Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Rare Jewel

I’ve been reading a book lately that I highly recommend. It’s called The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, written by Jeremiah Burroughs, who was a minister in England in the 1600’s. I have found this book to be convicting, yet at the same time encouraging. It has taught me much about contentment, and today I’d like to share a couple of the things that have stood out to me.

First, let me say that this book has caused me to examine my heart in a number of areas. One of the things I have found there is a covetousness of others’ gifts, strengths, and successes. The most prominent ones are physical capabilities that I no longer have. Seeing the strength and fitness of others can tend to make me turn inward to what I do not have. This is sinful self-focus, and must be put to death. Burroughs shares insight here. To paraphrase what he says, “Well, they may have something I’ll never have, but I can have something they may never have: Contentment!” 

Contentment is rare indeed, and very few people really have it. But the Lord has promised that we believers can have contentment, if we will only practice it. So, when I hear of others’ trail hiking and long walks, I will think on my wonderful Christ who loves me, who saved me, and who is preparing a home for me right now, where I will have no pain. These thoughts will bring me to that place of contentment, where I truly believe that all I need is mine.

Another great blessing I received from this book is the instruction to examine my expectations. As I strive to change or improve some aspect of my physical problem, I am often disappointed as it actually becomes worse, or stays the same, after an expenditure of time, energy, or other resources. In these times, Burroughs reminds us to check our expectations. What has God truly promised? After all, only the promises of God can truly be counted on to come to pass. When I base my hopes or expectations on something else, I am setting myself up for disappointment. If I know that that disappointment will lead to sinful self-pity, then I am really setting up my own stumbling block! Based on this wisdom, I will look at my expectations through the lens of Scripture instead of the latest ad or medical study.

The overall tone of the book is one of great reverence and love for God. It urges us to see that our afflictions are actually gifts of God, to teach us to be content with such things as we have. In fact, the opening Scripture of the book is Philippians 4:11: I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. Oh, beloved, can we reach this state? Our great apostle Paul proves that we can. But in order to do so, we must believe that our Sovereign God loves us, and wants us to have the greatest gift available to us: Contentment! Can you imagine a more pleasant state in which to live? If we had true contentment based simply and solely on God’s great, eternal love, nothing else would matter. That contentment would trump any trial, and would keep our eyes firmly locked on heaven.

I’ll close with the context of Burroughs’s theme verse for his book, Philippians 4:11-13. Meditate on this passage, and ask the Lord to grant you this gift of contentment.

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Our Magnified God

I will praise the name of God with a song
And will magnify Him with thanksgiving.
Psalm 69:30

What does it mean to magnify something? Basically, it means to make it bigger, right? If the letters on a page are too small for me to read, I can put on my bifocals, and look through the magnifying section, and then I can read it just fine. Back when my kids were young, we loved to take nature walks and look through a magnifying glass at leaves, bugs, and almost anything that sparked our interest. The only way to make something look physically bigger is to change your visual perspective by getting closer to it or looking at it through a magnifying lens.

Sometimes, we need God to look bigger than the way we’ve been seeing him. Of course, God is God, and He is always big, no matter what our spiritual perspective may be. But every now and then, we may find that we have made God small in our hearts. Perhaps we have been caught up in trying to please people. Maybe we’ve become consumed with a trial for a long time, and have been so focused on that trial that our image of God has shrunk without our even realizing it. Maybe we’re disappointed in God for not doing what we thought He should do, and so we have justified making him small in our mind.

When we recognize this problem, we may try to fix it by going to church more, or reading the Bible more, or meditating on the attributes of God.  These are all very good things to do, but when I read this Psalm this morning, it struck me that there is one sure way to magnify God, both in our own hearts and in the world: With thanksgiving! Regardless of the trial, if the Holy Spirit dwells in our hearts, there will always be a spark of gratitude. A verse like this one is a puff of air on that spark, to fan that flame that will make God big again.

How does thankfulness magnify God? I’ll answer that question with another one: When we express gratitude, to whom are we expressing it? To God, of course! That very fact makes gratitude a reminder of the goodness and love of God in our lives. As we are continually thanking Him throughout the day, those reminders build a bigger and bigger picture of God, and soon our perspective is restored: God is big again, and problems are smaller.

When others hear us thanking God for His goodness, He is magnified in the world. Do you ever respond with, “Praise the Lord!” when someone tells you of some good news they’ve just heard? These three little words turn our thoughts immediately from our circumstances to the God and Sovereign Ruler of those circumstances. Even unbelievers will usually express agreement with that statement, and this is an opportunity to make God big in their eyes, too.

Finally, God is magnified by the renewing of our minds. To renew your mind means to think differently about your circumstances, your life, and your very soul. It means changing your mindset from a self- or circumstance-oriented one to a God- and others-oriented one. When we express our thanksgiving to God, it takes our mind off of ourselves and our problems, and puts it onto God, His goodness, His mercy, and His blessings. When we are thinking of these things, God is bigger, and our prideful hearts are brought down to size.

As we draw near to God through thanksgiving, we can see Him more clearly. As we continue to nurture a heart of gratitude, the magnification increases, and we see the truth of His love, His mercy, and His grace. Soon, He is so big that our troubles are swallowed up in the comfort of His love, and what do we do? We praise Him and thank Him more! Hallelujah! What a big God! What a Savior!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Glory Days

I’ve been struggling lately with a particular situation, and have been asking the Lord to give me a fresh shot of encouragement in it. Today, He did just that, and I’d like to share it with you.

At the time when I usually go to the gym, there is a particular exercise group just finishing up as I arrive. Most of the people in it are my age or maybe a little older. It’s obviously a class forpeople who are 50 plus, so it’s low-impact, but still offers some cardio. Every time I see these classmates coming out of the studio, sweating and laughing together, there is a twinge of jealousy in my heart, as I long to participate in a class like that, but am unable.

The Lord has been very gracious to me though, giving me power to train my thinking to turn to thoughts of Him, gratitude for the many years that I was able to do that intensity of exercise, and thankfulness for the pool and other modalities that enable me still to exercise regularly. These are all good thoughts, but as I chatted with another lady today, God gave me an even better way of thinking about this, and I am excited to begin training my mind to this response. 

This lady and I were chatting about the days when we used to be able to exercise “with the best of ‘em,” keeping up and loving the endorphins and the sweat. “Those days are gone now though, for sure,” she said to me. “Yes,” I replied. “Those were the glory days!” But even as those words left my mouth, the truth about that statement rang out in my heart. Glory days? Really? Whose glory were you pursuing back in those days when you were exercising your heart out to keep looking good? Who was glorified in your proud habit of daily exercise and weight control? Who was exalted as your friends admired your discipline and fitness? The answer to all these questions is, of course, me, myself, and I!

Back in those days, before I knew Christ, I had no desire to bring glory to Him, but I did have a great and burning desire for my own glory, comfort, and happiness. Without my exercise, I was certain I would be overweight, depressed, and useless, all of which were completely unacceptable to me. Back then, there was nothing more important to me than how I looked in the mirror and in the eyes of those whose opinion of me mattered (which, looking back now, was pretty much everyone)

As these thoughts ran through my head, and I began to see what was really true about those long-ago days, it dawned on me what is really true about today and the days ahead: These are the glory days! Today, I belong to Christ. I was created to bring glory to God (Isaiah 43:7), but back in the days when all my joints worked right, I was unaware of this fact. I had no idea what my purpose in life was, so I pursued worldly achievement and admiration. Today, I am privileged to know the truth about my life’s purpose, and I am blessed by the Holy Spirit with the ability to fulfill it! This trial of physical pain gives me many opportunities to bring glory to God in my response, as I strive to please and honor Him instead of myself.

How about you, my friend? Have you looked back wistfully at your “glory days,” when you were in better shape, and didn’t suffer with pain or disability? I’d like to challenge you today to join me in a new kind of workout. Let’s train our minds to think differently about the past, present, and future when it comes to our bodies. If we think of today and tomorrow as our glory days, we will get into the habit of looking for ways to bring glory to our great God, as He provides the training sessions we need to become more like Him. Are you with me? Let’s praise Him for creating us for His glory.  Hallelujah! What a purpose! What a Savior!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A Prayer For a Difficult Day

Dear Father,

We come to you this morning, broken and hurting. We are so weary of pain, sleepless nights, and disappointments. We long for just one day (sometimes just one hour) without pain. Yet, the pain persists. And we know that You are good.

So, we get up, do what we can to ease the pain, and keep going. We long to serve you, so we do the best we can, even as our bodies ache. As we care for ourselves and our families, we trust that You will sustain us through whatever you’ve called us to do. As we go to work or school, though the pain persists, we know that, whatever You have called us to do, You will provide the strength and stamina to do it. And we know that You are merciful.

As grateful believers, we want to see You glorified in our pain! How will You use this pain for Your glory, Lord? Won’t You please send someone today that we can encourage? This journey has been so hard, and we want to use what we’ve learned to prop up another believer, or to share your love with one who doesn’t know You. This desire to glorify You makes the pain more bearable, and helps us to keep responding in a way that is pleasing to You, for we know that You are holy.

Oh, God, You know our hearts. You know that we are weak and desperate sometimes. Thank You for understanding when we weep and grieve our losses. Thank you for being our Great Comforter in those times of deep sadness. Holy Spirit, strengthen our hearts, and help us to look up--not down, not back, but up, to seek Your face in these times, for we know that You are gracious.

Oh, our good, merciful, holy, and gracious God, we beg you to use our pain for Your glory. You have said that all things work together for good to those who are called according to Your purpose (Romans 8:28), so we trust that this pain is ultimately for good. Because of that truth, we will persevere. Though our physical problem has taken some things from us, we know that it can never take our greatest Treasure. One day, in the blink of an eye, we will be with You. No more pain. No more disability. No more tears. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for your promise of eternity. Hallelujah! What a Promise! What a Savior!  

Pain and the Upward Call

I was chatting with a lady in the pool today who has struggled all her life with her weight. Over the years she has gone up and down the scale too many times to count. As she spoke about her new plan and her goals, I couldn’t help but think how much energy, thought, and money she and others  have put into such pursuits. Weight loss and other disciplines get so much attention in our culture but very often, as we are preoccupied with these things, we miss out on the most important goal of all:

“Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected, but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me…forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”   (Philippians 3: 12-14, NKJV)

Did Christ Jesus lay hold of you so that you could set a weight loss goal? Did He save you so that you could get on a spending and saving plan toward a comfortable retirement? No, Christ Jesus laid hold of you so that you could lay hold of him:

“I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!”  (Philippians 3:10-11, NLT)

Ah, but there’s the rub. This goal includes some suffering along the way, and we don’t like to suffer. Oh sure, if we’re going to see a difference in the scale or the bank account, then it’s worth it to sweat or save. But these are outward changes and, if we’re honest, it’s our pride that drives us to work toward these goals. To really seek the Lord, though, the opposite is necessary. We must seek Him out of humility. We must die to ourselves, as He did, and suffer as He suffered if we are to share in that great resurrection. He was meek and lowly as He faced death, and He suffered without complaint or bitterness. We must do the same, leaning on Him and His strength to help us honor Him even in our pain.

My friends, as we are suffering in pain or disability, our goal must not be only to get relief or physical comfort, but to know Him more. I would like to challenge you today to study how He suffered. Reread the Gospel accounts of His persecution and trials, His death and resurrection. Ask Him to supply the strength you need to imitate Him in His suffering. He was a Man of Sorrows (Isaiah 53:3). He knows what suffering is, and He is able to help you through yours.

A new year is fast approaching. What will be your goals for 2016? My prayer for you is that you will  fix your eyes on things above, where Christ is, having finished His suffering (Colossians 3:1-3), and press toward the goal of knowing Him. 

Friday, November 27, 2015

What Are You Looking For?

But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.                             --Jude 20-21
As I write this post, tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. Most people will at least think about the things they are thankful for, and some will share that list around a table loaded with food. But, if we’re honest, most people are not very grateful the other 364 days of the year. Why is that? I believe it is because they are looking for something they will never find.

Some are looking for wealth. They work 60-plus hours per week, squirrel away what they don’t spend on luxuries, and hope that someday they can retire to a life of leisure. Some are looking for love. They go online seeking dates or marriage, or maybe they go out to the clubs, hoping to meet Mr. Right. Some even stay with Mr. Wrong, simply because they do not want to be alone. Others don’t really know what they are looking for, but they know that they are not content, and they won’t be until they figure it out, find it, and get it.

The problem here is not that no one ever gets what they are looking for. The problem is that they are not looking for the one thing that can bring them the contentment they crave: The mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. As our passage above tells us, we are to be looking for the mercy of Christ unto eternal life.

As believers, what is the reason that we are not motivated to look for that mercy? Because we have not done the things listed in the words right before this. We have not built ourselves up on our most holy faith because we are too busy building ourselves up on false hopes for good health, plenty of money, or the love and esteem of others. We have not taken the time to pray, and when we do it is rarely in the Holy Spirit, because that takes time. Time just to be still before the throne of God and center our minds and hearts on Him. No, our prayers are too often quick and perfunctory, just hitting the bullet points and counting on God to take care of the rest.

My dear ones, how can we keep ourselves in the love of God if we do not take the time to do these things? The answer is, we cannot. Oh, we are kept eternally in His love. If the Lord has saved you, then nothing can ever take that love away. But we miss the multiplication of His love when we don’t take the time just to be with Him. So, this Thanksgiving, my challenge is this: Instead of thinking on what you are thankful for, ask yourself why you are not a more grateful person in general? What are you looking for? How does it compare to the mercy of God unto salvation? My prayer is that, as you begin to meditate on the wonderful mercy of God, you will find the contentment you are seeking.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Heavenly Holidays

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. Colossians 3:1-2, NLT

The holiday season is here, dear reader. Do you feel it? Those of us who struggle with chronic pain, joint disease, or disability sometimes dread this time of year. Many of our friends look forward to all of the shopping, food preparation, and social opportunities. But for some of us, this time of year brings up more dread and anxiety than gleeful anticipation. It’s not that we don’t desire to celebrate the birth of Christ, be with our families, and enjoy the festivities. What brings the dread are the questions: Will I be able to do all that cooking this year? What if I can’t get to the mall to get that perfect gift for my loved one? How much pain will I have to endure over the next couple of months, as I try to measure up to the expectations of the season?

These are all valid concerns, and you may have others of your own that are specific to your particular health challenges. But the bottom line is this: Christmas can be a beautiful celebration of the birth of our Wonderful Savior, or it can be an exercise in futility as we try to accomplish impossible tasks that He never called us to do. So, what should our goals be for the season, as we consider all that we’d like to do, and all that we can do?

The answer is in Colossians 3:1&2. We have been raised to new life in Christ, Amen? So, what does He call us to set our sights on? Things above. He wants us to dwell on Him in all of his beauty, glory, and honor. He wants us to think on our true home in heaven. Shopping, food preparation, and parties are not our reality, my dear sister. Christ and heaven are! This is the very reason for this grand holiday in the first place. What better thing could we be dwelling on at Christmastime than Christ, heaven, and the realities of our true home?

Let’s think differently about Christmas this year. When dread arises from thinking about the chores of Christmas, let’s take it captive and replace it with new, heavenly thoughts. If you’re dreading putting up decorations, close your eyes and think of the streets of gold and the rainbow throne of God. Imagine your jeweled crown that you will throw at the feet of Jesus on that Great Day. No earthly light display could ever match that. Dwell on these things, praise God for them, and then call a friend to come over and help you choose just a few things, then hang them up as you talk about the blessings God has brought to you this year.

Are you scheduled to host the family meal this year, and dreading all the work? Stop, and think on the banqueting hall in heaven, where you will enjoy food and fellowship with the Lord and all his children, in perfect harmony and cooperation forever. Praise the Lord and thank Him for the ways he has provided so abundantly for you this year. Then, begin calling your relatives, humbly asking each to bring a dish or come early to help this year. I know this is not easy, but putting pride to death and asking for help is a wonderfully sanctifying exercise, and the rewards are great.

This season of celebrating the birth of our Savior does not have to be a season of dread and despair. We can change our thinking, and remember that our Lord has not called us to decorate, cook, shop, and entertain because He was born. He wants us to think on Him, praise him, and honor him because He was born and died to give us new life. Let’s demonstrate that new life starting today by setting our minds on Him, on Heaven, and on the reality of our true home!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Two Are Better

Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.
                                                                                             (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, NLT)

Have you ever fallen? Ever slipped on the ice or tripped over your own feet, and gone all the way down? Maybe you were injured, or maybe you were just embarrassed. Either way, it is never a good thing to fall, especially if there is no one there to help you up, or ask if you’re ok; no one to take your arm and help support you if you’re limping, or call for more help if needed; no one to help make sure that, in your injured state, you don’t fall again. You just sort of get up, dust yourself off, and move on if you can.

How about in your walk with the Lord? Ever fallen there? Have you ever determined in your heart to put to death some private sin or troublesome habit, only to give in to it the very next day or hour? Perhaps the reason you fell is because you were walking alone. As the passage above tells us, someone who falls alone is in real trouble.

Let’s say you have struggled with some sinful anger. You’ve never really acted on it, but in your heart you are angry and bitter because of something that happened to you or a loved one. If no one knows about this anger, you can get away with nurturing and feeding it for the rest of your life. You could fume and simmer over a real or perceived injustice forever, justifying your anger in your heart. This kind of sinful anger is almost impossible to root out without some kind of accountability.

This is the reason that two are better than one. They can help each other succeed in putting sin to death. If you tell your friend about your desire to put your sinful anger to death, then she can help you do that. She can pray for you, check in with you regularly to see how you’re doing, and admonish you when you begin to slip back down into that sin. Likewise, she can share her struggles openly with you, and you can help to keep her accountable.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine walking this Christian life alone. My determination to be obedient can be so weak and frail at times. Life is hard, and it is so easy to give in to sinful desires and thoughts. It is also very easy to become so accustomed to your sin that you just throw up your hands and say, “Well, I guess I’m just going to be sinning this way and repenting for the rest of my life!” These words actually came out of my mouth the other day as I met with my accountability person. I hadn’t realized how flippant I’d become about this particular sin. It was one of those that we in Christian circles have come to call “acceptable” sins. These are the ones that nearly everyone struggles with, and collectively it seems we’ve decided that we’re just going to have to live with them. My dear friend pointed out that sin is sin, and we must grieve over every sin, repenting in our heart and walking in obedience.

So, what company do you have on your walk today, my friend? Someone who will help you avoid the slippery slope of “acceptable sins” and keep to the path of righteousness? If you are walking this difficult path alone, you could be headed, as Solomon says, for real trouble. I’d like to challenge you right now to find a friend who will hold you accountable, and whom you can encourage, too. Together, you can help each other succeed in bringing honor to God as you travel this Christian road to glory. Hallelujah! What a journey! What a Savior!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

All The Trees

And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat… (Genesis 2:15-17)

As I study Genesis 2, it seems to me that God is quite generous in what he offered Adam. He told him that he was free to eat from all the trees in His beautiful garden. There must have been all kinds of fruit, and since sin had not entered the world yet, it must have all been perfect—without spot, rot, or worm. Imagine the abundance! What a great and generous God Adam served! How he must have praised Him, and how thankful he must have been for His love and provision!

As if all the abundance of the garden wasn’t enough, God then added all the living creatures, offering all of them to Adam to have dominion over, and to rule. Then, the crowning blessing—he gave him a wife! How blessed Adam must have felt, and how happy! But we all know what comes next, right? The serpent enters the picture and tempts Adam’s wife, Eve. The account in Genesis 3 tells us that the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field. His goal was to make Eve doubt God’s goodness.

But let’s backtrack a minute here. Pause with me and imagine that you are Eve, standing in the midst of the Garden of Eden. It is a glorious sight. There are many trees, and you have access to all of them—except that one. Then comes the serpent: “Has God really said that you can’t eat of any tree in the garden?” Eve replies that of course that’s not the case. We can eat from any of the trees except that one in the middle.

This is the turning point for Eve. The Serpent has come to make her doubt the goodness of God. He wants her to believe that God is withholding something good from her. She begins to look at the tree differently. Suddenly, the fact that she can’t have it begins to be a problem. Now, there are a lot of things we could say about this moment, but I’d like us to focus on just one fact: God has given Adam and Eve everything they need, without ever having to eat from this tree. Yet, the fruit of this tree is the one thing that she begins to want. She sees it, and she wants it. She is now discontent, and will not be able to rest until she has the fruit of that tree on her lips.

Eve has good reason, in her human mind, to want the fruit of that tree. She can see that it is good for food, that it is pleasant to the eyes, and that it will make her wise. She can think of no reason why she should not eat of it.  Maybe she thinks it’s not fair that she can’t have it. Maybe she thinks, if God really loved her, he would not keep this one thing from her. As she focuses on the tree in the middle of the garden, she loses sight of the others. She is no longer grateful for those trees. She is no longer praising God for his generosity, but instead she is grumbling against God for his withholding of this good thing.

My friend, are you like Eve? In your suffering and pain, has God given you a garden of blessings? Has He comforted you, sustained you, and guided you? Has He freely given you His Word, heard your prayers, and counted your tears? If you belong to the Lord, the answer to those questions is yes. Yet, you long for the one thing to which, at least for now, he has said no. You desire healing and pain relief, and that is simply not happening.

Oh, dear one, do you see all the trees in the garden? Think back, and dwell on the many blessings the Lord has brought into your life, even in your suffering. You know that they are there, even if they have become obscured by your longing for the forbidden tree. One thing is sure: As long as you are looking at and longing for that forbidden fruit, the produce of the other trees will seem pale and tasteless. You will be stuck in self-pity and distrust of God and His goodness. My fellow sufferer, it does not have to be this way!

Begin now to lift up your head and look around at the other trees in the garden, to which God has said, “Taste, enjoy, and eat as much as you want!” He has blessed you abundantly, and you will see that when you take your eyes off that one tree and begin to walk around the garden of His goodness, plucking the fruit and enjoying its sweetness. The farther you get away from that forbidden tree, the broader will be your perspective to see how very many blessings are in your garden.  

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Let My People Go

I have read the account in Exodus of Moses’ dealings with Pharaoh many times. The story is very familiar to me by now—Moses asks Pharaoh to let the people go, and Pharaoh says no. This is followed by plagues, false repentance, and another refusal. The cycle repeats itself until finally, after the death of the firstborn, Pharaoh relents, only to change his mind again almost immediately. The story is so familiar, I no longer expect to see anything new in it.

But during my most recent encounter with this passage, the Lord alerted me to a different perspective on this, which brought new application for me. The message Moses delivers from God is not simply, “Let my people go.” It is, “Let my people go that they may serve me.” Each time we read, “Let my people go,” it is followed by, “that they may serve me.” So God was not just demanding release from bondage. He was telling the purpose for which he wanted them released. It was not primarily for their freedom, or their comfort, or relief of their burdens. It was so that they could serve Him.

So what’s the application for us? It is this: We cannot truly serve God if we are in bondage to anything else. For example, if we are stuck in self-pity because of our pain, we cannot serve God.  If we are envious of the seemingly carefree lives of our neighbors, we cannot serve God. If we are consumed with worry, fear, and anxiety, we cannot serve God. Oh, we may do things in service to Him, but that is not the same thing. If we are serving outwardly, but inwardly nursing sinful thoughts, our service is worth about as much as the straw the Hebrew slaves gathered to make their bricks, even as they seethed in anger at Moses for causing all their troubles.  We cannot serve and worship God at the same time we are serving and worshipping self.

How about you, friend? Are you in bondage today? Who or what are you serving instead of God? I know that you desire to be released from bondage, but what is the reason for your desire? Are you just weary of pain, tired of depression or exhausted from the sleeplessness of anxiety and worry? Consider a better reason to be released from bondage: That you may serve Him! I will close with the words of Joshua, as he exhorted the Israelites in chapter 24, to choose whom they would serve:

"So fear the LORD and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the LORD alone."

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Renewing of Your Mind, Part 2

For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.  (2 Corinthians 7:10)

Last time, we talked about the importance of repentance when it comes to renewing your mind about a life dominating sin. Perhaps you thought you were repentant the last time you tried to overcome this sin. You confessed to God and others. You memorized Scripture. You prayed and begged the Lord to remove it. But still the battle continues, and you find yourself on the losing end of it. What went wrong? Why can’t you put this sin to death once and for all? Maybe the problem is that you have never really experienced true repentance. So today, I want to talk about what true repentance looks like, both on the heart level and in your behavior.

If we read on in 2 Corinthians 7, we find this in verse 11:  For observe this very thing that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter.

Paul has laid out for us here a very clear set of indicators for true repentance. Let’s take them one by one and see exactly what they mean for us in our battle.  First, Paul says that when true godly sorrow has come to your heart, you will be diligent. The Blue Letter Bible says that this word means earnest or eager. This eager earnestness is the first reaction you will observe in your heart when God has granted you true repentance. John MacArthur, in his Study Bible, says that this is an “…attitude that ends indifference to sin and complacency about evil and deception.” Perhaps, in past attempts to kill this sin, you have started out strong, but defaulted back to complacency about it. Maybe you decided it wasn’t that bad, or that there were much worse sins you could be committing. When you experience God-granted, true repentance, there will be no trace of complacency.  No longer self-deceived, your mission to put this sin to death will be clear and mandatory.

The next mark of true repentance Paul points out is the clearing of oneself. Basically, this is a desire to clear your name of the sin you have indulged, and completely disassociate with all manifestations of it. You don’t go to that bar, visit that website, or hang out with that group of friends any more. You will desire to restore the trust of those you have harmed by your sin, and reassure them that this time, there is no going back. You will want to build their confidence in you, and you will be diligent to make sure you do not disappoint them.

Indignation is the next clear marker of true repentance. This is righteous indignation, even holy anger—anger over your own sin, and even disgust at the amount of time you allowed that sin to dwell in your heart. You are literally sick of your sin. You are mortified at the shame you have brought to God’s name with your sinful attitudes and actions, and you are eager to be rid of both the sin and the shame that is now associated with it. This indignation is fueled by godly fear of the One who judges sin.

Next, Paul lists vehement desire and zeal. These go hand in hand. It means that you will have a yearning to restore the relationship with those you have sinned against, including God. The motive behind this is that you have such a great love for God and for those people, that you sincerely hate anyone or anything that brings shame or harm to them. This includes the sin you are putting to death.

Finally, the truly repentant sinner will have a desire to see justice done. This doesn’t mean that you go out seeking penance, or trying to make amends (although that can be a part of true repentance). This means that you are no long shifting blame or dodging responsibility for your sin. It is the end of “I’m sorry for what I did, but you…” kind of false repentance. When you are truly repentant, you will desire to take full responsibility for what you’ve done, regardless of the consequences. You will also be willing to be held accountable in the future, to give the one sinned against an extra measure of comfort in restoring trust.

This passage is an excellent primer on repentance, and if you truly desire to repent of a particular sin or pattern of sinful thinking, you would do well to memorize it. Measuring true repentance can be difficult, and a gauge like this one is very helpful for keeping on track. Having this passage ready in your mind at all times may be just the tool you need, from the moment God grants true repentance, until the death of that sin in your heart.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Renewing of Your Mind, Part I

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may   prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.           
(Romans 12:2)

This is a “go-to” verse for me when I am talking with counselees. I have found that many of them are well aware of that first command, which is stated in the negative: Do not be conformed to this world. Most find it fairly easy to understand that they must resist the temptations of the world, and avoid situations that might draw them to sin. Some have a long list of “don’ts” and they are eager to avoid those things that are clearly sinful.  Some even teeter on the edge of legalism, thinking that they can achieve holiness by the things that they don’t do.

In our pursuit of holiness, it is true that we must avoid sin, but there is more to it than that. Paul goes on to tell us that we must be transformed by the renewing of our mind, not just reformed from sinful worldliness. But what does it mean to renew your mind? Well, when we think about making something new, the implication is that the old is no longer satisfactory or functional. When we are fed up with a certain besetting sin, or crushed under the weight of a life-dominating sin, then we know that the old has got to go, and the new must be put on. This is one thing that must be present in order to renew your mind: A strong distaste for the sin, and a heart that is determined to change.

A second necessary tool for mind renewal is the Word of God and a desire to read, understand, study and memorize it. For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Hebrews 4:12). If you are unsure of how to change, your best guidance will come from the Word of God.  All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16). Your mind needs the reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness that only God’s Word can provide.

The final and most important thing that must be present if you are truly to renew your mind is conviction of sin and true repentance, both of which can come only from the Spirit of God (2 Timothy 2:25). You will know when God has granted you true repentance, because your zeal for reform will be unquenchable. You will be determined, well beyond your own will, to kill the sin that has taken up residence in your heart. You will be willing to do anything to be rid of it. Even if you have tried many times before to renew your mind in a particular area, this time will be different. The difference is that you are not trying to change under your own power, but under the power of the living Creator and Sustainer of the universe. Think about that. The same power that brought Jesus up from the grave is living inside you right now and is available to help you quench the power of sin in your heart. All you have to do is submit your will to His, and He will give you the power to change.

Next time we’ll talk in a little more detail about what true repentance looks like. Since mind renewal simply won’t happen without it, it’s important that we understand exactly what the real thing looks like, so we can recognize the counterfeit, even if it is in our own heart. Meanwhile, dig into the Scriptures and begin to read about the mechanics of mind renewal. I would suggest you start with Ephesians 4:17-24. Meditate on this passage, and search your heart and life for evidences of the things listed there that must be put off. Begin to ask the Lord to reveal to you the areas where you need true repentance. He is faithful and just, and will do it!



Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Happy Anniversary

This week was the fourth anniversary of the surgery that was supposed to repair the errors made on my first knee procedure. That second surgery ended up causing irreversible damage to the knee joint and, as they say, the rest is history. I had actually forgotten that the anniversary was close, until I was reminded by Facebook. The “On This Day” app popped up to remind me of the anticipation I had shared the week before that surgery, that I would finally be able to get back to normal, and that this surgeon’s error would finally be corrected after two years of limping and hobbling.

Well, if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that that was not the case. That second surgery caused all kinds of problems for me physically.  But, as I look back over these last six years, I see some very positive spiritual things I’d like to share with you. Maybe, as you deal with your own struggles, you will be able to apply the lessons I’ve learned, and see the good things God has done for you.

The first gift God has given me through this journey is the realization of how very self-focused I am. God was not surprised by this, but I certainly was. I learned that my default response, when things are difficult, is self-pity. As the realization sunk in that the surgery had made things much worse, my heart went immediately to self: Why me? Did I make the wrong decision? What have I done that God should punish me this way? Can he really love me if He is choosing to allow this to happen? It took some time, and a skilled biblical counselor, to set me straight, but eventually He granted me repentance from a pattern of self-focus and self-pity. While I am not perfect in this, He has given me many victories, and a heart-level change in this area.

Secondly, God has increased my compassion for those who suffer. He has especially brought into the light my judgmental attitude toward people who complain of pain or immobility, but look perfectly fine to me. Before all this happened, I had been guilty of harshly judging people for complaining about what they can’t do, believing in my heart that they were just making excuses. What I have learned is that no one knows anyone else’s level of pain, and no one has liberty to judge anyone. I have received more than one disgusted look from people who see me walk fairly normally from my handicapped spot into the store, not knowing how carefully I have to conserve my steps, so that I can last to the end of the day.

Finally, God’s greatest gift to me in all of this: His call on my heart to finally complete my certification and become a Biblical Counselor. This has been a desire of mine for nearly 10 years, but one thing after another has prevented me from pursuing it. I have always been an on-the-go kind of person, always busy. When driving and walking became difficult or impossible, I was forced to stay home and deal with my own heart issues. As I found freedom from the bondage of self-focus and self-pity, I became excited about helping others to be free from the bondage of life-dominating sin, and to show them that God can redeem their pain.  The Lord stirred up my heart to get my training done and get to work for Him, and that is exactly what I have done.

So, looking back on these last six years, I won’t say there is no sadness for what I have lost. But the truth is, what I have gained far outweighs those losses. How ‘bout you? What has God done for your heart as you have travelled your own path of suffering? I would be very interested to hear about it in the comments.

My God has been faithful and true to me, never wasting a single moment of pain or suffering. By His mercy, I have been enabled to serve Him in exactly the way He wants me to, and I am so grateful. He has indeed redeemed my pain, my suffering, and my loss.  Hallelujah! What a Redeemer! What a Savior!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

For His Glory

Many people struggle with their purpose in life. Those who deal with chronic pain, illness, grief, and other life-altering circumstances are especially prone to such musings. What would encourage a sufferer to go on when she sees no relief in sight, no end to the pain? What exactly is the purpose of life?

The answer to that question is no different for the person I just described than for any other person. Whether you are in perfect health and can’t think of a thing that would make your life better; or you are a quadriplegic with constant, debilitating pain, the purpose of your life is the same: To bring glory to God. How do I know this? Because of the truth of God’s Word. Isaiah 43:7 tells us that we were created for God’s glory. In this verse, God is calling…

“Everyone who is called by My name, 
 Whom I have created for My glory; 
 I have formed him, yes, I have made him.”

God has made each one of us for His glory. This truth changes our perspective on the question of purpose, doesn’t it? The terminal cancer patient can say that the purpose of her life, even if there is little of it left, is to bring glory to God. Once she embraces this truth, her outlook on the rest of her life will be transformed. Instead of dreading chemo treatments and being anxious about her last days, she has renewed confidence that her suffering has a purpose that is greater than her experiences. She can begin to face each new day with a renewed perspective. Instead of waking up to fear and dread, she can embrace the new day, thanking God for it and asking Him how she can glorify Him in it.

My own experience has proven this truth out time and time again. When pain is overwhelming; when disappointment crushes my morale; when I long for the things I have lost, the Spirit reminds my heart that my loving Father created me for a higher purpose than just to have my own desires fulfilled, my own comfort assured. He created me in His image, for His glory, so that I can enjoy Him forever! No matter what condition my body and mind are in, He will always enable me to glorify and enjoy Him. My work is to discipline my heart and mind to believe and act on that truth.

As Paul reminds us in Romans 11:36, “…from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.” My dear friend, if you are feeling today as though there can’t possibly be any purpose for your life of suffering, be encouraged! God has created you for His glory. You are made in His image, and He will always allow you to glorify Him, regardless of your circumstances. Ask Him to show you how.

To help this new paradigm stick, I often give counselees an assignment: Write the words, “I was created to glorify God (Isaiah 43:7). How am I doing right now?” on a 3X5 card, and carry it with you everywhere you go. When fear, sadness, and frustration creep up on you, pull that card out as a reminder, and adjust your response accordingly. You will be surprised how quickly this new kind of thinking will take root, and your attitude will be transformed as you walk in obedience.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

God Is

Does it ever seem like everyone in your life is going through something really terrible? I don’t mean just the regular everyday trials of life, but extremely difficult, even seemingly impossible circumstances. That’s where I find myself lately. Friends, family members, caregivers, counselees—all suffering significant loss, pain, or trial, and there is absolutely nothing that I can do to change any of their circumstances. I can encourage them, speak truth to them, and help in practical ways, but nothing I can do will stop their pain.

What do we do when life brings us to this place? Well, the way I see it, we have a couple of choices. The first, which I have to admit has been my default at times, is to become discouraged. The weight of suffering we see our loved ones going through is so heavy that we are crushed under it. Their burdens break our hearts, and we weep with them. We cry out to the Lord in pleadings for them. We soak our pillow with tears as we lie awake in sorrow for them. And still, they get no relief.

Then, even as we cry and pray, our friend’s husband passes away from cancer. Our sister’s premature baby girl takes her last breath. A fellow church member receives a devastating prognosis. What are we to make of these outcomes? Were our prayers and tears wasted? Did they fall on the ear of a God who doesn’t care enough to hear or answer? Though these thoughts may cross our minds, they must never take root in our hearts.

I have said this many times on this blog, but I will say it again today: We must never base our view of God on our circumstances. If we let what’s happening around us determine whether God cares about us or not, we will come to the wrong conclusion. God is God, and He is who He says He is, no matter what is happening around us. So, who does God say He is? Here are just a few of God’s statements about himself. There are many more.

God is faithful and just: Deuteronomy 32:4
“The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is He.

God is love: 1 John 4:16
So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.

God is merciful: Deuteronomy 4:31
For the Lord your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them.

God is righteous: Psalm 11:7
For the Lord is righteous; he loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold his his face.

God is creator of everything: Proverbs 3:19
The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens…

God is the owner of everything: Psalm 50:10-12
For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine. “If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine.

God is faithful:Deuteronomy 7:9 
Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations…

Dear friends, keep praying and crying out for those in need. Believe what God says about Himself, no matter how you feel or what you see. Remember Romans 8:28, and trust that He is working everything for good. God is God, and we are not. While we may not understand what He is doing or why, we must remain solidly rooted in our belief that He is who He says He is. If this seems too hard, and you think you just can’t believe, depend on the Lord to help your unbelief:

Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh: is there anything too hard for me? Jeremiah 32:7

Even when our world seems to be crumbling around us, God will hold us tightly, keeping us believing in Him. It is He who saved us, He who sustains our salvation, and He who will bring us to glory in just a little while. Believe Him and trust who God is.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Can God be Trusted?

“He didn’t protect me, so I don’t trust him.” Have you ever heard someone say these words, or something like them? Perhaps it was someone who was in a terrible, life-changing accident. The Lord did not protect them from spinal cord injury or some other life-altering tragedy. Now, they just can’t bring themselves to trust God any more. He let them down.

When a counselee makes this type of declaration, I know that they have trusted God for the wrong reasons. It is easy to trust God when things are going well and life is reasonably smooth. What is the basis of your trust in God in those good times? Is it the evidence you see around you, the smoothness of life, the satisfaction of having your material needs met? If so, you are setting yourself up for a big fall if things go south.

Often, it is in trials that we find out our trust has been misplaced. We thought we’d been trusting God, but when tragedy strikes or troubles come, we find out our trust was not really in God, but in something else. Many people find out that their trust was really in themselves. They take great pride in their self- sufficiency, trusting in their own strength to see them through. When times get tough and their strength proves inadequate, they begin to question God. Others put their trust in money, and the comforts it can buy. Inevitably though, the money runs out, and they begin to doubt God.

Some put their trust in people. They surround themselves with friends, employees, or others who will build them up and make them look good and feel good about themselves. That’s all great until life gets hard, the job gets down-sized, and the fair-weather friends go looking for bluer skies. When the person is left alone, she begins to question: Where are you, God? You promised to be with me, but now that times are tough, you are nowhere to be found!

Are you suffering right now, my friend? In the midst of that suffering, are you doubting God’s goodness or love for you? Think about the God you trusted when things were going well. Why did you trust him? Was it because He was answering your prayers and bringing you success and good health?  If so, you need to meet the real God of the Bible. He is trustworthy for one reason: Because He said so. Paul suffered greatly (See 2 Corinthians 11:22-29 for a detailed list), yet he was able to say this, in 2 Timothy 1:12:

For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.

David experienced every kind of defeat, loss, disappointment, and shame, yet he was able to pray this prayer in 2 Samuel 7:28:

"Now, O Lord GOD, You are God, and Your words are truth…”

The writer of Psalm 111, recalling the Exodus and wilderness wanderings of the Israelites, has no complaint of the hunger or difficulty his people suffered during those 40 years. Instead, he says this:

The works of His hands are truth and justice; All His precepts are sure…

Perhaps, somewhere along the way, your trust in God has shifted to a trust in something else. The God of the Bible never changes. He is faithful and true, regardless of your circumstances. If you are beginning to doubt God’s goodness and love, you need to go back to the Bible and reacquaint yourself with the One True God. Open Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy , or Pink’s Attributes of God and begin to read about the God you have said that you trust. You will see that none of the attributes of God rely on earthly circumstances for their truth. God is God. He is who He says He is, regardless of what you see with human eyes. If your trust truly is in Him, then it cannot be shaken.

The only God you can trust is the God of the Bible. If you’re doubting today, go meet Him again. He is better than money, fame, friends, and He is a much better savior than you are! Study the God of the Bible, and place your trust only in Him.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Follow the Leader

Life is hard. We make plans, pour our hearts into things, and sometimes, they just don’t work out the way we want them to. It is so easy to become discouraged when we truly believe we were seeking wisdom and guidance from the Lord, following His leading along the way, only to have our plans come to an unexpected and disappointing end.

What do you do when this scenario plays out in your life? As I see it, there are two roads we can go down as we struggle to make sense of and respond to life’s disappointments. The first is to become discouraged, and to take the road of giving up. What’s the point of trying, when every attempt ends in failure? This road is fairly easy to travel. When you’ve given up the fight, there are no more blows to endure, no more hills to climb, no deep waters to navigate. This road is pretty crowded, and you can just get lost among all the others who have given up and are now strolling aimlessly with you. 

But there is another road we can choose when life delivers disappointment. It is the road of perseverance. This road is less crowded, but there are some great people on it. Paul is there, way up ahead. Always fighting the good fight and keeping his footing in the race, he chose this road long ago and never left it. Peter is there too, encouraging his fellow travelers (yourself included) to be strong in the face of persecution. Timothy is there, wielding the sword of the Spirit. David is there, and so are Moses and Jacob. Sinners all, though they often failed, they each ultimately chose the road of perseverance.

Also on this road, way up in the distance, the leader of the whole crowd of persevering saints, is Christ Himself. He leads gently and lovingly, never abandoning His followers, even when they are slow or seem to be stalled out. Sometimes, they consider turning back, or look longingly over at the easy road, where others have given up the fight. But He patiently circulates among them, reminding them of His love for them, and encouraging them in their walk. Sometimes, he sends Peter or Paul, Moses or James to tell them the Truth. Some are slowed down by heavy burdens of guilt and shame. These he offers His easy yoke in exchange for their weary load so that they can travel more easily.

Are you disappointed and frustrated today?  Are you at a fork in the road of life, weary of the struggle to do right and to honor God with your response to trials? If so, I’d like to invite you to join this band of weary saints who are doing their best to follow their Leader. The Holy Spirit travels on this road and refreshes the saints, always at just the right time. Though this road may be harder, there is sweet fellowship along the way, and there are great rewards at the end. If you are weary today, check in with Paul about how to persevere (Romans 12:12; Colossians 1:11-12; Galatians 6:9). Ask Peter how he kept his faith in the face of persecutions (1 Peter 4:12; 4:16). Ask the Lord how to resist temptation (Luke 4:1-11) when you are feeling weak.

Also, remember that there are others behind you on this road. They may be newer to this struggle, weaker than you, and tempted to turn back. Reach back to them, even if it is with what seems like the last of your strength. Together, you can strike out again, encouraging one another in this long haul toward Home (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12; Proverbs 27:17).

Yes, life is hard, but it is also a very brief pilgrimage on the way to Glory. Don’t give up, sister! God has called you to serve Him, and if you’re still breathing in and out, you’re not finished! Stay on that road of perseverance, in good company with other weak and weary saints. You Leader will never leave you or forsake you, so contentment is yours for the asking (Hebrews 13:5). Press on toward the goal, and let’s continue to encourage one another. God has promised strength for today and hope for tomorrow. Hallelujah, what a journey! What a Savior!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

What is That to You?

Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following… Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, “But Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.”  ~John 21:20-22

If we’re honest, most of us are jealous or envious of others. Regardless of how good we have it, there is always someone who, at least in our view, has it better. It’s pretty easy to envy others, isn’t it? I have struggled quite a bit with this particular sin. I am pretty young to be as limited in my mobility as I am. Many friends my age are still running, playing tennis, and hiking. Since my surgeries, I’ve known several people who’ve had knee replacements, and not one of them has had a single complication. They all came back from their six weeks of rehab ready to get back into their active lifestyle, while I struggle just to maintain the minimal functionality that I have. It is easy to feel envious, and would be just as easy to become bitter.

But the Scripture that I quoted above is a saving grace for me each time I have an opportunity to be jealous. No matter what the temptation, as my thoughts try to default to envy, I can almost hear my Savior saying to me, “If it was my will that she had a perfect knee surgery, what is that to you? I’ve called you to follow and serve me. I’ve given you all that you need, to do the things I’ve called you to do. Stop looking at her and look at me.” This thought stops me in my tracks every time, and renews my mind so that I can tell my friend how happy I am for her that her surgery went well.

When we are happy for the blessings of others, we can love them as Christ has called us to do.  As believers, we are called to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves. How am I loving the Lord if I am discontented with what he’s given me, coveting his gifts to others? How am I loving the Lord if I am questioning His love for me by calling Him unfair? Am I loving my neighbor if I have bitter envy and self-seeking in my heart (See James 3:14)? The answer to all these questions is, “I’m not.” If I am envious of others, then I am discontent with what I have, and I am not grateful for what my Father has given me. If I am envious of others, I am not happy for them, and I cannot love them because I resent their happiness.

My friend, I know that there are many people who appear to have it better than you. But rest assured, you have it better than someone else. That’s right, probably even in your own church right now, there is someone who sees your life or circumstances as better in some way than theirs. Everyone has pain of some kind, and everyone longs for something that they don’t have. The response that is always better than envy is love: Love for the Lord and love for your neighbor.

Look around you, sister. There are many hurting, many grieving, many suffering. Reach out and help one of them. You will quickly forget your petty jealousy and self-focus when you reach out to help someone who is suffering. If you have been envious, stop looking at others and what they have, and look at Christ. Follow Him in obedience. There is no better cure for envy than love. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Safe Am I

My dear friend and prayer partner, Nancy, had her 90th birthday last week. This lady has been a great inspiration and encouragement to me over the last couple of years, as we have talked about what the Lord is doing in our lives, and as we have prayed together. She suffers greatly with many orthopedic and other medical problems, and lives with pain every day.

Last week, I took her to an appointment with a specialist who might be able to help her with her pain and other issues. She was nervous about the appointment, anxious about remembering all she wanted to ask, and concerned about what changes they might make in her medications and therapies. Would it help? Make things worse? Many questions were going through her mind as we waited for the doctor to come in. Then, I heard her faintly singing. She seemed to relax, and a great sense of peace came over that cold, sterile room as she sang:

Safe am I, Safe am I,
In the hollow of His hand;
Sheltered o'er, sheltered o'er
With His love forever more
No ill can harm me, No foe alarm me,
For He keeps both day and night,
Safe am I, Safe am I,
In the hollow of His hand.

When she finished singing, she was visibly calmer, and so was I. I had never heard this song before, and now I will never forget it. The truth of it rings as clear as Scripture (Psalm 91). One thing I have learned about Nancy is that she has great faith. She was a pastor’s wife who raised five sons. She has been through many deep waters over the course of her life, but has always landed safe in the hollow of His hand. Why should she doubt now? Why should we?

Oh my friend, we are safe in Christ. Do you believe it? Then don’t be afraid of what people can and can’t do to you. Don’t be afraid of sickness, pain, or disability. Don’t be afraid of sleepless nights or sorrowful mornings. Remember that you are safe in the Lord, in His plan and His purpose. He is good and faithful, and no matter where you go, you are indeed in the hollow of His hand. 

Photo: Copyright 1992 Art By Jonathan

Thursday, August 27, 2015

A Contradiction?

But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings...as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing... --2 Cor 6: 4ff

"Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing." What does this mean? I have pondered this passage many times, trying to understand how Paul could be sorrowful (a word that, in my mind, means sad), yet rejoicing, which I think of as happy. How can one be both happy and sad at the same time?

I thought maybe the word 'rejoicing' in the original language, meant something other than happy. But when I went to the lexicon, I found it means exactly that: The definition of the original word is "exceedingly glad".  Likewise, the original word for sorrowful does indeed mean sad, burdened, and downcast. What could possibly be the explanation for this? There is no earthly reason to think that this is not a total contradiction. 

There is, however, a perfectly reasonable heavenly solution to this seemingly impossible language. Paul is rejoicing in Christ! His joy is obviously not in his circumstances, for they are terrible as he is writing this letter. I don't know about you, but needs, distresses, stripes, imprisonments, tumults, labors, sleeplessness and fastings do not seem joy-inspiring to me! Paul had to have risen above his circumstances in order to rejoice in the midst of them. He had his mind fixed on Christ:

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. --Hebrews 12:2&3

Like the writer of Hebrews, Paul had learned to look up instead of looking around. My default response to trials is to look at the trial and lament or mourn. Paul’s was to look up to Christ instead of looking at the trial, and rejoice! Make no mistake, Paul is not rejoicing about the trial, except to the extent that it brings glory to God. In this second letter to the Corinthians, Paul is rejoicing in Christ, the author and finisher of his faith, who went to the cross for the joy!! Christ endured the greatest suffering any man has ever known, and He did it for the joy set before him!
My friend, there is much joy before you today as well:
The joy of patiently enduring the trials and pain that your loving God has ordained for your good and His glory (Rom 8:28).

The joy of obeying God’s command to take every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.  (2 Cor 10:5).
The joy you will experience as Christ leads you in triumph over your pain and troubles and through you diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge.
(2 Cor 2:14)
And, last but not least, the joy you will know on that great Day when he says to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’  (Matt 25:23)

What “few things” has the Lord entrusted to you today? Problems? Pain? Heartache? I’m sure you could list many things the Lord is asking you to bear right now. But rest assured, my believing friend, you will enter into the joy of your Lord, because you have been faithful. What does that faithfulness look like? No matter how you are feeling today, pick up your Bible, open it, and hear from Him. He has much to say, and longs to encourage you.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Like a Weaned Child

Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul,
Like a weaned child with his mother;
Like a weaned child is my soul within me.

When my children were young, long before I was a biblical counselor, I was a breastfeeding counselor. I worked with an internationally known group of volunteers who offered help and encouragement, mostly to new moms who were struggling with nursing their newborns.

As their babies grew, there came a time of natural weaning. Many babies just seemed to gradually lose interest in nursing as more solid foods were introduced. For these moms, weaning was easy. But some of the moms had babies—toddlers and even some preschoolers, who just did not want to stop nursing. They would fuss and scream, demanding to be held and nursed. Their moms, desperate for peace, gave in, and when this had gone on as long as they could stand it, they called us for help.

Fast forward to today. The Lord brought me to Psalm 131, where David compares himself to a weaned child with his mother. Because of my background, my initial thought when I think of weaning is whining, crying, and discontentment. But this is not the picture that David describes. He says he has calmed and quieted his soul, like a weaned child with his mother.

Weaning is a process. Just like a mother refusing her child because she knows what’s best for him, my Father sometimes denies me what I think I need, and I become discontented. I may complain, cry, and whine about my desire to Him. David cried and complained to God, too. There are many Psalms of complaint in the Bible (e.g. 142:1-2; 74, 88 ) written by David and others, which are exactly that— cries to God for what the psalmist thinks he needs. But, throughout these Psalms, and the whole Bible really, the writers always end up confessing that God is both loving and good, and most of the time, if the end is revealed to them, they see that what He ordained was best, for their good and God’s glory.

Friend, you and I are currently in the weaning process. We scream and cry for what we want and think we need, but perhaps our heavenly Parent knows that we need something else. The weaning itself is part of the growth process. As we learn to deny ourselves the things that He seems to deny us, we will become less whiney and discontented. There is no one more self-focused than a child who refuses to wean from the breast, and there is no greater picture of a trusting relationship than a weaned child with his mother. He has learned that, in spite of what he thought he needed, his mother knew better, and she lovingly but firmly denied him. Because she has consistently and faithfully fed him for his entire life, he trusts her and eventually quiets himself.

So my question for you today is this: Who has loved, fed, and nurtured your soul? Can He still be depended on to continue doing that, even if you don’t get the things you want in this life? What if He decides that the best thing for you is not less pain, but more? What if a more severe disability will draw you closer to him than improvement in your functionality? What if progression of your disease will bring Him more glory than a miraculous healing? Will you still trust Him? Will you still believe that He loves you? Or will you be like the angry toddler who refuses to wean, throwing fits and grieving his parents?  

My dear friend, like a weaned child with his mother, will you calm and quiet your soul in the arms of your Abba?  Will you trust Him and only Him to provide what is best for you today? 

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Go Ask Your Dad

I recently had a wonderful answer to prayer, and the surprise I felt when I got the news raised a red flag for me spiritually. While I was thrilled with the direct answer of “yes” to my specific prayer, I was also a little disappointed in myself for being so surprised by it. Usually, if we are surprised by something, it means we were not expecting it. So, apparently, I did not expect God to answer my prayer.

What’s the reason I was so surprised? Why didn’t I expect God to answer my prayer? Well, first of all, my request had to do with something that has been a longstanding and seemingly impossible situation. By sight, there is no way it will ever happen. Maybe I was walking too much by sight, believing that a humanly impossible situation was also impossible for God. But Scripture tells me that with God, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26). My unbelief made me doubt.

Secondly, to be honest with you, I haven’t had a lot of direct answers to prayer in my life. This particular situation was one I could have manipulated to try to get the outcome I wanted. In fact, I almost did do some fancy footwork to influence people in the direction I wanted them to go. But in the end, I decided not to do that, but just to pray, and to ask the Lord specifically for what I wanted. After He granted it, I realized that all too often, I manipulate and control situations instead of praying and trusting God. My pride makes me rely on my own power, and not on God.

Finally, I think I was surprised because I have allowed myself to forget who God is, and how much He loves me. My father wants to give good gifts to His children (Matthew 7:11; James 1:17), and this thing that I wanted was very good. Why did I doubt that my Father would give it to me? He loves me with an everlasting love, and His love never fails. But many of my prayers have gone unanswered, or been refused. Though I know that all things work together for good (Romans 8:28), maybe the disappointments had led me to give up on my prayers being answered, at least the really big ones. 
Maybe recent history crowded out the truth that I know about God’s love.

Did you ever ask your mom for something, and have her tell you to go ask your dad? If so, you know that if and when you did ask him, there was a chance he would say no, but there was always a chance that he would say yes. I’d like to challenge you today, to think of the one big thing you really want God to do. Maybe it’s the salvation of a loved one. Maybe it’s healing of your body or restoration of function. Whatever it is, commit it to prayer today. Stop running around, stop trying to change it on your own. Walk in humble obedience, believe that your loving Father can do it, and go ask your Dad.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Do You Love God More?

Are you struggling against a life-dominating sin pattern that seems to have such a grip on you that you wonder if you will ever overcome it? You are in the Word, praying constantly, and begging the Lord to give you victory, and you are making good progress. Most of the time now, you do pretty well, and you’re grateful for that. But there are still too many times when you fail to win the battle between your heart and your mind, and you fall again to the temptations of sinful anger, depression, self-pity, or fear. As you dust yourself off from your most recent fall, shaking your head and feeling ashamed, you may be asking yourself, what am I missing here? Why can’t I completely shake this thing that I hate so much?

The answer to that question may be in the question itself: Maybe you don’t really hate it that much. Maybe (and you may not even be aware of it, but just maybe), you still love your sin. We know that the Lord sends affliction for our good and His glory (Rom 8:28), to make us more like Him and to grow our faith. But too often, when pain or other trials press on us, we become self-focused, which leads to resentment, lack of trust in God, and many sinful responses. In fact, this self-focus is at the root of most sinful responses to trials. When we think about ourselves instead of about others or God, we are well on our way to giving in to sinful anger, depression, fear, or whatever our “signature sin”—that one life-dominating sin that we can’t seem to shake—may be.

What is at the root of self-focus? You can probably guess. It’s pride. Pride says, “I don’t like this ______. It’s uncomfortable, and I desire my own comfort more than anything. God should fix this for me, and if He doesn’t, I will be angry/sad/fearful/despairing or whatever else my feelings tell me I should be. Basically, pride puts our purpose at odds with God’s purpose. It refuses to allow our hearts to submit to God’s plan for our lives, and instead insists that our plan is better.

Jerry Bridges, in his excellent book, Trusting God, says that submitting to God means making His purpose our purpose. In our sinful hearts, these two are often at odds. We know that His purpose is to make us more like Him and to bring glory to His name, but in our hearts, we’re not quite sold on the idea that that’s better than our purpose—our  comfort and happiness. We live in this world, in these bodies, and the pain we suffer gets our attention.  The truth is, we hold on to our sin because we love it more than we love God.

Ouch! Is that really true? Just because I keep on sinning in this same way, does that mean I love my sin more than I love God? Yes, in that moment, when I choose sin over obedience, it does mean that, because we obey the one that we love and trust. When I choose sin, I am loving myself, obeying my own plan, my own purpose, instead of God’s.  There can be many motivations for choosing sin over obedience to Christ. Maybe your anger gets people to do what you want. Maybe your self-pity gets you sympathy and attention that you think you need. Maybe your depression gets you off the hook in your responsibilities, as sympathetic friends and family members pitch in to help.

Whatever the reason, you are hanging on to you sin because there is a part of your heart that still loves it. Your love for that sin overrides your love for God and your desire to obey Him, even if it’s just long enough to indulge your flesh. What will it take to convince you that God’s plan is better? Only God knows the answer to that question. And that answer is in His Word. Prayerfully search the Scriptures and your own heart, and ask the Lord to reveal it to you. He is faithful, and He will do it.
Here are a few Scripture verses to get you started:

He who did not spare His own son, but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?  Romans 8:32

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.  Ephesians 2:10

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us…  Ephesians 2:20

But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”—    I Corinthians 2:9

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18