A Life Saved

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

As a child I swam every day in summer from morning until afternoon. One summer I had the opportunity to learn water safety.  I had to learn to save and be saved in the water and get the basics on CPR and mouth to mouth resuscitation.  One of my favorite sessions was on using the life saving device.  The instructor would throw it to us and we would grab on and be hauled into safety.  As kids we begged him to “save” us so we could ride the life buoy in.  I am very thankful there was never a need for a water rescue in my life, but there came a point when I needed a different kind of saving and it was truly life or death.

As a child my parents took me to church every Sunday.  I participated in Sunday school, Vacation Bible School, worked in the nursery and then attended youth group, as “good” Christian teens do.  All appeared to be just right on the outside but there was a battle raging in my heart and mind.  I liked the things of the world a bit too much and that went against what I was taught to believe.  In high school I started hanging with the wrong crowd and was being pulled away from what was right and good.  In my Jr. year I knew that I was going to end up in a very bad place if I didn’t make a change, that’s when the first rescue device was sent hurling toward me.

By God’s grace, I was able to leave the environment I was in and attend a different school, miles away from the things pulling me down.  It was hard for sure, but it was good and I was starting to feel like I would make it.  After graduating I went to a small, Christian college and knew I would be safe from the pull of the world by sheltering myself in the mountains.  I was wrong by thinking that a new location would “save” me and by my sophomore year had plunged into the depths again.  It was a relationship this time.  A man I fell for lied to me over and over again…yet I was determined to believe he was for real and would be the answer to my heart’s longing.  When I left school that year I had a gaping wound in my soul and was at the end of a dark road with nowhere to go.  That was when the second life-saving device came hurling at me and this time I grabbed it and held on for dear life.

It was at this time I realized that I could not stay in the water and be rescued from it as well.  I either had to hold on to the help being offered or be willing to drown in the deep.  This morning I was led to read John 3:16 and while reading it over and over, I had a vivid image of God sending me His life buoy, His one and only son, Jesus.  He threw His only son into the raging waters for my sake even though He knew it would result in the son’s death.   Jesus willingly died a violent death to give you and me freedom from the weight of the world and from its rituals and legalistic ways.  He was then raised from death after three days to give us eternal life.  I chose to hold on to God’s life buoy at that painful time in my life and I still hold on to this day.  When I think of the people I know who refuse to be rescued, who think they can go it alone and who are drowning in the torrid waters of life, my heart aches and hurts for them.  Being on this side of the Rescuer is not easy.  Life and all its ugliness still happens, but it’s sure and steady and there is hope that when life here is over that there will be everlasting freedom and joy.  When God offers to save you from the raging seas, the sadness of your life, the hurts inflicted on you, won’t you take hold of His son’s hand and choose freedom and life?  This is a free gift that God has sent our way.  We can’t earn it and we definitely don’t deserve it, but it’s there for us to take hold of and my prayer is that you will.

Thorns

Recently I was pruning my rose bushes.  As I went to remove some of my cuttings I was stuck in the thumb with a huge thorn.  It went through my glove and boy did it hurt…in fact it still hurt hours after it happened.  It was a painful reminder of my chore.  It brought to mind the pain of the thorns in Jesus’ brow and then the thorn that the Apostle Paul wrote about in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.  Paul said, “Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”    We don’t know exactly what Paul’s thorn was but we know it was a constant reminder to him of how weak he was and how he needed the Lord for strength.

The verses above say that Paul pleaded with the Lord three times to be relieved of his thorn and God told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”   God did not answer Paul’s prayers as he had hoped by removing his thorn, but rather in the way God saw was best for him.  After accepting that his thorn would be a constant companion, Paul then went on to say he would delight in his weaknesses, in insults, hardships, persecutions and difficulties because he knew that in his worldly weakness Christ would be strong in his spirit.

For Jesus, the crown of thorns and crucifixion were the ultimate signs of weakness in the eyes of the people.  He was mocked, spat upon and beaten and then hung on a cross with that crown of thorns stuck deep in his brow.  The strongest man, the GOD of the universe, was called weak for submitting to death so that we could live and be strong eternally.  He cried out to His Heavenly Father in Gethsemane, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” and then on the cross He asks, “My GOD, my GOD, why have you forsaken me?”  Even God’s own son had to experience His Father saying NO so that His strength would be made evident in weakness.

It is hard to admit weakness in our “LIVE STRONG” culture.  It is especially difficult for us to “delight” in being weak, being insulted, facing hardship and difficulties, and Lord help us when we have to face persecution.  Our culture expects us to have it all together, as we would be vulnerable if someone knew our weaknesses.  Our being perceived as weak might cause us to get overlooked for a job, get passed over for a promotion or not to get invited to the right places at the right times.

I believe my thorn is anxiety.  It has been a companion of mine since I was a child.  As a toddler I would ball up in the middle of my crib, hiding under blankets in fear that something would reach up under my bed and grab me.  I had to sleep with the closet light on every night of my early childhood.  It was fear that chased me through elementary school and beyond.  It wasn’t until I surrendered my life to the Lord that I was freed from incessant fear.  I thought that with God’s help I would be just fine, no worries, no anxieties and no more fears.  I was wrong.  I did indeed lose the extreme fear factor that I had as a child, but anxiety is and has been a constant companion in my Christian life.  It became more intense when I became a parent.

I have heard it said that anxiety is a sign of not trusting God.  Some people believe this and teach that it is a sin to be anxious.  I pray for peace on a regular basis and do receive it, but some days the anxiety creeps in despite my pleas.  It encroaches on my life when I am faced with uncertainty and at times when there is absolutely nothing I can do about a situation I am dealing with.  As a mother, this has often been the case because children are never predictable and the situations that arise in parenting are so out of my control.  Do I then believe that I am a hopeless case?  Do I believe that God isn’t listening to me?  No, I have to believe that God is listening but isn’t answering me the way I would like Him to.  If I wasn’t “tormented” at times with anxiety I would not feel the great need for God’s presence in my life.  I would coast on through without a care and would not seek Him as much as I do now.  As difficult as it is, I accept this thorn as a gift and claim God’s strength as my own.

Thorns might cause us to be ashamed or angry, but instead we should find a way to thank God for our weakness and rejoice in Him for giving us something to strengthen us and our relationship with Him.  Without our weakness, we don’t need God quite like we do when we are feeling strong and confident.  Although it would be nice to live free of my thorn, I choose to embrace it as a constant reminder that I need God as my strength, that I cannot do this life without Him.  In the end may I call my “tormentor” my gift…for it has brought me to a closer relationship with the One who made the ultimate sacrifice for me and you and who loves us more than we can imagine.  May we say with Paul, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me,”