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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

He Equips the Called


You might have heard the statement, “God doesn’t call the equipped; He equips the called.” It’s true. What use has God for someone who already knows all the answers? What use has He for someone who doesn’t need His help? What glory does He get when we do it in our own power?

God wants us in our weakness, not our strength. He wants to do something through us that we can’t do on our own. When He does, He gets the glory.

“But God chose the foolish things of this world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of this world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are so that no one may boast before Him.”

(1 Corinthians 1:27-29)

His power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). If you’re in a spot where you never need to rely on God, it might be time for a move. You’re playing it safe, doing things inside your comfort zone. God wants you a little nervous. He wants you to feel ill-equipped. When you do, you know that He’ll have to show up if the job is going to get done. Perfect!

Think about Moses arguing about his public speaking ability with a burning bush or Isaiah worrying about his lips. Think about Mary, who had not yet been with a man, or Gideon needing reassurance about the battle before him. In their weakness, God showed His strength. The most powerful examples of God working through men and women come from the ill-equipped.

Peter’s life provides a good contrast. In the years of Jesus’ earthly ministry, Peter always had all the answers. He was proud and impulsive. I think God loved Peter’s impulsiveness, but He had to mold it so that it could be used. Peter’s ministry began only after he had been broken. When all his boasting came to naught, Peter had to admit that he wasn’t the Lord’s reliable defender. Ironically, out of Peter’s brokenness, God made him what he so wanted to be but couldn’t achieve in his own power.

If you want the Potter to use your clay, don’t take Him a finished product. What’s He going to do with that? It’s not moldable. It is rigid. Instead, take Him your misshapen lump. Let the Potter make of the lump what He wants to make. It may be what you’ve always hoped for, but it may be something entirely better.

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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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Man-na?


The Israelites had been miraculously freed from their captivity in Egypt, but their food ran out in the desert, and they were feeling a little grumpy. “If we were still in Egypt, we would have food to eat! Did you bring us out here to die?” they demanded from Moses. Moses, in turn, complained to God, “What am I going to do with these people you gave me?”

God agreed to send the Israelites bread (a.k.a., “manna”) from heaven each day, and He made good on His promise for 40 years while the they wandered through the desert. (Lesson #1: Be careful what you ask for. There’s only so much you can make from one ingredient breakfast, lunch and dinner. When manna got old, they learned to make manna-cotti, manna-lla wafers, and salad with manna-goes, but it was a few years before the first MannacDonalds.)

But when the Israelites first saw the bread, they had no idea what it was. They asked each other, “Man-na?” (Hence, the name.) Translated, the question is, “What is it?” Even though God had told them that He was sending them bread… Even though He had told them when it was coming, they still were surprised by its arrival.

Fast forward almost fifteen hundred years. Jesus had just fed the 5,000 and walked on water. The Jews met him on the other side of the lake, and their appetite for miracles had been whetted. “Show us a miracle!” they demanded. “Moses gave our forefathers manna in the desert.”

Jesus replied, “I am the living bread that has come down from heaven. If you eat this bread, you will live forever.” Of course, he was speaking spiritually, not physically, but they didn’t get it. They thought Jesus was a prophet, maybe Elijah or Jeremiah or John the Baptist returned from the dead. They were offended that He would say that they should eat His flesh, and many of them turned away.

In a very real sense, they were still saying, “Man-na?” “What is this?”  Even though God had told them that He was sending them a Savior… Even though He had told them whose family line He would come from…  Even though He had told them when and where and how, they still were surprised by His arrival.

“Man-na?” It’s the single, most important question any of us will ever answer in regard to Jesus. What do we make of Him? Is He prophet, philosopher, teacher, nice-guy? Or is He God? Will we be satisfied with His miracles, or will we not be satisfied until we have a relationship with the Miracle-Maker? We can’t just choose not to deal with the question. Not dealing with it is an answer in itself. Jesus is the Bread of Life. Nothing else can satisfy our spiritual hunger.

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Sand in the Hand


Ever made a fist around a handful of sand? The tighter you squeeze, the more sand pours out the sides. Many things in life are like that. The more we try to control our teenagers, the more they rebel. The more we try to control our employees, the more passive-aggressive they become. The more we try to control our lives, the more God allows them to run out of control.

Our plans are the sand in the hand. It’s not that God wants our lives to be in chaos. It’s that oftentimes, the only way we trust Him with our sand is when we see how little we can do in our own power to hold it. Scripture is full of tight-fisted sand grabbers:

  • Abraham thought Hagar might help him become the “father of many nations,” and she did, but those nations have been in a bloody family feud with the Israelites ever since.
  • Jacob scammed his way to blessings and birthright, but he met his match when Laban played matchmaker for his eldest daughter.
  • Moses wanted to be the leader of his people, but vigilante justice got him forty years of practice leading sheep in the desert.
  • Peter was ready to die for Jesus and brought his sword to prove it, but Jesus wanted him to live and die to self instead.
  • Saul of Tarsus wanted to serve God with all his heart on the road to Damascus, but God had a different road for him to follow.

So often, we try to accomplish God’s purposes in ways God never intended. We get tired of waiting for Him to do His will, so we take over. But instead of speeding things up, this often just slows them down.

About eleven years ago, I had an unusual experience. A woman I had never met told me she had a word from God for me. She said that God had heard my prayers and that He would put me into full-time ministry. I was absolutely amazed (and a little freaked out), because I had been praying this prayer since becoming a Christian a few months before, but I hadn’t shared it with anyone.

Unfortunately, God never told me when or how He would bring this Word to pass. As a result, I’ve spent years in the laboratory of my life trying my hand at alchemy. I’ve wasted a lot of money, worry and time struggling to turn my raw materials into gold, but most of my efforts have only led to dearly-purchased pyrite.

Today, I’m in full-time ministry. It took a lot longer than I expected, and it doesn’t look anything like what I had in mind. It came about despite my best efforts, not because of them. But it has taught me a lesson worth more than its weight in gold: Hold your plans loosely, and let God do with them what He will.

Until He can get our fingers pried off our sand, there’s not much He can do with it but watch as our tight grip forces it to spill out the sides. But if we will trust Him with our plans of sand, and if we can keep our palm open so that He can use what He wants…then, we’ll not only be able to hold much more, but God will turn that sand into gold.

“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.”
(Proverbs 19:21)

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