The Thorn in My Side

I was pretty stoked: God had given me an out! I had discovered the Bible verse that indicated anorexia was something I could struggle with my whole life.

Now, that sounds discouraging, but then, as someone who had fought the battle with anorexia for over a decade and continued to lose, it seemed like a welcome release. Perhaps I didn’t need to fight so hard, maybe this was something God had given me; my personal struggle. Maybe God wasn’t going to heal me or rescue me, maybe I could quit hoping and waiting and trying because this was just “my thing”.

Second Corinthians 12:6-10 says, “Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

See, I thought, even Paul had something that he struggled with his whole life.

But as I prayed about this and tried to find the peace that proved I had found the solution to my struggle, it wasn’t there.

Paul’s thorn served a specific purpose. In the preceding verses, Paul says that the thorn was given to him to keep him from boasting in himself; it was not a random affliction such that “everyone has one”.

Paul had become an untimely apostle, having seen the risen Jesus after his ascension. After that, with many visions, his extensive schooling in The Law, his dual citizenship and rightful authority and notoriety as an evangelist, Paul had good reason to be proud. God gave him this “thorn” as a reminder that he was not self-sufficient and perhaps even as a physically humiliating attribute that kept others from idolizing him.

My eating disorder can never be compared to Paul’s thorn in the flesh. First, the Bible says that God tempts no one. I believe that my anorexic behaviors were evidence of idolatry—worshipping myself. God frequently commands us to have no god besides Him. He will not “give” me an idol.

Second, Paul closes this passage by saying that he rejoices in his weakness so that the power of Christ might rest on him. To resign myself to an eating disorder as simply “my thorn” does not express the power of Christ and honor Him as the supreme one and only God, as The Redeemer.

Indeed, my eating disorder kept me on my knees before Jesus, more aware daily of how much I need Him. However, His power is made evident in my surrender to Him, not in my resignation to anorexia.

This article was first published at FINDINGbalance.com

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Your Broken Body, A Freewill Offering

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Romans 12:1

God has had me in Leviticus lately; a place Beth Moore affectionately calls “the graveyard of anyone who commits to read the Bible in a year.” However, I’m powering through it, not for the first time, but discovering all kinds of ponderable things this time through.

This time, I’m mesmerized by the specificity with which God describes each type of sacrifice and offering.

The sacrifices and offerings described in Leviticus never truly did away with sin. The animals were merely a portrayal of the ultimate sacrifice to come—Jesus Christ. That is why the offerings for sin, guilt and purity always required an animal without spot or blemish.

Have you ever wondered about Paul’s meaning in Romans 12:1 of, “ … present your bodies a living sacrifice holy and acceptable to God … “ .

Those who believe in Christ as savior understand that Christ paid our debt. He was the final sacrifice. There is no more blood to be shed, work to be done or sacrifice to be offered. And even if there were, we are painfully aware that our imperfections would exclude us from being an acceptable sacrifice. What kind of offering could we possibly be, that Paul would urge us to … oh …

Present. That’s an important word. It implies to bring something to someone or surrender it to them for their purposes. In other words, it’s a willingly given offering. It is not an offering demanded for payment. It is not required by law, but Paul urges us—“by the mercy of God” to do this. It’s only reasonable he says.

The freewill offering is the only offering in the Old Testament in which God said the Israelites could present a blemished animal. That’s you and me. It is only in this capacity, freely presented, that our blemished, broken bodies are of any use or value to a holy God. (Leviticus 22:21-23)

You see, Christ did pay the ultimate sacrifice. His sacrifice for sin was required. Without it, all of humanity is damned. But now, we are overflowing with gratitude. We are stunned speechless by undeserved mercy. Now, it is that mercy, the mercy of God, that compels us to bring forward our damaged bodies and present them to our Father. And the beauty of it is, because of Jesus, they are acceptable.

Who Prayed For Paul?

The headlines ran red. If there were a secret first century parchment bearing news, prayers and encouragement, circulating the dispersed believers, surely it read, “ Steven, our beloved brother in the faith, perished at the hands of Saul and the religious leaders. He breathed his last yet full of the Spirit and testifying to the goodness of Jesus.”

Maybe, John picked up that parchment or maybe he wrote it, heart aching. What a loss for the early church! No doubt Christians across the known world knelt in their homes and small gatherings, praying fervently for Steven’s family, the progress of the Gospel, their own safety and Christ’s soon return. But who prayed for Saul?

The early church knew who was responsible for much of their terror, and God asked them to do the unbelievable. After Jesus appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus, He approached one of His own, a man named Ananias, and told him to go to Saul and lay his hands on him: “ ‘Lord,’ Ananias answered, ‘I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.’ ” (Acts 9:13, 14)

I wonder about that as our own headlines run red. Every single day we learn of more Christians, more People of the Cross, losing their lives for the name of Jesus. And, I kneel. I kneel by my bed and pray with tears streaming down my face. My emotions boil, a hot alloy of anger, fear, compassion and longing for justice. I lift up the Coptic Christians, those in Syria, Pastor Saeed Abedini, the orphans, the widows and those fighting for freedom.

But who prays for ISIS? Who prays for the Muslim Brotherhood? Who prays for Boko Haram and Vladimir Putin? Who prays for Al Queda?

Last Sunday, I served on prayer team at my church. Five of us huddled in the church office praying for the service and everything the Spirit laid on our hearts. We prayed for the church worldwide, but in that hour, none of us prayed for the persecutors. I have to confess, that even on my own time, I am reticent to pray for them. It’s not that I haven’t thought of it; it’s just that I don’t want to.

But in the biblical account, God didn’t let prayer warriors off the hook. In Acts 9:15-17, He replied to Ananias, “ ‘Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.’ Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ ”

If Ananias had refused God, if he had found praying for the murderer of his Christian brothers just too hard, what would have become of Saul? Who would have become Paul? Who would have written the majority of the New Testament? Who would have written Romans, the consummate doctrine of salvation by grace through faith?

God may have asked Ananias to do the unbelievable, but God proved that He will do the impossible. The bulk of our sacred New Testament was penned by the very man who once slaughtered People of the Cross.

Might God dramatically change the trajectory of history if Christians today pray for the persecutors? Can you imagine, for a split second, the magnificent manifestation of God’s glory if those perpetuating evil turned their hearts toward Jesus?

Do you think we should be praying for terrorists? What should we pray?

Who or What, Why It Matters

Have you ever tried to tell someone about your faith and been blocked by the question, “But how can God be good when bad things happen?” Or, “Can you explain why things like miscarriages, natural disasters, world hunger and other terrible things happen?”

Maybe you’ve asked those questions yourself, and you wonder if what you believe can really be true. If it is, how do you explain some things?

The apostle Paul had every reason to ask the same questions. He wrote the book of 2 Timothy to a dear friend while sitting on the floor of a jail cell. He’d been arrested for preaching about Christ. Paul should have been asking, “Why?”, and “Is what I believe so important?”, but he wrote instead, “I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able…”.

Did you catch it? Paul wasn’t trying to figure out what he believed, and he wasn’t telling Timothy about any thing that he believed. He had been obedient to God; it was difficult to explain why God was letting him suffer. But Paul knew Who he believed. That’s the answer we must always come to when we cannot explain the things that happen in this world. We must know Who we believe and we can know that He is trustworthy.

When Faith Isn’t Enough

flag-813543-mAt 18-years-old, I stepped onto the sandy, Arizona soil in the driveway of an inpatient treatment center for the second time. Even after numerous counselors and previous inpatient treatment for anorexia, I still struggled with an addiction to exercise and food restriction. “Shipped off” to get well, I felt completely alone, unloved and abandoned by God and my family. My life didn’t appear to be “working out for good”. Circumstances seemed to belie the promises of a good God.

Many years later, my husband walked the sandy soil of Afghanistan, leading a company of infantry soldiers. Back home, I received one of the calls that every family member of a solider dreads. “We lost some.”

Patrick was the commander of Bravo Company 4/23. They had only been in theater a little over two months, when one of their strykers hit an IED (improvised explosive device) killing three men and maiming another. Hell broke loose on earth.

I watched my husband grapple with the agony and guilt of knowing he had been responsible for the men’s lives as their leader in combat. I felt like a mindless mist, moving through the motions of coordinating phone calls to the families, assisting to arrange the memorials and comforting the widows. Nothing looked like what I would expect from a good God. A few people voiced this.

“How can a good God let this happen? If God is in charge and powerful and loves us, why would He let these children lose their fathers?”

I didn’t know then, and I don’t know now. I don’t know how all this “works together for good”. I don’t know how this matches up with God’s Word, “I am the God who heals you.” I don’t know how lingering illness and addiction connects with, “It is for freedom that Christ set you free,” and “I have given you the power to tread upon snakes and scorpions and nothing shall by any means hurt you.”

God, how does this work?

If anyone ever had a right to pray that prayer, it was the apostle Paul. He spent almost six years of his ministry in a jail cell, he was whipped, shamed, ship wrecked and abandoned (2 Corinthians 11:23-27). Finally, near the end of his life, he sat again on the cold damp concrete of a cell and wrote to the man dearest to his heart—Timothy. How desperately he wanted Timothy to be able to hang on to what Paul had taught him. He agonized over how to impress upon this young pastor:

Do not give up! Do not be dismayed by what appears to be. It may look like God has lost control, that perhaps He isn’t all that good—but Timothy—don’t give up. I haven’t. (paraphrase)

This kind of tenacious faith is exemplified in an Old Testament story:

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego stared into the fire as flames leaped higher and higher.

“You have one more chance,” the Babylonian King told them. “You must bow down and worship my statue, or I will have you thrown into the fire.”

I wonder what raced through their minds. They had been faithful to God; they had not worshipped the idol. Surely God would rescue them! Surely, God wouldn’t allow them to be killed!

Their words in Daniel 3:16-18, teach us something amazing about faith, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.’”

The three men believed that God could save them! But even if He didn’t…

How do we have faith when the things we believe for aren’t happening? How do we have faith that God is good when bad things happen?

Hebrews 11 is often called the Faith Chapter. It lists many heroes of the faith, men and women who believed God against all odds, who had faith in God even when it looked like God wasn’t faithful.

Verse 39 says this, “All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised.”

Have you ever felt like that—like God hasn’t fulfilled His promises?
Have you had faith that God would do something, and then He didn’t?
Maybe you prayed that a loved one would survive cancer, but they didn’t.
Maybe you were sure it was God’s will that you find a job, or keep your job—but you didn’t.
Maybe you don’t understand what’s going on, or why God allows some things to happen.

When I feel this way, I am comforted by 2 Timothy 1:12, “That is why I am suffering here in prison. But I am not ashamed of it, for I know the one in whom I trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until the day of his return.” (emphasis added)

One weekend, my husband and I were driving through downtown Washington D.C. We were supposed to meet some friends for a baseball game, but as we wound through construction and down one-way streets, we got hopelessly lost—at least I did. I had no idea where we were going and I could see the lights of the stadium behind us. But I know my husband. He’s an incredible navigator. I knew he would get us there safely even if it looked for all the world like he was going the wrong direction. And sure enough, he got us to the baseball game on time!

You see, the secret is not what we believe. The power of our faith is not that we simply have faith, or even that we have hope. There will always be things we don’t understand and things that don’t seem to match up with what we believe about God. We may not understand what God is doing, but we have faith in who God is. We, like Paul, know who we believe, and that He is faithful.

Most world religions require faith. Most world religions have morality as their hallmark and eternal life as their goal. But, as Christians we do not merely have faith—faith in a reward for good behavior or faith in life after death. It is not mere faith that gets us through our troubles, sustains us in prison, or allows us to stand in the flames. The good news is not that you and I have faith, but that the One in whom we believe is faithful.

Growing Wonderfully

acorn-nature-1432983-mGrowing up in rural Oklahoma, the ground was always slathered with acorns like thick butter on toasted, summer soil. Not so appetizing, most of them were infested with tiny, gray worms, but nonetheless, they provided hours of entertainment. My sisters and I collected them, drew faces on them, smashed them and, yes, even tasted one or two. However, we enjoyed the final, mature state of the acorns even more.

The monstrous oaks that ringed our acreage served many purposes. They were for climbing, hanging our homemade bird feeders, swinging in our hammock and resting under. They were home-base for tense games of freeze tag or hide-n-seek.

When I was young, it didn’t much amaze me, or really even occur to me that each mighty oak had once been a tiny acorn. It wasn’t until high school biology that I marveled at the seed’s transformation.

Easter just passed this year. In the weeks before it, I found myself pouring over 1 Corinthians 15, a chapter that encapsulates the entire Gospel message in 58 verses. Easter obviously calls to mind Christ’s body—his death and the resurrection of His physical body. But what tugged at my mind most, was Paul’s consideration of what we will look like after death. And like many other other Biblical analogies, he uses nature—specifically seeds—to do so.

1 Corinthians 15:35-44
“But someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?’ How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.
So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.”

Wondering about your body after death? Paul asks. Think of a seed.

My mind tripped back to those acorns. Mature oak trees bear little resemblance to their seed, the unassuming acorn. When an acorn falls into the ground, it is covered by dirt, baked by the sun and showered with hundreds of seasonal storms. Finally, when the Creator deems the right moment, a sapling cracks earth’s crust and reaches gangly arms toward the sunlight. The acorn takes on its final form, the body for which it was created, the shape for which it was always intended.

In the same way, Paul says, our earthly bodies will die. Most of us will experience much the same thing as an acorn—burial, the seasonal elements. And, like the mature oak tree, our Creator will give to us our final form—the full, glorious, splendid body that was always intended for us. This is the form, the spiritual body in which we will live forever in the presence of the One whose image we bear.

Can you see it? We will not lose ourselves or our essence any more than an oak tree forsakes its origin in the acorn. The tree is what an acorn was always intended to be; it really had no purpose (save entertaining children) than to one day become an oak! So too, you and I will become more fully ourselves, more complete, more useful and purpose-filled than we have ever been before.

The death of these earthly bodies is not so much a loss, as a metamorphosis. We are fearfully and wonderfully made by a limitless Creator who intends all good things for us. He cannot wait to see the full blossom of your wonderful maturity, the donning of your spiritual body. Then, we will never know fatigue, but sing incessant praises to The One who made us wonderfully.

This was first published on the Wonderfully Made Blog. I encourage you to visit their site and be encouraged!

God Doesn’t Want Me to be Ambitious?

What do you think of when you hear the word: Ambitious?

Do you think of that other guy in the office or on the sales floor who nearly doubles your commission on a daily basis? Do you think of that mom who has more kids than you do, manages to host a church small group in her home, is working toward her master’s degree, fixes full dinners every evening, always has room to babysit one more extra, never tells you no, always has a smile, seems to know the Lord intimately, has the perfect husband who gets paid more than yours, blogs regularly and takes care of her ailing parents? Do you think of that kid who’s never made a B in his life? The entrepreneur?

Or do you think of yourself? Do you tuck your thumbs into proverbial suspenders and smile at your success? Are you pleased with your well-organized list of goals for the next five years?

Or do you think of the little kid who wants to be a doctor when he grows up; the little girl with big aspirations of becoming a famous dancer?

Is Ambition good or bad?

Here’s what Dictionary.com has to say: an earnest desire for some type of achievement or distinction, as power, honor, fame, or wealth, and the willingness to strive for its attainment
desire for work or activity; energy

The examples above and the definition makes us think of all the things we want to do and the people we want to be. Ambition is prized among men and women of all ages, races and economic status. So I found it interesting when someone pointed out recently that the God doesn’t seem to have the same opinion. At the very least, God has a different list of things for which we should be ambitious.

A quick search using the Online Parallel Bible, reveals 11 uses of the word “ambition” in the entire Bible. Of those 11 uses, only three of them are positive. Most often, ambition is referred to as selfish. Other adjectives include: insincere, vain, and employed by treacherous people.

Paul is the writer who talks about ambition in a positive manner. Paul said he was ambitious to preach the Gospel (Romans 15:20). He instructed his readers to have as their ambition to lead a peaceful and quiet life (1 Thess. 4:11). And in                         1 Corinthians 5:9, Paul lists his ambition as “to be pleasing to the Lord.”

Most of the time, the word ambition makes me squirm. I never feel like I have as much ambition as the next person. I don’t have clearly outlined personal and professional goals. I am not driven in so many ways. Actually, God’s version of the ambitious person is relieving to me. I DO want so much to preach the Gospel, to live a quiet, Christ-centered life, and to be pleasing to God. At least, I want to want those things. Do you know what I mean?

What do you think of ambition? Are you God’s type of ambitious person?

Considering Consider

Recently, someone shared with me their least favorite verse in the Bible. “You therefore be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:48.

James 1:2 used to be a hang up for me. “Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,”. How can God possibly expect us to consider trails joyful?

In our modern vernacular, consider often means, “ to ponder, to bear in mind, to have an opinion, or make allowances for.” (www.dictionary.com) That usage is not very conclusive; it implies an either/or stance.

My sisters and I recently took each other to task, two on two, debating the color of our mom’s car.  Jennifer and Rachelle considered it gray, Kelsey and I considered it bronze or taupe. The battle escalated until we called our mom. We finally insisted that dad pull the car’s original paperwork to prove one side of the discussion. Kelsey and I won.

This brings consider into focus, regardless of how Rachelle and Jennifer considered the appearance of the car, there was a verifiable truth. Truthfully, if I meditate on my trials for very long, I will most certainly not conclude that they are joyful. But, maybe it doesn’t matter how long we ponder our trials. Maybe it isn’t a case of analyzing all the possible good that God may bring out of our pain.

The Greek word for consider, in James 1:2 is hégeomai, meaning, “I lead, I think.” Additionally, it can mean, “to lead, command, have authority over.” When you replace consider, in James 1:2, with the fuller definition, one way it reads is, “Have authority over all joy, my brothers when you meet trials of various kinds.” That’s a different perspective!

This broader explanation of James 1:2, leads us to 2 Corinthians 10:5b, another verse that I have long wondered how to obey, “…and take every thought captive to obey Christ,”. A captive is under the authority of his captor. Biblically, even in the midst of trials, we are the captors, we are in authority of our own joy.

Now on to the rest of James 1:3-4, “for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect that you may be perfect and complete lacking in nothing.”

Do you see the linkage back to my friend’s least favorite verse? James is telling us how to be perfect. Could it be that God will bring us to speechless awe at His never ending ability to reconcile the most polar opposites: trials and joy, perfection and pain?

For what it’s worth, let me offer you my personal paraphrase of the these two passages side by side: Brothers, take authority over your joy when you encounter various trials. Take captive under your authority all your thoughts and fears. It is an indisputable fact that when you remain obedient in the hardest situations you will become more perfect, more like your Heavenly Father. 

And the crowing conclusion: The fulfillment of this obedience, this increasing Christ-likeness, is God’s glory.

“Because of the proof given by this ministry, they will glorify God for your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all, while they also, by prayer on your behalf, yearn for you because of the surpassing grace of God in you. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!”

2 Corinthians 9:13-14

Day 2, Review of Heaven Revealed

“The notions about heaven that many people have do not come from Scripture; rather, it is their failure to study Scripture that has led to a lack of knowledge and understanding of the biblical meaning of heaven.” (pg.17)

Monday, I began my review of Paul Enns’ book Heaven Revealed.  As I pressed myself further into the book, all the way to Chapter 1, I began to reassess my own beliefs about heaven. I have also been reading Charles Spurgeon’s classic devotional, Morning and Evening.  Spurgeon harps on the truth that a Christian’s life is not to simply be about a relationship Jesus, or following Jesus, or seeking to know Jesus. My life as a Christian is to be consumed by Jesus, such that my identity dissolves in Him becoming insignificant and eternally important simultaneously because of His infinite value.

Enns’ description of heaven develops a practice field for this concept. He quotes a chapel speaker he once heard, “Don’t be so heavenly minded that you’re no earthly good.” NOT SO! Enns cries!

“Unless you are heavenly minded, you will be no earthly good,” he challenges.

Enns provides several Scripture references indicating heaven as our focal point. There are no verses, he points out, that enjoin us to focus on earth. If there is truly continuity between today and forever, I want my last day on earth to be merely a single step into the pages of eternity. I want my worship on earth to be so similar to the heavenly chorus that my voice blends with angels, scarcely missing a beat.

Enns is absolutely right when he tells his readers that studying God’s word will reveal an accurate knowledge of heaven, and an exquisite future for those who believe in Jesus Christ. In order to make heaven our focal point, we need to bury ourselves in Scripture. By enjoying the mercy of Jesus in the pages of the gospels, by heeding the criticism and stern rebukes by Paul in the Epistles, by joining David singing in the Psalms we will begin experience heaven on earth. Heaven is complete communion with God; a daily life with no barrier of time or space between us. That sounds remarkably like the life a growing Christian is learning to live here, now, today.

The video above is a fascinating  lesson by Louie Giglio. His explanation of the heavens (the actual created cosmos) stops my heart momentarily and excites me to see what is just barely beyond my vision today.