Thursday, February 25, 2016

God Uses Broken Things

Some years ago, I was laid up for a month with complications from surgery. During that time in my life, I was not only struggling physically, but also emotionally and spiritually. Circumstances had left me feeling broken and useless, ready to be thrown on the garbage heap of life.

I remembered as a child watching my grandfather mend a broken china cup with Elmer's Glue. It could be used again, but the break lines still showed. It was no longer as beautiful as it once was. That's how I felt.

Flat on my back, unable to go anywhere, I could only attend "Bedside Assembly" on Sunday morning, that being interpreted as "I watched a church service on TV." It was a divine appointment. In his sermon that morning, the TV pastor told a story I'll never forget. It changed my life.

For many centuries, through many dynasties, a village was known for it fragile, expensive porcelain. Especially striking were its urns. High as tables, wide as chairs, they were admired around the world for their strong form and delicate beauty.

Legend has it that when each urn was finished, there was one final step. The artist deliberately broke it and then put it back together with gold filigree. An ordinary urn was thus turned into a priceless work of art.

What seemed finished wasn't until it was broken!

People throw broken things away, but God never uses anything until He first breaks it.

Martha Pittlekow describes God's process well in her little poem:

I don't know why, but God uses broken things.
He'll take some worn-out strings and from them make a melody ring.
He'll take a broken life and put it back together again.
God uses broken things. There's nothing He can't mend.

Why does God use only broken vessels? A vessel is only a container--something to be filled. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:7, "We have this treasure [of Christ's gospel] in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God, and not of us.:"

God does not want us to be full of ourselves. He wants to fill us with a treasure--His presence, His glory, and His grace. If we are not broken, people will only see us. But when we have been broken, people can see GOD shining through us.

God allowed me to be broken so He could make me into a vessel of honor for His greater use. He took my brokenness and put me back together again--with gold filigree! It still brings tears to my eyes when I think of what the Lord has done in my life.

If you try to glue a piece of Waterford crystal back together, it will never "sing" again.

If you mend a broken china dish, the ugly lines will show.

God doesn't cover up the cracks in our lives. The cracks are still there for all to see, but He fills them with gold filigree and makes us into something even more beautiful. Everyone will exclaim, "Look what the Artist has done!"

As Bill and Gloria Gaither penned and set to music a song that has been a favorite through the years,

Something beautiful! Something good!
All my confusion He understood;
All I had to offer Him was brokenness and strife,
But He made something beautiful of my life.

Have you found this to be true in your life? I'd love to hear about it.

For more stories of how God makes beauty out of the ashes of lives, check out my books at Even my novels are based on true stories of God's transforming power.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Perfect Love

One Sunday morning some years ago, I was sitting in the morning worship service at my church, feeling very afraid. I was going through probably the worst trial of my life, and I didn't know how things would work out. This verse came to my mind:

Because of my fear, thought, "I must not have perfect love." And guilt sat down beside me too.

That's when a still, small Voice spoke to my heart, "It's not your love that has to be perfect. It's My love that's perfect. Rest in My perfect love."

When I did, I found peace.

The other side of fear is confidence. If we confidently rest in the Father's love, it follows that we will be without fear. Love and fear are incompatible. They cannot coexist.

According to John, if we abide in Christ and have fellowship with the Father (1 John 1:3), endeavor to keep His commandments (2:3), remain separate from the world (2:15-17), abide in the truth (2:24), and love others (4:7-12), then we can have confidence that we will not be condemned in the day of judgment (4:17-18).

"Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love" (1 John 4:18, NLT). If we are afraid, then, it is because we have not fully experienced His perfect love.

When we experience the Father's love for us, that love is so powerful and life-changing that fear is forever removed. Certainly, much in our world today is cause for fear. But no matter what takes place, it cannot separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39).

If we experience fear in any portion of our life, to that extent, we deny God's love and fail to trust Him.

Are you resting in God's perfect love today? Do you trust Him to take care of you, come what may? Remember, God will take care of you.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

When the Bridge Fell

It had been raining most of the week in New York State when my friend and I drove across the New York State Thruway bridge spanning the Schoharie Creek near Amsterdam late on a Saturday afternoon on our way back to Long Island.

The placid Schoharie Creek below had swelled to a churning, rushing river. No one knew that the flood waves were undermining the steel and concrete piers that supported the bridge.

The next morning, April 5, 1987, as a lady traveled westbound on the Thruway, her dog became very restless. She stopped to let it exercise along the side of the highway just before crossing the Schoharie Creek Thruway Bridge.

Schoharie Creek Thruway Bridge Collapse Courtesy
As she got out of the car, she heard a tremendous roar. She turned just in time to witness the bridge collapse into the creek below.

The way the bridge had been situated made it nearly impossible to see that it was gone until it was too late to stop. As traffic approached, the lady stepped out into the roadway and waved frantically, desperately trying to warn the vehicles to stop before they would plunge into the abyss.

To her horror, five drivers ignored her, and their vehicles disappeared into empty space. One even flipped her an obscene gesture as he passed--just moments before he plunged to his death. Ten people lost their lives before anyone heeded her warning.

It reminds me of Hebrews 11:7, which describers how the people of Noah's day derided him for 120 years as he warned of the coming judgment of the Great Flood. Only eight people of that day heeded his warning and were saved.

Today, God's witnesses stand on the highway of life, warning people of God's impending judgment. Many ignore us. Others get angry, mock or ridicule, or even persecute us. But we must not quit warning them.

Ezekiel 33:9 says that if the watchman on the wall doesn't warn the people of impending danger, their blood will be on his hands. If we as Christians don't issue the warning of judgment yet to come on this sinful world, their blood will be on our hands.

Romans 10:14, NLT asks, "How can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless [we tell] them?"

"So what makes us think we can escape if we ignore this great salvation?" says Hebrews 2:3, NLT.

As we enter this season of Lent leading up to the celebration of Holy Week and the Resurrection, let's ask ourselves the question: Are we good watchmen, warning of the dangers to come? Or, are we neglecting this great salvation made possible by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ?

Thursday, February 4, 2016

God's Law of Returns

When I first read that verse in Ecclesiastes 11:1, I was puzzled. Since I don't even like gravy on bread, that word picture of soggy bread didn't appeal to me.

Then I came across this translation in the New Living Translation: "Send your grain across the seas, and in time, profits will flow back to you." In other words, "Give generously, for your gifts will return to you later."

Now, that makes sense. Here's how it worked out in the lives of two people whose names you will recognize:

The son of a gardener on an estate in Scotland dreamed of becoming a medical doctor. Neither he nor his dad could figure out how such a huge financial undertaking could be met.

Weekend visitors arrived at the castle. One of them, a boy, went swimming in the pool. He developed cramps and was about to drown when the gardener's son leaped into the water and saved him. The father of the swimmer was so overjoyed at the rescue that he offered to reward the rescuer.

"What can I do to help the lad?" he asked the rescuer's father.

The gardener related their dream that the son become a physician. "If you could help him to go to school, that would mean more to my son than anything else in the world."

Upon hearing the request, the swimmer's father said, "That's it! We will see him through his education." And through this generosity, Alexander Fleming became a doctor of medicine.

Years later, the boy who nearly drowned, Winston Churchill, became Prime Minister of England. While on a trip to Egypt, he was stricken with virulent pneumonia. Aides thought he was going to die.

A new drug, however, had just been discovered by Dr. Alexander Fleming--penicillin. Dr. Fleming heard of Mr. Churchill's illness. He flew to Egypt to administer the new medication. The results were miraculous, and Churchill recovered completely.

c AnnaLee Conti 2002

In 1948, my grandparents, Charles and Florence Personeus, pioneer missionaries to Alaska, were asked to build a church in Pelican. The town donated land, but it needed to be cleared. Windfalls twelve trees deep covered the site, and my grandparents had no tools. An old logger they had befriends thirty years earlier supplied them with hand tools for the mammoth task.*

When we planted a new church in Gloversville, New York, in the late seventies, we spent much time over a two-year period ministering to a young couple that was separated when we met. God saved their marriage (see God Saved Our Marriage), and they became faithful workers in the church--until a job-transfer moved them out of state. We knew God was building lives, not just churches, but their move was a great loss to our new church.

That summer, our Fellowship's biennial General Council was being held in St. Louis, Missouri, in August. We really felt the need of going to receive personal encouragement and fellowship, but as pioneer pastors, we had no funds available for such a trip.

Then a letter arrived from the couple that had recently moved away, thanking us for all we had done to help them reestablish their marriage. They enclosed a check and a note telling us to use the money for something special for ourselves. It was the exact amount we needed to go to General Council.

We have learned that we can never outgive God. It may not come back in kind, but God has promised, "Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom," (Luke 6:38, NKJV).

I'd love to hear about a time when God has proven that promise in your life.

*Excerpt from my book, Frontiers of Faith.