Monthly Archives: January 2013

When You Feel Weak

I’m beginning a new adventure! Yesterday was the first day of my entry-level course in spiritual caregiving and chaplaincy. The course is being offered in a very large hospital in my town, and yesterday was an overwhelming but exciting day of learning to navigate the hospital and interact with patients. It’s an amazing opportunity to explore this type of ministry and get out of my comfort zone. I awoke yesterday morning with lots of butterflies in my stomach and self-doubts rolling through my mind.

As we began the day, our chaplain presented a lesson on the holistic nature of people. Basically, a “holistic view” of persons takes all aspects of our humanity into account – physical, mental/emotional, social, and spiritual.  Effective health-care providers understand that there are multiple factors beyond the physical ones that influence a person’s healing process. The chaplain referenced Luke 2:52: “All Jesus grew in wisdom, stature, and in favor with God and with all the people.” The gospel writer Luke was also a physician, so it’s fitting that he described Jesus’ growth not just in physical terms (in stature) but also mentally (in wisdom), spiritually (in favor with God), and socially (in favor with people).

Because I was sitting closest to the chaplain, he asked me to stand for a visual illustration about the connection between what goes on in the mind/emotions and what goes on in the body. He asked me to raise my arm to shoulder level and to keep it raised as he tried to push my arm down. We did this several times, and each time I could resist his pressure against my arm.  When he let go, my arm would spring upward because of the force I was exerting into keeping it raised.

Next, he asked me to do something surprising – to say “I am weak” 15 times aloud. He counted as I stated each “I am weak.” By around the 12th time of saying this, my voice started to tremble. When I finished, we did the exercise again, and I could barely resist the downward force of the chaplain’s hands upon my arm.  When he let go, there was no spring in my arm; I couldn’t help that it just sank to my side. The “fight” had been taken away.

Anyone who lives this life of faith knows that everyday a downward force works against us. Followers of Christ truly experience spiritual resistance, and I have no doubt that it can affect every part of the persons we are. The average person, according to our chaplain, thinks about 80,000 thoughts each day, approximately 80% of which are self-questioning. That means that if I fit these approximations, I think 64,000 negative thoughts about myself every day!

“They’re not going to like me.”

“I’m wasting my time and theirs.”

“What am I doing here?”

“I’m not qualified.”

“I am weak.”

Our chaplain didn’t realize that I was truly struggling with these self-doubts. But maybe he did. The Holy Spirit did. Because when I took my seat, He whispered to my heart a sweet reminder:  “I am weak but He is strong.”

There’s been several times in my ministry journey when I’ve had to step out of my comfort zone. Counseling at the pregnancy center. Walking into the room of a dying person. Making an appointment with a counselor when my joy-tank is running low. Asking for forgiveness when remaining silent would seem far less awkward. Leading a Bible study.

Every single time, I have been very well aware of the “I can’t” thoughts. Sometimes I admit these thoughts have kept me from moving forward. And then other times I’m encouraged by the ones who have run this race before me and overcome, with the help of God’s presence, the doubts, questions, and hesitations. Even Moses, when God called him, responded with, “Who am I?…Oh Lord, I am not eloquent…I am slow of speech and tongue….Please send someone else” (Exodus 3:11; 4:10,13).

God did not reprove Moses’ honest hesitations.  Instead God assures Moses: “I will be with you.” According to the footnotes in my Bible, when the Old Testament says that God is “with” someone, the emphasis is on God’s power to perform His calling. Moses, in dependence on God, went on to lead His people prayerfully and victoriously.

The only reason I can ever take the next step is when I believe Jesus’ gentle reminder: “You are weak but I am strong.”

The “BUT” makes all the difference!

(Jesus’ promise): “You did not choose me, BUT I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit…” John 15:16

(Jesus’ promise): “In this world you will have trouble. BUT take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

(Words of Paul):

“I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling.  My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, BUT with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, BUT on God’s power.” 1 Corinthians 2: 3 – 5

“Such confidence we have through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, BUT our competence comes from God.” 2 Corinthians 3: 4 – 5

“We are hard pressed on every side, BUT not crushed; perplexed, BUT not in despair…” 2 Corinthians 4:8

“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, BUT gives us power, love and self-discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:7

“…I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from 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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12: 7 – 10

Walking in God-confidence means that every day I need to fix my mind on the truth that Christ can walk into my places of weakness and make them avenues of His strength. I need to speak the truth that I am weak BUT He is strong.

And times may arise when I simply cannot hold my arms up. The pressure of pain, negativity, and doubt is heavy against me, and I want to give up the fight.

So as I was walking around the hospital yesterday, I observed the friends and family members gathered around their ailing loved ones, and I thought of this story from Exodus 17: 8 – 13…

While the people of Israel were still at Rephidim, the warriors of Amalek attacked them. Moses commanded Joshua, “Choose some men to go out and fight the army of Amalek for us. Tomorrow, I will stand at the top of the hill, holding the staff of God in my hand.”

So Joshua did what Moses had commanded and fought the army of Amalek. Meanwhile, Moses, Aaron, and Hur climbed to the top of a nearby hill.  As long as Moses held up the staff in his hand, the Israelites had the advantage. But whenever he dropped his hand, the Amalekites gained the advantage. Moses’ arms soon became so tired he could no longer hold them up. So Aaron and Hur found a stone for him to sit on. Then they stood on each side of Moses, holding up his hands. So his hands held steady until sunset. As a result, Joshua overwhelmed the army of Amalek in battle.

To me, this was a picture of what the relatives and friends were doing for their loved ones. Holding up their arms.  God often works through a friend, a neighbor, a relative, a spouse, a parent, a caregiver, a teacher, a mentor, a “Jesus-with-skin-on” to bring help and strength into the fight.

As I’ve been preparing for this new class, I’ve shared a bit of my “I’m weak” worries with my friend Rhonda who has walked this path before me. In recent days, Rhonda’s encouragement has held up my arms:

“…you will be so blessed as you bless others!!! Felt just the same way as you do but you are so equipped for the class…So excited to see how God works in and through you for His Glory!”

So, would you join me today, in lifting up our hands and surrendering those “I am weak” moments? Or lifting up someone else through your encouragement? Words are powerful. Listen carefully to the words that you speak to yourself and to others. Are they consistent with what God says? Together, with God-confidence and the power of the Holy Spirit, we can choose life, strength, and hope and rise above the discouragement that would hold us down.

Apart from Christ we can do nothing (John 15:5), BUT through Christ we can do all things! (Philippians 4:13).

… the tongue of the wise brings healing. ~ Proverbs 12:18

The soothing tongue is a tree of life … ~ Proverbs 15:4


Because I’m eagerly awaiting a new passport, I’ve spent time recently browsing the website of the U.S. Department of State. In order to check on the status of my passport, I had to agree to read the privacy acts and disclaimers. While reading (yes, I did) I came across some details about the Great Seal of the United States.

The design on the front of the Great Seal is the United States coat of arms. This official image appears on coins, stamps, military uniforms, state monuments, federal buildings, and passports. It is distinctly American and expresses identification with the United States. So when I travel to another country, my passport – with its representation of the U.S. – distinguishes me as an American citizen.


All this got me thinking about the significance of a seal. The US State Department and the Office of the President use seals on all of their official correspondence. The use of a seal to identify and to represent authority can be documented from way, way back in the day.  In fact, seals were used in biblical times, as evidenced by archeology and their mention throughout the Old Testament (Genesis 38; Exodus 28; 1 Kings 21; Nehemiah 9; Esther 3 & 8, etc…).

Seals were made of wax which was melted and impressed with an identifying mark. This mark was typically borne on a signet ring. Seals gave authority to letters and royal decrees. For example, in the story of Daniel and the lions, the door of the den was secured with the king’s seal (Daniel 6:17).

In the New Testament, the Scriptures speak of a seal as an important spiritual truth:

“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.” Ephesians 1: 13 – 14


When the King of Kings seals us with the Holy Spirit, as it says in Ephesians 1, He marks us as His own possession.

Now it is God who set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. 2 Corinthians 1: 22

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Ephesians 4:30005

As the Holy Spirit inspired the writing of Ephesians, He knew that the image of a seal was something that Paul and the Ephesian people would understand. Ephesus was a port where extensive trading of timber took place. The merchant, after selecting his timber, stamped it with his signet ring. The seal served as a pledge of purchase.

The Holy Spirit’s presence within us is God’s pledge of purchase. The transaction is complete!

That is grace. I’ve been bought with the precious price of my Savior’s blood and claimed by Him as His own.

There’s no need for striving or being good in my “religion.” Instead I am free to enjoy a relationship with my Redeemer. When I truly comprehend that God has made a TOTAL transaction for my life, I am free to live out His seal of approval with loving worship and grateful service.

AND (this is big) when I’m tempted to be overly-swayed by the approval (or lack thereof) of people, the King’s acceptance of me is my joy and security. Eternally speaking, that’s all that really matters. As my favorite writer Ann Voskamp says, “Life is about altars and not applause.”

A seal signifies a guarantee of protection.

Closed doors were often sealed to prevent the entrance of an unauthorized person. Matthew 27 tells us that the chief priests and Pharisees asked for a Roman seal upon the stone at Jesus’ tomb (verse 66).

Many years ago, before there were caps, bottles were commonly sealed with wax. The seal protected the contents inside.

In the same way, when the Holy Spirit comes to live within us, He guards us from the sins and failures of our past, from accusation, present & future condemnation, and the powers of this dark world.

Jesus promised in the Gospel of John:

I give my sheep eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand” (10:28).


A seal also signifies authenticity. Remember the merchant in the Ephesus port? He usually did not take his purchase at the time but left the timber in the harbor. One of his workers would come back later with the merchant’s ring to verify the purchase and take the timber with the matching seal.

The Holy Spirit is God’s image impressed upon those who belong to Him.

In her wonderful book, Grace for the Good Girl, Emily Freeman explains that in the Garden of Eden, Satan convinced Eve that if she ate the fruit then she would become like God.  The lie was that Eve had to do something in order to be something

I think Satan still tries to snare us with this lie.

  • If you serve in the church, then you will be acceptable.
  • If you follow the rules, you’ll be good enough.
  • If you stay out in the fields and work like the older brother, you’ll be loved by your Father (Luke 15).

Becoming like Jesus doesn’t happen under the yoke of achieving. Jesus says that his yoke is easy and his burden is light.

2 Corinthians 3:18 – “And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.”

It’s the Holy Spirit who makes us more and more like Jesus.

Becoming like Jesus happens through receiving. Receiving the transforming power of the Spirit.

This is what the “sealed life” looks like for me: living in freedom, blessed assurance, and with life-changing grace.

Here’s my heart, Lord. Take and seal it; seal it for Thy courts above.

I am a citizen of Heaven and I already have my Passport!

“Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm;
for love is as strong as death,
    its jealousy unyielding as the grave.
It burns like blazing fire,
    like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love;
    rivers cannot sweep it away.” Song of Solomon 8: 6 – 7


A Time to …

(Sigh…) The lights lay in a pile on the floor, as it’s that necessary day in January – the day the Christmas tree leaves the house.  Although I don’t look forward to this annual chore, it always triggers a favorite memory of my sweet girl.

Caroline, a kindergartener, had just finished learning about all of the December holidays in school. A wonderful Christmas had past. My husband and I were relieved that Caroline was too busy playing outside to notice that we were dismantling the tree. After we hauled it to the curb, I went inside to deal with the stray needles. But from the front window, I suddenly noticed Caroline standing over the tree. Alarmed that she was so close to the street, I hurried outside to see what was going on.

As I suspected, my girl was crying, but she caught me completely off guard with what she said.

Tears streaming, Caroline wailed – “We forgot to do Hanukkah!!

Oh, how I tried not to laugh.

Caroline is the sort who rises early every day, even when she doesn’t need to. There are new things to learn, new books to read, new pictures to paint. Caroline is the type of person who decorates for Christmas without muttering about how long it will take to pack the stuff back up (ahem, isn’t that what mom is for?)

Caroline has the innocent, unburdened perspective of a child. I’m grateful that she’s had the kind of childhood that allows her to expect a good day everyday. She sees life through the lens of anticipation.

Over the past few days, I’ve heard several references to the well-known Scripture found in Ecclesiastes 3:

For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest. A time to kill and a time to heal. A time to tear down and a time to build up. A time to cry and a time to laugh.  A time to grieve and a time to dance. A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones. A time to embrace and a time to turn away.  A time to search and a time to quit searching. A time to keep and a time to throw away. A time to tear and a time to mend. A time to be quiet and a time to speak.  A time to love and a time to hate. A time for war and a time for peace.

What do people really get for all their hard work? I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end (verses 1 – 11).

This passage offers the wise perspective that a young girl like Caroline does not yet fully possess.  But in small ways, she’s learning. Today will help her understand that there is a time to keep and a time to throw away. The sadness of saying goodbye to this tree will eventually turn into anticipation and appreciation for the next trip to the tree farm.

Ecclesiastes 3 was fittingly read at a funeral that I attended yesterday. The family grieves this dear lady, but they are comforted by knowing that she had peace with her Lord and Savior and she accepted that it was her time to die. While I didn’t know this sweet woman personally, I came to appreciate, through the lovely words said of her, all the ways that she made life beautiful for her loved ones. According to her son-in-law’s heartfelt tribute, “She lived life fully and with purpose.” Most importantly, she understood that God had made her heart for eternity, and she lived in view of an unending season of fellowship with Him.

Ecclesiastes 3 speaks of closures but also beginnings. In Christ, a passing away is a promise coming.

In the bleakness of January we anticipate the beauty of April. But sometimes new seasons, with their closures and beginnings, are messy. Often, when we think of “new” we think of things shiny, orderly, and efficient. But “new” in life is not like a new appliance. “New” is not necessarily easy. Usually it means an end to something that may have been beautiful or, at least, comfortable.

Daffodils are a spring favorite until they droop, and the messy leaves have to remain in order to feed the bulb and strengthen it for next year’s bloom. Where I live, autumn creates a big, beautiful mess. But throughout winter months, the decomposing leaves provide essential nutrients to the soil.

The cyclical nature of seasons, even in the bleak midwinter, serves a preparatory purpose. Growth awaits. New life. Hope.

Duke Cancer Center, where I’ll be spending the day tomorrow with Daddy, is newly refurbished. It’s pretty and shiny, and no one wants to be there. Painful procedures and painful discussions happen behind the fancy exterior. The pain is meant to serve healing purposes. If not healing in the body, perhaps healing in the spirit. It’s the kind of pain that triggers a shift in perspective. You go there and realize that while the seasons of climate are relatively predictable, the seasons of physical life are sometimes not.

And so, when we think we know what to expect, we really don’t. In a mortal world, we see through lenses that are scratched and dulled by the jagged edges of sin, brokenness, and grief.

Even still, in seasons we couldn’t and didn’t predict, there are preparatory purposes. Even here, growth awaits. New life. And Hope. The truth, as told in Ecclesiastes, is that we were created for an eternal world. A different set of eyes are needed.

The season of Hope is not contained to Christmas or even Easter. It’s not boxed in the attic or hauled to the curb.

Because ultimately each of us needs Someone who created the seasons and knows the scope of time from beginning to end. We need His eyes to see beyond the exterior and into the eternal. To see beyond the mess and into the meaning of it all.

The eternal cannot be boxed or packed or managed. One day everything that once looked messy will have meaning. We will see. For now – in whatever season we find ourselves – let us live with anticipation, fully and with purpose.

The seasons, those present or those that have passed away, hold for us purposes unfolding and promises coming.

“Go” – A Prayer for the New Year

We hear Your call to go – go and make disciples,

Identify with strangers, walk on shifting sands, and

Build a kingdom church.

“Go” is not a comfortable word.

Teach us how to depend on You again;

We need Your initiative, Your boldness, Your blessing,

Your plan.

Make us unafraid to break new ground,

To take new steps of faith with You.

Do a new thing, Father…

Give a new passion for worship, a new love

For the lost,

A new unity in purpose, a new strength in our resolve,

A new heart of repentance, a new humanity of spirit,

A new pulse for the people, a new heart laid bare,

And send us out.

~ A Salvation Army Prayer, printed in It’s Just You & Me, Lord: Prayers for a Woman’s Life by Marion Stroud (2012)

Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28: 18 – 20