Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Sober Gratitude

“Be at rest once more, O my soul,
for the Lord has been good to you.”

(Psalm 116:7)

The nurse waited while I emptied my pockets and unloaded all my accessories onto the chair next to the scale. My phone, my key, my wallet, and my apple. As I took my shoes off, I anticipated her telling me that I didn’t need to, but I wanted an accurate reading. And I got one.

I’d like to think that I don’t tend to wear my heart of concern on my sleeve during doctors’ visits, but when I saw the number on the scale, I instinctively threw my head back and let out an audible ugh of discouragement.

103.4. An unsettling, underweight number that has stubbornly dug its heels into the ground for the past year and a half of my life.

When I initially walked into the doctor’s office, I had started munching on a large suncrisp apple, and took a few more bites while the nurse was reviewing my list of meds. At one point, she needed to step out to check on something. When she returned, I was in the middle of another bite, and she said, “Boy, you’re really intent on that apple, aren’t you?”
I know – not quite the epitome of sensitivity for a trained nurse to say to an underweight patient. But I’ve regretfully made my share of insensitive comments in life. All of them inadvertently made, but nonetheless, some doozies that sadly make hers pale in comparison. The upside? Her insensitivity didn’t make my world crumble! Without skipping a {distraught} beat, I simply said, “Well, when you’re 103 pounds, you do what you gotta do.”

Aside from my fragile weight, the follow-up appointment was a positive one – including blood pressure coming in at normal range for the first time in years. {YAY!!} But my weight left a trail of deep discomfort in my soul.

On my way to the appointment, I had been running a few minutes late. So when I found a parking spot smack dab in front of the main entrance, I thanked God for His mercy because it was just what I needed! Well, little did I know that He would use that parking spot to meet a need that went far beyond convenience. Little did I know that God had reserved a front-row seat for me to witness a sight that would rein my perspective back in check.

Because after the appointment was over, I walked back out to my car. And while I was still in park, I saw a woman being wheeled out of the building on a stretcher. With two large, familiar straps to keep her body secure, and a very uncomfortable-looking neck brace. Friends, that sight really took me back. Because as many of you know, not too long ago, I was that woman. Helpless and strapped to the stretcher, asking nurses to place saltines in my mouth because I was too weak to do it myself.

And there I was, seeing this scene from the other side. Sitting independently in the driver’s seat of my car . . .

Oh, how I felt for this woman. How I prayed for her. For God’s presence, for His mercy, that He would bring beauty and life out of the helpless, painful circumstance that she was in. And I prayed for the man waiting with her. I prayed until the ambulance came and hoisted her inside of it.

And God brought this thought to mind: I may be 103 pounds, but I can walk. I can drive! I can FUNCTION!

And as He so often does, God offered me several opportunities all around the same time to embrace the same Truth. It’s almost as if He speaks to me in themes many times. And this time, the theme was:

“Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.”
(Psalm 116:7)

Because just a week before that appointment, I was embracing my son in his sleep, tears streaming down my face as I wept and prayed for a family in our church whose son was missing. (And has since been found!)

And just the day before my appointment, I walked into our pediatrician’s office for the first time in a while, and the receptionist commented on my weight, saying that I looked like I’d lost about as much weight as she had. I told her that I was recovering from a health crisis, and asked if she minded my asking why she had fallen underweight. And she replied that her husband was killed in a car accident . . . She said it so matter of factly that I didn’t know if I had heard her right. So I clarified, asking WHO it was that was killed in a car accident?
Her husband.

“Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.”
(Psalm 116:7)

So yes, I have lost weight. And yes, it can bother me. But these things I know to be true:

~ The Lord has been very good to me. VERY good.

~ And my weight is worthless compared to the infinite value of gaining Christ, Himself. And being found in Him.
(Philippians 3:7-8)

Ultimately, it’s not weight I need to gain; it’s Christ.

As I've shared before, I often miss out on radiant treasures right under my nose while struggling to grasp for something lesser. I urge you, sweet souls -- don't miss the radiant treasures along the painful journeys. Don't miss the ways that God reveals His glory to you. Don't miss out on HIM.

I invite you to spend a moment in worship here by sharing just one way that He has made Himself known to you amidst the heartaches of life. One way that He has been good to you. So that your soul may be at rest – once more.


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Salve of Truth for the Wounded Soul

10 Steps for Applying Truth to an Onslaught of Lies (Part 2)
In my last post, we talked about how our souls are constantly bombarded with hurtful lies. And I shared the first 5 steps that I’ve found helpful when surrounded by these lies. So if you missed it, be sure to read that first (by clicking here).

Those 5 steps we can apply to any lie, whether the pain of a lie is directed at us, or among the steady drum beat of damaging lies from our culture. But these would be particularly-helpful next steps for the times when we are managing the pain of a lie personally spoken to us. And as I was writing these posts, it became clear to me that these 10 principles span far beyond the offense of a lie. For these are really principles that we can apply to pain of ANY kind in a relationship.

These 5 steps are where the rubber meets the road, friends. At least for me. But if the first 5 principles help stop the bleeding caused by a lie, these last 5 are the salve the Lord applies to our wounded souls, fostering healing and redemption.

Beauty for ashes.
Peace for despair.
And freedom for our souls from the burden of a lie.

6. “Show me the log!”
“And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying, ‘Friend, let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.”
(Luke 6:41, 42)

The Message uses the analogy of dirt on the face instead of wood in the eye, and I like the way it translates verse 42:
“It's this I-know-better-than-you mentality again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your own part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.”

And if that doesn’t paint a bull’s-eye on my forehead, I don’t know what does. Whether we’re facing a lie-stained speck or any other hurtful speck in a relationship, it’s so critical to ask the Lord to search our own hearts amidst it all. Because if we don’t, we leave our souls vulnerable to having our pride take hold & take our eyes off Jesus. And pride only speaks a language of lies, friend. In my own experience, there’s always a log. Usually – an entire forest . . .

“Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.”
(Ps. 139:23, 24)

7. Forgive.

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”
(Col. 3:12-14)

Only 29 pages into Dan Allender’s book, Bold Love, I was impacted by his powerful observations and insights on forgiveness:
“After years of being bludgeoned by others’ misguided advice and by our own misinformed conscience, we are too weary, hesitant, or angry to enter the true battle toward forgiveness that brings life. The forgiveness of God means little to us, and forgiving others seems like leaping into an abyss of further harm . . . ”

He goes on to explain that forgiving love “enters the fray of betrayal and brokenness with a bold, courageous desire for the kind of reconciliation that redeems all the Evil One’s efforts to destroy” and that it’s the “inconceivable, unexplainable pursuit of the offender by the offended for the sake of restored relationship with God, self, and others.”

Forgiveness isn’t just for the offender’s sake, friend. It’s a gift from the Lord that also heals the hurt done to your soul and mine. But again, forgiveness starts at the Cross. Because without Jesus, we are simply unable to enter what feels like an “abyss of further harm” and genuinely forgive.
The more I come to an understanding of the ugliness and utter depravity of my sin nature, the deeper appreciation I have for the forgiveness that is mine in Jesus. And the more primed I am to freely offer that grace to others!

“It is His forgiveness that is central to any movement to love after love has been trampled.”
- Dan Allender, Bold Love

Forgiveness is HARD. It certainly isn’t natural. And that's precisely the beauty of it – it offers us the opportunity to behold the supernatural, God's glory working in and through us.

8. Pray for them. In fact, ask God to bless them!
“But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”
(Matt. 5:44)

I don’t know about you, but I’ve heard those verses so many times that I can easily gloss over them. But it doesn’t take more than a moment or two for me to plug in practical applications to my relationships, and quickly realize that putting these into practice seems downright impossible! Bless those who curse me? Do good to those who hate me?

Once again, Jesus is calling us to do something that only He can do through us. And as John Piper once said,
“Faith looks to Christ, not self, not even the new self.”

With God, all things ARE possible. And in Christ, we can, in fact, do all things {yes, even seeking to bless those who are ugly to us!}. But only through Him who gives us strength.

I read a neat blog post recently about Job 42:10, which says,
“After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before.”

Lynn Cowell points out that God redeemed Job’s experience AFTER he prayed:
“After Job prayed. After Job had prayed for the very friends who ground his heart in the dirt during the most trying time of his life. After he had been accused time and time again of having a unrepentant heart. After he prayed for those who had offended him, the Lord gave.”

"Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse."
(Rom. 12:14)

9. Give thanks.
“In everything, give thanks.”
(1 Thessalonians 5:18)

Did you notice that it doesn’t say “for” everything? . . .
Last year, I heard a phenomenal message from my old pastor, Mark Willey, who shared Habakkuk’s choice between joyful surrender and bitter rebellion. And I was so taken back {in a wonderful way!} when he pointed out that “sorrow and grief are not incompatible with joy.” I felt as if the very reminder of the permission we have to experience sorrow and grief – gave my soul incredible cause for great rejoicing.

He explained that we can experience joy IN our suffering, as opposed to feeling like we need to thank God FOR our suffering. It’s a joy not only in what God will do through the adversity, but a joyful celebration of Who He is!
So does it sting when we hear messages that are so counter to Truth and Grace? Does it grieve us when we are falsely accused by close friends like Job was?
Sure it does!
Do we feel violated when our friends claim with their words to love us, and then like Judas, act as if they don’t?
But can we run to the Cross and discover an inexpressible joy because our Refuge cannot be shaken? Can we honestly give thanks amidst the pain and bleeding of our souls?
Yes, friends. I believe we can.
God's Word tells us we can!

“I know that you can do all things;
no purpose of yours can be thwarted.”
(Job 42:2)

10. Walk in freedom, not bondage. And let your words breathe life to others.

“You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
(John 8:32)

God freely offers us His grace, His mercy, His compassion, His freedom. But He never forces us to receive His gifts. The depths of our souls experience the fullness of His attributes – when we choose to receive them. Therefore, freedom from the bondage of an onslaught of pain and lies is oftentimes a simple choice, my friend.
A choice to run toward the Cross, instead of away from it.
A choice to embrace Truth, rather than let our minds be filled with toxic lies.
A choice to bring Him our pain, instead of attempt to bear what we were never intended to bear.
A choice to receive His comfort, rather than allow more walls to be built in our souls.
A choice to invite Him to humble us, even though our pride-filled flesh resists.
A choice to forgive, even when we don’t feel like it.
A choice to bless, even though we don’t think they deserve it.
A choice to give thanks, even when sorrow seems to overtake us.

These are the choices He offers us. Choices that can only be made as we behold Him, trust that He is who He says He is, trust that we are who He says we are in Christ, and surrender to Him in the moment-to-moments of life.

“So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.”
(Romans 8:6)

“If we are going to be treated unjustly, and even hurt unjustly for Christ’s sake, and yet bless our adversaries and pray for them, then our natural obsession with self-preoccupation and self-infatuation and self-exaltation must die. But that death will accomplish nothing by itself. It must be replaced by Christ-preoccupation and Christ-infatuation and Christ-exaltation. That’s what faith is: beholding and embracing the all-satisfying treasure of Christ.” John Piper (Feb, 2005 sermon)
Precious sojourner, in what area of your life do you need to ask the Lord to pour out His salve of Truth on your throbbing, wounded soul? . . . Draw near to Him, sweet soul. And you can count on Him to draw near to you.

~ ~ ~
Image courtesy of Boaz Crawford
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