True Strength

It amazes me how Jesus always points us to the Father ... with His words and by His actions the Son seems to constantly reveal His reliance on His Father. Consider this passage from the 19th chapter of John’s gospel ... Jesus is in a very weakened state ... he has been whipped, beaten and pierced with a thorny crown ... and is confronted once again by Pontius Pilate:
Pilate said, "You won't talk? Don't you know that I have the authority to pardon you, and the authority to--crucify you?" Jesus said, "You haven't a shred of authority over me except what has been given you from heaven.”
In the midst of suffering and pain Jesus shows us that He knows who He is and whose He is ... He gives us an example of a truly strong person.

How often I forget that everything in life ... pain and suffering in specific ... is filtered and sifted through our Father’s loving fingers. How I show myself as a truly weak person when I forget that God is in control ... when I look at my circumstances and forget that God is using them to make me like Jesus. It points to my desire to control and my resistance to yield to His sovereignty ... it points to the weakness of my heart.

Jesus, in His answer to Pilate, reveals to us a strong heart ... a heart connected to His Father. He shows us what it means to be strong in weakness. True strength has nothing to do with externals but has everything to do with internals. Strong externals often points to weak internals ... points to our desire to live from our heads and not from our hearts. Often it is only when we are faced with events that cannot be discerned with our heads that we are challenged to engage them with our hearts. Trusting God in hard times is an internal issue and often reveals our lack of true strength ... strength of the heart.

Deep End Followup

A few weeks ago I blogged about my Good Friday experience in the deep end of the local YMCA pool. Last week a local newspaper reporter came by the Y to interview me. The newspaper is not online so you can (sort of) read the article here. Not sure who the old guy in the picture is ... whoever it is ... it is a very unflattering picture :)

The Eyeglasses Question

Here is a question that I asked a group of my leader-type friends recently:
"Why don't people that wear eyeglasses or contacts ask for healing prayer?"
To clear the air you need to know that I began wearing glasses for distance when I was around 18 ... took them off when I was around 20 ... put them back on in my early 30s. Over the years I have prayed many times for healing of my eyes ... my eyesight changed when I was around 40 and I needed them for reading as well as distance. I don't pray for healing of my eyes much any more and I really don't know why. I believe that God heals today ... I pray for healing for people all of the time ... I even pray for healing for myself in other areas ... just don't ask for prayer for healing of my eyes.

So, I usually don't do this much here ... solicit input from people - what do you think about about this question of healing of eyesight? I really want to know. Here is what I would like to know if you respond:
  1. Do you wear glasses? If answer is 'no' then go to question 3.
  2. Have you ever asked God to heal your eyes? If so, when was the last time you asked?
  3. "Why don't people that wear eyeglasses or contacts ask for healing prayer?"

I am really interested in your thoughts ... even if you have never posted ... please comment away. Thanks in advance.

Unprocessed Pain

When pain comes our theology can impede our dialog with God. When this happens anger and frustration often comes out sideways. Moses witnessed this phenomenon first hand:
So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, "In the evening you will know that it was the LORD who brought you out of Egypt, and in the morning you will see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we, that you should grumble against us?" Moses also said, "You will know that it was the LORD when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the LORD." (Exodus 16:6-8)
Authority figures are often the targets for the venting of anger and frustration. During many intense trials I have sometimes gone this route. Here is the way I have often processed pain:

  1. Something really bad has happened and I am in pain - I am devastated.
  2. I am angry and frustrated ... this is not how life is supposed to be.
  3. I look at the cross and see God's love for me ... how can I be mad at Him?
  4. I stuff my pain, anger and frustration deep inside of me.
  5. I pray religious prayers ... God I know you will work this for good ... I know you love me ... please help me.
  6. Pain percolates on the inside ... periodically bubbles up in speech ... bitterness is taking root.
  7. I begin to find fault with authority figures ... the pain and injustice is overwhelming me.
  8. Bitterness takes hold of me and I become cynical and skeptical about all things church.
  9. I identify with and I am identified by my pain.
  10. Healing doesn't come and affects my relationship with God and people.
I love the Psalms because they give us examples of how people processed their pain with God. Consider a few verses from Psalms 10:
v1: Why, O LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

v12: Arise, LORD! Lift up your hand, O God. Do not forget the helpless.

v14: But you, O God, do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in hand. The victim commits himself to you; you are the helper of the fatherless.

v17-18: You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed, in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more.
The end of the psalm is different than the beginning ... many psalms are like this ... it is like you have to process your pain with God before you can get a new perspective on it. I find this to be true with prayer. When you process your pain in prayer in an honest fashion God meets you and helps you. Here is a healthier way to process pain:
  1. Something really bad has happened and I am in pain - I am devastated.
  2. I am angry and frustrated ... this is not how life is supposed to be.
  3. I look at the cross and see God's love for me ... I understand that because He loves me He wants me to share my pain with Him ... even if it means venting my anger and frustration at Him.
  4. As I pray I begin to release my pain and cast my anxiety on Him.
  5. I find others to talk to ... I am transparent and vulnerable ... I am coming out of hiding.
  6. I begin to identify with healing and work with church leaders to help others.
  7. My relationship with God and people moves to another level.
I remember someone once telling me: "It is okay to be mad at God!" It angered me because of my broken theology and unprocessed pain ... pain that came out in a horizontal plane in the form of bitterness towards others. Isaiah prophesied these words about Jesus long before Jesus walked the earth:
"He took the punishment, and that made us whole. Through his bruises we get healed."
Pain can only be dealt with in a vertical plane ... only God is able to handle it because only He bore our sin and our pain ... only He can heal us.

The Deep End

Forty-five years ago a lifeguard jumped into the deep end of a YMCA pool in New York and rescued me from drowning ... I was learning to swim and couldn’t make it across the deep end of the pool. Fear embraced me that day and being in deep water has been scary ever since that traumatic experience. I’ve taken water classes over the years and never have been able to get past my fear of the deep end ... then last Friday came ... Good Friday ... it was a Very Good Friday!!

Three times a week my wife Ann and I take a midday water aerobics class at our local YMCA ... I was in that class on Friday ... I was in the deep end ... I was wearing a buoyancy belt to keep me afloat as I exercised. Then at about 11:40am, with 10 minutes left in class, something happened. The voice of my inner man rose up within me and spoke to me ... this is what he said: “Take off the belt!” The voice was so clear ... I hesitated momentarily ... then courage took hold of me ... I took off the buoyancy belt in the middle of the deep end and swam to the side of the pool ... I was free at last of the fear that had bound me for so long. With utter incredulity I told Ann of this amazing experience – in awe she rejoiced with me.

Life is all about the deep end ... that fleshly place where our minds are held hostage to fear, anxiety, anger and sadness ... it is a dark and depressing place. In the eighth chapter of Romans the Apostle Paul writes:
If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh-- for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, " Abba! Father!"
In these verses we again see the tension between the outer and the inner man ... the fleshly outer man is described as a place of death ... the inner man a place of life. When the inner man rises up the deeds of the outer man are put to death ... it is that issue of control that I wrote about last month. Isn’t it interesting that this victory of life over death ... spirit over flesh ... and inner man over outer is related to Jesus’ resurrection. Could it be that each day can be Easter ... a day of resurrection for each of us ... a day when another fear bites the dust ... a day when rage gives way to peace ... a day when the new inner man comes out of the tomb and is revealed in all of his/her beauty .... that really sounds like resurrection to me ... from a deep end of the pool perspective.

Happy Endings

The following is another excerpt from my writings on the book of Job. I love Easter ... it is a happy ending to a difficult week.

"After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before. All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had know him before came and ate with him at his house. They comforted him and consoled him over all the trouble the Lord had brought upon him, and each one gave him a piece of silver and a gold ring. The Lord blessed the latter part of Job's life more than the first."

Don't you love happy endings? Do you believe in a happy ending for yourself? I am sure that Job never thought the day would come … perhaps you are in a similar situation. I have seen many of my trials turn into blessings. I am reminded of the messianic prophecy that tells us that the Messiah will "comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve". He will "bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair". It says "They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor".

In the months following my wife Ellen's death God spoke to me often. One day as I was praying God said to me "I am sending you a Ruth". You know I really can't describe the emotions that went through my mind … a kind of disbelief that anything so wonderful could happen to me … Ruth was the epitome of a woman. Well, later that year, God brought Ann into my life. In many ways she was nothing like what I expected in a woman but in every way she was a Ruth. Our courtship was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I experienced levels of joy that had escaped me for so long …Ann made me feel so young and alive. I had such little understanding of how much of a blessing she would be to me. We were married in the following year. For the last seven years I can say, with Job, that the Lord blessed the latter part of my life … with a wife that is a servant in the best sense of serving … a woman who's inner beauty and integrity are matchless … and a sister who loves God.

You know it was funny how Ann and I met all over again. We had been acquainted for almost 20 years but had not seen each other for about five years. One day we, by chance, ran into each other in front of The Dime Store where she was shopping and I was just happening by.I wrote this poem at the onset of our courtship.

Love at Second Sight

What drew me to her I do not know.Spirit? Soul? Flesh? A mystery to me still.On that day I saw her again ... for the very first time.Could this be love ... at second sight?

That day was bright ... my heart was dark.Her skin was fair ... my soul was heavy.A spark ignited and my spirit soared.Could this be love ... at second sight?

The summer passed and fall had come.My mind wandered still to that that day in June,When my heart was touched by her lovely smile.Could this be love ... at second sight?

As grief passed and courage grew,I saw her again and then I knew ...That my heart longed to know her heart.Could this be love ... at second sight?

Mourning exchanged for joy.Loneliness turned into happiness.Feelings I can neither explain nor express.Could this be love ... at second sight?

Time goes on and passion grows.Where we'll go ... who really knows.My heart and my mind yet question still ...Could this be love ... at second sight?

You know when you are experiencing hardship, and wonder if your trial will ever end, it is good to remember Job. How God was faithful to him. How God blessed the latter part of his life more than the first. Do not lose heart. God does care and He has a purpose and a plan for your life. Open your eyes and begin to see your situation with eyes of redemption. Know that He can and He will redeem your darkest times and most difficult situations to give you beauty for ashes.

Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?

The following is an excerpt from my writings on the book of Job. I thought it might be appropriate reading for this week before Easter.

"His wife said to him, "Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die" He replied, You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?"

Once again we find Job in a somewhat impossible situation. It seems that he is now covered with boils ... head to foot ... boils. Ever had a boil? How about a little bug bite? Annoying to say the least. Well Job's boils were painful. It says that "he took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes". I cringe just thinking about it. Ever picked on a sore? Feels good for an instant then it hurts all over again ... not fun.

The source of the boils is, as before, Satan. He once again came into the Lord's presence. "The Lord said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without reason." "Skin for skin!" Satan replied. "A man will give all he has for his own life. But stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face."

Well God again permitted Satan to trouble Job ... only this time the object of his attack was on Job's very body. Escalation! I think that it is important to note that if Satan can't cause us to fall in one area he will intensify his efforts. He will get personal. His goal is to cause Job, and all who call themselves believers, to curse God to His face.

Job's response is amazing. Understanding the sovereignty of God he recognizes that both good things and bad are sifted through the loving hands of his Creator. I for one do not always react that way ... I find myself throwing a spiritual tantrum when I start hurting ... picking on my sores ... giving in to feelings of bitterness ... cursing God in my own way. Job challenges me. From the pages of scripture I read and I stand in awe of this giant of a man.

What then was Job's secret? I believe it can be summed up in one word. Acceptance. A difficult word ... especially when it involves hurting. We often play mind games with ourselves. We convince ourselves, even using the scripture to support our "position", that it is NEVER God's will that we hurt. Sad. I think that it is in acceptance that we gain strength. We solidly affirm our trust in the Almighty when we accept His dealings in our life.

The following is a passage from my life that I write to convey the principle of acceptance. When I wrote Chapter One almost ten years ago my view of acceptance was quite different than it is now. At thirty-nine years old my wife, Ellen, had heart and kidney failure ... at the brink of her death I found myself begging God to not let her die ... I could not accept her situation or the possibility of her death. Three and a half years later after praying almost daily for her healing ... never giving up ... I found myself again faced with the possibility of her dying. Driving to work one day ... racked with the agony of thoughts of a world without Ellen … I began to pray in the Spirit. I saw a picture in my mind. In this vision I saw myself standing on a mountain looking down at a valley ... some how I knew it was the valley of the shadow of Ellen's death. As I looked into the vision I saw Jesus come to my side, take my hand, and walk with me into the valley. It was a comforting picture. God was trying to tell me that he would be with me when Ellen died and that I would be ok. I had peace about her dying but I still would not give in - I couldn’t accept death as God’s will ... I still prayed daily for her healing. It took about six months for acceptance to take hold of me. A month before Ellen died I found myself praying a prayer of both acceptance and release. I released Ellen into His hands and said that whatever He wanted was OK with me. It was one of the toughest prayers that I have ever prayed.

Acceptance. Not my will but Your will be done. Almost trite. But it is in the times that you find yourself covered with the boils of worry, fear, agony, sorrow and pain that the power of acceptance can take over. The night before he would die a horrible death on a cross Jesus Christ knelt to pray in the garden of Gethsemane. Seeing that the cup of death was near, Jesus prayed "Father, if you are willing take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done". After that prayer of acceptance in the garden ... accepting the fate of three nails and a cross ... we find that Jesus moved with much strength through a time of great suffering and trial. Our lesson ... trust is only trust when it involves acceptance of things that we don't understand ... things that fly in the face of our belief system ... in the face of the way we think that things should be ... accepting trouble, as well as good, from the loving hands of God.