"I answered: I'm not a prophet! And I wasn't trained to be a prophet. I am a shepherd, and I take care of fig trees. But the LORD told me to leave my herds and preach to the people of Israel." (Amos 7:14-15 CEV)
I can remember the moment when, at the Bowery Mission in New York City, that God forced me to overhear a conversation between our leader, Joseph, and the North Carolina leader, Micah. Joseph was discussing the fact the team didn't have a pastor like last year…..the resultant kick in the pants by God wasn't too pleasant and I'm sure it came out in my tone as I interrupted and told them, "I'm an ordained Chaplain." Since prior to the divorce, almost three years ago, I stopped preaching in the Chapel to focus on the marriage that was being systematically destroyed. It was one of the reasons that my ex-wife gave for discontent; focus on ministry.
Much of my testimony has given others pause….wondering if it is possible for such a broken, struggling, combative and argumentative man to be called from God to proclaim His word and be used as a vessel for the instruction of His children. Having a divorce and being rather older than the typical 'pastoral candidate' just adds frosting to the cake. For some….it is the most natural thing in the world, that where I have gone has brought me flush against God and the glory He displays in the motion of my life, the ebb and flow, is highlighted in the darkness travelled through. There is no greater place where light is recognized than in the utter darkness of despair, struggle and sorrow.
It is where God wants me, it is where God wants and entices each and every one of us to be living in…..not just passing through, but hanging on that razor edge of hope and sorrow, love and pain and eternal presence in the physical temporariness. In that moment between utter loss and pure redemption.
I didn't want to preach at the Bowery, though all week long before we left God kept hitting me with verse and verse during my renewed private time with Him….verses that weren't the typical admonishments or encouragements He usually gives. Faithfully I wrote them down, just like I used to before each Chapel service, and trust that He would reveal in time what He wanted me to learn, do or pass on with them.
In that moment between the kick and the admission…….I died with fear and was reborn with desire…..over and over. The anger and passion mixed into the powerful expulsion of words that I uttered that day. God would get His way, as He always does.
Standing before a crowd, larger than any in the Chapel that I had served, I spoke what God had for me to speak……..just like old times. And, with the service performed once again, I knew that I'd never be the same again…again. I don't believe that God lets go of the purposing once we have realized His goals….and I don't this He reassigns them to others to do, even in the twilight of our shame when we deny or refuse His anointing. He waits, He loves, He calls…..but He doesn't forget.
And He delights in throwing a curveball in the game of this life…….in the major story of His redemption of His creation.
To everyone involved.
How much better to do that than to use the most unlikely of candidates to do the most unlikely of works? A shepherd as a rescuerer and deliverer? A shepherd as a prophet? A shepherd as a King? A carpenter as Messiah?
Stripped of the varnish of nice living, graceful impact and utter dependence on a God that requires simple obedience in a world that is disobedient to the caretakers of its being…….there is only one thing evident, one thing recognized and one thing that can be ascribed to its existence……God's glory. As the mug I bought at the 9-11 memorial says, "In the darkness, we shine brightest."
If we have God inside us.
It is amazing, at least to me who has been always shown bigger things than I can possibly do on my own talent or strength or ability, that we always look to the prepared comforts of our lives for the impact that God would have us do for the Kingdom building…..for that is the job of each and every Christian solider in the Army of the Lord…..and we're certain that it simply lies under the comforter or the chase, maybe behind the refrigerator (which we need to clean behind) or outside in the lush backyard near the fountain that we built for the comfortable evenings with family or friends……surely it lies simply underneath the next pile of folded clothes from Old Navy and Niemen Marcus…..maybe in the backseat of the Lexus or Ford Flex…..within the compensation packet of our new job or our old one…
And we never seem capable of finding it.
Yet when we're on the edge of life; loss of job, loss of home, loss of family…..some kind of loss that has occurred in our fragile existence…..some kind of struggle or suffering that we're experiencing. In that moment where we are crying out to God in painful supplication….crying out for the promised peace, comfort, love and understanding that permeates the biblical text and seem to hear only the silent thumping of our hearts in the echoing chasm of our despair…we don't look for God's purposed call in that.
Outside the comfort of our own creation……..the lives we've built that are designed to keep us at least complacently dumb to the sorrows and brokenness of the world around us.
Yet it is in the most broken among us that the truest sense of Charles Bridges' statement in A Modern Study in the Book of Proverbs is realized……
"The wicked die in outward comfort; the righteous in outward trouble. But length of days is the promise to the righteous; whether for earth or for heaven, as their Father sees best for them. In itself the promise, as it pertains to this life, has no charm……..to the people of God a trial of faith and patience……peace added provides sunshine for the toilsome way; peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ; eternal peace in His home and in His heart."
In the seediness of this broken world, in the chaos and confusion of creation set against us and the very old nature combating against the redeemed, new nature of Christ…….where the purchased realize the price paid and cry out in obedient humility to a fully unreachable, unchangeable and untrainable God through the blood of His Son…….that is where the gem and hiddenness of the purpose lies like treasure for us to pick up and embrace.
Far beyond where our dreams, limited and powerless in our humanity, can go…….but so much smaller than God is capable of delivering……He is, after all, the Big God.
And the disbelieving, unhearing and limited sight of others who cross paths with these delusional people don't phase them very much, though there are times when they question their sanity under the load of these dissenters; these people wander in a world few can see and try to articulate it when asked to varying degrees of success…..
These people see the impossible in the possible capacity of God…..
These people cannot remain for very long in the mundane, comfortable and delusional life of their own design……for God is hard to see in the suburb of well-appointed houses……though, He can be seen if hard-sought for…..
He is easily seen in the hard work of the impossible missions to redeem a world that forsakes its Savior, to bring food to a hungry world in the throes of starvation and shine a light in the murky darkness of its sin……..
So, where are you working and living today?
In the comfort of your creation or outside it, in the impossibility of God's dreams?