“A Thorn in the Flesh”

“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger from satan to harass me to keep me from becoming conceited.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this that it should leave me.  But He said to me “my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, calamities and persecutions.  For when I am weak then I am strong.” ~ 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.

Ever since I became a Christian I have wondered about this passage.  I questioned my seminary professors, I listened to many preachers’ interpretation of this passage.  I’ve read commentaries and scholarly articles that attempt to pick apart this passage.  Apparently, Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” is quite a popular topic of conversation in Christian circles.  There have been many hypothesis regarding the identity of the “thorn.” The overwhelming response…no one knows.  We cannot specifically identify the thorn.

What is the thorn in your flesh? We all have one. That nagging challenge, situation, mind-set, SIN, that besets you.   Mine nags me when I’m at work, when I’m with clients, when I’m with my family, when I sleep it comes out in my dreams and when I’m at church.  It is ALWAYS there.  Not always in the forefront of my mind but in the background.  It seems to cause thoughts to pop in my head that are not positive or Godly and compels me to participate in an emotional spiral that lands me in the depression pit.

What can be done about this thorn?  I have recently come to the conclusion that I have been living under a lie.  I have believed that God should fix all my problems.  That is a lie straight from the pit.  He has the ability to fix to my problems and I should definitely pray to Him and rely on Him in the midst of my problems, but there is nothing in Scripture that says he HAS to fix all my problems.

We need to counteract this lie with several truths. (from Nancy Leigh DeMoss and her book Lies Women Believe)

Truth #1:  God is more concerned about glorifying Himself and changing me than about solving my problems.  (2 Corinthians 4:17) Life is going to be hard.  Scripture says “you will have trials.” Changing yourself is difficult and takes time.  We live in a society of quick fixes.  Hungry, there’s fast food, have a headache, take a Tylenol, need to cook dinner on the fly, pop something in the microwave, need to lose 20 pounds, take a pill, have surgery.  We are all looking for the band-aid but the truth is we have a gaping, oozing wound and a little bandage only covers it up.

Truth #2: God wants to use my problems as part of His sanctifying process in my life.  (Job 23:10) God uses our problems to mold and shape us into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ.  It is only when we internalize this truth that we will experience that “peace that surpasses all understanding” even in the midst of our circumstances.

Truth #3: No matter what problem I am facing, God’s grace is sufficient for me. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)  We want God to wave His magic wand and fix all our problems. Truth is, God is using your problems to make you stronger, more like Him  and to reveal His power to the world in the middle of your weaknesses.

It is time to reframe our thinking and look at our problems as opportunities.  The opportunity to reveal Christ to a hurting world.  THE TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE!!!!!

Counselor, heal thy self

 “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27

The room is fairly spacious, with big bay windows and two doors, one leads to the nurses station, one leads to the backyard which is now overrun by smokers on break from group.  However, I feel cramped as I sit on the floor, cross-legged with seven other young women.  We range in ages, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.  We have two things in common, we all suffer with an eating disorder and now we are all in this group.  We sit, staring at the life-size roll of butcher paper lying on the floor in front of us.  The therapist has given us an assignment and we are all hesitating to begin.  “draw me a picture of how you see yourself, physically.”  She says with what appears to be a sadistic smirk.  I stare at the paper outstretched before me, and trembling I pick up a black permanent marker.  How do I see myself?  I close my eyes and an image forms. I am no artist, however, I think I came pretty close to drawing the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters.  The face was round and had a double chin, no neck and the remainder of the body depicted layer upon layer of fat.  I remember thinking, “yup, that’s pretty accurate.”  Although, I hadn’t really seen my reflection from the neck down for approximately a week. I was said to be a danger to myself and therefore “strongly encouraged” to admit myself as an in-patient.   The mirrors in the bedrooms were small and narrow so you really only saw yourself from the neck up.  Therapists and medical professionals felt this helped to begin to alleviate some of the obsession with our already unrealistic body-image.  Yeah….ok….whatever you say doc!  

The therapist then tells us to take our drawings and place them on the wall at “our height.”  We all comply and pretty soon we are all gazing at each other’s self-portrait. I remember thinking to myself, “she doesn’t look anything like that, she’s so skinny.”  Then came the icing on the body-image cake…we stood with our backs pressed against our drawings, and a person of our choosing would take a marker of a different color and trace our body onto the drawing.  This would help us “really see ourselves.”  I remember stepping away from the completed project and turning around to face “myself.”  What I saw amazed me.  I HAD CURVES, I WAS THIN, I WAS NO LONGER FAT!  I stood in stunned silence and so did others.  This was when my healing began.  To this day I remember that feeling of relief and utter disbelief.  I promised myself I would never lose sight of myself again.

That was over 20 years ago, that I starved myself, exercised myself almost to death, and used various over-the-counter remedies to keep myself thin.  I have grown, I have struggled, I have doubted, I have regressed, I have overcome.  I go through stages where the reflection is unrealistic and stages where I like what I see staring back at me. I have recently lost a considerable amount of weight and did so in a very healthy way, with family and friends watching over me. Even though I have lost 30 pounds, and have reduced my clothing size by 4 sizes,  I admit to you I am stuck in the “unrealistic stage”.  I have voiced my struggles to those amazing women, my accountability partners, who walk through this life with me and they have recommended I seek counsel before this “gets out of hand.”  

Who does a counselor turn to for counsel?  Friends…accountability partners…family? These are all good, positive supports, however, there is One that is better.  How about turning to THE COUNSELOR.  The Counselor spoken of in scripture…the Holy Spirit.  When His disciples were freaking out over His leaving them Jesus basically told them don’t be afraid, I’m going to send a counselor, my spirit to guide you and be with you.  God still speaks, still comforts, still guides, and still has His Hand on us.  We may not be able to see him physically, but He’s here and He cares.

Whatever you are going through…whatever your past, your present or your future, God is there with you, right beside you, holding you.  Don’t lose sight of that.

You’re an overcomer
Stay in the fight ‘til the final round
You’re not going under
‘Cause God is holding you right now
You might be down for a moment
Feeling like it’s hopeless
That’s when He reminds You
That you’re an overcomer
You’re an overcomer ~ Mandisa (Overcomer)

Just like God

Proverbs 3:6

…in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

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My husband and I enjoy hiking.  On Saturday mornings when I don’t go into work, we drive to Piestewa Park and hike on one of the many scenic routes that Arizona has to offer.  On a recent, non-working, Saturday, I attempted to wake up my college age daughter to go with us.  She was very comfortable in her bed so it was just my husband and me.  My daughter’s parting words to me…”don’t be a whiner baby.”  In other words, enjoy yourself and stop complaining about the climb. All throughout the hike my daughter’s words echoed in my brain.  I maintained a positive attitude and also did not whine.  Yes, I had to stop and catch my breath or allow my legs a small reprieve, but I did not whine.  While on the most challenging portion of the hike, I noticed something.  My husband would lead the way and encourage me to follow him.  He was able to navigate the easier ways to climb, with the more sturdy footholds and less chance to slide or fall.  Not once did he complain or use disparaging words to try to “motivate” me. He was just there with his hand out to me in assistance when the climb was steep.  If he heard rocks begin to slip underneath me his hand would extend and he would grab me.  When we reached the peak of our climb, we stopped for an extended water and rest break.  Looking around at God’s Creation, I realized all the physical exertion and shortness of breath had been worth it.  We had persevered and eventually conquered.  It was an amazing feeling.  I even heard the Rocky victory theme in my head.

That’s when it dawned on me. It is this way with God. He choses which path He has for us.  He attempts to lead us down the path He has for us and what do we do, we complain. We whine when it gets difficult and perhaps we even fight Him every step of the way.  He is there with His hand outstretched waiting for us to take ahold of it so He can guide and direct us.  He keeps us on the sturdy path, we often choose the path that looks easier but may be misleading.  Our own paths are created by sinners. God’s path is created from perfection. On our road the dirt and rocks we tread upon are built from our own desires and we are a selfish people. We do not see what lies ahead.  Although God’s path may be rock filled, we may slip, we may fall, He is there with us. He sees what’s ahead. He consistently reaches out His Hand and will catch us when we fall and guide us through the steep climbs and narrow passageways.

Where is He directing you?  What path has He laid out before you?  Are you going down your own path or His?  It may be time for you to change directions and allow God to lead.  His ways may not be our own, however, the best place for you to be is in the Will of God! Stop complaining and enjoy the view!IMG_0899[1]

True Healing

Years ago I remember standing in my fuzzy teddy bear robe, my Michigan, wool-lined slippers and a hot cup of coffee in my hands waving goodbye to my precious children as the morning carpool drives slowly off into the early morning sunrise.  I close the door.

Ahhhhh! A few rare moments alone before the daily hustle and bustle kick in.  I put my feet up and start flipping through the channels on our television trying to find out what’s been happening in the world while I was asleep.

Well, before I even made it to CNN my remote skidded to a halt on an HBO special about the so-called faith healers.   The cathedral was breathtaking; the attendees jumping, clapping, weeping and dancing in the aisles; the choir regally dressed in purple and gold; the orchestra vehemently bringing the music to a heart-pounding crescendo.  Then he makes his entrance, dressed in white, silver hair gleaming under the stage lights, the conductor of this great performance.  Leaping, jumping around on stage, yelling to be heard over the throng of the thousands of witnesses to this symphony.  He asks “do you want to be healed?!?”  “Yes!!!!” cry thousands of people looking for the external healing that this man claims he can bring.  He cries, “I feel a presence in this room tonight, a healing presence!”  Hundreds are hand-picked by the conductor’s apprentices and they make their way to the stage.  In wheelchairs, on crutches, limping, some even on stretchers they come, believing in this man.  The conductor says “rise” and they rise.  “Walk” and they walk.

Sounds good doesn’t it?  Too good to be true.  Well….it is!  I suppose I should tell you that while this man was leaping around on stage “healing” people, a scientist was talking in the background.  He was saying how he has been able to recreate all of this in the laboratory.  He was able to take people and put them in a sensory deprivation chamber, hook up electrodes to certain areas of the brain and recreate that feeling of euphoria, that sense of a “presence” in the room, even that feeling of healing.   The music rising and falling at certain intervals: the colors of the choir robes: the size of the cathedral: and thousands of people suffering from emotional struggles, physical pain, mood disorders, and the belief that they will be healed: all of this can cause certain chemicals to be released into the brain thus giving those in the wheelchairs, and on the crutches that momentary ability to get up and walk (i.e. the placebo effect).  Notice the word “momentary.”  The people who were “healed” at this man’s performances did not achieve any lasting effect.  In fact, most of them were back in the wheelchairs and on the crutches in only hours after this event.

People continually look for the external “feel goods” and external sources to make their lives better, to find happiness, security, healing or inner peace.  We look to crystals, aromatherapy, new age, cults, psychics, and astrology to find peace and tranquillity.  All of it is pure nonsense and it is only temporary.

God, Our Father is the author of permanent inner peace, of permanent healing, how to make our lives better.   He is our only hope of finding true happiness and security.  Peace can be yours for the asking.  Why look for something that only lasts a moment, that only feels good temporarily, when Jesus longs to give you the ultimate peace, and tranquillity that will last eternally? He loves you just as you are and He died for you just as you are: flaws and all.  Come to Him.  Surrender yourself to the One who died for you on Calvary.  He’s waiting with open arms.

Discount Divorce

Discount Divorce – Fast and Easy…When “til’ death us do part” takes too long

I couldn’t believe my eyes.  That’s exactly the wording on a billboard I read recently.  I had to read it four or five times to make sure I was seeing it correctly.  In essence this advertisement recommends that when it takes too long for your spouse to die, it’s time to get a divorce.  I don’t think this is what God had in mind when He created marriage.

In Genesis 2:18, 20-24 we see God’s intent for marriage.  The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone, I will make a helper suitable for him.”  So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh.  Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.  The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman’ for she was taken out of man.”  For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.   God gave marriage as a gift to Adam and Eve.  They were created perfect for each other.  Marriage is designed by God and has three basic concepts: 1) the man leaves his parents and in a public act (the wedding ceremony) promises himself to his wife; 2) the man and woman are joined together and in doing so promise to take responsibility for each other’s welfare and also promise to love the mate above all others and; 3) the two become one flesh in the intimacy and commitment of sexual union that is reserved for marriage.

How about looking at Matthew 19:6 “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”    God intended marriage to be permanent.  Let’s think about the first marriage.  Adam and Eve.  Everything was perfect when they started out.  They had Paradise as their home, had all their needs met and God dwelt among them.  I imagine they talked about everything to each other, shared activities, ate meals together, prayed together.  They had it all.  Until one day things got bad.  Because of human nature both the man and woman sinned.  God punished them each in their own way and cast them out of the Garden.  Now, they had messed up pretty bad.   Adam could’ve blamed Eve for being tempted by the serpent and starting this whole mess.  Eve could’ve come up with some excuse like because Adam wasn’t spending enough time with her and the serpent paid attention to her that was what caused this disaster.   They COULD’VE said those things….but they didn’t.  They could’ve called it quits and left each other to take care of themselves on their own but they didn’t.  They stuck together through good times and bad and God was the center of their union.  It is only when God is the center that everything else falls into place.  God comes first then your spouse.  If you put God first in your life and in your marriage everything goes a little smoother.  Not to say we will have it easy because we won’t.

God tells us in His Word that we will have trials but those trials are made for us to depend on the One who can carry us through them.  Depend on the Lord who created you and your spouse.  He created you for his pleasure and his purpose.  He created a helpmate to stand beside you.  Don’t run away when things get rough, instead run into the arms of your Father who loves you and will help you work through whatever it is you are facing.

Focusing on the Smaller Picture

The longer I am a Christian and the longer I allow God to take control, the more I am convinced that He has an amazing sense of humor.  I believe He thoroughly enjoys talking to us when we least expect it. I remember not too long ago actually getting up the energy to get down on my hands and knees to scrub my floor.  So you can get a complete picture, I’m on my hands and knees with a scrub brush, I’m wearing kneepads and I’m singing several choruses of the Cinderella song.  You know the one, “Cinderelly, Cinderelly all I hear is Cinderelly.”  Anyway, so with sweat trickling from my brow and my fingers all pruny-looking from the water, this is when God chooses to speak to me.  I’m thinking about entire floor I have to scrub and I’m not very happy.  Well, God says to me: “look at the small square of tile in front of you, don’t think about the entire floor.”

That’s when it hits me.  WHAM, right upside the head:

Matthew 6:34 says “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

As Christians we have assurance from the One and Only God that He has a plan for us.  There is a reason He put us here on His earth and why He keeps us here.  However, even firm assurance from God the Almighty, doesn’t keep us from questioning, seeking and desiring the foreknowledge that He has.  We want to see what lies ahead.  But you know what, I don’t know if I’d want to see what lies ahead of me before it’s time.  What lies ahead might be the deepest, darkest, longest, most treacherous trial of my entire life.  Now, if I saw that in my future would I still eagerly walk down the path, that God has chosen for me, if I knew that it was going to lead me there?  God tells us in His Word that we will have trials, we will have pain.  As Christians we will be persecuted for our faith.  Some Christians today are being persecuted, tortured, and even martyred for their faith.  However, we have assurance from God that He knows what lies ahead, He has been there, and will be there with us.

Deuteronomy 31:8 “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you;’ he will never leave you nor forsake you.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” 

What a statement of unconditional love from the Father! No matter what happens in this life, we have His promise that He has seen what lies ahead and He will be there with us.  We need to stop relying on ourselves and surrender to Him.

Don’t obsess about the past (He has seen you through it); stop worrying about tomorrow (He is already there); surrender today to Him (He is here with you now). 

Attitude Control

Has God ever given you a holy nudge? Several years ago, I went in for my yearly Mammogram and the doctor found something.  I did not receive a phone call regarding the finding, just a letter stating they’d found something irregular and needed to check previous films.  For two long days I waited, prayed, waited and prayed some more and so did a lot of my friends and family  As always, God hears and answers the sincere prayers of His children.  The result?  I’m fine.   Nothing physically wrong and no further investigation was needed.  Wrong!  There was a lot of further investigation needed, by me.  God tells us He is to come first in our lives.  God must be in the driver’s seat of our lives, if we are to experience the full, abundant life that is promised us.  My priorities were not in order.  I  had put things before God.  That’s why I called this time in my life my “wake up nudge.”  God gave me a little nudge and told me to get things in the right order.  I’m still working on it and with God’s help, I can do anything.  How are you doing with your priority list?  What is first in your life?  Is it money, possessions, work, status?  Do you put things above God?  Let me encourage you to get your priorities straight.

Matthew 6:33 says “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”   1 Kings 22:5 and 2 Chronicles 18:4 both state this;  “first seek the counsel of the Lord.” God is obviously telling us, His children, to look to him first in ALL things.  Not just when things are going bad or we need help getting through a tough day.  We must look to Him first, for everything, not just when our lives are rough but also when things are going good.

What stops us from putting God first?  Hmmmmm…. Wait.  Let me guess. Our own stubborn need to be in control?  Could that be it?  I know for me that bell rings more true than I would like.  As fallible, imperfect human beings we have a desire to be in control of everything.  You know what I’ve found out?  God does a lot better at controlling my life than I do.

I’d like to close with a story I heard from a very wise pastor.  He told about fighter pilots and how their planes would sometimes go into a stall, totally and completely out of control.  As the jet would accelerate toward the spinning earth below, the pilot would try, in vain, to correct the plane’s attitude on their own. The plane was equipped with a special device that if the pilot ever got into a stall situation, all he would have to do is let go of the control stick and the plane would attempt to correct itself.  The plane’s computer would pull it out of trouble if only the pilot would submit control.  It’s the same with God.  He longs to take over in our lives if we would only submit them to him.  I encourage you to submit the “stick” of your life to God and let Him control your “attitude”.  Believe me, He does a much better job on our lives than we ever could.