Tag Archives: heart

Handicapped


hand*i*cap [han*dee*kap] n. any disadvantage that makes success more difficult

All of us are handicapped in some way. Some are fortunate enough to wear their handicap on the outside. (That sounds callous. I don’t mean it to. I know that there can be deep physical, emotional an mental pain connected to a handicap.)

I’m using the word “fortunate” in a relative sense. Those with a visible handicap are potentially more fortunate than those with invisible handicaps, because having a visible handicap forces you to deal with it. People know about it. They make comments about it or joke about it or tease you about it. Kids on playgrounds get picked on about it. Most get treated differently because of it.

But as counter intuitive as this sounds, public reaction/response to a handicap can be a gift, because it elicits a response from us. We either become bitter, or we become better.  Think of some of the inspirational people you know of who achieved great things despite their handicap.

  • Theodore Roosevelt, Leonardo da Vinci, Aristotle and Michelangelo all suffered from epilepsy.
  • Helen Keller, Harriet Tubman, Claude Monet and Louis Braille were all visually impaired.
  • Tiger Woods, Jimmy Stewart, Moses and Aesop all had or have speech impediments.
  • Joni Eareckson Tada, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Itzhak Perlman are/were all in wheelchairs.
  • Howie Mandel, David Beckham and Donald Trump all struggle with OCD.

I propose that the success these people enjoy(ed) in their chosen line of work/ministry is connected to their disability. In dealing with their handicap, they developed strength, resolve, patience, faith, compassion, trust, perseverance, confidence, maturity, wisdom or any number of other positive coping mechanisms. Their handicap was the grain of sand in they oyster that produced the pearl.

Granted, many deal with their disability poorly. They become resentful or insecure.  Angry or depressed.  Discouraged or defeated.  Some retreat into the shadows to avoid the pain of public disdain. Some lash out and try to inflict as much damage as possible. Hurt people hurt people.

These are tragic stories, but we should recognize that there was choice involved.  No one forced these people to choose bitter instead of better.  Many have suffered with the same limitations and chosen to “prove the world wrong” or to “show what I can do despite this challenge.”  In life, it’s less import what hand we are dealt and more important what we do with the hand we are dealt.

For everyone with a visible handicap, there must be dozens of us with handicaps that no one can see. They are wounds on the inside or detrimental ways of thinking. They are experiences and pains that we’ve hidden far away from view. Because they are not visible, we aren’t forced to deal with them. And because we aren’t forced to deal with them, we usually don’t. But they continue to eat away at us. They continue to influence our decision making. They continue to hold us hostage.

There’s not a single person on this earth who isn’t hurting in some way. It’s a result of the sin condition, and it affects us all.   Often, the pains on the inside hurt us the most, because pretending that the handicap isn’t there lets it continue to have power over us.  Our coping mechanism doesn’t produce a pearl; it produces the neuroses of depression, stress, anxiety, obsessive behaviors, paranoia or fear.

The best thing we can do to help ourselves with an invisible handicap is to bring it out into the open. We should quit denying its existence, and expose it to the light of day with a trusted friend or counselor.  That begins the healing process.  Before long, we will find that God will bring someone else into our life who is struggling with the same disability, and helping that person to heal helps us to heal even faster.

Hidden in every handicap, both the visible and the invisible kind, is an invitation and a gift.  The handicap invites us to trust God more, to lean on Him, to depend upon Him.  If we accept the invitation, we receive the gift.  The gift is a tool to shape us more in God’s likeness, to cut away the parts of our heart that are our true disability – our pride and our selfishness.

Without the handicap, our self-sufficiency would carry us far from God.  When He allows us to be hurt (because even though God is not the author of evil, there is nothing that happens that He is unaware of or powerless to prevent), it is an act of love.  God’s purpose in allowing the disability is that we will come to the end of ourselves sooner and return to Him.

Give God thanks for your handicap, whatever it might be.  Then, let Him use it to bring you closer to Him and to bless the world around you.

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Filed under acceptance, Challenges, delayed gratification, determination, growth, heart, motivation, overcoming obstacles

Shoveling Darkness


My pastor from a few churches back (Steve Holt of Mountain Springs Church in Colorado) used an illustration in one of his sermons, and it’s stuck with me.

He said that our hearts have dark rooms in them.  The darkness comes from the sin in our lives.  We know that it’s there, and we want to get rid of it, but we aren’t sure how to do it.  So, we take a bucket into the room and start shoveling darkness out bucketful by bucketful.

This approach almost always meets with frustration and guilt, because we can’t shovel out the darkness fast enough to make a difference.  We exhaust ourselves trying to change bad habits and get rid of sin only to find that they replenished themselves while we were shoveling out the next bucketful.

A better solution (and one that actually works) is to simply turn on the light.  It chases away the darkness.

How many times have we struggled with sin in our hearts and in our behaviors that just wouldn’t go away?  Satan first tempts us to commit the sin and then becomes our accuser, beating us up with same weapon he just convinced us to give him.  We suffer tremendous guilt and discouragement in our walk and often give up, thinking it’s just not possible to get free.

It probably isnt possible if we are just shoveling darkness.  We need the light of Christ in our hearts to conquer these persistent sins.  It’s available through God’s Word, through other godly believers, through acts of service and love, through prayer and many other spiritual disciplines.  Once the light is on, it’s so much easier to say, “no,” to temptation, to gain consistency in our walk.

So maybe we should stop stressing so much about the sin that we want to take out of our hearts and start focusing on letting more light in.  Once God gets into a room of our hearts, He will clean it up and take out the trash for us.

“Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,” says the Lord Almighty. (Zechariah 4:6)

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Filed under christianity, growth, guilt, habits, heart, mistakes, overcoming obstacles, Religion, sanctification, sin, Spiritual Growth, Spirituality

The Heart of Mongolia


I was in Ulaanbataar, Mongolia, a few months ago for a pastor’s conference.  We had a great time meeting the leaders of the Mongolian churches and appreciated their excitement about and dedication to learning about ministering to children.

On the third day of the conference, the president of my organization opened the day’s sessions with a story about visiting the local trash dump the day before.  He had seen men, women and children there, who were all desperately struggling to survive.  They actually lived in the dump and made their living by collecting and organizing recyclable materials.  Before our president finished speaking, he had the entire room in tears.

Later that day, one of the leaders of the conference announced that they had made a decision.  No one felt that they could enjoy their dinner that evening knowing that so many of Mongolians were starving in that terrible place.  They had all agreed that they would fast that evening and ask the kitchen to box up their dinners so that they could take them to the people at the dump site.

I was privileged to be allowed to witness their act of love, and I’ll share with you some of the photos from that day.  (To preserve the dignity of those living in the dump, I’m excluding pictures that show faces.)

Church leaders taking their dinners to the people living in the dump site

Church Leaders taking their dinners to the people in the dump site

Church Leaders taking their dinners to the people in the dump site

First exposure for some of us

First exposure for some of us


Resident of the dump site

Resident of the dump site

Talking with the people

Talking with the people

Dump trucks bringing garbage and taking recycling materials

Dump trucks bringing garbage and taking recycling materials

Dangerous environment

Dangerous environment

One of the many children we met

One of the many children we met

Animal carcasses

Animal carcasses

Praying for some of the residents

Praying for some of the residents

Taking a break to enjoy the meal

Taking a break to enjoy the meal

A hard life

A hard life

Houses built by the residents of the dump site

Houses built by the residents of the dump site

Getting to know the people

Getting to know the people

Sharing dinner

Sharing dinner

Praying for a woman

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Filed under agape love, Caring for the Poor, christianity, evangelism, grace, Interpersonal, love, Relationships, Religion, Service, Serving Others, Spirituality, unconditional love

Performance-Based Poison


One of the supreme struggles of my life is weaning myself off performance-based poison. It’s the compulsion to evaluate myself and others based on what we do, and it’s based on the fallacy that our performance is the best way to judge a person’s worth. Truth is, only God can make that kind of judgment, but it doesn’t stop us from trying. Even in the Church.

We look around at the believers around us and judge. We compare all the things we are doing for God to what we see others doing, and we feel pretty smug. …or, we don’t. Sometimes we compare ourselves to others, and we are disheartened by how much better Christians they are.

Either way, we are missing the boat. God doesn’t want us looking at each other; He wants us looking at Him. Jesus didn’t say, “the Son…can do only what He sees his neighbor doing.” He said, “the Son…can do only what He sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (John 5:19) That’s our model to follow.

Comparisons take our eyes off God’s standard. Our neighbor isn’t an accurate yardstick with which to judge our walk. Only God’s standard gives a true measure. But what’s worse is that comparisons create competition, and competition poisons our compassion for our neighbor. We find it difficult to be happy for them when they succeed, and we might even take a little satisfaction when they struggle. Why? Because they are the competition, and bad news for them means we’re moving up in comparison.

How does this square with Paul’s directive to “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn?” (Romans 12:15) How can we do that unless we have genuine empathy for those around us? And how can we have genuine empathy for others when we are always playing “One Up-One Down” with them.

You may not have heard of it, but you know what it is – a sick, little game that many of us play with the people around us. Here are the rules. When you first meet someone, try to decide who is better. You can pick any category you want. Here are a few examples:

  • Who’s better looking?
  • Who has better teeth?
  • Whose children are more well-behaved?
  • Who is smarter?
  • Who has a nicer car?
  • Who earns more money?

Whoever wins these contests goes “one up.” The other goes “one down.” Then, we try to protect our opinion. If we think we are better, we look for evidence that confirms our hypothesis. If we think we are worse, we tend to accept data that agrees with that supposition. Sometimes we might reject our original assessment and fight to prove it wrong, but this happens less than you might think.

When we start doing this in the Church, we compare things like:

  • Who volunteers more?
  • Who knows more Scripture?
  • Who spends time with the pastor?
  • Who tithes more?
  • Who attends more church meetings and serves on more committees?
  • Who sits in the “amen” pew?
  • Who speaks in tongues?
  • Who sings better?
  • Who fasts and prays the most?

Can you see how sick this is? How backward? Jesus does. Remember when the disciples were fighting over who would be the greatest in the Kingdom? (It’s “One Up-One Down – Special Eternity Edition.”) Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

I trust He was referring to children’s better qualities, like innocence and unconditional love. My kids play plenty of “One Up-One Down,” but they didn’t use to. There was a brief window of time when they didn’t measure themselves against their friends or each other, when they didn’t care whose dad could beat up who or who was better at video games.

Jesus was saying to the disciples, “You’ve got it backwards. If you’re winning at “One Up-One Down,” you’re losing on My scorecard.” For one thing, humility scores big points with God. It’s hard to be humble while we are jockeying for position.

And secondly, it’s not about performance; it’s about the condition of our hearts. It’s possible to have the most points with our church for volunteer hours and the least points with God for the condition of our hearts. Our motive has to be love, or all our works count for nothing with God.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

It’s not what we do so much as how we do what we do.  And if what we do is only done to outdo what others do, we might as well not have done it.

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Filed under christianity, God's Will, Interpersonal, Relationships, Religion, Spiritual Growth, Spirituality, unconditional love

After the Mountain-top


I’m just returning from summer camp this year. Every year for the past ten years, I’ve gone to Texas in either June or July to participate in a camp for abused and neglected children. It’s always a mountain-top experience for me. I feel more focused, more attuned with God during the days and weeks leading up to camp and during the week of camp. My quiet times are great. I don’t struggle as much with sin. I hear God speaking to my heart clearly and unmistakably.

But after camp, I typically experience a letdown, a spiritual time of randomness. I may go for days or even weeks without spending quality time with the Lord. I fall into sinful patterns that I thought I had licked. I feel guilty and unfocused – spiritually lethargic. Why does this happen?

I think it has much to do with not having a specific goal on which to attach my spiritual disciplines. Before camp, everything is focused on getting my heart ready to minister to the kids. After camp, I lose my motivation. It’s not that I believe the spiritual disciplines are only worth doing in preparation for an event, but I just find it easier to do them when I’ve got my eyes on a goal. I have more energy to do them. I have more delight in doing them.

Another reason coming off the mountain is so difficult is because I put every ounce of energy into the mountaintop. When it’s over, I am physically, mentally and emotionally drained. I think my spirit is still full of energy, but it gets trumped by my lack of resources in other areas. After camp, I go into a bit of a walking coma until my resources are replenished.

I think this pattern is mirrored in Scripture:

  • Moses spent a month and a half communing with God on Mount Sinai and getting the ten commandments on stone tablets, but when he descended the mountain to rejoin the Israelites, he found that his brother had opened an idol-worshiping night club.
  • Elijah showed up the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah in an old-fashioned show-down on top of Mount Carmel.  Then, he accurately predicted the weather (the greatest miracle in all the Bible), but he didn’t get much time to celebrate.  Jezebel took out a contract on his life, and Elijah became so discouraged that he prayed God would end his meteorologist career.

  • Jesus peeled back His humanity to reveal a glimpse of His glory to Peter, James and John on a mountain.  They had to be stoked coming back down.  They had been arguing with the others about who was the greatest, and now it looked like Jesus had tipped His hat in their direction.  But when they reached the bottom, everything was chaos.  The disciples had been trying unsuccessfully to cast a demon out of a boy, and Jesus had to step in to clean up their mess.  Goodbye spiritual high.  Hello real world!

The time on the mountain is a blessing.  God allows us to participate in His work, and He teaches us many things while we are with Him there.  It’s easy to completely spend ourselves in the experience, but it’s unwise, because when we are done on the mountain, we have to return to the valley.  God teaches us on top of the mountain and then tests us in the valley.  He wants to know if we can use what we’ve learned.

In the valley, God’s tests move what He’s taught us from our heads to our hearts.  When the lessons are only in our heads, the Enemy will come and try to snatch them away (like the bird in the Parable of the Sower).  But through the testing, God can plant them deeply in our hearts, where they will grow and produce an abundant harvest.  If we anticipate the Enemy’s attempt to steal our seeds and save some fight for this test, we will be much better prepared to leave the mountain-top.

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Filed under Challenges, christianity, expectations, overcoming obstacles, Religion, Spiritual Growth, Spirituality

Comp-HEART-ments


Teaching kids about their spiritual “heart” is tricky business. Kids are usually quite literal until their teenage years, so it’s easy for them to misunderstand a statement like “ask Jesus into your heart.” I’ve struggled with this for a long time in children’s ministry, but I think I’ve found a way of talking about the heart that they understand.

Your spiritual heart is different from your physical heart. Your physical heart pumps blood throughout your body and keeps you alive. It’s very important. But believe it or not, it’s not quite as important as your spiritual heart.

You can’t actually find your spiritual heart in your body. It’s part of your mind, but no one is really sure what part. Most likely, it’s a combination of parts that work together. In your spiritual heart, you store the things that are most important to you. These can be people, places and things, and each one gets its own special room.

Everyone has a door on the outside of their heart. Sometimes people decide what important things they let into their hearts through this door, but sometimes things force their way in. Anything that is very emotional for us has a way to get past the door to our heart and take over a room on the inside.

More than anything, Jesus wants to come into our hearts, but He will never force his way in. He stands outside and knocks on our door, and even though He is powerful enough to come in without our permission, He always waits to be invited. In the book of Revelation, Jesus says:

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in… (Revelation 3:20)

If we open the door to Him, He comes into the first rooms in our heart, which are the places God reserved for Eternity when He created us.

Every human being was created with these rooms in his or her heart, because God didn’t want us to be satisfied living without Him. Unfortunately, many people don’t ever answer the door when Jesus knocks. Instead, they try to fill these rooms with other things (like money, relationships and things) so that they won’t feel so empty.

But if we do allow Jesus to come into these rooms, the first thing He does is turn on the lights. This gives us hope and excitement for the things Jesus is ready and willing to do in our lives. Often, this leads us to invite Jesus into other rooms, like the one that determines who (or what) we worship.

Once Jesus enters that room, He starts to show us what we’ve been worshipping instead of Him. He starts to “rearrange the furniture” in our rooms. In other words, He evaluates what’s in there and either asks us to get rid of it (if it’s junk) or to put it in the right place (if it’s worth keeping but getting more attention than it deserves).

When those rooms are in pretty good shape, Jesus will knock on doors to other rooms. He never barges in. We have to open the door for Him.

Sometimes opening the doors is very scary for us. We worry about what Jesus will think of us when He sees what we’ve put in the rooms, and we worry that He will make us get rid of some of the things we really, really like. As a result of our fears, we don’t always let Jesus into all our rooms.

We may only let Him into a few rooms at a time, and He might have to do a lot of knocking to get into them. While He stands on the other side of the door, we sometimes have a conversation with Him that goes something like this:

JESUS: “I would like to meet your friends. Will you let me into that room?”

US: “Oh, uh, my friends? Well, some of them aren’t the kind of people you would like very much.”

JESUS: “Really? Why would you think that?”

US: “Well, they use bad language and do things they shouldn’t do sometimes.”

JESUS: “So did you before you let Me into your heart.”

US: “Hmmm… well, that makes sense. Okay, I’ll try to find a good time to introduce You.”

JESUS: “Thanks for introducing me to them. I’ve been knocking on the doors to their hearts for years, but I think they are just now starting to hear Me.”

US: “Yeah, that wasn’t so tough. I’m going to start praying for them every day.”

JESUS: “Say, what about the friends in that other room?”

US: “Oh, I can’t introduce You to them. They hate it when anyone talks about You. They make fun of Christians, and they definitely will make fun of me if they find out I’m one.”

JESUS: “Still, I would really like to meet them, and I wish you weren’t ashamed of Me around them. If they don’t like you because of Me, maybe you should find some other friends. Why don’t you introduce Me, and we’ll see how it turns out?”

US: “Okay, but that scares me to death. Please give me courage.”

US: “That wasn’t easy, but I can see now how those friends were hurting my spiritual growth. I’m glad I let You in that room.”

JESUS: “Keep praying for them. I’ve got plans for their lives, too. You’ve taken a really big step by opening that room to Me. Now let’s talk about all these other places you could open up.”

And the conversation continues, Jesus knocking, us choosing whether or not to respond to His knock. Sometimes we have a major spiritual breakthrough and start throwing many doors open to Jesus. We let Him into our family relationships, our crushes and dating relationships, how we spend our free time, how we spend our money, our habits, the things we desire for ourselves and others…

Jesus sanctifies each room (that’s a big word that means setting something aside for God). He claims each room for His purposes and begins to show us His will for those things that are so important to us. Sometimes He completely empties a room and replaces what was in it with something better, like when He introduces us to new people and helps us care for them or like when He shows us the ministry where He wants us to use our time, talents and treasure.

Room-by-room, Jesus brings light to our heart. He will go anywhere we invite Him, but He knows that some rooms will take more time for us to open. The rooms that hold our Fears, Disappointments, Hates and Hurts are particularly difficult. We didn’t invite these things; they forced their way in and claimed rooms in the deepest, darkest corners of our heart. Over the years, they have become strongholds for Satan. He uses them as his bases of operation as he leads us into sin and prevents us from becoming all that God wants us to be.

It takes incredible courage to open the doors of these rooms to Jesus. Each one is filled with so much fear and pain that the doors can only open a fraction at first. If our courage fails us, we slam them shut again, but if we release these rooms to Jesus, He enters boldly, throws the light switch and evicts the Enemy!

In the light, Jesus shows us the lies that Satan has been telling us about these rooms while we were too afraid to open them and inspect them carefully. Under His loving care, we begin to see how we can turn these Fears, Disappointments, Hates and Hurts into New Hope, New Acceptance, New Love and New Strength.

Jesus is patient, but He isn’t satisfied with only part of our heart.  He’ll keep knocking until we open every door to every room.  He’s persistent with a purpose.  Jesus wants us to know that those things we don’t release to Him end up owning us.  They lead to unhappiness and failure, and they give Satan a hold on our hearts.  It’s only the heart completely open to God that can fully shine His light.

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Filed under christianity, eternity, heart, Religion, Spiritual Growth, Spirituality, Uncategorized

Walking With God: A Dramedy


[MICHAEL and GOD enter.  They are walking together….sort of.  MICHAEL is in front.]

MICHAEL: “Hey, God.  Where are we going?  It sure is taking a long time.”

GOD: “I’ll show you when it’s time.  You’re not ready yet.”

MICHAEL: [Flash of inspiration] “Oh!  I know!  We’re headed to a place where I’m going to be really important and where people will all want to hear what I have to say and where I’ll never have to worry about money again!”

GOD: “Slow down a little.  You’re getting ahead of Me.  That’s not quite what I had in mind.”

MICHAEL: “But God, You’re the one who made me.  You gave me a passion for teaching and for writing.  Why did You give me those things if You weren’t going to let me use them?”

GOD: “You’re using them now, aren’t you?”

MICHAEL: “Well….yes, but I thought I would get to use them, well, you know….bigger.”

GOD: “Possibly, but you’ve got to show me how you handle small things before I will trust you with bigger things.”

MICHAEL: [Flash of inspiration] “Oh!  I know!  I’ll write a book!  That’s big!”  [Runs off to write book.]

GOD: “Hold on, what makes you think I want you to write a book?  ….Michael?  ….Michael?”

MICHAEL: [Returns, panting.]Here….here…here it is God!  A book!  I wrote a book for You!”

GOD: “That’s nice of you to go to all that trouble, but I didn’t ask you to write a book for Me.  I think you wrote it for you.”

MICHAEL: “So, You’re not going to use it?”

GOD: “I might, but it will probably work better if you quit holding it so tightly.  If you really wrote it for Me, why don’t you let Me have it?”

MICHAEL: “Awww, okay.  I guess You can have it…..Hey!  I just thought of something else big that I can do for You!”

GOD: “Michael…”

MICHAEL: “This will be even bigger than the book!  Wow!  I can’t wait to get started!”

GOD: “Michael…”

MICHAEL: “Huh?  Oh, yeah, God, what do You need?  I’m a little busy planning this next project.”

GOD: “You’re getting ahead of Me again.  I love it that you have all these great ideas, but you need to slow down and walk at my pace for awhile.”

MICHAEL: [Deflated] “But, God…I just don’t feel like anything is happening!  Why can’t we go faster?”

GOD: “It may not seem like anything is happening, but there’s a lot of work to be done before you are ready to do the big things.  You could say I’m doing some interior decorating in your heart.  It’s a mess in there!”

MICHAEL: “Really?  What’s wrong with it?”

GOD: “Too much stuff, first of all.  There’s a lot of junk in here I never approved.  You should have talked to Me before you had it delivered.”

MICHAEL: “Sorry.  I kinda knew You would say, “no,” so I didn’t ask.”

GOD: “Well, after I get all that cleaned out, then I’ve got to reorganize what’s left so that it’s all in the right order.”

MICHAEL: “How long is that going to take?”

GOD: “It would go a lot faster if you would stop running off to do things I didn’t ask you to do.  The more time you spend with Me, the faster I’ll be able to get this place fixed up.”

MICHAEL: [Sighs.] “Alright.  I’ll wait, but this patience thing is hard….Uh….Hmmm….Oh! Hey!  Have You done anything with that book yet?”

GOD: “I thought we agreed you were going to let go of it.”

MICHAEL: “Yeah, but I thought You would have done something with it by now.  Want me to go show it around?” [Starts to leave with book.]

GOD: “Michael…”

[Characters exit.]

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Filed under christianity, faith, God's Will, heart, Spiritual Growth, Spirituality, submission