How Blood Loss Led to New Life

The Symptoms

One year ago my life changed forever. In the months leading up to the fateful day, I experienced shortness of breath when climbing stairs, I was severely fatigued, I lost ten pounds without even trying, and my appearance became very pale. Unfortunately, like most men I know, I put off going to the doctor and continued to shrug off my symptoms. After numerous conversations with my wife, my concerned parents, and other family members about going to the doctor, I finally reached the physical point where I could not take it anymore. I left work early on a Friday to an appointment with my family doctor’s office. At the appointment, I had four vials of blood taken, a chest x-ray, and an EKG. All I had left to do was wait.

The wait was over on the Saturday morning August 1, 2015. I was weekend supervisor at my previous job when I received a call from the nurse practitioner, who told me that I needed to get to the emergency room because my hemoglobin was 6.3 (hemoglobin is what carries the oxygen in our blood cells. Normal hemoglobin levels for an adult male range from 13 to 15). For some reason, the gravity of the situation didn’t register and I kindly told the nurse practitioner that I will go when I left work at three o’clock. After all, I was trying to call in extra people to deal with an emergency flood. She replied that I needed to go to the emergency room now because with my hemoglobin level being so low, any undue stress could put me at risk for a heart attack. (I thought, Don’t you think telling me this is putting me under stress?). I got it. This was serious. I talked to my wife and I called my boss to tell him that I had an emergency situation and had to leave. The drive to the first hospital was the only time I felt fear for what would follow.

After three hours at my local hospital, I was transferred by ambulance to a larger hospital, where I spent Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. After I received multiple blood transfusions and iron treatments, my hemoglobin rose to only 7.9. I was out of the heart attack danger zone, but I was still severely anemic. I have a history of ulcerative colitis and I was scheduled that Monday for a colonoscopy. However, I was experiencing no symptoms of ulcerative colitis nor did I have any visible bleeding. During the colonoscopy, ten polyps were removed from my colon, all of which were benign (no cancer). It appeared that the source of my anemia and bleeding had been found.

God is always on time and His timing was perfect in this situation. My wife and I were leaving for Colorado later in the week, which she asked the doctors if I was able to travel (I was). However, multiple doctors informed her that if I didn’t get treatment when I did, the high altitude and our planned activities could have strained my body and I could have died before receiving medical attention. I was thirty-eight years old when all of this happened, I never thought for one second that death stood at the door. Of course, like any adult should, I have life insurance and most importantly, my spiritual affairs were in order in the event that I would die one day, I didn’t know it could’ve been that close. I went back to work Tuesday morning and I naturally had a few days when I was tired, but the trip to Colorado was very enjoyable and relaxing. I followed up with my gastroenterologist and hematologist. I began receiving iron treatments and taking iron pills daily. My hemoglobin levels eventually bounced back up to 15.2 at my last appointment. I later discovered that though this health crisis was over, the journey had only just begun.

I never lost faith during this time because I knew God had His hand on my life. I don’t know exactly for what, but there had to be something greater. I unfortunately knew many people who died young and I knew how blessed I was to come out of this.  I don’t know the exact reason, maybe it was the side effects of the anemia, the continued fatigue, my thyroid, or whatever else, but I slid into a deep depression. The depression deepened as the stress of my former employer’s contract situation lingered in the air. We later learned that a new company won the contract bid and they would take over January 1. However, more stress came on December 23, 2015, when the new company informed me via letter that my services, along with other members of management and staff, would not be needed. It marked the first time in my working career, which started at age fifteen, I was let go from a job. Christmas Eve was the last day I worked, as I had previously scheduled vacation.  I took off a few days for Christmas, collected my last paycheck, and began the process of filing for unemployment and job searching. I was unemployed for three months, going to interview after interview, putting in application after application, before I went back to work.

 Sports Talk Radio and the Wisdom of the Ancients

Since I had time on my hands, I would get out of the house for a little bit every day when the job searching became stressful. One day I was on my way to my parents’ house to take care of their dogs when I was listening to The Jim Rome Show, a sports talk show. Jim Rome’s guest  was Ryan Holiday, who wrote a book called The Obstacle is the Way, which was about turning obstacles into advantages. One of the things discussed was Stoic Philosophy. When we hear the word “stoic” we think of someone who is emotionless, kind of like Mr. Spock from Star Trek. However, as Mr. Holiday spoke about how he came into Stoic philosophy, it sounded interesting. I took Introduction to Philosophy in college, but I don’t remember learning about Stoic philosophy (maybe it was because class was at 8am). The Bible mentions the Stoics in Acts 17, but does not go into detail about who they were, other than Paul citing a Stoic poem.  I have a firm, fixed set of beliefs, but I also love to research and learn new things. I went on a quest to learn about Stoic philosophy- YouTube Videos, Ted Talks, my local library, and bookstores. I bought Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, followed by the works of Seneca and Epictetus, and finally The Obstacle Becomes The Way, and devoured them like a hungry wolf. Using the Bible as my measuring rod of truth, I compared Stoic philosophy to biblical teaching and found them very compatible. The Stoics focused on being content with our lot in life, not worrying about what is not in our control, living for today, working on our inner character, living with purpose, being thankful in the moment, that we have nothing to fear in death, managing our perceptions, tempering our expectations in life, and realizing that it is not our lives are not about what happens to us, but our response to the events, all of which are biblical concepts and sound life principles. Over time, I came out of my depression and gained a new perspective on life, but God was using all of this to prepare me for the next stages of my life.

A Tumble Down the Stairs

Three weeks before I went back to work, I received a text from my wife informing me that she fell down some stairs at an offsite workshop and was going to the hospital. I met her at the hospital in Bloomington, Indiana where she was in the emergency room. My wife was diagnosed with a mild concussion and later with post-concussion syndrome. Though she does not remember what happened, I took solace in the fact that my wife was not more seriously injured or killed and that she did not do any damage to her surgically repaired back. If I was working at the time, that would have complicated matters with taking her to doctor appointments and the like. I was thankful that I was home to take care of her until I went back to work. Those first weeks were the roughest, with severe migraines and attempts to get the medicine dosage right, but my wife eventually became able to do more things on her own and went back to work a few months later. My response to all of this would have been different a year or even months before as I would have worried incessantly about my wife’s health and our finances, which at the time of her concussion involved workman’s comp and unemployment, but God was faithful and sustained us throughout the ordeal.

More Symptoms Arise

I went back to work, albeit for less money and a more physically demanding job, but I applied Stoic principles and attempted to be thankful for being back to work. However, a few months into working again, I began to feel fatigued and I started to look pale. People told me I “looked tired.” I learned my lesson and did not mess around with my symptoms. On a scheduled day off I had blood work done, and followed-up the next week with the hematologist. I told the doctor about my fatigue coming back and she informed me that my ferritin levels have dropped. (Ferritin is how your blood stores iron). She recommended upping my dosage of iron pills and following up with my gastroenterologist because of concerns about my ulcerative colitis. I was able the very next day to see the gastroenterologist. After telling him about my symptoms and what the hematologist said, he asked if I had ever been tested for Celiac disease. I said that I have not been tested. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease which is caused by an allergy to gluten, a protein found in foods made with wheat, barley, and rye. The doctor said that my ulcerative colitis was too mild for me to be as anemic as I was. I had more blood work done and it indicated Celiac disease. I followed up with an endoscopy that confirmed the diagnosis of Celiac disease. I now have to be on a gluten-free diet the rest of my life. However, I do not see Celiac disease as another battle to fight, but the battle to fight. From everything I have researched and everything I have, Celiac disease is the common denominator with anemia, hypothyroidism, joint inflammation, and other autoimmune issues I have dealt with over the years. Though I am in the early stages of making this lifestyle change, I am hopeful and optimistic that things will begin to clear up. As of this writing, I am a few weeks into the gluten-free diet and I am feeling better.

 My Advice

The Bible discusses “the peace that transcends all understanding.” My faith, even in the midst of one terrifying and one life changing diagnosis, has eradicated any sense of fear. This year has been a year of discovery and growth for me. God has blessed me with wisdom that has allowed me to modify my perceptions and see life in a new light. There is a popular saying of “live each day like it’s your last,” which some may interpret to mean throw off all responsibility and party like a rock star, but that should not be the case.  God was gracious and gave me more life. If you are reading this, God has given you another day to live. Make the most of it. Live deliberately. Live for and with a greater purpose. Consider your actions and ways. Be the best person you can be, no matter who you are or what you do.  Don’t get caught up in chasing the temporary and fickle externals of money, fame, and possessions. Don’t get caught up in drama. Don’t get upset if people don’t like you or don’t respond to you the way you expect- you can’t control what they think. We can’t control the world around us, only how we respond to it. For example, I have control of how I take care of my body- diet, exercise, rest, medication, but I had no control over developing anemia or Celiac disease. I did everything for over seven years to keep my job- show up, be on time, do a great job, do what was asked and expected of me, changing shifts, etc., but I could not control the contract bid or the economy. I can control how many jobs I apply for, but I can’t control who says “yes.” I have come to believe that what has happened to me in these areas of life has turned out to be a blessing because it has led me to right here, right now.

Expect difficulties in life. You will encounter situations and people’s actions that will devastate, unnerve, irritate, rattle, frustrate, and shake you to the core, but you and you alone determine the response. When knowing that you have a limited amount of time to live, ask yourself, “Is this situation or person really worth my time of stressing over?” “Is this situation within my control?” “How can I turn this adversity into an advantage?” Have faith in God, but work as if it is up to you. I have spent many years of my faith being passive, just waiting for something to show up or happen, only to end up being discouraged.  I have now realized that God has given us all we need to live a full life, we just have to use the tools. All of us don’t get the same amount or quality of tools, but we all have the ability to make the best of life and any situation. Take time to dwell on what can go wrong, because you won’t be devastated if something does, which is also a Stoic principle. Don’t grieve over who and what you don’t have, but rejoice over who and what you do have. Love your loved ones every chance you get. Always end conversations on a good note. Don’t allow bitterness, regret, shame, hate, or an unforgiving spirit to rule your life. Take control of your thoughts. Grow a virtuous character. Forget the past. Don’t fear the future. Be grateful for today because it’s all you have. True faith and positive thinking is not about believing everything will work out, but believing what happens will work out for the best. God bless you all.

 

But If Not…

To have true biblical faith takes strength and courage, even in the worst of life’s circumstances. I believe that faith is not simply a belief that everything will work out, but that everything will work out for the best. We must hold onto the belief that God is God and He has our best interest at heart, no matter the diagnosis, the turmoil, the rejection, the pain, the loss, or the proverbial cross we must bear.

Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as “The substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (KJV). Thus, faith is not seeing, but believing. In fact, the Greek word for “substance” is Hupostasis (Strong’s #5287), which in this instance means, “a standing under…that which stands, or is set, under, a foundation, beginning, hence, the quality of confidence which leads one to stand under, endure, or undertake anything.” Faith serves as the foundation of our spiritual house, with Christ being the chief cornerstone. As with our physical homes, if the foundation is strong, the house will stand strong. However, if our foundation is cracked or destroyed, our house faces the possibility of falling down.

If we pray for something that is in God’s will, He hears us and answers our prayers (1 John 5:14-15).  We pray with confidence that God will say “yes,” but will we have the same confidence if God says, “No” or “Not yet?” With humanity’s modern knowledge and technology, we sometimes live under the impression that we have complete control over our lives and environments. Of course, we know that life has a not so subtle way of reminding us who is in charge.

The Bible and history are full of examples of people who kept their faith in God and continued to hope in the worst of circumstances. Three such people were Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the Book of Daniel. The Book of Daniel takes place during the reigns of the Babylonian and Mede-Persian empires. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, along with Daniel, were Hebrew youths sent into exile in Babylon to serve King Nebuchadnezzar, but the four men faithfully continued to serve God.

Daniel chapter three details how Nebuchadnezzar set up a large golden statue that everyone within the Babylon Empire had to worship when they heard the sound of music. If one did not worship the golden statue, that person would be thrown into a fiery furnace. One day it is brought to Nebuchadnezzar’s attention that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego have refused to worship his golden statue. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are brought before Nebuchadnezzar to face their charges. Nebuchadnezzar reminded them of his authority as king and the punishment they faced for not worshipping the statue. What follows is an example of true faith.

“Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O King. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18, NKJV, italics mine).

This statement enraged Nebuchadnezzar and he ordered the furnace to be seven times hotter than usual and had the three men thrown into the furnace. However, what happened next was a miracle as Nebuchadnezzar saw a fourth man in the fire (a pre-incarnate Christ) and that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were unharmed by the fire. This experience humbled Nebuchadnezzar and he made a decree stating that there was no one should speak against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were also promoted due to their faithfulness.

In the case of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, God intervened supernaturally to deliver his children, but the three men were willing to make their stand no matter the consequences. But if not. What is your but if not? It was not doubt or a lack of faith displayed by Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, but a solid belief in God and acceptance of His will, not matter the circumstances, no matter the cost.

Is your foundation strong? Do you have the faith to endure the trials of ongoing sickness when you have prayed for supernatural healing? Do you have the patience and discipline to recover from a job loss or being on the brink of financial ruin? Will you continue to pray for wayward spouses and children who may be prodigals who do not come back home? Do you have the faith to stand up for Christ while facing a fiery furnace, a gun, or the edge of a sword? Do you have the courage to say, “But if not” and continue to praise and worship God?

A word of caution: under no circumstances should we as believers ever question anyone’s faith. The Bible teaches that everyone is given a measure of faith, which does not indicate the same amount of faith. To say to a struggling brother or sister, “If you only had more faith,” is not only devastating, but also insensitive. Making such a statement as “If you only had more faith,” could invite discouragement and condemnation into a believer’s life.

We must examine faith from the perspective that we will go through unending trials. We may navigate the raging sea only to learn that we must climb a mountain. We cannot control outside events, we can only control our responses to the events. Let us find inspiration in what we have overcome to this point in our lives. Let us look to Christ, to the Apostles, to Job, Daniel in the lion’s den, Jeremiah, and the “faith hall of fame” in Hebrews chapter 11.

“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2, NKJV).

God bless you all.

 

Taking a Step Back in the Moment

In the closing moments of Super Bowl 23, the San Francisco 49ers trailed the Cincinnati Bengals 16-13. The story goes that as the 49ers huddled to begin the final drive Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana looked to offensive lineman Harris Barton and asked “Hey H, isn’t that John Candy over there eating popcorn?” Barton looked over and saw the late actor John Candy in the stands eating popcorn. Barton could not believe that in the final minutes of the Super Bowl Joe Montana was looking at celebrities in the crowd. However, Joe Montana made a career of being cool under pressure. With thirty-four seconds left in the game, Montana threw a ten yard touchdown pass to wide receiver John Taylor and the 49ers won 20-16.

Being able to take a step back under the enormity of the moment or the circumstances is something everyone has the potential to do, but very few put the skill into practice. A lesser experienced quarterback may have made a mistake on the final drive, but when you have the right system and the right players at the right time, the chances for success increase dramatically. When faced with the odds, what do you do? Dust yourself off and get up? Do you retreat in fear paralyzed by inaction? Do you seek refuge in a bottle of alcohol or pills? Do you play the blame game? Do you resign in despair and hopelessness?

Adversity can come in the form of one major obstacle or it can come in gradual waves, but the results are often the same and we are faced with what psychologists call “the fight or flight response.”

The persecution of the early church, more specifically, the Apostle Paul, is well documented in the New Testament. However, instead of shirking in fear or compromising on the message of the Gospel, the Apostles and other believers pressed on and within a few decades, Christ was preached to the far reaches of the Roman Empire. The early church is an example of pressing through when the times get tough.

“For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 4:6-9, KJV).

When we seek to share Christ, set a new goal, go back to school, change careers or whatever the circumstances, we will face opposition, it is part of life. People around us may discourage us, telling us our dream is impossible or that we are too old. Maybe we have an idea when our personal finances are not in the best of shape to make a move. Maybe even Satan and outside spiritual forces try to talk us out of what we want to achieve. However, if God has placed the idea in your heart, if you have the personal drive and talent, to go forward, go forward. You cannot control the circumstances, only your response to the circumstances. Unfortunately, we may never have an “ideal” time because the time is now. While we live with eternity in our hearts, we must focus on the moment at hand. Obstacles can be opportunities.

“Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.” (Ecclesiastes 11:4, NIV).

If someone were to give you an expensive gift, wrapped with beautiful paper and ribbon, that person would expect you to open the gift in front of them and show gratitude. Depending on culture, the gift giver may feel insulted if you were to say, “Oh, that’s nice,” and never open the gift. God is the ultimate gift giver. Not only has God provided us with life and salvation, He has gifted us with talents, skills, ideas, character, and the gift of time. Some of the gifts and talents are not revealed until we reach down in the worst of life’s circumstances and draw from the deep well that is our capabilities.

“The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out.” (Proverbs 20:5, NIV).

God bless you all.

 

Do You Want to Be Made Well?

Life can be a series of hardships and obstacles. These difficult times can take their toll on us physically, mentally, and spiritually, especially if they drag on for a long time. We can either respond with despair, giving up on life or we can battle back with faith and determination, for ultimately our perceptions of said events are not based on the events themselves, but our responses to them. Our responses in turn, help determine how we face hardships and difficulties.

The Gospel of John records a story of Jesus being in Jerusalem for a festival when He encountered a man at the Pool of Bethesda. The Pool of Bethesda served as a gathering place for people who were sick with all manner of afflictions and diseases. The sick people believed that the pool had healing powers.

“In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had.” (John 5:3-4, NKJV).

The Bible tells us that Jesus encountered a man at the pool who had been sick for thirty-eight years. The Bible does not tells us the man’s condition or how he came to be in that condition. Jesus being the great teacher that He was and is, asked the man a question which put the onus of the sick man and cut to the heart of the issue.

“When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time. He said to him, ‘Do you want to be made well?’” (John 5:6, NKJV).

I believe for anyone who has struggled with a problem for thirty-eight years and God in the flesh walks up to you and asks, “Do you want to get better?” the answer would be an emphatic “Yes.” However, there are people who allow their condition or circumstances to define who they are. In essence, they are not known by their name or identity in Christ, but by sickness, addiction, depression, poverty, etc. When we allow our condition or circumstances to define us, we have a hard time visualizing ourselves being anything other than our situation. Think of how the Israelites complained of the wilderness and claimed they had it better as slaves in Egypt. We do the same thing and make excuses as the man at the pool does.

“The sick man answered Him, ‘Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.’” (John 5:7, NKJV).

Though the man had spent thirty-eight years in his condition and developed excuses as to why he was not well, he was in the right place at the right time. In Hebrew, Bethesda means “House of Mercy.” This man was in the House of Mercy and received mercy from God, despite his condition, despite the excuses.

“Jesus said to him, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk.’ And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked. And that day was the Sabbath.” (John 5:8-9, NKJV).

Since it was the Sabbath, this man carrying his bed was accused by the religious authorities of violating the Sabbath and was questioned as to who healed him. The man did not know it was Jesus until he encountered Jesus a second time.

“Afterward, Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, ‘See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.’” (John 5:14, NKJV).

I do not believe that Jesus told the man his condition was brought on by sin nor does the text indicate the man’s condition was a direct result of a sin he committed. I believe that Jesus is speaking to the man’s need to have his sins forgiven. I believe the “worse thing” Jesus spoke of was an eternity in hell, separated from God because the man did not accept Christ as Savior.

How much of our lives have we wasted not coming to the “House of Mercy” or coming to the “Throne of Grace” and not being made whole? Is there something within our God-given power and responsibility we can do to better ourselves? If we are sick, can we take better care of our bodies by eating right, exercising, or seeking medical treatment? If we are heavily in debt, are there ways to cut our expenses? If we are depressed about what we do not have, can we find joy in what we do have? Even if we are stuck in the middle of the wilderness, remember it is much better than going back into the sin and slavery from which Christ has delivered us. There is a way out and Christ is knocking on the door, waiting for us to open it. God bless you all.

The Call of Virtue

To some people, the word “virtue” may seem to be an archaic or old-fashioned concept. We live in what many would call a post-Christian society, where everyone does what is right in his or her own eyes, whereby traditional values are scrapped in favor of “If it feels good, do it.” Virtue, however is not just a biblical concept, but is a sound life principle by which we can direct our lives. Some synonyms for virtue include integrity, sincerity, soundness, blamelessness, temperance, purity, incorruptibility, and decency, all of which are ideals to strive towards.

2 Peter 3:3-8 states: “According as His divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (KJV).

Living a virtuous life is a choice and a daily practice. As Christians, our integrity should be solid as we seek to live a life that pleases God and reveals Christ to those around us. We should never circumvent our long-term integrity to compromise our principles for a short-term gain, such as taking unethical shortcuts to make more money or get a promotion at our jobs. In fact, Jesus said a tree is known by its fruit, so let us shown ripe, righteous fruit.

Peter goes on to state: “But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall.” (2 Peter 3:9-10, KJV).

If we have failed at some point, let us not live a life of regret and condemnation, but confess to God and bask in His forgiveness. Every day the Lord gives us is another chance to make things right, as His mercies are new every morning.

How can we apply virtue to our daily lives? We can apply virtue to our way of life, our words, and our faith according to the Apostle Paul.

“In all things showing thyself a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity, sound speech that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you.” (Titus 2:7-8, KJV).

“Let no man despise thy youth; but thou be an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12, KJV).

Even if being virtuous cost you personally- whether it be short-term gains, whether it would be difficult or time consuming, or having to bypass the chance “to get even,” choose virtue. No matter what it costs, do the right thing.

If we strive to live a life of virtue and honor, nothing can throw us off track. The Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca put it this way: “A good man will do what he thinks will be honorable for him to do even if it is laborious, he will do it even if it is damaging to him, he will do it even if it is dangerous. On the other hand, he will not do what is base even if it brings him money, even if it brings him pleasure, even if it brings him power. Nothing can deflect him from what is honorable, nothing tempt him to what is base. Hence, if he is bound to pursue the honorable course at all costs and to eschew the base at all costs and to look to these two principles in every act of his life, equating the good with the honorable and the bad with the base, if his virtue is wholly uncorrupted and maintains its bearings, then virtue is his sole good and it is impossible for any accident to make it otherwise.”[1]

In order to start living a virtuous life, we must gain the wisdom to do so. We must establish daily goals and work towards them. If we do this, we will see progress over time. We must spend time in prayer and God’s Word. We must love and forgive others as Christ has loved and forgiven us. God bless you all.

[1] Moses Hadas, The Stoic Philosophy of Seneca, “The Sole Good.” New York: W.W. Norton & Company 1958: 211-212.

Go in the Strength of the Lord

There are many ways to show strength. Strength can be shown in our demeanor during a crisis, admitting that we need help, our sheer will power to overcome an obstacle, and how much of a physical load we can lift or carry. In the context of nations, strength can be shown by the size of a country’s armed forces and its financial influence on the global marketplace. However, these shows of strength are only temporary as our bodies lose physical strength with age and illness, our pride can stop us from asking for help, we can become discouraged and give up the fight, nations rise and fall, and world financial markets are volatile. Thus, what if we viewed our spiritual strength not from an offensive position, but from a defensive position with the Lord serving as our fortress? What if we could look past our frail abilities, beyond ourselves and look to the Lord for strength?

The Psalms are a perfect example of life’s ups and downs. One Psalm could be praising God for a mighty victory and the next Psalm lamenting over sin and defeat. Even in the Psalms where all seems lost, the writers express their hope in the Lord and that deliverance is coming. The Bible has hundreds of verses concerning strength and the King James Version of the Psalms alone contains sixteen Hebrew words for strength. In studying these different words, we learn how nuanced the word strength is, but strength in the Psalms breaks down into four basic categories: force, majesty, praise, and security.

Our praises of God bring strength

“Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightiest still the enemy and the avenger.” (Psalm 8:2, KJV).

“Give unto the Lord, O ye mighty, give unto the Lord glory and strength.” (Psalm 29:1, KJV).

“Ascribe ye strength unto God: his excellency is over Israel, and His strength is in the clouds.” (Psalm 68:34, KJV).

“Sing aloud unto God our strength: make a joyful noise unto the God of Jacob.” (Psalm 81:1, KJV).

Our God is mighty in His strength

“I will go in the strength of the Lord God: I will make mention of thy righteousness, even of thine only.” (Psalm 71:16, KJV).

“It is God that girdeth me with strength, and make my way perfect…For thou hast girded me with strength unto the battle: thou hast subdued under me those that rose up against me.” (Psalm 18:32, 39 KJV).

“Now know I that the Lord saveth his anointed; He will hear him from His holy heaven with the saving strength of His right hand.” (Psalm 20:6, KJV).

“The Lord shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion: rule thou in the midst of thine enemies.” (Psalm 110:2, KJV).

God’s majesty is in His strength

“Bless the Lord, ye His angels that excel in strength, that do His commandments, hearkening unto the voice of His word.” (Psalm 103:20, KJV).

“Arise, O Lord, into thy rest; thou, and the ark of thy strength. Let thy priests be clothed with righteousness; and let thy saints shout for joy.” (Psalm 132:8-9).

“Honor and majesty are before Him: strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.” (Psalm 96:6, KJV).

“The Lord reigneth, He is clothed with majesty; the Lord is clothed with strength, wherewith He hath girded Himself: the world also is stablished, that it cannot be moved.” (Psalm 93:1, KJV).

God’s strength brings us security

 “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1, KJV).

  “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1, KJV).

“The Lord will give strength unto His people; the Lord will bless His people with peace.” (Psalm 29:11, KJV).

 “Unto thee, O my strength, will I sing for God is my defense, and the God of my mercy.” (Psalm 59:17, KJV).

We cannot rely solely on ourselves and our possessions

Throughout the Psalms, there are reminders and warnings that we cannot place our strength in neither our physical bodies nor in armies or possessions.

Psalms about loss of physical strength- Psalms 22:15, 31:10, 38:10, 71:9, 73:4,88:4, 90:10, 105:36, and 147:10.

Psalms warning about placing strength in armies and possessions- Psalms 33:16-17 and 52:7.

Coming to a place where we realize that our bodies, minds, and resources have limitations can be very difficult to accept. I have in the last year battled health problems that have changed my perspective on my physical abilities and my outlook on life. I have struggled with this new perspective, but I am learning to let go of what I cannot control. All things are not meant to be in our control, for we serve an Almighty and All-Powerful God. Who else would you rather deal with it- you or God? The best that we can do is to praise God and rejoice where we are at, make the most of the time we have left to live, and realize that where our strength ends, God’s strength begins. The Apostle Paul was a man who dealt with many difficulties and persecutions as he proclaimed the Gospel and asked God to remove these obstacles, but God had a different and probably unexpected response that strengthened Paul.

  “And He said unto me, ‘My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest on me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, KJV).

God bless you all.

 

The Perspective of Our Struggles

My wife and I went to Thailand in 2010 on a mission trip. On one of our last days in Thailand, our group toured a Buddhist temple. I observed many different sights- the morning prayers, the artwork, the statutes, and the architecture. However, one particular item has stuck with me to this day. As our group made its way into a prayer room, there was a large poster of a human skeleton. According to our guide, when the Buddhists pray, they imagine themselves as a skeleton- no attachments to this present world. What if in our quest to live a life of joy and contentment we could strip down our problems to “the bare bones?” (Pardon the pun).

When we suffer through trials, it becomes natural for us to isolate ourselves from everyone around us. We become myopic and cannot see past our own pain, believing that we alone are going through this problem. However, suffering is part of the human condition, as circumstances, theologians and philosophers, ancient and modern can attest. The questions of why we suffer are many and the comforting answers can often be few and far between.

I too have faced difficult trials in my life and I am not belittling or dismissing what you may be going through at this time. What I do know is that for His higher reasons, God has allowed this trial in your life and everyday He gives us an opportunity to come to Him. We may never get a reason for our suffering nor understand it, as Job was never given an explanation for his suffering. We can, however, take solace in the fact that we are not alone in our situation and that there are others, past, present, and future who have dealt, are dealing with, and will deal with these same issues.

Our struggles are not unique to humanity

“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, ‘Look! This is something new’? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9-10, NIV).

“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13, NIV).

We must guard our reaction to trials

 “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:12-13, NIV).

“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of suffering. And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” (1 Peter 5:8-10, NIV).

No matter what you are going through- sickness, family problems, finances, a crisis of faith,etc., you can get through this. Sometimes life forces all of us to make the best of a bad situation and we must learn to be content in all circumstances. The question becomes how much of your limited amount of life do you want to spend wrestling with this problem? In the midst of trials, we must focus on what we can control and let go of what we cannot control. How we respond will factor into how and when we overcome this current obstacle. God bless you all.

Do Not Be Bound By Expectation

Trying to live within the expectations of others can be a gut-wrenching and soul- crushing experience. Even the expectations of well-meaning people who love us can bring us frustration as we try to achieve a goal that we may have no true desire to achieve. The expectation is the proverbial carrot that is always dangled in front of us. Or maybe we live based on the expectation of a family name, a level of wealth, an occupation, or a certain degree of education. Maybe the opposite is true for you. Maybe the expectations were set low for you because of the family name, poverty, lack of education or even your gender or skin color. If we live our lives based on the expectations of others and not God’s expectations, we will live our lives as typecast actors and actresses who cannot break free from a famous role.

Let me state that we should always hope for the best in those we love and know. We should always encourage others to pursue excellence. We should also follow the Bible’s guidelines for living and the laws of society. However, we should never compare people in our lives to someone else. There is a saying that goes, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”God created everybody to be unique and He has instilled different gifts and talents within each of us.  Thus, we should never say, “Why can’t you be like so and so?” nor should we try to live out our dreams or unfulfilled dreams vicariously through someone else.

One person in Scripture who overcame the stigma of negative expectations was David. First Samuel chapter 16 tells the story of how David was anointed king. Because of his continued disobedience, God reject King Saul and sent Samuel to the house of Jesse to anoint the next king. Jesse brought out seven of his sons and God rejected them all. At this point, Samuel had to be wondering about why God sent him to Jesse’s house, but God had someone else in mind.

“And Samuel said to Jesse, ‘Are all the young men here?’ Then he said, ‘There remains yet the youngest, and there he is keeping the sheep.’ And Samuel said to Jesse, ‘Send and bring him. For we will not sit down till he comes here.’ So he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, with bright eyes and good-looking. And the Lord said, ‘Arise, anoint him; for this is the one!” Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward. So Samuel arose and went to Ramah.” (1 Samuel 16:11-13, NKJV).

What kind of expectations did Jesse truly have for David? Jesse for whatever reason did not see David as worthy as his brothers and gave him the job of tending sheep, which a hired hand could do. Jesse did not even think to include David when Samuel asked to see his sons. I believe that deep down David knew he was more than a shepherd, while Jesse’s expectation for David did not seem to go beyond being a shepherd. However, Scripture shows us that David was a man of many talents- musician, writer, warrior, a natural leader, a giant killer, and a king.

I believe that everyone has talents. Our talents are unique to us.  There are obvious talents that God gives us and other talents we have to draw out as we seek Him. We should not allow ourselves to be limited by the expectation of others, for our talents and dreams come from the Lord. When we breathe our last breath, we will stand before God alone and give an account for the talents He gave us (Matthew 25). We must seek God’s expectation and not be bound by the expectation of man. As long as we have today, it is not too late. We serve a God of infinite resources, why look to people who have limited resources? God has blessed us and wants us to use our blessings for others and to bring Him glory in whatever we do.

“And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the father through Him.” (Colossians 3:17, NKJV).

“There is nothing better for a man, than that that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy in his labor. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God.” (Ecclesiastes 2:24, KJV).

“Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart; For God has already accepted your works. Let your garments always be white, and let your head lack no oil. Live joyfully with the wife whom you love all the days of your vain life which He has given you under the sun, all your days of vanity; for that is your portion in life, and in the labor which you perform under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 9:7-10, NKJV).

If you believe God has called you to something greater than what you are currently doing, I urge you to pray and fast about it. As we step out of our comfort zones, expect to face opposition and expect a little fear, but know that we serve a mighty God. C.S. Lewis is quoted as saying, “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” Remember God has the final word and as long as we have breath, He is not through with us. God bless you all.

Resolve to be Joyful

As 2016 began, millions of people made “New Year’s resolutions,” which may have included resolving to lose weight, get into shape, quit smoking, go back to school, etc., which are all fine and admirable goals. However, the struggle begins the moment the resolution becomes work and our wills struggle against our “flesh man” and what the enemy and the world are saying to us. Our flesh alone will never be strong enough to overcome any obstacles that we face. Rather, we must depend upon the Lord, the guidance of His Holy Spirit, and His Word. Dwelling in God’s presence does not guarantee us a life free from struggle, but we will be better equipped to handle anything that comes our way.

God’s Word assures us that we can live a joyful life. Please keep in mind that being joyful is not being blissfully ignorant of the world around us or being in denial about the problems we face. To be joyful is to take the opportunity to rejoice and praise God for who He is in spite of what we face. If we allow ourselves to be driven by our circumstances, we will not be joyful, but we will go through life depressed and beaten down. Even when God allows circumstances, He is still worthy to be praised because we as believers in Christ can rest assured God’s hand is upon us. Even for non-believers, God is using circumstances to draw you to Him and to come to Christ.

“Shout for joy to God, all the earth! Sing the glory of His name; make His praise glorious. Say to God, ‘How awesome are your deeds! So great is your power that your enemies cringe before you. All the earth bows down to you; they sing praise to you; they sing the praises of your name. Come and see what God has done, His awesome deeds for mankind!”(Psalm 66:1-5, NIV).

Nehemiah 8:10 is a verse cited frequently for joy, as people will quote, “the joy of the Lord is your strength,” for the verse says that. However, if we look at the verse in its full context, there is even more to it.

“Nehemiah said, ‘Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.’” (Nehemiah 8:10, NIV).

During this passage of Scripture, Ezra had just read the Law of Moses to the people and the people were sorrowful because of how far they fell from God. If Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior, you know that all of your sins-past, present, and future- have been forgiven. There is no need for a forgiven Christian to live in condemnation and sorrow, because the blood of Christ has restored you to God. Going back to Nehemiah, there are principles to living a joyful life that we can extract from this Scripture:

*God wants us to enjoy our lives.

*God wants us to use our blessings to help others.

*God has given us this day and He wants us to make the most of it.

*We do not need to grieve over the past or the present.

*Being joyful in God will give us the strength we need to overcome difficult times.

The cares of this world can steal our joy

The Gospels of Matthew and Luke record Jesus’ parable of the four soils, which discuss how people’s hearts respond to God’s Word. The second and third soils where the farmer threw the seed were the rocky places and among the thorns. Jesus later explained the parable to His disciples.

“The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.” (Matthew 13:20-22, NIV).

Thus, if we allow our circumstances and difficulties to rule our lives, we will not be joyful in serving the Lord and we will not walk with Christ as we should walk.

To be in Christ is to be joyful

Jesus had just finished teaching on the vine and the branches when He told His disciples:

“As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in His love. I have told you this that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:9-11, NIV).

As we seek to live a life of obedience, the joy of Christ will remain in us. Joy is also a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22).

To be joyful in trials is a sign of spiritual maturity

Not only is joy a by-product of being in Christ and a fruit of the Spirit, joy in the midst of a trial is also a sign of our spiritual maturation and the refinement of our faith.

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:2-4, NKJV).

The Bible, as it does with so many other subjects, is rich with illustrations and Scriptures concerning joy. I urge you to seek out the Word and find joy for yourselves. No matter what you have been through or are going through at this moment, you can have joy. If you have made a resolution, a vow, a promise, or a pledge, concerning your spiritual walk, trust in the Lord. Trade in condemnation, shame, guilt, hopelessness, and sin in for God’s joy. As we resolve to live a joyful life, we will walk in more of God’s presence in this upcoming year and in the years ahead. God bless you all.

Are You Perceiving God’s Voice?

Have you ever had a one-sided conversation with someone? Have you ever tried to start or maintain a conversation with someone who seemed disengaged from what is going on around them? Have you ever spoke from the heart about something important and the other person just brushed you aside and did not listen or hear anything you said? Have you cried out for help and felt ignored or slighted? Did the exchange or the lack thereof change the dynamics of the relationship? Have you ever felt that away about God? Be honest.

The old adage “perception is reality” holds true in these instances. How we view the world around us is colored with our thoughts, senses, relationships, beliefs, biases, and unfortunately, any prejudices we have developed. In the midst of an ongoing or series of trials, we can become so caught up with ourselves that we miss the clues about God and the people around us. We may perceive that someone blew us off, but could it be possible that person has had an extremely bad day or they are dealing with their own trial? Of course, that does not excuse any malicious ill-mannered behavior, but it is something to keep in mind.

If we are not careful, our relationship with God can be hampered or altered by our perceptions. For example, a believer may think that God does not answer prayer because they prayed for a sick loved one who eventually passed away. Or how about going through a severe financial trial after years of being generous with giving? Or how a parent dealing with a rebellious child who was raised in church? When we think God is silent or does not care our trials will feel that much more difficult. However, all we have to do is listen.

Job was a righteous man who had to endure a series of trials- the loss of ten children, the loss of his financial livelihood, sickness, his wife told him to let go of his integrity, his friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar all claim that his suffering is a direct result of some secret sin he has committed. Just having to endure one of these trials would be enough to shake the faith of some people.

Job does not blame God for his trials, but maintains he has committed no secret sin. Job longs for an audience and mediator with God because God has been silent in all of this (Job 9:33-35; 10:2-22; 16:19-21; 23:3-9). After the discussion of Job and his three friends ends, a young man named Elihu comes along and helps correct the wrong perceptions Job has had during these trials. In fact, Elihu maintained that God was trying to speak to Job, but Job was not perceiving it.

“Why do you complain to Him that He responds to no one’s words? For God does speak- now one way, now another- though no one perceives it. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls on people as they slumber in their beds, he may speak in their ears and terrify them with warnings, to turn them from wrong doing and keep them from pride, to preserve them from the pit, their lives from perishing by the sword.” (Job 33:14-18, NIV).

Elihu goes on to further state: “Or someone may be chastened on a bed of pain with constant distress in their bones, so that their body finds food repulsive and their soul loathes the choicest meal. Their flesh wastes away to nothing and their bones, once hidden, now stick out. They draw near to the pit, and their life to the messengers of death.” (Job 33:19-22, NIV).

What Elihu states is that God has been trying to get our attention- we are not listening. For anyone who is going through “a famine of the Word,” consider, what have you been dreaming about lately? Where has the Holy Spirit directed you to in God’s Word? What are your fellow believers in Christ saying to you? Have you gone through any sicknesses that may be a sign to change your lifestyle? Of course, this may not be the case in every situation, but we must be alert to what is going on around us and with us. When we go through trials, we expect God to show up and talk to us directly as He did with Job (Job 38-41), while ignoring the still small voice Elijah heard (1 Kings 19:12). There are also times when we expect God to speak to us the same way as He did before, but maybe God is trying a new method of getting our attention.

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:18-19, NIV).

We must remember that our lives are not our own because we have been redeemed by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. God is sovereign over all His creation, including our lives. Though God spoke to Job, Job never received an answer as to why he suffered the way He did. God is always faithful to us and we must continue to be faithful to Him, even in the midst of the most severe trial of our faith. Grace and peace be with you all.