Friday, December 31, 2010

Step Three Out Of THE CAVE - RETURN To Your Place Of Service

What steps can you take to come out of THE CAVE (the place where ministry becomes misery)? We have already seen two.

REST Your Physical Body!

RENEW Your Spiritual Passion!

Now comes step three:

RETURN To Your Place Of Service!

In 1 Kings 19:15-19, God orders Elijah back into service. He gives him three specific commands to fulfill as His prophet:

Anoint Hazel king over Aram
Anoint Jehu king over Israel
Anoint Elisha as prophet in your place

The same principle is needed in your life if you are a pastor or ministry leader who has found yourself inside THE CAVE. You need to RETURN to your place of service. Whatever you have been called to do - do it!

RETURN to studying!
RETURN to preaching!
RETURN to teaching!
RETURN to leading!
RETURN to visiting!
RETURN to administrating!
RETURN to counseling!
RETURN to witnessing!
RETURN to singing!

And as you return, do so in power and confidence in the God who called you. In 1 Kings 19:18, God reminds and assures Elijah,

"Yet, I will leave 7,000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him."

God reassures Elijah! And He reassures you today as well. And how did Elijah respond? 1 Kings 19:19 says,

"So he (Elijah) departed from there and found Elisha..."

He obeyed! He got back in the game! He RETURNED to his place of service. And so must you!

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Step Two Out Of THE CAVE - RENEW Your Spiritual Passion

I am now completing with the next few posts a series of postings from the life of Elijah describing THE CAVE (that place where ministry becomes misery). In this Old Testament account I see four steps out of THE CAVE. We saw the first step in my last posting - REST Your Physical Body (1 Kings 19:5-7). Now, we see Step #2:

RENEW Your Spiritual Passion (1 Kings 19:8-13). After the angel comes to Elijah and tells him to eat (as seen in my last posting) he sends Elijah to a certain location, "Horeb, the mountain of God" (1 Kings 19:8). Now what is significant about Mt Horeb? This is the same exact mountain where God appeared to Moses back in Exodus 3 and Exodus 19. It is here that God speaks to Elijah as well:

"So He (the Lord) said (to Elijah), 'Go forth and stand on the mountain before the Lord.'" (1 Kings 19:11).

Herein lies a huge lesson that we must learn if we are going to take steps out of THE CAVE. It is essential that we return to a place in our lives and in our hearts where we can hear from God. When you are in THE CAVE it is paramount that you can distinguish the voice of God over the voice of Satan, over the voice of opposition, over the voice of isolation, over the voice of self-pity, over the voice of fear, and over the voice of hopelessness. And how was it that Elijah heard from God?

"And the Lord was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind, an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake, a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing. It came about when Elijah heard it (the gentle blowing), that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. And behold, a voice came to him and said, 'What are you doing here, Elijah.'" (1 kings 19:11-13)

God didn't speak to Elijah through the wind or the earthquake or the fire. He spoke to him through a gentle blowing. When you are in THE CAVE, you are looking for some great BANG from heaven with the voice of God giving you clear direction or a finger appearing and writing a message to you from Him on the wall of your office. But that's not how it works.

May I remind you that the main way God is going to speak to you and bring you refreshment is through His Inspired Word. For you to to RENEW Your Spiritual Passion, you need to return to that place in your life, centered around His Word, where God speaks to you. For me, it was returning to some elementary yet needed spiritual disciplines:

For me it included several things. First, solitude. I needed to find a place at the same time each day where I could get alone with God where no one else could see me or hear me. Second, Bible reading. I chose to spend time in 2 Corinthians where Paul shares very transparently about the ministry hurts he faced. Third, Scripture memory. As I would read, I would pick out one verse each day and commit it to memory, also taking time to review the previous day's verses. Fourth, journaling. I would take time each day to write down what I was going through and what God was teaching me through it. And finally, prayer. As my spiritual hero, Dr Jerry Falwell, would often say, "Nothing of eternal value happens a part from prayer!"

Are you ready to take some steps out of THE CAVE? Then Rest Your Spiritual Body and Renew Your Spiritual Passion. If you take time and listen real close, you may just be able to hear the Lord saying to your heart, "What are you doing here (in THE CAVE)?" (I Kings 19:13)

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Monday, December 27, 2010

Step One Out Of THE CAVE - REST Your Physical Body

Over the last several posts we have seen from the life of Elijah the prophet what life is like in THE CAVE - the place where ministry becomes misery. Now it is time to see how Elijah got out of THE CAVE and to apply those same principles to our lives today. From the story of Elijah we see four steps out of THE CAVE. The first step is this:

REST Your Physical Body (1 Kings 19:5-7)

As Elijah is curled up in THE CAVE isolated, fearful, full of self-pity and hopeless, an angel appears to him and the first thing the angel says is, "Arise, eat" (1 Kings 19:5). The Bible then says:

"Then he (Elijah) looked and behold, there was at his head a bread cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. So he ate and drank and lay down again." (1 Kings 19:6).

The Bible goes on to say that the angel appeared to Elijah a second time with the same command. "Arise, eat, because the journey is too great for you" (1 Kings 19:7). Then the Bible says:

"So he (Elijah) arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God. (1 Kings 19:8).

I find it more than interesting that the first command the angel gives Elijah in THE CAVE was to eat something. You will never find your way out of THE CAVE if you allow the ministry misery you are facing to affect the way you take care of your body. It is while you are in THE CAVE that it becomes easy to not sleep right (either too much or not enough sleep) and not eat right (stress eating, lack of nutritious eating, etc.). During a time in my ministry that I found myself in THE CAVE I made the determination not to stay there and I committed to the following physical disciplines:

I went on a balanced diet. For me this means eating several small and nutritious meals several times a day rather than two or three big meals. It also meant limiting my snacking at night to only two things which together did not exceed 200 calories.

I started exercising. I rode a stationary bike while I watched the news at night. I was disciplined to do this 3 to 4 times a week, 7.5 to 8 miles each night.

I refused to become lazy and over sleep. I limited myself to no more than 8 hours of sleep a night. If I went to bed at 11pm, I got up at 7am.

So if you find yourself in THE CAVE - then why not start taking steps today to come out. You can begin by RESTING your physical body. Take care of yourself. You will be amazed at how a healthy body can help give you a positive mind-set - even inside THE CAVE.

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Friday, December 24, 2010

Life In THE CAVE - Isolation, Self-Pity and Hopelessness

What is ministry life like in THE CAVE (the place where ministry becomes misery)? In our last posting we saw that life in THE CAVE for the prophet Elijah was one of FEAR (1 Kings 19:3). But there are also three other descriptions of life in THE CAVE:

ISOLATION (1 Kings 19:3-4)

When Elijah left due to the threats of wicked Queen Jezebel, he ran as far south as he could go. He not only left behind his new founded supporters after winning the battle on Mt Carmel against the 450 prophets of Baal, but he also left behind his most trusted servant. That's what life in THE CAVE does. It causes you to isolate yourself and become an island all to yourself. Elijah found himself sitting all alone under a juniper tree and then ultimately in THE CAVE. Have you isolated yourself due to the ministry opposition you are facing? If so, you might be in THE CAVE.

SELF-PITY (1 Kings 19:10, 14)

When you are in THE CAVE all of your thoughts are inward focused. In Elijah's case he developed a "martyr" complex. Look at his words:

"I (as opposed to everyone else) have been jealous for God"

"I am the only one left who really serves God"

"Everyone is out to get me"

It's as if you can hear him saying, "No one likes me. Everyone hates me. I think I'll go eat worms." This is what THE CAVE will do to you.

HOPELESSNESS (1 Kings 19:4)

For Elijah, his hopelessness went the full mile. He simply wanted to die. Life was no longer worth living and death seemed far more appealing. Elijah felt completely useless seen by these words,

"And he (Elijah) requested of himself that he might die, and said, 'It is enough; now, O Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers.'" (1 Kings 19:4)

And it is at this point that many a pastor bails out of ministry for good. After all, who can be expected to live a ministry life filled with fear, isolation, self-pity and hopelessness. But wait! There is a way out of THE CAVE. Beginning in my next post I will share four steps to get out of THE CAVE. These steps worked for Elijah. They can also work for you. And if you are a hurting pastor who has found yourself deep in THE CAVE where ministry becomes misery, these next few posts may just be the greatest Christmas present you will receive this year!

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Life In THE CAVE - Fear

Since December 13th we have been looking at ministry life in THE CAVE (the place where ministry becomes misery) as seen in the life of the Old Testament Prophet named Elijah. We have seen three principles about THE CAVE:

THE CAVE can become reality even to the most successful of pastors and ministry leaders! (December 15th's posting)

THE CAVE can become even more possible after a great spiritual victory! (December 17th's posting)

Entering THE CAVE is often the result of one person who opposes us! (December 20th's posting).

But what is life like inside THE CAVE? Have you ever tried to describe chocolate to someone who has never tasted chocolate? Where would you even begin? The same is true in trying to describe life in THE CAVE. If you have never been there, you just can't understand. In Elijah's case in 1 Kings 19, there are four characteristics of life in THE CAVE. The first one is:


Due to the opposition of Jezebel, Elijah was filled with fear:

"And he was afraid and rose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba" (1 Kings 19:3).

His fear caused him to run to Beersheba which was the southernmost city in Judah. In other words, he didn't just run - he ran as far away as he could go. Fear now ruled his life and so it does with those who are in THE CAVE. There is the fear of losing your status as a successful pastor! There is the fear of losing your job and your salary! There is the fear of how this will affect your family!

And these fears can consume your thinking 24 hours a day. Your fear can cause you to become highly suspicious of everyone around you and force your mind to play over and over again all of the "worst case scenarios." Fear will affect your sleeping as you spend all night looking at the ceiling going through all of the "what ifs" surrounding your situation. Suddenly you become full of paranoia and mistrust as a result of fear.

An even worse, your fear results in your doing even less ministry. That was the case with Elijah. After the battle of Mt Carmel, there was never a more ripe time to see ministry expanded and the possibility of national revival in Israel take place. But where was Elijah? he was in THE CAVE filled with FEAR.

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Monday, December 20, 2010

THE CAVE - Principle #3

So far we have seen two principles regarding THE CAVE (the place where ministry becomes misery) from the life and ministry of Elijah. They are:

THE CAVE can become reality even to the most successful of pastors and ministry leaders! (December 15th's posting)

THE CAVE becomes even more possible after a great spiritual victory! (December 17th's posting)

Now we see principle #3 regarding doing ministry from within THE CAVE. Here it is:

"Entering THE CAVE is often a result of one person who opposes us!"

In Elijah's case it was the wicked Queen Jezebel. When I think of the story of Elijah, I like to call it by the title of the old Clint Eastwood western, "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly!" Here is how the characters breakdown:

The Good = Elijah
The Bad = King Ahab
The Ugly = Queen Jezebel

After Elijah's victory on Mt Carmel that we looked at in the last posting, King Ahab ran home and told his despicable wife, Jezebel, all that had happened at the hands of the Prophet Elijah. This resulted in Jezebel sending a message to Elijah threatening to kill him within 24 hours:

"Now Ahab had told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, 'So may the gods do to me and even more, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time.'" (1 Kings 19:1-2)

Elijah had just taken on and killed 450 prophets of Baal on Mt Carmel. Yet now, he was letting one person who stood in opposition to him drive him from the mountain top of spiritual victory and into THE CAVE.

it's true - entering THE CAVE is often the result of one person who opposes us! I heard a preacher say the same thing one time only he put it like this, "There is always a Judas in your life and they are usually close enough to kiss you."

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Friday, December 17, 2010

THE CAVE - Principle #2

In my last post we saw the first principle about THE CAVE (the place where ministry becomes misery) as seen in the story of the Old Testament prophet, Elijah:

"THE CAVE can become reality even to the most successful of pastors and ministry leaders!"

Today we see principle #2:

"THE CAVE can become even more possible after a great spiritual victory!

In 1 Kings 19 we find Elijah in THE CAVE. But where was this great man of God in chapter 18? He was standing on top of Mt Carmel where he had just been the victor in one of the greatest battles in all of Scripture.

Elijah had ordered Ahab to meet him on Mt Carmel with all of Israel and the 450 prophets of Baal. Here he challenged these prophets to a "winner take all" showdown. Each side would take an ox, prepare it for sacrifice, and then call on the name of their God to provide the fire. Whichever God responded first would be the winner. The Prophets of Baal had all of the advantages:

It was 450 of them against just 1 prophet of Jehovah!

Mt Carmel supposedly was the home of Baal, so they had "home field advantage" sort of speak!

Baal would get to go first! What a risk this was. If Baal answered first, the contest would be over before Elijah could ever get the first prayer out of his mouth.

Elijah would have his sacrifice drenched with water!

The prophets of Baal started. From morning until noon they cried out to Baal but with no response whatsoever. Elijah began to mock Baal by using simple human terms to describe this so-called deity. The false prophets even cut themselves to get Baal's attention. 1 Kings 18 goes on to say that they cried out with a "loud voice" which is a term used in Deuteronomy 14:1 to describe the cry of those grieving and mourning for the dead. This emotional frenzy continued until evening but still there was no response.

It was then Elijah's turn. The prophet of God took 12 stones, representing the 12 tribes of Israel, and repaired the altar of the Lord. He had a trench dug around the altar and prepared the wood and the sacrifice. He then had the sacrifice and the wood soaked to the point that it filled the trench with water. Then Elijah prayed and fire immediately came down from heaven with such force that it consumed the sacrifice, the wood, the altar and the water that was in the trench.

There would be no question to all of Israel as to who the real God was. It was Jehovah - not Baal. So Elijah commanded that all the false prophets of Baal be killed. This was not an act of vengeance but one of obedience to the command of God to put to death all false prophets as seen in Deuteronomy 13:1-5.

It's almost funny, isn't it (at least to everyone except Elijah)? In one chapter Elijah is standing in victory on Mt Carmel and in the next chapter he is in THE CAVE saying, "God, just kill me." But I have found that this is exactly how Satan seems to work.

Maybe it is because we have a tendency to let our spiritual guard down while we are basking in the sweet glow of ministry success. Maybe it's because these victories have a tendency to cause us to start depending on God far less and depending on ourselves far more. But either way you look at it, the principle about THE CAVE remains true..."THE CAVE becomes even more possible after a great spiritual victory!"

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

THE CAVE - Principle #1

In my last blog posting I introduced to you ministry life from within THE CAVE (the place where ministry becomes misery) as seen in the life of the Old Testament Prophet, Elijah. This man of God was no "run of the mill" prophet. Hundreds of years after his ministry was over, the Holy Spirit of God inspired James, when writing part of the New Testament, to pen the words, "The effective fervent prayer of a righteous man accomplishes much." Then, out of all of the spiritual giants of the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit led James to choose Elijah as an example of this fact.

"The effective fervent prayer of a righteous man accomplishes much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit" (James 5:16b-18).

The word "effective" carries the idea of "energy." Of all of the incredible men and women of prayer seen in the Old Testament (Daniel, Job, David, Hannah) the Holy Spirit guided James to pick Elijah who with energy prayed that it would not rain - and it didn't. And then he prayed that it would rain - and it did (see 1 Kings 18:41-46). This guy had one major effective ministry and he was a proven prayer warrior, yet he found himself inside of THE CAVE. That brings to us our first principle about THE CAVE:

Principle #1 - "THE CAVE can become reality even to the most successful of pastors and ministry leaders."

It doesn't matter how big of a church you pastor or how small it might be. It doesn't matter if your preaching is classified as far more dynamic than most others. It doesn't matter what school you went to for training or what denomination you are part of - you still just may experience what it is like to do ministry from within THE CAVE.

If you are in THE CAVE presently, that does not mean that there is something deeply wrong with you or that you are a failure. Elijah experienced THE CAVE. Many good and faithful servants of God have experienced THE CAVE. Remember, THE CAVE can become reality even to the most successful of pastors and ministry leaders - even you.

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Monday, December 13, 2010

Ministry In THE CAVE

I had heard about THE CAVE and had even talked to those who had experienced it, but until I found myself deep within its cold, dark confines, I really had no idea how miserable ministry could be inside of it. That is really what THE CAVE is - it is the place where ministry becomes misery.

You don't hear much about THE CAVE when you are preparing for ministry. You should. After all, very few pastors will get through a lifetime of ministry without experiencing it up close and personal. In fact, it will be THE CAVE that will end many a pastor's life in ministry. As I talk with seasoned pastors, they all seemingly have one thing in common - they have experienced ministry inside of THE CAVE and they often still have the scars to prove it.

You can have others tell you about what it is like to do ministry from within THE CAVE but until you've been there...

Until you know what it looks like...

Until you know what it feels like...

Until you know what it sounds like...

Until you know what it smells like...

Until will never truly understand. Once you get a whiff from inside the cave, the smell never really leaves your nostrils. It is an aroma that you will remember and that will impact you the rest of your life.

But THE CAVE is not a new concept in ministry. One of the greatest Old Testament characters in the Hebrew Scriptures may have just been the one to discover it - Elijah. In 1 Kings 19 we read:

"Then he (Elijah) came there to THE CAVE and lodged there." (1 Kings 19:9)

It is from Elijah's life that we learn some very real principles about THE CAVE. Over the next several postings I will share with you from the life of Elijah the following aspects of ministry life in THE CAVE:

Three Principles About THE CAVE!

Four Characteristics Of Life In THE CAVE!

Four Steps To Get Out Of THE CAVE!

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Friday, December 10, 2010

Reading List Christmas Gift Ideas - Part 2

In my last posting I showed 3 books that were very beneficial for me as I went through a very painful time in my ministry. If you are a pastor going through a tough time, here are two more books I strongly recommend. If you know a pastor who is going through a hurtful time in their ministry, why not consider one of these books as a Christmas gift for them?

Beginning Monday I will start a new series of postings from the life of the Old Testament Prophet, Elijah!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Reading List Christmas Gift Ideas - Part 1

Christmas is right around the corner so if you know of a pastor in ministry that is hurting right now, why not consider putting a good book under their tree. In my blog posting today and Friday, I will share 5 books that were very helpful for me as a pastor when I was going through a difficult ministry period.

I'll show the final two books in Friday's blog!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Two Sides Of Ministry

"By glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report; regarded as deceivers, and yet true." (2 Corinthians 6:8)

Receiving Glory!

Good Report!

Seen As True!

Those are three wonderful aspects of faithful ministry to those God has called to a life of serving Christ and His church. There will be many who shower you with glory. I have notebooks filled with hundreds and hundreds of notes, cards, and emails from people who shared with me amazingly kind words about my ministry in their lives. There will be times of good reports as people see how God is using your ministry and rejoice with you. And there will be many who will take notice of the purity and truth of your motives and desires and applaud your passion and energy for the Lord.

But those are not the only words Paul uses to describe life in ministry. Next to each of them he adds their painful and stinging counterparts:

Being Dishonored!

Having An Evil Report!

Being A Deceiver!

In ministry, these will become very true as well. Some may dishonor you. Some may spread evil reports about you. You may even be accused by others of being a deceiver. And make no mistake - these times hurt - they hurt real bad. There are two sides to ministry. Some will RESPECT you while others will RESENT you. Some will ADORE you while others will ATTACK you. How do you respond? You respond to both sides the same way:

Be HUMBLE - it's not about you!

Be FAITHFUL - it's all about God!

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Friday, December 3, 2010

Endurance 101

"But in everything commending ourselves as servants of God, in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distress, in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger." (2 Corinthians 6:4-5)

2 Corinthians 6:4-5 gives us quite the list, doesn't it? I don't know about you but they did not show me this list when I was in Bible College or Seminary. There seriously should have been a class called "Endurance 101" with each class period going over one of the many difficulties of ministry. If Paul were teaching it the schedule would look like this:

Class 1 - Enduring Afflictions
Class 2 - Enduring Hardships
Class 3 - Enduring Distresses
Class 4 - Enduring Beatings
Class 5- Enduring Imprisonment
Class 6 - Enduring Tumults
Class 7 - Enduring Labors
Class 8 - Enduring Sleeplessness
Class 9 - Enduring Hunger

If I were teaching the class the list of lecture topics might look a bit different. In fact, each professor who might teach this course would most likely alter the topic list based on their own ministry scars and experiences.

But no matter what topics are covered, the truth is that there is a low side to ministry and very few pastors and ministry leaders will skate through their lives without experiencing the gut-wrenching pain that comes with their calling. Paul didn't escape it. I didn't escape it. And if you are reading this posting then you have most likely not been able to escape it either.

That's why we have to go back to the first word Paul uses in the verse. It is the theme. it is the need. It is endurance - holding up under the weight of a ministry that hurts.

So my friend, ENDURE!

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Divine Appointments (Lessons From Two Jim's)

"Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men..." (2 Corinthians 5:11)

"Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us, we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God." (2 Corinthians 5:20)

Hurts in ministry have a way of turning your focus from being outward to being inward. Suddenly, every moment of every day is focused on "me" and what is happening to "me" and how "I" am being treated and how it is making "me" feel and how it is impacting "my" life.

When I become fully focused on "me" I lose sight of my main calling which is to "go into all the world and make disciples." Paul was going through horrible affliction in ministry, yet he remained focused outward on those who needed Christ.

Two men, each named Jim, helped me to see how in my own life I had allowed my hurt and pain to change my focus from outward to inward. I was counseling one Jim who had begun to attend our church. He had never really thought much of 'church' but God had recently led him to our local church and Jim was realizing that the Bible really did apply to his life. He struggled with how forgiveness of sin and eternal life could be a free gift. He felt it only made sense that he needed to earn something so valuable. These meetings with Jim were like an oasis in a desert for me during a very difficult time in ministry. He was eagerly embracing the truth of the Gospel and ultimately Jim crossed that line of faith and trusted the death and resurrection of Jesus alone for his forgiveness and salvation.

The other Jim I met while attending a Leadership Development Training out west. I was the only pastor there as this was a corporate leadership training. To spend an entire week with a dozen secular leaders from all over the country brought quite many opportunities but, sad to say, things had become so bad by the way of ministry challenges back home that I was struggling to focus on anything but "me." God brought me back to the proper focus through what I like to call a "Divine Appointment."

I was taking a walk back at the hotel when I passed Jim, who was also attending this training. He was on the phone, and being in the inward frame of mind that I was, I fully intended to pass right by him. However, Jim noticed me and motioned for me to stop while he finished his phone conversation. He asked if I wanted to go grab a bite to eat. Honestly, I didn't want to but I could sense that this was being orchestrated by the Holy Spirit.

It didn't take long at dinner for Jim to share his spiritual journey with me even though we had just met that morning. What a joy it was to share with Jim steps he could take to continue moving forward toward a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

Even in your greatest pain, if you will take your eyes of of "me" you will find Divine Appointments that God has arranged for you, His ambassador on earth. After all, there are many Jim's right around you!

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