The Valley

Often I hear preachers, teachers, and speakers talk about “the valleys” of life. As they discuss the valley, the remind us that spiritually speaking this is a time in our life where God may seem distant as our suffering seems unbearable. They talk about becoming more intimate and getting to know God more in the valley than we ever could on the mountaintop, and they are right.

One thing that has often bothered me is hearing others talk about suffering in their own lives, yet feeling like they have no true perspective on real suffering. Time and time again I hear stories of times they have been in the “valley” only to think to myself… “if you only knew what a real valley is like…”

Before we all get our judgy faces out, I think these things, but never say them. The suffering each of us experience may be the worst suffering we’ve ever known. But today when I tell you that God is good, even in the valley, I need you to understand what valley I have walked through.

Often I see people say “God is good…” and I can almost hear the thoughts of those around me: “if you had walked where I’ve walked, you’d never say that.” My valley began on March 11th of 2017. If I’m being honest, the valley probably began some weeks and months before that day as I was consumed and overwhelmed by my own selfish failures.

On that tragic day, my family and I set out for vacation. Excited, looking forward to spending time together and experiencing new things. As we had so many times before, we found ourselves sitting in bumper to bumper traffic. In an instant, our lives changed forever.

I woke up inside a smoking car, blood running down in to my mouth. In a tragic moment, my four year old daughter was dead. The mother of my children would die several weeks later in the hospital. My son and I fought for life and eventually left the hospital a few months later. 

I may not be the world’s foremost expert on suffering, but I have the scars to prove that I’ve walked through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. I wish I could tell you that through each step in the valley I was faithful. I have not always been faithful. God however has never left my side, even when I screamed towards the heavens and demanded an answer He never promised to give.

Today I am thankful that I serve a mighty God. I serve a good God. I serve a patient, faithful God. I serve a God who enters in to my pain and suffering and doesn’t leave me in hopeless despair.

I don’t know what valley your walking through today, but you don’t have to face a step alone. Through faith in Jesus Christ we find forgiveness and reconciliation with God. It is through this faith that we have the promise that God is always with us, He will not leave us or forsake us. 

All those promises are beautifully true, but this promise is the one I want to leave you with today: Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:16 NIV)

Are you hurting in your valley? Is your heart broken? Are you frustrated and angry? Do you feel alone? Have you been faithful but some how think God has forgotten you? Have you prayed and trusted God, but for some reason tragedy has still occurred? Trust Him. Go to Him. In your deepest despair, Jesus will meet you there and give you mercy and grace to help in your time of need.

Just Like You

Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! It’s… your pastor! Or at least how most people envision the pastor and other leaders in the church.

I know… you were expecting Super Man, right? I want to share a closely guarded secret in ministry that may get me kicked out of the club: pastors are just men. Like you, or maybe your husband, or some other men you may know… they struggle with life too.

This message may seem a bit silly, but the truth of it is powerfully important. Because we place our pastors, teachers, preachers, and others in leadership on pedestals, we develop unrealistic expectations about who they are (or even who they should be). Throughout Scripture, we see again and again that an extraordinary God uses ordinary people to change the world. Because we often forget this, we may find ourselves following teachers and preachers instead of who they should be pointing us to (Jesus).

If we are following the teachers and preachers more than the God they point us to, we are going to be disappointed. Time and time again I have seen, heard, or witnessed first hand how unrealistic expectations about our pastors have hurt the lives of so many. I want to share few well kept secrets you may not know:

  • Pastors have doubts and questions too
  • Pastors have struggles in their marriages
  • Pastors struggle in their relationships with their children
  • Pastors get angry
  • Pastors get hurt
  • Pastors feel overwhelmed
  • Pastors feel unappreciated
  • Pastors are people too

Hebrews Chapter 11 is a wonderful reminder of the faithful men and women God has used throughout history to change the world. These people have one thing in common: they were chosen and used by an incredible God. They also share one other important thing in common: they were all sinners that God showed incredible kindness, mercy, and love.

I want to close with this public service announcement: pray for your pastor. Love him. Support him. Look for ways to come along side him in the work God has called him to. Pray for his spouse, his children, and be there for them all. When the time comes… when they show you they are human too: love them any way. 

Who Are You Following?

A few days ago the question occurred to me: who are you following? In that moment the Scripture that says “fix your eyes on Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith…” immediately came to mind. Today I want to ask you this question, who (or what) are you following?

In Scripture, time and time again, we see Jesus tell others to “follow Him”. The New Testament has much to say about following Jesus (what it means, costs, looks like, etc.) and I encourage you to read and study the Bible to understand this more. If you aren’t a follower of Jesus now, you can visit http://www.myemanuel.com/i-am-ready to learn more about who Jesus is and how you can be saved through Him. If you are a Christian (or a curious skeptic) I encourage you to keep reading.

I have often heard Christians (and non-Christians) say something like “I don’t go to church because…” Normally in the blank there is some story about a time they were hurt by a leader at church, by a friend who claims the faith, or worse yet by a parent or family member who was a self proclaimed follower of Jesus. Often the pain and hurt they endured makes it hard (even though they love Jesus) to expose themselves to the vulnerability of being hurt again.

In conversations I’ve had or heard about with non-believers, time and time again I hear how people admire Jesus but not His followers. One example, attributed to Gandhi, puts it this way: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

With all this hurt and confusion both in and out of the church, I want to share this reminder: Jesus called you to follow Him, not other “Christians”. Jesus called you to follow Him, not your spouse. Jesus called you to follow Him, not your favorite teacher or preacher. Jesus called you to follow Him.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2 NIV)

To all those who have been hurt by the church, it’s leaders or teachers, or anyone who has claimed the name of Christ, my hope is that you can forgive them and find healing. Although those we love, respect, and trust may fail us, Christ never will. God’s love is unfailing, He is faithful, and even when His most faithful servants stumble, Jesus never will.

Today I leave you with this thought: keep your eyes on Jesus. Follow Jesus. This way when other Christians fail you, you will remember your faith is in the One who never will. His promise is clear and my prayer is that it fills us all with awe and joy: 

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6 NIV)