A Ray of Hope on a Gloomy Day

Are you bummed out about something today? Perhaps the condition of your nation…your church…your health…your finances…your emotions…or your family? Then I think you’ll find hope and encouragement through the words of the prophet Jeremiah, sometimes called “the weeping prophet.”

As Jeremiah wept during the devastation of his beloved city, Jerusalem, his initial reaction was not to blame the Babylonian invaders for his agony. He blamed God, concluding that his nation’s afflictions had come “from the rod of God’s wrath” (Lamentations 3:1-20 TLB).

You have to admit, this was a logical conclusion. The Lord had promised to defend and protect His people if they walked in His ways. So the Babylonians weren’t actually the real problem—it was an issue between God and His people.

As Jeremiah witnessed the troubling events befalling his nation, he reasoned, “[God] has turned against me…and surrounded me with anguish and distress.” And he also was baffled by the fact that “though I cry and shout, he will not hear my prayers!”

Jeremiah was having a very bad day, and God didn’t seem to immediately come to his aid. Perhaps you can relate.

To make matters worse, Jeremiah felt “stuck,” unable to find any quick or easy solution to his pain: “He has walled me in; I cannot escape.” Perhaps you’ve wanted escape too. In frustration, you’ve been tempted to leave your country, your job, or your marriage. But escape is rarely the answer.

While Jeremiah knew that God promises freedom to His people when they trust and obey Him, he must have been horrified by the realization that “he has fastened me with heavy chains.” How traumatic!

But the chains of the Babylonians were not much different from the chains of debt we now find ourselves in as a nation. One estimate says that every baby born this year will immediately owe $250,000 as their share of the national debt. Chains of bondage, don’t you think?

Jeremiah probably once had a nice plan for his life, but now everything had changed. Instead of getting closer to his destination, just the opposite seemed true: “[God] has filled my path with detours.” Perhaps you’re one of the thousands of people who’ve had to defer your retirement plans because of “detours” in the economy. I can relate.

If you find yourself lamenting today, you no doubt feel a need for comrades who understand and sympathize. But Jeremiah wasn’t given this luxury. He felt very much alone, even rejected: “My own people laugh at me; all day long they sing their ribald songs.”

Hmmm…sounds like a cultural war is going on, doesn’t it? While Jeremiah lamented, the people around him laughed. Seemingly without a clue about the destruction they were facing, people mocked God’s prophetic message and chose to flaunt their worldly ways. Jeremiah must have faced opposition from leaders who, like some today, belittle godly people for “clinging to their guns and religion” instead of embracing cultural trends.

Recognizing peace and prosperity as two key pillars of every nation truly blessed by God, Jeremiah was disturbed to realize that both were slipping away: “All peace and all prosperity have long since gone, for you [God] have taken them away.”

As Jeremiah surveyed this dismal situation, he made another quite logical deduction: “The Lord has left me…All hope is gone.” Who could blame him for feeling melancholy, hopeless, and even bitter?

Fortunately, this wasn’t the end of the story. Jeremiah went on to describe how the Lord broke through the dark clouds of disillusionment and gave him a sudden ray of encouragement:

Yet there is one ray of hope: his compassion never ends.

It is only the Lord’s mercies that have kept us from complete destruction.

Great is his faithfulness; his loving‑kindness begins afresh each day.

My soul claims the Lord as my inheritance; therefore I will hope in him.

The Lord is wonderfully good to those who wait for him, to those who seek for him (Lamentations 3:21-25 TLB).

What an incredible change in Jeremiah’s perspective! Even in his gloomy place of lament, he saw an amazing ray of hope. From the pit of despair, he saw the Lord’s compassion and faithfulness. From an attitude of blaming God for his anguish, he ended up praising God and declaring His goodness.

So what about you? If you are experiencing a time of lament today—concerning your own life, your loved ones, your church, or your nation—may the Lord break through the clouds and give you a fresh glimpse of His faithfulness.

Like Jeremiah, the apostle John faced some frightening times when he wrote the book of Revelation. Yet everything changed when he saw “a throne in heaven and Someone sitting on it” (Revelation 4:1-2).

Praise God, He is still faithful and still sitting on the throne of the universe.

 

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Ponce de León’s Mistake

According to a popular legend, sixteenth-century Spanish explorer Ponce de León discovered Florida while searching for the Fountain of Youth . Many people are still looking for the Fountain of Youth in Florida today, but that’s not the subject of this blog.

Many explanations have been offered for what motivated this wild-goose chase. One historian speculated that the adventurous conquistador mistook the natives’ word “vid” (vine) for “vida” (life), which transformed their “fountain vine” into an imagined “fountain of life.”

In some ways, we probably should give Ponce de León kudos rather than ridicule. If you thought you could experience a Fountain of Youth, wouldn’t you do just about anything to find it?

But the folly of his pursuit was in thinking there’s some kind of external substance that can ensure never-ending youth and vitality. In contrast, Jesus told the woman at the well in Sychar, “The water that I shall give…will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14).

Do you see the difference here? Instead of providing us with a life-giving fountain to swim in, Jesus says the living water will be IN us, springing up into eternal life.

The beauty of the gospel is that it transforms us from the inside out. There’s no need to find an external fountain, whether in Florida or somewhere else. Instead, we can find this fountain anywhere you are. And rather than just being a Fountain of Youth, the fountain Jesus offers is a fountain of eternal life.

However, despite the availability of this amazing eternal transformation, many people today are still making the same mistake as Ponce de León. They’re trying to preserve their youthfulness through external remedies—things like money…sex…power…friends…fitness…and fun. But while the Lord may indeed give us such things, at best they provide only a very limited Fountain of Youth.

Meanwhile, God offers us something much better than outside-in solutions. The Bible describes how we can go from weakness to strength and weariness to renewal through the transforming power of the Spirit:

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The everlasting God, the Lord,
The Creator of the ends of the earth,
Neither faints nor is weary.
His understanding is unsearchable.

He gives power to the weak,
And to those who have no might He increases strength.
Even the youths shall faint and be weary,
And the young men shall utterly fall,
But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint
(Isaiah 40:28-31).

Youthfulness, like just about any other issue of life, is primarily a matter of your heart, not your skin. As King David discovered, one of the benefits of worshiping the Lord from your heart is that “your youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (Psalm 103:1-5).

So the choice is yours. Will you follow in the footsteps of Ponce de León and focus your attention on outward appearances? Or will you become radiantly renewed in the presence of the Lord, giving priority to the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God” (1 Peter 3:4)?

In Revelation 21:6 we’re given a glimpse of those who will drink of “the fountain of the water of life” at the end of time. Thirst  is their key trait, which is good news if you’re thirsty today. You don’t have to search the world for something to make you happy and keep you young. You just need to come into God’s presence and drink.

 

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6 Traits of Overcomers

Throughout history, the greatest heroes have been those who’ve had the greatest challenges to overcome. But isn’t it curious that while everyone wants to be an overcomer, we typically freak out when we’re actually given something to overcome?

That’s exactly what happened to Jesus’ disciples when suddenly confronted with “a furious squall” on the Sea of Galilee one day (Mark 4:35-41).

Perhaps you’re facing a storm of a different kind today. Not “a furious squall,” but rather a furious boss, spouse, child, or creditor. Or maybe you’re struggling against storm winds in your health or emotions.

The tempest on the Sea of Galilee that day was so fierce that the boat was “nearly swamped,” and the terrified disciples thought they were going to drown. Life’s storms are a lot like terrorists—popping up when we least expect and doing everything they can to engender fear in our heart.

However, this brief story contains six powerful lessons for how we can not only survive the storms of life, but even be better off because of them:

  1. Remember the promise. The story begins with Jesus saying, “Let us go over to the other side” (v. 35). If the disciples had been paying attention, they would have noticed Jesus’ resolve to bring them OVER, not to let them go UNDER! And I’m convinced He has the same plan for you He didn’t say you would drown on the way to your destination, He said would arrive there. So no matter how scary the storm may seem, you can be confident He will bring you safely to “the other side.”
  2. Leave the crowd behind. If you’re truly an overcomer, it’s unlikely you’ll also be Mr. or Ms. Popularity. In fact, verse 36 describes the disciples “leaving the crowd behind…” Why is that significant? Because a lot of people in “the crowd” aren’t on track to be overcomers. They’re content to live mediocre, uneventful lives. Rather than risk facing any storms on their journey to the other side of the lake, they would prefer to camp out safely in the harbor. But remember: You’ll never make a significant impact if you refuse to take risks and venture out into the deeper waters.
  3. Make sure you’re taking Jesus with you—on the INSIDE. This is so basic, but so easy to overlook. One day even His father and mother forgot to bring Jesus along with them (Luke 2:41-50). But here we’re told the “disciples took him along” (v. 36). If you’re going through a storm, it sure is good to have Jesus in the boat with you.

It’s fascinating that “there were also other boats with him” (v. 36). Jesus was only IN the one boat, but other boats were following along nearby. This is an apt depiction of people who attend church or other religious events in order to get in the vicinity of Christ, yet they’ve never really invited Him into their own boat. Until a storm hits, they probably feel safe enough with the status quo, but the storm reveals how dangerous it is to assume Jesus is in your boat, when He truly isn’t. When you’re going through rough waters, you don’t just want the Savior outside your boat—you need Him on the inside.

  1. Don’t doubt His love for you. Seeing Jesus asleep amid the storm, the disciples reacted the same way we would. Waking Him up, they questioned His love for them: “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” (v. 38) Their logic was flawed, but we’ve all wondered the same thing at times: “Lord, if You really loved us, You wouldn’t allow us to go through storms like this!” But as the old children’s song says, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Instead of doubting His love while we’re experiencing a storm, we should allow Him to show Himself strong and faithful in the storm.
  2. Be patient when you’re halfway across. When Jesus told you He would get you to the other side of the lake, He meant it. But being in transition is difficult, and sometimes the journey lasts a lot longer than we would like. At times it can even be tempting to go back to the shore we came from instead of forward  to the other side. Yet we must not lose heart when we’re halfway there.
  3. Stir up your faith. After Jesus calmed the storm, He asked His disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (v. 40) Although the disciples had to awaken Jesus in this story, that’s not really the message for us, for Jesus isn’t asleep today. Instead, it’s our faith in Him that must be awakened.

The prophet Isaiah cried out to God in despair: “There is no one who calls on Your name, who arouses himself to take hold of You (Isaiah 64:7). Isaiah’s observation holds a vital key for whatever breakthrough you may be seeking in your life today: You must “arouse yourself” to take hold of the Lord!

You see, storms can be our friend rather than our enemy, because they’re meant to cause us to awaken our faith. Rather than being a one-time proposition, this is something we must do on a regular basis. Paul told Timothy to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you” (2 Timothy 1:6). Other translations say we must “stir up” or “fan into flame” the gifts and callings of God in our lives.

God is calling us to be overcomers, not casualties or victims. When we apply these six lessons, life’s storms will always lift us higher.

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Dancing with the STAR

I’m a terrible dancer. And no, I’m not just being humble either. I really am a terrible dancer.

Recently a friend encouraged me to try some dance lessons to improve my skills, but I can’t imagine lessons doing me much good.

The first recollection of my woeful dancing was when I was 10 years old, singing and dancing in Kenley Players’ productions in Columbus, Ohio. Four thousand people a night would be on hand to watch me, Betty White, and others.

My acting was pretty good in those days. My singing was adequate. But my dancing…? Well, let’s just say I’m glad no YouTube videos are available.

Another traumatic experience happened when I was in my twenties and invited by friends to a large square dance where over 100 avid dancers were present. Although I never cared much for square dances, I thought it would be a good chance for some fun and fellowship.

When the dancing began, I was distressed to discover that those in my group were lousy square-dancers. There was always someone out of place, and things always degenerated into chaos by the middle of the song. This was even more frustrating because the other groups all seemed to be having a great time, and only my group was having problems.

Finally my opportunity came to change groups, and I eagerly did so. But to my dismay, the second group was also composed of inept people, and our dances again broke down. Yet I would look around and, sure enough, the other groups were doing just fine.

Before the night was over, I had been in four or five different groups, but for some reason I always ended up with people who couldn’t dance well! And it was baffling that all the other groups ran so smoothly.

Not until a few days later did I finally realize what had taken place: I had carried around the problems with me from group to group. While I assumed everyone else was causing the problems, I myself was the dysfunctional dancer!

So you can understand why I’m reluctant to resume my dance initiatives anytime soon.

Nevertheless, I’m intrigued by the amazing success of ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” TV show. For 10 years now, professional dancers have trained celebrities who have various levels of dancing experience and aptitude. The improvement is often astounding, not only for the celebrities who are athletes, but even for those who are complete klutzes.

So could there be hope for someone like ME, after all?

Meanwhile, I’ve recently been seeing how my relationship with the Lord is supposed to be like a dance. While believers often talk about “walking” with Christ, isn’t the Christian life meant to be more akin to dancing?

Rather than just plodding along in a straight line, we’re meant to hear heaven’s serenade and flow in the rhythm of an unseen world. Responding to our heavenly Bridegroom, we’re called upon to move, twirl, jump, spin, and bow, all in accord with the divine music we’re hearing.

Will we sometimes get the dance moves wrong? Yes! Will we often step on our Partner’s toes? Of course!

But we’ve been given a dance instructor who has perfect patience and grace. And since He’s the Star, we don’t need to be. We just need to pay attention and remain teachable. Sooner or later, we’ll get the moves right—if we don’t quit dancing.

So quit comparing yourself to the other dancers around you. Instead, listen for heaven’s song today and your Instructor’s tender words of affirmation, “May I have this dance?”

 

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5 Tips for Negotiating with Liars

I’m a Bible teacher, not a political commentator. However, it’s virtually impossible to write on a broad spectrum of Biblical topics without eventually having to comment on how they apply to the issues of our day.

British statesman Edmund Burke famously said, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” King Solomon, likewise, noted that people in all generations have tended to make the same dumb mistakes: History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new” (Ecclesiastes 1:9 NLT).

The Israelites made a costly mistake in Joshua 9, and we would do well to heed the lessons today. When Joshua led a military campaign to take possession of the Promised Land, a number of Canaanite kings banded together to fight him. But instead of joining in this head-on confrontation, the people of Gibeon “resorted in deception to save themselves” (v. 4).

LESSON #1: Recognize that the enemies you face head-on are usually much easier to defeat than the ones who deceive you.

The Gibeonites knew they would be routed by the Israelites in a head-to-head battle. So they sent ambassadors to negotiate a peace treaty with Joshua, all the while pretending to come from a distant land. And like all successful trickery, the Gibeonites provided evidence for their case:

…donkeys with weathered saddlebags and old, patched wineskins. They put on worn-out, patched sandals and ragged clothes. And the bread they took with them was dry and moldy (vs. 4-5).

Unfortunately, the Israelites hadn’t yet learned the “Trust, but verify” maxim later cited by Ronald Reagan. Nor did they have the benefit of the Internet to research the veracity and track record of their opponents.

LESSON #2: Beware of people who say all the right words.

Not only did the ambassadors from Gibeon acknowledge the greatness of the Lord, Israel’s God, but they also claimed to approach the negotiations with servant’s hearts:

We have heard of the might of the Lord your God and of all he did in Egypt…We are your servants; please make a treaty with us (vs. 9-11).

Pretty impressive words, right? The ambassadors from Gibeon sounded like they would be the perfect people to negotiate with.

But sometimes those who say nice things to our face are saying exactly the opposite behind our back. For example, today America is negotiating with leaders who chant “Death to Israel” and “Death to America” when they’re back home, addressing their own people.

LESSON #3: Make sure to consult God first, regardless of how attractive a “deal” may appear.

This third lesson points to Joshua’s most significant error:

“The Israelites…did not consult the Lord. Then Joshua made a peace treaty with them and guaranteed their safety, and the leaders of the community ratified their agreement with a binding oath” (v. 14-15).

Have you ever made an important decision without consulting the Lord? We all have at one time or another. We sized up the “facts” and thought our decision was a no-brainer. Only later did we find out we were the one without a brain, because we failed to inquire of the Lord before making the fateful commitment.

Joshua was an honorable man. Not only did he make a peace treaty with these deceitful folks, but it was a treaty he fully intended to keep. It even was ratified with “a binding oath.” Yet all this was done without a moment’s prayer for God’s direction.

LESSON #4: Don’t be too quick to declare your negotiations successful.

The Israelites soon discovered that the facts weren’t as they seemed. Three days after making the treaty, they learned that these people actually lived nearby!” (v. 16)

Don’t miss an important point here: It took three days for the Israelites to discover they had been tricked. For two days they were celebrating the great deal they had made!

Oh how history repeats itself. Remember how British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain gloated about his peace treaty with Hitler in 1938? Remember how Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger proclaimed “peace with honor” when pulling the United States out of Vietnam? And what about various administrations, both Republican and Democrat, that boasted of agreements with North Korea to stop its nuclear program?

LESSON #5: Avoid opting for short-term fixes that result in long-term problems.

Because of the oath the Israelites had made before God, they allowed the Gibeonites to live with them in the Promised Land. On one level, the deception had worked. The Israelites were people of their word, even in the face of brazen lies by the ambassadors of Gibeon.

Yet the treaty and its aftermath caused long-term dissension and distrust between the Israelites and their leaders: “The people of Israel grumbled against their leaders because of the treaty” (v. 18). Isn’t this interesting? The Israelite people recognized how foolish their leaders had been in making the misguided treaty. But by this time, it was too late to reverse course.

At the root of it all, the Gibeonite debacle was caused by the arrogance of Israel’s leaders. They thought they knew best. No need to consult the Lord. No need to check out the facts. No need to involve the rest of the Israelites in the decision.

I encourage you to read this chapter for yourself. You might even find a few additional lessons for our political leaders to heed in negotiating with today’s batch of liars.

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Beyond a Once-a-Year Easter

I’ve always struggled to get excited about special days—even great days of celebration like Easter. After all, shouldn’t the resurrection of Jesus be a constant reality in our lives, not just a once-a-year commemoration?

Because Jesus lives, we can have true life as well. We can have fellowship with Him NOW, without having to wait until we get to heaven.

But let’s face it: We don’t just need resurrection power once a year. Even worse, some believers apparently have only experienced the power of God once in their lifetime—the day they got saved! No wonder so many experience drab, unfulfilling Christian lives.

The good news is that Easter is meant to be an everyday, moment-by-moment experience:

If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you (Romans 8:11).

If you’ve given your life to Christ, His resurrection power lives in you—and you don’t have to wait until Easter comes again to get another dose!

Yet it’s heartbreaking that so many Christians are still trying to live FOR Christ, without realizing God’s plan for Christ to live His life THROUGH THEM! “It is no longer I who live,” Paul declared, “but Christ lives in me (Galatians 2:20). Anything less than this is empty religion and self-effort, destined to be fruitless in eyes of eternity (John 15:1-5).

In Second Corinthians, Paul speaks often about the trials he experienced and the lessons he learned: “We were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead (1:8-9).

When Easter is more than a once-a-year experience, we learn to lean on God’s resurrection power when times are tough. Yes, there may be times when we’re “burdened beyond measure” in our finances, health, emotions, relationships, or some other area of life. But that’s when we discover the all-sufficient grace and faithfulness of the God of resurrection—the “God who raises the dead.”

So go ahead and celebrate Christ’s resurrection power in your life this Easter—but keep right on celebrating every moment you live!

 

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A Nation Without Discrimination (Is That What We Really Want?)

Based on recent news reports and political talk shows, I’ve concluded that a growing number of Americans want us to be a nation without discrimination. While you probably think a discrimination-free country is a very good objective, you need to be careful what you wish for.

Let me explain…

According to dictionaries, to “discriminate” means to differentiate or make a distinction. So we can reframe my original question like this: Do you really want a country where no one can differentiate or make distinctions?

The entire Bible is a book of distinctions: God vs. Satan, light vs. darkness, good vs. evil, right vs. wrong, faith vs. unbelief, and so on. In fact, the very first test given to the human family was to discriminate between two trees, one that would lead to life and the other to death (Genesis 2:16-17). Failing to discriminate properly, Adam and Eve made the wrong choice, leading to disastrous consequences.

A nation without any discrimination would be a nation of anarchy. Nothing right. Nothing wrong. Everyone setting their own moral compass without fear of contradiction, because it’s politically incorrect, or even illegal, to say otherwise.

This problem can be illustrated by my annual eye and ear checkup a few months ago. While my senses are in pretty good shape for my age, I had to come to grips with my declining ability to discriminate. When they showed me the eye chart, I could see all the letters, of course. But when the letters were too small, I couldn’t differentiate between “M’s” and “N’s,” “C’s” and “G’s.”

The same thing happened when my ears were tested. I could hear all the sounds, but sometimes I couldn’t distinguish one from another.

You see, discrimination is a great thing when you’re using it properly. It’s terrible if you can’t differentiate between letters or between sounds.

Again, the Bible warns against blurring the lines when it comes to moral absolutes: What sorrow for those who say that evil is good and good is evil, that dark is light and light is dark, that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter” (Isaiah 5:20 NLT). Instead of bringing freedom and happiness, the result of this kind of nondiscrimination is sorrow and confusion.

None of us wants to be known as a critical, judgmental person (Matthew 7:1-5). However, a normal and extremely valuable part of life is the ability to distinguish between things bearing good fruit and things bearing evil fruit (Matthew 7:15-20).

When Discrimination Goes Wrong

Just as the Bible strongly warns that we must discriminate at times, it also makes it clear that we must NOT discriminate based on the wrong criteria.

For example, the apostle Paul writes, In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ” (Galatians 3:26-29 MSG). These were quite revolutionary words at the time! People were discriminating based on invalid distinctions, and Paul rebuked them for not recognizing their inherent equality in Christ.

Martin Luther King Jr. put this in perspective when he said people should be judged based on “the content of their character” rather than the color of their skin. So true. Nor should we judge people based on their gender, ethnicity, or income level.

But today many people have missed a vital component of King’s message. He didn’t say people shouldn’t be evaluated at all. Nor was this a “different strokes for different folks” kind of message.

MLK, in stark contrast to many pundits today, was proclaiming our right to evaluate, discriminate, and judge based on the content of people’s character and the fruit of their deeds. When we’re no longer able to do that, our nation will quickly descend into an abyss of chaos and moral relativism.

One More Thing

So I would argue that the Bible gives us every right to discriminate, if our discrimination is based on the right criteria. For example, since we’re told that “bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33 NIV), it’s necessary to have discernment about what “bad company” looks like.

Yet many well-meaning Bible-believers have left out an indispensable part of the equation. They excel at pointing out the bad behavior all around them, but they’ve forgotten another principle found throughout the Scriptures: “As we have opportunity, let us do good to ALL people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:10 NIV).

This means we have no license to be mean to those we disagree with! Quite the contrary, we are called to “do good” to EVERYONE, whenever we have an opportunity. This means showing them love and respect. It means serving them, even when we adamantly disagree with their beliefs or their lifestyle.

You don’t have to throw out your biblical beliefs or spiritual discernment in order to do this. It’s possible to walk in BOTH grace and truth, just as your Lord modeled so perfectly.

 

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Going Under the Knife

Several friends rebuked me last week when I posted a picture on Facebook of the bloody mass a surgeon removed from my back. Simply too gross and inappropriate, they said.

In my defense, I told them I posted the gory post-surgical picture while I was still heavily sedated. I had hoped all my Facebook friends would rejoice with me at how the fatty lymphoma was successfully removed. But, oh well…

Always looking for an illustration for my sermons and blogs, I learned some great lessons from my surgery. Even if you weren’t able to rejoice in my gory Facebook picture last week, I hope you’ll at least rejoice in some of the important spiritual principles I gleaned:

  1. God’s blessings come not only through what He gives us, but also through what He removes. Actually, the two things are often just reverse sides of the same coin. My daughter Molly was in town for my surgery, and she helped me upgrade my wardrobe. This involved two distinct steps: She helped me go through the clothes in my closet to get rid of stuff I no longer needed; and she also took me to the store to purchase some new items. Both steps were important and necessary. Why? Because you can’t keep adding things to your life unless you’re willing to get rid of some other things.
  2. Sometimes our surgery is long overdue. The fatty lymphoma first appeared on my back nearly 30 years ago, and I probably should have had it removed decades ago. But the lump seemed mostly asymptomatic until the past few years, and I was just too cheap to spend money on surgery. The turning point came when the lump started causing back spasms, and I couldn’t procrastinate any longer. The experience made me wonder whether there might be some other toxic or unproductive elements in my life that I’ve tolerated far too long.
  3. When the Master Surgeon gets out His knife, it’s not a good idea to protest or squirm. Resistance is futile, as the old saying goes. Squirming will just make the process longer and more painful. In the case of my surgery last week, the wise surgeon pumped me so full of Valium that I couldn’t help but be submissive.
  4. Often God’s remedies are bloody rather than pretty. Can you imagine if Facebook and Twitter existed when Jesus died on the cross? Calvary was one of the bloodiest scenes in human history, but it was the necessary remedy for our sins. Today most of us have attempted to “sanitize” the gospel, removing all the blood and gore. We’ve created a bloodless Christianity—which, of course, is no longer the true gospel at all. The fact is this: You and I couldn’t have been saved without the shedding of Jesus’ blood. In contrast, our crosses today are mere ornaments of silver and gold, free of the blood and gore of Golgotha. We wear the cross, but seldom bear the cross. So it’s no surprise there’s such little transformation in our lives or impact on a watching world.
  5. The knife demonstrates God’s love, not His necessarily His judgment. Remember the knife Abraham wielded as if to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac? (Genesis 22) The result was a new revelation of God as Jehovah-Jireh, our faithful Provider. And Jesus assures us in John 15:1-5 that His gardener’s knife is not designed to destroy us, but rather to enable us to be more fruitful.

Can you see why I’m so happy I went “under the knife” last week? Yes, there was some momentary pain, but God meant it all for good (Genesis 50:20, Romans 8:28).

In the same way, I’m convinced He has a great plan to bless you today—both through the things He ADDS to your life and through the things He REMOVES. Don’t miss His blessings when they come!

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