Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Have You Forgotten?

And the LORD said, “I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows.” (Exodus 3:7)

As I mentioned in my last post, I open my Bible each day seeking encouragement and I always find it, no matter where I am reading. So today, I thought I would share with you one example of that. I decided to read the Bible chronologically this year, and right now I’m in Exodus. In chapter 3, there is a little verse that I must have passed over many times, but today it really jumped out at me. It’s the quote at the top of this post. What made me pause was that last phrase, “I know their sorrows.” This immediately brought to my mind Isaiah 53:3, which says,

He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

A Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief—That is who our Savior is. So, why do we hide from Him? Why do we esteem Him so little that we don’t turn to Him in our sorrow, but like the Israelites, we turn away from Him and toward ourselves and other gods?

Well, I believe our reason is the same as theirs. If you read a little further, at the end of chapter 4, you’ll see that the Israelites did bow down and worship when Aaron demonstrated the signs in their sight. When they saw with their own eyes a demonstration of God’s power, then they believed that He had looked on their affliction and would help them.

But wouldn’t you know, by chapter 6, they no longer believe Him. Look with me at Exodus 6:9.

…but they did not heed Moses because of anguish of spirit and cruel bondage.

Anguish of spirit and cruel bondage: Translation? Feelings and circumstances. No doubt, the Israelites were in a tough place: Slavery under cruel taskmasters. But what about the signs? Didn’t they remember the signs Moses had shown them—a rod turned to a snake and back again, Moses’ leprous hand healed—that had caused them to believe back in chapter 4? Apparently they’d forgotten all that, and were now focused on their circumstances and their feelings. God no longer seemed to be proving Himself faithful in their eyes, so that meant He could not be trusted.

Does this sound familiar to you, dear reader? Do you remember a time when God seemed to be doing amazing things in your life, and your faith was growing? What happened between that time and now? Were you basing your faith on what you could see, or on what the Bible says? It is so easy to become focused on circumstances, and to begin to obey our feelings about those circumstances, isn’t it? As I read this account today, I wanted to shout at those Israelites, “Hey, what about the miracles? What about the signs? Come on! Trust God, and stop walking by sight!”

Of course, all this shouting in my head eventually gets directed at myself, and now at you! How ‘bout it, my sister friend? Are you basing your faith on what’s going on around you, and your feelings about that? Do you worship and praise God on the good days, but seem to lose faith on the bad ones? Maybe it’s been so long since you’ve had a good day, you don’t remember what you did with them! 

Pain is indeed a cruel taskmaster, and being unable to do the things you want to do can definitely bring about anguish of spirit. But you and I must remember that neither of those things is to be the basis of our faith. Our faith is in the God who tells us in Exodus 3, “I AM WHO I AM.” God is God, and He is who He says He is,  regardless of our pain, disability, or any other circumstance. He is faithful, and He can be trusted.

So we press on through pain, suffering, or any other circumstances, because we have a singular goal:

…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Phil. 3:10-11) 

The key to steady faith, even in cruel bondage and anguish of spirit, is to fix our eyes on this goal, trusting in the One whose grace is sufficient to get us there. Hallelujah! What an Encourager! What a Savior!


Monday, January 18, 2016

Plan to be Encouraged

This time of year, lots of websites are offering Bible reading plans. Three chapters a day, chronological, book by book, read through in 3, 6, or 12 months, the options are plenty. We know we want to be reading every day, but if we’re honest, it can be hard to keep it up after the first couple of weeks of January. I have stumbled upon a method for making sure I read every day, and I thought I would share it with you today.

I used to use a check-box type plan, and I read through the Bible every year. But then, as my God-ordained physical trial began, I became very thirsty for more encouragement and hope from the Word. It was no longer enough just to check off the boxes, maybe gleaning a nugget of truth or encouragement, then moving on. Now, I was desperate for help and hope.

So, I developed a habit of reading until I found encouragement, and that is what I still do today. Each morning, I sit down with God and my coffee, and I ask Him to reveal to me from His Word the encouragement He has planned for me. He has never let me down, I have never run out of time, and I’ve never had to miss or be late for anything I had planned for the day. When I find that verse or passage that seems to jump off the page, I write it down. But I don’t write it down just anywhere. I have a wonderful planner that I began ordering from Joni and Friends a few years ago. It has large blank spaces for each day, and this is where I write my encouraging verses. (See the pictures below.)

Each year, I fill my planner with encouraging Scriptures, and this serves a double purpose: Writing out the Scriptures helps to cement them in my mind, and later, when I really need a pick-me-up, I have hundreds of verses to choose from! Plus, Joni’s planner also has some devotional materials and encouragement to read along the way. A third bonus—My purchase helps to support Joni’s ministry, and what better place for my money than an organization that helps people with disabilities!
Whether you buy this particular planner or not, I think you will find this Bible reading method helpful and rewarding. There is nothing in the Bible that commands you to read through it at any particular pace or in any particular order. What God’s Word does command us to do is seek wisdom, encouragement, and guidance from it. With that in mind, I hope you will dig into the Scriptures every day this year, and do it with the expectation that you will receive exactly what you need!



Monday, January 11, 2016

Exciting News!

Well, here we are a couple of weeks into 2016 already! It seems that each year passes faster than the one before, doesn’t it? As I look back over 2015, I have to say it was a good year! My counseling caseload has grown significantly, and I sense every day, and with every session, that this is my calling from the Lord. I am so privileged to be allowed to speak His truth into the lives of women every day, and I count it a great blessing that I get to do it!

Another great privilege the Lord has seen fit to give me is the ability reach out, through this blog, to others who are suffering with chronic pain and physical challenges. I have heard from many of you, and it is a great comfort to me to know that I am not the only one who wrestles with God over physical pain and loss. As you tell me of the encouragement you get from the blog, my own suffering is redeemed, and I see the good fruit that has come from my painful circumstance. Whenever I know that my words have been an encouragement, my pain is more bearable and my disappointments lose their sting.

And now, I have something new to be grateful for! My friend and mentor Julie Ganschow, whose blog, Biblical Counseling for Women has been encouraging readers for nearly a decade, has invited me to be a regular contributor! I will be posting every week over at Biblical Counseling for Women. Those articles will be a little different from what I write here. They will be geared more toward the issues for which women typically come for counseling, as well as general principles of biblical thinking and response in all kinds of circumstances. I hope you’ll stop by and read what I post there, as well as the thoughts and counsel of the other contributors.

I’m very excited to be a part of this new blog, but my passion is still to help and encourage those who struggle with physical pain and limitations so I still intend to post here, at least as frequently as I have been. As this New Year begins, I am beyond excited to have so many opportunities to share the Word of God.  I can’t imagine why God would give such a broken vessel such an amazing honor, but I guess that is just who He is. He uses weak people to show His strength, and He uses broken vessels to hold vast treasure. Hallelujah! What a Giver! What a Savior! 

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Mourning To Dancing

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness,
To the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.

Well, Christmas is over and New Year’s Eve is behind us. My husband and I don’t typically go out on New Year’s Eve, but the celebration of a New Year brings dancing to mind, at least for me. There was a time when I loved to dance. In fact, I met my husband when I asked him to dance at a club over thirty years ago! This year, as I thought of this celebration and my mind wandered back to parties and celebrations in years past, I remembered the fun we used to have dancing, and at least for a moment felt somewhat wistful. It is highly unlikely that we will boogie like that again, and this fact has the potential to make me feel sad.

But wait…Can it really make me feel sad? No, it cannot! If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that the truth about our feelings is that we choose them. So, let’s use this as an example for how to think and act biblically about situations that could potentially bring on a sinful response. As I look at this dancing thing, there are a few options: I could go ahead and dance, but it would probably result in a lot of pain for a lot of days after. That’s not a sacrifice I’m willing to make. I could skip all celebrations where people are dancing, avoiding the temptation to feel jealous or sad about my condition. That’s not an option either, because I have a desire to go to the celebrations, and to be with the people I love. Besides, if I stayed home from everything that could bring up sinful thoughts, I would never leave the house. That’s true for all of us!

No, the answer here is not to stay home, or to inflict needless pain on myself. The answer is to change my focus to a different kind of dancing. If you haven’t already, read the Scripture that I quoted at the top of this article. It says that the Lord has turned my mourning into dancing. That means He has turned my sadness into celebration! Way back in those days when I was partying and dancing the night away, my heart was dark and lost. I was a lonely, sad individual who desperately needed Christ, but didn’t know it. Though I would have appeared to be a happy person to those who saw me grooving to those tunes, inside was a hopeless despair that I thought would never go away.

Fast forward to today, and though I am no longer dancing, I am a happy follower of Christ, who is striving toward contentment in Him. He also graciously saved my husband, and today we are working to glorify God as we love one another and serve the Body of Christ. If you looked at this timeline from a worldly perspective, where physical comfort and capability are the goal, you might say that my life has turned from dancing to mourning. And, if I obeyed my feelings, you might be right. But, praise be to God, He has turned my thinking upside down, so I no longer crave those physical privileges, but desire more than anything to bring Him glory regardless of (and sometimes because of) my physical condition.

He has indeed turned my mournful heart to one that dances in celebration of the grace and love He has so generously poured out on me. Whatever he has seen fit to take from me in physical strength, He has more than replaced with sweet fellowship with Him. As I think these thoughts, I am not sad, but glad! I would not trade one moment of the fellowship I have with Christ and His body for many hours of dancing with that dark, lost heart that I had back then. I’d like to challenge you today, my sister-friend, to examine your thinking about the temptations of your heart, how they are triggered, and how you can think differently about them. I know that my God will supply new thinking. After all, He is the Creator of all things. He can surely create new thoughts, new responses, and new attitudes in your heart. Hallelujah! What a Creator! What a Savior!