Thursday, April 25, 2013

Chronic Pain and the Weak Optimist

Acute pain often accompanies injury. Given enough time, acute becomes chronic. Sometimes, despite doctors and their treatments, defying nutrition and prayer, chronic pain persists.

… a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me … I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." … Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses …
~ 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (NKJV)

A familiar passage—yes? "My grace is sufficient" is oft quoted, a talisman to convey strength amid suffering. It's right up there with "God works all things for good to those who love Him" (Romans 8:28) and "the joy of the LORD is your strength" (Nehemiah 8:10).

… I take pleasure in infirmities …

But how often do you hear a Christian quoting that phrase?

[C'mon, Paul—are you for real? (And people say Jesus has some hard sayings …)]

~ ~ ~

My default setting is optimist. When inconvenience strikes (like the dead car battery this morning), I try to remind myself that my time belongs to God (and then give Him thanks for car #2 while trusting Him for how to push a full sized van out of the garage to jump start it later). When something is damaged (like water ruining the basement carpet), I remind myself that it all belongs to God (and then rejoice at His gift of new indoor/outdoor carpet at a ridiculously low price). I consistently maintain a "can do" spirit when plans go awry (usually because I forgot to put something on the calendar and either I or our household's vehicles are double booked).

As a parent, I regularly look for the affirmative way to state directions rather than give a negative prohibition. "HEY! Finish your school work and then you can go outside" instead of "don't run in the house." "PLEASE speak kindly!" rather than "don't talk to your sibling that way." "Take a break from your chore so you can get some time by yourself for a little bit" seems more constructive than "your attitude stinks."

But Paul, through God's Word, pushes me toward a place the optimist has absolutely no desire to visit—a place where optimism wanes.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
~ 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NKJV)

Looking at this passage, I find comfort seeing "in" rather than "for" preceding "everything." There's sufficient struggle in thanking God for whatever good persists in the "everything" rather than for the everything that includes suffering. I readily confess that I'm not quite at the place where I "take pleasure" in a visit from Infirmities et al.

When speaking of that satanic messenger, the translators of 2 Corinthians 12:7 (above) take a little liberty in translating the Greek kolaphízō as "buffet." Surely they're simply trying to convey the buffeting implied by a strong wind. Perhaps the more literal meaning of "a blow, to strike with the fist" seems a little too physical when speaking of warfare that's spiritual.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
~ Ephesians 6:12 (NKJV)

(If you picture a wrestling match, it's about as physical as physical gets.)

We do not wrestle against flesh and blood …

(True enemies are not human, no matter what any human may be responsible for.)

We do not wrestle against flesh and blood …

(But we do wrestle while occupying flesh and blood that experiences chronic pain.)

~ ~ ~

This optimist occupies a human body that just three years ago felt like 25 (see "How Old?"), which has since then taken a … (ahem) "buffeting" [trying not to roll my eyes here]. The optimist makes jokes and laughs about the warranty running out when you turn 50.

Then I stop laughing and look for something deeper. I look for the strength found not in a 25-year old body, nor in a body that feels like 25—strength found only in weakness.

Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
~ 2 Corinthians 12:10 (NKJV)

I ask God to renew the joy of my salvation (Psalm 51:12). And I reach for the joy of YHWH that transcends chronic pain and makes me stronger than I've ever been before.

"Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength."
~ Nehemiah 8:10 (NKJV)

Comments are welcome (including respectful disagreement) and will receive a reply.
You may also contact author via Twitter – @anne4JC
or e-mail – use *after* buildingHisbody
Copyright 2013, Anne Lang Bundy, all rights reserved.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Epic Failure

One of the most beloved Bible stories for people of all ages is Daniel in the Lion's Den. We are inspired by the great faithfulness Daniel showed to prayer and to God, and by God's response of deliverance by sending an angel to be with Daniel.

Often overlooked is the other key player in the story—King Darius. The sixth chapter of Daniel contains his example as a biblical outline for resolution of epic failure.

1. Snare

So these governors and satraps thronged before the king: "King Darius, live forever! … establish a royal statute and to make a firm decree, that whoever petitions any god or man for thirty days, except you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions." … Therefore King Darius signed the written decree. (v. 6-7, 9)

Fear or lust can be the snare that sets us up for an epic failure. But they are rooted in what is surely the number one reason we fail: pride.

2. Disaster

"That Daniel, who is one of the captives from Judah, does not show due regard for you, O king, or for the decree that you have signed, but makes his petition [to his God] three times a day." (v. 13)

Do we ever see them coming—the consequences of those failures that rise to being called "epic"?

3. Acceptance of Responsibility

And the king, when he heard these words, was greatly displeased with himself … (v. 14)

When faced with epic failure, our first temptation may be to deflect blame. Accepting appropriate responsibility and repenting of the sinful action that set up the disaster isn't just the right thing to do. It also puts us in the best position to seek solution.

4. Immediate Remedy

… and set his heart on Daniel to deliver him; and he labored till the going down of the sun to deliver him. (v. 14)

Our failures affect those around us. Honest repentance will immediately look for a way to remedy the injury we've done to another.

5. Adherence to Righteousness

"Know, O king, that it is the law of the Medes and Persians that no decree or statute which the king establishes may be changed." So the king gave the command, and they brought Daniel and cast him into the den of lions. (v. 15-16)

The temptation may arise to obtain remedy by any means possible. We may rationalize that a new sin remedies the greater evil of the first. To plot the course away from sin and all its evil consequences, we must adhere to paths of righteousness.

6. Release to God in Faith

But the king spoke, saying to Daniel, "Your God, whom you serve continually, He will deliver you." (v. 16)

Whatever remedy we are able to effect, we are completely inadequate to restore the damage that results from sin. But we serve the Lord YHWH, our Deliverer from death and sin. We can turn to Him for remedy and restoration of anything.

7. Persistence in Prayer

Now the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting; and no musicians were brought before him. Also his sleep went from him. (v. 18)

Perhaps King Darius did not spend the night praying. And our prayers need not include fasting from food and sleep. But when we are desperate, emptying ourselves is one way of inviting God to step into a situation in a much bigger way than He might otherwise.

8. Expectation for Good Outcome

And when he came to the den, he cried out with a lamenting voice … "Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?" (v. 20)

God works all for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28), even their own failures. No matter how "epic" our failure, God's ability to effect good through it is greater yet.

9. Action to Prevent Future Failure

And the king gave the command, and they brought those men who had accused Daniel, and they cast them into the den of lions … (v. 24)

King Darius held the position to rightly execute those who conspired to use him in the effort to murder Daniel. We should be as ruthless in rooting out of our lives all evil that leads to sin.

10. Glory to God

Then King Darius wrote:
To all peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth:
Peace be multiplied to you. I make a decree that in every dominion of my kingdom men must tremble and fear before the God of Daniel.
For He is the living God,
And steadfast forever;
His kingdom is the one which shall not be destroyed,
And His dominion shall endure to the end.
He delivers and rescues,
And He works signs and wonders In heaven and on earth,
Who has delivered Daniel from the power of the lions. (v. 25-27)

May we never fail to give thanks and glory to our Lord, Deliverer from epic failure!

~ ~ ~

"And some of those of understanding shall fall, to refine them, purify them, and make them white, until the time of the end."
~ Daniel 11:35 (NKJV)

Comments are welcome (including respectful disagreement) and will receive a reply.
You may also contact author via Twitter – @anne4JC
or e-mail – use *after* buildingHisbody
Copyright 2013, Anne Lang Bundy, all rights reserved.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Call from Jesus

Every Christian has heard the call from Jesus. His call comes not just once, but is heard each time the Lord asks us for a deeper commitment.

I. "Follow Me"

The following day Jesus wanted to go to Galilee, and He found Philip and said to him, "Follow Me." (John 1:43, NKJV)

Followers of Jesus might be likened to the followers we collect on blogs and Twitter. Jesus crosses our path and captures our attention, asking us to follow and listen to what He shares. He is interesting and comforting and challenging to hear. Some followers hang on His every word. Other followers accept Jesus' words only until deemed inconvenient or offensive, at which point they either fade from His scene or un-follow Him outright.

From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more. (From John 6:60-66, NKJV)

II. "Be My Disciple"

"It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master." (Matthew 10:25, NKJV)

If the follower tags along long enough, and decides that the challenge of following Jesus is a small price for His life-giving words, a new call from Jesus is heard: "Be like Me; be My disciple." The way to be like Jesus is to be yoked with Him (Matthew 11:28-30), increasingly know Him, and rely on His strength to sustain us in what will prove to be a difficult journey.

"If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own.… Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' " (John 15:18-20, NKJV)

III. "Go"

He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles. (Luke 6:13, NKJV)

And He called the twelve to Himself, and began to send them out two by two, and gave them power … (Mark 6:7, NKJV)

After these things the Lord appointed seventy others also, and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go. (Luke 10:1, NKJV)

Once disciples have been adequately prepared, Jesus sends them ahead of Himself as His ambassadors (Greek apostolos, meaning "sent"). As is true of government ambassadors, Jesus' sent ones are diplomatic messengers, teachers, or ministers representing the interests of Another rather than of themselves. Occasionally referred to as an "apostle," Jesus' ambassadors may be employed in full time ministry or minister at their own expense. While they may carry the authority of a pastor or elder—(and such authority is always as leader and example, not as lord or ruler [1 Peter 5:3])—most of the ambassadors sent by Jesus to others hold no status or title whatsoever. Some are sent far and wide, but many are sent no farther than their own backyards; all are sent in fulfillment of the great commission:

"All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations …" (Matthew 28:18-20 NKJV)

IV. "Come"

"Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me." (Mark 8:34, NKJV)

Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. (2 Timothy 3:12 NKJV)

The final call of Jesus is evocative of His first call, "Come, follow Me." If we follow Jesus long enough, we follow Him into death. Yes, every single Christian is daily called to be a "living sacrifice" (Romans 12:1), "crucified with Christ" (Galatians 2.20). But there is yet another "come after Me" in the call to martyrdom.

Though martyrdom is occasionally prominent and heroic, private persecution is more commonplace. Any Christian may face a day when, in His perfect will and timing, Jesus issues the call to come after Him and suffer in testimony to faith. The only witnesses may be tormentor and angels. Death may be of status, employment, or relationship rather than of life.

In answering the call to glorify God through whatever death accompanies persecution, we not only receive cause to rejoice that we are "counted worthy to suffer to suffer for the name of Jesus" (Acts 5:41), but also come to know a fellowship with Jesus found only in suffering (Philippians 3:10).

"When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die."
~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer

No matter our present place in life, no matter the call from Jesus, we need not fear. We are promised that Jesus only calls us to do what He also enables (2 Corinthians 3:5). We have confidence that the call to suffer is faced not in our own power but with divine power (Mark 13:11-13).

We have confidence that we are never alone.

"And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:20 NKJV)

(The four point outline of this post was presented by a guest preacher whom I heard several years ago. I apologize to him and to you that I failed to note his name. Exposition on the outline is mine.)

Comments are welcome (including respectful disagreement) and will receive a reply.
You may also contact author via Twitter – @anne4JC
or e-mail – use *after* buildingHisbody
Copyright 2013, Anne Lang Bundy, all rights reserved.