Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Overcoming Darkness

Over the last several months, I have seen my fair share of darkness: watching people struggle with illness, conflict, job loss, death, and other “storms” that swell in life. When I was a kid, I used to always say, “that's not fair,” to which my dad would reply, “well, baby, life's not fair.”

The human response to pain and suffering comes in many forms. We can pacify our pain, deny it exists, distract the issue, or project our feelings on others, just to name a few. Some coping strategies can be healthy, (such as gardening or journaling) and others destructive (excessive alcohol consumption, lashing out at others).

When thinking on how to deal with dark times, I am reminded of the song, “Tomorrow” from the musical Annie. The child, being in what seems like a hopeless living situation, looks at her life from the perspective that no matter what problems she faces today, the sun will come out again tomorrow. Therefore, there is always hope. However, the promise of a better tomorrow for a believer is not an unreachable goal, but rather a promise of Scripture.

As believers, our hope rests in the knowledge of the risen Savior.  Before His persecution and death, Jesus knew the darkness his disciples would face in near future.  In His farewell discourse to the Twelve, recorded in John 14-16, Jesus tells His disciples of his death and the dark times they will face.  Yet intermixed with this proclamation are messages of promise and hope. Below is a synopsis of the promises Jesus gives his disciples in the midst of pain.

1. Preparation and Provision for eternity (14:3)
2. Proclamation of His return (14:3, 16:22)
3. Presence of the Paraclete (Holy Spirit) (14:16-25)
4. Peace amidst the pain (14:27)
5. Productivity for the kingdom (15:5)
6. Proximity to the Father (16:27)

Jesus sums up his address in John 16:33, giving the purpose of the discourse.  The verse states, " I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”  The peace we can have in the midst of pain comes by way of Jesus.  Through faith in Him, believers can have a sense of wholeness and harmony in the midst of crisis.  Our response to difficult situations is to have courage (take heart).  The reason we can have courage in the midst of crisis is Jesus' victory over sin and death.  Because of His triumph over the trials and circumstances of the world, we not only have hope, but are charged to stay the course and not lose heart when darkness comes.

As I look out the window right now, the grey sky engulfs the view.  However, I know that above the clouds, there is blue sky and sun.  When facing dark times, we can have hope today, knowing that the Risen Christ still reigns and His provisions for us to prevail remain true.  While life might not "be fair," I find peace in my circumstances in the One who overcome the world.  Therefore, I will continue to trust, continue to follow, and continue to serve no matter what.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Mismatched Values

James 1:22-27 ESV

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. ...

Before school, my son came up to me and began his morning soliloquy on the importance of living a debt-free life. I chuckled as I could see his father's influence overflow from his lips.

So often, we impart our values on our children without even knowing it. Some of these are what we want our children to learn from us, such as the importance of a debt-free life. However, sometimes, we send messages to our children that do not correspond to our true values. For instance, yesterday, a car almost ran into me and I called them, “stupid.” My daughter asked me, “Mommy, who is stupid?” I immediately retracted my statement and told her that the person was not stupid, but they simply made a mistake which almost caused us to be in an accident. However, had she not said anything, I would not have corrected my rhetoric. I was convicted that I had not acted in a way that tries teach my children to value all people.

What messages could someone's current actions be sending to a child? Each week, when a parent decides to skip church, they subtly are saying to their child, fellowship with the Body is not THAT important. When someone uses foul language, they are in essence saying that Colossians 3:8 doesn't matter. When one speaks words against someone, you are telling them that it is really okay to slander your brother.

What values do you want to instill into your children? If you don't have children, what values do you want others to see in you?  How consistently do your actions match your values?  For instance, if I truly valued living a healthy lifestyle, it would be logical that I would eat leafy greens, not eat my weight in Kit-Kats, and I would exercise in moderation.  In the same way, if we hold true to our values, our actions will be consistent with what we believe.   However, f they are not, we serve a God of grace, who wants nothing more than for you to turn from the wrong path, get back on track, and move forward.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

I'm just me, but my God is AWESOME

Psalm 139:13-14 -

13 For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.

I sat at a conference today and as I was talking to a woman about my goal of being a writer, I told her, “I know it's a long shot though, because I'm just normal. I am not famous. I haven't done anything remarkable and I don't have an “amazing” story. Basically, I am unmarketable. We both laughed as we discussed how the publishing industry looks at the number of blog followers you have before they will even look at what you have to say.

As I was spending time in my prayer closet (shower) this evening, God reminded me how HE chose a murderer to free the Hebrew people, a shepherd boy to be king, and a Jewish girl to be queen. He chose fishermen, a tax collector, and a zealot to be apostles, a persecutor to become the greatest missionary, and a virgin girl to carry the Savior. There was not ONE THING that these people did to deserve their role in God's plan. They simply said, "yes" to His call. They didn't force their way into His will. They didn't try to alter His course.

For many believers, we think that we have to prove our worthiness to be a part of God's plan. We feel that we have to try out to “make the team.” However, by the grace of God, shown through the love and work of Christ on the cross, you are already on the team!!! So, there is no reason to be sitting on the bench while the most important game of all time is happening right now. God created you with your own unique gifts and talents for a specific role in His kingdom. He created you to leave an impact. How great an impact you leave is determined by how often you say yes to the opportunities He gives you each day to bear witness to Him.

Will I ever be famous? It doesn't matter. Because I am fulfilling my calling in writing the truth that comes from the Word of God. I am saying yes to the opportunity Christ has given me today.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Embracing Transition

As I dropped my children off at school this morning, I started thinking about how with each new school year comes a time of transition. Parents whose youngsters started school for the first time must adjust to a new stage of independence. Recent graduates now face the reality that their time of formal training is complete. Transition can sometimes be overwhelming.  We go from what was known to what is unknown; from what is seen to what is unseen. So how do we as Christians embrace these times of adjustment in our lives?

Deuteronomy 31:8 states, "it is the Lord who goes before you.  He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you.  Do not fear or be dismayed."  This verse was written in the context of transition.  The Israelites, having been redeemed from the land of Egypt, were about to enter into the Promised Land.  Though they had been under the leadership of Moses,  it was now time for them to enter into the new territory with Joshua. In his farewell address to Israel, Moses gives them a key command and encouragement on how to face what lay ahead.

The Command 

Moses admonishes the nation to be strong and courageous.  The adversaries they faced in the new land were formidable.  The temptation of discouragement and retreat was immediate. However, the Israelites were encouraged to be strong. This meant that they were to walk in faith and not be afraid of what lay before them.  The reason and means by which they were to have courage was through the promise and character of God.

The Encouragement

After exhorting the nation to stand strong through this time of transition, Moses reminds Israel that God is present with them in their circumstances and He will not fail them (Deuteronomy 31:6-8). The former leader recalls the promise God had made to the nation long ago in order to encourage Joshua to persevere .  Not only will God be with them in battle, but He Himself will walk ahead of them (Deut. 31:8).

The Translation

So how does a nation preparing for battle encourage us today?  The Israelites faced both a transition of leadership and location.  Yet, they were encouraged to stay the course even through the unknown.  No matter what change occurs in our lives, we must cling to the promise that God not only is present with us through it, but He has already gone before us and prepared the way.  Our responsibility is to trust and follow Him, despite our uncertainties.

Father, Thank You for reminding us that you go before us and are present with us in all things.  Help us to walk in faith as we encounter transitions in any areas of our lives. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Plumb Line of a Believer

Romans 12:3 For by the grace given to me I say to every one of you not to think more highly of yourself than you ought to think, but to think with sober discernment, as God has distributed to each of you a measure of faith. 

Have you ever taken one of those self-assessment quizzes where you had to rate yourself?  As I was killing time I didn't have the other day, I decided to take one of these such quizzes.  Each of the questions asked me to rate myself according to how I thought I performed socially, emotionally, physically, etc.  Similarly, my husband had to do a self-evaluation of his job performance today.

Self-evaluation is a part of life and should be a part of the Christian life; for it helps us continue to strive for godly living.  However, it is important that we have a proper view of ourselves.  Romans 12:3 tells us that we are not to think too highly of ourselves.  My husband and I love watching "America's Got Talent."  Inevitably, they have the contestants on the show who think they are the next headliner; yet when they begin to perform, they are in actuality TERRIBLE.  When the judges tell them the truth of their fate, they are in disbelief!  Somehow, in their minds, they had built up an over-inflated and unrealistic view of themselves. Their pride blinded them to the truth.

Unfortunately, the same thing happens in a spiritual context.  Believers who once relied upon the grace of God somehow start to see themselves as the ones who are making things happen.  They start to believe that it is by their talent and influence that opportunities open.  Soon, their view of God and others becomes deflated because their view of self has become so grandiose.

The buffer to this puffed up way of thinking is to instead view ourselves with sober judgement.  In other words, we should look at ourselves in light of who we are under God's grace.  In Christ, we are redeemed, set free, complete, and sanctified.  Without Him, we condemned, accused, and separated from God.  The only thing that measures who we are in Him is our faith.  Therefore, an honest self-evaluation for a believer should consist of looking at how much faith we are putting in Christ.  That really is the only plumb line for a believer.  The works we do, the money we give, and anything else should be a reflection of the faith we have in Jesus.

If you had to rate yourself on a scale 1-10, how much time, attention, and daily trust are you giving to Jesus?

Friday, June 27, 2014

Beware of the Snake

1 Peter 5:8 - Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

This evening, as I was coming in from gathering a few items from my car, I almost stepped my bare feet directly upon a snake.  To say that I hate snakes would be a drastic understatement.  I loathe the very thought of snakes.  When God placed a curse between the woman and the serpent, He meant it for direct enmity between snakes and me for life. (I digress.) It was still light out and the snake was directly in my path.  However, there was a lot of activity going on in our neighborhood and yard (cars driving by, squirrels running up trees, etc.) and so I was distracted.  It wasn't until I was directly upon the snake that I noticed it.

How often we do the same in our spiritual lives?  We get distracted by harmless enough events.  Yet, it keeps us from being watchful from things that warrant our attention.  The difference between my example and Scripture is that this snake was not daring to come after me.  He was simply minding his own business.  It was I who almost interrupted his evening. However, John 10:10 says that the thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy. Therefore, he actively looks to harm those he seeks.  Likewise, 1 Peter 5:8 says that the devil prowls like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.  Therefore, we are to be alert and sober minded.

The Christian community is called to wake up and keep watch because the adversary is actively prowling to consume.  I think we often either deny the existence of a real enemy of God or we bury our heads in the sand, assuming a spiritual attack would never happen to us.  We don't understand spiritual warfare and therefore, we simply ignore it. However, Scripture commands us to wake up and realize that there is more going on in the world than our own agenda.  The easiest way for an enemy to defeat an opponent is to catch them off guard.

This evening was a wake up call for me.  As much as I despise snakes, I know that there is a greater adversary out there who desires nothing more than for me to be distracted by "harmless" frivolities.  However, I must stay the course, knowing that I am on this earth for a Kingdom purpose and continue to look to Christ as my source and my strength.  

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

How Do You Smell To The World?

2 Corinthians 2:14-16 - 14 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?

When my children come inside from playing, one of the first things I say to them is, "y'all smell like farm animals!"  In other words, it was quite evident where they had been based on their aroma.

This morning as I was reflecting on God's Word, I chuckled as I read 2 Corinthians 2 and as I thought about my two stinky children.  Their smell represented hours of fun to them, but to me, it was a sign of a much needed bath!  I then began to dive into the meaning of 2 Corinthians 2:14-17.  When a Roman army won a battle and defeated an enemy, they began a procession and celebration that could sometimes last three days.  People burnt incense and filled the streets with the smell of perfume.  The victors paraded the spoils and processed the warriors in victory.  For the winning army, it was a time of celebration and life.  The sights, sounds, and smells encompassed triumph.  In the same way, when Christ returns, it will be a moment of triumph for those who believe.  However, to those who never believed, it will be a time of judgment.  Likewise, in during the Roman times, the same festival with the same sights, sounds, and smells, carried with it an entirely different meaning to the defeated army.  The captives were paraded through the streets in cages.  Their gold, silver, art, and jewels were stolen.  The opposing king was often set out on display and then be publicly executed  The same smell elicited two very different reactions depending on which side you belonged.

Second Corinthians 2:15 states that as Christians, we are the fragrance of Christ.  To those who belong to Him, we elicit a sweet scent of life.  Yet to those who do not, we give off the odor of death.  We come off as offensive.  Therefore, when we truly live out the Gospel, there will be people who are offended by our message.  Unfortunately, that is the truth of God's Word.  That does not mean we should change the substance of the message or try to make it "smell better" to the world. Instead, we should have compassion on the world, and love the world as Christ did, yet stand firm on the truth of God's Word, no matter what.

If no one is ever offended by your testimony of Christ, how much are you actually displaying Him?