Wednesday, July 3, 2013

One Year Ago Today...

One year ago today, several of my children and I headed out the front door on our way to our neighbors swimming pool for an early morning swimming lesson. Far from my mind was any notion that this day would be marked by a “life changing event,” as the doctor would later announce to my wife. About a half hour later or so, I began noticing the less than stellar diving skills of one of my boys. I thought that a good example would be all that was needed to improve his skill so, I told him to stand back and watch how daddy could dive into the pool with graceful form.

As I launched into the air, I kicked my feet up high, held them together and pierced the water like an Olympic diver. Suddenly, I felt the tremendous force of the bottom of the pool resisting my head as my head struck the bottom of the pool. I was briefly stunned for a moment much like a boxer who has received a powerful blow to the head, then I collected myself and thought that I needed to swim to the side of pool so that I might shake off such a hard blow.

I began trying to reach out with my hand but my arm would not move. Kicking in my mind, my legs and feet would not move either. I frantically worked through each of the muscle groups in my body trying to find any muscle or appendage that I might move to aid me in coming up from the water and reaching the side of the pool for a breath of air. In that moment it became clear to me that I was going to drown in the bottom of the pool unless someone quickly acted on my behalf. Believing that I was about to die, I prayed for a few moments rejoicing in the goodness of my God who had reconciled me unto himself through the atoning work of his son Jesus and had promised that my trust in him was not in vain.. Then, I began to praise him as I waited entering into his presence through death.

As the time was passing, my sons began to take notice that I had not come up from the water. They began working together struggling to drag my body to the shallow end of the pool and turn my face up so that they could hold my head out of the water. As they approached the shallow end of the pool my eldest son began CPR and was able to revive me until the paramedics arrived.

Later that day, the doctors told my wife, Amy that I had fractured my C5 vertebrae causing paralysis below the level of the fracture and that they could stabilize my neck by performing a surgery. What they could not tell her was whether or not the paralysis would be temporary or permanent.

After the surgery, I spent two weeks OLOL hospital in Baton Rouge and then moved on to spend another two months at Touro Hospital in New Orleans on their rehab floor. After leaving the hospital in New Orleans, I returned home to pick up where I left off two and a half months prior. Needless to say, since the injury each and every day presents a host of trials that God has called me to walk through.

Often during the past year I have considered the exhortation given by James (Jam 1:2) where we are commanded to “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.” These trials, spoken of by James, are manifested in the life of the Christian in numerous ways, some very obvious and others not so obvious. The trials of recent days, since my spinal cord injury, seem to be much more obvious than those trials endured prior to this life changing event.

As I have thought through this passage contemplating how I might remain faithful and obedient to our Lord, one prevailing consideration continues to stand at the forefront – that is the question, “How is it to be accomplished, the counting it all joy?”

James gives us the answer in the exhortation when he says to “Count” or "Consider."

And how do you consider? The answer is, that we consider with our mind. Counting or considering with the mind stands in contrast to considerations of feelings. In the text, James is more concerned with our thought process than how we might feel about the trial that God has ordained.

James is not saying, "feel joyful," but rather, learn to think joyfully in your trials. This does not come easy to most of us and one might wonder why such difficulty? Several factors are involved some of which can be traced to our fallen nature and dumbed down, hyper-emotional culture which has taught us to feel rather than to think. The reality is that Christians may find it a strong temptation to tackle this imperative found in James’ epistle with “feeling” or “emotion” rather than thoughtful wisdom and consideration.

Many will be inclined to think. “I am walking through a trial and I am commanded to be Joyful, to be happy… so to be obedient to this imperative I simply need to muster up happiness; that will be a faithful pursuit in honoring God. But this is the wrong approach.  “Counting” or “Considering” it joy is to be rooted in the thought process.  We should think like this, “I am tempted and afflicted – yet – because of the truths that are revealed in God’s word concerning his glory and our good -  I will recognize this circumstance as a means of revealing  the joy and the love of the father who works in me all good things.”Phil 2:13

Paul tells us that he learned to be content in every circumstance. Whether he was being assaulted from temptations arising from his internal desires or whether he was suffering the temptations to sin from external sources, Paul had learned to be content. If he was being persecuted from within the church or from the outside – Paul learned to be content – to ‘count it all joy.’ That is his own testimony given in Philippians chapter 4.

Php 4:11-13  Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

“Count it all joy” means to exclude the negative emotions, exclude doubt, exclude feelings and to consider with your mind.

So, how is this accomplished? How do we experience joy in the midst of trials ? How do we engage the mind?
How do we obey the word of God, counting or considering it all joy, especially when it seems so contrary to what we have come to know throughout the course of our life? (i.e. heartache, despair, grief, disappointment, etc)

The answer is - We apply our thoughts to truths that we know, truths that are given to us in the Word of God which are intended for just such a purpose. We fill up our minds with Holy Scripture which renews our mind (as Paul commands in Roman 12:2).

We consider the words of Peter.  (1 Pet 4:1)  “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking.”

We count trials as joy as we remember Heb 12:3-4  “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”  We remember that –“In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”

We count Trials as joy as we remember or consider the words in 1 Jn 3:13 “ Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.”

We Count it Joy as we remember the words of Paul to the church at Philippi 3:8-10 “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…..that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

As you consider the trials that God ordains in the life of the Christian recognize that these trials demonstrate to us observable evidences that we are friends and followers of Christ. As we contemplate our calling and response, it will become increasingly clear that we are enduring the same suffering as Christ and striving to advance the same interest, as our Lord. We “Count it All Joy.”

Lastly we recognize that in ourselves – we can do nothing. We are born in sin, our hearts are born corrupt, and there is none righteous…. No one does good, we are born slaves of this world, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. But by grace we have received a Holy calling and by adoption we have become the children of God.

We count all things as Joy as we consider or remember the words of Paul to the church at Philippi.

Php 2:13-16 “…it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,  holding fast to the word of life,…”

Counting it joy means considering that God is working in us and through us for his good pleasure – therefore I have no legitimate cause for grumbling or questioning – only joy in the midst of trials which lead to steadfastness and an unshakable faith.

Remembering these truths has been a great blessing to me as I have walked through the trials of this past year and indeed throughout the course of my Christian life. By God’s grace, I will continue to count it all joy as I face trials of various kinds; every struggle as a father, a husband, a Pastor, indeed every struggle which is common to these bodies of flesh.

I pray that these words of James will find a sweet place in both my heart and  in yours as we faithfully follow after our Lord Jesus Christ.