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).
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The Who of the What and the Where

I know. I know. I’ve been sadly MIA. My humblest apologies. I’ve been facing the end of the school-year “stuff” of a homeschooling mom, my daughter graduated from Calvary Chapel Bible College in Murrieta (Road trip!), and we’ve had a church intern move in for the summer (with another one moving in today for a few days). So when I’m not trying to tackle all of these issues, my ME/CFS drives me to bed. I think I’ve spent the past month either rising up to face each event by God’s grace or down for the count, with nothing in between…and definitely no energy combined with coherent thought left to enable me to write. But that does not mean that I haven’t been thinking!

Actually, now that Amanda has graduated and has started to put plans in motion, one subject has arisen which (I think) bears commenting on. You see, she’s been out there hustling: putting in applications, interviewing, volunteering at the church, and applying for community college. (Plus, she helps around the house, adding her simple and sweet touches everywhere.)

As she steps away from her college routine (which she loved!) and returns to her home, she has to keep in mind that, as a Christian, she does not go backward. Although she has come home, God still calls her forward, which means He has a next step–a next purpose–for her life. She moves onward.

But to where?

And how does she know?

Hard questions? Sure. But I can’t help but remember a quote I heard years ago: “It’s easier to steer a moving car.” So, with encouragement and exhortations from her dad and me, off she goes. Applying on-line or in store. Making the rounds. And, without a doubt, praying.

Although her next job will indubitably fall in the entry-level, get-me-through-college, whatever-it-takes-to-pay-the-bills category, God does not treat it as something He will discount. He has a plan and a purpose for this next phase of her life, just as surely as He had a plan and purpose for her years in bible college.

But God’s plans and purposes quite often differ from our own. We tend to think of where and what when it comes to jobs, while He always considers the who, as in, “Who will be your future co-workers?” “Who will need the unique testimony and witness that you alone bring?” “Who needs your distinct light?”

God did not send His one and only Son for whats and wheres; He sent His one and only Son for each of the “whosevers” flooding your life. The lost sheep. The one.

And so we pray, not for God to place Amanda at a where doing a what, but that God would place her in the life of a who…a very special who, whom God loves very much.

“For the Son of man has come to save that which was lost. What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? And if it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray. Thus it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish” ¬†(Matthew 18:11-14).

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Lavish Love

This past week we celebrated a highlight of the homeschool year: Teacher Appreciation Day. Yep. True. My son just waits and waits to honor me on this day. Okay. Maybe not.

In spite of my mild delusions about its significance, my husband and son did want to do a little something to make me feel special, and to show me that they are grateful for the extended time and painstaking effort I put into educating the heir of the patriarchal throne. Therefore, after a mild brainstorming session, they alighted upon two simple and sweet gifts to make my day and melt my heart: coffee and a potted plant.

Thus, in the middle of the afternoon, my beloved unexpectedly arrives, winsome smile upon his handsome face and delightful gifts cradled in his strong hands. A newly-roasted bag of some delectable beans, accompanied by a freshly brewed pour-over, along with a lovely light-pink argyranthemum plant in a gorgeous sage-green glazed pot. (Not an indoor plant, which I kill with quite regularity, but an outdoor plant which he will tend for me!)

A pot of lavish love

A pot of lavish love

After he left, I lay back in bed fathoming once again just how “spoiled” I am. My husband knows how to bless me with the simple things in life. After all, how can the aroma of a freshly brewed cup of coffee or the gentle smile of a daisy not light the heart of this simple former-farmgirl? In that moment, I realized how much I want my daughter to marry a man who makes her feel “spoiled.” Not spoiled as in indulging her fleshly nature, but rather lavishly and extravagantly loved–for that’s the nature of Christ.

The love of Jesus knows no bounds. It reaches into the inner part of a woman’s heart and woos her with the sweet things that meet the needs of her unique personality. He loves with truth and integrity, not allowing her to bluff her way through with Him or with herself. He’s unexpected and delightful. He calls out of a woman the deepest and richest of her inner treasures. And He sprinkles her life with radiant moonbeams and starlight whispers of joy. In Jesus, a woman will find the fullness of her life.

In like fashion, a man who truly loves and honors God will find himself embodying that fullness of life for his beloved bride. He will learn her inner secrets–and treasure them. He will–to the extent of his finances–pour out lavish riches upon his wife (or future wife) simply to demonstrate how greatly he cherishes the mere thought of her. He will “spoil” her with all the extravagant love of Jesus in his heart.

This is what I want for my daughter. And for all my darling “adopted” daughters.

If you choose, my sweets, a man with lavish love, you will never fail to see the beauty of Christ’s love in your marriage. God’s ability to use this singular man as a conduit to open your heart will allow blessing upon blessing to flow out of the deepest reservoirs of your being into the lives of those around you.

Marry a man who “spoils” you.

“The Lord your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy” (Zephaniah 3:17).

That One Perfect Moment

Every once in a great, great while, I have the joy of lying in bed with the simple content of knowing that my life is positively, absolutely, undeniably wonderful. And provided that I don’t overthink every little aspect and detail, for that one moment in time, my life truly feels perfect. As is. No questions asked. Simply perfect.

That happened to me this past Sunday night–the evening of my son’s seventeenth birthday. God had more than answered the desires of my heart toward my son. His carpool mom, with two of his teammates, had shanghaied him Friday evening for a birthday dinner. Another of my friends had made him rich, chocolaty birthday cupcakes, which she had dropped off on Saturday, complete with a “Happy Birthday” banner, balloon, and candles. But the greatest desire of my heart, God answered with abundance. My deepest hope was that I would feel up to allowing Josh to invite a couple of friends to join us for his birthday lunch, and God gave me that–AND I felt up to having them over for a couple of hours afterward. (Granted, Brad and I laid in bed and watched a movie, but I didn’t have to tell my son “no” to such a simple request!)

In addition, this past weekend our church had hosted a worship conference geared for “the next generation” of worship leaders as well. While my son couldn’t attend as much as he had wanted due to baseball practice and getting kidnapped, he did make it to the bass workshop, where the instructor offered to Skype with him–merely to bless him.

It’s funny how, as a parent, the greatest blessings in life come through watching God tend to our children!

After contemplating the weekend in terms of my son, my heart skipped to my beautiful daughter. She graduates from bible college next month, and her heart is seeking God’s highest for her next step; not grasping for opportunities, merely surrendering to God’s plan…whatever that may be. And I have no doubt that He will never let her down.

Then on to my wonderful husband, who serves his God, our church, our family and me oh-so faithfully.

My heart filled to overflowing.

Suddenly I thought my whole being would burst with joy as I considered heaven. For that momentary sense of perfection on earth will never wane in eternity. We can overthink any aspect we want, and will find nothing lacking. Each little loose end will be neatly tied-up in a gorgeous bow. Every sin forgiven–the ones we’ve committed as well as those committed against us. No weight. No debt. All gone. And all of life’s deeds will be done. Complete. Perfect not for but a moment, but for all eternity.

“O Lord, You are my God; I will exalt You, I will give thanks to Your name; for You have worked wonders, plans formed long ago, with perfect faithfulness” (Isaiah 25:1).

The Heartbreak of Spiritual Warfare

I had to run an errand with my husband today. (If you remember that today is Professional Administrator’s Day, then you realize how critical this was!) Anyway, while my husband paused to take a call, I noticed a man from our church with his two children. Excited to see someone I knew, I went over to greet him. I couldn’t believe how big his little ones had become! It was so sweet to my heart!

But he looked at me, smiled politely but distantly, laid his hand on his older daughter’s shoulder, and quickly guided her away from me; all without saying a word.

Bemused, I returned to my husband’s side where, after he finished his call, he leaned close to my ear and gently explained.

“He and his wife got upset with us over [insert issue] and left the church.”

“Didn’t they even come and talk with you first?”

“No.”

“You mean they heard one side of the story, decided it was true, and just left??”

“Yes.”

“oh.”

As this only happened about an hour and a half ago and, never having had someone feel the need to pull their child away from me, I wanted to write while my feelings–as confusing as they are–pulse upon my heart, because I think the destructive lies of the enemy to the body of Christ need to be addressed.

Jesus clearly stated in John 13:35, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” It goes to reason, therefore, that the enemy enjoys wreaking havoc in this department within the body of Christ. He thrills to stir up gossip and dissension within a church, and he’s not afraid to do whatever it takes–he actually delights in it. Using pride to cause malcontent. Taking on another’s wounds to bind someone in bitterness. Encouraging a well-placed smear campaign against a pastor. All great tactics. And, sadly, they work.

In his epistle, Paul’s words serve to remind the church that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). We should stand upon these words as truth; this battle cry should reign in our mindset. Yet in spite of Biblical certitude, we continue to wrestle against our own brothers and sisters in our church family, rendering heartbreak along the way, and destroying our witness to the world.

As for today, I clearly can’t make someone listen to me who is determined to take a stance against me, but I can remember my first line of defense…and offense: prayer. I know from the depth of my being that by becoming entrapped in bitterness toward a brother in Christ, a man wounds himself more than he wounds the one he holds accountable for his bitterness. My heart aches for him and his wife, as it aches for each sweet brother or sister caught in these same shackles by the enemy. And my prayer won’t be against them, it will be for them–that God will set them free. That God would sweetly tend to their hearts so broken by the ugliness of this spiritual warfare.

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because God has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, and freedom to prisoners; to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to grant those who mourn in Zion, giving them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting, so they will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that HE may be glorified” (Isaiah 61:1-3).

Who Am I?

As my son and I continue our homeschooling ramble through World History, we embark on the era shatteringly known as World War II. We, therefore, must encounter one of my favorite “heroes of ¬†faith,” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a man so intelligently aware of his times and so devoted to his faith, that he deliberately chose to step into the fray, and joined a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. The conspiracy failed. Bonhoeffer was arrested for his involvement, and eventually executed.

During his imprisonment, Bonhoeffer continued to live out his faith and witness before the guards and other prisoners. Even for the most stalwart of believers in Christ, this was no easy task. Bonhoeffer exquisitely captured his own inner struggle through the words of the following poem.

Who Am I?

Who am I? They often tell me
that I step out of my cell
calmly and cheerfully and firmly
like a manor lord from his mansion.

Who am I? The often tell me
that I speak freely and cordially and
clearly with my guards
as if I were the one giving orders.

Who am I? They also tell me
that I am bearing these days of misfortune
with equanimity, smiling and proud,
like someone accustomed to victory.

Am I really that which others say I am?
Or am I only that which I know about myself?
Restless, longing, sick, like a bird in a cage,
gasping for breath as if someone were strangling me,
hungry for colors, flowers, for the song of birds,
thirsting for kind words, for human nearness,
trembling in anger at arbitrariness and petty insults,
driven by anticipation of great things,
helplessly worried about friends infinitely removed,
too weary and empty for praying, thinking, creating,
exhausted and ready to say farewell to everything?

Who am I? This one or the other one?
Am I this person today and a different one tomorrow?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others
and a despicably pathetic weakling before myself?
Or is what is left within me like a vanquished army
fleeing in disarray before the victory that has already been won?

Who am I? Such lonely questions mock me.
Whoever I am, you know me, and I am yours, O God!

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1944)

Although caught in a situation beyond any that those in the general populace face, Bonhoeffer’s words yet resound deeply within the core of so many. I, too, feel his internal struggle as I daily come to grips with who I am. I know that I am a daughter of the King of Kings, the Almighty One. In light of this knowledge though, how can one who longs to do so much be captured by a disease which compels me to such a small life. My home–my bedroom–encapsulate my cell. ME/CFS serves as my guard, restricting my boundaries with undue vigilance, my longings and deepest desires seemingly ignored. ¬†Many Christians try to tell me that¬†I¬†am the victor and that¬†I must claim my healing, yet in the light of the¬†whole gospel, these words fall short. And I must discover the me who I really am within my constraints and before my God.

  • I am His daughter, and His lovingkindness toward me has yet to fail.
  • I am His workmanship, and He molds me through His private and sacred means for His glory.
  • I am His bride, and He is simply making me beautiful.
  • I am decreasing so that He may increase, though I may never see earthly results.
  • I am learning what it means to simply be His, with NO limitations on His hand.

I cannot see all or know all, but I can rest in the One who does, and I can place my hope in His love. I can choose to daily surrender any rights I think I may have. I can choose to let His knife cut just a little bit deeper.

Who am I? Just another child longing to be more like Jesus.

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known” (I Corinthians 13:12).

Fueled by Grace

Last June my son checked in for summer football conditioning spry, agile, and ready to go, weighing in at all of 149 pounds. Although not a ton by any means, he still rocked the world of 95 opponents and brought home the Pride, Hustle, Desire Award at the end of the season. But an odd thing occurred en route. Around about October, he started complaining of running out of gas midway through practice. He just couldn’t finish hard. Didn’t know if he was getting sick. Wasn’t sure what was wrong. In due course, he also shared that he weighed-in at 146. My “aha” moment! Armed with the knowledge that he was losing weight, I understood that he didn’t have enough fuel in his tank. He could not give out what he did not have.

This premise holds true for all of us on so many levels, but today I want to talk about grace.

Grace serves as the foundation–the cornerstone–of the Christian faith. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). God lovingly and freely gives us His grace. No holds barred. Ours for the receiving. Done.

But then God turns right around and says, “Freely you received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8). Oops. What a minute. What does that mean?

Let me put it to you in a real-life, how-you-live, kind of way. (I get things better when they are simple and straight to the point.) If you hold on to bitterness and forgiveness, you cannot dispense His grace.

When God shows you His grace, He demonstrates it through His forgiveness and lack of bitterness. He holds nothing against you. Then if you receive this loving grace, He expects you to express the same attitude toward others.

How do you know if it’s there? In your heart?

Easy self-check: Think for a few moments of the person whom you perceive has wounded you. What do you feel inside? Do you feel angered? A little knotted up? Like a wealth of ugly emotions wants to run amok in your heart and mind? Or do your feel compassion? Grieved by the pain he/she must live with?

If you feel compassion and mercy, then you truly are a dispenser of God’s richest gift. If, however, you feel anger or knotted up, then you simply cannot offer what you do not have. You cannot work that way. You can pretend to work that way, but, by God’s design, you do not. You can preach or minister, but without the fullness of God’s grace expressed lovingly through your own life, your words serve as “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (I Corinthians 13:1).

And then like begets like.

Let’s go back to my son for a moment. On his first day of practice, he could probably have worked it hard powered only by Twinkies and chocolate milk. Such is the joy of new beginnings. Likewise, when we first get saved we feel so much joy that we could forgive anyone of anything at that moment. As the season starts to get long though, that initial component of new joy wears thin and we find out what we’re really made of.

For my son, it meant recognizing the problem and making the necessary changes to accommodate the daily challenges football requires of a body. We started hammering him with food, and his body eagerly responded. He finished strong.

For the human soul, it means essentially the same thing. We have to acknowledge that we have issues with letting go of bitterness while extending grace. We don’t have enough grace to go down the hard road. Our spirits are underfed. Much like my son couldn’t survive on his weekly team dinner (monstrous as it was), neither can we if we rely merely on a weekly feeding at the neighborhood church. We need daily, meaty spiritual meals which nourish our souls and provide rich doses of grace upon grace.

Please understand that as I write this, my heart extends toward you. I treasure the joy I get from living unencumbered in God’s grace. I love the freedom of walking out from under the burden of bitterness and unforgiveness. Do I march on perfectly? No! But I beg you, if you struggle with this, please ask God for help. Confess these attitudes as the sins they are. Lay them down at His feet, and don’t allow yourself to pick them up again.

Remember, Christian, the greatest gift you possess to share with the world is grace. God’s grace. Lived out in you through forgiveness as a sweet aroma.

“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place” (2 Corinthians 2:14).

PS. If you struggle with this, I would like to recommend “Why Grace Changes Everything” by Chuck Smith. -brenda-