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 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).

What God Came to See

Like all normal parents, I suppose, I relish the joy of watching my child succeed in any venture. When she was in high school, I loved watching my daughter dance or act or sing. I delighted in hearing the applause and accolades just for her. As for my son, I savor each hoot and holler when he triumphs in a sports endeavor–of which there were many in football. This baseball season–not so much.

Nope. From that point of view, his baseball season has been painful. While praising our son on one hand, his coach rarely puts him in a game, which has served as a point of confusion to us all–especially since he’s a good ball player. And I’m not sure it helps too much when other parents come to us and voice their own confusion. While it does comfort us to know we’re not just imagining a skill level he doesn’t possess, it also kind of just “bums us out.”

And I know, that as parents, we do not stand alone in this.

Many parents have walked this path before or alongside us–and many will walk it after.

Yesterday I was able to go watch my son’s baseball game. (For those of you who know me, or who follow my blog, you know this does not come easy.) While I did, indeed, watch his game, I did not for one moment watch my son play. Drained from the exertion it took to go to the game, I immediately went to wait in our car as soon as it ended.

Expecting a disheartened baseball player to slip into the back seat (especially since we gave up four runs in one inning and lost the game), I was surprised when a joyful son took his place instead, immediately inquiring as to my health with his very first words. As a matter of fact, the three of us chatted and goofed around all the way home, simply enjoying the day together.

But yet I could not help those feelings of hurt from arising–all the wonderings of why coach continually excluded my son from playing. Although I have told myself–and others–time and again, “It’s okay; I’m not raising a high school baseball player, I’m raising a man of God,” I could not suppress those disconsolate emotions from raising their ugly little heads.

I finally reached a conclusion: one month–just one more month of baseball. I can do that. Just one more month.

How self-defeating is that?

Then this morning, God spoke a new understanding into my heart. A joyful, illuminated understanding! One I can’t wait to share with you, because if you haven’t felt this as a parent–if you desire God’s highest character in your child–you will.

The greatest thing my son has to offer his team is NOT his bat or his glove–it’s his character. Yet godly character does not prove itself when things are hunky-dory. Godly character proves itself when life doesn’t go as planned–when it’s painful, when you’re getting your nose rubbed in the dirt. Those situations serve God’s greater plan–the witness and testimony that support the words of a Christian. Even a teenaged Christian.

A current statistic says that 70% of teenagers raised in church will walk away from their faith once they graduate from high school. (For a great blog on this, read¬†http://marc5solas.com/2013/02/08/top-10-reasons-our-kids-leave-church/ .) Think about that. Look at your youth group, Christian high school, or, in this case, Christian baseball team, and calculate how many of those teenagers will still serve Christ a year from now–or two–or…

With this in mind, I see that that the truest gift my son can give his team is the way he lives out his faith when the cards aren’t dealt his way. His attitude when coach doesn’t call his name. His encouragement for his teammates when they get to go do what he deeply longs to do.

Learning that God is still good and still God despite painful circumstances stands strong as a lesson one can never embrace early enough. Likewise, choosing a God-honoring attitude–not a self-indulgent one–brings a far greater joy to God’s heart than all the playing time in the world.

So, what do you think God (his heavenly Father, the same One who said, “I will never leave you”) came to see at my son’s game yesterday? I now know, He came to see a living testimony. While all the parents watched to see a son on the field, He came to see eternity taking root in a young man’s heart.

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

“But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart'” (I Samuel 16:7).

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).

Heartache: The Vestibule of Heaven

Having children is one of life’s greatest joys. They enter our hearts and homes as tiny receptacles, seemingly designed to draw love out of our deepest reservoir. Even the more introverted of us find ourselves learning what it means to freely and wholeheartedly give love to these precious little ones.

As they grow we find that our love, too, grows in like stride. We learn to love through disappointment, disobedience and disruptions of all ilks. To embrace our full reflection of God through our parenting, we must also quickly learn the difference between love of a higher and of a baser sort. Training our children to become more like Jesus requires hard core choices not designed for the weak of character or purpose.

Truthfully, the highest hurdle I have faced in my challenge to exhibit godly love for my children has been when I have watched them face head-on the raw, bitter disappointments in their lives.

The unkind words.

The exclusion from parties.

The unmet expectations.

The broken hearts.

In these solemn, pain-filled moments I find the woman I long to be in my deepest core must encounter ¬†the woman I want to unleash in that place and time. For many an uncounted hour, it appears “mama bear” will surely win. She has valid points backed by the fire of conviction. Thankfully, God has restrained her outwardly; but inwardly she’s an out-and-out mess, locked in a stressful pattern of emotional thinking.

I recently had to confront my own inner “mama bear.” (She’s hardly a lovely lady.) I, too, had valid points–based soundly on scripture. Thoughts about the certainty of trials and the grooming of character through them. Regardless of the soundness of scriptural truth, mama bear had a tough time letting go of her emotions. A real tough time.

Forcing myself to re-read a quote so challenging that I’ve taped it to the inside of each bedroom door in our home, I confronted myself and–the next thing I knew–found myself kneeling in repentant tears before my God.

In that moment I had to admit that what I truly desired had been for my child to receive the accolades of earth more than the rewards of heaven. By doing so, I had been willing to cede valuable training in eternal treasures for the mere gratification of temporal pleasure. Although in a rose-colored world, I would find it charming if my child could have both, the premises handed me in scripture assure me that character comes with a pretty steep price tag.

As an adult, I know and accept this fact. As a parent, I find I struggle to accept the same fact for my child.¬†Yet embracing a higher love for my child–a love that desires God’s highest and not my own–I must acknowledge and yield to these character shaping moments.

And pray that through each painful situation, I will not be the one who inhibits my child from entering that sacred “vestibule of heaven.”

“Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered” (Hebrews 5:8).

To see the quote that challenged me so, read my blog, “Others May, You Cannot.”

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-

Thy Righteousness Alone

The Book of Psalms continues to encourage my walk and enthrall my mind as I journey through this relapse. I pray these simple thoughts bless your heart as He so distinctly blessed mine.

“I will make mention of Thy righteousness, Thine alone.” Psalm 71:16b

I have been in that place. That ugly, ugly place where I was deceptively convinced that I actually had some pretty awesome attributes to bring to the table in my ministry relationship with God. Not only did I feel that way, but I had friends who verbally confirmed my awesomeness.

Short story. I eventually came to believe my own press and became wickedly proud in the confines of my own heart and mind. (Naughty, naughty!)

This pride then led me on to become willful, disregarding the gentle voice of the Holy Spirit when He prompted me about certain decisions I made. I also became unteachable, reading God’s Holy Word from my point of view as though He wrote it merely to confirm my grandiose thoughts. I had forgotten something intrinsic to the Christian walk: my “righteousness is as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). My righteousness. Me in all my own radiant glory. Me when the world acclaims my accomplishments. Filthy rags.

I abhor thinking about myself then. The pride which underpinned my visible Christian walk was out-and-out root rot. Plain and simple. It needed my Creator to deal it a loving blow to enable me to truly reflect His glory in even the smallest of ways. And with a grateful sigh of relief, I can assure you that He has wonderfully taken me in hand. His hand.

I find now that when offered a compliment of any kind, the words “Praise God” quickly tumble from my lips. Not gratuitously, just simply felt and meant. For I now know, deep within my being, that if I have anything praiseworthy to offer, it originated in His design and it transpired through His craftsmanship.

Not that I’m perfect! Ha! Not by a long shot! That little snippet of pride loves to rear up her ugly head and holler out, “Hey! Look at me!” I must then deal another death blow, because if I’m about the business of extolling myself (even in my own mind) then I can’t be about the business of extolling Him…the only One worthy.

Take a moment. Listen in on your own thoughts. Ask yourself, “Whose righteousness gets mentioned here?” If the righteousness receiving glory is not Christ’s alone, cast it out.

“For Thy righteousness, O God, reaches to the heavens, Thou who hast done great things; O God, who is like Thee?” Psalm 71:19