Sunday, January 25, 2009
Bernie...and His Gift.
As he sits on the stool on the platform, he looks like a weight lifter...his massive shoulders, chest and biceps stretching his shirt to its limits. His eyes sparkle as he turns and smiles at the keyboard player and picks up his microphone. As the music starts, he struggles to stand to his feet and he looks out over the congregation. And then it happens...the sanctuary is filled with a most beautiful sound! The voice that is projected from this middle aged Hispanic man is not what I expected. I have heard a lot of worship singers over the past 20 years, but I'm not sure I've ever heard a voice as anointed of God as this one is. His passion for his worship can't be hidden and impacts every person in the room.
As the praise and worship time comes to a close, one of the pastors walks up the three steps to the platform and helps Bernie down to the pews. It is then that you can see the bottom of the brace that supports his polio impacted legs. Without the braces or crutches, this gifted man wouldn't be able to get onto the stage and lead the worship service. It makes you wonder why a man who loves God so much and has dedicated his life to praising and worshiping Him would be so physically afflicted.
I had a chance to hear his testimony this morning and he spoke directly into my heart. He was born in Mexico to his mom who birthed eleven children. Two of the children, both sons, died at a very early age from fever. When Bernie was diagnosed with Polio at the age of one, his mom didn't think that she could survive the loss of another child. A Christian woman, she prayed to God a prayer similar to Hannah's in the book of 1Samuel. She told God that if He would spare this young boy, she would give him into God's service. Bernie survived the Polio with a crippled left leg and his mom kept her promise and he practically lived in the church house.
Gifted with a beautiful voice and an ear for music, Bernie found himself leading worship in his local church before he turned 10 years old. At first, he led from the front pew near the guitar players, but soon found himself on the platform in front of the congregation. He never learned to read music, but he could learn a song by listening to it once and could begin singing in nearly any key as soon as he heard the first note played.
Although raised in the church and clearly anointed by God, the enemy still managed to find Bernie's ear and whisper his poisonous lies.
"Your still crippled because your not good enough to be healed", the voice spoke to him. Bernie would not only hear the silent voice, but church members began to murmur that if he was holy enough, surely God would have healed him by now. It was definitely Bernie's fault that he was still a cripple.
Even though he had been prayed for literally thousands of times for a miraculous healing, the leg remained weak and crippled. And before long, Bernie began to believe the voice that would whisper to him in the morning as he would struggle to strap his brace on so that he could stand. Though he loved God and believed in the miracles of Jesus, Bernie believed that there was something wrong with him that was so bad that God wouldn't answer his prayers for healing.
I've been where Bernie was during that season of his life...a time when I believed that I was not worthy enough in God's eyes for him to answer my prayers. Though I wasn't praying for a physical miracle like he was, nonetheless, I was still lifting my prayers to God for deliverance from the sin in my life. And I know others were praying as well. Why wasn't God answering? Why weren't the demons leaving me? Why did I have to continue to live like this? The author of the same lies that spoke to Bernie were talking to me as well.
"God won't free you because you have failed to many times", the voice would say. "You will never be good enough and God will never accept you." And I began to believe the voice because as hard as I tried, I would continue to find myself back in my sin, seemingly deeper than I was before.
Even with the self-blame that he felt, Bernie continued to sing and lead worship. Week after week, he would struggle to get up the steps onto the platform of whatever church he might be in that weekend. At times, his brace was broken and he would find himself using his crutches to slowly move himself into position. Having to use his crutches instead of a hidden brace deepened his sense of guilt. "Surely everyone must think I'm an evil sinner if I'm still crippled and God hasn't healed me", echoed through his mind on more than one occasion.
But as God always seems to do, He revealed to Bernie through a young man who saw Bernie praising and worshipping, even through his disability, that God can and will use anyone. The young man gave his life to Jesus one night after watching Bernie lead the worship service in his church. Shortly after that, a man of God shared with Bernie a word of prophesy concerning his condition.
"God could have healed you at any time, Bernie", he said. "But you are much more valuable to Him in your current condition."
As Bernie shared that part of his story today, I paused and thought about that prophesy and God spoke into my own heart at that moment.
I've wondered over the past five years why I had to fall as deep and hard as I did. Why did I have to lose everything? God has since released me from the bondage that I struggled with for so many years, so I know that He could have done it years ago. I heard the answer today.
I was a very good teacher and an outstanding school administrator. I loved what I did and believe that I was impacting a lot of people in a very positive way. I would have been more than satisfied to spend my 35 years in public education, retire and find a way to continue to work in the profession. But, "you are more valuable to Him in your current condition." echoes in my mind this afternoon.
I'm slowly coming to understand that this life is not all about me. At times, it has been a very painful and confusing lesson. All through life, it seems that we're told to look out for "number one". That doesn't mean that we step on people to get to the top, but our society puts a great deal of focus on getting ahead. But that is not necessarily always God's plan. If we allow him to , He will use our circumstances of failure, whether physical or otherwise, and use them to impact this world we occupy in ways we could never imagine.
Like Bernie, God has gifted me. It wasn't with the voice of an angel like Bernie has it. It was with a spirit of obedience and a willingness to accept what His will is for my life. Like Bernie, some days my crutches are visible, and at other times, I'm braced by God's power in my life. And like Bernie, I no longer listen to the voice that speaks shame, but instead listen to the Voice the gives life.
Photos from Flickr