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Note as of April, 2014: Hello All! I am consolidating my writings into a new blog- Walking in Wholeness: Insights into God, Medicine and Healing. I will no longer be posting to this blog, so I invite you to subscribe to the new one! Thanks and God bless

Monday, February 27, 2012

Discovering the Why and What of Our Desires and Gifts

When I was a young child, I once asked my mom out of the blue, "Mommy, where's South America?" I subsequently developed a fascination with the Amazon, Latin people and the Spanish language.

When I signed up for my first Spanish class at age 13, and before I knew a word of the language besides "Hola", I knew that I was going to love it and be good at speaking it. And I knew that one day I would travel to South America and that my heart would remain there.

How could I have known these things, never having experienced Latin America or known what it was like to speak Spanish? I believe it's because God birthed them into my heart.

The things that intrigue and fascinate us, as well as our natural gifts, are often clues to God's destiny for us, though we may not realize it when we first discover them. He didn't fit us with interests, passions and likes for nothing, though we may be tempted to think so, especially when He hasn't (apparently) used them much in our lives, or we believe that their use is solely for recreational purposes.

I studied Spanish throughout high school and college. Though I enjoyed it, it was also tedious to learn. For years, I didn't see the fruit of my labor, and until I graduated from college, Spanish was little more than a series of mental exercises for me. And as a Spanish major in college, I wondered how it would be useful in a career. At times, I have believed that I should have been more practical and studied engineering or marketing or something else that would have been (supposedly) more useful in the business world.

But over the past seventeen years, God has used my ability to speak Spanish and my love for Latin America in ways that have exceeded my wildest dreams.

For instance, I never imagined that by age 20, (and after having lived in Argentina as an exchange student for a year), I would speak Spanish with a fluency and accent that would confuse some into thinking that I had been raised in Latin America. I never would have guessed that by the time I was 30, I would have traveled to nearly every country south of Mexico, and lived for short periods of time in Venezuela and Costa Rica, in addition to Argentina.

Yet as precious as the gifts of travel and becoming fluent in another language have been for me, much more has come of the desire that God birthed in me to learn Spanish and become enamored with all things south of the border. Perhaps most important are the deep friendships that I have developed with Spanish speakers. Second to that are the eyes and ears that I now have to see how people of other cultures think, live and experience God. I have also developed more profound insights into my own culture, as I compare and contrast the society in which I live, to the different societies of Latin America.

I have also used Spanish in my work- as a medical interpreter, translator, Spanish instructor, flight attendant, and missionary. I have used it to communicate God's love to people in Guatemala, Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Cuba and beyond. Just yesterday, I used it to pray for a beggar on the street, who couldn't work due to severe back problems. As she wiped tears from her cheeks, I realized that God had healed her. When she confirmed this, and showed me how she could move parts of her body that she couldn't move before, I was, once again, thankful for my gift. I have used it to dispel myths about Americans to Latinos, and myths about Latinos to Americans. I have used it to create a bridge between my culture and that of others.

Travel for me these days is hard. I don't sleep well, and Latin America is really the last place that a sleepless soul who needs peace and quiet to rest, should be. As I write this from a balcony fronting the ocean on the Guanacaste peninsula of Costa Rica, I am reminded that the sleeplessness, along with other symptoms that I suffer from, aren't for forever. Because I think that God intends to my gifts for an even greater purpose, and this purpose can't be accomplished unless I am able to sleep and function in the places that I used to travel to- places more rustic and less comfortable than my friend's plush beach condominium in Costa Rica.

But just as, at the age of 13, I couldn't have guessed all that God would use my gifts and passions for, at the moment, I can't fathom the even greater ways in which He will use them, but I sense that He's just getting started with me.

How do I know for sure? I don't, but every time I am nudged to read a Mario Vargas Llosa novel, or pray over a beggar, I sense something bigger in the works beyond the activity at hand.

I share my experience to encourage those of you who have wondered if your passions are for a purpose; if your interests aren't just for your own enjoyment, and if God desires to do something great with the natural gifts and desires that He's given you.

God is glorified when we explore, express and use our natural gifts for His Kingdom. Sometimes, what seems like a useless talent or frivolous dream is really the seed of a majestic plant that God intends to grow and use to draw people to Him, although life sometimes has a way of squashing the seeds that God has planted within us. Yet if we ask Him to resurrect our dreams; to show us the what and why of our passions, and to develop that which He has placed within us, we will see those seeds bearing fruit that satisfies us in a way that goes beyond selfish pleasure, recreation or vain ambition. There is nothing wrong with pleasure, but sometimes, God desires to take something that gives us pleasure and use it for the good of others, too.

Recalling your childhood interests and fantasies, and exploring the pure, innocent passions of your youth, may help you to discover how God intends to use all that He has placed within your soul.

Knowing why and for what we were given talents and desires, helps to sustain us during times of trial or uncertainty and to have hope when life seems to offer none. Just as I didn't know at age 13 that God meant to use my love of Spanish and Latin America for so many purposes, so you may not know, until you ask Him, the entire reason for the talents and loves that He has placed within your heart. And if you have forgotten how to dream; if you can't remember what stirs your soul to life, and what awakens joy within you, ask God to resurrect those things, that you may once again, dare to dream with Him.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Choosing Redemption

Lately, God has been revealing to me some ugly truths about my consecration-or lack thereof-to Him. As His light shines upon the dark spaces in my soul, I realize how much of my relationship with Him has been based upon my need for Him, rather than my love for Him. I see how much of my ministry has been based upon selfish motives, and how the cocktail of my thoughts is more often a bitter brew than a sweet Spirit-filled punch. And He's been showing me how these bitter thoughts stem from unresolved anger that I harbor towards Him- anger which began in my childhood and which has subtly choked my relationship with Him over the years.

Roots of bitterness aren't easily yanked from soil that has been rained on, packed down and fertilized by a lifetime of trials, so I don't think God is disappointed that I can't just rip the suckers out with my hands. The traumas I have endured have been severe, and my need for grace has been infinite. Yet I had hoped that after a decade of following Him wholeheartedly, my love for Him would be deeper, and my consecration to Him, greater.

If I ever thought that being in full-time ministry was my calling, I discarded the idea a couple of weeks ago. Well, sort of. I simply decided that I couldn't be used by God in my current condition and that my soul was too shredded to ever come to a truly profound knowledge of His love for me. I'm a walking bag of loveless, irritable bones these days. Maybe it's the lack of sleep. Maybe it's the pain in my hip and back. Or maybe I'm using these problems as excuses to feed those bitter roots of disappointment in God. In any case, God would never use such a person in high levels of ministry, lest the sharks of pride or something worse eat me alive.

Or have I simply been believing a fantastic lie about my usefulness to God and my ability to receive from Him? In any case, the enemy threw some well-harvested salt into the wound created by this belief at a Christian conference this weekend.

I preface this story by saying that God's love towards us and our love for Him can't always be measured by our feelings. Feelings are subject to our biochemistry, and faith has nothing to do with our neurotransmitters, hormones or other chemicals that affect our mood and thoughts.

So when the Holy Spirit touches people, especially at charismatic and Pentecostal healing conferences, and His presence manifests in us as feelings of joy, tears of release, and other warm fuzzy expressions, such feelings shouldn't be used as the barometer by which we measure the quality of our relationship with God.

But everyone still wants a warm fuzzy from God, because fuzzies touch our emotions and help us to feel reassured that He loves us.

So when I was literally (or so it seemed) the only conference attendee this weekend who didn't receive a powerful physical or emotional manifestation of God's presence in my inner being, the enemy vanquished Truth from my mind and said to me, See? You can't even receive God's love.

Normally, my thoughts don't descend into such a dark pit simply because I fail to fall to the ground under the power of God's Spirit, or I don't sense His presence when a well-anointed minister comes and imparts the Spirit to me. But I have never witnessed such a powerful anointing upon one of God's ministers as that which I saw this weekend, and yet never felt so strongly like I was the only one who couldn't be a part of what God was doing.

Shirley Strand was the minister, and as she prophesied and extended her hand to impart God's Spirit to each one of the forty-some women who came to the altar to receive from God, I watched many of them fall to the ground, with shouts of joy, tears of laughter, and other obvious physical manifestations of God's presence.

Usually, in these type of services, not everyone exhibits visible evidence of having been touched by God, but this time, nearly everyone that I saw, did. It was amazing. Every time I looked up to see what God was doing...Bam! Someone was falling down under the power of the Holy Spirit.

But when Shirley prayed over me, I felt nothing. As tears welled in my eyes, I looked at her and said, "I can't receive from God."

She prayed over me once again and still, I felt nothing. She ordered me to sit down, and as I watched her continue to minister over other people, grief filled my chest. Instead of comforting me, God seemed to be confirming my earlier suspicions that I was beyond being touched by Him...beyond redemption, beyond ever sensing His love in the way that I so desperately needed to.
Beyond ever being used greatly in ministry.

But the next thing I knew, Shirley was standing in front of me again. She said to me, "Okay, get up. You're going to come minister with me."

I forced a smile, though I'm sure my expression screamed devastation. If it wasn't, my soul certainly was, but nobody seemed to notice as Shirley took my arm and raised it to the people still awaiting a touch from God. As my hand touched their faces, they collapsed backwards, releasing peals of laughter and shrieks of joy as they went. Some simply fell, struck by the power of God flowing through my hand as Shirley moved me from one person to another. Granted, it was her anointing, not mine, touching the people. I was simply her puppet, but I didn't understand in that grief-stricken moment that God was doing something with me besides trying to get me to smile.

My grief intensified as the women fell. Everyone in the room seemed to be receiving a touch from God--that is, everyone but me- the instrument that ironically, He was using to drop the people to the ground like sacks of potatoes.

Maybe Shirley just wanted to cheer me up, I thought. After all, it was her anointing that was touching the people, not mine. Anyway, I was too bitter to be used by God in that moment...or was I?

The message became clearer when one of the women who had organized the conference came over to me and prophesied over me. She said, "You are a healing minister. I saw it all over you the second you walked through the door (of the church)."

She then told me she thought that it was no accident that Shirley had asked me to stand and minister to the people, because she thought that God was calling me to do the work of an evangelist, too.

It's not the first time I have heard it, or the second, or the third. We are all called to pray for the healing of one another, but as the conference concluded, I realized that God was yet calling me to a position of higher authority in ministry. He still believed that I could be healed of my wounds, and when that happened, it would unfold into the fulfillment of an amazing promise.

I didn't receive a touch from the Holy Spirit as I had hoped this weekend, but as I left the conference, I realized that God had yet reached out to me- knowing, perhaps, that using my hand in ministry and receiving words of prophecy were the only ways that I would be able to sense His love, and receive the knowledge that He yet intended to do great things with my life, despite what I believed about myself. I could have chosen to ignore the signs, and the message. I could have said to myself, "Shirley just asked me to minister with her because she felt sorry for me. The prophet called me a healing minister-but aren't we all?"

As I drove home, I realized that how I decided to view the situation meant the difference between growing my bitter roots towards God or taking another step towards uprooting them.

As difficult as it was to choose, I finally decided that God using my hand in ministry was meant to be a foreshadowing of the fulfillment of one of His great promises in my life. The prophecy was meant to confirm that He intends to use me in an even greater capacity as a healing minister, and that He yet thinks I'm divine material for that purpose. That my lack of consecration, irritability and intermittent bitterness are no hindrance to the fulfillment of His promises for my life- if I keep seeking to be healed from them. But like a surgeon who removes infection with a scalpel or a knife, God must first bring my infection into the light, before He begins the painful work of cutting it out, so that I may eventually be healed.

The choice I made at the conference to believe that I am one of God's sheep, instead of a stubborn little mule who is too broken to receive anything from Him, wasn't just for yesterday. As the daily stresses of life press upon me and symptoms continue to poke at my happiness, I realize that I must continue to choose to see His love and promises through the grind of my day-to-day existence, instead of focusing upon difficult circumstances that blind me to His Truths.

The devil is always looking to slap a blindfold across our eyes and tell us that we aren't really chosen, loved or created by God for great things. He would have us believe that we are more screwed up than any other; that our messes make it impossible for us to receive from God or be used by Him. That lie has never hit me so forcefully as it did this past weekend.

But then God reminded me that the darkest hour in our lives is sometimes just before the dawn. Though I yet long for God to descend upon me with flurries of warm fuzzies, I realize that to see the dawn, I must stop expecting Him to love me my way, and instead allow Him to love me His way. And I must know that He doesn't give up on me, even when I give up on me. Only then, will I perceive His gestures of love towards me in the darkness.

May we know in our heart of hearts that we are not beyond redemption. May we know that there is no soul on this earth that the power of Jesus Christ can't touch, and no wound that He can't heal. May we know that our circumstances and emotions are no reflection of His love towards us, and that when we are tempted to see them as such, we must look to the Cross and know that we are loved, simply because of what He did for us there.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Satiating The Need For Solutions

It is human nature to find security in solutions. If we know what job we are supposed to hold; which relationships to pursue; what health remedies to take...if we feel confident in the strategies and opportunities presented to us, we feel safe.

Personally, I'm always in pursuit of something. I'm inquisitive but my need for answers sometimes stems from fear. What looks like logic, common sense, healthy pondering or really fear. Fear masks itself as many things. One of its more subtle manifestations is in the fierce pursuit of solutions, whether or not God is involved in the chase.

God has made us curious beings. He has designed us to be seekers of knowledge. But as respected evangelist Leif Hetland said in a meeting at my church last week, "We are a society with much knowledge, but little wisdom." (my paraphrase).

And I wonder if our insatiable desire for knowledge is sometimes a sneaky counterfeit for security in the Lord. Knowledge leads to solutions... which leads to feelings of safety...or so we think.

I have been researching medicine for nearly a decade now, yet the more I learn, the more I realize that I know very little about how to heal the body. Medical knowledge is, in some ways, like a drug to me. Every new discovery infuses me with an emotional high at the promise of what it will bring- to the health of my body and that of others. But when that knowledge doesn't fulfill its illusory promise to heal me or thousands of others, disappointment deluges my soul.

The same can be said for any type of knowledge that we pursue. While sometimes useful, valid, important and intriguing- when we lean on knowledge instead of the One who gives all knowledge, we get into trouble.

This is because pursuing solutions for the sake of security blinds us to the right information that God would have us use for the furtherance of His Kingdom, our well being, and that of others. It also puts our hope in the wrong place- in our intellect, or in God's resources, instead of in Him.

Knowledge is important, but wisdom is better. Wisdom teaches us what to do with what we know, how to apply it, and how to submit it to God's will. Wisdom admonishes us to use knowledge as a tool, not a security blanket, and keeps our hope centered in the proper place-upon Him.

Wisdom enables us to take comfort in the apparent absence of solutions; in the scarcity of immediate answers and knowledge which we believe will get us to where we need to go.

In my life, wisdom admonishes me to trust when I don't know how to cure my insomnia. It teaches me how to sift the valuable medical knowledge that I gather from the chaff, and it shows me how to rest, when God isn't flashing neon signs across my conscience.

Living without solutions- or when the only solution is to be content to have none- is difficult. Yet it is also freeing, because it can teach us to rely upon and submit to God, knowing that the answers will come when, and if, we need them. Often, what we think we need to know, we would be better off without. Society clutters our minds with news, facts, theories, trends, and advertisements that aren't of God, but which we strive to sort from the stuff that God gives us.

I wonder what would happen, for example, if every person in the United States closed their eyes to any text but the Bible for a week? If we agreed to disregard all that we know- "except for Christ Jesus and Him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2)? Rather than sentence us to a narrow-minded existence, I believe it would open our eyes and ears to gold mines of knowledge- the likes of which we really need.

I confess, as of late, I have been led astray because my faith, and security, has been in solutions. I have believed that my survival depends upon having the right answers, not the right Counselor, who, while silent at times, desires so deeply to provide for me, even when my mind and soul are blank.

Our desperate searching for solutions will not cease unless we choose to trust God with what we don't know- and what we do. Sometimes, I think He allows all solutions to be snatched away from us for a time, for our own good. So that we may learn to rest and have peace in Him, rather than in the need for answers. May He be the only answer we need.