31 Days with the Savior: Revealed

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Gentle Reader,

Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’

Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.'” – John 9:1-3 (NKJV)

I know I’ve referenced this passage more than once on this blog. I can’t help it. This is one of my favorite moments with Jesus. He speaks so many volumes about illness and suffering in one sentence.

Yes, there are things that we do to ourselves that cause us to get sick. That’s why Paul’s words are important: “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be enslaved by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12). We shouldn’t over- or under-eat. We shouldn’t drink excessively. We shouldn’t smoke. We shouldn’t do drugs. We shouldn’t be couch-potatoes. We shouldn’t be controlled by anything other than the Spirit.

Here’s the deal, though: A whole lot of illnesses, physical and mental, just happen. Same thing with deformities. Neither my parents nor I did anything to cause me to be born with partial blindness. It just happened. Part of living in a broken world. I didn’t do anything to cause the problems in my liver. They just happened.

Those who suffer have two options: get bitter or get better. It’s easy to get bitter. It’s easy to spit in God’s face and refuse to see Him at work. But how much greater is it to get better? No, we’re not talking literally, because that doesn’t always happen. Yet illness and suffering can shape us into better people. We can learn to see God. We can allow Him to reveal Himself in, around and through us.

My journey to faith. (15)

For all entries in the Jesus: 31 Days with the Savior series, go here.

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The Detox Diaries: Joy is Strength

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Gentle Reader,

Yesterday I wrote about hands. Today I write about joy.

This is no coincidence.

I cannot tell you off the top of my head what the dictionary definition of the word joy is, and I won’t be looking it up. Instead, I offer up my own definition, one that I cobbled together a few years ago in the midst of a very dark time:

Joy is the ability to look past the darkness and into the Light. Joy searches beyond the moment and looks for Eternity. Joy is the action of shifting our eyes away from the situation and gazing into the face of Christ.

I’m sure that this isn’t precise and it’s probably not 100% theologically accurate, either. But it makes sense to me. The writer of Hebrews seems to have the same stance:

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. – 12:1-2 (NKJV, emphasis mine)

The joy wasn’t found in the agony of the Cross. The joy was beyond the Cross, in the results found in the aftermath. Jesus looked beyond the excruciating pain of the moment and down the halls of forever, into the face of each person who would choose Him because He chose them. We are His joy.

Joy is anticipation. It is the willingness to endure suffering because of the promise of something greater, something better. It looks for the ways God blesses each day, even the smallest.

That is why joy is strength.

As the Lord works in my life, pruning and shaping so that I might become fruitful and healthy, there is a good deal of pain. Physical pain found in illness. Emotional pain found in the consequences and implications of that illness. Mental pain in grappling with new and changing information.

But I have joy.

For really reals.

There hasn’t been a day in the last month when I haven’t found something to smile about, even if it’s a tiny thing like watching the breeze ripple through the branches of the tree in my front yard. There are reminders all around me of the goodness and faithfulness of God. Every time I want to give up, He plops an “I love you” right into my lap. A word from a friend. A Bible verse or twelve. The sound of the birds chirping in the early morning. The softness of doggy fur. MercyMe’s new album.

Every time I fear being swallowed by the darkness, His light pierces and clears the cloudiness.

This joy? It is a gift.

It is also a choice.

I am a pessimist. Straight up, glass cracked and empty. Given the opportunity, I will find the negative. When this whole detoxing thing started, I knew, without doubt, that I was going to have to force myself to take the opposite tack. Trade in the pessimism for optimism. Not denial, mind you. A correct perspective, rather.

This holy gift of joy isn’t something that God will force me to take, much like anything else He offers. I have to unwrap it. He will take 99.9% of the steps, but requires me to move that final millimeter. He won’t make me search for the better in the beyond. I have to turn my mind to Him and ask for the eyes to do the searching.

Ultimately, joy is all about perspective.

There is no denying pain. We’re idiotic when we do that. To go through the pain with the knowledge that God is there and He is going to make it all good? To look for all the ways in which He smooths the winding, uphill, cliff-hugging path? That’s strength. Weakness gives up. Strength keeps going.

Joy fuels the strength that pushes us one more step. One more day.

My journey to faith. (15)

To read all the posts in The Detox Diaries series, go here.

This post also appeared on the Far East Broadcasting Company Gospel Blog on June 24, 2014.

The Detox Diaries, Five Minute Friday Edition: Hands

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Gentle Reader,

It’s Friday (kind of)! We link up with Lisa-Jo (but this week Tonya is guest-posting and it’s awesome)! We write about: hands.

Go. 

The Lord doesn’t speak to me in an audible voice. There are no burning bushes. No directions to build an ark. His voice is quiet. It is an impression on my soul. Yet it is authoritative. He says something, I respond. I have to. I’ve learned the hard way that ignoring Him leads to no good end.

Last night, as I was on the verge of breaking down, I opened my journal and began to pour out all my confused, twisted, rambling thoughts and feelings. I was ready to sob. Ready to scream.

Ready to cave in and give up.

“John Fifteen.”

Two words.

I flipped open my Bible and read:

I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.

I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. – vs. 1-8 (NKJV)

God the Gardener. God the Tender of Tender Flowers.

In His hands, He holds the shears. He knows when and where to cut. He knows what needs to be gotten rid of and what needs to be delicately cut back so that it will produce more. Abundantly more. Flowers weeping rich fragrance. Fruit full of juicy goodness.

His hands, His beautiful, nail-scarred hands, hold each green, pulsing stalk. He considers them. He looks them over. And He cuts. Precisely. Significantly.

Never to dampen the plant. Never to break its spirit.

To make it grow.

Stop.

Pruning hurts. I won’t tell you that it doesn’t. But knowing that God, the Creator of all things, knows the plan backwards, forwards and inside out; that He knows exactly what to throw away and what to cherish; that He works within, around and through me to make me into exactly the person I am supposed to be…that gives me comfort.

My journey to faith. (15)

To read all the posts in The Detox Diaries series, go here.