Chronic Pain & Deeper Healing

I dealt with considerable pain from my tongue cancer and its treatment back in 2005. But it doesn’t compare with my experience these days enduring a pathological fracture of the jaw. Pain which never lets up brings a whole new series of challenges to redeeming suffering as a follower of Jesus.

Knowing I would have hours of windshield time to and from Miami last week for the consult with the surgeon there, I did a search online the day before I left. I wanted to download some resources/messages on the subject of pain. The Lord reminded me of Joni Eareckson Tada along the way. If anyone would have words of wisdom about dealing with chronic pain, she most certainly would. I had no idea just how right that impression from the Lord would prove to be.

Of the half-a-dozen or so talks to which I listened on the road last Monday and Tuesday, this one struck home with the most Holy Spirit force. Nancy and I just finished watching it together prior to my writing this post. Whether your story involves protracted suffering or not, I cannot commend more strongly this teaching from a woman who testifies authentically with the poet, “My suffering was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your decrees” (Psalm 119:71, NLT).

Please, I plead with you, do your soul a mega-good. As soon as you possibly can, invest the mere thirty minutes it will take to view Joni’s message. My prayer is that every one of our covenant members at Orlando Grace would do so. Beyond that, of course, all the better.

A Dead Guy’s Take on Idol Smashing

expulsive powerIn our Resolving Everyday Conflict class last Sunday, the video lesson made mention of a helpful resource for ridding ourselves of the idols that often lie at the root of our conflicts.

I promised I would post a link to the sermon manuscript by Thomas Chalmers entitled “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.” A bit long and dense, perhaps requiring more than one reading, it is well worth the time and effort.

Here is how Amazon summarizes the treatise:

Dr. Chalmers states that “It is seldom that any of our tastes are made to disappear by a mere process of natural extinction,” and “the heart must have something to cling to—and never, by its own voluntary consent, will it so denude itself of all its attachments.” Therefore the superior affection for God through the free Gospel of Christ is necessary to displace worldly affections. This sermon, written by one of the foremost minds of his day, has become seminal for modern thought.

Check it out and happy idol smashing.

Toughest School Ever (6)

No more posts on contentment.  With this I stop blogging on this virtue. The pain in the testing on the subject is more than I am willing to bear. Do I sound melodramatic?

I have always said, “Be careful what you preach on.” I have never preached a sermon series on spiritual warfare in part for fear of what hell Satan might unleash for my daring to mount an offensive so obviously aimed at his territory. Of course, if I live long enough to preach expositionally through the book of Ephesians, I will have no choice but to face the this-present-darkness music.

In my last post on the rare jewel of Christian contentment, I mentioned that part of what makes this particular school so tough is the mystery involved in it. Paul speaks in Philippians 4:12 of learning the secret of contentment. Furthermore I suggested that two reasons exist why genuine contentment in this life eludes some due to the mystery in it.

The second simply is this: genuine contentment relies on the strength of Another far superior to oneself for its existence. By far the most important verse in the treatise on contentment from Paul in Philippians 4 is v. 13. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

As much as I admire Tim Tebow and his love for Jesus, his eye-black version of this verse has nothing to do with running for first downs in third-and-long situations or passing for touchdowns in the overtime of playoff games. It has everything to do with trusting Jesus for strength in both plenty and want, abundance and need.

Once again, Jeremiah Burroughs delivers:

THERE IS STILL A FURTHER MYSTERY, for I hope you will find this a very useful point and that before we have finished you will see how simple it is for one who is skilled in religion to get contentment, though it is hard for one who is carnal. I say, the eleventh mystery in contentment is this: A gracious heart has contentment by getting strength from Jesus Christ; he is able to bear his burden by getting strength from someone else. Now this is a riddle, and it would be counted ridiculous in the schools of the philosophers, to say, If there is a burden on you you must get strength form someone else. Indeed if you must have another come and stand under the burden, they could understand that; but that you should be strengthened by the strength of someone else, who is not near you as far as you can see, they would think ridiculous. But a Christian finds satisfaction in every circumstance by getting strength from another, by going out of himself to Jesus Christ, by his faith acting upon Christ, and bringing the strength of Jesus Christ into his own soul, he is thereby enabled to bear whatever God lays on him, by the strength that he finds from Jesus Christ. Of his fullness do we receive grace for grace; there is strength in Christ not only to sanctify and save us, but strength to support us under all our burdens and afflictions, and Christ expects that when we are under any burden, we should act our faith upon him to draw virtue and strength from him. Faith is the great grace that is to be acted under afflictions. It is true that other graces should be acted, but the grace of faith draws strength from Christ, in looking on him who has the fullness of all strength conveyed into the hearts of all believers.

Whether you find yourself in a season with sun shining down on you or walking in a desert place, I can tell you this: the secret of contentment and strength to endure lies in one Person and one person only.

Be strong in the Lord and the strength of His might (Ephesians 6:10).

Toughest School Ever (2)

In my first post on the virtue of content, I likened it to schooling that takes place over one’s lifetime under the providence of God.

In this post and those to come, I wish to continue working the same metaphor describing various aspects of the curriculum from the Scriptures.

The place to begin, I believe, is with the nature of this discipline as a compulsory subject. Anyone who has done any higher education grasps the difference between required courses and electives. I loved electives in college. I got to pick and choose what I liked. Motivation wasn’t an issue. When it came to the required stuff, I had no choice. I either took the class or faced dropping out.

Certain texts make it clear that we can’t do an end-around on the school of contentment. Hebrews 13:5 says, “Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have.” There’s no denying it. God commands that we stay clear of the desire for more stuff and find satisfaction in whatever He has given us, big or small, or in between.

Then we have Paul’s words in First Timothy 6:8. “But if we have food and clothing, with these will be content.”  Really? Talk about setting the bar low when it comes to your possessions. He doesn’t even include shelter in his short list. Grub in the belly and clothes on the back. Enough for me. Satisfied. No problemo. Yikes!

But here’s the kicker in that same context. If you back up to verse 6 you read this: “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” You can’t miss the duty in v. 8, nor back in Heb. 13:5. We have an obligation to pursue contentment. It’s a gospel necessity. We can’t skip this course. We can’t clep out of it. We’ve got to take the class, if we belong to King Jesus.

But don’t miss the glory of it, as my new-found friend Jeremiah Burroughs would say. For that we go back to First Timothy 6:6 where Paul touches on what makes for great gain. Anybody NOT interested in great gain? I didn’t think so.

He doesn’t say that godliness in-and-of-itself amounts to great gain; he contends that godliness with contentment is great gain. Here’s how I read that. Without contentment, whatever gain belongs to godliness isn’t as great as it is with contentment. As for me and my house, not settling for less than great gain!

Of course, all this begs the question “What is contentment?” I can’t improve on the old Puritan’s definition. I’ll end with it:

Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.”

Have you enrolled? The course is not optional for followers of Jesus. It is decidedly compulsory.

Submit to the duty, but go for the glory.

Toughest School Ever

I don’t make a big deal out of it, but I have three earned degrees. I like to say I am officially educated beyond my intelligence. My bachelors at UCF in Liberal Studies didn’t really demand that much of me. The M. Div. at seminary put me through a great deal more pain, especially on certain subjects. The D. Min. at RTS focused on such a practical curriculum that I can’t really say that I found its challenges all that great. The one exception to that came in the form of writing my dissertation. I thought I would never finish that monster.

By far, the toughest school in which I ever enrolled, and in which I continue to matriculate quite honestly, is the school of contentment. I call it a school because of the way Paul writes about this virtue in Philippians 4:10-13.

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Paul wrote from prison. They did things differently back then. Jailers didn’t feed their inmates. Prisoners depended upon outside help for provision. The Philippian church so loved Paul that they sent a gift to him. He responded with this letter, including something of a thank you note at the end.

Quite obviously they pleased him. Their gift caused him to rejoice greatly in God. He commended them for their gospel grace of generosity. But not so fast. Lest they get the wrong impression, he made haste to point out a surprising absence of need in what to most readers most certainly would have seemed quite the opposite. He categorically denied anything of the like.

And with that he spun off into a testimony of his own enrollment with Christ in the school of contentment. Again, I call it a school because of the repetitive terminology Paul uses. “I have learned.” “I know.” The language suggests a process of instruction over time in the school of God’s providence that brought Paul to an enviable state of contentment he enjoyed regardless of his circumstances, including a dungeon!

In subsequent posts I hope to share insights from the text, as well as other Scriptures about the nature of this most rigorous school of contentment. But let me close with this analogy and insight from Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs (1599-1646) from his classic The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment:

When the yoke is first put upon a heifer and it wriggles up and down and will not be quiet, if after many months or years it will not draw quietly, the husbandman would rather fatten it and prepare it for the butcher than be troubled any longer with it. “Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby” (Heb 12:11). It is true: our afflictions are not joyous, but grievous. Though it is very grievous when our affliction first comes, afterwards it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness. When you have been a long time in the school of afflictions, you are a very dullard if you have not learned this contentment. “I have learned,”said Paul, “in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Phi 4:11). Paul had learned this lesson quickly, [but] you have been learning many years! A new cart may creak and make a noise; but after it has been used a while, it will not do so. So when you are first a Christian, perhaps you make a noise and cannot bear affliction; but are you an old Christian and yet will you be a murmuring Christian? Oh, it is a shame for any who have been a long time in the school of Jesus Christ to have murmuring spirits.
This particular heifer feels that shame more than he cares to admit after 40 plus years in the the school of contentment but still struggling with a murmuring spirit. Oh for grace to learn better the secret of contentment. More on that to come in the reflections on my toughest school ever.
After all, who wants to be dullard, whatever that means.

What's On Your Heart?

Or should I say, “What’s in your chest pocket?”

If you heard last Sunday’s message, you get the picture. I’m talking about meditation as a means of treasuring up the Word of God on our hearts. If you missed the message, you can listen to the audio here.

By way of reminder, I wanted to put two things from the message in this post.

The first is Don Whitney’s definition of and helpful analogy about meditation:

Let’s define meditation as deep thinking on the truths and spiritual realities revealed in Scripture for the purposes of understanding, application, and prayer. Meditation goes beyond hearing, reading, studying, and even memorizing God’s Word. A simple analogy would be a cup of tea. You are the cup of hot water and the intake of Scripture is represented by the tea bag. Hearing God’s Word is like one dip of the tea bag into the cup. Some of the tea’s flavor is absorbed by the water, but not as much as would occur with a more thorough soaking of the bag. In this analogy, reading, studying, and memorizing God’s Word are represented by additional plunges of the tea bag into the cup. The more frequently the tea enters the water, the more effect it has. Meditation, however, is like immersing the bag completely and letting it steep until all the rich tea flavor has been extracted and the hot water is thoroughly tinctured reddish brown (Spiritual Disciplines For The Christian Life, Colorado Springs: Navpress, 1991, 44).

The second is my eight-step plan for doing meditation:

1 M MAKE a text selection by reading Scripture.
2 E EXAMINE a text’s details by questioning Scripture.
3 D DETERMINE a text’s meaning by studying
Scripture.
4 I INTERNALIZE a text’s content by memorizing
Scripture.                             Psalm 119:97
5 T TAILOR a text’s content by personalizing Scripture.
6 A AMPLIFY a text’s ideas by paraphrasing Scripture.
7 T TAP a text’s power by praying Scripture.
8 E EMBRACE a text’s impact by applying Scripture.

May the Lord help us store up His word in our chest pockets for the storming of our doubting castles and the slaying of our giant despairs.

Why Does God Delay to Answer Prayer?

Why does God delay to answer prayer?

Consider these thoughts by the Puritan Thomas Watson in his book The Body of Divinity.

  1. Because he loves to hear the voice of prayer. ‘The prayer of the upright is his delight.’ Prov 15: 8. You let the musician play a great while ere you throw him down money, because you love to hear his music. Cant 2: 14.
  2. God may delay prayer when he will not deny it, that he may humble us. He has spoken to us long in his word to leave our sins, but we would not hear him; therefore he lets us speak to him in prayer and seems not to hear us.
  3. He may delay to answer prayer when he will not deny it, because he sees we are not yet fit for the mercy we ask. Perhaps we pray for deliverance when we are not fit for it; our scum is not yet boiled away. We would have God swift to deliver, and we are slow to repent.
  4. God may delay to answer prayer, that the mercy we pray for may be more prized, and may be sweeter when it comes. The longer the merchant’s ships stay abroad, the more he rejoices when they come home laden with spices and jewels; therefore be not discouraged, but follow God with prayer. Though God delays, he will not deny. Prayer vincit invincibilem [conquers the invincible], it overcomes the Omnipotent. Hos 12: 4. The Syrians tied their god Hercules fast with a golden chain, that he should not remove. The Lord was held by Moses’ prayer as with a golden chain. ‘Let me alone;’ why, what did Moses? he only prayed. Exod 32:10- 11. Prayer ushers in mercy. Be thy case never so sad, if thou canst but pray thou needest not fear. Psa 10: 17. Therefore give thyself to prayer.

Dear ones. Don’t give up. Persevere in prayer.

Fit Receivers of the Sacrament

Puritan Richard Sibbes, in his book Glorious Freedom, offers excellent counsel for approaching the Lord’s Table in a worthy manner.

The entire book constitutes his exposition of 2 Corinthians 3:18, a most important New Testament text on the doctrine of sanctification.

I commend this to you in preparation for our Good Friday observances in growth groups this week or for any Communion observance for that matter.

Now that we are to receive the sacrament, think of the sacraments as glasses in which we see the glory of the love and mercy of God in Christ. If we consider the bread alone, and not as representing better things, what is it? And the wine alone, as it does not represent better things, what is it but an ordinary poor thing? Oh, but take them as glasses, as things that convey to the soul and represent things more excellent than themselves, and they are glorious ordinances. Take a glass as a glass, it is a poor thing; but take the glasses as they represent more excellent things than themselves, and they are of excellent use. Bread and wine must not be taken as naked elements, but as they represent and convey something more excellent: that is, Christ and all his benefits, the love and mercy and grace of God in Christ.

Therefore I beseech you now, when you are to receive the sacrament, let your minds be more occupied than your senses. When you take the bread, think of the body of Christ broken; and when you think of uniting the bread into one substance, think of Christ and you made one. When the wine is poured out, think of the blood of Christ poured out for sin. When you think of the refreshing by the wine, think of the refreshing of your spirits and souls by the love of God in Christ, and of the love of Christ that did not spare his blood for your soul’s good. How Christ crucified and his shedding of blood refreshes the guilty soul, as wine refreshes the weak spirits! So consider the sacraments as glasses in which better things be are presented, and let your minds as well as your senses be occupied, and then you shall be fit receivers.

Good counsel. Holy Table. Great Savior.

By the Grace of God I Am What I Am

One of the great liberating texts of Scripture in my life comes from 1 Corinthians 15:10.

By the grace of God I am what I am.

In spite of Paul’s horrific resume as a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent (1 Tim. 1:13), he counted himself among those who witnessed the resurrected Christ first-hand and became the hardest working apostle of all. And he attributed it all to grace and nothing but grace.

John Bunyan, author of the classic Pilgrim’s Progress, offered this response on an occasion of hearing this verse of divine writ:

I am not what I ought to be. Ah, how imperfect and deficient!

I am not what I wish to be. I abhor what is evil, and I would cleave to what is good!

I am not what I hope to be. Soon, soon shall I put off mortality, and with mortality all sin and imperfection.

Yet, though I am not what I ought to be,
nor what I wish to be,
nor what I hope to be,
I can truly say, I am not what I once was;
a slave to sin and Satan;
and I can heartily join with the apostle, and acknowledge,
‘By the grace of God I am what I am.’

Though none of us is what we ought, wish, or hope to be, and won’t be until we reach glory, truth is we aren’t what we once were.

May we heartily join with the apostle and declare, By the grace of God I am what I am.