The Importance of Small

Have you ever noticed how here in the United States we’re fascinated by everything big? Stores don’t just offer sales anymore; they’re COLOSSAL sales—GIGANTIC deals with HUGE savings. Sodas are sold in BIG GULP cups. Beanbag chairs are now called BIG JOE CHAIRS. We shop at BIG LOTS. (But then, who would want to go to a Little Lots store?) Boys dream of playing in the BIG LEAGUES.

Even in the church we get carried away with the concept of BIG. Ministries are prized for the breadth of their impact. Pastors seem to be ranked by the size of their congregations. Outreaches are rated by the numbers of people who come to Christ. Church vitality is measured by the number of baptisms and new converts. But is big always better—is this what God values?

Recently I was reading in the gospels, pondering Jesus’ ministry focus. In Luke 8, I was struck by how He purposefully left a thriving outreach to large crowds and crossed the Sea of Galilee to change the life of one—a demon-possessed man. Why leave a highly impactful ministry for one crazed person? Why choose the small over the big? It makes no sense until you look at the heart of God.

Jesus demonstrates in this story how God loves and values every single person. Everyone He’s created is made in His image and deemed worthy of receiving His provision of salvation. While sizeable numbers may matter to us, each heart is what matters to God. Jesus chose to abandon the bigger ministry we read about in Luke 8 to impact the life of just one man, which tells us that He values “small.”

One of the smallest ministries in our church—caring for those with special needs—is one of the nearest and dearest to my heart. We provide one-on-one buddies, who come alongside children with special abilities. In doing so, we also give their parents a much-needed break to find spiritual refreshment.

We don’t serve a lot of children, but what we do is impactful. As we lovingly care for each child, we are also blessing their parents, siblings, and the extended family. We are also sending a message that God loves and values each person, regardless of ability.

Some of our families have been unable to attend church for years due to their child’s health demands. But this small but faithful ministry is creating a safe place for these families to minister and be ministered to.

Some day in heaven I would love to hear the stories of the lives changed by the testimony of that former demoniac. My guess is that small ministries are not so small after all.

How is your heart?

I have struggled with writing this blog post for months as I’ve wrestled with the Holy Spirit. He has been working in my heart, revealing to me that, despite my best efforts, I am prideful, envious, and filled with thoughts of comparison.

I’ve now started to realize the core of my sin: I have cared too much for what others think of me—or my ministry—and not cared enough about who Jesus is calling me to be or who He says I am. My heart screamed with fear that I have not been doing enough—that I am inadequate.

But then I read 2 Corinthians 10:12–18.   

We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the sphere of service God himself has assigned to us, a sphere that also includes you. We are not going too far in our boasting, as would be the case if we had not come to you, for we did get as far as you with the gospel of Christ. Neither do we go beyond our limits by boasting of work done by others. Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our sphere of activity among you will greatly expand….For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends. (NIV)

Ouch, Paul!

As I read that passage, I had to reorient my perspective and repent of the comparison, judgement, and boasting in my heart—and my lack of wisdom. In 1 Corinthians 1:5–7, Paul says:

For in him [Christ] you have been enriched in every way—in all your speaking and in all your knowledge—because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.

It is not the works of my hands and the things that I do that I am to boast of. I am to boast about the work of Christ. He chooses to use me and to use you. I am to give glory, thanks, and praise in all situations. He gives me all I need, and I lack no spiritual gift.

As I’ve begun to understand that it is to be less about me and more about Him, my heart has started to heal. I’ve also found David Benner’s book The Gift of Being Yourself quite helpful in reorienting my heart back to the truth of Jesus.

“In order for our knowing of God’s love to be truly transformational,” Benner says, “it must become the basis of our identity . . . An identity grounded in God would mean that when we think of who we are, the first thing that would come to mind is our status as someone who is deeply loved by God.”

Can you imagine how much we could show the world God’s love if we were not concerned about our own accomplishments and instead felt deeply loved by Jesus? Knowing who we are in Christ can set us free. That is why it is important to know the truth of who the Bible says we are. It says we are:

And so much more. The C&MA has a wonderful resource that details all that the Bible has to say about who we are in Christ. You can find the downloadable resource here: http://cmalliance.org/about/family/leadership/books. It is a great place to start meditating on the truth of God’s word as we examine our hearts.

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

“I think your son has a syndrome.” This is what the hospital physician shared with me just hours after my son’s birth. That day my life changed forever. Little did I know then that I had just entered the world of “special needs”: daily therapy appointments (OT /PT/speech) doctor visits, surgeries, and hospitalizations.

As I sat alone hearing this devastating news, I knew I desperately needed to talk with someone. My husband was at home catching up on the sleep he had missed over the last 48 hours, so I turned to God and his Word. Finding Psalm 139:13–16, I read:

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful . . .

God reminded me with these verses that it was it was He who had carefully framed and made my son and that His works were wonderful. Nathan was not a mistake but a chance for God to be glorified though His work of wonder. I continued to read in verses 15 and 16:

My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

God also affirmed to me that not only did He know my son intimately, but He also had a plan for him as well. I might not always know or understand what that would be, but I knew that I could trust the Creator God with the plan He had for my precious infant son.

Armed with this reminder of God’s sovereignty and goodness, I walked down the long hospital hall to the nursery to gather up in my arms my “wonderfully made” son.

That was 33 years ago. Today, Nathan continues to reveal to me how wonderful are God’s works! Nathan loves the Lord and delights in serving as our Awana mascot, Cubbie Bear. He is a hugger who likes telling jokes, beating me at thumb wars, and bringing friends of all abilities to church.

Pressing In

Originally published on July 13, 2018 at www.melissajmacdonald.com 

For the last 7 summers I have done camp ministry. I travel from camp to camp as a speaker to kids. I love it. By the end of this summer I will have done a total of 39 camps in 7 years.

Yes, I absolutely love the kids. I love speaking to them. I love helping make the Bible come alive to them, I love pointing them to Jesus, I love hearing their stories, I love journeying with them. It is a blessing.

These camps, however, always involve more than just kids. Inevitably, I end up sitting on a porch or deck or bench talking to adults. The staff who help make these camps run every week are amazing. They’re also people. They have their own hurts and struggles. I cannot tell you just how much I love talking to them, hearing their stories and speaking into their stories. A lot of my conversations are with adults in their late teens into their 20’s.

This year, I have been sensing a theme in the counsel I give these young adults. If I could put it into one sentence it would be this, “stop making stupid choices and start pressing into Jesus.” Profound right? Mind blowing. I should hang a shingle and do this for a living.

Let me preface what I say next by saying I don’t want to make light of anyone’s story. Our stories are hard. We live in a sinful world. Horrible things happen to us and are a part of what shapes us. Good and bad. I would never make light of the hard in anyone’s story. That being said, as I’ve been talking to young people I, quite unexpectedly, began to believe the same lies that they’ve been believing. “Life is hard, it’s just too hard to stick with Jesus. The world pulls at me and I try, I really do, but I keep losing.” “I sin because I can’t help it.” “I want Jesus, but I just can’t find him.”  I actually feel like I began to become numb to what they were telling me. Not that I didn’t hear it or care, because I do. However, I found myself going numb to their messaging. I didn’t even realize it, but I was buying it and I was discouraged. I even found myself thinking, “it is hard, it’s too hard. The cycle can’t end.” And, “maybe I’m just an exception, maybe I’m not normal.”

Then I had an encounter that put a spotlight on all of the icky and the dark I was buying into.

I talked to a 19-year-old girl at a camp recently. After I talked about hurt people hurting people and how we can stop the cycle (Pineapple People, for those who are aware), she waited until I talked to the line of campers eager to share their story and pray with me and then she came up and sat by me sobbing. I patted her arm and let her cry. She looked at me through her tears and her eyes had an undeniable look of joy. She poured out her story to me. Her story was tough, I mean really tough. Possibly one of the hardest I have heard recently. Divorced parents, multiple ugly custody battles, suicidal thoughts, suicidal attempts, abuse, anger, brokenness, etc.

She poured it all out and I just listened. It was beautiful. Don’t get me wrong, it was heart breaking and it was so messy, but it was beautiful. You see, this 19-year-old had joy in the midst of her story. Instead of being bogged down with excuses and apologies and martyrdom she was clinging to Jesus and He was making her story beautiful. With tears in her eyes she beamed at me and said, “I’ve come to the realization this year that I cannot do life without my Jesus. I just cannot do it. I need him.”.

She found Jesus through the love of a church, a youth group, a friend, and a youth conference. She spent her freshman year at a secular college. Instead of allowing the world to pull her away she pushed into Jesus. She told me, “After about 2 weeks I realized I couldn’t do it without my Jesus. I needed him with me. So, I tried to spend about 90 minutes every day (or week, because #collegelife) talking to Jesus. I journaled, I read my Bible, I talked to him.” She made it through her first year of college and came out loving Jesus more. MORE, not less.

Her summer is hard. Really hard. Family is tough and she, like all of us, desperately longs for parents who genuinely care about her and act like parents. She’s sad, she’s mourning, but she’s growing closer to Jesus. Does that not just bless your heart? I’m still over here smiling about it. I love this girl. More importantly, I love what she reminded me of. We serve a BIG God who pursues us and longs to be in deep relationship with us. He is, however, beautifully a gentleman and will not force himself on us. He doesn’t move, we move. He doesn’t quit, we do. He doesn’t give up, we do. He is there waiting to lavish his love on us. Oh, that we would press into Him. It’s not easy, but very few good things ever are. He redeems, He renews, and He creates beauty out of ashes all the time.

I want to be more like this girl. I want to press into Jesus more. I want to say proudly, “I cannot do life without my Jesus.”

You guys, at the risk of sounding simplistic, all you need is Jesus. He is more than enough. He’s there waiting for you. Now, it’s up to us to stop wallowing in our sin, in our past, in our mistakes, in the shadow of our story and start pressing into Him. Passivity in our relationship with Jesus has us circling the same issues day after day, year after year. You have all the power of the Holy Spirit available to you. Press into it, allow Him to fill you, allow Him to change your patterns and start writing new patterns for you.  Let’s stop making stupid choices and start pressing into Jesus.