Most people look at our lives and ministry and agree that we have not had it easy. But honestly, how many people truly look at their lives and say "oh, life has been so easy for me?" I don't think many because we have all encountered things that hit us hard, knocked us down and made us want to quit. Those life lessons are where our wisdom comes from. If we never had any adversity, we would never be stretched or grow. So I was thinking about all these things in life that have been so hard-infertility; fearfulness; a devastating car accident; brain injured children; church staff who we found as nothings as far as ministry was concerned who we mentored, poured finances into and gave a chance to spread their wings who then turned around and betrayed us at the highest level, slandered us in the community, and showed not one ounce of gratitude for all we did for them; friends who we raised our children with and friends that we took into our home when they were in difficult times who believed the slander and turned on us too; a church split that left us with a trail of broken, bleeding bodies to heal and restore; spiritual abuse from former staff members directed specifically at me; cancer; a tremendous attack on my marriage; disrespect from other clergy because of their own insecurities and choosing to believe what they heard from our betrayers; false accusations; constant resistance; plus the everyday things that all humans, with or without children, go through.
James writes "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance." So true! But today I was thinking of what the fruit of that endurance has been. Endurance is tangible I guess in terms of time and fortitude but I was thinking more about the tangible things that endurance produced in my life. I am speaking of true friends. As I call them "True Blue I Know You Friends." I'm thinking of those I call the "church people." Adversity is a purifying fire especially when it comes to relationships. Through all the adversity, these true, blue, I know you friends have emerged. I didn't really think about how special it really is until two weeks ago when my son was burned. It happened 6 days before he was scheduled to leave on a youth trip. The doctor didn't want him to go unless there was a nurse going along or someone that "you would trust to take as good of care of your son as you would." So I thought about it and said..."wait a minute! I would trust all of those going to take as good of care of my son as I would!" What a blessing to have so many people in your life that you can truly trust! Then, when the kids were loading into the van to begin their journey I noticed that all the Moms were hugging and kissing all the kids, not just their own and I realized...this is what these 20 years of tremendously hard adversity has produced. As I look around at the people who surround me I would not go back and change anything. I wouldn't try to make it easier because the fires of adversity have produced my church family...and they truly are family. They are the most loyal, compassionate, generous, selfless, honest people I have ever met. They are a treasure to me and a incredible blessing! Are they perfect? NOPE! And they know I'm not either and they love me in spite of myself because the Spirit of God in each of us truly makes us one. Our church may not be all that in that we have rockin' worship, gimmicky preaching, and trendy programs. We don't. But what we do have is true, Biblical love of the brethren and spiritual fellowship. There's just nothing in the world that can top it.
So to all my church folks I say,
Thessalonians 2:19-20 19 For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? 20 For you are our glory and joy.