With Us

Christmastime isn’t always the most wonderful time of the year. Sometimes it’s equally hard as–or even harder than–the rest of the year. It can be difficult to get into the “Christmas spirit” when you have a broken spirit. But at the heart of Christmas lies this comforting truth: God is with us.

“O come, O come Emmanuel, / And ransom captive Israel, / That mourns in lowly exile here / Until the Son of God appear.” All of history led up to this point–the point when God sent a means of salvation for all humanity apart from ritual sacrifices. And the beauty of His provision is His decision to dwell among humanity. To become one of us. To be tempted as we are and to suffer as we do.

Because of God’s almighty power, He could have created any plan for salvation. He could have chosen to send Jesus right at the point of the sacrifice of His life. As a matter of fact, He didn’t have to send Jesus in the first place; the just nature of God would have been content to condemn all of humanity for our unrighteousness. Instead, He chose to execute justice by sending Jesus to live then die then live again on earth. The best part, for our generation, is the torn veil. Not only did previous generations have God with them in the flesh, but now we also have God in us through the Holy Spirit.

The beauty of the Christmas story is that God chose to live with us. But the comfort that applies to each day is that “He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you'” (Hebrews 13:5). He is with us each day, especially on the hard days: “The Lord is near the brokenhearted; He saves those crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).

Similar to the Christmas story is the story of Lazarus’ resurrection; God could have chosen the quick and easy way to help. But He didn’t. When Jesus learned of His friend Lazarus’ death, He stayed where He was:

“Now Jesus loved Martha, her sister, and Lazarus. So when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was.” John 11:5-6

Kind of confusing–Jesus loved Lazarus and his family. So when he died, He kept about His own business? Not exactly. Again, He could have instantly healed and revived Lazarus’ life; He is God. But He didn’t. Instead, He waited until Lazarus was easily proven dead before He went to comfort his family. He went to be with them in their mourning. Yet He was also with them for their celebration of Lazarus’ resurrection. Jesus’ presence in that situation reveals that He cares personally for those who suffer.

Jesus was also present for the miracle. It is possible to experience miracles. (How many Christmas movies have something to do with a Christmas miracle? Thank you, Hallmark.) As Gabriel told Mary, “Nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37). But whether you face suffering or miracles or mundane experiences this Christmas, you can find joy in Emmanuel–God is with us.

Thanksgiving is About You

“Everything” is an all-encompassing word: “Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Easier said than done, right?

Perhaps the least difficult time to thank God is when life is less difficult. Thanksgiving flows most naturally from the heart when life is good. Slightly more challenging is the decision to thank God for painful circumstances. But, with an eternal sense of purpose, believers can be grateful for the way God moves in their lives. Personally, I struggle the most with gratitude for things I don’t like about myself.

Probably the most obvious form of insecurity is body image. The comparison game between different-looking people points out what exactly we don’t like about our appearances. I myself can name several things I would like to change about my appearance. But is appearance really what defines our worth? According to 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, certainly not!

1 Corinthians 6:19-20

19 Don’t you know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body.

Our worth is not our own; our worth was bought at the price of Jesus’ life. As believers, our bodies are the places that the Holy Spirit chooses to dwell (2 Corinthians 6:16). The beauty of God permeates into our own lives when God Himself chooses to live in temporary human bodies.

Another common insecurity is evident in self-doubt. When people lose faith in their God-given abilities,–and forget that they are given by God–they become engulfed by feelings of incompetence. Again, the comparison game also becomes dangerous when we try to out-do others’ talents, positions, or even ministries. A dislike towards one’s incapabilities leaves a sense of emptiness in purpose, which only God can determine.

2 Corinthians 3:4-5

We have this kind of confidence toward God through Christ. It is not that we are competent in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our competence is from God.

Measuring ourselves to man-made standards will cause us to fall short each time. But living according to God’s will and with God’s competence always brings success that surpasses worldly definitions.

Because this blog is written to explain the lessons God has taught me through physical pain, I’ll close by trying to be thankful for my imperfect health. I don’t like the fact that I need to sit down more than others do. I don’t like the fact that I sometimes walk with a limp. I don’t like the fact that sharp pain often interrupts my thought process. But I should learn to thank God for carefully creating me exactly as I am.

Psalm 139:13-15

13 For it was You who created my inward parts;
You knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I will praise You
because I have been remarkably and wonderfully made.
Your works are wonderful,
and I know this very well.
15 My bones were not hidden from You
when I was made in secret,
when I was formed in the depths of the earth.

God, You knew exactly what You were doing when You made me. Nothing about the way I was created was an accident; You see all that You have made and call it good. Help me to see Your divine creativity in creating my imperfect body.

Thanksgiving is a season of gratefulness to God, but thanksgiving is dependent on us. We determine how we view our lives. Our attitude towards ourselves is sometimes the only thing that can be changed, since God’s goodness in our lives never fails. Thanksgiving is about our perspective towards the good, the bad, and the ugly in our lives.

As Thanksgiving approaches and we admit our gratitude for people we love, let us not forget to thank God for that which we see as repulsive in our lives. Let us remember how we are treasured in His eyes.

God is Great, God is Good

“God is great. God is good. Let us thank Him for our food. By His hands, we are fed. Thank You, God, for daily bread. Amen.”

If you’re like me and grew up in the children’s ministry of a church, you’ve probably recited this prayer. In this simplistic prayer spoken by pre-schoolers, the core belief of Christianity is found. “God is great. God is good.” This first line of a child’s prayer contains the answer to why anything happens in life.

When God created the world, He saw that it was good. God in His existence and dwelling place is good. Then, He decided to create human beings with souls that were not of Himself. Because God created something that was not Himself, He created beings that were not innately good.

God is good.

Man is not God.

Man is not good.

Considering why certain things in life happen can bring one back to the belief that God is good. In difficult times, we tend to question the most basic belief of Christianity. I know I have experienced major doubt concerning this belief.

In the first few years of my pain, God taught me in multiple ways about His faithfulness, why He would never leave me. So I have rarely doubted His faithfulness since the time He began to prove it in numerous ways. But the very truth that used to comfort me began to haunt me when I doubted God’s goodness: Yes, I believed, God will never leave me. But, I questioned, the same God who causes my pain will never leave my side? The faithfulness of God is not the core belief of Christianity, because believing in the goodness of God determines one’s eternal destiny.

God is good, yet so is doubt. Questioning one’s beliefs can bring oneself to a much deeper understanding of these beliefs. While I didn’t find one specific answer that solved all elements of my doubt, over time, God also began to prove His goodness to me. One proof is found in Romans 12:2, which says that God’s will is good, pleasing, and perfect. God wouldn’t create a life’s purpose to be anything but good. He also wouldn’t create a situation’s purpose to be anything but good (for believers- Romans 8:28).

Because of my doubt, I pushed God away from me for several weeks. I claimed to not be mad at God, but I didn’t want to get too close in case He decided to bring more hurt to my life. However, this act of pushing God away is the exact opposite purpose of my pain.

Hosea 6:1 New Living Translation (NLT)

“Come, let us return to the Lord.
He has torn us to pieces;
now he will heal us.
He has injured us;
now he will bandage our wounds.

Lamentations 3:32 Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)

Even if He causes suffering,
He will show compassion
according to His abundant, faithful love.

In the process of pushing God away, I became even more focused on my pain. I embraced the hurt rather than the Healer. When He rescued me by teaching me that the joy of the Lord is my strength, I was overwhelmed by His goodness. How can God be so good that He sent His perfect Son to pay with His life for the imperfection of man? How can He be so good to offer us redemption and a renewed relationship with Him? How can He be so good to take us to extreme measures in order for us to accept His healing touch?

God is great. God is good. Let us thank Him for our pain.

Humility

Humility is not an innate characteristic to humanity. However, it can be developed through admitting one’s own weaknesses or through praising the strengths of another. God has placed me in situations in which I could employ either method to humble myself.

In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul discusses both ways to learn humility. He states in verse seven, “Therefore, so that I would not exalt myself, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to torment me so I would not exalt myself.” What is not widely known is that this verse actually begins with the phrase “especially because of the extraordinary revelations.” Before Paul begins to explain his “thorn in the flesh” that leads him to admit his own weakness, he describes a vision that expresses the greatness of God. I myself have been blessed with humility lessons in the form of a “thorn in the flesh” and a vision that expresses the greatness of God.

The following is a journal entry about an event that occurred approximately a month before my foot pain began.

“10/2/10

“August 5th. Four days before school started. I had been walking away, but just a few weeks before, I was closer than ever. But that night changed my life. So, yes, it was a vision from God–not about the future. It was more of an illustration of the plan of salvation, sort o like watching a movie in my head. So here’s what happened: I was confessing sin to God, and it started.

“I ‘saw’ myself; it was like when you’re having a dream and you can’t see yourself, but you know it’s you. Also like the Transfiguration where Peter recognized Moses and Elijah without being introduced. In viewing ‘myself,’ I saw red pain (or possibly blood) mark a ‘no’ sign. Then an X over me appeared in the same way. The next thing I knew, I was being put up on a cross to die. I yelled, ‘No! No!’ (I think I remember saying, ‘Someone help me! Please!’) Then, from the crowd around me, Jesus stepped out. Again, it was like recognizing Him without seeing His face or being introduced. And Jesus said to the people responsible for crucifying me, ‘Let Me take her place!’ Then, those men talked to each other, saying, ‘What has He done wrong?’ ‘Blaspheme. I heard Him claim to be the Son of God.’ (I think I remember hearing ‘Crucify Him!’ from the crowd and group of men.) So I was released off the cross. (I hadn’t been nailed on yet.) As soon as I was released, a group of people nailed Jesus to the cross. I couldn’t handle the pressure of the situation, the fact that an innocent stranger just gave up His life for me, so I ran in the opposite direction, yelling, ‘No! No!’ Then, a group of friends came up to me, saying things like, ‘I heard about what happened to you. Are you okay?’ I don’t remember exactly how I responded, but I started bragging about getting MYSELF off the cross! I didn’t even mention Jesus! All around me, in the place I lived, was complete darkness. Then I turned around and saw Jesus come off the cross by Himself. (I think it was pretty gory.) He came running to me, saying, ‘Emily, I’ve been looking everywhere for you!’ At that point, my friends left with disgusted looks on their faces. Jesus told me, ‘Come on! Climb on My back!’ (I think He was panting from exhaustion and pain.) I replied, ‘But Jesus won’t that hurt you?’ But before I finished, He yelled (but not forcefully), ‘It’s the only way!’ Then He was definitely panting. I hesitated but said, ‘Alright,’ and I got on His back like having a piggy-back ride. Everything changed; all around me was light with no hint of darkness. I saw a road, and at the end of the road was God [the Father]. There is no way to describe how God looked, but the light was brighter and spread out. It was like not being able to point to God because He can’t be contained. The road represents my growth/journey with Christ. And Jesus Christ, my Savior, carried me along the road closer to God. And there the vision ended.

“Now how do I know that this was from God? Well, first of all, while I was ‘watching’ the vision, I was talking to God personally about it. And I remember Him ‘telling’ me to focus. Secondly, it has Scripture references, such as ‘It’s the only way!’ (John 14:6). And lastly, so many points can be taken from the vision that it could only be from God. I know it was not me because my mind could NEVER come up with anything like this! Oh, and another reason to know it was a God-thing: after seeing it, I grew closer to God. And every time I ‘watch’ what my brain remembers from it, I recognize how wonderful God is once again.

“I hope that anyone who reads this will grow closer to God from it.”

So about a month before my pain began, God revealed to me supernaturally His greatness. And the same Holy Spirit that spoke to me in this way lives inside of every person who is a follower of Christ.

Inexpressible and Glorious Joy

If you watch the video above, you will be exposed to the power of chronic pain over emotions. Watching this entire video led me to understand why my pain seems to take over every part of my life. The biggest takeaway I got from the video was the concept of retraining the brain. By avoiding fear with each step on my hurt foot, I can potentially lessen the amount of pain I experience.

Similarly, I need to retrain my brain to avoid the negative perception I have of my pain. I’ve previously mentioned the difficulty I have in taking my first step each morning. Usually the fear I have towards that first step of the morning, keeps me in bed with a sense of discouragement. I’ve prayed countless times to be given the strength–both physical and emotional–to get out of bed. I realize now that “the joy of the Lord is [my] strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).

1 Peter 1:5-9 Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)

5 You are being protected by God’s power through faith for a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 You rejoice in this,[a] though now for a short time you have had to struggle in various trials 7 so that the genuineness of your faith—more valuable than gold, which perishes though refined by fire—may result in[b] praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 You love Him, though you have not seen Him. And though not seeing Him now, you believe in Him and rejoice with inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 because you are receiving the goal of your[c] faith, the salvation of your souls.[d]

I also need to retrain my brain spiritually; my question needs to change from “God, why have You caused me so much pain?” to “God, why have you been so good to me?” He has given me freedom from the bondage of sin and the opportunity to spend forever in His presence! Why then do I feel I am entitled to immediate healing? Jesus Himself underwent physical suffering “for the joy that lay before Him” (Hebrews 12:2). Because He saw the prize of our souls, He was willing to pay the price for them. If Jesus can experience joy in physical pain, so can I.

My goal is to retrain my brain from seeking joy despite my circumstances to seeking joy IN my circumstances.