Overcoming Obstacles (Bridge Message)

There's one thing I love about working in a homeless shelter; it's seeing and helping people overcome obstacles! I have the honor of seeing this happen every day. Even with all the odds stacked against them, I love to see people continue to keep on fighting and not give up! I love to see people not be defeated by whatever weaknesses and obstacles stand in the way!

Despite all odds stacked against them, I love to see my homeless friends move into housing. I love to see the unemployed get jobs. I love to see those struggling with addiction taking steps to reduce the harm they're doing to themselves and others. I love to see those who've been rotating in and out of jail for years, work on things and stop the cycle. I love to see those burdened with mental illnesses and physical limitations not give in to despair, keep on fighting and find a way to keep moving forward. Despite all odds stacked against them, I love to see people turn around what should be heart-wrenching and painful into motivation and laughter. 

I am inspired by my very own daughter. She was born without her left forearm and hand, and yet she finds a way to conquer almost any obstacle that stands in her way. Whether it's tying her shoelaces, swimming, riding a bike, shooting a bow and arrow or playing video games with her older brother, she works on it and works on it until she finds a way that suits her and her unique situation. 

We all know overcoming obstacles are not easy. The struggle is real. My daughter didn't automatically just learn to ride her bike. It took time. It took patience. It took effort. It meant falling. It meant taking risks. It meant trusting me to let go. It was painful at times and there were tears. When she finally worked out how to balance herself and steer that bike, she was up and away. There was no stopping her and she rode that bike confidently. 

The truth is, life is a lot harder for some than others, the obstacles are larger and more frequent, and that's why there's a saying I love; "the greater the struggle, the more glorious the triumph". It speaks of how we can have victory, even when all the odds are stacked against us. It speaks about how victory is so much more glorious when the obstacles seem insurmountable.

When my daughter rode that bike, I can't help but think and know, "the greater the struggle, the more glorious the triumph."

When my friend Johnny, who can't read or write, and was homeless 40 years finally moved into his own place a couple years ago, I can't help but think and know, "the greater the struggle, the more glorious the triumph."  

My friend Tony had been rotating in and out of the Joint and homelessness for a couple decades because he had struggled to stay clean, had sticky fingers and it was hard for him to control his emotions. When he finally slowed down and kept his focus on the essentials; that's when things changed. It has now been about 5 years, he overcame some giant obstacles that stood in his way and he remains focused. He remains housed. When I look at Tony, I can't help but think and know, "the greater the struggle, the more glorious the triumph."

Too often, we often only want to focus on what makes us strong, on where we are gifted, on where everything seems easy and we feel empowered. We often think God can only use us in our places of strength, and not in our weaknesses or as we try to overcome obstacles, but the Apostle Paul turned that around with these words in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, where he tells us how Jesus takes us in our weaknesses and makes the triumph glorious.

“But he (Jesus) 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.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NIV)

This is the power of the Gospel. When the world tells us we have no chance, that the obstacles are too big and we'll never be victorious, Jesus tells us something completely different, Jesus gives us hope. Jesus tells us "I will help you overcome", he tells us that He will help us conquer, he tells us He loves to use our weaknesses, he tells us not to feel defeated, because "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."

It is in our weaknesses and struggles that Jesus meets us and His power rests on us. It is in our weaknesses that victory is found. Jesus wants to use our weaknesses, He doesn't want us to ignore them, He wants to use whatever obstacles and weaknesses we have in our lives for His Kingdom and His Glory, and that is why Paul could write, "For Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties." Paul knew that a victorious life comes through Jesus working through us, in us and through our weaknesses, that is why he said, "For when I am weak, then I am strong!"

Do not let the giant obstacles in your lives overwhelm and overcome you. Do not give in. Keep on fighting, because Jesus is there, fighting with you and giving you strength for the battles. He wants to take whatever obstacle you have in your life and flip it on its head. He loves you so much that He wants to use it for His Kingdom and His Glory. He wants to give you victory, so you can be called "more than a conqueror". He is patient with us and He waits on us, but He also wants us to be patient with ourselves and wait on Him. 

Years ago I was very suicidal and depressed; there was no way I would have believed a word I am saying today. I was in a deep dark place, and as the Metallica song says, I felt like any "light at the end of the tunnel was just a freight train coming my way". I thought my obstacles were too big and I was too weak to ever have any victory over anything in my life. I would lie in the dark for hours, unable to sleep, wallowing in my own grief, overwhelmed by all that stood before me.

After having a long and painful internal battle, I finally surrendered myself to Jesus! I needed to humble myself and accept the fact that God wants us to come to Him as weak and pathetic people. I needed to realize that only He can help us overcome any obstacle. I reluctantly took a leap of faith and waited on Him, and that's when change started happening for me; I was able to sleep again! That light was no longer impending doom, but a renewed hope in a brighter future and a life I could actually live. 

I look back at that time, and even though it was awful for me and those around me, I'm thankful I went through it, because it changed me, in a good way, forever! Going through that time, helped form who I am today. Jesus showed me how much I need Him. He showed me how He can pull someone out of a deep dark abyss and give them victory. He showed me that there's no obstacle too large for Him and there's no weakness too small, He loves us so much, He longs to give us victory. 

My daughter would have never ridden a bike if she'd never took the risk and jumped on one, put her feet on the pedals and trusted me. If we want to live a victorious life and overcome our obstacles, we must start by taking that first step and believe that Jesus loves us so much that He can and will help us navigate over those obstacles and transform our weaknesses into victory. 

Remember, Jesus desires to use us in our weakness; remember that when our obstacles seem too high, Jesus wants to empower us; remember, Jesus wants to give us victory, so we can proclaim, just as the Apostle Paul was able to during his times of hardship and had obstacles that seemed impossible to get over: “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”
(Romans 8:37 NIV)

A brief summary of why I wrote this: There's a ministry on the West-side of Chicago called Mission:USA; every Tuesday night they have a Church service called The BRIDGE. Their services are open to everybody, but especially those who find it hard to gel in their local congregations! Or to put into cruder terms; a lot of these men and women are ex-offenders, homeless and low-income folk who have felt ostracized and rejected by many churches, so their mission is to be a bridge between prison, the streets, and the Church. The Bridge helps these wonderful men and women find churches that will welcome them with open arms..... 
And isn't this exactly what the Gospel and the "Kingdom of God" is all about? 

Every Tuesday night, The Bridge has a host team from a Church, who greet the guests and provide a meal. The guests anonymously submit questions about their "walk of faith", and staff from The Bridge pick out a relevant question. Meanwhile, they have invited 3 pastors from 3 different churches to come and give a 10-minute sermon each about this specific question or topic. In my humble opinion, this is a great concept and ministry, who's staff is very loving, compassionate and supportive to the "least of these".
This was a sermon preached on 5/16/2017, in response to this question; "Overcoming Obstacles"

"I want to live a more victorious life and overcome obstacles. I know I need God’s power to do this, but where do I start? How do I keep from making the same old mistakes?"
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