What God Wants to Produce in Us, During Times of Pain and Trouble

Three of my friends were recently told that they might have cancer; they all had the necessary diagnostic tests done. For two of my friends, the test was negative; for one, it was not. After hearing about the positive test, I felt very angry—angry at God. I went for a long walk and talked to him about it. I don’t believe that God causes people to have cancer; still, I was blaming him. It felt like it was another example of injustice—bad things happening to good people. Why? I asked.


By the time that I returned home from my walk, I was able to drop my anger. God did not give me an answer to my why; instead, he showed me that I needed to ask a different question—a “what” question. Could what God wants to produce in our lives be more important than why he allows painful and difficult  things to happen to us?

What does God want to do in us when we face difficulties? These are some of the qualities that the writers of the New Testament talked about:

  • ENDURANCE and FAITH: When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives my brothers, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! Realise that they come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance.” James, in James 2:2- 8 PHILLIPS
  • STRENGTH OF CHARACTER, HOPE, AND LOVE: “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.”  Paul, in Romans 5: 3-5 (NLT)
  •  EMPATHY and PATIENCE: “For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ.Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer.” Paul, in 1 Corinthians 1:5-6 (NLT)
  •  THE COMPANIONSHIP OF JESUS AND ASSURANCE OF THE FATHER’S LOVE: 35 “Can anything separate us from the love Christ has for us? Can troubles or problems or sufferings or hunger or nakedness or danger or violent death?   . . .  As it is written in the Scriptures, 37 But in all these things we are completely victorious through God who showed his love for us.” Paul, in Romans 8:35, 36 (NCV)

I’m inspired by the gratitude, faith, and courage of my three friends. Those whose tests were negative are full of joy and gratitude, but they are not selfish. With empathetic love, and faith, they fervently pray for the one whose test for cancer was positive. It’s far from easy, but the faith and courage that God is producing that friend is giving me a desire to more fully trust God, in whatever difficulties I might face.

What Are You Doing to Make Your Soul Laugh?

Last weekend at New Hope Community Church where I’m a member, people in leadership positions got together for an inspiring series of meetings. Being part of the leadership team, naturally I attended. Through a video presentation, given by Wayne Cordeiro, pastor of New Hope Church in Honolulu, Hawaii, God challenged me to make some changes in my life. In his presentation, “Dead Leader Running,” Cordeiro shared how, by ignoring his physical and emotional needs (as well as those of his family), he narrowly escaped a nervous breakdown.


As he became busier and busier, he cut out of his schedule those things that filled him with joy and renewed his energy. Finally, his body wore out, his brain quit producing serotonin (the happiness hormone) and he experienced reoccurring panic attacks. This will happen to anyone who keeps giving and does not get refueled, he warned. That was not news to me, but I needed to hear it, again; during the last few months, my joy level has dropped and my body has noticed. It’s been sending me pain messages.

After the meetings were over, I went for a long walk—that’s one of the activities that fill my emotional cup. While walking, I wrote the following lines:

My body reflects
What my soul feels.

When my soul cries,
My body hurts.

When my soul laughs,
My body heals.

What is my soul? Different people have different definitions. Along with Leanne Payne (author of Restoring The Christian Soul), I define “soul” as my mind and heart; it includes my memories, will, emotions, and imagination.  There’s a close relationship between the health of my soul and the health of my body. But because my body is visible and my soul is invisible, it’s all too easy to ignore the messages of my soul. In the morning, my body reminds me of its presence by sending me an “I am thirsty” message. I satisfy it with a glass of water. Next, my body sends me an “I am hungry” message; I satisfy it with eggs and sausage or oatmeal. A little later while I’m sitting at my computer and writing, my body sends me an “I am cold message.” I satisfy it by turning up the heat in my office and, then, go back to writing. Sometimes, though, the words do not flow. Feeling frustrated, I go to the kitchen and grab a handful of chips or eat something healthier, such as a few slices of cheese and a few grapes. I go back to my computer, but my writing still does not flow.

What’s the problem? My diagnosis was wrong. It was not my body that I needed to feed; it was my soul. Eventually, if I keep on ignoring the frustration of my soul and, instead, feed my body, it will get indigestion. I might try to soothe it with antacids, but that will not, in the long run, solve my problem. Until I take care of the frustration in my soul, my digestive problems will not improve—even if I’m following the diet that gives health to my body.

The complexity and interdependence of this mind/emotion/ body connection causes me to worship God. I declare, with the Psalmist, that his “deeds are awesome and amazing” (Psalm 139:14 NET). And I renew my commitment to do those things which bring laughter to my soul and health to my body. I hope that you will do the same.

About the Game of “Looking Good”

looking good

I’m getting tired of hearing about which of the candidates that are seeking to become their parties nominee for president have high approval ratings and which do not. But then, which one of us can honestly say that we are never concerned about looking good.

When what we do receives a smile,
And who we are is overlooked,
We learn quite early how to play
The game that’s known as “Looking Good.”

‘Cause in this world, where gods of
Beauty, strength, and money reign,
Judgments fall on those who fail;
How could we say, “That’s my fault”!

“This load is heavy. I need help!”
“I don’t know how. I was afraid.”
“I feel ashamed. I told a lie!”
Honesty would break the rules.

In “Looking Good” appearance counts;
We hide our flaws, our guilt, and shame.
And oft’ design two separate lives—
One up front and one inside:

One at school and one at home
One at church and one at work
One with family, one with friends
One on Facebook, one off –line.

If too long, we play this game,
We lose touch with who we are;
We lose sight of all our goals;
A deep sadness fills our souls.

“Looking Good” is hard to do;
What is true keeps leaking through.
“Looking Good” adds to shame;
“Looking Good” makes us blame.

In our mask, a crack appears;
We injure those that we hold dear.
Just like Clinton, Cruise, and Trump,
Under pressure, we erupt.

Then, with another choice, we’re blessed:
Admit to our inward mess,
Or go right back and play the game.
Changing is so hard to do.

Unless we have a loving friend,
Who’ll gently guide us, take our hand,
Who’ll help us climb, but not control,
Who’ll let us move at our own pace,

Who’ll not reject us when we fall,
Yet will, with grace, our blunder’s call,
And summon us to wisely choose
Internal goodness—not applause.

Unless we have a friend like this,
How can we leave our painful game?
It’s just too hard; our path’s ingrained.
We’ll likely choose to stay the same.

How profound that God knows this!
How amazing that he choose
To come to earth and demonstrate
What it means to not pretend.

For Jesus, “Good” was not a game;
It was his true and shameless name.
He was himself and nothing more—
Nothing more and nothing less.

He had no guilt to cover up
He was the same, inside and out.
Never once did he bow down
To gods who called him to conform.

When we connect our hearts with his,
We find the strength to end our game.
And gradually he imparts
True goodness to our yielded hearts.

“Sticks and Stones Will Break My Bones, But Words”?

“As a tree gives fruit, healing words give life, but dishonest words crush the spirit.” Proverbs 15:14 NCV

100_8294In a conversation I had this week, I was asked, “Can someone else know what I want better than I do?”  Earlier in the week another person, telling me about the frustration of dealing with non-medical people who want to manage his healthcare issues, said, “They tell me what I should do and where I can go!” Then he added.  “Do they know better than me what is best for me?”

To the first person, I asked, “Do these people live inside your body?” After a “No!” response, I continued, “You are the only one who accurately knows what you think, how you feel, and what you want, because you are the one who lives in your body. People who do not live inside of you do not know what you think and how you feel.” To the second person, I said, “Do you know what you are capable of doing and not doing?” To the “Yes!” response, I said, “Then, why would you need to listen to people who tell you to do things differently?”

How sad it is when we allow someone else to tell us what we are feeling, what we are thinking, what we need, and what we want!  Why would we do this? There are lots of reasons, but one cause might be that we are experiencing emotional abuse—something that many people experience but few recognize and understand. In her book, The Emotionally Destructive Relationship, Leslise Vernick, gives a clear description of emotional abuse and effects on us.

The quote (in Leslie’s book) by Robert Fulghum that states, “Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will break our hearts”[i] stands in contrast to the proverb I grew up with—“Sticks and stones will hurt your bones but words will never hurt you.” Talking about the destructiveness of words Eugene Peterson says,  “It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell.”[ii]

Why is it so difficult for some people to know what they think, feel, and want? Often, it’s because they have been injured by destructive words and/or told by someone else what they should think, feel, and say. By doing these things, they’ve given another person the power to define them and the power to control them, The sad consequences are that if for many years we don’t (in some way) voice what we feel, think, and want, after awhile we become confused; we lack self-confidence; we lose touch with our heart desires, and we don’t even know who we are.

Even God, who does know our thoughts and desires, doesn’t program us to think his thoughts.  He gives us choices. He describes to us the healthy and wise ways of living and tells us what the accompanying blessings will be; he describes unhealthy and foolish ways of living and tells us what the destructive consequences will be; then, he leaves it up to us.

If we believe that the words Jesus speaks to us are true, then we will be healed from the pain of emotional abuse, and our abusers will no longer have power us. Testifying of that, Leslie Vernick says, “Without a doubt, my mother’s words and actions caused harm to me as a young child. Even as an adult, she had the power to devastate me with her tongue—until I stopped letting her. As long as I believed her words were more true than God’s word, she had the power to destroy me—because I gave it to her.”[iii]

There will always be people in this world who ignore us, put us down, or devalue us in some way. But how much destruction their words and behavior will produce in our lives depends not on what they choose to say but on what we choose to believe and accept.

What words will you hang on to in 2016?

[i] Leslie Vernick, The Emotionally Destructive Relationship (Harvest House: Eugene, OR., 2007), p. 63.

[ii] James 3:5-6 in The Message

[iii]  The Emotionally Destructive Relationship  p. 66

Planning for Joy in 2016

Joy is something we all want; yet how we define it, how we find, and we keep it differ. These are a few of my thoughts; Joy is hard to define, but it’s more than a feeling and more than a change of attitude. It is not something that happens to us. It’s something that we must plan for. We can find joy in our relationships and through our accomplishments.

How do we find joy in accomplishment? Does it mean that we are the best player, that we are the first to end the race, or that we score 100 percent on every test? I used to think so, but I’ve changed my mind.

For example, on Oct. 15, I invited others to join me in an early 2016 New Year’s Day Challenge. I said that my goal was to accomplish important tasks for the year and celebrate New Year’s Day 2016 with emotional, physical, and spiritual reserve—a heart filled with love, a body filled with energy, and a spirit filled with joy.

Now it’s reporting time. Did I meet my challenge? Some of the goals that I wanted to accomplish in 2015 were not completed. One was completed, but not with perfection. Did I feel joy? Not at first. Because I did not accomplish every goal, and I did not accomplish some of them according to my standard of perfection, I felt very discouraged. But when I realized how much that I had learned and how good and gracious God is, my perspective changed. A song of joy sprang up in my heart. Now I feel thankful for what, by God’s grace, I was able to accomplish, and I’ve set new goals for 2016.

The joy of accomplishment does not mean completing everything; it means completing those things that God has designed us and equipped us to do.  In accomplishing those things, we find joy. I look forward to the joy of accomplishment this year because I believe my goals are in line with God’s purposes for me. That’s what I thought last year, too. However, as the year progressed, I realized that I needed to make adjustments. I expect that I will need to do the same thing, this year. As Solomon said, “We can make our plans, but the final outcome is in God’s hands” (Proverbs 16:1 TLB).

According to James, we are “but a wisp of fog, catching a brief bit of sun before disappearing [we need to] . . . make it a habit to say, ‘“If the Master wills it and we’re still alive, we’ll do this or that.”’ (James 4:13-15 MSG).

Jesus modeled for us what it means to find joy in accomplishing Father-God’s purposes. He did only those things that he was called to do. He said, “My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work.” (John 4:34 NLT)

We plan for joy by aligning our dreams, goals, and accomplishments with God’s good purposes for us. When we do this, we will not be disappointed. We will experience the greatest of all—intimacy in our relationship with Jesus.