Starting Where We Stand

We had never had hurricane damage like this before; we live in Ohio, after all. But Ike was different: making landfall in Galveston, Texas, it held a disproportionate share of its damage in reserve for the upper Midwest part of the country, including our backyard, which was entirely mid-calf or deeper in branches, limbs and twigs. It was September 2008, I was away for the week on business, and there stood Peggy, facing the enormous clean-up job alone and wondering, “Where do I start?” Then starting where she stood, it took this hard-working woman three whole days to bag, bundle and/or burn the debris.

Sometimes on our life-journey, the Kingdom work before us seems overwhelming—paralyzing, even. All around, there is brokenness in need of care, so where do we start? Every day, there is Spiritual birth in need of nurturing; of whom shall we come alongside? No matter where we are, someone is searching for truth, then when must we speak, and what should we say? Far too long, I was so paralyzed by the smallness of my imprint against the vastness of need, that I did very little to start at all. But somewhere along the way I began to see and understand God works chiefly through His people, and His people are everywhere. In my mind, I had limited God to the confines of my own span and abilities, yet every day the body of Christ rises around the globe, each member starting where they stand. This is the beauty of the body.

We must not be overwhelmed by the enormity of need in the world, for God’s people are all around it. We ought not be paralyzed by our limitations, for it is God who works in and through us. We need only to be diligent in seeking His guidance for direction, trusting in His faithfulness to act, and submissive to start where we stand and go from there—ready and eager for whatever awaits us today.

God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. (Hebrews 6:10, 11).

Father, you are good, and we trust you. Lead us today to where we should go and in what we must say and do. You will do great things through your people today; you always do. We love you, God. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.


The Standing Ovation

I once heard Colin Powell speak at a conference. It was a sizeable crowd, but not huge—hundreds, not thousands—just small enough to retain some sense of closeness in the room. Retired from two highly esteemed careers, he engaged the audience with stories and perspectives only a former four-star general and Secretary of State could share. What continues to stir me most deeply from that day to this, though, was the respect given him before he uttered a single word. As he entered the room and made his way up the aisle, there was first the silently spreading hush of awe at his presence and then the thunderous burst of a standing ovation that lasted for some time after he stepped up to the podium. It was the natural and spontaneous recognition of honor well earned.

The recollection reminds me of another standing ovation, that for Stephen, a believer in the early church—his audience of one: Jesus, the ascended Christ. Stephen’s role was a comparatively humble one: feeding the hungry widows, while others assumed the more publicly esteemed role of preaching the word of God. Still, Stephen was a man “of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom”1; he was “full of grace and power [and] doing great wonders and signs among the people.”2 Intolerant of the gospel and its adherents, however, local synagogue leaders stirred up a false witness against Stephen, and as he concluded his oratory of defense before them, he “gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’”3 Normally enthroned in the heavenlies, Jesus now stood as Stephen was stoned to death, the first among all believers to die for his faith in Christ.

To the widows served at his hand and to the One who sent him to them, Stephen meant everything. He trusted Jesus and in faith did what the Spirit led him to do. He had a purpose, he had fulfilled it, and Jesus now stood to receive him with honor. We likewise have divine purpose here, some tasks intimidating in size, perhaps, and others seemingly so small in our eyes they escape our notice if we aren’t watching for them. So, we step into each day with fresh faith and a heart liberated unto obedience. We have purpose here, and when our time is done, we too will be received into the presence of God. Stay focused; stay true.

Father, you have much for us to do today. Open our eyes to see where you are sending us and what you are calling us to do. Liberate us in your great love for us, that we will gladly obey. In Jesus name and by the power of your Spirit I pray. Amen.

1 Acts 7:3 ESV
2 Acts 7:8 ESV
3 Acts 8:55, 56 ESV


What Christi Taught Us

“Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.” (James 2:18 RSV)

Christi Nordman died last Friday. She was 60, active and engaged, seemingly healthy, and too young for a massive heart attack, at least to our natural way of thinking. She was my brother’s wife, and we will miss her the rest of our days here. Death has a way of clarifying the life it takes: somehow in an instant we see more vividly the magnum opus—the lifework—of the one now gone from us. Yet Christi’s imprint was always uncomplicated and refreshingly easy to see.

She was a doer, and no task was too big for this determined, undaunted woman. First things first, one step at a time—it’ll get done. But her work that inspired me most was her willingness to do anything for the Kingdom of God. Whether telling others about Jesus or helping people in His name, she was not only willing to serve, but eager to serve. Whenever I asked for volunteers to take a half-hour slot on our three-day, round-the-clock Kairos prison ministry prayer vigil, she would always say, “Give me an hour or two in the middle of the night. I will set an alarm and get up for it.” I doubt she ever missed one of these appointments with God; more likely, she came early and stayed late. To Christi, prayer was no forced obligation; it was opportunity for time with a Friend.

Which brings me to this: Christi’s faith was unwavering, as was her focus. She genuinely looked forward to the day when she would be in the presence of Jesus. This was her focal point, the end toward which she lived her days and served people well. To Christi, deeds were not the means to a close relationship with God, but the expressions of a heart that knows His love. And in the clarity of Christi’s life, I understand much more fully these words from James: “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.” May our faith be so mature, our vision so clear, and our life as fruitful.

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God—not because of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10 RSV).

Father, thank you for Christi and for those like her who show us the beauty and power of faith that acts. Lead us through a life of purpose, one that knows your love, hears your call and follows your lead. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.