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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

Leaving the Cocoon


One day, a small opening appeared in a cocoon.  A man sat and watched as a butterfly struggled for several hours to force its body through the tiny hole.  But then, it seemed to stop making any  progress.

It appeared as if it had gotten as far as it could, and it could not go any further.  So, in an attempt to help the butterfly, the man took a pair of scissors and opened the cocoon, allowing the butterfly to emerge easily.

Strangely, the butterfly exited the cocoon with a withered body and tiny and shriveled wings.  The man continued to watch, expecting that, at any moment, the wings would open, enlarge and expand.  But nothing happened.

In fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its short life crawling around with a withered body and shriveled wings. It was never able to fly.

What the man did not understand was that the restriction of the cocoon and the struggle required for the butterfly to get through the tiny opening were part of God’s incredible and mysterious design.  Through the butterfly’s early efforts, fluid was forced from its body into its wings.  The fluid would have enabled the butterfly to fly once it was free from the cocoon.

It’s hard to appreciate our struggles while we are going through them.  Often, our prayers are for God to release us from them, but we lack His eternal perspective.  When He allows them to continue, we can be sure that the struggles are exactly what we need – that they are the most efficient and effective way of producing in us the strength and character necessary to do His work.  Take them away, and our faith is withered and shriveled.  We might walk, but we’ll never fly.

Think about your personal “cocoon” at this point in time.  It’s whatever it is that has been causing you stress, worry or anxiety.  It’s what you’ve been praying for God to take away.  It’s the prayer that seems to go unanswered.  Now, give God thanks for the struggle.  Acknowledge that He knows all and that His will is best.  Praise Him for allowing this difficulty in your life that is preparing you for something greater.  Because a caterpillar is a neat thing, but it’s nothing compared to a butterfly!

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Filed under Challenges, Change, christianity, comfort zone, delayed gratification, Fear, Hardship, helping, Instant Gratification, learning, overcoming obstacles, Serving Others, Suffering

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

Earn vs. Return – Part 2


In a previous post, I shared that we shouldn’t do good works to earn God’s love (we already have it!); we should do good works to return His love (out of gratitude).

This is key, because so many of us are trying to earn something that we already have.  God takes pleasure in us because of WHO we are even when what we DO is disobedient, sinful and evil.  When we try to earn His love, our heart is in the wrong place.  We are starting with the wrong motive.
Take a look at this model. When our heart starts from the wrong motive (i.e., trying to EARN God’s love), there is never a good outcome. If we succeed in our good works, we tend to get prideful and self-righteous. If we fail to accomplish our good works, we are filled with guilt and self-condemnation. (This is the “bad guilt” that keeps condemning us even after we have repented of our sins, and it is often the motivation for our works when we are doing them for the wrong reasons.)

However, if we start from the right motive in our hearts (i.e., trying to RETURN God’s love), both our successes and our failures are pleasing in God’s sight. If we succeed, we are grateful to God for allowing us to do the good works. We rightly understand that we could not have accomplished them without God’s provision and grace, and we commit to serving the Lord in even greater ways.

If we fail in our best intentions, though, it leads us to humility and repentance. These are pleasing to God, and He uses them as a tool to shape us more in His likeness. No Christian should expect to succeed in his good intentions all the time. Failure is an important part of the shaping process. There is an aspect of guilt here, but it is “good guilt” – the kind that leads us to recognize our sin and repent of it. “Good guilt” never continues after repentance.

When our good works are motivated by love, the outcome will always be that we draw closer to God. When they are motivated by guilt and a desire to earn His favor, they will always draw us away from Him – even when we think we must be getting closer. (Consider how far from God the Pharisees were despite their meticulous tithing and obedience to the letter of the Law.)

There is nothing left to earn. Christ paid that debt fully on the cross. We have His holiness and His righteousness. It’s 100% done! All we can do with our own efforts is show our appreciation.

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Filed under agape love, christianity, God's Will, grace, guilt, heart, Identity, love, Religion, righteousness, sin, 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

Pushing the Boulder


A king called one of his servants to the royal grounds and pointed out a particularly large boulder that marred the beauty of his garden.  He ordered the servant to arrive promptly at 6:00 a.m. each morning and push on the boulder for as long as he could before reaching exhaustion.  While it seemed impossible that he could move such a large obstacle, the servant began the very next day and obediently showed up at 6:00 a.m. each day thereafter to push on the boulder.   

At first, he could only push on it for a few minutes before tiring, but as weeks and then months went by, he found that he could push on the boulder for an hour or more each day.  Unfortunately, his efforts didn’t seem to be making any difference in the position of the boulder in the garden. One day, after pushing on the boulder for a full hour and a half with absolutely no progress, the servant collapsed in defeat.  It seemed so pointless!  Every morning, he showed up to push the boulder, but it never moved – not even an inch!  The more he thought about it, the more frustrated and depressed he became.  Finally, he went to the king and begged to be reassigned to more meaningful work. 

The king looked at him a moment and then said, “You seem to have missed the point.  I was not interested in changing the position of the boulder.  If I had been, I could have called up one hundred soldiers with the strength of their horses to do the job.  The boulder served as a test and a tool to change you.  A test because it has shown me your willingness to obey my orders even when they seem illogical and without purpose.  And a tool because in the process of pushing the boulder each morning all these months, you have become stronger and more prepared for the next task I have in mind for you.” 

Maybe God has assigned you a boulder.  It could be a ministry or some important work.  It could be a sin that you are struggling with or a sin in someone else’s life that you’ve been praying about.  In the beginning, you were passionate about the opportunity to minister to others or about the work you were given to do or the problem you were going to solve, but now you’re just frustrated with the total lack of progress despite your time, effort and intellect.  It seems like too much for God to ask you alone to handle, and sometimes, you think about giving up. 

If your focus is on the position of the boulder, frustration will almost certainly follow.  No boulders get moved without God doing the heavy lifting.  He only allows us to participate.  If your boulder isn’t moving, maybe boulder movement is not the outcome God is looking for right now.  The boulder could be a tool and a test designed to help you grow in faith and obedience.  So, let the boulder do its work.  The strength it gives you will prepare you for whatever God has planned next.

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Filed under God's Will, overcoming obstacles, Spiritual Growth