Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Staff of God

During my morning Bible study yesterday, I wound up in Judges, chapter six (The story of Gideon). But that led me to the twenty-third Psalm.

Most of you know or are at least aware of this most famous Psalm. Many of you have pondered the meaning of the last part of verse four, “Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” Some have probably even made the connection back to verse one and the fact that the Lord, being the Shepherd, would obviously have a rod and/or a staff in His hand. I’ve heard it said that the idea of the rod is for beating off predators and the idea of the staff (crook) is for keeping the sheep out of danger. [Personally, I think these are references to the same item, not two different items, as if God had one in each hand.] But what I am betting almost none of you know… is that the Lord actually does have a literal staff in His hand.

Wait, what?

First you need to understand something I’ve explained many times in sermons over the years, that is, that in the Old Testament, the Angel of the Lord was often spoken of also as the Lord, Himself. This is not to say all angels were a manifestation of God. Certainly not Michael or Gabriel, who are distinct angelic beings, not God in any way. But when we see the phrase, “The Angel of the Lord,” we are usually talking about a manifestation of God on earth. We can see this in many places, not the least of which is the book of Judges, chapter six, where Gideon meets the Angel of the Lord, and if you read that chapter you’ll see that this angel is actually referred to as “The Lord” on more than one occasion (i.e. vv. 14 and 23). Jacob had a similar experience (one minute he’s wrestling with an angel and the next minute we are told he actually wrestled with God) as did Abraham, Moses… and others. Most theologians (myself included) consider these and similar instances to be visitations of the pre-incarnate Christ (called a Christophony by the scholars). Remember, Christ (the Word) was always with God and He always was God (John 1). Christ was always The Lord, second person of the Trinity (God in Three Persons). We should understand that the pre-flesh Christ (before the incarnation… before He took on flesh and was born) was the God who would visit man face to face. Christ was always the one manifestation of God, visible to man. Christ has always been God, accessible. But that is sort of a whole other blog (or book). So, assuming that you understand this idea already, let me get back to the rod or the staff of God, which I believe is more than a literary or allegorical reference.

Look at Judges 6:21.

“Then the angel of the Lord put out the end of the staff that was in his hand and touched the meat and the unleavened bread; and fire sprang up from the rock…” (NASB).

Notice that the Angel of the Lord had a literal staff in His hand and notice that He used it to do a miracle in order to help Gideon believe that God was with Him. [One might also note that the rod of Moses became the rod of God at the burning bush and was henceforth used to perform miracles in the name of God. Could this have been the same rod in some sense?] So this angel… this messenger or representative of God who is also apparently to be thought of AS God (i.e. the preincarnate Christ) has in His hand an ACTUAL staff and He uses it to calm the fears of Gideon, who was being asked to follow God into dangerous battle.

So, what if the rod and staff mentioned in Psalm 23 are real? What if Christ, our Shepherd, actually has a literal staff in His hand and what if He uses it to reach into our lives and do REAL stuff… like miraculous stuff? What if the Lord, Christ always did have a staff in His hand, as He did when He met Gideon more than 3,000 years ago? What if Christ our Shepherd has been using that same staff to care for His sheep… for those who trust in Him… throughout history? What if His comfort is just as real as the staff? What if the whole thing is as real as wood in His hand? Well, if so, maybe I can take courage. Maybe I can some day even hear the Lord say to me what He said to Gideon: “The Lord is with you, O valiant warrior” (v. 12). If the staff of the Shepherd, who is Christ, is being used in my favor, BY HIM, what have I to fear? Nothing.

Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.


Thursday, January 5, 2017

2017: Random Thoughts, Ideas and Resolutions

1.) It is time for me to stop asking what I can do for God and start asking what He can do for me. I realize that sounds terrible at first. This thought came from my time in the Word of God this morning. 2nd Samuel 7 tells of David’s decision to build God a house. His heart is very good on the matter. David says, “Why should I live in a house of cedar and God in one of curtains.” And Nathan the prophet says, “Go for it!” But later that day, Nathan receives a Word from God and reverses his support, stopping David in his tracks. You probably remember God ultimately wanted David’s son, Solomon to build the temple instead, but you may have forgotten that this is not the first thing God said to David. The first thing God said is that He (God) is actually going to build the house of David (v.11). See, David wanted to build God a house, but God’s response was, “No, I will build your house instead.” I believe sometimes God is saying to us, “Ask not what you can do for Me, but what I can do for you.” Of course, this cannot be taken to the extreme of “health and wealth” nonsense, but neither can the truth of it be ignored by those who really want to understand God. The Lord builds the house, or else those who labor are wasting their time (Psalm 127:1). Christ builds the church, and He does so in response to our faith in Him (Matt 16:18). Believe it or not, many of us pastors hear that once again and in our minds we sort of go, “Oh yeah. I keep forgetting that.” Yes, it is time to stop asking what I can do for God and start asking what He wants to do for me. Refusal to consider such a thing is like Peter refusing to let Jesus wash His feet. It’s a false humility that says God doesn’t have a plan or doesn’t want to do anything for us. Meanwhile, God is saying, “Stop! Believe! Watch!” Yeah, that’s what God showed me this morning in His Word. What does God want to do in 2017? What does He want to do in and through and for me (and in and through and for the church I shepherd). At least for now, that is the question. 

2.)  It is time for me to stop whining about the fact that my kids all left to go so very far away in the same week and that now we must actually get on a plane and take vacation time to even see them at all. Okay, that was my last whine about this situation. The turning point in my thinking came this morning in the realization that this is a VERY exciting time for all of them. I have thought about how proud I am, but I have not thought a lot about the joy that is set before them as they begin their adventurous adult lives, following Christ. With Conner and Caroline at seminary and Tory on the mission field, they are all living out the earliest days of their callings and the truth is that those are some of the most exciting times that I remember. I am genuinely happy for them and this helps me find contentment. Since this is such a great time for them, I will not let it be a bad time for me. My grown children are doing what we raised them to do and what we prayed they would be privileged to do. They are following Jesus. I am as fulfilled in this as in any part of my life; therefore, I refuse to be sad about it anymore. I choose joy. I trust God with the future of our relationships, whether at a distance or not.

3.) It is time to let gratitude win. It is not that I am ungrateful or that I do not see how good I have it. I probably spend 43% of my time thinking like that. But the other 57% of the time, I’ve been complaining. Yuck. It is time to let gratitude win, because I have way more to be thankful for than I have about which to complain. [Mental note: Turn complaints to thanks in 2017. Let's turn this thing around.]

4.) It is time to let the grace of God be enough. I have an overactive conscience. People who are close to me know I feel guilty all the time for basically nothing. I feel guilty for not having work to do most evenings and relaxing in my home. How dare I have time to play WORDS WITH FRIENDS. Aren’t pastors supposed to work all the time? (Answer: No) I feel guilty that I don’t pray and study for hours every day like my wife. I feel guilty for not evangelizing enough. I feel guilty for having it so good. I practically feel guilty for existing. They say confession is good for the soul. The Bible says, “Confess your sins one to another” (James 5:16). My confession is that I feel guilty all the time, not about any particular sin, but about general, overarching areas of my life. Wait a minute. Am I now feeling guilty for feeling guilty?

Note: Most people just have no idea what it is like to be a pastor… to know that a mistake or a weak area could ruin or end your ministry (and on the inside your “ministry” and your “life” seem pretty much synonymous). But the pressure doesn’t come mostly from the people. People are generally gracious. My problem is not the expectations of others, but my expectations of myself. And really, nobody knows my self that well, except me. The truth is that I am probably a whole a lot better than some people think I am. The more I “get real” with people about myself, the more some people jump all over that and they tend to think of me as less spiritual or less moral or basically less… than I actually am. Some people love to think less of leaders. But on the other hand, I am definitely a whole heck of a lot worse than others think I am. Bless these encouraging folks hearts, they just think I’m awesome. And sure, that feels good. But who am I, really? I am a sinner saved by grace. I am a spiritual beggar. I am hopelessly dead on my own BUT I am alive in Christ and His grace makes me spotless before God. And oh, that last part does not equal a license to sin in my mind. Not for me, no. That’s not my problem. I’m on the other extreme… still trying too dang hard. Oh wait… I said “dang.” I also said, “heck” earlier. Does that mean I’m slipping spiritually? Or does it just mean that someone out there will think that? What do I think? Well, let me just say that the introspection that came with this particular new year has brought me this one clear revelation: Personally, I need to give myself a stinking break! I need to remember that the Cross was enough. The Cross was enough. The Cross was enough. Thank you, Jesus.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Sovereignty: Does God Micro-Manage the Universe?

A hyper-extreme view of the sovereignty of God leads to nothing short of insanity.

How’s that for a provocative opening statement? But it’s true. Many have decided that to believe God is sovereign, leaves no room for anything to happen that ever happens anywhere, that is not fully and willfully put into action and directly caused by God. Proponents of this kind of thinking would say that every electron surrounding every atom in the universe, is put into motion and sustained in its orbit around its nucleus, by the active hand of God, so that if any atom ever breaks down, it is because God decided for it to be so, at that very moment. If an earthquake happens anywhere… every single time, God actively caused it. Every raindrop falls by His direct causation. If a bird poops on your head, it is a testimony to the impeccable aim of God. This view, in and of itself, is INSANE… and I haven’t even brought up the unthinkable evil that occurs on this planet, which they twist their brains into believing, God must cause.

Some of you think I am setting up a straw man. I assure you that I am not. Even now… some who hold this type of view are reading what I have written so far, and they are about to call me a Deist (someone who thinks God is not involved with creation, and just lets it all go). They would call ME a Deist... me, a conservative Southern Baptist pastor, who regularly preaches on the concept of sovereignty, who believes firmly that God initiates salvation, that He has a personal relationship with His children, and that He is there to comfort every hurt, and guide us through every difficulty…. And still, they would call me a Deist, if not a heretic. Why? Because I believe God allows some things to run their course (such as most natural disasters and your average rainstorm).

This is how crazy-extreme some have gone with their idea of sovereignty. They say either we believe God micro-manages every single thing that ever happens (including salvation and, oh by the way, EVIL), or we simply do not believe He is sovereign (putting us outside the camp of orthodoxy). Meanwhile, their view of sovereignty means that they do not believe in free will (which, in my view, puts them outside the camp). They believe every single thing that happens, is directly caused by God, and they will go so far as to QUOTE SCRIPTURE to prove that, yes, God is behind every mass murder. You think I am making this up? I am not.

These people typically call themselves Calvinists and/or Reformed, BUT I am here to tell you this is not Calvinism or traditional reformed theology. Rather, this is insanity.

Now, I am not a Calvinist (I affirm between 1 and 3 points, depending on interpretation); however, there are many self-labeled Calvinists who, after discussion, would find little upon which we disagree. On the other hand, there are others calling themselves Calvinists or Reformed thinkers today, who have completely lost their marbles. Their views are simply insane. Most of those views find their roots in a ridiculous view of sovereignty, as if God created a world, only so He could control every nuance of it.

No, I am not a five-point Calvinist, nor am I an Arminian. They were both right… and wrong. Oh my, I think I just made everyone mad. But look no further than every Calvinist’s favorite chapter, Romans 9 to see where they are RIGHT. Except, the thing is… you actually do need to look a little further... to Romans 10, if you want to see the whole picture. Romans 9 and 10 MUST be taken together. Romans 9 is all about God’s sovereignty in salvation. Romans 10 is all about “whosoever” has faith (believes). Some would completely suppress chapter ten, by saying, with one word or another, that God forces people to have faith (the latest wording I heard was that God “imputes” faith into those He chooses)… because we know that dead/unregenerate people simply can’t have faith unless God forces it upon them. This view, by the way, makes faith utterly meaningless (which might be the reason none of Calvin’s five points include a single word about faith). Others would utterly suppress Romans 9, saying that God’s choice means nothing other than an after-the-fact recognition of those who were somehow able to muster up faith without any help from God. Both of those positions are utterly flawed. (Personally, I believe in empowered faith, but not forced faith.) The funny thing is that the Apostle Paul never tried to reconcile these two doctrines (or even those two chapters), but every amateur theologian with a Greek dictionary tries to do just that (usually ending up cancelling out either sovereignty/predestination or free will/faith). It might help to read the end of chapter 11, where Paul winds up the whole discussion by pointing out that God’s ways are unfathomable to man. The two are simply both somehow true whether you and I can understand it or not.

My position is this: A biblical view of SOVEREIGNTY (or predestination when it comes to soteriology) means that it cannot cancel out FAITH (by making it anything less than a free-will response). I have said this a myriad of other ways, but the bottom line is that we must hold these doctrines in tension and never allow ourselves to destroy the integrity of one with our definition of the other. Any view of sovereignty that means a man no longer has a decision (response) to make, flies in the face of the whole of Scripture. “What Scripture???” says the hyper Calvinist. Open your Bible at random and see if you don’t find someone choosing to obey or disobey God of their own free will (i.e. not controlled by God). Having said that, God’s Sovereignty is also everywhere in Scripture! Any view of free-will faith, that means God is not the primary agent of salvation (and ultimately in control of the Universe), is equally flawed.

And see this is why it all comes down to whether it is biblical to hold an extreme view of the sovereignty of God. What does it mean to say that God is in control? Does it mean that He led Eve to the tree, and put words in the mouth of the serpent (Satan)? Some are saying, “Yes, absolutely.” [Those who hold this view have simply lost their senses. I won’t even debate with such a one. They are flat out nuts. They need to stop studying theology, and start reading their Bibles through.]

On the other hand, did God know all of this evil was going to happen? Yep. Did His plan take it all into account? Yep. When He created mankind, was He aware that it meant one day He would need to come and die on a Cross? Undoubtedly. And He loved us (from eternity), so much that He went through with creating us anyway.

By the way, which is a higher view of sovereignty? The view that God micro-manages everything, or the view that God allows some things to run their course, and yet somehow works it all out until ultimately His purposes are accomplished? Must God choose to micro-manage everything in order to be sovereign? Or is God sovereign enough to allow for free will… and still be sovereign? Which of those views lines up with the story of Scripture… the Gospel?

So here’s the deal. There are people out there (I find them especially on Twitter) who are off the deep end one way or another. Various labels are used, but the truth is that within those labels, the majority of us are not really that far off from each other. Wouldn’t it be great if we could stop jumping to extreme conclusions based on nebulous labels and find common ground instead? But this is difficult, because the internet gives powerful voice to people who have lost their minds. So what are we gonna do? Honestly, I am still trying to figure that out. I don’t know whether to start publicly refuting the insane tweets of others or not, but I am leaning toward mostly letting it all go, unless it impacts me directly. After all, God is Sovereign.

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Most Important Prayer

Thy will be done.

Those four words comprise the most important sentence you could ever pray.

Jesus told us to ask, seek and knock, and to expect God to give us what we ask for (Matthew 7:7-11). This principle is seen throughout Scripture. James also indicated that we do not receive, because we do not ask in faith. We are clearly instructed to seek what we desire from God. We are to ask and keep on asking. Jesus even told a parable to illustrate that begging God repeatedly for something is the best way to get it. Sometimes God absolutely WAITS to give us what we are asking for until we ask and keep on fervently asking for an extended period of time.

Preachers of the “Prosperity Gospel,” though heretical, are nonetheless correct in teaching the above half of the equation. Part of their error comes in not including the following warning: Sometimes, when God gives you what you asked for, it is not a good thing. Oh, it is absolutely true that God wants to give you what you want. He doesn’t like saying no to His kids. In fact, God hates saying no so much, that sometimes He says yes even when He knows you are going to be wishing you hadn’t asked in the end.

Wait, really? Yep. Keep reading.

When Jesus taught us to pray, He included the all-important sentence I mentioned above, “Thy will be done.” He also demonstrated this for us from the Garden, where, sweating drops of blood, He prayed, “Nevertheless, Thy will be done, not mine.” Jesus fervently and repeatedly asked for the cup of suffering to pass from Him, but not without including just as fervently, “Thy will be done.”

When it comes to prayer, there is no way to overemphasize the importance of those four words.

Ask the Israelites. When they wanted a king, they forgot to add these words. When they wanted meat in the wilderness, they forgot to add these words. Both times, God gave them EXACTLY what they asked for. In the first instance, they received their king, and it led to war and ultimately destruction. In the second instance, they received so much meat that it caused a plague and many died. God said, “I’ll give you enough meat until it is running out of your noses” (Numbers 11). Both times, their prayers did not line up with the will of God. Both times, all they could think about was what they wanted, and receiving it, they faced the consequences of their own lack of foresight. They forgot to pray, “Thy will be done.”

Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Some would take this as a sure-fire way to get whatever you want from God, like an algebra equation guaranteeing results. Do A and get B. They fail; however, to understand that when A is true, B is automatically changed. When you delight yourself in the Lord, the desires of your heart become conformed to His will. Why? Because when He becomes your delight, His desires become yours.

As a child of God, perhaps the most dangerous thing you could ever do is to ask God for what you desire without adding, “Thy will be done.” God said in advance that He is prone to give His children what they want most (Matthew 7:11). If what you want most is not His will, beware the power of prayer!

Scripture absolutely encourages the children of God to ask for the desires of their hearts. Do not take what I have written to mean you should skip the asking part and simply pray a blanket prayer for the will of God. Not at all! Keep on asking, seeking and knocking. BEG GOD for the desires of your heart! Spend large amounts of time doing this! But don’t forget to add the most important words to your prayer: “Thy will be done.” And don’t be surprised when His will and your will are no longer two different things.

Father, let Your will be done, and let every ounce of my will become Yours.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

When My Church Prays...

God answers.

Oh I realize He answers the prayers of other churches, too, but I want this to be personal, because it is. How dare I barely stop and notice when God does His miracles in response to my prayers and the prayers of my church family. How dare I not take a moment to ponder the reality that I routinely see miraculous things happen as a direct answer to prayer. How dare I not even notice when the God who flung the stars into space stops to listen… and to answer my prayers… and the prayers of my church.

Three recent examples:

1.) We brought a man named Francisco from Colombia to help us plant a Hispanic church. He came legally, of course, but when it was time to renew (or really change) his visa, we began to run into problems and mostly a very long delay. As time marched on, it began to look more and more like he may be forced to return home and leave his work unfinished. Indeed, we had to get special permission for him to stay a little bit longer while the paperwork was being processed. If he had been forced to go home, it would have been horribly sad for many reasons, not least for his small congregation who love him, and not least for his wife and children who love it here and have settled into this place where God led them, by faith. But we prayed and we prayed hard. For many months we prayed our guts out on this issue. And late last night, I got a text from my dear friend. He had received his approval letter from the office of immigration. His visa is approved and he can stay and work legally for the foreseeable future. When my church prays, God answers.

2.) Church members brought a prayer request, not for anyone in our church, but for the son of their postal carrier. [By the way, that tells me a whole lot of good about this couple’s effort to reach out. Proud pastor, here.] The boy had a brain tumor and it didn’t look good. So we prayed. Today I received the report that after the surgery, the doctors spoke of the results as nothing short of miraculous. In fact, there is no sign of the cancer and the boy is operating normally (despite dire warnings about him losing his speech, etc. from the surgery). He has been miraculously healed and doesn’t even need to go back for a check up for a year. When my church prays, God answers.

3.) I had been out Jeeping with a friend and church member last Saturday. After we finished tearing through the snow and were enjoying a hard-earned burger, he mentioned that he was about to be a grandpa. He said his oldest daughter was set to give birth any time. A few days later, I received word that he and his wife were on the way to the hospital across the state. Sadly, their grandbaby had been stillborn… but machine’s were keeping him alive temporarily. This precious newborn’s heart had stopped for eight minutes and his lungs were filled with blood. The doctor told the mother that the baby would probably not live. Quickly, we put the word out to our prayer team, and I called my staff into my office. We prayed. I choked out a prayer through tears but I was able to pray with faith. We didn’t pray for comfort. We prayed for healing. We prayed that God would save this baby, even though it looked pretty hopeless at that point. We prayed for a miracle. Now, the baby’s lungs are clear and he is breathing on his own. All indications are that he is going to be okay. We will keep praying. When my church prays, God answers.

So there you have it. Three examples inside of a week. God answers prayer. I really should keep a lifelong list. My soul magnifies the Lord.

Now, do we always get the result we ask for? Of course not. God is still God and we do not control Him. But my goodness, isn’t it enough that many times God does exactly what we ask? Does it have to be EVERY time for us to have faith and believe prayer makes a difference? Does the answer always have to be yes, for us to keep asking? That would just be illogical and silly.

Think about it. When you were a kid, did you stop asking your parents for what you wanted, just because they didn’t ALWAYS say yes? No, in fact, one yes in a hundred no’s was enough to keep asking… especially if what you wanted was right there in front of you. Remember asking for candy in the aisle at the grocery store? Did you ever stop asking? No, because at least every once in awhile the answer was yes. Well, this week we got three yes answers from God, and I feel like a kid again, because, yes… God gave me what I wanted and EXACTLY what I asked for. And guess what that means. It means, just like a kid, I’m going to be asking more than ever! But the difference between parents and God is that He actually wants us to keep on asking. As Jesus put it,

Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. “You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him. Matthew 7:7-10 (NLT)

So, church family, what are you asking God for these days? Are you asking for Him to make our church all it can be? Are you asking for Him to lead people to the Cross through our ministry? Are you asking for salvations and baptisms and spiritual growth to occur? I hope so. Because, when my church prays, God answers.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Weakness Training

Most people today are familiar with strength training, wherein one works out with weights and does stretches in order to burn fat, tone up, and generally become a stronger person. Those who have read the best seller titled: “The Daniel Plan” by Rick Warren et al, might even be thinking of the phrase “Daniel Strong,” a good goal for us all. Truth be told, I’ve always thought of myself as that kind of strong, and in recent years have done things to try to stay that way… especially as I get older (ugh).

In fact, I have spent several seasons of my life committed to strength training, and had just taken it back up again over the last couple of months, due to the fact that a hip injury had forced me to stop running. I thought, well, since I can’t run I’ll start doing some weights at the gym while I wait for this to heal. However, looking back today I realized that my life of late has been much more about weakness training than strength training.

I think this season of weakness training may have started about a year ago, when I finally laid down my pride, publicly admitted my hearing loss (something I tried to hide for years), and purchased hearing aids. I am only forty-five. In case you don’t know, forty-five-year-olds don’t often get hearing aids, but this one did, and they do help me hear better, but that’s not all they do. They humble me. I used to be really cool. Now, not so much. And if you don’t think wearing hearing aids makes people think you’re old and a lot less cool, I dare you to try it.

So… I started running… and I was really getting into it and, eh hem, kind of proud to have run several half marathons, and was hoping to run a full marathon perhaps in the Fall, but then a few months ago I hurt my hip, mountain biking. In denial, I proceeded to run another half marathon through the pain. After that, my hip got so bad I had to stop running to let it heal, but nothing seemed to make it better. Always before I was that guy who healed ridiculously fast, but this time… no progress at all. What I thought would get better in a couple of weeks is really not much better after three months… and it is debilitating. (Yes moms, I have had x-rays, etc., and have tried one type of doctor and am seeing a different type of doctor starting next week).

So with the injury continuing to cramp my style, the next thing I knew it was time for our annual mission trip to Nicaragua which includes physical work such as building houses. Every other year I’ve been able to impress (myself) as a “hard worker,” putting my physical stamina and strength on display (heh heh). I would be the one to go get the wheel borough full of cement every time (as if anyone noticed), but this time I couldn’t do anything impressive at all, and in fact, felt so crummy that for the first two days, I just wanted to go home. What was my problem? Well things weren’t the same as usual, spiritually (people were less responsive and opportunities were less abundant this year, another blog perhaps) and meanwhile I couldn’t do very much physically either so I just felt completely useless.

To make matters worse, my physical limitation was a hip problem… just like my dear Dad… who is wonderful, but old (just kidding, Dad). But really, everyone misunderstanding the situation (an injury) and talking to me about hip surgery (Dad’s had two), basically made me face that I’m not thirty anymore and to accept the fact that it all gets worse (physically) from here. Some of you know that’s a pretty painful reality check. So here I am trying to convince myself that this is not going to be a problem for me until the day I die, and meanwhile unable to do the work I normally do or to portray the image I normally portray (yes, I know how this sounds), I did what I could, but even what little I did was apparently too much, because there were two nights when I lay in agony, moaning and groaning in pain and not sleeping at all, which led to some really bad days when I couldn’t even think straight. I then made the “mistake” of telling people on our team how much pain I was experiencing, which led to me feeling even more like a total wimp, even as sweet, loving people wanted to fuss over me (and I did appreciate it, but it’s also humbling). Everyone was very caring. Superman (in my own mind) was down. The leader could not lead. He simply was not capable. He was emotionally spent and physically he might as well have been eighty-five. WEAKNESS. I hate it. Ouch.

But that wasn’t the end of the week’s lessons for me. Stomach problems hit next and I spent the week feeling miserable in the gut, but then a sore throat signaled what would become a terrible head cold to go along with my lower end problems. All of this turned into a nightmare on the very long journey home through three airports and six takeoffs and landings. I thought my head would explode… or maybe something else. Everyone felt sorry for me… just what I wanted (not). This terrible trip (from 3 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday) lead to the first time in twenty-five years that I have missed a Sunday service for illness. Yes, I was absolutely keeping track and was quite proud of my flawless twenty-five-year record, now history. I stayed home sick Sunday (in defeat) and three days later I’m just starting to feel well enough to type this blog.

So, I wonder if there is a lesson in all of this for me? DUH!!! As the Apostle Paul put it in 2nd Corinthians 12, God is saying: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” And Paul went on to say, “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”

I must decrease. He must increase. Amen.

We could also insert here any of the many verses about humility and how God is opposed to the proud but lifts up the humble, right? So I say to myself, “Hello, are you listening? What is God trying to teach you, dummy?” And, of course it is obvious isn’t it? I’ve had a dose of weakness training, and the Lord knows I needed it. Mr. Healthy and Mr. Strong is now Mr. Sick and Mr. Weak. And so I say also with Paul, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25a).

Who knew I needed weakness training? God did. And for all of you who are reading this and thinking, “Yeah, we knew you needed it too…” well look out brother, because you may be next. And in case I haven’t been clear, you are not going to like it, because with weakness training, it really is “No pain, no gain.”

So, it has been a rough few months, physically speaking, but now I am understanding more what God is doing, and I have hope for the answer to another of Paul’s prayers in my life, “that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man” (Eph. 3:16). Let it be true, Lord. Let it be true.

I surrender.