Time to Heal

Surgery is painful. Maybe you’ve gone under the knife, so you’re aware. But I’m saying this because I want you to be prepared if you don’t already know. I want you to know it’s going to hurt.

Here’s why I say this – just about a year ago I had my own experience – I had a total knee replacement. I’ve heard those in the medical field say it’s one of the most painful surgeries you can have. Well, I can tell it was for me.

I had needed the surgery for about 10 years. During that time, I couldn’t walk without pain, and it got to a point where my life was pretty limited. In addition, because I waited, the surgery was more complex. Walking around with an injured knee caused more damage. Because I waited, there was more to repair, and my recovery was more painful than it had to be.

That experience taught me a lot, though. Damage had limited my life and waiting to fix it had caused a long and difficult recovery. Hmmm…I think this happens in our spiritual lives too. There are times when our souls are broken and need healing. But for whatever reason, we live with it – we tough it out because we don’t want to go through the pain of getting it fixed

You see we all have wounds and lameness, (Mark 2:17) and no one is exempt from hurt. Nope… pain is common to all of us. I’m talking about the internal stuff we know needs to be dealt with. We need a “spiritual procedure” but we avoid it at all costs. (John 5: 5) We’d rather walk around living a limited life than go through the pain of surgery – even at the hands of a loving physician. (Mark 2:13-17, Psalm 147:3)

I’ve been thinking a lot about this, lately. There was a time in life that I resisted the cure only to limp around in brokenness – just like the man in John 5:5 who laid at the pool of Bethesda for 38 years. The Bible doesn’t say what his issue was, it just says he was lame. I personally believe the diagnosis is vague for a reason. Lame can mean a lot of things. Physical, spiritual, and mental limitations are all a type of lameness, and can hold us back. And lameness can cause us to live lives that are less than God’s plan. (Jeremiah 29:11)

For a long time, I was lame. My early years had inflicted so much hurt that I was paralyzed spiritually. The resulting damage lingered and grew and nearly swallowed me whole. I lived that way well into adulthood and lay in brokenness until an encounter with a loving God changed my life, healed me and changed me forever. (Isaiah 61:3)

The healing of my heart was a painful process and sometimes and the process seemed like it would never end. The experiences that shattered my soul had infected so many areas in my life that recovery was long and difficult. But, I did heal. And as hard as it was, the pain slowly faded and I began to walk in freedom for the first time in my life. The healing allowed me to move the way God had planned all along for me. (Acts 17:26)

But I’m not done. Even though there was a huge spiritual healing through that experience, it’s not the end of the healing process. Throughout my life, it will be necessary to go back to the great physician for more surgery. I know it’s likely going to be painful, but I also know the Lord can and wants to heal. (John 5:6, Psalm 107:20, Jeremiah 30:17)

And that’s where things have changed for me. I no longer wait years before looking to God to heal those broken things inside me because I’m fearful of the pain that sometimes goes along with healing. Just like most people, I don’t like to hurt. But, just like my experience with my knee, I don’t want to let the wound to fester and grow and cause more damage. I don’t want my life to be limited, so I willingly choose to allow God to reach in and heal the broken places.

So, I ask you. What lameness are you keeping? Is it holding captive and preventing you from moving through life as God intended? I pray you will be brave enough to go to the one who can heal it. Please don’t let it linger and cause further damage. Don’t be afraid – the pain of the surgery will give you new life. (Isaiah 41:10)

A Higher Perspective

One thing I’ve always loved about flying is the view from thirty thousand feet up. From that vantage one can gain clarity; what you lose in detail, you gain in perspective. Dirty streets, shabby houses, brown and dying lawns all turn into a beautiful tapestry, unrelated to the reality the world below.
When I think about it, we need that perspective in life too. There are so many challenges. Difficulty is around every turn, and no one is exempt from the hard stuff. In times like that we can become stymied by our situation, because all our eyes can focus on is the chaos around us.

I’ve been in that place more times than I can count, and I believe there’s no shame in it. I’d go so far as to say that as humans distraction is a common thread. We tend to focus on what’s closest to us. And, when we experience difficulty or when hardship comes our way, we are even less likely to see anything but what requires our immediate attention.
Like some of you, I’ve tried several approaches as I’ve walked through trials in my life. In my human attempt to get through tuff times, ” I’ve tried the “grin-and-bear-it” approach. This is when you take whatever you are feeling and experiencing and drive it down into your psyche as deep as humanly possible. It often wreaks havoc on your physical, spiritual, and mental health, and is often the root of depression.

Another approach I’ve used is “masking.” You’ll recognize masking because it often involves the use of an outside helper which may come in the guise of alcohol, relationships, substance abuse, and other forms of self-medication. But this one is tricky, because all forms of this device are not what we’d think of as bad or unhealthy. One might find distraction through work, or sports, or – dare I say it – church ministry. Don’t get me wrong, not everyone who works or play sports, or volunteers is masking. I’m just saying these can become a way to escape pain.
So what are we to do when we find ourselves in the valley of the shadow of death? If our coping devices are removed, what’s to keep us from falling into a pit that we can never climb out of? The Bible clearly points to God as a way through difficulty. There are many scriptures available to serve as examples of what we should be doing. (Psalm 23 , Hebrews 4:16, Matthew 6: 6-8)

The Bible has a lot of examples of suffering. For example, the Psalms are full of David’s struggles as he journeys through difficulty. It’s always intrigued me that he often goes from despair to hallelujah with barely a hard return between them. I wonder at his gift of praise in the midst of tragedy. But I also wonder if the ability to move through circumstance is part of his make-up, or if it’s something acquired along the way. (Psalm107, Psalm 88, Psalm 73, Psalm 69)

My relationship with the Christ has not spared me from hard things, nor has it prevented me from whirling around in the chaos that often accompanies difficulty. Nope. What I’ve learned on my journey is that I own a lot of how I react to difficulty experiences. I believe the ability to rise above is not something we are born with. It’s not built into our DNA – it’s a skill we gain as we walk through experiences with our eyes firmly fixed on the one who provides perspective.

One of my favorite books in the Bible is Isaiah. There are so many gems that speak of redemption and restoration. One In particular speaks of perspective in a way that matches our view from thirty thousand feet; the verse that talks of “mounting up on eagle’s wings.” What imagery! What promise! What a directive.(Isaiah 41:30)

Wait… What? Did I just imply that scripture was meant to tell us what to do…land not a picture of a divine lifting out of our trouble? Yep… I did.
Think about it. What fool is going to find peace when they are dragged up by the scruff of their neck by some large taloned bird of prey. Maybe you would, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t. If I were in that picture there’d be a lot of screaming and likely a fair bit of struggling. It seems to me that in order for this to work there has to be some willingness on the part of the person being lifted up. I would imagine it involves trust. It would mean making a choice to ride along despite fear. It means we make a choice to be lifted.

I’m not saying it’s a simple decision. I mean, there are obvious perils in this scenario. The eagle could drop us, for one. And where are we landing at the end of this journey? Good questions, and all answered with one word – faith. Yikes! This is where the rubber meets the road, my friends. It is where we put into action all those lyrics we sing and verses we quote. Not easy… I get it… but, it is worth it. When we set aside our fear, and let go of controlling the outcome, something amazing and spiritual happens. With altitude, are able to raise high enough to get perspective. The view from above minimizes distractions and gives a clearer view of the landscape. When you are high up, the thing that seemed so looming becomes a spec in comparison to everything else.

I’ve learned this approach with time and through trouble. Difficulty is not the most fun training ground, but often the one that drives us furthest into a trusting relationship with Christ. And it is through that lens that I encourage you today. When you are discouraged by dirty streets, shabby houses, brown and dying lawns, look for an eagle and willingly ride to higher ground.

Filling the Hole

Throughout my life, I’ve found myself looking at people or things to fill the empty places in my heart. In my defense, I don’t think I’m completely alone in this. As humans I believe we are born with a hole in our being that must be satisfied, so we look around for something or someone to satisfy where we feel empty. For most of us, it’s a deep ache and drives many of our decisions.  

As Christians, though, we likely know that God alone is capable of truly satiating that empty spot. (Ephesians 3:19, Numbers 14:21) We were meant to find life through God. But, even if we believe that’s true with every fiber of our being, we often still look for something tangible to furnish happiness.

It’s not that we don’t want what God offers, it’s just that we want our desires filled with something palpable. There is something in us that always yearns, so, we grab onto whatever solid thing is in front of us. We look to what we can see, rather than set our hopes on an unseen force – even if that unseen force it what’s best for us.

I’m no different. You’d think I’d know better, but I often forget that what God offers always surpasses anything I can come up with on my own. (James 1:7) Often, in my haste to find relief for the emptiness I feel, I fill up with people or things. And the feeling I get never lasts because even the best people or things cannot sufficiently fill the bottomless pit in my soul.

We don’t just look to people of things, either. I know I’ve tried to find life in some good and not so good ways. I’ve tried respectable things like sports, a career, motherhood, marriage. Unfortunately, I’ve also tried some destructive things like drugs, alcohol, and sex. Maybe you’ve tried different fillers too? There’s a whole gamut of things you may have attempted. Or maybe you are still trying them? Whatever it is, these things may seem to work, but, the effects are usually temporary. Usually, these devices require us to return for refilling at frequent intervals to keep them working.

Anyway, good or bad, acceptable or not, nothing but God can plug that deep, empty place. It really doesn’t matter what it is – it will never really give us life because only God in us works. What we find on our own, is never going to adequately furnish what He alone can. (Psalm 81:10, Ephesians 3:17 – 19) Our only hope of filling the void is looking to the one who created us in the first place.

You see, we were designed with an empty space that only God can fill. CS Lewis said: “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”  So our only hope of plugging the hole is through God. He alone is capable of filling the place He created.

Audience of One

Have you ever looked back at something you experienced and realized you could have avoided the experience altogether? I’m not talking about the bad choices, stupid mistakes, “what what I thinking” kind of stuff. I’m talking about having the foresight to avoid the hard learned lesson

Don’t get me wrong, I get that hindsight is, as they say, 20/20. If we could just see where a decision was going to take us, life would be easier, right?  If we knew which fork to take, we could minimize – if not avoid – the rough terrain. Sometimes, though it’s good to take a good hard look at where we’ve been. Often, it’s in looking back that lessons are learned. (Proverbs 24:16)

For me, this self-examination resulted when I was forced to end a rather unhealthy relationship I had with someone I considered a mentor and friend. For years I saw the backlash people endured when they crossed this person, but I looked the other way. And worse, I stayed and did nothing. (1 Corinthians 15:33)

God had shown me over and over that it was time to sever ties. I knew what was happening was not right, but I was being told I was special. I saw what was happening, but I was told I mattered. I watched others fall prey, yet I continued to engage, And all along I secretly wondered if the extent of the relationship was what I could do for that person. I held onto crumbs of “friendship” that were thrown my way. It was years before I had the courage to leave, and it perplexes me why I settled for so little, in light of what God has for me. (John 10:10)

It was in trying to understand what happened, that I realized I had a part in it. You see, I figured out that it was my desire to please man instead of God that lead me down this road. It was the need for approval that caused me to overlook obvious signs that this relationship as problematic. (Psalm 118:8, Micah 7: 5-8)  Once I understood, it was not difficult to understand how I got there. The truth is that every time we seek man’s approval over God’s, we will be disappointed.

God alone is my approver. (Galatians 1:10) It’s funny though, how often I look elsewhere for validation. I have to believe I am not alone. We all want someone to say “well done.” We all hope someone will notice and find favor in us. Look around, and it doesn’t take long to spot someone seeking approval. You might find it in people climbing the corporate ladder. It can manifest in those seeking applause on a stage. It happens any time we do anything for man’s approval alone. (1 Thessalonians 2:4)

I’m not saying applause or approval is bad in itself. It only becomes a problem when our value is based on the approval rating we receive from others rather than on what God says about us. It is only when we look outside God’s provision that we miss the extravagant value God has placed on us. And our worth to Him is not based on what we can give, or what we can do. It is based solely on His love for us. (Psalm 139: 13 – 16, Ephesians 2:4 – 9)

God alone has the right to determine our significance, for it is He alone who paid the price. (Romans 5:8, 1 Peter 1: 18 – 19, Ephesians 2: 4 – 7) Over and over He declares his love and approval for us! His thoughts towards us are good, (Jeremiah 29:11) and infinite. (Jeremiah 31:3) He says we are valuable. (Psalm 46:5, 1 Peter 2:9) We are His beloved treasure and precious jewel. (Proverbs 31:10, Isaiah 49:16)

So, now I hope to engrave this lesson on my heart. I ask for His forgiveness for looking to man for what only He can provide, and look forward to the next chapter He is writing in my life. (Ephesians 2:24, Philippians 3:13) Now, oh Lord, help me be approved by an audience of one. (Matthew 6: 1 – 6)

Are we a friend of sinners?

I love this line from “Jesus Friend of Sinners” by Casting Crowns.

“No one knows what we’re for only against when we judge the wounded
What if we put down our signs crossed over the lines and loved like You did”

It happens, though, doesn’t it? No matter how much we say we don’t, the truth is we do judge non-Christians with Christian values. And that’s wrong, my friends.

When people who dont know Jesus come into church we can’t expect them to measure up to some perceived level of “goodness!” We’re called to love messy, people, arent we?

Nothing breaks my heart more than watching someone who messes up run as far as possible from the church. Why do you think that happens?

I believe in our attempt to help, we often times come at them from our our Christian understanding of repentance. And sadly, that only causes them to turn away in shame. I believe this is a big reason non-Christians don’t buy a word we say.

We can’t say we love people, welcome them into the church, and then look down on them when make wrong decisions.

I came to the church messy and dirty. I was loved with no expectation to clean up my act – and for that, I am so appreciative. Bit i just watched someone have a totally different experience. For that I’m deeply saddened.

So this post is for all my Christian brothers and sisters. Please, remember the mercy you received. Tred lightly when you’re tempted to judge that person sitting next to you.