Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Mind/Body Connection

The mind/body connection is an amazing thing, isn’t it? Those of us who suffer with issues of chronic pain and disease know that mind and body are both at work here, and this is a very important factor in our coping with whatever physical affliction the Lord has sovereignly appointed for us. My own experience with this has been of epic battle proportions at times. Whenever a new symptom appears, the fear escalates and tries to steal away the sweet peace that the Lord has wrought in my heart.

The process is very familiar by now, and I really ought to see it coming. But, for whatever reason, each time it happens, it seems I am right back at square one in the process of learning to think biblically about my situation. It goes like this: A new symptom appears, and I panic. My mind races with the possibilities of what it could be. Though I have learned not to google things (this inevitably increases the anxiety), it doesn't stop my mind from thinking through, based on the knowledge I already have, all the terrifying possibilities. I can go from, “Hmm, that’s odd. Don't think I've had that before,” to “I will probably be in a wheelchair soon,” all in about 30 seconds. Even with all of my biblical counseling training, and a fair amount of experience with this scenario, it still takes only a twinge and a moment for me to start that downward spiral of fear and anxiety.

Now, the Lord has been quite gracious to me in helping me to deflect unbiblical thoughts, and most of the time, I don’t get far down the spiral. But there are still times that I let my emotions win over truth.  What I hope to think through with you today is the “why” factor. Why, after all I've learned, and after all the countless times I've been here, do I still have this response? Why I am so easily led to a place of fear and panic when I know that, in reality, I have nothing to fear?

I think, at least for me, there are a couple of reasons. The first one that comes to mind is the deeply ingrained thought patterns that were set in my mind long before I became a Christian. I was saved later in life, so my unbiblical ways of thinking and responding were firmly set patterns when I met Christ. Though my relationship with Him has completely extinguished some old, sinful thought patterns, this one is really hanging in there.

Another reason this one is particularly tough is that it seems to be relentless. As I have gone through this trial for the last 6 years, it seems the physical issues have stacked up. Just as one issue is being resolved or dealt with to restore functionality, another comes up. In my less holy moments, I find myself saying, “I can't catch a break here!” While I know that this thinking is unbiblical, I find it to be persistent nonetheless.

There are probably many other reasons that this battle is so tough, and I’d be willing to bet that you can relate, and could add a few of your own. But the bottom line is, this thinking is unbiblical and does not glorify God. So, should we feel guilty about it, and beat ourselves up over it? No, I don't think that would glorify Him, either. After all, He died to pay the price for our sinful thinking, and that was enough! We don't need to add self-flagellation to His finished work. Confession is all that is necessary on our part. The Spirit will grant us the grace we need to repent of this thinking, and to start again.

I think what we really need here is preparation. If we're calling this a battle, then we are soldiers, and we need to put on the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18, AMP).

10 In conclusion, be strong in the Lord [be empowered through your union with Him]; draw your strength from Him [that strength which His boundless might provides].

                Remember who you are in Christ (2 Cor 5:17).

11 Put on God’s whole armor [the armor of a heavy-armed soldier which God supplies], that you may be able successfully to stand up against [all] the strategies and the deceits of the devil.

                Remember that the Lord’s protection is freely yours (Psalm 34:19).

12 For we are not wrestling with flesh and blood [contending only with physical opponents], but against the despotisms, against the powers, against [the master spirits who are] the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spirit forces of wickedness in the heavenly (supernatural) sphere.

                Remember Job (Job1).

13 Therefore put on God’s complete armor, that you may be able to resist and stand your ground on the evil day [of danger], and, having done all [the crisis demands], to stand [firmly in your place].

                Remember that God is for you (Psalm 118:6; Romans 8:31).

14 Stand therefore [hold your ground], having tightened the belt of truth around your loins and having put on the breastplate of integrity and of moral rectitude and right standing with God,

                Remember God’s promises (Matt. 11:28-29; Is 40:29-31).

15 And having shod your feet in preparation [to face the enemy with the firm-footed stability, the promptness, and the readiness produced by the good news] of the Gospel of peace.

                Remember the Gospel (John 3:16).

16 Lift up over all the [covering] shield of saving faith, upon which you can quench all the flaming missiles of the wicked [one].

                Remember the faith of those who have faced fear and won (Hebrews 11).

17 And take the helmet of salvation and the sword that the Spirit wields, which is the Word of God.

                Remember that Christ Himself is the Word of God (John 1:1).

18 Pray at all times (on every occasion, in every season) in the Spirit, with all [manner of] prayer and entreaty. To that end keep alert and watch with strong purpose and perseverance, interceding in behalf of all the saints (God’s consecrated people).

                Remember to pray thankfully, without ceasing (1 Thess 5:16-17).

I’d like to invite you to meditate on this passage, and really think through its applications to your own battles with default responses to your pain. One of the main messages I get from it is the importance of prayer. Often, in times when I’m feeling physically functional and well, I forget to pray for protection from my own “stinkin’ thinkin’,” and then I’m surprised when it comes up again. We need to be in prayer for more grace, more strength, and more patience in these moments. By the power of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, we can overcome even the most deeply rooted thought patterns and fears. By His grace, we will have victory:

But thanks be to God, Who in Christ always leads us in triumph [as trophies of Christ’s victory] and through us spreads and makes evident the fragrance of the knowledge of God everywhere…

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Things Above

Dear readers,
Due to an oversight, this entry did not get published on April 9, as it was scheduled. It should have been before the entry entitled, Grace, On April 15. Hopefully, that one will make a little more sense after you have read this one. Sorry for any confusion!

Our biblical counseling center has been swamped with new counselees lately! While I am sorry that so many are struggling, I am glad they are coming, because it means that they are seeking the only true help available: The power and comfort of Christ and His Word! My counselees always stretch me and teach me, causing me to search the Scriptures diligently to find words of exhortation and encouragement for them.

One of my “go-to” passages for almost every counselee is Colossians 3:1-4, where Paul exhorts us to set our minds on things above, not on things of the earth. One of my counselees asked me an excellent question as she reported back this week about her meditations on this passage: “What exactly are ‘things above?’ Am I to think on streets of gold, and imagine my mansion in heaven? Should I think about the throne of God, and the angels singing, ‘holy, holy, holy’? I’m just not sure what he means by ‘things above.’”

I thought this was an excellent question, and my answer to her was to think on God, who He is, what He does, who we are in Him, and to be grateful for all those things. But I wanted something more concrete to give her, so she would gain more understanding of God through this assignment. For me, the most encouraging way to focus on things above is to think on the attributes of God. A. W. Pink has a very helpful little book called The Attributes of God, and in it he lists, describes, and backs up with Scripture, 17 attributes of God! I highly recommend this book (Also available for Kindle) because it explains these concepts in very conversational language, and in terms that anyone could understand. Yet at the same time, it teaches the deep, biblical theology that is indispensable to a believer who is suffering.

I hope you’ll get the book, but in the meantime, let’s talk about just a couple of these attributes of God that we can meditate on when we need to get our mind off the things of this world, including our pain, illness, or disability. I’ll start with my favorite, which is the sovereignty of God. (See Dan 4:35; Ps. 135:6; 115:3; Eph. 1:11).  Pink’s chapter on this attribute quotes C.H. Spurgeon: “There is no attribute more comforting to His children than that of God’s Sovereignty. Under the most adverse circumstances, in the most severe trials, they believe that Sovereignty has ordained their afflictions, that Sovereignty overrules them, and that Sovereignty will sanctify them all…It is God upon His throne whom we trust.” God’s sovereignty is our starting point when we ask all the ‘why’ questions that are so common in suffering hearts.

That sovereignty might seem cold and hard, were it not for God’s love for us. (See 1 John 4:8)  Since God is sovereign, and since He is love, it necessarily follows that His love is sovereign. He is uninfluenced by anything in the creature, so there is nothing we can do to win or lose His love for us. (See Deut. 7:7-8). His love is infinite, and it never changes. This is the kind of love we need as we are suffering in these fallen bodies. To know, regardless of our circumstances, that God loves us, and to believe it simply because the Word of God says it is so, brings great comfort beyond anything this world has to offer. God’s love is eternal (Jer. 31:3). One day, all this pain and suffering will end, and we will be with Christ forever!

It was hard to choose just a few attributes to talk about in this short space, but I simply must include the mercy of God for you, my friends. People who suffer physically often struggle to understand God’s mercy. In our human and finite minds, we think mercy should equal pain relief. But we must remember the reason we were created. Isaiah 43:7 tells us that we were created to glorify God. So, if that is true, then His mercy to us would be found in His helping us to fulfill the purpose for which we were created. When we respond rightly to our pain, we bring Him glory. Do you see His mercy in that? We will never be content until we are fulfilling the purpose for which we were created. Our suffering gives us many opportunities to do just that. I'm not saying that this is easy, and if you read almost any other post on this blog, you will know that I understand the difficulty. But that does not make these truths any less true. God, in His mercy, knows exactly what it will take for you to bring Him glory and fulfill your purpose.

But how, you might ask, am I to apply this truth about God’s mercy when I am aching, exhausted, and feeling helpless? That is a conversation for my next post, where we will continue talking about the attributes of God, beginning with that very provision you are asking for: His grace. In the meantime, I hope you will get this book, or maybe do a study on the attributes of God through Bible Gateway or one of the other excellent Bible resources available online. And remember,

“Set your mind on things above, not on things of the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with  Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:2&3)

There's a wonderful old hymn that always comes to mind when I read this passage, called “Turn 
Your Eyes Upon Jesus.” Here's just a sample of the lyrics, but check it out here, too.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.                                                                                                                                                                                              


Last time on the blog, we talked about some of the attributes of God, and I shared that this is what I believe Paul is talking about when he tells us in Colossians 3 to set our minds on things above. When we center our thoughts on such things as the sovereignty, love, and mercy of God, our earthly troubles will shrink by comparison.

Today, I'd like to talk about just one more of the attributes of God: His grace. God’s grace is distinguished  from His mercy in that His grace is specifically reserved for His elect, while His mercy goes out to “all his works” (Ps. 145:9). The thing I love most about God’s grace is that it has absolutely nothing to do with me. It is his completely unmerited favor in response to my completely undeserving soul (Eph. 2:8&9). It is the opposite of works and worthiness, and defies all explanation as to why it is offered to such lowly creatures as man.

Grace is what gives us the assurance that we are forgiven when we sin. Since we did nothing to earn God’s grace, we can do nothing to lose it. His grace is applied freely to us, every time we sin or fall short of glorifying Him in our thoughts, words, or deeds. This is the Gospel! God’s grace is the antidote to fear because we have this blessed assurance that, even though our sin nature sometimes wins the battle for our minds, it will never again reign in our hearts. We never have to be afraid that He will give up on us, or leave us in our sin. Through whatever trials, pain or sickness we must endure in this life, we always have this blessed assurance of God’s grace.

Another thing that I love about this wonderful attribute of God is that He knows exactly when I will need it on any given day, and at any given moment. He doesn't give me that grace ahead of time, nor is he ever late in bringing it. Have you ever read TheHiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom? It is a great testimony to the grace of God, and I highly recommend it. In that book, there is a story from Corrie’s childhood about how her dad always gave her train ticket to her just before it was time to hand it to the conductor. She had no need of it before that moment, and if he waited till after that moment, it would be too late. He always gave her the ticket at just the right time. This illustration helped Corrie to rest assured of God’s grace, in a moment when she was afraid that she would not have the strength to endure her father’s death. Her heavenly Father's grace would come, in ample supply, at just the right time, even as her earthly father gave her what she needed at just the right time.

God’s grace is also the reason that the church is fully equipped for all of its members’ needs. Ephesians 4:7 says that “… to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” John MacArthur, in his Study Bible, says that “Each believer has a unique spiritual gift that God individually portions out according to His sovereign will and design.” This is how the body of Christ becomes complete, to meet everyone’s needs. By God’s grace, he gives each of us the gifts necessary for “the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry…” (Eph. 4:12).

What could you share today about the amazing grace of God? I would love to hear a story from your own life about how God’s perfectly timed grace made its impact on you. Won't you share in the comments, friend? Some of you may be unable to attend regular worship services, but the body of Christ is in many places, including the little group that reads this blog. Your story may be just “the ticket” to encourage them to endure.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Broken is Better

Life is full of pain and suffering. In a world of uncertainty, there is only one sure thing: You will have trouble (Job 5:7).  The only thing that is optional is your response to that trouble. You have many choices when it comes to how you respond emotionally to pain and suffering in your life. I’d like to talk with you today about a few of those, some or all of which you may have chosen in your time of trial. Then, I’d like to talk about a choice that is always better.

First, you can respond to your pain with fear. If you have a chronic or debilitating illness, you may be fearful of a new or worsening pain or symptom, and begin to wonder what you will do if it continues to get worse. How will you cope? Who will take care of you? What will you do when you can’t do what you need to do? Fear of increased pain gangs up with panic about the future, and pretty soon you have bullied yourself into a fear response. This fear drives us more into ourselves, and away from God.

Or you may choose to respond in anger, telling yourself that you don’t deserve this, and that it’s not fair. This response seems more powerful than fear. Instead of cowering in a trembling heap, you shake your fist at your condition, your doctor, or maybe even at God. This anger gives you a false sense of empowerment from within, and causes you to think that you don’t need God’s power, putting distance between you and your great High Priest.

A third response that is common among suffering believers is despair. Maybe you’ve been knocked down many times, but have managed, by the grace of God, to get back up again. Now, after many TKO’s, you have given up. You just don’t have the fight in you anymore. Somewhere along the way, you started looking to your own strength for the next round, and now that strength is spent. You can’t get up again, and you really don’t even want to. You are done.

All of these responses can lead us to one very dangerous place: Bitterness. A person who is bitter has probably been through all three of these responses, and possibly several others, before arriving at bitterness. When these fleshly attitudes go unchecked, they inevitably lead us to a place where we have little or no faith in God, and we really don’t care. We are disappointed, angry, and without hope. We nurture and feed grudges against those who have harmed us, and we curse God, and anyone else, who has denied us what we believe we are entitled to. This is bitterness. According to Isaiah 43:7, we were created for God’s glory. If this paragraph describes you, ask yourself, “How does my bitterness glorify God?” If you’re honest, you will have to confess that your bitterness does not, and could never, bring glory to God. In fact, if bitterness persists, and you are just fine with it, you might want to examine whether or not you are even a believer.

There is another alternative. Rather than becoming bitter, we can confess and embrace the fact that we are broken. Our body is broken. Our heart is broken. We have no strength or power left to fight what God is doing through our trial. We must submit to His will for us, surrendering our desire to control our situation. We must hand over our pain, our suffering, our fear, anger, and despair to Him. He alone is able to handle them. He loves us, and desires to make us more like Him. He wants to use this pain to bring us into His arms. He wants to take the burden of our fear, anger, and despair, and exchange it for His light, easy one.

Dear sister in Christ, you are weak. If you have convinced yourself otherwise, you are deceived. (Jeremiah 17:9). I know you may not like to hear that you're weak and broken, but please believe me when I say that this is a good thing!  Hear the words of the apostle Paul, who suffered so many things for the sake of the Gospel:

“Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).

This statement follows Paul’s description of his pleading with the Lord to remove the thorn in his flesh. God’s answer? “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Do you want God’s perfect strength in your battle against pain and the heartache that comes with it? Do you believe that God’s grace is sufficient for you? Then embrace your weakness, and give up your fear, anger, despair, and bitterness. God has given you your weakness as a gift, to help you bring glory to His great name and to make you more like His precious Son! Give in to fear, anger, and despair, and you will be bullied, powerless, and hopeless. Once you get there, you are standing at the doorstep of bitterness. Turn from these things, my friend, and be broken. Broken is better.