Lessons from the Weak Side

Recently, Brad¬†told me that every time he speaks with a friend, within moments the question comes up: “How is Brenda?” My short answer: God has been working remarkably in me. Thus, for those of you who need to get about other business today, feel free to carry on. ūüôā
For those of you who want the longer answer, please feel free to linger a bit for God has, indeed, been working remarkably in me–both physically and spiritually. Physically, I sleep better, think clearer, and function at a higher lever than I have in four years! I have learned so much about the role of diet and herbal supplements than I could have ever imagined. I have also learned that healing takes time. Time to rest. Time to laugh. And time to wait on God.
True, God does heal instantly. I’ve seen it. I’ve experienced it. Yet at other times, God chooses to heal in a longer, more circuitous route. And upon this journey, I have learned so very many precious lessons.
As a matter of fact, while I spent time reading and meditating on Matthew 8 this morning, I couldn’t get over how many people Jesus instantly healed. My puzzled heart couldn’t help but inquire, “Why, Lord? Why did you heal all of these people immediately–from those who exhibited great faith to those who simply wanted health to get health? Why them, Lord, and not me? Did I do something wrong? Am I doing something wrong?”
And then I wrote this in my Bible: “Speak your truths across my heart, Lord, that I may hold them with conviction.”
In verse 17, Matthew quoted Isaiah the prophet as explanation into Christ’s workings, “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.” The word here for “illnesses” is the Greek word, astheneia, which means infirmity or weakness.
Weak and infirm. Yep. Sounds a lot like my life.
“So tell me again, Lord…why did you instantly take their infirmities–their weaknesses–and not mine?”
Well, guess who else besides Matthew liked to use this word?
Paul.
The difference is, however, that while Matthew used this word to describe the suffering of those whom Christ healed, Paul used this word to describe himself.
“I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling” (1 Cor. 2:3).
“If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness” (2 Cor. 11:30).
Weak and infirm. But only physically.
“And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, my power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me” (2 Cor. 12:9).
Christ’s power in man’s weakness.
God’s sufficient grace.
I can’t fully list each and every precious lesson today. I can only give you God’s perfect response to the questions of my slightly stinging heart: “Immediate health or deep and abiding lessons–would you trade?”
My answer: no.
“Therefore, I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†(2 Corinthians 12:10).

Mercy and Goodness for Every Day

I awakened this morning before dawn, my heart brimming with anticipation. After an hour of laying in bed, I determined that to be awake and with coffee sounded much, much better than simply being awake. So I got up.

Despite the very overcast sky, one thought purposed itself to rise above the rest: “God is good.”

God is good.

He is good on sunny days. He is good on stormy days. And, just like today, he is good on overcast days.

God is simply good. Everyday.

And like His goodness rings out across all manner of days, His mercies are also new…regardless of weather.

And circumstances.

You see, today my husband and I begin a new journey to start a church in Little Rock, Arkansas. In but a short time, we will get in our car, take our final look around, and drive away from our home, our church, and our dear ones.

And because I’m excited to my innermost being over this next stage in our journey, I want my weather to reflect the excitement of my new adventure. Sunny!!!

But it’s not.

It’s thickly overcast.

Thankfully, though, the weather does not determine God’s goodness. He’s still good. His gift of this morning is good. And His call for this journey is good.

Much like the daily weather does not alter God’s goodness, neither do circumstances alter God’s mercies. Each day awakens with the promise of new mercies, which overflow onto my life regardless of health or wealth. They simply abound each morning.

Isn’t that grand?

In short, God does not need my circumstances to determine who He is.

Merciful.

Good.

Faithful.

Loving.

When I can acknowledge that despite my circumstances–despite my weather–He is good–He is merciful–I can embrace each new day with the gratitude He deserves.

I’m thankful for this day. This heavily overcast day.

I’m thankful because the power of the sun exists beyond the clouds.

I’m thankful because the power of the Son exists beyond my circumstances.

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23).

Like a Two-Year Old Mastermind

During my precious morning time with God today, I couldn’t help but recall grocery shopping with my son when he was a precocious two years of age. Why? You’ll see. But first let me start with those dear recollections…

At two years of age, my son could carry on a full conversation and liked to offer his opinions about purchases on our shopping expeditions. In addition, he also liked to escape the confines of the cart and help push. Oh, he was mommy’s little helper for sure! Therefore, when I recounted my activities of the day to my handsome husband, I certainly described how Josh and I shopped together!

Together. He and I made a team.

Granted, at two he didn’t exactly have much to offer. Yet it was my joy to accept his help…and to tell his dad all about how he and I shopped together. As a unit. One fantastic grocery-shopping team!

Sweet, sweet memories.

Yet what if my son–at the advanced age of two–had decided that he was the mastermind behind the grocery shopping adventure. That he determined when we would shop. That he had the final say on purchases. That he, essentially, exercised ultimate control over when and how he shopped.

Oh…definitely more interesting…and not so sweet to recall.

I couldn’t help but ponder a bit over those thoughts when I read in Isaiah 5:21, “Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!” Woe to those who think their own brains possess such skill in judgement and discernment simply because they are so incredibly smart and gifted. All by themselves. Just good at it. Comes naturally, you might say.

[Total humility coming right about now.]

I also recollected how as I began to grow in my knowledge of God’s word, comprehension came easy to me. My mind could quickly understand a verse and then mentally pull up other verses that correlated for a fuller picture. If I had learned a verse, it stayed in my mind ready for immediate access. My women’s bible study lessons grew filled with side-notes of parallel verses and additional concepts that rounded out a fuller image and meaning in my mind. And although I never insisted on sharing those thoughts at our discussion table unless called upon (and thus thought of myself as humble), I in time grew proud.

“Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!”

I had become a two-year old mastermind of a shopping expedition.

Thankfully, God allowed me to get a huge dose of humbling. It came in the form of ME/CFS, which can make it quite difficult to string together a sentence, let alone deeper understanding of Scripture. God has so graciously taught me that HE is the source of any and all wisdom and discernment I possess or gain.

He made my brain. He wrote the Scripture I study. He causes the connections to form. He. His Spirit speaking into my spirit. The Great I AM breathing into His creation words of Life.

And then, like a gracious Father, He so often says, “Look what we did together.”

But I know the truth.

He did it all.

“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in this world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29).

A Wondrous Life

Ever have a morning when you wake up in a funk and, frankly, you don’t care if you snap out of it or not? Your pitiful thoughts resonate with discord and strife, generally fueled by exhaustion. And while your broodings may never quite lead you to wish you had never been born (aka George Bailey on a bridge), you can’t picture things improving…ever…and on that day, you really don’t care if they do.

It is what it is. Give me another cup of coffee or send me back to bed…or both.

Welcome to my day.

I generally don’t feel like this–especially around Christmas. I love preparing for Christmas! I love contemplating how to bless my family through my gifts and cooking, or how to bless others by opening my heart and home on Christmas Day. I love the activity of baking with my daughter or shopping with my husband or son. The concept of celebrating through sharing sweetly nudges me into action like no other. I love that we get to set aside this season to honor Jesus by not just His birth, but His lifestyle. Yay!!

The days preceding Christmas this year, however, find themselves stacked with–not Christmas preparation–but home renovation. While we have our tree up, our decorations are still in boxes, we have no lights on our home, and my thoughts drift to mandatory organization of our kitchen rather than my usual joyful organization of Christmas delights. In addition, the renovation has taken its toll on my ME/CFS, and the exhaustion, which had seemed to be waning previous to reno, has reasserted itself in a bossy, hey-look-at-me kind of way. [Not to mention perimenopause, which sort of makes my life feel like crossing the street and getting hit by TWO monster trucks instead of just the one.]

All these varying components converged upon my thoughts and led me to start a conversation with my handsome husband lamenting how un-Christmas-like everything felt (not that I could physically do anything about it)–all while the dear man tried to frame-out and seal the inside of our windows so we can have a cozy Christmas. [Note: men’s priorities v. women’s priorities–totally different!] Then, our wonderful painter, Gino, showed up, and I exiled myself to our bedroom, where I found myself firmly ensconced in Psalm 105.

This beautiful ode commemorates the history of Israel from God’s covenant with Abraham until He gave the land of promise to ole Abe’s descendants over 400 years later. While the psalm ends with joy and singing, the history itself has penetrating ruptures of deep pain and agony.

Yes, God made a covenant of promise to Abraham and, yes, the psalm shares many accounts of God’s presence and provision, yet we can also find times when I’m certain His people must have felt that their season was very un-Covenant-like. Frankly, I like the commonplaceness of this verse: “He had sent a man ahead of them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave” (v. 17). During his season of fetters binding his feet with his neck in a “collar of iron,” Joseph doubtless wondered where the true¬†meaning of Covenant had gone. Or how about this little ditty: “He turned [the Egyptians’] hearts to hate his people, to deal craftily with his servants” (v. 25). Can’t you hear them singing their lonely hearts out with “I’ll be home for Covenant…if only in my dreams”?

Dreams. The ideals we build up in our hearts and minds this time of the year that frequently let us down. The hopes and emotions that don’t always align with a full scope of reality, which cause our hearts to fill with pain or at least the feeling of disconnection.

As children of God, we each get to live our lives as a journey to God’s promise–which He will fulfill, make no doubt about that. Despite the full scope of God’s entire plan working itself out in our lives, we may find ourselves with a season of fetters or people’s hearts turned against us; we may find ourselves in a very un-Christmas-like season. Like Joseph, though, can we embrace what we do have rather than lamenting what we don’t have? Can we avoid jumping off emotional bridges and focus on the wondrous works of God in our lives?

My reality: my decorations do remain in boxes; my baking has yet to commence (or even formulate!); and, my invitations have yet to get issued, Thus, my house “feels” very un-Christmas-like. In the whole scope of my life, however,¬†this season will be a very small blip. A hardly worth mentioning type of thing. For overall, I do see the wondrous works of God in my life. I see the touch of His hand overspilling His wonders across each nook and cranny of my existence. I see a great and loving God writing a history spelling out His presence and provision and only lightly speckled with minute ruptures of pain. He has, indeed, given me a very wondrous life.

“Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon His name; make known His deeds among the people! Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all His wondrous works! Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice! Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually! Remember the wondrous works he has done” (Psalm 105:1-5a).

Sweet and Upright Words

I have a confession to make. As a 50-year old woman of two young adult children, I still struggle using the correct words to teach and train. Anybody with me?

Sad, ain’t it?

Despite my head knowledge that my children have arrived at the ripe old ages of 21 and 18, I find ugly words like “Don’t…” and “Stop…” creeping harshly into my disciplinary technique. Rather than exhorting and encouraging them to more thoughtful and adult actions, I find myself correcting them with that nasty ole “mom voice.”

Example of shame: Yesterday morning I noticed my daughter pouring hot water into her teacup with the pot positioned where it could easily dribble into the “xylitol” bowl. However, instead of using words of respect, I found this gem shooting out of my mouth: “Hey! Don’t pour that over the xylitol!” And, of course, said comment was made in front of her younger brother, who happened to simultaneously chuckle, which I’m certain made her feel about six.

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Oh, and don’t even get me started on the ugliness that finds its way into the corrective measures I take with my son! Somedays I simply feel like Paul when he penned, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24). Though perhaps I should cry out, “Who will set me free from this tongue of death?”

I know that a host of mothers have gone before me in this transition of role; of going from mommy to mom to mother of adults. Many have done this beautifully, I am sure, while others like me have struggled, and others even have sadly failed. Sure, these children still live in our homes, but (and I need to truly understand this deep in my heart and mind!) we will lose relationships with them and respect from them if we cannot grant them the respect of a fellow adult.¬†That does not mean that our teaching and mentoring days are over–they have merely changed shape.

God has granted us age and, hopefully with that, the wisdom of those years. Not only that, but He has freely given us the wisdom of the ages: His solid word. When we spend genuine time daily in the Bible, we find that it transforms our hearts and minds. Ultimately, then, we will find that since “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34), our words will begin to reflect the word we truly “have hidden in our hearts.”

Proverbs 18:21 states that “death and life are in the power of the tongue.” I have watched my words crush my children, but I have also witnessed God use my words to bring life and understanding into their hearts. Interestingly, the words that crushed came in a torrent; the words that brought life settled sweetly and succinctly like a seed well sown.

God used the words of Job to convict me this morning. And from that place of brokenness I pray for those of you who also find your words striking out hurtfully at the precious ones you love: may you spend genuine time before God in His word, may His word challenge and change you, and may He, in turn, use you to speak life into those around you.

“Teach me, and I will be silent; make me understand how I have gone astray. How forceful are upright words” (Job 6:24-25a).

Be a War Horse

Have you ever seen the movie, “War Horse”? Well, hold that thought in your pocket: we’re going to come back to it, I promise.

In the mean time…

I have simply relished my morning time in God’s Word as I’ve steadily made my way through Second Chronicles. The tales of king after king waltz across my mind’s eye in vivid color as I gaze upon their risings up and their fallings down. All their strengths and weaknesses seem to come alive, tantalizing me with their vibrancy of truth.

This morning, after I finished the brief chronology of Jotham, I could not help but contrast him with his father, Uzziah; particularly, I am certain, because I quickly noticed I had penned an underline of their individual summaries on the same small page–and each of these sentences contained an identical word: the Hebrew word¬†chazaq.

Now I don’t lay claim to any sort of scholarly understanding of ancient Hebrew, thus when a word or phrase catches my eye I gratefully look it up on http://www.blueletterbible.org. Accordingly in these instances, the word¬†chazaq means to grow strong. But check out this little note: “Verbs of binding, tying, girding, are applied to strength, inasmuch as with muscles well bound and with loins girded, we are stronger; on the other hand, if ungird, the weaker.” Hence, these two men grew stronger because they were girded up.

However, though each started out in the right direction, they each had different outcomes.

Uzziah: “But when he was strong (chazaq)¬†he grew proud, to his distruction” (2 Chronicles 26:16).

Jotham: “”He became mighty (chazaq) because he ordered his ways before the Lord his God” (2 Chronicles 27:6).

Hidden in these parallels lies a remarkable truth: nothing challenges the character of a man like growing strong. If you want to see the true makeup of a man, give him a measure of success.

And I could not help but think of my son.

After months of prayer and hard work, Josh made his verbal commitment to play football for a college yesterday. A dream come true. A measure of success.

Who will he become?

I desire with my whole heart that he will make the choices which will lead him to grow strong like Jotham–that he will “become mighty because he ordered his ways before the Lord his God.” I pray he will choose to bind himself to his God–that his strength will come under the control and direction of his Lord.

Enter the War Horse.

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“War Horse” was a movie by Dream Works. This photo is to their credit. (But isn’t it awesome?!)

I can think of no other creature more magnificent–more inspiring–than this massive beast of power and obedience. Though mighty, he devotedly yields his strength and abilities to his Master. He rushes not ahead nor lags behind any of his Master’s orders, and executes all commands with a mere nudge. He will serve his Master until his dying breath.

This is what I want for my son. This will become my prayer.

I can see him in my mind now, waiting for orders, refusing to budge until he receives them, and then executing them with every fiber of his being. I see him fully girded, eager to be about his Master’s business, yet exercising control until the the call comes. I see a yielded, strong young man–a man with power under control, “useful to his Master for every good work.” I see a War Horse.

“And He will make them like His majestic steed in battle”¬†(Zechariah 10:3d).

 

Be a Copycat

My nephew put up as his post on facebook this morning: “Jesus isn’t looking for faithful churchgoers. He’s looking for copycats.”

I was stumped for a few moments. What could he possibly mean? Isn’t one of the problems with churches today the fact that everyone seems to copycat everyone else? Follow the culture? Let someone else set a lowered “norm” and then everyone else jump on the bandwagon?

But then my SIL (his mom) chimed in: ” I have never heard it put quite that way before. Imitators/copycats.” Ohhhhh…the light in my dim mind switched on.

Copycats of GOD! Doing exactly what He does. It didn’t take long before I remembered the old “I Love Lucy” episode where Lucy “mirrors” Harpo Marx. It takes effort and focus to truly mirror someone else–even with practice! You have to keep your eyes fixed and not allow the smallest thing to distract you from doing exactly what the other person is doing.

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Obviously the copyright for this photo belongs to someone way more cooler than me.

The thing with the mirror game is that eventually the person being mirrored wants to trip up the one mirroring. But not so with our God. He delights to take it slow enough that we can learn to faithfully follow Him and become true imitators.

My thoughts then meandered over to Ephesians 5:1-2.

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.”

Keep your focus on Christ. Look into His eyes and His heart, and then do what He does: walk in love and sacrifice.