Friday, November 28, 2014

I Want it Now!

Some people really love their sin. Are you one of them? If someone were to ask me this question, I would immediately respond with an emphatic No! I love the Lord, and I struggle against sinful attitudes and actions every day. My flesh is relentless in its desire to be satisfied, but I am battling it daily, with some success. I’m sure that I don’t love my sin!

But wait. If I don’t love my sin, then why does it seem I’m unable to uproot it from my heart?  I’m not talking here about the sin nature, or the flesh or the influence of the enemy. I’m talking about what we Christians call besetting sins. These are the sins that seem to be constantly tempting us. Like the child’s game of Whack-a-Mole, we think we’ve got it beaten, and it pops up somewhere else. It seems we are in a constant, life-long cycle of sin-consequence-repentance-forgiveness. This is very discouraging, and we wonder if we will ever overcome this sin.

These besetting sins seem more deeply rooted than others. If you think about it, you can probably remember other sins that used to be problematic for you in your early Christian days, but no longer seem to be much of an issue. For example, I used to have a significant anger problem. I was very impatient and easily annoyed, which would quickly turn to anger and frustration. I had to confess and repent many times, but eventually I seemed to get a handle on that, and it doesn’t control me anymore.

But there is another sin habit that really seems to have a death grip on my heart. My awareness of this particular issue has been keenly sharpened over the last few years as I have struggled with chronic pain and disability. That issue is self-pity. I am always amazed at how easily I can fall into this mode of feeling sorry for myself because I can’t do the things I want to do. I was watching an old Willy Wonka movie yesterday, and I saw myself in the character of Veruca Salt, who was terribly spoiled and petulant. As I watched her demand that her father buy her everything she wanted, I became convicted of my own discontentment.

But for me, it’s more than just discontentment. When I can’t have what I want, and my Father won’t get it for me, I begin to feel sorry for myself. As I watch others who seem to have a better life than I do, I become jealous, and this compounds my misery. I become a spoiled brat who believes she is entitled to whatever she wants, just because she wants it! This is not acceptable for a child of the living God! But how can I change? “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:24). Thank God indeed, I already have the answer to my problem! I have been freed from this sin. Now, I must receive the pardon and break free of the bonds of besetting sin.

The truth is, I am not a slave to sin, but a slave of Christ. I owe Him my life, my every breath, my very soul! How can I possibly feel sorry for myself when I have eternal life? This time here on earth, in this broken body, is a vapor (James 4:14). Besides that, there are many who are living in much greater difficulty than I am. Some of them would probably give anything to have what I have. The key to uprooting this sin in my life is to open my eyes to these truths, and to the people all around me who are suffering. Ministering to others is the absolute best cure for self-pity. I have experienced this many times as I am working on this sin pattern in my own life. As I reach out to help others, my own problems are diminished, I am more grateful, and I begin to move toward that contentment that seems so elusive.

Veruca’s father repeated something to her over and over as she sang about all her demands. He said, “You can have all that when you get home.” This is the refrain I must keep in mind, to combat these feelings of self-pity, jealousy and discouragement. All these things I desire and cry out to God for, will be mine when I get Home to Him. There will be no pain, no sorrow, and no limits on what I can do. But I must be patient. My contentment rests in trusting God to enable me to do all He has called me to do here, nothing more and nothing less. I can be satisfied in knowing that He will bring me to perfection in Him on that day when I arrive at Home.

If you haven't seen the Willy Wonka movie, and you'd like to meet Veruka, click here. You may see a little bit of yourself in her, too!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Painful Price of a Stiff Neck

“Now, do not be stiff-necked…, but yield yourselves to the LORD; and enter His sanctuary, which He has sanctified forever, and serve the LORD your God…” 2 Chronicles 30:8

I have had a painful, stiff neck lately. This usually happens when I get stressed out, and I’m sure you’ve experienced the same thing. I don’t know too many people who haven’t had a physiological response to stress, so you can probably relate. As I’ve been nursing my stiff neck, I can’t help but think of all the references in the Bible to stiff-necked people. Just this morning I was reading Stephen’s speech in Acts 7. As he confronts the high priest and his cohorts, he calls them stiff-necked because they “always resist the Holy Spirit.” As I read this, I felt one of those Holy Spirit jabs that happen occasionally when I know that things aren’t quite right in my heart.

What does it mean to resist the Holy Spirit? My go-to Scripture for the answer to this question is Galatians 5:17:

“The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions.” (NLT)
Even though I have been saved, I still have a sinful nature that wants to do evil. At the same time, I am indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and that Spirit in me wants to do good. Because I am His, I want to glorify Him with my thoughts, words and actions, but my sinful self wants to disobey. This tension results in stress!

Back to our 2 Chronicles verse, we see the admonition not to be stiff-necked, but to yield ourselves to the Lord. So, instead of insisting on and pursuing our own way, we are to submit to what God has planned for us. The high priest, the Israelites, you, and I have something in common: We are resisting the Holy Spirit. Maybe our pride has got us taking on more than we are really able to do. Maybe we are covetous, and want to work harder to make more money to have what the neighbors have. Maybe we are perfectionistic, and insist that everything and everyone meet our standard.  Whatever the reason, if you find yourself with a stiff neck today, it’s possible that you are resisting the Holy Spirit in some way.

My own current stiff neck started when I was exhorting (for the umpteenth time) a friend who was caught up in sinful thinking about her life. As I listened to her, I thought, “Why doesn’t she get it? I’ve told her this a thousand times! She keeps coming back with the same issues! Ugh, when will she ever repent and change? I don’t have time for this!” I had become frustrated with my friend because I thought she should be past this by now. My timetable for heart change had expired, and she was not cooperating!

If I were submitted to God and His plan, I wouldn’t have a timetable for her. I would be trusting the Lord, graciously and patiently waiting for His work on her heart, understanding that I am nothing but a tool in His hand to help my friend and sister in Christ. I would also be thinking about how patient God is with me when I am stubborn and prideful; or how patient he was when He waited for me to cry out to Him for His saving grace. Out of love for the Lord and for her, I would be able to offer patience, kindness, and all those other wonderful fruits of the Spirit that are listed in Galatians 5.

This brings me back to the jab. God is so good to reveal my sin to me, and to offer me repentance and hope, and He almost always does it through His Word. As I read Stephen’s speech, I realized how much I have been resisting the Holy Spirit lately. I want to be physically stronger. I want to do the things I used to do, but I can’t. I want people to learn from my mistakes, so they don’t have to go through what I’ve been through, but they each must endure their own sanctification process. If I want to avoid being both literally and physically stiff-necked, I must do as I was told in 2 Chronicles and yield myself to the Lord to serve Him.

What will this look like for you and me? There are as many circumstances as there are moments in the day, so I don’t know for sure what your particular yielding will mean. I do know, though, that it always means a dying to self and a willingness to live for the Lord. Paul boils it all down for us here: “And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5: 24 &25).  How will you apply this truth today?  

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Jinx Factor

I’ve just come from another therapy session, and I am in shock! The biggest problem with my leg has been the extremely limited range of motion in my knee, and this latest therapy was intended to improve that. Today was the dreaded measuring day, to see if I have improved. I’d asked the therapist not to tell me any numbers, because so many times I have had my hopes up, then been disappointed. After she measured, she was bursting with excitement, and begged me to let her tell me. I finally gave in, and heard the wonderful news that I have gained nine degrees of extension in my knee!

Now, that may not sound too exciting to those of you who take straightening your leg for granted, but to me, it is nearly a miracle. I knew that things had improved because I've been walking more comfortably and have had less pain overall since starting the therapy. But I never imagined I would gain so much in such a short time, and with relatively little pain or effort on my part. Many have been praying as I’ve gone through this therapy, and I know that the Lord has heard their pleas on my behalf.

But I find myself only cautiously optimistic. Why am I not full of joy and excitement about this new development? Why am I responding to this answered prayer with such skepticism? Is it because I am not thankful for this improvement? I don’t think so. I am so very grateful for the Lord’s mercy and goodness to me in this way! I know that it is only by His grace that I am feeling better, and out of His love for me He has granted these prayers. So why do I hesitate to celebrate? Why can’t I just let go and do a full-on Praise the Lord and shout to the rooftops? I believe my problem is the Jinx Factor.
Some of you know what I am talking about. When something good happens after you’ve wanted it for a long time, you shouldn't get excited about it or tell too many people, because you might “jinx” it. Enjoying a positive development or sharing news that seems too good to be true may cause the happy circumstance to reverse itself. Of course, this is a silly superstition with no truth in reality at all, yet it seems to be affecting me today as I receive this news.

I have been a Christian for most of my adult life, yet this silly superstition still hangs on. As I pondered why this might be so, it occurred to me that there is another truth that I wholeheartedly believe, that definitely seems too good to be true: God sent His only son to die for my sins so that I could be with Him forever. There is absolutely nothing about me, no merit or goodness that would have caused Him to do that. It makes no sense. Yet, I believe it to the core of my soul. God has granted me faith to believe in His love, grace and mercy toward me. I honestly do not question it, even when I lose the battle against sin. There is no danger of jinxing this great news! I never hesitate to tell of the glory of my Savior, and the changes He has made in my heart. When I think on His attributes, peace and joy fill my soul and I know that nothing can ever take that from me.

So, what’s the difference between my response to the Gospel and my response to this latest good news? I believe the difference is that I am not applying my God-given faith to this God-given answer to prayer. Because it is circumstantial, I immediately apply a worldly response: “Don’t get too excited. It will probably go backward when you’re done with PT, as it has before. Maybe her measurements were off. It can’t be that much better. You’ll only be disappointed again if you get your hopes up.”

God saved me years ago in answer to my prayer, and probably the prayers of many others. Lately, I have prayed for this healing, as have many others. Answered prayer is answered prayer! Who am I to question God? When He says yes, He means yes (2 Corinthians 1:20), whether in the spiritual or physical realm. So I will enjoy this new development, and I will praise Him for this gift (James 1:17). If it doesn’t continue to improve, or goes backward, I will praise Him still, because that too will be a gift. My hope is in Christ, with whom there is no shadow of turning…and definitely no jinx factor!

Friday, November 14, 2014

I'm Walkin', Yes Indeed!

What does it mean to walk with the Lord? As I finished my last blog post, thinking about walking in eternity with Jesus, it occurred to me that He calls me to walk with Him right now, too. But how do those two thoughts compare? Walking with Jesus, talking with Him about His Word, worshiping Him, basking in His grace, enjoying His glory—these are all things I’m looking forward to when this life is done. Thinking on eternity with Christ brings unimaginable joy to my heart. The thought of walking with Him in my perfected body brings wonderful feelings of peace and happiness. But plodding along the earth in this broken body? No, there is no great joy in that thought.

Yet, in a sense, the Lord calls me to walk with Him in that same light, even now. He expects me to be joyful (1 Thessalonians 5:16); to bask in His grace (2 Corinthians 12:9-12); to glorify Him (1 Corinthians 6:19-20); and to delight in His Word (Psalm 119:35) even now, while I am still here experiencing the pain and frustration of life in a fallen world. Is it possible that I could experience, at least to some degree, that same joy that I will have with Him in eternity? I believe that it is possible to delight in the Lord in this life, in this body, even on this day.

But how do we do that? How do we walk with Him here on earth in contentment and joy, when what we really want to do is complain and cry? The key is to focus not on the walk, but on Him. As we are walking and moving and doing life in this body, we can focus on our circumstances, our pain, and the vain hope of this world. We can become obsessed with getting better, regretting the choices that brought us here, or envying those who are physically stronger. Or, we can make a better choice. We can turn to the One who is walking beside us.

Imagine that you are already in heaven, walking beside Jesus in that beautiful place. How often do you think you will take your eyes off of him, to look at yourself? My answer to that question is, as little as possible. If that is my eternity, and that is what I am longing for, why am I not doing that now? If I can’t wait to get my eyes on Christ, to be near Him always, then why do I so easily turn from Him here? Because I have developed a pattern of thinking that is self-focused and not God-focused. As I work to change my thinking, I am beginning to have more of that joy and contentment that God’s Word promises.

Romans 15:13 says that when the God of hope fills me with all joy and peace in believing, the power of the Holy Spirit will cause me to abound in hope. Did you catch that? The God of hope will cause me to abound in hope because He fills me with joy and peace in believing! None of this is my responsibility. He is the God of hope, He causes me to hope, and He fills me with the joy and peace I long for. All I have to do is abide with Him, walk with Him, express my heart to Him, and hear His voice through the Scriptures. As I fix my eyes on Him, He will lead and direct my heart. What an amazing God we have! The more closely I walk with Him here, the more real our eternal walk becomes in my heart. My hope is that, as He leads and teaches me, my heart will become so bound to His that walking here and walking in heaven will be barely discernable!

There is no circumstance that can steal the joy of a child who is walking beside her loving Father. With Him, I am safe, I am protected, I am loved, cherished, treasured. No pain, no disability, no regret will ever change that. Because He loves me, I can walk with Him into any circumstance without losing my joy, and best of all, I can take the hand of another broken child and bring her with us. I can show a lost soul the glory and wonder of being found, and I can lead a sister who has lost her way, back to the path of joy. Oh, to be used of God in this way. What a privilege! What a hope! What a Savior!

Monday, November 10, 2014

It Doesn't Get Better Than This

“No one wants to hear, ‘That’s it for you; this is the best it’s ever going to be,’ right?”

These were the words of my physical therapist, as she worked on my leg last week. You may have read the blog post  in which I shared my decision making process when offered a new treatment. Well, I decided to go ahead and try the treatment, and that is what brought me to this conversation. As she was working on my leg, I asked my PT some questions about what my options might be, going forward. At some point, I will probably need some kind of surgical intervention again, and I am always interested in the knowledge and opinions of rehab professionals as to how soon that might be. In her attempt to be encouraging, she shared with me some strategies for “putting off the inevitable” in my case, and the sentence at the beginning of this post was basically her way of saying that there is always a chance it could get better.

For a brief moment after those words, I felt despair. No, I don’t want to hear that I’m never going to get better, have pain relief, or enjoy full mobility again. On the other hand, I don’t really appreciate a sugar coating on a bitter truth, either. My heart sank for a split second as her words sunk in, but thankfully, the Holy Spirit, who is always busy in my heart, was quick to lift me up again. He reminded me about the truth of “the best it’s ever going to be.” He brought to my mind the glorified body I will have when I am with the Lord. There will be no pain there, no limited mobility, no regret, no anger, sadness, or tears. I absolutely cannot wait for that day when this broken body is renewed, perfected, and made far better than it ever was in my lifetime.

Philippians 3:21 says that He “…will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” Wow! My body will be like His, transformed by the power of His sovereignty! How can the words of any human being bring me down, when God’s Word says that I will not have to suffer this way much longer? This life, however painful or problematic, is a vapor (James 4:14), but my glorified, perfect body will be mine for eternity! When I imagine the things I will be able to do, I am so excited I can hardly contain it! Running and jumping come to mind, and I always loved skipping, even as an adult!

But do you want to know what I am looking forward to the most? Walking. Not just because I love to walk, or miss it, or wish I could do it comfortably. I want to walk because I want to walk with Him. I can imagine us walking side by side on the New Earth, strolling over beautiful hills and through quiet valleys. As we walk, I am telling him all the things that I love about Him, and thanking Him for all the many blessings He has poured out on me. We are talking about His Word, and how powerful it was in my life. He is telling me all about His glory, His goodness, and His perfection, much of which I could not see or understand when I was still living in my fallen state. We walk for miles and miles, never tiring. Sometimes we are silent, just enjoying the beauty and glory of perfection.

As I think on these things, the voice of the physical therapist fades into the background, and I am filled with joy instead of despair, confidence instead of fear, and hope instead of dread. My dear Savior is waiting for me in paradise, planning our eternal walk together. He has gone to prepare a place for me (John 14:3), and that place has more beautiful walking trails than any place on this broken planet. In a moment, in the blink of an eye, I will be healed, perfected, pain-free. Never again will I suffer the consequences of my sin or anyone else’s!  

There’s a song my mom used to sing that is playing in my mind as I write this today. It’s called “In the Garden,” and it was written by Charles A. Miles. The chorus goes like this:

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

Friend, even as you suffer today, ask the Lord for a glimpse of that eternal walk. Look forward to the glory He has in store for you in just a little while. You will be healed, you will be restored, and you, too, will one day walk with Him. Hallelujah! What a Healer!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Back to the Present

Back to the Present

Those of us who struggle with painful or debilitating conditions sometimes worry about our future. What will become of us as our disease or condition gets worse, and we need more and more help with the activities of daily living? Well-meaning medical professionals will often mention casually that this will get worse, or that there are other consequences of the current issue, that won’t manifest until later. It is easy to dwell on what we may have to look forward to, and to worry or become disheartened by these potential problems. Even individuals without health problems know that these bodies are not ageless, and it is certain that they will grow old and decay.

So, what are we to do when these worries and fears come upon us? Well, the same thing we do when other kinds of worries tempt us. We take them to the Lord. Psalm 46:1 says that He is a very present help in trouble. Sometimes, we don’t sense His presence, but we know that His Word is true. So, what’s the reason we think He’s not with us? As I studied this question, I came across Matthew Henry’s commentary on this Psalm, and found some very good information about that word, “present.” It can have several subtly different meanings in the Hebrew, and they give us insight into the mystery of His presence.

First, according to Matthew Henry, when the Psalmist says that God is a very present help in trouble, the word He uses implies that He is a “help found.” In other words, he is a help that we have found to be faithful in the past. He has a reputation and a history of helping His children, and this is part of our confidence that He will help us now. Even if your thinking is so far gone that you can’t remember a single good thing He has done for you, you have only to look back through your Bible to find many accounts of His faithfulness to His children.

Secondly, the writer of this Psalm uses this word to imply that He is a help at hand. He is near, always watching, waiting for our call upon Him. He does not require us to go seeking or looking for Him. He is always there in our hearts, always available to us (Psalm 145:18).

Finally, this word means that our God is a help sufficient. There is no trial you will encounter, no temptation to sinful worry, that cannot be resolved with His help (1 Corinthians 10:13). His grace is sufficient for all your needs (2 Corinthians 12:9). His power has provided everything you need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). Rest assured, my friend, that you are in the hands of the God of the Universe, and He is able to bring you through anything this world, your own flesh, or the devil can imagine.

Are you worried about your future? Do you see your body failing, and longingly remember those times when your health was better? Don’t despair! Your God is a very present help in trouble! He is near, He is faithful, and He is sufficient. Lasso those runaway thoughts that lead to dread of the future and fear of the pain or sorrow it may hold. As you take those thoughts captive, bring them to your loving Savior, your Divine Healer, your faithful friend. He will lovingly exchange them for hope, peace, and joy.  Tell Him once again that you trust Him with your future, and come back to the present.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014


Recently, a counselee said to me, “I just don’t know what to do. I’m completely overwhelmed.” As I tried to help her sort through all of the responsibilities, trials, and problems she was faced with, I began to see a pattern: For every issue of her life, there was at least one corresponding blessing God had granted in relation to it. For most, there were many provisions made by God to help her with the respective problem. I grabbed some paper and a pencil, and began to make a chart, kind of like the factor trees we used to make in grade school to break down multiples. As the charts began to fill the page, we were both amazed at the beauty and wonder of God’s providence.

How about your life? What would your charts look like? Do you have pain? What blessings has God given you to make that pain more bearable? Do you struggle with disability? How has God sustained you? Have you experienced a loss? What has the Lord added that has enriched your life and softened the blow? If you begin to meditate on all the blessings in your life, instead of the pain and losses, you will see the love of your sovereign God there. It is easy to dwell on things that are in your face all the time. If every breath brings pain, or you must count and conserve every step, you will naturally be focused on those things. It takes effort and discipline to switch a one-track mind to another track, but it can be done.

Maybe you are thinking, as many believers will confess, that God wouldn’t have to give you all those little things, if he would just give you the one big thing that you really want. But this is flawed thinking, for at least a couple of reasons. First, God doesn’t have to give you anything. He could just allow you to suffer for His glory, never giving you any blessing other than the knowledge that you responded biblically to whatever he ordained for you. But that is not usually how He works. God rewards the faithful, as we read in Lamentations 3:19-25:

The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words.
I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss.
Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this:
The faithful love of the LORD never ends! His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.
I say to myself, “The LORD is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!”
The LORD is good to those who depend on him, to those who search for him.

As we depend on Him, he is faithful to bless our faithfulness. As we respond to our trial in a way that is pleasing to Him, He gives us hope.

Secondly, you need to ask yourself, what is that “one big thing” that you really want? What do you need that you don’t have? If we are thinking rightly, we know that we have only one real need, and that is the love and salvation offered to us in Christ. Without this, we are lost, and eternally hopeless. As believers, our greatest need has already been met. The trials and suffering we have now are the methods God uses to help us become mature in our walk with Him. As we turn again and again to Him for help in our pain or problems, we gain a deeper knowledge of His love.

Are you overwhelmed today? May I suggest that you begin to examine your life for the answered prayer you have experienced in your trial. Maybe you could even make your own “factor trees” to see all of the many blessings God has poured out on you through your troubles. As you do this, you will be overwhelmed in a new way: you will be overwhelmed by your God, His love, and His mercy that has been poured out on you. Here is some background music to start your thinking on the right path.