Monday, August 29, 2016


I live in the Midwest, so certain seasons practically guarantee unstable weather. Right now, we have a continuous pattern of weather systems coming through our area, bringing intermittent thunderstorms, heavy rain and wind, along with rapidly rising and falling air pressure. As you know, if you have any form of joint disease, these changes in pressure can bring an increase in pain. As the pressure rises, fluid in the joints contracts, and as it falls, that fluid expands, putting pressure on inflamed joints and tissues. These weather changes can also affect migraine sufferers and others with various chronic pain issues.

There’s got to be a spiritual analogy here somewhere, right? I thought maybe I could talk about the pressure of just living the Christian life, and how it seems to rise and fall with certain circumstances. Paul said he was “hard pressed on every side, but not crushed,” and we can say the same. I could talk about how the strength and love of God braces our spiritual “joints” so that we don’t give in to despair. That would be encouraging.

Or I could talk about the stability of God. Even when circumstances change, God never does. Hebrews 13:8 says that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. These weather changes are very temporary, and cannot touch my salvation, my relationship with Christ, or His faithfulness. Yes, I want to invite my readers to think on the stability and faithfulness of God.

But wait, there’s another one. How about the power of God? As I listen to the thunder (and the vibration of the pictures on my walls in response to it!), I can’t help but think of the majesty and wonder of God’s power. He rules the thunder, the lightening, the rain, the flooding river, and yes, the fluid in my joints! He is mighty to save, mighty to sustain, and mighty to conquer even the powers and principalities that want to drive my thoughts to despair in my pain. What a mighty and powerful God I serve: Even as I wrestle with a storm of thoughts that want to drive me away from Him, He draws me back with His amazing power.

When I woke up this morning, aching and stiff after a night of storms and little sleep, I grabbed my lasso before my thoughts could get away from me. Currently, my thought-capturing lasso is made out of 2 Corinthians 4 and 5, which I am memorizing. What a great encouragement this passage is to me! Once I got my thinking lined up with Scripture, I gratefully took myself off to the pool for some aqua therapy.

Arriving home, I discovered that a large tree branch had fallen on the road in front of our house, but was still attached to the tree. Before I could even begin to stress about that, the Lord demonstrated another of His attributes: His providence. As I pulled up, I saw my neighbor coming to the rescue, chainsaw and ladder at the ready, to trim off the branch and clean it all up. Also in God’s providence, my hubby happened to be working from home today, and the two of them made short work of the branch.

As He always does, God has shown me His goodness in yet another episode of increased pain. I really should start looking forward to these times instead of dreading them! God always does something amazing to show His love for me whenever I think I am going to give in to wrong thinking about my circumstance.  He truly does make a way of escape with every temptation. Hallelujah! What a Power! What a Providence! What a Savior!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

This Ministry

Therefore, since we have this ministry, 
              as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart.                
~2 Cor 4:1

Sometimes, I think this ministry in which the Lord has placed me is as much about His working in me than it is about the counselees. I am always amazed at the amount of heart change that happens within me as I work with the ladies He sends to me. As I listen to them and begin to think about the Scriptures and principles that will best minister to them, those very words also minister to me.

When I first came to the realization that my surgery had been botched and my mobility would be permanently affected, I really thought I would never be able to serve the Lord in this body. I thought the pain, limited mobility, and sadness would keep me from being effective for the Lord, and I had pretty much written off any possibility that I would have any kind of ministry.

But the Lord took hold of me, and refused to allow me to stay stuck in that thinking. He pressed upon me to continue my training, even as I attended classes on crutches and did case studies between physical therapy sessions. I started out hopeless and full of self-pity, but with each training session, each book, and each homework assignment, I began to see things more and more from His perspective, and less from mine. God did a miraculous work in me, and now I have daily opportunities to serve Him in ways I never imagined could be possible.

I’m writing all this not to boast, but to encourage you, my suffering friend, to change your mind about what you can do. Maybe you think that because of your disease or injury, God can’t use you like He used to. That may be true in some ways. If you were formerly involved in a ministry that required a great deal of physical strength and stamina, then He probably has something different in mind. Regardless of what you did before though, ministry is not a thing of the past. In fact, ministry could very well be the source of encouragement that will brighten your future.

As I have suffered these last several years, I have consistently prayed that the Lord would redeem my suffering. I wanted to see the good that could come from it, and He has shown that to me through this ministry. As I hear from some of you, and as I apply what I’ve learned to my counseling cases, I have come to realize that this suffering is inextricably woven together with the ministry that God has so graciously given me. I wouldn’t have the insight for ministry if not for what God has taught me through suffering, and I wouldn’t have the appreciation for suffering that I have, if God had not placed me in such a ministry! The Psalmist says it perfectly:

I would have lost heart, unless I had believed
That I would see the goodness of the Lord
In the land of the living.
Wait on the Lord;
Be of good courage,
And He shall strengthen your heart;
Wait, I say, on the Lord!  ~Psalm 27:13-14

Don’t lose heart! Believe that you will see the goodness of the Lord as you are living through your pain; as you are suffering through this life. In fact, like the persistent widow, keep coming back and asking Him to show you how He will redeem your pain. As you wait, be encouraged by the Scriptures. Stop lamenting the ministry you had before, and go after a ministry that fits your current capabilities.  God will enable you to do all that He calls you to do (2 Corinthians 4:2-3; 12:7), as He has proven to me over and over again.

My dear sister, you are so much more than your limitations. You are an instrument in the Redeemer’s hands. He will decide the function of the instrument. Your role is to cooperate with that decision. By the power of the Holy Spirit, you will minister to God’s family, because you are commanded to do so. Trust in your Father to fill in the blanks. He is faithful, and will use you as He sees fit, for His glory. Hallelujah! What a Master! What a Savior!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Time to Renew

I got a notice in the mail this week that it’s time to renew my disabled parking permit. Even just typing that sentence brings up emotions and feelings that I don’t want to be having. Now, I will say that I am not as disabled as some who have these permits and I might be one of those whom people would judge as they see me walking away from my handicapped spot. I look like I walk fairly normally, but I must limit the number of steps I take if I am to get through the whole day with a manageable amount of pain. I try very hard not to use the handicapped spots, but sometimes it is necessary, and during those times, I am very grateful to have it.

But that doesn’t eliminate the feelings about it. I have written now hundreds of blog posts about managing the emotions that come with chronic pain and mobility restriction, yet I still feel frustration and sadness when I see my neighbors out for a walk, and envy when my husband reports his Fitbit step score each evening. I always commit these feelings to the Lord, and lay them at His feet, but the sting remains, and it is a battle to calm it down.

As I was searching the DMV site for a way to get my new permit without actually entering their building, I kept having to type the word, renew, and of course I couldn’t help but think of the biblical meaning of that word, and the many Scriptures I have memorized about the renewal of the mind. So, I had to take a pause in my search to meditate on mind renewal as it relates to these emotions about the handicap placard.

The Lord and I have worked hard at renewing my mind about my “new normal,” and most of the time I do quite well with keeping my heart submitted to His will for me in this area. One of my favorite verses about mind renewal is Romans 12:1.

With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers, as an act of intelligent worship, to give him your bodies, as a living sacrifice, consecrated to him and acceptable by him. Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God re-mold your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.

I love this JB Phillips paraphrase, because it holds the exact encouragement that I need. Let’s go through this passage bit by bit, and just think it through together.

The first thing I am reminded about here is that God has shown me mercy in allowing my body to become something other than what I would like it to be.  I need Him to open my eyes so that I can see clearly that this is sanctifying me in a way that no other trial could have done; and accomplishing God’s purpose to the degree that nothing else would have reached. To me, this first sentence says, “Open your eyes, and see God’s mercy in this situation. Give your body to Him, and trust Him to use it for His glory.” This is a much-needed reminder for me, practically every minute. As I’m thinking about this placard that I want—but don’t want—I must remember that getting and using it is an act of submission to God’s will for me.

Next, I read that I am to let God re-mold my mind from within. So, He has changed my body, and now He wants to change my mind. The two are intricately related! God knew that nothing would bring me to my knees (at least figuratively!) like a physical affliction. He knew that my strength, stamina, and fitness had become an idol, and He absolutely cannot tolerate any other God in my life. I’m not saying that my current condition is necessarily some kind of consequence or punishment for sin, but it certainly has accomplished the knocking down of that idol.

The Lord has done an amazing work in my heart, humbling me and drawing me near to Himself with every step I take. My relationship with Him is completely different from what it was before. I am dependent on Him now in ways I never was in my able body. While I am far from perfectly humble, He has shown me the distance that my pride and self-focus had brought between us. Even better, He has shown me the beauty and wonder of intimate fellowship with Him. I had never imagined the level of closeness with Jesus that I could have until He brought me this affliction.

This passage tells me that I am to use my new thinking to show myself and others that this plan of His was good! This is why I must stop and meditate on Him when I begin to feel sad or am tempted toward self-pity about my situation. You know, we are always talking to ourselves. Maybe not out loud (ok, out loud sometimes!), but whenever we are awake, we are thinking. Thinking is self-talk, so if we’re going to talk to ourselves, we might as well say something good! When we are telling ourselves true things about God and our circumstances, our countenance will tell others about our trust in Him.

Much of what we call mind renewal really boils down to telling ourselves something different from what we’ve been telling ourselves. So, in this case, if I want to prove to myself that God’s plan for me is good, I need to stop lamenting over my need for a handicap placard, and start being thankful that I have it! So I tell myself as I park in that space, “What a blessing to have this privilege of getting to park close to the store on those days when it's hard to walk. Thank you, Jesus, for providing this for me!” Gratitude is almost always a mind changer, and it is my go-to thing when I want to put off self-pity and put on joy.

Friends, as this passage wraps up, we see that the goal is maturity. How are you doing in this area? I have to admit, I think sometimes that I am stuck at the toddler stage, tempted to throw a tantrum because I didn’t get what I wanted. But then I remember that God calls us His children no matter what age we are. I believe this is because He knows that we will not reach full maturity in this life. “Let the little children come to me,” he says in Matthew 19:14-15. Sometimes, I am that little child. As I come to Him, He offers me comfort, reminds me of His Word, and my mind is renewed. Hallelujah! What a Father! What a Savior!

Monday, August 1, 2016

The Salute

My husband spent several years in the military. One of the first things they taught him was to salute a superior officer. It didn’t take long before the habit was established, and the salute became almost involuntary after just a few days. Whenever a superior officer entered the room or walked by, his hand would go to his forehead almost automatically in a salute. When he got out of the military after six years, that salute was a tough habit to break. We would see his former superiors at the mall or grocery store, his arm would start to move in that familiar way, and he would have to stop himself.

The same is true of our habits that are sinful or ungodly. Somewhere along the way, we formed a habit or pattern of thinking that became automatic. Now, the Lord has revealed to us that it is sinful or displeasing to Him in some way, and we need to change it. Once out of the military, with no reason to continue saluting, it didn’t take a lot of effort for him to stop. But you and I are probably not going to get out of the circumstance that has brought about this habit that needs to change. We’ll have to put it off, right in the middle of the temptation:

“…that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man, which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.”    Ephesians 4:22-24

So as I read this, I see three steps to stopping a habit or thought pattern that needs to change: Put it off, renew your mind, and put on a new habit.

Put off
The first step is to put off the old habit. The language here pictures putting off a garment you’ve been wearing. Chances are, if you’ve been nurturing this behavior or way of thinking for a while, it’s pretty comfortable by now. This is one of the biggest challenges in the “put off” step. We are comfortable in it. Even when we know that it’s sinful; even when we really want to stop, it is hard because we are so used to it. The key to this step is to remember that, no matter how comfortable it is, the Lord can make the new, godly way of thinking just as comfortable—even more so, because we will be free of the guilt of knowing that we are indulging a sinful habit. So begin with prayer, and ask the Lord to give you a greater desire for repentance and heart change, than for the comfort of that old habit.

Renew Your Mind
The next step, according to our Ephesians 4 passage, is to renew your mind. What does it mean to be renewed in the spirit of your mind? The JB Phillips Paraphrase puts it this way:

...fling off the dirty clothes of the old way of living, which were rotted through and through with lust’s illusions, and, with yourselves mentally and spiritually re-made, to put on the clean fresh clothes of the new life which was made by God’s design for righteousness and the holiness which is no illusion.

I like how he says to fling off the old ways, seeing them as distasteful, dirty, and rotten. This is how we need to see our sinful habits and thought patterns, and it is an action on our part. Notice in contrast though, that being mentally and spiritually re-made is stated in the passive voice—this is something we must submit to, and that God does for us. He is the one who renews our mind, through His Word and prayer. After that, we’re right back to the active verb…

Put On

Now that we have flung away those dirty, used garments and the Lord has renewed our mind about this particular habit, we are to put on a new habit. This is a very important part of heart change. If we put off the old habit through the renewing of our minds, but fail to put a new habit in its place, that old garment will begin to look pretty comfortable again, and we may find ourselves picking it back up in moments of weakness. Every sinful habit MUST be replaced with a godly one. That’s why Paul follows up this passage with examples of change:
  • Put away lying and speak truth (v 25).
  • Let the thief stop stealing and begin to work with his hands (v 28).
  • Stop speaking corrupt words and start speaking gracious, edifying words (v 29).

What sinful habit are you convicted of lately?  Is it gossip? Put on humility and encouraging words. Is it arguing or dissentions? Put on peace and a gentle, quiet spirit. Self-pity? Put on gratitude and praise. I promise you, there is godly clothing to replace every ungodly garment you are led to fling away from you! With God’s help to renew your mind, through the Word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, you can (and must) change!

My husband has been out of the military for nearly a quarter of a century now, but he can still remember how quickly that salute could fire. I’d like to encourage you now to examine your heart for just one “filthy garment” you’d like to fling off. Pray and ask the Lord to help you be finished with those rotting clothes; to mentally and spiritually remake you in this area; and to show you His Designer clothes that are perfectly suited to replace the old ones. He is faithful, and will do it!