whether it is a physical possession, a talent that is exceptional, or a personality characteristic that makes us stand out, we basically have two options of what we can do with it.
The first option is that we can use that gift to set us apart from others as someone to be admired or envied. When we do this, odds are, we will have a few people who we call “friends”. They will tend to be others with some exceptional gift (perhaps similar to ours, but not necessarily so) and our common bond will be our exceptionalism.
This approach isolates and creates a context from which the “gifted” look down on the plebeians as people who possess less value. One great risk of taking this route is that the second your “gift” is gone, those you once thought were friends will immediately cast you out among the commoners you looked down upon. That means that at the very moment you need your “friends” the most, they will completely abandon you.
Then there is a second option. Rather than using that with which you were blessed to bolster your personal image, you instead use it primarily as a means of blessing others. One is not likely to reach this conclusion from outside of a Judaeo Christian worldview which teaches that “Every good and perfect gift comes from above….” (James 1:17) From that perspective, we have been entrusted with our gifts and since the ultimate source is God, we have no right to feel arrogant about it.
This approach, you will quickly find, produces some amazing results.
People who live like this are magnetic. They
bring people together and something more akin to community takes place, rather than the isolation created by Option A. Secondly, and perhaps even more amazing than the first, you will discover that you actually get more enjoyment out of your gift when you allow others to enjoy it with you. There is a reason we try so hard to teach our children to share when they are young, and that is because it is genuinely Good.When you do Good things with your gifts, is it any surprise that Good things happen?
Nicole could very easily use her gifts to look down on others as less talented than she is, because quite frankly almost everyone is less artistically talented than she is. But the thing is, she doesn’t. Instead of viewing life through the prism of her gifts, she views her gifts through the prism of her Christian life. As a result, her gifts give her an amazing opportunity to bless others in her own unique way.
And bless she does!
How can you use your unique gifts to be a blessing to others?
*This is merely one application of this verse, and I first thought of the principle then the verse, rather than reaching the principle from the verse via exegesis.
His name was David. I didn’t know it at the time, and truth be told I didn’t want to know it. I just wanted to grab a couple of energy drinks at the gas station and see if there were any new movies at Redbox that Nicole and I could watch over the weekend.
“Avoid eye contact” is kind of the rule of thumb with homeless people. If you don’t, he is likely to engage you, and that can get pretty uncomfortable.
There was a man sitting with his back against the window right next to the Redbox kiosk, and I intended to avoid him if possible. But sometimes, His plans are a little different than mine.
If you are married or have a significant other, then you are definitely familiar with the
“elbow nudge”. For example, you’re talking to someone you know, but your spouse doesn’t, and there it is – nudge, nudge. Dangit! I forgot to introduce her!
You are talking to her parents and crack an inappropriate joke (I have of course never done this). Nudge-nudge!! This one borders on painful. You know exactly what’s going through her mind. “What the heck are you thinking?!”
You always know what the nudge means, based on the context in which you receive the nudge.
That’s how it often is when the Lord wants me to do something. I might be at a restaurant with Nicole and I look over at a family that has young kids. They are obviously not doing well financially and are sharing a couple of meals between all five of them. Nudge-nudge. “Cover their meal. And while you’re at it, throw in a Cookie Monster desert for each of the kids. Oh, and by the way, make sure the waiter doesn’t let them know who did it.”
I am at a toll booth. Nudge-nudge. “Pay for the next car. You don’t know who it is, but I do. It will be more encouraging to them than you can imagine.”
I am talking with someone I barely know and he is telling me about some challenging issues he is currently facing. Nudge-nudge. “You need to pray for this man…out loud.”
I don’t know. Sometimes praying for someone else, out loud, is pretty awkward. I’ll just pray for him when I get home.
Well, there I was walking up to check out the Redbox movies and wouldn’t you know…nudge-nudge.
I tried to convince myself that it was the wind, or something else so I could ignore it.
Alright, I give!
I stopped resisting and simply said, “Hello. How are you?”
He paused and said he was doing okay. He didn’t ask for money, which I was anticipating. He just said he was trying to get moving on.
“Where do you want to go?” I asked.
He said he ultimately wanted to head towards Tulsa, but mentioned a McDonald’s next to a major truck stop on I-44. He figured that if he could get there, he could hitch a ride the rest of the way with a trucker.
Maybe you don’t know what it’s like to be “nudged” (or whatever you want to call it), but I know some people do. Either way, I knew what I was supposed to do. I am yet to regret obeying the nudge, but I have ignored it. Every time I ignore it, I wish I hadn’t.
“I’ll give you a ride.” I said, knowing it was a few miles out of my way.
He was very appreciative and climbed into the passenger seat of my Yukon. I don’t think I found a good movie and I can’t remember any cans of Monster rolling around in the back seat. However, I do remember him, and that’s a good sign of what was most important that evening.
We pulled out of the gas station, then took a right onto the on-ramp to I-44.
I love getting to know people and everybody likes to talk about themselves, so I simply asked him some questions. He talked about his transient life, the many places he’d been, and mentioned that he was a very good roofer…at least five times.
We neared the exit, went up the ramp and suddenly he said, “Slow down.” There was a girl on the side of the road holding a sign. David reached into his pocket and pulled out a huge wad of bills.
“Roll your window down, please.”
I did as I was asked and he handed her a few dollars.
“You don’t fly a sign unless things are really bad,” he said.
“Really bad?” I thought to myself. “You’re hanging out at a gas station, hoping to eventually hitch a ride to another state for no good reason. Everything in this world that you own you are currently wearing or it is in your pockets, and that’s not really bad?!”
I had been introduced to a homeless hierarchy of misfortune of which I was totally unaware, and I wasn’t sure what to do with it. David had been in the same situation as that young lady, so he could empathize with her while I was still attempting to intellectually understand her situation.
David and I were miles apart in our ability to relate to someone “flying a sign” and that fact revealed a principle to me that I have since taught to many others. Sometimes the very thing we view as our greatest weakness provides us with our greatest (and often most unique) strength.
Were you at some point homeless and destitute? You are in a better position than anyone else to help someone who is currently in that situation.
Have you overcome breast cancer? Thousands would benefit from everything you learned during those trying times.
Are you single and broke? Your faith is going to be tested, but you are also not tied down to any particular location. You possess a freedom and agility that someone who is married with two children and a mortgage does not have.
We see David in the Old Testament as defenseless and weak, standing there looking pathetic with no armor to protect him. His perceived weakness allowed him to wield his sling and with pinpoint accuracy kill a giant 4 times his size without getting a single scratch.
I dropped David off at McDonald’s, he said thank you and shook my hand. No request for anything material at all; just appreciation.
There is no doubt who fared better in my few minutes with David. He got a ride, but I got a lesson I will never forget. That is how things tend to work in God’s economy. We do something in obedience to Him and He does more with it than we could have imagined.
It kind of reminds me of a guy who was willing to give up his lunch one hot afternoon….
Warning: this post may contain triggers for sexual abuse survivors.
You don’t expect a casual conversation to result in a call to the FBI. But there’s a first time for everything.
When I volunteer at Watered Gardens, I never know who is going to walk through the door. If I know them, they are typically moving forward in their life, have established better habits and are off of the street, like Linda. She’s a very kind black lady who spent years on hardcore drugs but has been clean for a long time.
But sometimes a new person comes in. He or she might be a transient, in Joplin for a bit before they move on. Other days, I get to visit with someone who barely has one foot out of hell. Something, or rather Someone is trying to drag him into a new life, and that’s why he’s here. Today was one of those “other days”.
When Latasha walked in, I could instantly tell she was sassy. She exuded personality. She was friendly, had a big smile on her face, and loved to talk. For the next hour I was going to be privileged to get a glimpse into a life very similar to Mary Magdalene’s, I just didn’t know it yet.
After a few minutes of small talk, Latasha started telling me her story. She held nothing back.
One thing I’ve learned is that everybody has a “rock bottom”; a place in life that makes someone so uncomfortable that they finally make major changes. But it’s not the same for any two people. Latasha’s rock bottom was the lowest I had ever witnessed; and she had hit it….hard. The amazing thing is that she lived to tell about it.
She was dropped off at Watered Gardens after detoxing at a facility a couple of hours away. She had checked in on her own. “You come here (to Watered Gardens) if you want to live,” she said. I could sense her determination to maintain a grasp on this different kind of life.
“What made you decide to leave?” I asked her.
“I could sense God pulling on me, and I was sick of living with my dope man. He made me watch nothing but porn and since I was always high, I was paranoid and wouldn’t go outside at all. I could barely bring myself to look out the window.”
A lot of people don’t realize that drugs like crystal meth literally open a door to the spiritual realm. Behind that door are the things that nightmares are made of.
She went on to describe the physical fights she would have with demonic forces when she was high. But when she wasn’t in that state, her “dope man” as she called him, wasn’t much better. In addition to pornography constantly streaming on the television, they fought all of the time. He was an active Satanist, a drug dealer and displayed all sorts of odd behaviors.
“He has computers all over the house! They’re wired up all strange and I can’t make sense out of it. He’s always switching out hard drives, too. He has like 75 of them!”
To Latasha, his actions weren’t something to make sense out of; they were just bizarre. But I was looking at the situation from a different perspective. I knew that there were only a few things sensitive enough to merit that type of behavior, and since his day job was laying tile, I knew he wasn’t dealing in top secret government documents. That left me with only one option that made sense.
“He produces child porn!” I said, as I tried to grasp just how evil this man was.
Latasha was shocked at what I said. But then I could see her start to think. She began remembering details that never made sense before.
“You’re right! That’s why he started telling me after I put my kids up for adoption that he was losing money on me.”
“He would get me stoned out of my mind, then he would disappear to this shed behind the house and lock himself in there for hours. He never would tell me what he was doing.”
“And then there were the screams…..”
She described times where she had heard the screams of children coming through the walls, but her intoxicated state and his dismissive comments made her push them to the back of her mind. But now, sober, out of his reach, and the recipient of a new life, she knew exactly what she had heard.
She shared more disturbing specifics, so I was pretty confident in my conclusion. Even if she wasn’t willing to do anything about her dope man, I was going to. I asked her some detailed questions about him and took notes, making sure I didn’t forget anything of importance.
She then started talking about her more distant past.
“My dad has always hated me. When I was two, he put me in the deep freeze. Later, when it became known that he had pointed a pistol at me and wanted to kill me, the state took me away. I spent the next 15 years in and out of foster care.”
Ministering to the broken is a constant reminder of just how blessed I have been. It also turns the phrase “There but for the grace of God, go I” into something far more than a cliche. Latasha’s father wanted to kill her. Mine helped coach my baseball team and took me fishing. Never for a second have I doubted my dad’s love for me. My daughter and she is three, and her name is Chandler. I call her my princess and tell her she is beautiful almost every day. Hearing about how her dad treated her made me sick to my stomach and furious at the same time.
Having no idea what being loved was like, in desperation, she reached out for a gross perversion of it and became a prostitute. My heart broke as I got a glimpse of what Jesus might have felt when the prostitute came and poured costly oil over his feet while others looked on in disgust. All they saw was her deplorable lifestyle. Jesus saw the pain….every bit of it; and loved her.
Latasha had recently experienced that same love, both from God Himself and the people at Watered Gardens That love saved her life. But more importantly, He saved her soul, and she could not stop thanking Jesus for it. Her desire to tell me her story was not to bring attention to herself. She was desperate to tell me what He had done in her life.
The last night with her dope man, things came to a brutal climax. Screams and curses filled the air. She grabbed a large butcher knife from the kitchen and held the tip firmly against her stomach.
As his hands grabbed on to the handle, she screamed at him, “If your devil is stronger than my God, then KILL ME!”
Hands tightened and fury filled the room. Her life could literally end any second, and she knew it. But she would rather die than continue this kind of life. And even though Latasha knew that he wanted to kill her, there was the feeling in the back of her mind that this battle between God and Satan had already been won long ago. And whether her dope man recognized the true Victor or not, he was powerless against the One who now claimed her as His own.
She left that night and checked into a drug rehab facility. After some time there, they asked her where she wanted to go. With no family to take good care of her, she chose Watered Gardens. The love the staff had showed her there was unlike anything she had ever experienced. They had been encouraging her in this odd new life, and she could not stop saying how thankful she was, both for them and to God. He had given her an opportunity to truly live for the first time.
Later that day, while at my office, I spent a half hour on the phone with an FBI investigator. I shared all of the details I had about her dope man: where he lived, his full name, his drug dealing, and my own conclusions. I had told Latasha that she needed to talk to the police, but since I wasn’t sure if she would follow through, I did all I could on my end. There was no way I was going to let that scum bag continue what he was doing if I had any chance of stopping it.
When I got off of the phone, it took me a few hours to calm down. Simply witnessing a life so intensely hellish had taken a toll on me; and Latasha had lived it for most of her life.
I came away from this experience knowing something first-hand that Christians who live more average lives often give lip-service to. No matter how far gone a life may appear to be, there is no such thing as a life that is out of God’s reach. He can rescue the most destitute. He can restore the most broken. He can redeem the most guilty.
Latasha’s life is proof of that, and that is why I am telling you about her. It is indeed something to be thankful for this Christmas season.
And thank you, Latasha, for entrusting me, a complete stranger, with your amazing story.
May God bless you in your new life.
*All of the details of this story are true. I have only changed the names of the individuals involved.
It is amazing what you can hear when you really, really listen.
My brother Allen enjoys and selects his music like a connoisseur enjoys a
good bottle of wine; dissecting sounds, instruments, techniques and influences. Unless you do the same, you have probably not heard of Animal Collective, Boards of Canada, or 90% of the other bands he listens to.
Many, like me, simply listen to the music on the radio. Allen will hear a random song he likes, find out the band, then purchase their music. If he really likes it, he will begin reading about the band and who inspired them. “What other bands influenced them?” is a question he is always asking. And since he has been enjoying music like that for many years, he has gone back from one level of influence to another to discover the pioneers of various styles of music.
Recently we were running errands together and he played a song from his Ipod on the stereo in his car. We listened to a few other songs by the same artist as we went to a couple of stores and then made our way back home.
When we got back, he pulled out his very nice V-Moda headphones and said, “Now listen to the same song on these.”
I sat down, put them on, and began to listen. At first, my eyes got big. There was so much to be heard, my mind couldn’t take it all in. I noticed my eyes were looking back and forth, like they could actually find the source of the many layers of instruments; instruments I hadn’t even known were playing when I listened to the exact same song in the car.
For four minutes and thirty-two seconds, I was transfixed. Then, when it was over, I still sat there for a while in an attempt to process all of the input my brain had just been exposed to. I stood up and simply said, “Wow!”
We process the vast amount of what goes on in our lives like we listen to music on the radio. We hear or experience something, and we like it or don’t like it. We keep going down the same road based on this preference or lack thereof and keep moving on, often taking little time to truly process what we experience.
We experience hurt and pain, exhaustion and depression…joy, love, passion and apathy. The stimuli are people, events, challenges and even the weather. Each one tossing us around emotionally like a rudderless ship on sometimes calm, but sometimes very turbulent seas.
Life is seldom dull. It is seldom easy, either. Especially not for long.
Believe it or not, in the midst of all the chaos, an entire symphony is playing in the background of our lives. As we drive to work, sit in boring meetings, eat our breakfast…it is constantly performing, its beautiful notes and harmonies practically begging for an audience. Heard or unheard, the symphony plays on.
There is, however, only one way to hear these instruments that are drowned out by our daily lives. Silence. You must do for yourself what headphones do for your ears and block out any and all external noises and distractions and simply listen.
At first you may hear nothing, because your world is silent, but your mind is not. It is still rambling on about how you need to pack your gym bag so you can work out this afternoon. If you have a pen and paper handy and write that down, your mind no longer feels the need to think about it, so it is gone. Do so with the other things that come to mind and eventually even your mind can experience silence.
That is when the first notes become audible. The tune will likely sound somewhat familiar, since you’ve caught glimpses of it from time to time, without ever realizing its source.
Soon, more and more instruments break their silence and an entire symphony is playing. But it is not playing for your entertainment. It is playing because it IS. It exists at all times, whether or not you ever take the time to notice. It is a mysterious combination of your deepest thoughts, your deepest feelings (including the ones you try so hard to suppress), your own mind’s analyses, and most importantly, the quiet whispers of a loving God.
All of these sources are not simply conveying information. They are intercommunicating in a complicated, yet beautiful, musical piece. As you allow yourself to think your deepest thoughts and feel your deepest feelings, God not only hears them, but also speaks into them, often giving them new meaning, new significance.
Something from your past that you don’t even like to think about comes to mind, and with it the pain it always brings. This time, however, you don’t retreat from it. You allow yourself to hurt and acknowledge the wrong that was done to you.
As the initial swell of pain begins to subside something new emerges. On the other side of the pain, a kind voice speaks to you and reveal the mysteries behind that event. As He brings to light the glorious blessings that would have never come to pass in your life and others’ otherwise, He almost magically transforms that time of intense pain into a source of deep and lasting joy.
A part of the song that sounds much like the source of daily stress that eats at you comes to the fore, and at first you start to get up and turn off that dreadful tune. But you stop yourself. You force yourself to sit and listen to a collection of minor notes and clashing chords. It hurts your ears at first and it is more cacophony than harmony.
But as your peace returns, you begin to make sense of the song, and almost enjoy it. A flash of insight comes! For the first time, you clearly perceive the source of this internal conflict, and even better, what you can do to alleviate it.
When you feel the musicians are done performing, and get up from your chair, you will notice a difference. As you go through your day, some may think you seem distracted a bit more than usual; less affected, somehow, by the frantic goings on around you. And in a rare quiet moment at the office, someone will look over and see you looking very intently at something, follow your gaze, and find nothing at the end of it to justify such a stare.
My wife, Nicole, and I are currently sitting in a surgery center waiting room. Our beautiful daughter, Chandler, who turned 3 six days ago, was just put to sleep for minor surgery.
Our explanation to her consisted of “we’re going to get your teeth fixed so they don’t hurt anymore”. That made sense to her, and she happily followed us back to a room full of metal beds and strangers wearing funny hats. However, when it came to taking a small dose of pink medicine, Nicole had to lay her down, pin her arms and use a syringe to make her swallow it.
All Chandler was aware of at the moment when her own mommy was pinning her down, was that the medicine she was being forced to take tasted “yucky”. She had no idea why she needed the medicine, and if given the explanation, then the option of whether or not to take the medicine, she would have still rejected it.
Chandler turned 3 on February 12 and there is no way that Chandler could understand that her chipped and aching tooth is only what she can see on the surface. The x-rays told a far worse story. All four of her top front teeth were in desperate need of capping, as were some others in the back. If action wasn’t taken very soon, the pain would have only gotten much worse.
I did not want to leave my still conscious 3 year-old princess in the hands of those strange men; knowing they would put a gas mask on her, knock her out, insert an IV, force a breathing tube up her nose and into her lungs, and then grind away at her tiny teeth. I did not want to allow that one bit. But I knew if I didn’t, she would suffer far more pain in the long run.
I have been a father for five and a half years, and I understand now, far better than ever, why the Bible constantly compares God’s relationship with us to ours with our own children. The parallels are seemingly endless.
God takes no pleasure, whatsoever, in any of the trials or suffering that you or I have to go through. If I enjoyed watching my Chandler suffer, you would call me sick and demented, and rightly so. Why then do we entertain the thought that God might enjoy or even be indifferent to our suffering. Remember, He is not the flawed father. I am.
However, our issue is really not so much that we think He is indifferent to our suffering, but rather that we tend to forget that He places a much higher value on certain areas of growth than we do.
Unfortunately, the currencies of this world often undervalue certain character traits that from heaven’s view are literally priceless.
We were willing to allow Chandler to suffer physically for a short time so she could avoid far greater pain in the future. But there are actually worse things than physical suffering. From God’s perspective, the presence of traits that will have eternal ramifications, such as humility, integrity, holiness, patience, etc. are more important than the absence of physical or psychological pain, which is temporal.
I wanted to cry as I thought of what they were going to do to Chandler, but I didn’t, because I knew it was actually a blessing, albeit a veiled one. Don’t ever forget that it truly breaks God’s heart to see us suffer. But when it comes to the most important things in our lives, our Father does indeed know what is best.