Wednesday, May 27, 2015

More Like Him

We can’t make ourselves more like Christ. Oh sure, we can be diligent to practice the Spiritual disciplines. We read and meditate on Scripture. We pray, often and with fervent hope. We spend time in fellowship with other believers, encouraging them and being encouraged. But, no matter how much effort we put out, we will never become more like Christ on our own.

Besides these disciplines, what does it take for us to become like Christ? In order to answer this question, I think we first have to talk about Christ. What he’s like, and who he is. What do you think of when you think of Christ? Take a moment and ponder this question before you read on.
When I think of Christ, I think of a compassionate, patient, loving sufferer. He loved people. All people. He loved prostitutes, tax collectors, and fishermen. He loved in an unfailing, untiring way. He did not give up on his friends, even when they publicly betrayed him. (Think of Peter.) Jesus was a good friend.

He didn’t wait for people to come to him. He went to them. He went to Samaria, and found the woman at the well, thirsting for living water. He went to the temple to preach and found the woman with the issue of blood, who believed that if she could only touch the hem of his garment, she would be well. He went to the wilderness, knowing he would be hungry and tempted. Jesus was a willing preacher, healer, and sufferer.

He knew everything. He knew the hearts of men. He knew what this world held for him, but he came anyway because he loved us, and could not let evil win. He knew we would be stubborn and self-willed and prideful and unloving. But he also knew we would be lost without him, so he came anyway. Jesus was an all-knowing and sacrificial shepherd.

Friend, sufferer, preacher, healer, shepherd. Jesus was all these things and infinitely more when he was here on earth. But what is he now? I propose to you that he is the same now as he was then. He is my best friend, always present with me, even (especially) in my darkest and loneliest hours. He is a willing sufferer, weeping with me when I weep, and grieving over my pain and my sin. He is my all-knowing Shepherd, guiding me when I don’t know what to do, and placing me in the midst of brothers and sisters who can help me. Jesus is all these things, and so much more. I long to be more like him.

So, now we are back to our question: How do we become more like him? Well, I believe that making us more like him is pretty much his job. He puts us in situations (pain, loss, fear, grief, loneliness) where we will desperately need an example of godly suffering; an all-knowing shepherd; a good friend. And there he is, reaching down to lift us up.  We welcome his embrace, bask in His loving, merciful grace, and receive His strength. In doing this, we become more like him.

Paul Tripp says that God will always take you where you don’t want to be, so that you can do something that you could never have done on your own, to make you more like Himself in a way you could never have achieved otherwise. He calls this God’s “uncomfortable grace.”  (Here’s 5 minutes well-spent.)

Are you experiencing God’s uncomfortable grace today, my dear friend? Are you in a place you would never have chosen to be? Are you experiencing things you would never have chosen for yourself? You will either become more like him, or you will become angry, disappointed, and bitter. This is the part that is up to you.

How will you respond to God’s uncomfortable grace? Will you insist on trying to control your circumstances, your pain, your trial? Will you go on complaining, nursing regret, and feeding sorrow? Or will you submit to the loving and gracious hand of your friend, fellow sufferer, and shepherd, Jesus Christ? Your choice today will determine how much you look like Christ tomorrow. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Tough Call

I’m not the toughest chick on the block. In fact, sometimes, I feel a little wimpy. The daily grind of pain and functional challenge can often leave me feeling like I don’t have the strength to keep plugging along. At times, I’ve turned down opportunities to serve, or even to have fun, because I don’t want to deal with the pain that I know will come after.

Lately, I’ve been convicted that this needs to change. As I counsel, study, write and learn, the Lord is sending me more opportunities to grow and minister, in ways I never imagined He would. These opportunities sometimes involve physical tasks that I would typically avoid because I know they will bring more pain. For example, biblical counseling conferences are a great opportunity to grow and enjoy fellowship with others who are ministering as I am, and to learn from them. I even have an opportunity next year to speak at a conference about ministering to people who live with chronic pain! But I know from experience that long car trips or flying; sleeping (more likely not sleeping) in strange beds; sitting for long periods of time; walking all over a seminary campus or large church building, and just being away from the comforts of home, will bring on a flare of pain issues that may take weeks to settle down. Yet, I sense the Lord calling me to more and more such opportunities.
As I have prayed about this, the Lord has led me to several passages of Scripture which have been instructive. The first is Proverbs 24:10:

If you faint in the day of adversity,
Your strength is small.

Whenever the Lord lights up a verse like this, I always want to look at the original language, to get a deeper understanding of what is being said. This one did not disappoint. One of the English words for the Hebrew for faint is withdraw. So, if I withdraw from these opportunities to grow and minister, that is a sign that my strength is small. But wait! That’s not true! My strength is not small, because it comes from a very big God. I can do ALL things through Christ who strengthens me, right? Have I stopped believing that the Lord will supply the strength I need to do what He has called me to do? I must persevere in trusting that whatever He asks of me, He will supply the needed strength.

Another issue here, at least for me, is pride. Most conference facilities have wheelchairs and other accommodations for people with disabilities. Using a wheelchair would minimize the pain, and make the aftermath much more manageable. Yet, my pride hates to be pushed around, and it is humbling to ask for help. So my default response to such invitations has been, “probably not.” Yet, if the Lord calls me to that conference, how can I withdraw and also tell others about the strength I’ve found in Him? This is hypocrisy.

My friend, here’s the bottom line: We have to know our limits, but we also have to take charge of what or who is setting our limits. If I’m honest, it’s not really so much the pain that makes me shy away from these opportunities. It is the fear of pain. I dread the recovery time, I dread the humbling of asking for help, and I dread the pain itself. But (and this is 100% true so far), God always provides the comfort I need after I have obeyed. So the question is this: Am I setting my limits based on fear of pain; or am I setting them based on trust in the God who has ordained the pain, and is also the promised comforter (Deut 32:29)? Another verse the Lord showed me is Jeremiah 12:5

“If you have raced on foot against men and they have worn you out,
how will you be able to compete with horses?
And if you feel secure only in safe and open country,
how will you manage in the thick undergrowth along the Jordan River?

This world is becoming more and more hostile to the message of the gospel, and to Christians in general. We need to seize every opportunity to minister the Word and grow by it, while we can still do so freely. Many believers have suffered for centuries for the name of Christ. Why should I get a pass, or even want one? These opportunities, though they may be painful, are a great blessing and privilege, and I need to look at them from that perspective. If some pain and discomfort can stop me now, how will I remain faithful in that day when there are many more challenges and fears to be confronted? This “light and momentary affliction” that will come may be the Lord’s gracious preparation for when times are harder.

What are you being called to do today? Don’t let fear of pain dictate your answer. Base your decision on trust in God’s calling, His sovereignty, and His strength!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

God Doesn't Waste Hurts

Dear Friends,
I hope you don't think I'm copping out, but I saw this video as I was getting ready to write today, and I knew that you needed to see it, too. His testimony is beautiful, and such a wonderful encouragement for those who suffer. I hope you will be encouraged, as I was.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

What’s the Plan for Mother’s Day?

Happy Mother's Day, Friends!
I thought I'd share this article that I wrote a few years ago. Maybe it will bring comfort to you, or maybe it will help you to bring comfort to a suffering mom today. Either way, my hope is that it will be a blessing.

            As we approach Mother’s Day this year, my heart is heavy with the grief of many of my friends who are moms. One is an elderly mother whose disabled son may soon be placed in a nursing home. Another has a young adult son struggling with addiction and severe depression. Several, including myself, are grieved with the unbelief and rebellion of their adult children. One of my dearest friends continues to struggle with the grief of losing a grandbaby nearly two years ago. I have friends who are single moms who fight and strive daily to be godly in the face of abandonment by their children’s fathers, financial need, and loneliness. Others are tied up in terrible court battles, fighting for what they believe is best for their children at great financial and emotional expense.

             I shopped for Mother’s Day cards for some of these friends yesterday, but I left empty handed. Sparkly pink cards with flowers and trite sayings will not soothe the aching hearts of any of these moms this year. So, what can I do to acknowledge this day that may be so painful for them? How can I say, “Happy Mother’s Day” to a mom who will not see or hear from her child this year, or who lives with regret or sadness about her relationship with that son or daughter? The best thing I can say is that there is hope. There is no prodigal child that cannot be restored to his family. There is no broken relationship that cannot be repaired. There is no loss or grief that will not be redeemed.  How will I prove this to them? By showing them where their hope is: In the sovereign God of the universe!

            No one understands the pain you feel when you think of your wayward child, better than our loving Father in heaven. God knows your pain, my friend. He has been there, watching as your child grew, knowing every struggle, every mistake you would make. Even if you think you did everything wrong, you can rest assured that everything that happened was ordained by God, for your good and His glory (Romans 8:28 & 29). Nothing that happened surprised our God! No trial came to you that didn’t first go through Him. He is watching still today, and His love for you will never fail (Psalm 13:5 is just one example. The Psalms are full songs about God’s unfailing love). He has a plan to bring good out of this.

            Our God also understands your longing to fix a broken relationship with your child. If you have a prodigal, who has rejected your love and support and chosen to go his own way, rest assured that your Father in heaven understands this. As your heart is grieved at the conditions your child is living in, or anxious to know where and how she is, remember that God’s children also turned from Him and went their own way. Jesus grieved over them (Luke 13:34). He had promised to be their strong tower, their fortress, and their deliverer, but they would not have Him. As we long to protect, love, and guide our children, we must remember that our Father understands that longing. He has a plan to bring comfort in this.

            Perhaps the moms who suffer most on Mother’s Day are those whose children have passed from this world. A broken relationship can be fixed, and a prodigal may return, but children who have died are not coming back. This is a pain that I can only imagine. How do I acknowledge this special day with these childless mothers? What words will offer comfort? My own words can fail, but the Words of Scripture are always true and comforting:
We can pray that the Lord will be near to her:

This you have seen, O Lord;
Do not keep silence.
O Lord, do not be far from me.
Psalm 35:22

Together, my friend and I can remind God of His promise to deliver us in our troubles:

Call upon me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.
Psalm 50:15

Finally, we can make a simple proclamation:

Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You.
Psalm 56:3

Maybe you also have a friend for whom no flowery pink card will do this Mother’s Day. Maybe you are that mom who is struggling this year. Rest assured, our God is faithful. His mercies are new every morning, including Mother’s Day. He has a plan to bring you through this. Trust Him.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Medication Question

The pain has gotten really bad, and you don't know what to do. You can’t sleep at night because of it, and you believe you will absolutely lose your mind if you don’t get some good rest. You've been to the pain doctors, and all they want to do is dope you up. Or maybe you've tried those pain meds, and you can’t stand the side effects, or concern for what they will do to your body in the long term has made you decline them in the past. You've tried every natural alternative that’s not clearly forbidden in Scripture, and none of them worked. Now, you are ready to take just about anything they want to give you, if you can just get some relief!

Does this sound familiar? Maybe it’s a little more or less extreme than where you are right now, but if you struggle with chronic pain, you can probably relate on some level. Most of us in the trenches of physical suffering will, at one time or another, face the medication question. Should I fill this prescription the doctor has given me? Could this little piece of paper really mean the end of my pain and the beginning of a whole new life, as the TV commercials proclaim?

Before I really get into the biblical perspective here, let me first say that I am not a medical professional. I am an IABC certified Biblical Counselor, not a doctor, nurse, psychologist, psychiatrist, or any other type of medical professional. I am writing from the perspective of a child of God who suffers, and that is all. Having said that, I do think I've learned some things over my years of suffering in Christ, and that’s what I'll share with you today. As I do with my counselees, I will begin by asking you some questions.

My first question is, where is your hope? Most of you would probably answer that your hope is in Christ. But I'd like you to look a little deeper, and see if your hope is truly in Christ alone, or if it is in Christ doing something to ease your pain. There is a difference. This post delves more deeply into that difference, and I would urge you to read it as you try to answer this first question. After that, if you find that you truly have placed your hope in pain relief, repent and turn from that, placing your hope fully in Christ.  

My next question is, what is your definition of contentment? Is it possible to be content in pain, or do you believe the two are mutually exclusive? There is much about contentment in the Bible, and when you read about it there, you come away with a very different understanding from how the world defines it. In Philippians 4:12-13, Paul says he’s learned the secret to contentment in just about any circumstance. His contentment is in the knowledge that, no matter what God calls him to endure (see 2 Cor 11), he will be content in it because the very God who called him to do it is the one who will give him the strength to follow through! In other words, the author of his trial is also the provider of the strength he needs in order to glorify God in it. Christian contentment means trusting in God to provide all that you need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3), including wisdom about how to manage pain.

The bottom line in this decision about medical treatment is, what’s in your heart? Are you looking to pain relief to give you contentment? One thing I have learned over the course of several trials and many errors is this: If I am not content (trusting Christ no matter what) in pain, I will not be content out of pain, either. True Christian contentment has little to do with the condition of our physical bodies, our pain level, our disabilities, or any other earthly thing. Christian contentment is rooted in our relationship with Christ. It is not equivalent to happiness or joy. It is the settled understanding that, if I have Christ, my only true need has been met.

Having said all that, the question remains: Should I take this medication, or should I refrain? I cannot, of course, answer that question for you, because you are unique, and I am not in your skin. But I do have some general guidelines, in the form of dos and don'ts, that I hope will help you with your decision.


PRAY about your decision, and ask others to do so, too.

READ your Bible! There is excellent wisdom about decision making there[i].

Examine your LIFESTYLE. Are you eating well, exercising to the best of your ability, and avoiding things that are harmful? A healthful lifestyle can reduce pain and contribute to your overall sense of wellbeing.

Carefully RESEARCH the medication you are considering. Learn about side effects, both long- and short-term. (Avoid websites associated with the manufacturer of the drug.) Make a risk/benefit comparison chart, and bring it with you when you…

TALK openly with your doctor about this particular medication, and especially how it will affect your ability to think clearly. Ask him or her about alternatives. If you can't have an honest conversation with your doctor, you need to find a different one.

Seek WISE COUNSEL. Talk with others who also suffer painful physical affliction, and get their input. Some have suffered longer than you and will have knowledge and insight that you do not. If you are married, seek your husband’s input. Ladies, our pain impacts our husbands in many ways, and they deserve to have some say in our decisions.

READ good books about pain. A couple of my favorites arePain: The Plight of Fallen Man, by Dr. Jim Halla, and Pain: the Gift NobodyWants, by Dr. Paul Brand and Phillip Yancy


WORRY and fret about the decision.

COMPARE your pain and choices to others’. Remember, even two individuals with the same condition can experience very different physical manifestations. Your decision is yours alone.

RUSH into a decision. If you've read this far into this post, you've been suffering for a while. A few more days won't make or break your pain.

Concern yourself with what OTHER PEOPLE will think of your decision. This is fear of man (Galatians 1:10, Proverbs 29:25). The only opinion of you that matters is God’s.

There is much more I could write about this subject, but ultimately, our medication decisions are just that: ours. As we trust God and pray, He will bring clarity.

[i] Prov 2:1-6, 3:5-6, 18:13, 19:2, 21:5; 16:2, 11:14, 1:5; James 1:5; Rom 8:28-30; Phil. 4:6; 1 Peter 1:13-15, 5:8

Monday, May 4, 2015

Come, Weary Saints

Dear friend, are you tired? Has your pain, suffering, trial or temptation made you weary? Have you been betrayed by those you trusted? Is your heart broken from grief, to the point that you think it may stop beating at any moment? Are you so exhausted from just making it through the day that you have no energy left at the end of it? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then I’d like to invite you to come away with me for a few moments, as I share with you our Lord’s solution to this weariness: Christ Himself. 

As we think on Christ, we must first think of how He suffered. He was a Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief, who was stricken, smitten of God, afflicted, and pierced through for our sins (Isaiah 55:3-12). He was betrayed by those who claimed to be His friends (Psalm 55:12-14). He was left all alone in His hour of greatest need (Matt 26:56). He was mocked, spat upon and scourged (Mark 10:33-34). His soul was deeply troubled, to the point that He asked God to excuse Him from the very thing He had come to do (John 12:27; Luke 22:42). There are so many examples in God’s Word of Christ’s suffering, that I could fill many blog posts just marveling at what He endured for me and you.

But that is not my purpose today. The reason I am writing this today is because I want you to know that Jesus understands your pain, your suffering, and your fleshly response. He suffered more than you or I or any other person ever has or will suffer, yet did not sin (Heb 4:15). Not only was he beaten, betrayed, and abandoned by people, but even God turned His face away from Christ as He bore our sins. This is the suffering that exceeds all other suffering.  I’m not sure exactly what Christ experienced in His relationship with God in those moments when He cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me (Matthew 27:46)?” But I do know that He was experiencing some kind of separation from His Father. God hates sin, and sin always separates us from the Father. Imagine bearing the sin of the whole world! How far He must have felt God was from Him in that moment!

Dear reader, I want you to know that this is a pain you will never have to experience if you have received God’s gracious offer of forgiveness for your sin. If you have confessed your sin to God, and repented (turned from) that sin, receiving His forgiveness and offering up your life to Him, nothing can ever separate you from His love (Romans 8:38-39). Jesus suffered physical pain, abandonment, grief, and finally, separation from God. Then, he died so that we would have this great gift of Grace, never to be forsaken by God.

But there’s more! Death did not have victory over Christ. He rose again after he suffered that bloody, horrific death. (Read 1 Corinthians 15. The apostle Paul does a much better job of explaining this than I can.) The point is, Christ has conquered sin and death! Though our physical bodies will break down and we will die, our souls have eternal life! This is our comfort in our affliction. Not only does our Great High Priest understand our weakness, but He lived it! He, too became weary and beaten down. He was tired and lonely.

How did He get through it? He went away by himself and prayed:

Mark 1:35: Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.

Matthew 14:23: After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone.

These are just a couple of examples that are written for us. I’m sure there were many other times when Jesus went off alone to be with His Father. God strengthened Him through that prayer. God Himself was Christ’s sustenance. When we are lonely, in pain, tired, weary, betrayed, afraid, or uncertain, we need to get alone with our Father so that we too can be comforted, encouraged, and strengthened.

When you are in a moment of crisis, seemingly unbearable pain, grief, or despair, remember our Lord and His weakness, His pain, His need. He was a person just like us, who was tempted and tried, yet without sin. He conquered sin so that we would not be ruled by it. You, my believing friend, are not under the rule of your fleshly bent toward self-pity, fear, anxiety, and hopelessness. You are under the rule of a great High Priest who has already freed you from the power of sin and death. So, I would encourage you, in those moments, to pray the prayer He prayed as He faced His darkest hour on earth:

Luke 22:41-44: He withdrew about a stone's throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done."

This is the prayer of the weary, in a nutshell:

Father: I agree that you are my supreme authority, and have complete authority to run my life.

If you are willing: It is your will that is most important to me, and that I want more than anything.

Take this cup from me: Don't make me go through this, please!

Yet not my will, but Yours be done: I want what I want, but not more than I want Your will and glory.

Once you have prayed, rest. God knows your needs, He is sovereign over your trial, and He loves you. Let these truths become the living water that saturates your dry, weary soul. 

Come, weary saints, though tired and weak
Hide away in the love of Jesus.
Your strength will return by His quiet streams
Hide away in the love of Jesus.                                                                     
© 2008 Integrity’s Hosanna! Music (ASCAP)/Sovereign Grace Worship (ASCAP).