Thursday, February 25, 2010

"Limping Through Life": What To Do About Suffering....

2 Corinthians 12:9
But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.

First of all I have to begin by saying I can't take credit for the following post, because most of the ideas and challenges in here are a reflection of my favorite sermon.  I was given this sermon by a young man many years ago.  To be honest, before I wrote this post I didn't remember who the pastor was that preached it, and I didn't remember what church he came from- but I do remember that this sermon changed my perspective on suffering and weakness, and in turn, my life. 

I remember hearing this sermon about suffering.  It was delivered by a man who had been through some serious suffering in his own life, having lost both his wife and his daughter unexpectedly.  Both traumas happening within the same few years.  This man- unfortunately- was credible, because he knew suffering, and he knew it all too well. 

He began the sermon by describing a man he had met who was struggling with an addiction, daily having to ward off the temptation to give in to his "forbidden fruit".  The man was discouraged, he felt defeated, as though he was limping through life rather than walking strong.

The pastor described this concept of "limping through life".  The struggles that come with every step.  For some, an addiction.  For others, anxiety or depression.  Fears, grief, disease, illness, loss, divorce, sexual struggles...things that hinder us from walking strong and uninhibited, forcing us to limp through life every step of the way. 

He went on to describe to characters from the bible- one with a limp, one without. 

The first character was the paralytic, who sat by the pool of Bethesda (John 5).  This young man was paralyzed for many years, with no one to help him.  He pitied himself, and struggled with the pain of his condition. 
One day, Jesus went to the pool of Bethesda and found this paralytic.  He said to him, "You are healed!".  In an instant, the man picked ran outside in joy- healed in every way.  100% healing.  It was a miracle...

The man ran outside immediately, excited to tell his friends and family.  On his way home, he ran into the Pharisees, who recognized this man as the paralytic.  Surprised, they asked, "Who healed you?!" 

And sadly, the man responded, "I don't know".  He had been so excited to receive his healing, that he never took the time to get to know his Healer.  He missed out on the person of Jesus Christ.

The second man described in the sermon has quite the opposite story.  Jacob, was a man who walked with a limp (Genesis 32).  He walked with a limp because one evening he met with God himself.  The bible says he "wrestled" with God.  Some say this was a literal wrestling, as he was desperate to receive God's hand of blessing on his life.  Others see it as an emotional and spiritual battle...either way, one thing is for sure- at the end of the wrestling match- Jacob walked with a limp. 

He had been left with an injury that served as a reminder with every aching step that he was a man who was desperate for the blessing of a loving God. 

One man walked without a limp- but in his healing, did not experience intimacy with Christ.
The other walked with a painful step- but every step drew him closer into the arms of a loving God.

There is truth in God's word when he talks to us about seeing Him through our weakness, because truly, that is where God is made strong.  In our weakness, that is when we are humble enough to listen to His voice.  In our weakness, there is an ache that draws us ever so frequently into the arms of our Savior. 

So today, my friends, boast in your weakness.  Today, choose to see Christ in your weakness.  Today, allow yourself to see your pain and your suffering as an avenue of experiencing Christ in a real and genuine an intimate way.  For there is no greater place for His grace to be made perfect but in our weakness.  Amen. 

Take some time to Hear the sermon for yourself, it will change your life:  Limping Through Life

Monday, February 22, 2010

For Anyone Who Thinks They're A Saint...

Philippians 1:6
He who began a good work in you will carry it into completion…

I met Tanya last year during one of our visits down into the project housing one Saturday morning.  Tanya is a 17 year old African American girl.  She’s had a hard life.  Most likely, you wouldn’t even believe me if I told you some of the difficulties she’s been through. 

All that to say, there was something special about Tanya, something behind her loud-mouthed personality that rang with genuine passion.  Something behind her tough exterior that exuded with strength.  There was something, just something that drew me to her.  Tanya and I began a really unique friendship.  We started hanging out on a regular basis and little by little she began to entrust me with the pages of her life’s story; some pages sad, some exciting, and some that made me sick to my stomach just hearing about. 

One day last year, outside of her downtown neighborhood, in my car parked on the side of a one way road, Tanya decided that she needed something more.  Right there in my car, she and I prayed, and she gave her heart to Jesus, and her life to the will of God.  It was a beautiful moment, a moment I will never forget. 

I saw Tanya this weekend.  My husband and I took her out to lunch to catch up with her and spend some time with her.  We had talked over the phone, but I hadn’t seen her in over two months with the business of the holiday season. 

As we talked, she told us the stories of how she is changing her life around.  She’s making decisions to take school seriously, to quit the drug addictions that have been holding her back, to focus on restoring her self-esteem and body image, and frankly, to stay away from the friends that had once held her back.  She’s learning to control her anger and forgive.  She’s learning to love herself.

She told me once, “I never really knew how to care about myself til I met you and you showed me how to care…”

Please don’t get me wrong.  I’m not a saint.  And most likely, neither are you.  I’m realizing this more and more and that is the purpose of this post.  So many times we get fooled into thinking that only certain people have the “gifts” of reaching out…as though doing God's work has something to do with us.  I am here to remind you that that is a blatant lie.  I did nothing for this girl but lead her to true Love…and each and every one of us is called to that.  Because at the end of the day, ministry has nothing to do with us, and everything to do with God.  HE is the one that must work in hearts and lives. 

Beyond ALL our gifts and ALL our love, what I’m amazed by is the fact that in two months….I had absolutely nothing to do with this girl’s spiritual growth and maturation.  I wasn’t even aware that it was happening.  It was entirely, completely, 100% the work of God’s spirit in her life….God’s spirit, who entered her heart a few months ago one evening on the side of the road.  God’s spirit who comes with power, reminding us that He is the one who started this…and He is the one who will finish it.

He who began a good work will see it to completion.  Read that.  Get that.  Understand that.  You who may doubt the salvation of your loved one, you who may cry yourself to sleep for fear that your son, daughter, husband or wife will never know the love of Jesus, you whose faith is wavering because you are not seeing the kind of changes you wanted to see…He who began a good work will see it to completion. 

Let down your pride, and put down your human expectations.  This is not your work and it never was.  The only thing asked of you is obedience….the rest is entirely up to Him.  Let him do His job because, I guarantee, the end result will be far more glorious than we could have ever dreamed.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Lent and Leviticus: Identifying with Christ

Leviticus 1:4
He is to lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him. 

I’m on a journey of reading through the bible.  Genesis is full of incredible stories, Exodus is the start of an amazing journey…and then you get to Leviticus.  If you’ve read through the bible you know how hard it is to keep your commitment once you enter into the book of Leviticus. 

It’s a book of do’s and don’ts.  Sacrificial regulations, camp rules, and policies pertaining to a new way of life.  It’s easy to get lost in the history and skim through the details.  But every now and then when I take the time to really dig deep, I am always amazed.  Even with these seemingly meaningless rituals, God instills divine purpose. 

I found one of those profound truths as I was reading the regulations for the burnt offering.  The purpose of the burnt offering was to make atonement for sin and be granted God’s acceptance.  There was a very specific way in which it was to be done.  One thing that really hit home to me was the requirement of the giver to lay hands on the head of the animal before the sacrifice took place.

At first glance, I thought that was a strange rule, but it didn’t really mean much to me until I realized the profound reality of what was taking place.  In the laying on of the hands, the giver was identifying with the one being given.  He was bringing himself to the level of the sacrifice, looking it in the eyes, and appreciating the gift of life that was about to be given for the sake of his atonement.

And then I realized that sadly, we have come a long way from that.  Don’t get me wrong, I am so thankful that we no longer have to make atonement for our sins in such a laborious way, but in the simplicity of the grace we have been given, something has been lost.  In the ultimate and complete sacrifice of Christ, we are no longer daily charged to identify with the one who gave His perfect life for us.  In the removing our hands from that precious head, we have lost our appreciation for the life that was given for us. 

I am so grateful for the gift of Christ, but I am also ashamed that I hardly take the time to identify with the life that was so freely given for me.  I don’t believe that this post coincidentally comes the week of Ash Wednesday.  For many believers, the next 40 days usher us into a sacred season.  A season of gratitude, a season of identification with the one who gave His all for us.  For many people, it is a time of giving up something in an attempt to identify with the one who gave His entirety on our behalf. 

This season of Lent, may we symbolically lay our hands on the head of the one who sacrificed and suffered so much on our behalf.  May we take the time to draw near to His side, look into His eyes, and shed tears of love and appreciation for the sacrifice He so willingly gave.

How are you identifying with your Sacrifice this season?

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Gift of Impossibility: Lessons Learned from my Grandma

Proverbs 3:5
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding”

“The condition for a miracle is difficulty, however, the condition for a great miracle is impossibility.”—Angus Buchan

Trust. To be honest, that’s a word I haven’t had much experience with. Let me explain. It’s not that I don’t have people in my life that I can trust. That’s not the case. It’s just that I live in such a way that there is little need for trust. I am self-reliant. I am independent. Many times, I am all that I need. I avoid the impossible and focus on the probable. Trust is not part of the equation because frankly, I don’t allow it to be. It’s safer this way.

But to be honest, I am realizing something new. I am learning that in order for there to be great reward, there must be great risk. I have felt that challenge placed on my heart lately in everything I have read, in my time with God, and in my interactions with others. One specific interaction that has challenged me in this area is my relationship with my grandmother.

I’ve been interviewing my grandmother, trying to capture the story of her life while I still have time. By looking at her sweet, soft, wrinkled face, you would never believe how adventurous her journey has been. She has lived a life filled with risks, never relying on what she knew logically, but always trusting God completely.

One story she told me brought her back to her early months of marriage. Her father had died at a young age, and she was married young as a result of this. But even at the age of 15, she was a woman who understood the meaning of trust- I guess she had to in order to survive.

One day her husband (my grandpa) came home from a week of traveling as an Evangelist in the countryside of Egypt, with not a penny in his pocket and not an ounce of food in the house. Though the week had been fruitful spiritually, it had not been fruitful financially. He came home that evening with no money and no courage to explain.

“Necima”, he said, “Let’s fast and pray this evening.” He could not get himself to tell her that they had absolutely no money for food, and he did the only thing he knew how to do- cry out to God.

Without one question, without one complaint, without one doubt- she did what she did best- she trusted. She trusted her husband, but primarily, she trusted God. They fasted and prayed together that entire evening and through part of the night. They trusted God because they had to. They trusted God because there was no other option. They trusted God because their very lives depended on it.

An early knock on the door brought the mail delivery man with a single envelope. When my grandpa opened the envelope, there lay a pile of cash- with no name, or note to trace it back to the giver. God had proven Himself faithful. He could be trusted.

My grandpa ran to tell my grandma the news and the reality of their financial situation before the envelope arrived. God had defied logic and he had defied their “own understanding”. With great risk came great reward.

That’s the beauty of our God. He challenges us to trust him. He challenges us to put our faith in Him when it makes absolutely no sense. He challenges us to rejoice in the soil of impossibility, for it becomes fertile ground for the miraculous to take place. Fertile ground for trust to sprout. Fertile ground to draw closer to our God in ways we never imaged.

Lord, may you challenge us to walk boldly on the road of impossibility. May you increase our trust in You and decrease our trust in ourselves every single step of the way.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Not Just a Story About a Man and a Whale...

Jonah 4:2b
"I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity."

I would venture to say that Jonah is one of the most disliked bible characters of all time.  The irony is that the reason so many of us dislike Jonah- is because he reminds us too much of ourselves.  He is a reflection of the deepest and darkest parts of who we are.  It’s easier to project our sinful state onto Jonah rather than to allow God’s spirit to bring conviction and transformation into our own lives. 

But with all the negative publicity this story receives, buried deep within the lines of this narrative comes a profound part of Jonah’s faith that is quickly skimmed over and disregarded: His confidence in God.  His steadfast belief in the grace and compassion of a loving Savior.  In fact, when it comes to matters of faith- Jonah puts me to shame. 

His faith in the power of God’s love and grace was not just a matter of wishful thinking and hoping- it was more than that.  To him, it was factual.  There was no questioning it. To him, God’s grace was as certain as the rising and setting of the sun- it would not fail.  He knew that no matter what the Ninevites had done- God’s mercy was greater than their sins.  It wasn’t a matter of if God would forgive but a matter of when they would receive it.  He knew that despite how far they had run from God- His love would surely prevail.  He knew that the moment the Ninevites heard God’s word spoken into their lives- they would instantly be changed.  To put it simply, Jonah knew his God, and he knew Him well.  He knew His God, and the power that exuded from Him.  He knew his God, in the fullness of His majesty.  Gracious. Compassionate.  Slow to anger.  Abounding in love.  

For all the things you and I may despise in the humanity of Jonah- this one thing is for sure- I yearn for that kind of confidence.  I want to know my God in a way that sees the outcome of His grace and mercy as factual rather than probable.  I want to have a faith that stands firm in His power and rests secure in His compassion.  I want to have a knowledge of His love that’s as sure as the sun’s rising and as certain as the coming of the dawn.  I want to have a confidence that knows without a shadow of a doubt that my God’s love can conquer all.  No matter who, no matter how, no matter what.  

Truth be told, our lives would be drastically different if we knew our God that way, wouldn’t they?  If only we carried that confidence into our own “Nineveh”, how many lives would be changed?  How many people would be instantly transformed by God’s power?  How many broken souls mended by His healing grace?  How many shame filled lives crowned with glory and forgiven by His compassion and mercy?  How many addictive chains broken by His abounding and relentless love?  If only we really believed in that kind of power in our lives.

Lord, I’m challenged by the confidence of Jonah, a confidence of a man that knew his God.  Usher me into your presence today, reminding me of your relentless love and mercy.  Overwhelm me with but a glimpse of your unfailing power, so that I too can bring your healing grace into the places to which you have called me.  Give me a faith that stands firm in your ability to change lives.  Help me to believe it, and then help me to live it today.

Friday, February 5, 2010

All the Single Ladies: A Comparison of Bird Mating and Human Mating

[This post is from early in my blogging days, but I thought it was worth a second look:]

"And the Lord God said, 'It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him" (Genesis 2:18)

A few days ago, my husband and I were watching the television show called Planet Earth.  You may be familiar with it.  Videographers enter into some of the most intricate and untread parts of our planet and capture it on film.  This particular episode was about animals of the jungles.  How does this pertain to single ladies?  Well, I’m getting there…

One thing is for sure: you cannot help but witness the extravagant displays on this earth without standing in awe of the Creator himself.  God was so deliberate as he intimately wove the fabrics of this earth together, from animals to plants to human beings.  I believe that we can learn so much about life by getting a glimpse into His creation.

You see, as I was watching the dynamics of jungle birds mating in this particular episode, and as I listened to the commentator discuss the procedure- I couldn’t help but parallel these truths with our own human relationships.  In looking at birds, I wonder if we’ve somehow gotten it all backwards.  Let me give you a few of my observations:

The first thing I noticed was that it was the male birds who were extravagant and ornate.  Bright and beautiful colors and patterns, lavish feathers of all shapes and sizes, loud and boisterous chirps and calls.  But the females, well, they were “modest” as the commentator pointed out.  Plain in their appearance.  Dull colors, quiet chirps.  They were out simply to be won, with no need to dress or impress.  They had an innate knowledge that they were valuable, and that they deserved great things.  And so they sat, quietly, waiting confidently for the pursuit. 

The second thing I noticed was that the females were very picky.  Even with the bright colors and bold noises of the males, it would take nothing short of an outstanding performance for them to even have a shot with the highly valued females.  They would settle for nothing less than the best.  Nothing less than magnificence.

The third thing I observed was that there was no desperation on the part of the female birds.  No need to make sure they got to the right place, were wearing the right feathers, or had the right body style.  They sat patiently, just where they were at.  They knew that in the end the males would find them because they were made to find them.  And in the end, it always worked out that way. 

I look at these standard in light of my past experiences.  I look at them in light of the experiences of countless women I meet every day in my counseling office.  I look at them in light of story after story of broken hearts and a desperate desire to be loved, to be valued. It seems as though our culture has really set us up for despair.

We live in a society that is completely opposed to this model of pursuit.  Call me old fashioned, but I am convinced that we’ve adapted a currency of value that has nothing to do with true love, and everything to do with sex appeal, fashion, and beauty. A culture that has fooled women into believing that they must earn the right to be loved.   A culture in which women have become the pursuers rather than the pursued- dancing around, ruffling our feathers, showing off our colors in the desperation of finding someone to love u- all the while trying to convince ourselves that we are worth being loved.  A culture of women no longer believing they have the right to be picky, but rather to, “take what you can get”.  A culture that has forgotten that they are worth remarkable, and that they are worth magnificent. 

As I reflect on these things I’m left with prayer:

Women, may you be challenged to acknowledge and accept your true value in the eyes of your Creator.  May you be strengthened to settle for nothing less than seeing that level of worth in the eyes of the one who pursues you.  

Men, may you be challenged to become more and more magnificent and remarkable as you draw closer to the One who created you, relying on his sanctification at work in your life to produce in you this level of splendor. 

And may you then come together in the beautiful unity of relationships.  A beauty that reflects the majesty and the brilliance of our Creator. 

All the single ladies…be encouraged.