The Throne of Our Thoughts

In the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul, like a great trial lawyer, goes point by point to build his theological case. Romans serves as one of the foundational books that explains the Christian faith and is also one of the primary books Christians use to share the Gospel with others (also known as the “Romans Road”). Paul’s theology in Romans is like his other Epistles in that it is practical and can be applied to everyday life. One of the important areas Paul stresses is the need for us to renew our minds and change our thoughts.

Paul uses five different Greek words to describe our minds and the pattern of our thinking. What we think has a direct effect on our lives. If we try to think in more positive terms, we will be able to adapt to the constant change that is life. However, if we continuously focus on the negative, the hurt, the rejection, we will live a life of self-defeat, fear, and anxiety. As I have stated in past posts, we cannot control what happens to us, we can only control our responses to what happens.

Our Thoughts Represent our Power and Authority

As Christians, we believe in and serve a living and powerful God. However, we must also contend with our very real enemy, Satan, our own sinful natures, and daily interactions with others. Think of your mind as a throne. A throne represents a seat of power and authority for a king or queen. If a monarch chooses not to rule with their given authority or if they abdicate their throne, they are no longer in charge. To what and to whom we choose to think about determines if we are really on the throne of our minds. In fact, the word used the most for mind in Romans is the Greek word Nous (Strong’s #3563), which means, “The intellect- the seat of the will, perceptions, thoughts, and feelings.” The following verses speak of a matter of voluntary surrender, good or bad, when it comes to our minds and our wills. Thus, in order for our thoughts, wills, and lives to line up with what the Word says, it is a matter of choice.

“And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient.” (Romans 1:28, KJV).

“But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.” (Romans 7:23-25, KJV).

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” (Romans 12:1-2, KJV).

Our Thoughts Shape our Spiritual Reality

Throughout Romans, Paul makes the use of contrast between the renewed spiritual life we have in Christ and the continuous war of the carnal life we live within our sinful natures (or flesh if you prefer). The Greek word Paul uses is Phroneo (Strong’s 5426), which means “to be minded in a certain way” concerning our opinions and sentiments.

“For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.” (Romans 8:6, KJV).

“Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits.” (Romans 12:16, KJV).

Our Thoughts are Seeds

Paul switches words from Romans 8:5 to Romans 8:6, to show the contrast. Here, Paul uses the word Phronema (Strong’s 5427), which means “what one has in mind or thought.” We have to think of our thoughts as seeds. No matter what type of seed it is- all seeds need the proper amount of light, soil conditions and water to grow. Our thoughts are no different, what we allow to grow in our minds can change a beautiful garden into a dried-up wasteland.

“For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be…And He that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because He maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:6-7, 27, KJV).

Our Thoughts Should Bring Harmony

It is a given that we will encounter difficult people. It is easy to find an everyday occurrence where we can allow someone or a situation to make us angry. We can choose to hold onto bitterness and not forgive others. However, we are not living life in the Spirit if we follow our carnal inclinations. Instead, our thoughts toward our brothers and sisters and our fellow man, in order to bring glory to God. The word Paul uses in Romans 15:6 is Homothumadon (Strong’s #3661), which means to be “unanimous, in one accord.”

“Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be like minded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 15:5-6, KJV).

 The Battle for our Thoughts and our Mission

With every day we are blessed enough to live, we will have a raging battle for our minds. Just because you fight of a negative thought on Monday does not necessarily mean you will not have to fight it on Tuesday or any other day. Our minds are like muscles and we must keep them strong and in shape. We can fortify our minds not only by reigning from the throne of our thoughts, but by remembering every battle we have won. In essence, we need to remind ourselves daily of the victories and God’s grace. The word used to describe this situation is Epanamimnesko (Strong’s #1878), which means “to remind again.” We must remember our mission in this life.

“Nevertheless, brethren, I have written the more boldly unto you in some sort, as putting you in mind, because of the grace that is given to me of God. That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost. ” (Romans 15:15-16, KJV).

 

The Holy Spirit our Comforter

In the hours leading up to his arrest, trials, flogging, and death on the cross, Jesus shared a Passover meal with His disciples commonly referred to as “The Last Supper.” Jesus took this precious time to teach many things to His disciples. One of the topics Jesus taught – the role of the Holy Spirit- is what makes Christianity unique among world religions, where God comes to live inside of us and we can have a relationship with God. Jesus taught many things about the Holy Spirit, and we will examine the comforting aspect of the Holy Spirit.

In His discourse, Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as “The Comforter.” The Greek word for comforter is Paraklietos (Strong’s #3875), which means “intercessor, consoler; one summoned or called to one’s side.” Jesus introduces the Holy Spirit by stating:

“If ye love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever. Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him; but ye know Him; for He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.” (John 14:15-17, KJV, emphasis mine).

What comforting words that because we know God, God comes to dwell in us and is always with us. Religion gives us a checklist of things to do and maybe, just maybe, God will approve of us. For Christians, we only have to believe.

Life can be lonely. Even when we are surrounded by our families, friends, and the beauty all around us, our trials and our grief can isolate us. We become adept at putting on a front, fooling the outside world, while inside it feels like our spirits are being torn to shreds by a savage beast. The pain is real. The struggle is real. God may be silent, be He has not left you, as Jesus states:

“I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.” (John 14:18, KJV, emphasis mine).

The Greek word for comfortless is the word Orphanos (Strong’s #3737), which means “fatherless or orphaned.” God does not leave us to fend for ourselves. Our Savior did not stay dead in the grave, He is alive! His Spirit is within us. The world may abandon you, but God never will.

“But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in My name, He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:26-27, KJV).

When we remember God’s Word and everything we have been through, we can have peace in the worst of circumstances. Inner peace is a choice as happiness and contentment are choices. We can make these choices easier when we come to the revelation that God is by our side.

“But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, He shall testify of Me: And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with Me from the beginning.” (John 15:26-27, KJV).

Jesus goes on to explain how the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth:

“Nevertheless I tell you the truth; it is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you. And when He is come, He will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment…Howbeit when He, the Spirit of truth is come, He will guide you into all truth: for He shall not speak of Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak: and He will show you things to come. He shall glorify Me: for He shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you.” (John 16:7-8, 13-14, KJV).

The deeper you go into a relationship with someone, the better you get to know them. This principle applies no matter whether the relationship is romantic, familial, or friendship. You learn the person’s voice, habits, appearance, and their likes or dislikes. If someone were impersonating your spouse, child, or friend, you could spot the impostor. As Christians, we have that same opportunity with God through Christ and the Holy Spirit regarding learning the truth, knowing God’s voice and His Word. Though the temptation is always there when times get rough, to run away from God and everyone else, we can go a different route. We can refuse to listen to Satan’s lies and listen for God’s truth.  We can unload our troubles on God like we can a phone call to our best friend or a conversation with our spouse. God knows you are hurting. Let Him comfort you. You may not get an explanation in this life as to why events have unfolded the way they have, but we can be guided by Christ through the Holy Spirit. We can have peace in the midst of pain; joy in the midst of sorrow; comfort in the midst of tragedy. God bless you all.

Book Review: The Obstacle is the Way

In what I hope will be an ongoing series, I will be reviewing and sharing some of the influential books that have helped me on my life’s journey.

All of us face obstacles in one form or another. Often these obstacles seem to be overwhelming, insurmountable, formidable, and we surrender before we even begin to fight.  However, what if we viewed the obstacle in front of us not as a source of despair, but as an opportunity? In other words, what if we took a perceived disadvantage and used it to advance ourselves? Ryan Holiday explores this thought process in his book, The Obstacle is the Way: The Ancient Art of Turning Adversity into Advantage.

Holiday masterfully combines the principles of Stoic philosophy with profiles of historical and contemporary figures such as John D. Rockefeller, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Thomas Edison, Margaret Thatcher, Steve Jobs, Barack Obama and Nick Saban to name a handful of people who saw opportunity and seized it when others retracted in fear.

Marcus Aurelius’ book Meditations serves as the inspiration for the book. Holiday quotes Aurelius: “Our actions may be impeded…but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”[1]

Holiday expands on these principles throughout the book, but he summarizes what we need to do in order to overcome our obstacles:

“Overcoming obstacles is a discipline of three critical steps. It begins with how we look at our specific problems, our attitude or approach; then the energy and creativity with which we actively break them down and turn them to opportunities; finally, the cultivation and maintenance of an inner will that allows us to handle defeat and difficulty. It’s three interdependent, interconnected, and fluidly contingent disciplines: Perception, Action, and the Will.[2]

Throughout the book, Holiday employs such Stoic principles as negative visualization, which is being able to examine the worst case scenario in any given situation. Negative visualization is not fear or pessimism, but serves as a way for us to adapt and anticipate obstacles that may come our way. Holiday also employs the Stoic mindset of separating what is in our control and what is not in our control. For example, our thoughts, emotions, decisions, attitudes, will, and reactions to events are perfectly within our control. What is not in our control? The Stoics, particularly Epictetus, called these events “externals,” such as what happen to us, our reputation, our property, the economy, the weather, and our overall health. The Stoics also believed that no matter what you do, be the best at it. We must also be mindful of the present moment. There is a process we must follow in order to be successful. If we remain persistent and work at the obstacle, we will find success.

My favorite story in the book is about Thomas Edison. Holiday relays a story that Thomas Edison received word that his factory was on fire. Edison came to the factory and viewed the fire, in which the various chemicals in the building were reacting to the fire, and shot yellow and green flames high into the sky. What was Edison’s reaction to the fire? Did he say, I’m Finished? Did he say, I’m sixty-seven years old and I’m too old to start over? Did Edison rant and rave, scream and have himself a “good old fit?” The story goes that Edison sought and found his son in the massive crowd of onlookers and instructed him to, “Go get your mother and all her friends. They’ll never see a fire like this again.” Edison added, “Don’t worry. It’s all right. We’ve just got rid of a lot of rubbish.”[3] Of course, as prolific of an inventor as Edison was, there wasn’t simply “rubbish” alone that was lost in the fire. Within weeks, the factory was running a partial shift and within a month the factory was back to operating two shifts. Also, Edison and his investors lost quite a bit of money due to the fire, but he was still able to recover and earned back ten times the loss in revenue. What separated Edison’s mindset? Edison simply perceived obstacles not as failures and setbacks, but as discovering the ways something would not work.

Holiday adds, “To do great things, we need to be able to endure tragedy and setbacks. We’ve got to love what we do and all that it entails, good and bad. We have to learn to find joy in every single thing that happens.”[4]

In his book, Holiday admits that taking this approach to adversity is a difficult process, but it can be done with enough hard work and persistence. I highly recommend The Obstacle is the Way to anyone no matter the stage of life. There is great wisdom and perspective that can be gained from this book.

[1] Ryan Holiday, The Obstacle is the Way: The Ancient Art of Turning Adversity into Advantage. London: Profile Books LTD, 2014: XIV.

[2] Ibid: 9.

[3] Ibid: 150-151.

[4] Ibid: 151.

 

Using our Liberty in Christ

Our spiritual freedom in Christ is one of God’s greatest blessings. Being in Christ, we are as the Apostle Paul stated, “free from the law of sin and death.”(Romans 8:2). We are spiritually free from our past, and we can go forward knowing there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. We are free from eternal damnation because we have eternal life in Christ. In knowing that we have been given this freedom in Christ, how are we using it?

Are we striving to become better people? Are we hiding behind the façade of grace to live as we wish? Do we use God’s Word to draw ourselves and other closer to God or do we use the Word to bring division? I am not teaching works-based theology-I am simply stating that we should be cultivating and bringing forth fruit worthy of our repentance and God’s grace. No matter our age or station in life, we should always seek to mature and improve in Christ.

The book of 1 Peter addresses the issue of Christians remaining faithful in the midst of trial and persecution. Peter writes an instruction manual concerning Christian conduct in the world in which they live, even in the face of extreme trial, persecution, or suffering. If our focus is not on Christ during our trials, it is very easy to grow resentful and bitter about our circumstances and the world around us. However, Peter urges us to live wisely as servants of God, no matter the circumstances, no matter how people treat us, no matter who is the leading the nation. As Christians, we must remember this is not our home- our home is in heaven.

“Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation. Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evil doers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.” (1 Peter 2:11-17, NASB).

As we go forward, let us remember that even in the most seemingly evil and corrupt times, God is still in control. God is being patient and is giving everyone the chance to repent. We must live our lives to point others to Christ, not to condemn them. Remember, it is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict the world of sin, not ours. God bless you all.

Philippians 1: Remaining Steadfast

You are a work in progress. You are the marble slab in the hands of the Master sculptor. You are the canvas in front of the Master painter. The days, years, and events of your life may look and feel like random brush strokes, but when you take a look back, they are pieces of a mosaic that form a larger, grander picture.

The Apostle Paul understood that God is an artist when he wrote to the Philippian church, “Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6, NKJV).

Did Paul write these words while on a successful missionary journey or when everything in his life was going great? No. Paul wrote these words from prison in Rome. I have never been to prison, but I cannot imagine the depths of despair people sink into as they are locked away from society. Or think about how the elderly and disabled are often discarded when society and their family deem them as no longer serving a purpose. Everyone has purpose. No matter your current station in life, God has a plan for you. The final chapter has not been written in your life’s story.

During our trials and tribulations, we can focus outwardly and reach others, as Paul did with the Philippians.

“And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:9-11, NKJV).

As we go through difficult times, it is easy to pull out the victim card and cry “woe is me!” We always face the temptation of giving up. However, if we understand that God has allowed this trial in our life, we can ask, “How can I glorify God in this situation?”

“But I want you to know brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ, and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.” (Philippians 1:12-14, NKJV, italics mine).

What a testimony Paul had in the midst of his circumstances. Everybody knew he was imprisoned for preaching Christ and it encouraged others to preach Christ without fear of the consequences. Of course, some were trying to cause more problems for Paul, but Christ is being preached. Think of how your testimony could empower someone else through their trials. What has God brought you through that you can pass on to the next generation?

Paul’s confidence and faith were in God alone, thus he was ready to accept his fate whether he would become a martyr or walk out of prison a free man. Paul was willing to be called home if the Lord desired it, but he was still willing to reach others.

“For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or death.” (Philippians 1:19-20, NKJV).

Paul gets to the heart of the matter: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.” (Philippians 1:21-24, NKJV).

Paul’s heart was still directed toward his mission and if the Philippian church needed him to further develop them as disciples, Paul was willing to do that if it would bring rejoicing to their hearts by seeing him again (Philippians 1:25-26, my paraphrase).

Paul ends this section of his letter with a reminder of how the Philippians were to act whether he were to be present or absent: “Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel.” (Philippians 1:27, NKJV).

Paul goes on to emphasize that our suffering for Christ is a privilege and proof of our salvation.

“And not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God. For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me.” (Philippians 1:28-30, NKJV).

Brothers and sisters, we are in Christ and we are not of this world. We may live in different towns, cities, states, and countries, but our citizenship is in heaven. There is no external possession in this world that compares to the glory of Christ. During our struggles, let us focus on the eternal rewards and live for Christ. God bless you all.

 

 

Resting During the Storm

My dog, Henry, is terrified of thunderstorms and fireworks. Henry, before and during the storm, will get jittery, pace around the house, and seek comfort from me and/or my wife. A thunderstorm rolled through this afternoon and I took to our dog calming ritual of turning on the space heater and sitting with Henry in our home office. Within minutes of reassuring Henry it was going to be alright, he fell asleep at my feet. I smiled and thought about how we are supposed to sleep at our Heavenly Father’s feet during the storms of life. Just as my presence and the warmth of the space heater comforted Henry, so too are we to be comforted in the warm embrace of our God’s presence.

Somewhere right now on our planet, people are experiencing both meteorological and spiritual storms. Rain is essential for life on earth. If it did not rain, crops would not grow, which in turn would hurt the world’s food supply. All of us will experience spiritual storms in our lives, whether it be overwhelming grief, illness, family issues, financial stress, a loss of faith, or all of these trials at once coming at us with the force of a hurricane or tsunami. God can uses these storms to grow us and to feed our faith.

In the midst of our pain and suffering, we cry out and pray to God for relief, yet, there are times when the rain keeps coming with seemingly no relief in sight. However, your storm will pass. Just as the storm that terrified Henry was over in a few minutes and the sun came out, so too will your dark clouds give way to the sunshine on the horizon.

The big questions we ask during a storm is “Where is God in all this?” “Why doesn’t He do something?” “Why doesn’t He just stop it?” Be honest, you have posed those questions. I know I have. Believe me, you are not the first person to pose such questions, for The Bible gives us multiple examples of people weathering storms.

Probably the most famous biblical example is Jesus quieting a storm as recorded in the gospels of Matthew (8:23-27), Mark (4:35-41), and Luke (8:22-25). Matthew and Mark place this event after Jesus spent the day teaching a crowd of people on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Night came and Jesus said to His disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” (Mark 4:35b, NIV). Jesus and His disciples left the crowd on the shore and began their trek to the other side. Mark’s Gospel describes the scene: “A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.” (Mark 4:37, NIV).

Notice Jesus’ approach to the storm compared to that of the disciples, four of whom- Peter, Andrew, James, and John- were experienced fishermen and I am sure weathered many storms while on the water.

Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke Him and said to Him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’” (Mark 4:38, NIV, italics mine).

This must have been quite a storm to upset such experienced fishermen, but these are the same disciples who saw Jesus perform many miracles- healings, exorcisms, and raising people from the dead! The disciples’ reaction is not really that much different from ours, as we question God, asking Him, “Don’t you care about me?” or “Why did You let this happen?”

“He [Jesus] got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be Still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to His disciples, ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’ They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey Him!” (Mark 4:39-41, NIV).

The storm did not catch Jesus off guard, just as He knows when the storms will come in your life. Man with his radar technology tries to predict when storms will come in and determine their path. However, despite our technological advancements, the weather predictions do not always pan out, due to circumstances beyond our control- the wind could shift the weather front. God’s “radar” is never wrong.

Just as Jesus and His disciples had contrasting reactions to the storm, my dogs have different reactions. My other dog, Maggie, is older than Henry and has seen many storms. Being the older, more experienced dog, Maggie can sleep easy through the strongest summer thunderstorms. As we grow older in our faith, we can rest easier with each passing storm, because we know the Lord has carried us through so many storms before.

Our response can determine the length of the storm. If we have right thinking and are standing on the Word of God, we can stand upright. We go through storms so that we may be a future comfort to someone else. Jesus knew He was going to quiet the storm. He knew His disciples had not built up their faith to ride out the storm. Jesus also knew something that the disciples did not know- that there was a demon possessed man on the other side of the Sea of Galilee who needed to be delivered. The disciples went through the storm so another man could be delivered from a legion of demons and proclaim Jesus’ work.

Just as God spoke to Job in the midst of his “whirlwind,” so too can God speak and comfort us in our storms. God will also sustain us in the storm.

“When the storm has swept by, the wicked are gone, but the righteous stand firm forever.” (Proverbs 10:25, NIV).

The Lord will also guide us out of the storm:

“Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and He brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm, and He guided them to their desired haven.” (Psalm 107:28-30, NIV).

God bless you all.

How Blood Loss Led to New Life

The Symptoms

One year ago my life changed forever. In the months leading up to the fateful day, I experienced shortness of breath when climbing stairs, I was severely fatigued, I lost ten pounds without even trying, and my appearance became very pale. Unfortunately, like most men I know, I put off going to the doctor and continued to shrug off my symptoms. After numerous conversations with my wife, my concerned parents, and other family members about going to the doctor, I finally reached the physical point where I could not take it anymore. I left work early on a Friday to an appointment with my family doctor’s office. At the appointment, I had four vials of blood taken, a chest x-ray, and an EKG. All I had left to do was wait.

The wait was over on the Saturday morning August 1, 2015. I was weekend supervisor at my previous job when I received a call from the nurse practitioner, who told me that I needed to get to the emergency room because my hemoglobin was 6.3 (hemoglobin is what carries the oxygen in our blood cells. Normal hemoglobin levels for an adult male range from 13 to 15). For some reason, the gravity of the situation didn’t register and I kindly told the nurse practitioner that I will go when I left work at three o’clock. After all, I was trying to call in extra people to deal with an emergency flood. She replied that I needed to go to the emergency room now because with my hemoglobin level being so low, any undue stress could put me at risk for a heart attack. (I thought, Don’t you think telling me this is putting me under stress?). I got it. This was serious. I talked to my wife and I called my boss to tell him that I had an emergency situation and had to leave. The drive to the first hospital was the only time I felt fear for what would follow.

After three hours at my local hospital, I was transferred by ambulance to a larger hospital, where I spent Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. After I received multiple blood transfusions and iron treatments, my hemoglobin rose to only 7.9. I was out of the heart attack danger zone, but I was still severely anemic. I have a history of ulcerative colitis and I was scheduled that Monday for a colonoscopy. However, I was experiencing no symptoms of ulcerative colitis nor did I have any visible bleeding. During the colonoscopy, ten polyps were removed from my colon, all of which were benign (no cancer). It appeared that the source of my anemia and bleeding had been found.

God is always on time and His timing was perfect in this situation. My wife and I were leaving for Colorado later in the week, which she asked the doctors if I was able to travel (I was). However, multiple doctors informed her that if I didn’t get treatment when I did, the high altitude and our planned activities could have strained my body and I could have died before receiving medical attention. I was thirty-eight years old when all of this happened, I never thought for one second that death stood at the door. Of course, like any adult should, I have life insurance and most importantly, my spiritual affairs were in order in the event that I would die one day, I didn’t know it could’ve been that close. I went back to work Tuesday morning and I naturally had a few days when I was tired, but the trip to Colorado was very enjoyable and relaxing. I followed up with my gastroenterologist and hematologist. I began receiving iron treatments and taking iron pills daily. My hemoglobin levels eventually bounced back up to 15.2 at my last appointment. I later discovered that though this health crisis was over, the journey had only just begun.

I never lost faith during this time because I knew God had His hand on my life. I don’t know exactly for what, but there had to be something greater. I unfortunately knew many people who died young and I knew how blessed I was to come out of this.  I don’t know the exact reason, maybe it was the side effects of the anemia, the continued fatigue, my thyroid, or whatever else, but I slid into a deep depression. The depression deepened as the stress of my former employer’s contract situation lingered in the air. We later learned that a new company won the contract bid and they would take over January 1. However, more stress came on December 23, 2015, when the new company informed me via letter that my services, along with other members of management and staff, would not be needed. It marked the first time in my working career, which started at age fifteen, I was let go from a job. Christmas Eve was the last day I worked, as I had previously scheduled vacation.  I took off a few days for Christmas, collected my last paycheck, and began the process of filing for unemployment and job searching. I was unemployed for three months, going to interview after interview, putting in application after application, before I went back to work.

 Sports Talk Radio and the Wisdom of the Ancients

Since I had time on my hands, I would get out of the house for a little bit every day when the job searching became stressful. One day I was on my way to my parents’ house to take care of their dogs when I was listening to The Jim Rome Show, a sports talk show. Jim Rome’s guest  was Ryan Holiday, who wrote a book called The Obstacle is the Way, which was about turning obstacles into advantages. One of the things discussed was Stoic Philosophy. When we hear the word “stoic” we think of someone who is emotionless, kind of like Mr. Spock from Star Trek. However, as Mr. Holiday spoke about how he came into Stoic philosophy, it sounded interesting. I took Introduction to Philosophy in college, but I don’t remember learning about Stoic philosophy (maybe it was because class was at 8am). The Bible mentions the Stoics in Acts 17, but does not go into detail about who they were, other than Paul citing a Stoic poem.  I have a firm, fixed set of beliefs, but I also love to research and learn new things. I went on a quest to learn about Stoic philosophy- YouTube Videos, Ted Talks, my local library, and bookstores. I bought Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, followed by the works of Seneca and Epictetus, and finally The Obstacle Becomes The Way, and devoured them like a hungry wolf. Using the Bible as my measuring rod of truth, I compared Stoic philosophy to biblical teaching and found them very compatible. The Stoics focused on being content with our lot in life, not worrying about what is not in our control, living for today, working on our inner character, living with purpose, being thankful in the moment, that we have nothing to fear in death, managing our perceptions, tempering our expectations in life, and realizing that it is not our lives are not about what happens to us, but our response to the events, all of which are biblical concepts and sound life principles. Over time, I came out of my depression and gained a new perspective on life, but God was using all of this to prepare me for the next stages of my life.

A Tumble Down the Stairs

Three weeks before I went back to work, I received a text from my wife informing me that she fell down some stairs at an offsite workshop and was going to the hospital. I met her at the hospital in Bloomington, Indiana where she was in the emergency room. My wife was diagnosed with a mild concussion and later with post-concussion syndrome. Though she does not remember what happened, I took solace in the fact that my wife was not more seriously injured or killed and that she did not do any damage to her surgically repaired back. If I was working at the time, that would have complicated matters with taking her to doctor appointments and the like. I was thankful that I was home to take care of her until I went back to work. Those first weeks were the roughest, with severe migraines and attempts to get the medicine dosage right, but my wife eventually became able to do more things on her own and went back to work a few months later. My response to all of this would have been different a year or even months before as I would have worried incessantly about my wife’s health and our finances, which at the time of her concussion involved workman’s comp and unemployment, but God was faithful and sustained us throughout the ordeal.

More Symptoms Arise

I went back to work, albeit for less money and a more physically demanding job, but I applied Stoic principles and attempted to be thankful for being back to work. However, a few months into working again, I began to feel fatigued and I started to look pale. People told me I “looked tired.” I learned my lesson and did not mess around with my symptoms. On a scheduled day off I had blood work done, and followed-up the next week with the hematologist. I told the doctor about my fatigue coming back and she informed me that my ferritin levels have dropped. (Ferritin is how your blood stores iron). She recommended upping my dosage of iron pills and following up with my gastroenterologist because of concerns about my ulcerative colitis. I was able the very next day to see the gastroenterologist. After telling him about my symptoms and what the hematologist said, he asked if I had ever been tested for Celiac disease. I said that I have not been tested. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease which is caused by an allergy to gluten, a protein found in foods made with wheat, barley, and rye. The doctor said that my ulcerative colitis was too mild for me to be as anemic as I was. I had more blood work done and it indicated Celiac disease. I followed up with an endoscopy that confirmed the diagnosis of Celiac disease. I now have to be on a gluten-free diet the rest of my life. However, I do not see Celiac disease as another battle to fight, but the battle to fight. From everything I have researched and everything I have, Celiac disease is the common denominator with anemia, hypothyroidism, joint inflammation, and other autoimmune issues I have dealt with over the years. Though I am in the early stages of making this lifestyle change, I am hopeful and optimistic that things will begin to clear up. As of this writing, I am a few weeks into the gluten-free diet and I am feeling better.

 My Advice

The Bible discusses “the peace that transcends all understanding.” My faith, even in the midst of one terrifying and one life changing diagnosis, has eradicated any sense of fear. This year has been a year of discovery and growth for me. God has blessed me with wisdom that has allowed me to modify my perceptions and see life in a new light. There is a popular saying of “live each day like it’s your last,” which some may interpret to mean throw off all responsibility and party like a rock star, but that should not be the case.  God was gracious and gave me more life. If you are reading this, God has given you another day to live. Make the most of it. Live deliberately. Live for and with a greater purpose. Consider your actions and ways. Be the best person you can be, no matter who you are or what you do.  Don’t get caught up in chasing the temporary and fickle externals of money, fame, and possessions. Don’t get caught up in drama. Don’t get upset if people don’t like you or don’t respond to you the way you expect- you can’t control what they think. We can’t control the world around us, only how we respond to it. For example, I have control of how I take care of my body- diet, exercise, rest, medication, but I had no control over developing anemia or Celiac disease. I did everything for over seven years to keep my job- show up, be on time, do a great job, do what was asked and expected of me, changing shifts, etc., but I could not control the contract bid or the economy. I can control how many jobs I apply for, but I can’t control who says “yes.” I have come to believe that what has happened to me in these areas of life has turned out to be a blessing because it has led me to right here, right now.

Expect difficulties in life. You will encounter situations and people’s actions that will devastate, unnerve, irritate, rattle, frustrate, and shake you to the core, but you and you alone determine the response. When knowing that you have a limited amount of time to live, ask yourself, “Is this situation or person really worth my time of stressing over?” “Is this situation within my control?” “How can I turn this adversity into an advantage?” Have faith in God, but work as if it is up to you. I have spent many years of my faith being passive, just waiting for something to show up or happen, only to end up being discouraged.  I have now realized that God has given us all we need to live a full life, we just have to use the tools. All of us don’t get the same amount or quality of tools, but we all have the ability to make the best of life and any situation. Take time to dwell on what can go wrong, because you won’t be devastated if something does, which is also a Stoic principle. Don’t grieve over who and what you don’t have, but rejoice over who and what you do have. Love your loved ones every chance you get. Always end conversations on a good note. Don’t allow bitterness, regret, shame, hate, or an unforgiving spirit to rule your life. Take control of your thoughts. Grow a virtuous character. Forget the past. Don’t fear the future. Be grateful for today because it’s all you have. True faith and positive thinking is not about believing everything will work out, but believing what happens will work out for the best. God bless you all.

 

But If Not…

To have true biblical faith takes strength and courage, even in the worst of life’s circumstances. I believe that faith is not simply a belief that everything will work out, but that everything will work out for the best. We must hold onto the belief that God is God and He has our best interest at heart, no matter the diagnosis, the turmoil, the rejection, the pain, the loss, or the proverbial cross we must bear.

Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as “The substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (KJV). Thus, faith is not seeing, but believing. In fact, the Greek word for “substance” is Hupostasis (Strong’s #5287), which in this instance means, “a standing under…that which stands, or is set, under, a foundation, beginning, hence, the quality of confidence which leads one to stand under, endure, or undertake anything.” Faith serves as the foundation of our spiritual house, with Christ being the chief cornerstone. As with our physical homes, if the foundation is strong, the house will stand strong. However, if our foundation is cracked or destroyed, our house faces the possibility of falling down.

If we pray for something that is in God’s will, He hears us and answers our prayers (1 John 5:14-15).  We pray with confidence that God will say “yes,” but will we have the same confidence if God says, “No” or “Not yet?” With humanity’s modern knowledge and technology, we sometimes live under the impression that we have complete control over our lives and environments. Of course, we know that life has a not so subtle way of reminding us who is in charge.

The Bible and history are full of examples of people who kept their faith in God and continued to hope in the worst of circumstances. Three such people were Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the Book of Daniel. The Book of Daniel takes place during the reigns of the Babylonian and Mede-Persian empires. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, along with Daniel, were Hebrew youths sent into exile in Babylon to serve King Nebuchadnezzar, but the four men faithfully continued to serve God.

Daniel chapter three details how Nebuchadnezzar set up a large golden statue that everyone within the Babylon Empire had to worship when they heard the sound of music. If one did not worship the golden statue, that person would be thrown into a fiery furnace. One day it is brought to Nebuchadnezzar’s attention that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego have refused to worship his golden statue. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are brought before Nebuchadnezzar to face their charges. Nebuchadnezzar reminded them of his authority as king and the punishment they faced for not worshipping the statue. What follows is an example of true faith.

“Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O King. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18, NKJV, italics mine).

This statement enraged Nebuchadnezzar and he ordered the furnace to be seven times hotter than usual and had the three men thrown into the furnace. However, what happened next was a miracle as Nebuchadnezzar saw a fourth man in the fire (a pre-incarnate Christ) and that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were unharmed by the fire. This experience humbled Nebuchadnezzar and he made a decree stating that there was no one should speak against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were also promoted due to their faithfulness.

In the case of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, God intervened supernaturally to deliver his children, but the three men were willing to make their stand no matter the consequences. But if not. What is your but if not? It was not doubt or a lack of faith displayed by Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, but a solid belief in God and acceptance of His will, not matter the circumstances, no matter the cost.

Is your foundation strong? Do you have the faith to endure the trials of ongoing sickness when you have prayed for supernatural healing? Do you have the patience and discipline to recover from a job loss or being on the brink of financial ruin? Will you continue to pray for wayward spouses and children who may be prodigals who do not come back home? Do you have the faith to stand up for Christ while facing a fiery furnace, a gun, or the edge of a sword? Do you have the courage to say, “But if not” and continue to praise and worship God?

A word of caution: under no circumstances should we as believers ever question anyone’s faith. The Bible teaches that everyone is given a measure of faith, which does not indicate the same amount of faith. To say to a struggling brother or sister, “If you only had more faith,” is not only devastating, but also insensitive. Making such a statement as “If you only had more faith,” could invite discouragement and condemnation into a believer’s life.

We must examine faith from the perspective that we will go through unending trials. We may navigate the raging sea only to learn that we must climb a mountain. We cannot control outside events, we can only control our responses to the events. Let us find inspiration in what we have overcome to this point in our lives. Let us look to Christ, to the Apostles, to Job, Daniel in the lion’s den, Jeremiah, and the “faith hall of fame” in Hebrews chapter 11.

“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 set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2, NKJV).

God bless you all.

 

Do You Want to Be Made Well?

Life can be a series of hardships and obstacles. These difficult times can take their toll on us physically, mentally, and spiritually, especially if they drag on for a long time. We can either respond with despair, giving up on life or we can battle back with faith and determination, for ultimately our perceptions of said events are not based on the events themselves, but our responses to them. Our responses in turn, help determine how we face hardships and difficulties.

The Gospel of John records a story of Jesus being in Jerusalem for a festival when He encountered a man at the Pool of Bethesda. The Pool of Bethesda served as a gathering place for people who were sick with all manner of afflictions and diseases. The sick people believed that the pool had healing powers.

“In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had.” (John 5:3-4, NKJV).

The Bible tells us that Jesus encountered a man at the pool who had been sick for thirty-eight years. The Bible does not tells us the man’s condition or how he came to be in that condition. Jesus being the great teacher that He was and is, asked the man a question which put the onus of the sick man and cut to the heart of the issue.

“When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time. He said to him, ‘Do you want to be made well?’” (John 5:6, NKJV).

I believe for anyone who has struggled with a problem for thirty-eight years and God in the flesh walks up to you and asks, “Do you want to get better?” the answer would be an emphatic “Yes.” However, there are people who allow their condition or circumstances to define who they are. In essence, they are not known by their name or identity in Christ, but by sickness, addiction, depression, poverty, etc. When we allow our condition or circumstances to define us, we have a hard time visualizing ourselves being anything other than our situation. Think of how the Israelites complained of the wilderness and claimed they had it better as slaves in Egypt. We do the same thing and make excuses as the man at the pool does.

“The sick man answered Him, ‘Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.’” (John 5:7, NKJV).

Though the man had spent thirty-eight years in his condition and developed excuses as to why he was not well, he was in the right place at the right time. In Hebrew, Bethesda means “House of Mercy.” This man was in the House of Mercy and received mercy from God, despite his condition, despite the excuses.

“Jesus said to him, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk.’ And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked. And that day was the Sabbath.” (John 5:8-9, NKJV).

Since it was the Sabbath, this man carrying his bed was accused by the religious authorities of violating the Sabbath and was questioned as to who healed him. The man did not know it was Jesus until he encountered Jesus a second time.

“Afterward, Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, ‘See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.’” (John 5:14, NKJV).

I do not believe that Jesus told the man his condition was brought on by sin nor does the text indicate the man’s condition was a direct result of a sin he committed. I believe that Jesus is speaking to the man’s need to have his sins forgiven. I believe the “worse thing” Jesus spoke of was an eternity in hell, separated from God because the man did not accept Christ as Savior.

How much of our lives have we wasted not coming to the “House of Mercy” or coming to the “Throne of Grace” and not being made whole? Is there something within our God-given power and responsibility we can do to better ourselves? If we are sick, can we take better care of our bodies by eating right, exercising, or seeking medical treatment? If we are heavily in debt, are there ways to cut our expenses? If we are depressed about what we do not have, can we find joy in what we do have? Even if we are stuck in the middle of the wilderness, remember it is much better than going back into the sin and slavery from which Christ has delivered us. There is a way out and Christ is knocking on the door, waiting for us to open it. God bless you all.

The Perspective of Our Struggles

My wife and I went to Thailand in 2010 on a mission trip. On one of our last days in Thailand, our group toured a Buddhist temple. I observed many different sights- the morning prayers, the artwork, the statutes, and the architecture. However, one particular item has stuck with me to this day. As our group made its way into a prayer room, there was a large poster of a human skeleton. According to our guide, when the Buddhists pray, they imagine themselves as a skeleton- no attachments to this present world. What if in our quest to live a life of joy and contentment we could strip down our problems to “the bare bones?” (Pardon the pun).

When we suffer through trials, it becomes natural for us to isolate ourselves from everyone around us. We become myopic and cannot see past our own pain, believing that we alone are going through this problem. However, suffering is part of the human condition, as circumstances, theologians and philosophers, ancient and modern can attest. The questions of why we suffer are many and the comforting answers can often be few and far between.

I too have faced difficult trials in my life and I am not belittling or dismissing what you may be going through at this time. What I do know is that for His higher reasons, God has allowed this trial in your life and everyday He gives us an opportunity to come to Him. We may never get a reason for our suffering nor understand it, as Job was never given an explanation for his suffering. We can, however, take solace in the fact that we are not alone in our situation and that there are others, past, present, and future who have dealt, are dealing with, and will deal with these same issues.

Our struggles are not unique to humanity

“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, ‘Look! This is something new’? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9-10, NIV).

“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13, NIV).

We must guard our reaction to trials

 “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:12-13, NIV).

“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of suffering. And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” (1 Peter 5:8-10, NIV).

No matter what you are going through- sickness, family problems, finances, a crisis of faith,etc., you can get through this. Sometimes life forces all of us to make the best of a bad situation and we must learn to be content in all circumstances. The question becomes how much of your limited amount of life do you want to spend wrestling with this problem? In the midst of trials, we must focus on what we can control and let go of what we cannot control. How we respond will factor into how and when we overcome this current obstacle. God bless you all.