Enduring Hardships with Strength

bruce lee 2

https://motivationgrid.com/11-powerful-bruce-lee-quotes-need-know/

A common literary device rooted in human existence is the hero’s journey. The hero’s journey has been part of mythology, fairy tales, epic poems, plays, legends, even to our modern day equivalent of novels and movies. All of these stories follow an similar three act structure. Act 1-Introduce the hero. Act 2- Put the hero in the most adverse/perilous situation. Act 3- the hero overcomes the situation, gets the girl, fulfills his destiny and lives happily ever after.

If our lives were only that simple.

If you have lived for any length of time, you know that “happily ever after” is often reserved for stories and not our lives. Life is a constant struggle, an ebb and flow, the highest of highs and the lowest of the heart-breaking lows.

Just when we think we have slayed the dragon, turned Darth Vader back to the light side of the Force, found our purpose, peace, or forgiveness from God, we find ourselves facing a new or recurring difficulty. After years of struggle and sacrifice to get a hold on the family finances, a lay off, a forced retirement, or sickness occurs. You believe that you have overcome depression and anxiety, only for circumstances to throw you back down to the pit. After being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, you do the best you can to be compliant with your care plan, only to suffer a flare-up or relapse. It feels as if all progress is lost.

We say and think such things as It isn’t supposed to be this way. This isn’t fair. I’ve already been through this. Why is God allowing this?

One of the things we must change when we go through difficulties is our perceptions, or judgments. We work under the assumption that life is fair. Do good, get rewarded. Do bad, get punished. We expect instant blessing for ourselves because we all perceive ourselves as good, while we expect the perceived evildoers to receive instant punishment.  Unfortunately, the innocent suffer and the wicked are rewarded. We live in an imperfect world that doesn’t always make sense.

Neither Jesus nor anyone else said it was going to be easy. Jesus told us that we have to “take up our cross.” That cross at times will get heavy as we walk through this life.

Numerous times throughout his epistles, the Apostle Paul compares being a follower of Christ to the life of a soldier. In his second letter to Timothy, Paul encourages him to “endure hardship as a good soldier of Christ.” (2 Timothy 2:3). A casual reading of the New Testament and its emphasis on suffering and persecution certainly deals a resounding defeat to the claims of the so-called “prosperity gospel,” where God grants all of our desires like a genie freed from a lamp, and life will be free from difficulty. Faith doesn’t free you from difficult times, it helps you get through them by creating within you a resilience, a persistence, the strength to fight no matter the circumstances.

Difficulties serve as a mirror as to our true reflection, our true strength, and whether we get tough when the tough gets going.

The Stoic philosopher Epictetus parallels the Apostle Paul’s statement to Timothy, but uses the analogy of being a wrestler.

“The true man is revealed in difficult times. So when trouble comes, think of yourself as a wrestler whom God, like a trainer, has paired with a tough young buck. For what purpose? To turn you into Olympic-class material. But this is going to take some sweat to accomplish. From my perspective, no one’s difficulties ever gave him a better test than yours, if you are prepared to make use of them the way a wrestler makes use of an opponent in peak condition.”1

In another discouse, Epictetus discusses an how to develop an acceptance of what God brings our way, a way to develop a sort of indifference to circumstances, or “going with the flow.”

“Lift up your head, like a person finally released from slavery. Dare to face God and say, ‘From now on, use me as you like. I am of one mind with you, I am your peer.’ Whatever you decide, I will not shrink from it. You may put me where you like, in any role regardless: officer or citizen, rich man or pauper, here or overseas. They are all just so many opportunities to justify your ways to man,by showing just how little circumstances amount to.”

Though it does seem counter-intuitive, the Apostle Paul, Epictetus, and Bruce Lee all concur- don’t  pray for difficult circumstances to flee, but ask God for the strength to get through the hard times. You will be a stronger and better person for it. God bless you all.

 

1Epictetus, Discourses and Selected Writings, Translated and edited by Robert Dobbin. London: Penguin Books (2008):56.

2Ibid, 116.

 

Love Yourself Through It

I love dogs. In fact, I there have been very few times either growing up or being an adult that I don’t remember having a dog in the house. Dogs are some of the most social, self-less, and loving creatures on the planet. Dogs, though long domesticated, still to see themselves as pack animals, like wolves, and long to please the perceived “pack leader.” Depending on the dog’s personality, you’ll know when they messed up-chewing on the furniture or having an “accident” on the rug as he or she will hang their head in shame. It’s obvious the dog knows what he or she did, they just need to be loved and reassured that they are still an accepted member of the pack.

I also find dogs to be very intuitive animals, as they can discern people, situations, or even coming environmental changes, such as thunderstorms. Dogs have been used in medical studies to sniff out tumors in people. Though dogs show outward affection to their family members and other people, they are often hard on themselves when they make a mistake. Sound familiar?

When it comes to matters of faith, our greatest enemy is often not the devil, people, or even a specific group of people, but we are often our greatest enemy. When we approach God from a hyper-religious mindset, we will be weighed down with guilt and shame because we failed do to points A, B, and C properly. We begin to loathe ourselves and see ourselves as unworthy to be loved- whether by God or anyone else. This lack of self-love and self-acceptance often creates a void in our lives which can lead us into addiction, anxiety, depression, or feeling worthless. In essence, we approach God as that dog who chewed up a family member’s shoes; We know what we did, we’re waiting for the hammer to drop.

While the Bible teaches that we are sinners, our sins separate us from God, and the only way to find forgiveness is to accept Jesus’ sacrifice and repent of our sins, the Bible also teaches us the value of loving ourselves. We are commanded not only to love God, our spouses and family, our neighbors, and our enemies, but to love ourselves as well.

“You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:18, NKJV, emphasis mine).

The Hebrew word used for love, Ahab or Aheb (Strong’s #157), refers to love in a general  sense, like our English word.  Strong’s defines Ahab as “having strong emotional attachment to and desire either to possess or be in the presence of the object.”

In the New Testament, Jesus takes this concept one step further as He sums up following God’s word in two commandments:

“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40, NKJV, emphasis mine).

The Greek language had multiple terms for love, and the word used here is Agapao (Strong’s #25), which signifies an unconditional love, as God loves us unconditionally. (See also Mark 12:29-31, Luke 10:27, Romans 13:8-10, Galatians 5:14, and James 2:8 for an introductory study).

From just this brief study of Scripture, it is a given that we are to love ourselves. Of course, we put God and others before us, but we must accept ourselves as we are. We should neither hate ourselves nor harm ourselves. We must stop spiritually, physically, and emotionally beating ourselves up over the past. You’ve made your mistakes, nothing can change that, go forward. God knows you made your mistakes and He still loves you.  Anyone in your life who truly loves you will love you through your struggles. You must love yourself through it.  If you have asked God to forgive you, your slate is wiped clean. You must make peace within yourself. As strange as it sounds, forgive yourself. If you haven’t sought God’s forgiveness, don’t wait until you “get your act together,” because God loves you as you are, for the Bible tells us that “While we were sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8). Seek all of the resources that are before you. How can you truly give your heart and soul to God or open your heart to another if you refuse to accept yourself?  Life is a struggle, but you can make it. You will make it. The God of the universe believes in you, you can believe in Him and yourself. God bless you all.

 

 

 

 

Healing in the Old Testament

The subject of healing is a controversial topic. Some churches teach that healing and the other spiritual gifts are for today, while others teach that the gifts ended with the death of the Apostles. To those outside of the Church, the word healing may bring to mind images disgraced televangelists with their theatrics and “miracle” products such as oils and cloths. I believe that God in His sovereignty can heal someone supernaturally or through modern medicine- instantly or over time. It may also be God’s will for someone not to be healed, which could result in death or lifelong illness. We as mere people cannot begin to understand the ways and thoughts of God because His ways and thoughts are higher than our ways and thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9). The purpose of this post is to simply show what the Bible teaches on the subject of healing. More specifically, this post will examine healing in the Old Testament. 

Our Relationship with God and His Word

Before we go any further, let me state that not all physical sickness is a direct result of sin. Though sickness came into the world because of sin, not everybody is sick because they sinned. As we know from modern science and medicine that sicknesses are caused by germs, bacteria, and viruses. There are also genetic and environmental factors that can play a role in sickness. People may also be afflicted with sickness so they glory of God can be revealed (John 9:1-3).  However, all of us are sick with the sickness of sin. God has sent us the cure for our sin sickness when His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ came to earth to pay the penalty for our sins on the cross. Once we accept Christ as Savior, we come into relationship with God. The best way to get to know God is through His Word. Though we may not be able to avoid all germs, bacteria, and viruses, we can avoid major problems if we study the Word of God. For example, if we study what the Word says about sex outside of marriage, gluttony, drunkenness, etc., we can avoid health problems that are associated with such sins. What does the Bible say about God’s Word and our spiritual and physical health?

“Bless the Lord, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, And forget not all His benefits: Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases, Who redeems your life from destruction, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies, Who satisfies your mouth with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” (Psalm 103:1-5, NKJV).

“He sent His word and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions.” (Psalm 107:20, NKJV).

“In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and depart from evil. It will be health to your flesh, and strength to your bones.” (Proverbs 3:6-8, NKJV).

“My son, give attention to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Do not let them depart from your eyes; keep them in the midst of your heart; For they are life to those who find them, and health to all their flesh.” (Proverbs 4:20-22, NKJV).

The Hebrew word used the most to describe healing is the word Raphah (Strong’s #7495), which means to heal or restore to normal. Of course there are examples in the Old Testament of people who were healed and even raised from the dead, but we will focus on the relationship between Israel and God.

Sickness and the Spiritual Condition of Israel

Throughout the Old Testament, especially in the Prophets, Israel’s constant backsliding and rebellion towards God is compared with an incurable sickness.

“Return, you backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings. Indeed we do come to You, for You are the Lord our God.” (Jeremiah 3:22, NKJV).

“For thus says the Lord: ‘Your affliction is incurable, your wound is severe. There is no one to plead your cause that you may be bound up; you have no healing medicines. All your lovers have forgotten you; they do not seek you; for I have wounded you with the wound of an enemy, with the chastisement of a cruel one, for the multitude of your iniquities, because your sins have increased.’” (Jeremiah 30:13-14, NKJV).

“Your injury has no healing, your wound is severe. All who hear news of you will clap their hands over you, for upon whom has not your wickedness passed continually? (Nahum 3:19, NKJV).

God’s Desire to Restore Israel

Through sending His word to the prophets, God desired for Israel to repent of their sins, just as He desires for us to repent of our sins and accept Christ.

“If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14, NKJV).

“’Therefore all those who devour you shall be devoured; and all your adversaries, every one of them, shall go into captivity; those who plunder you shall become plunder, and all who prey upon you I will make a prey. For I will restore health to you and heal you of your wounds, says the Lord, ‘Because they called you an outcast saying: ‘this is Zion; no one seeks her.’” (Jeremiah 30:16-17, NKJV).

The Messiah

God’s ultimate healing for the sickness of sin for Israel and all of the world was to send His Only begotten Son, the Messiah Jesus Christ into the world. The Old Testament prophets looked forward to the day of Christ because of the healing and restoration.

“Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:4-5, NKJV).

“Come, and let us return to the Lord; for he has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up. After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight.” (Hosea 6:1-2, NKJV).

“But to you who fear My name the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings…” (Malachi 4:2a, NKJV).

Though we will battle physical bouts of physical sickness while we are in these bodies and in this sin-stricken world, we must make sure that are spiritual health is in order by allowing the sacrifice and shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ to heal us of our sins. Grace and peace to you all.

When You Find Yourself Overwhelmed

Everyday life can be demanding and stressful. We are constantly searching to find peace and balance in the middle of family obligations, work, extra-curricular and church activities, trying to eat and stay healthy among a host of other items. Add into the mix the sickness or death of a loved one, an addiction, a job loss or financial problems, or even an unexpected divorce and life will go from stressful to overwhelming. When we are overwhelmed, we cannot make good decisions because we may not know where to begin. Our spiritual lives can suffer as a result of being overwhelmed because we will find ourselves too busy to pray and read the Bible, church is just one more thing to do, or sleeping in on a Sunday morning sounds like a great idea.

When we find ourselves too busy for God, we are playing right into Satan’s hands. Jesus said in John 10:10 that Satan’s goals are to kill, steal, and destroy. If Satan knows our spirits belong to Christ, he will do everything he can to keep us from the abundant life Jesus provides for us.

“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.” (1 Peter 5:8-9, KJV).

When we are overwhelmed, God’s Word can and will be a great comfort to us. The Psalms is one of those books that has provided comfort and guidance to countless believers over the ages and centuries. The Psalms assure us that no matter what we face- whether it be the consequences of our own sin, the oppression of the enemy, they betrayal of a friend, God will be there for us and will help us in the midst of our troubles.

We Can Take Our Burdens Directly to the Lord

“Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and He shall sustain thee: He shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.” (Psalm 55:22, KJV). 

We Can Trust in God’s Protection

“Hear my cry, O God; attend unto my prayer. From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; For thou hast been a shelter for me, and a strong tower from the enemy.” (Psalm 61:1-3, KJV).

We Can Meditate on What God has Already Done for Us

“I cried unto God with my voice, even unto God with my voice; and he gave ear to me. In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord: my sore ran in the night, and ceased not: my soul refused to be comforted. I remembered God, and was troubled: I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed. Selah.” (Psalm 77:1-3, KJV).

“And I said, This is my infirmity: but I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High. I will remember the works of the Lord: surely I will remember thy wonders of old. I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings.” (Psalm 77:10-12, KJV).

We Can Trust that God is with Us

“If it had not been the Lord who was on our side, now may Israel say; If it had not been the Lord who was on our side, when men rose up against us: Then they had swallowed us up quick, when their wrath was kindled against us: Then the waters had overwhelmed us, the stream had gone over our soul.” (Psalm 124:1-4, KJV).

“When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then thou knewest my path.” (Psalm 124:3a, KJV).

We Can Trust in God’s Deliverance

“Because of the voice of the enemy, because of the oppression of the wicked: for they cast iniquity upon me, and in wrath they hate me. My heart is sore pained within me: and the terrors of death have fallen upon me. Fearfulness and trembling are come upon me, and horror hath overwhelmed me…As for me, I will call upon God; and the Lord shall save me. Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice. He hath delivered my soul in peace from the battle that was against me: for there were many with me.” (Psalm 55:3-5; 55:16-18, KJV).

Brothers and sisters, when you find yourselves overwhelmed, please do not “go it alone.” As Scripture says, “seek the Lord while He may be found.” I speak from personal experience when I say this because I tried to fight many battles in my own strength, only to wind up in a worse situation. Our God is mighty, He is a shelter, and He is the creator and sustainer of all. He wants to have a relationship with you. Turn to God, pray, study the Word, seek His wisdom and apply it to what you are facing. Understand that the battle may not be over quickly, but trust in God’s timing and deliverance. Peace be with you.