Archive for April, 2011


“There’s a song at church that I just can’t sing,” Jennifer confessed as she took a sip of tea.  The sunshine warmed our backs at our outdoor table at Starbucks, and I relished this opportunity to sit and chat with my dear friend.

“The song says, ‘I will thank You for the pain,’ and I can’t honestly say that right now,” she continued.  On a recent Sunday morning, Jennifer said she had to leave the sanctuary during worship, overcome with conflicting emotions.  Her five-year-old son Samuel has been bravely battling chemotherapy and radiation treatments for the cancer that’s wreaking havoc on his little body.  “How can I be thankful that Samuel is nauseated and vomiting and screaming in pain?  How can I thank God for my little boy’s suffering?”

Jennifer reflected that suffering is not God’s desire for His children.  Cancer is a result of sin in this world, and God hates sin. “I choose to give thanks in the midst of Samuel’s cancer,” Jennifer said, “but right now I’m not thankful FOR his cancer.”

When the Israelites were suffering as slaves under the cruelty of Pharoah in Egypt, God’s heart was grieved.  Exodus 3:7-8 tells us of His response.  “The Lord said, ‘I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them.’”

God sees our suffering, and it breaks His heart.  Giving thanks in the midst of suffering doesn’t mean we have to be happy that it happened.  It doesn’t mean we are jumping up and down saying, “Yippee! I get to suffer and be in pain!  I’m so thankful!”  But we’re told in I Thessalonians 5:18 to give thanks in the midst of our suffering.  “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  

Giving thanks is a choice.  It’s not based on a feeling.  It’s a sacrifice.  It’s a statement of faith in God’s sovereignty, when we don’t see any good in the situation.  It’s choosing to believe that God is good, God is with us, and God will use our pain for His glory.  Can you choose to give a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Lord today?

“Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High. Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me.”  Psalm 50:14-15

 Going Vertical!



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He Gives and Takes Away

“He gives and takes away.  He gives and takes away.  My heart will choose to say, ‘Lord, blessed be Your name!”

Under a grove of palm trees, accompanied by the sound of the crashing waves, a small congregation gathers in one of the opening scenes of the new film, Soul Surfer.  Paddling to shore after an early morning surf along the beautiful Hawaiian coast, thirteen-year-old Bethany Hamilton (played in the film by Anna Sophia Robb) joins her family in the outdoor worship service.  With a joyful smile, the teenager sings along, “Blessed be Your name, on the road marked with suffering.  When there’s pain in the offering, blessed be Your name…”

But when a sudden shark attack in November 2003 takes Bethany’s left arm and almost takes her life, her faith is stretched in a way she never could have imagined.  When it seems there is no hope for the professional surfing career she had always dreamed of, and before she can see any glimpse of good in this tragedy, Bethany chooses to put her hope and confidence in the Lord’s goodness and sovereignty.  She clings to the promise that He has a “future and a hope” for her life (Jeremiah 29:11).

“I don’t pretend to have all the answers to why bad things happen to good people,” the real-life Bethany Hamilton says, “but I do know that God knows all those answers, and sometimes He lets you know in this life… God did have something bigger planned for me. What we all needed to do was trust… and believe.”*

Rather than let herself be swallowed up by the threatening waves of depression, self-pity, and bitterness, this amazing young woman pushes herself to learn to surf again – with one arm.  Bethany doesn’t stop until she is a top professional surfer, competing with and surpassing some of the best female surfers in the world!

“I have this thought every second of my life – ‘Why me?’” Bethany confesses.  “Not negatively, like ‘Why did this terrible thing happen to me?’ But more like ‘Why did God choose me and what does He have in mind for me?'”*

At the end of the film Soul Surfer, after Bethany has just finished an amazing performance in a regional surfing competition, a reporter asks what she would do if she could go back to that day of the shark attack.  A confident Bethany smiles and says she wouldn’t change a thing. The ability to impact so many people with her story makes it worth losing her arm. “I’ve had the chance to embrace more people with one arm,” she says, “than I ever could with two.”**

“He gives and takes away.  He gives and takes away.  My heart will choose to say, ‘Lord, blessed be Your name!”

Going Vertical!

*Soul Surfer, www.soulsurferwave.com, April 19, 2011.
**Religion News Service, www.religionnews.com,  April 19, 2011.

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“I had an arrow in my heart this week.”  Marisela’s comment surprised me. Our Sunday School lesson was about the poisonous “arrows” that Satan uses to attack our hearts: pride, anger, rejection, shame, fear, and depression. These are tough concepts for an eight-year-old girl to grasp, especially a girl from an Eastern European immigrant family with little or no Christian background.

“What happened?” I asked Marisela gently. “Do you want to talk about it?”

“My best friend at school said she was going to sit with me, and then she didn’t sit with me,” Marisela continued, her voice full of injury. “She didn’t sit with me all week. And she acted like she wasn’t my friend. But she’s my best friend!”

“How did that make you feel?” I prodded.

Marisela didn’t hesitate. “Rejected.”

“What did you do about it?”

“I acted like I didn’t care.” Her voice betrayed her resignation.

“But it did hurt, didn’t it?” I asked. She nodded silently, and my heart went out to this sensitive young girl who’d been wounded by a careless friend.

Using the booklet Is My Heart A Happy Heart? I shared with Marisela and the rest of the class how God wants to remove those arrows in our hearts. We began the process of identifying the one who’s hurt us and describing how it affected our hearts.  I explained that in the next few weeks we’d learn about pouring out our hearts to the Lord, releasing the pain to Him, and finally being able to forgive that other person.

Marisela listened attentively, her round brown eyes fixed on mine. When I gave them time to begin writing in their booklets, she worked intently and seriously. Later as we recited the month’s memory verse, Marisela joined the other children with a joyful smile. I know that God is at work in this little girl’s heart, and I’m confident that the arrow of rejection is coming out!

“Above all else,” the students chorused, “Guard your hearts! For it is the WELLSPRING of LIFE! Proverbs 4:23!”

Going vertical!


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If anyone had the right to bear a grudge, it was Joseph.

From favored son to despised slave in the house of an Egyptian official – Joseph must have wondered what he had done to deserve this.  His father’s lavish attentions had stirred up a burning jealousy in his eleven brothers, who attacked Joseph and sold him to Egyptian slave traders.  And as if that wasn’t bad enough, Joseph was then wrongly accused of something he didn’t do and thrown into prison!

“I was stolen out of the land of the Hebrews,” Joseph related to a fellow prisoner, “and here also I have done nothing that should have put me into the dungeon” (Gen. 40:15).  Rejected and abandoned by his family, alone and forgotten by the world, Joseph could have sunk into despair and self-pity.

But Joseph refused to be a victim, trusting instead that God had not abandoned him. We see that “the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love… whatever he did, the Lord made it prosper” (Gen. 39:21).  Joseph was eventually released from prison and promoted to second-in-command over the entire nation of Egypt!

The day came when Joseph’s brothers, facing starvation because of a severe famine, came to Egypt seeking food.  When Joseph revealed his identity, his brothers feared he would take revenge.  As the second most powerful leader in Egypt, he could have had his brothers enslaved or killed.

“What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong that we did to him?” they worried (Gen. 50:15).  Nervously the brothers pleaded for forgiveness.

Weeping and embracing his brothers, this slave-turned-official assured his brothers that he had already forgiven them.  “Do not be afraid!” Joseph told his brothers. “Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good” (Gen.50:20).

How about you?  Are you allowing yourself to be a victim of your circumstances?  Are you giving in to hopelessness and despair?  Choose today to forgive those who have hurt you, trusting as Joseph did that God has a greater purpose than we can see.  Forgive and release your pain to the Father.  If you let Him, He will use even the lowest points in your life for His good!

Going vertical!


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