Waiting Is The Hardest Part

I’m sitting here on this “Silent Saturday” evening, reflecting on all that went on the weekend that Jesus went to the cross and died for all humankind.  There is always such focus on Good Friday and even Holy Thursday, but we often just skip over the day that is referred to as “Silent Saturday,” a day that Jesus spent silent in the tomb before rising.  It was a strange day for His followers, and it feels that way again to me today.

shutterstock_177898622Silent Saturday for the followers of Christ was a terrible day.  The previous day, their Savior had been brutally beaten to the point of being unrecognizable and had died a horrible death on the cross.  The people who had believed in Him were crushed, scared, and worried about what the future would hold.  They heard Him promise that He would rise again on the third day, but they doubted it.  The Bible doesn’t come right out and say it, but if they believed His promise with all their hearts, they would have been waiting expectantly at the tomb on Sunday to see it happen.  Instead, they were afraid.  It was extremely silent for them.  Fear hovered over them while darkness hovered in the tomb.  Waiting is always the hardest part.

There is something about silence and darkness that makes most of us uncomfortable.  The disciples were hiding for their lives.  How discouraging it must have been to wonder if everything they had sacrificed for Christ and all they had believed to be true would end like this – huddling together in fear of what would come next.  As I sat here pondering how difficult the silence was for the disciples back then, I realized how hard it is for me over 2000 years later.

shutterstock_675753925All of us have experienced our own personal versions of “Silent Saturday.”  We face times when we have lived from a place of faith in God and His promises, and hold tight to our relationship with Jesus, believing what He has said, even when we sometimes don’t fully understand it.  We follow; we believe; we trust.  We marvel when we see God’s hand working in our lives or the lives of those around us, but then we find ourselves in a Silent Saturday.  We pray for God’s guidance or His help, but it seems He is silent, so we assume He is gone and start to question what will happen to us in His absence.  We feel scared, helpless, and if we are honest, we sometimes feel betrayed, as if everything we have done has been for nothing!  Where is God?!  Why won’t He answer me?  Why won’t He help me?!  The longer the silence, the more scared or disillusioned we become.  Depression sets in and we huddle down and start trying to figure out what we should do next to protect ourselves, because obviously God has let us down.

The past few months in my life have been filled with terrible events and great losses and griefs, and they just keep coming.  It is a strange season of life, and I have said to those closest to me, “If God were merciful,” or “I wish God would just be merciful and…,” and then I would add whatever I felt that would be to the end of that statement. Yesterday I uttered those words again and then it hit me: When I make those kinds of statements, what I am really saying is “God is NOT merciful.” That realization hit me right in the heart.   The same thing happens when I say, “I wish God would be gracious and…,” again, fill in the blanks at the end of that statement with whatever it is you think should happen in a given situation, or with what you want to happen.  I guess I just never thought about the fact that when I start stating what I think would be merciful or gracious, then I have put my knowledge and opinion above that of the One who knows everything and is working everything for my good.

shutterstock_712494409The disciples were already confused and fearful when Jesus was arrested.  They watched Him willingly lay down His life when they knew He had the power to strike back at those who were harming Him.  Surely they felt like their entire world was falling apart and the future was too dark to see.  Jesus was dead and in the tomb; Darkness set in and the silence became deafening.  What I always found interesting was that Jesus had told them multiple times what He was doing and why He was doing it, but they just kept missing it.  (Matthew 16:21 and 20:17-19) The problem wasn’t that they hadn’t been told, but rather that they never fully understood – or didn’t want to understand.  Jesus even told the disciples “I am telling you now before it happens so that when it does happen, you will believe that I am who I am.” (John 13:19) How many times has the same thing happened to me because I was blinded by my own ideas of what should happen, based on an incorrect interpretation of what God has said to me through His word? Just like the disciples, sometimes I can’t get out of my own way to see His.

In times of great trouble, grief, fear and worry, we often search for meaning.  We search for answers and guidance.  We search for shelter and comfort.  We struggle against the silence we are experiencing, and then start doubting everything we ever believed.  The longer we wait, the harder it is to keep the darkness from overtaking us and reducing us to terrified people, hiding and just hoping to survive.  I know it happens, because I am living it myself, right now in 2019.   I am drowning in fear and pain in my heart and soul, and the longer this darkness lasts, the harder it is to not lose faith.  The longer it is quiet, the more tempted I am to believe this is what life is going to be like forever, and that maybe I was wrong in what I believed.  In a nutshell, Silent Saturday stinks!

Most of you have seen the holy week quote that says, “It’s Friday, but Sunday is coming!”  I’ve always looked at that as a reference to the miraculous resurrection that secured my eternal life as a believer, but today it suddenly meant something else.  Sunday isn’t just about my salvation, but about the resurrection of hope and faith in me (and in us).  There is a “Sunday” coming in my life where I will see God move in ways that are impossible for me to understand right now while I am in the midst of silent but excruciating pain.  The marvelous truth about my Silent Saturday is that no matter what I feel, it doesn’t change the fact that God is working things out behind the scenes.  He has made deep and abiding promises to me, and He doesn’t have to keep repeating them in order for them to be true.  On the other hand, sometimes I need to go back and read those promises again, and read that God is the same yesterday, today and forever, so that I remember they are true.  I need to remember it so that I can breathe in the silence and still have sight in the darkness.

shutterstock_74847238I am so grateful the original Silent Saturday didn’t last, and on Sunday morning, the grave burst open and Jesus walked out ALIVE!  But this year, I am also grateful to remember that the Silent Saturdays of our lives don’t last either.  I’m not saying these seasons of life are easy, by any stretch, and we are all in different places of faith at different times.  But just as the disciples could have benefited from reminding each other of the truth, and holding each other’s hands in moments when the fear or sadness was too much to bear, we can lean on our brothers and sisters in Christ to do the same for us (and us for them) as we trudge through the difficult times in life.

For the disciples, Friday was shocking and devastating, Saturday was silent and incapacitating both in action and in their hearts, but Sunday changed EVERYTHING!  I read a statement that said, “Good Friday was the worst Friday until Sunday.”  There is such truth in that statement, and the same holds true in the challenging times in our lives.  When we experience tragedy or trouble, there isn’t anything good about it in our minds.  We are left in places where the silence is deafening, and we are gutted with incapacitating fear or grief.  We have to wait, and doing so makes us wonder and feel like the silence will never end, but then we finally step into the sun of a new day.  Things start becoming clear and we see the proof that God was working even when we didn’t see it or didn’t understand.  We then rejoice, celebrate and are changed by what we have witnessed.  God has promised us that our trials and testing of our faith is for our good.  James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

“Fridays” beat us down, “Saturdays” leave us reeling, confused, and grieving, but when “Sunday” comes, we can finally see good in our trials and the strengthening of our faith through the silences.  So on this resurrection Sunday, pause and thank God not just for everything He did so that you can live eternally, but also for all He does to constantly resurrect our faith and hope as he works all things for our good.  We can’t see what He has in store, and waiting is definitely the hardest part, but He knows that when the night is over, He is going to knock our socks off!  Joy comes in the morning, and I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait!

Blessings!

Love Or Just Celebrating It?

Here we are on Valentine’s Day 2019, a day on which many people celebrate love, but what exactly does that mean?  Is it a day where people truly step back and think about what love is, or is the focus on what they get or what kind of display of affection their significant others do for them?  I remember working for a company that announced over the loudspeaker the names of everyone who had received a delivery during the previous 30 minutes.  It went on all day long!  Over the years it began to feel almost like a contest of how many times your name would be announced, as if it was some indicator of how much you were loved by others.  What started as an easy way to organize deliveries for a people within a large company became a source of pain for so many people whose names weren’t called multiple times or maybe not called at all.  My point is, what should we celebrate when we think of love?  We should celebrate the traits of what it means to truly love others.  1 Corinthians 13 tell us the true nature of love:

img_6962“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

We like to quote those verses or turn them into wall hangings, but so often they become exactly what they shouldn’t – decoration.  The more we look at things, the easier it is to stop seeing them.  It is easy to get caught up in the trap of saying the right things, but not living them.  It’s easy to get lost in our own desires or how others aren’t acting or reacting like we think they should.  Once we start down that road, it leads nowhere positive.  Look at the beginning of that same passage of scripture:

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”

 We like to jump to the section that so beautifully describes the nature of love, but skip over the first few verses that tell us we can be the most eloquent, gifted, generous person on the planet, but if we do not have love, then we are NOTHING!  Let that sink in for a moment.  (I’ll wait…)  It’s quite a statement of what happens when we get so focused on ourselves and start thinking everyone else is wrong or are doing things wrong.  We start expecting things and then get upset when we don’t get them.  It is one of the many reasons why Valentine’s Day has become such a commercialized day of supposed romance.  Society keeps trying to define for us what love looks like, and we just keep absorbing that view.  We need to stop.  We need to get back to truly loving each other, and we need to do it every day, not just on Valentine’s Day.

shutterstock_65540413In a time when we are more divided than ever in so many realms, it is good to remember what Jesus tells us in John 13:35, “By this shall all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love one for another.”  We should look different, act different and BE different.  That doesn’t seem so tough when you think about loving those who love you and treat you well, but when you consider loving the people who have mistreated you, judged or slandered you or a host of other things, it can be a daunting thing to undertake.  It isn’t easy to love the unlovable or those who mistreat us, but I just keep thinking about how much Jesus loved us – even while we were (or are) unlovable.  Philippians 2:5, it tells us, “Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus.”  Yeah, there is a LOT that could be said about that, but when it comes to love, we are to view love the way He viewed love.  And yes, we are to love even those who mistreat us.  “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be mature and complete, as your heavenly Father is mature and complete. (Matthew 5:43-48)  Being mature or complete is a tall order, but if we are to follow in the steps of our Father, we have to be willing to set aside our pride and love genuinely.

shutterstock_114296290So on this day of love, I will leave you with this: Let us go out into this world with love and kindness.  Let us stop being so quick to judge each other and instead pray for each other and lift up those around us.  Don’t try to pull the weeds in someone else’s garden, but rather cultivate what you want to grow in yours.  Love in ways that far exceed your words, even if those around you do not do the same.  Love in spite of your expectations.  Love in the midst of pain.  Love when you are on top of the world, or when it is crashing down around you.  Love completely, not for what you get but for what you can give.  We did nothing to deserve God’s incredible love and He did not reserve it for only the “worthy.”  He loved every single one of us in spite of ourselves.  Love because you have been loved.  Bless because you have been blessed.  Forgive because you have been forgiven.  And remember just because God made it that simple; He never said it would be easy.

Blessings and love to you and yours!

Sacred Prejudice

shutterstock_790179607A few years ago, I had an experience at a church association meeting that was so egregious that I was compelled to write about it.  If you haven’t read that post, it’s worth the read.  (The Ignorant Battle Cry of Christians).  There is something about the ignorance of some people that continues to amaze me.  A preacher I spoke with recently said the greatest thing I’d heard in a while, “In my experience I have found that ignorance coupled with arrogance, is a dangerous combination.”  It was one of the most refreshing things I’d heard in a while, because he was right.  There are so many churches out there dying because of that very destructive combination.  It’s sad, but it’s also true.

I’ve been in church my entire life, and in those 52 years, I have seen and experienced a lot of things.  There have been things I’ve disagreed with along the way, but nothing that has been a deal-breaker in my faith.  It may be a personal choice of music or teaching styles, or it may be the preference of one program or another, but those struggles are going to happen no matter if you are in a church or some other kind of volunteer group.  It’s just part of the journey.  I even had a pastor who was so totally against women wearing pants to church (which was nothing but a preference), that I wore dresses the entire time I served in the church with him.  If you know me at all, you know how much I HATE dresses!  My point is that there are a lot of preferential things that can be worked around if you have a willing heart.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately and have wondered why so many people are running from older, conservative churches, even though some of them are teaching the truth of God’s word.  Some observers would say it’s because people want a more entertaining experience, or a less convicting one.  Some would suppose it’s because people want to have less accountability. Others would claim it’s because no one wants to be humble and submit to God’s way of thinking.  Any or all of those could be true, but I believe the reason people are leaving is the product of ignorance coupled with arrogance.  Honestly, so many churches have become better Pharisees than the Pharisees of Bible times.  I can’t help but think of how Jesus viewed (and continually rebuked) the views and practices of the Pharisees.  They were judgmental, arrogant and hypocritical.  They were so caught up in their “righteousness,” that they totally missed who Jesus is and what He taught.

As a woman, I am at a disadvantage in the eyes of some churches and pastors.  It doesn’t put me at a disadvantage with God, but there are still pastors and churches out there that see women as less than equal to men.  The Bible shows over and over God does not hold that opinion of women, but rather He has honored and used women in all kinds of important roles over the course of time.  I do believe that God made men and women differently and created us with certain skills and abilities that are fitting for the roles we often fill.  We are different creatures, but that doesn’t make women less intelligent or valuable than our male counterparts. shutterstock_737645134 I once had a pastor tell me that the reason Eve was deceived instead of Adam was because the serpent knew that women were totally susceptible to believing a lie.  Basically, that she was an easy mark, so-to-speak, which is why she was deceived and Adam was not.  In so many words, he said that Satan figured he had a better chance with her because she was a woman, and the fact he was successful in deceiving her proved his point was true.  This pastor went on to say that the reason women “as a class of humanity” are more susceptible to deception than men, is because it is part of our “innate female psyche.”  By nature, Eve was not equipped to make the kind of decisions that the serpent presented to her, because she was not capable of weighing objective facts and coming to an appropriate decision.   Although this pastor did state that there were exceptions to the fact that women make decisions based on a value system rather than on objective facts, he also stated these stereotypes are backed up by scripture AND scientific data (like the Meyers Briggs test).  Whether you are a man or a woman, I imagine you are scratching your head right about now.  Trust me, it didn’t sit well with me at the time either, but I later realized no amount of discussion or rebuttal could ever change the heart of that pastor.  Only God can do that, and it is for God alone to handle.

My point in sharing this particular experience with you is to illustrate, in leaps and bounds, the principle I mentioned in the beginning of this post regarding ignorance and arrogance.   Mankind has a way of taking God’s principles and perverting them.  Churches love to pick and choose when a verse should be interpreted literally versus when its cultural significance needs to be taken into account (practices and customs that cause certain passages to be read differently today).  As human beings, we are selfish by nature, which means we often develop our own opinions and then try to use God’s word to justify our perspectives.  Let’s be honest, if you want to be racist, homophobic, misogynistic, sexist or bigoted, you can absolutely pull single verses out of context in the Bible to substantiate or even support your position.  You can write paper after paper or present arguments in favor of your positions, but in the process, you leave out the very most important thing God commands us to do: Love.

shutterstock_305140991The Bible tells us that in Christ, we are all the same (Galatians 3:28).  Of course, we all fulfill different roles in life, and God calls us all to individual places of service for which He also equips us.  Having different traits, backgrounds, or abilities should not divide us.  God sees us the same, even though we are each unique in so many ways.  Different is not worse.  Different is not less.  Different does not give us license, as people of faith, to look down on anyone or consider them to be less than we are.  Yes, there are many things God tells us to refrain from or be mindful of, but He reveals to us in Proverbs 6:16-19 the seven things He actually hates:

These six things the Lord hates, Yes, seven are an abomination to Him:  A proud look, A lying tongue, Hands that shed innocent blood, A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that are swift in running to evil, A false witness who speaks lies, And one who sows discord among brethren.

Take another look at that list and tell me what you see.  There is a pattern revealed of what bothers God so much that He actually “hates” it.  It is the selfish, arrogant, mean-spirited, aggressive, deceitful nature of people.  He commands us, as HIS representatives, to reflect His nature.  He commands us to love as He loves.  In Matthew 22:34-40, Jesus tells us exactly what He expects from us.  The religious elite had been trying to debate Him or trip Him up on what He was teaching.  One sect (the Sadducees) had already failed in their attempt, so another sect (the Pharisees) took a shot at it also.

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”   

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”    

shutterstock_1020186199What a contrast to what so many churches and leaders have become these days.  Jesus doesn’t say to love your neighbors unless he/she is of a different race or religion.  He doesn’t say to love your neighbor as long as he/she isn’t a homosexual or because he/she gossips, drinks or acts in other ways that seem contrary to God’s word.  He doesn’t give us permission to not love anyone, because He didn’t exclude anyone from His love.  He so deeply loved every single person, even those who hated and abused Him, that He was willing to die for them…for us.  Yes, there are many behaviors and activities in which He doesn’t want us to engage, but I find it interesting that what God chose to list, through His inspired word, as things He truly hates are those behaviors that reveal our pride, arrogance, and ignorance.  He is concerned with our hearts and our character.  We are all sinners, and if we try to hide behind our church buildings or cover up our prejudiced opinions of others being beneath us, then we have not only failed in the two commandments that Jesus declared hold up every other directive, but we have displayed the very behaviors that God hates.   After all, the only antidote for prejudice is humility.

So, I’ll close with the question I was pondering earlier:  Why are so many people leaving Bible-teaching churches?   Because it doesn’t matter how true your teaching is to God’s word if you aren’t willing to actually live it.   There are amazing groups of people out there who are truly focused on serving God by loving, forgiving, caring and teaching as He did.  Find them, join them and be open to what God is doing in your life.  Love the unlovable, forgive freely, but be wary of those who refuse to see their ignorance because of their arrogance.  Bitterness is sure to follow.

Blessings.

Replenishment Over Resolutions

shutterstock_1148041004Happy New Year’s Eve!  Every new year brings with it the hope for positive changes and experiences ahead for us.  We reflect on the past year and consider what didn’t go as we expected or how we didn’t do the things we originally planned.  Maybe your year has been filled with more successes and joy than you even imagined, or maybe it was filled with changes that brought loss and pain to your heart.  Either way, we still seem to have this innate sense of reflection when a new year is about to begin, but why?  There is something so refreshing about newness in life.  It is why so many people love the season of spring so much, there is new life blooming all around us.   New life is exciting and reminds us that even when the ground is dark and cold, there is life beneath it just waiting to explode into view.  I guess it’s much the same sensation as we approach a new year.  Winter is raging, but it feels as though a newness of life is growing, waiting to burst forth into view.  New life represents a replenishment of hope.  It’s a burst of energy.  It’s a new focus or new commitment.  But mostly it is a new perspective or a new vision of what lies ahead.

For those who live by faith, we know that God promises us new life not just at the dawning of a new year, but in every moment and every breath.  We know we can start again and make positive changes in life, and if we fail, we can still get back up and keep going.  What I find interesting is how often we make our plans and then ask for God’s help in executing those plans.  We use our reasoning to determine the best course of action in our lives.  We reflect, refocus and set goals we believe will bring the positive changes we so desire.  It all seems so godly until we step back and look at things more objectively in the light of truth.  Things start to shift when we get out of religion and into Christ.  Suddenly our plans get shaken up, and, if we aren’t careful, we can start thinking that everything is going wrong when maybe it’s finally going right.  And as I say that, I just keep thinking about the wisdom of Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not to your own understanding.”

shutterstock_134516501Sometimes God replenishes us and refreshes us through the difficult processes of letting go.  I recently took several months off from my official responsibilities at church, and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  I prayed about it over and over, as it is not my nature to take a break of any kind.  I always scheduled vacations and business trips around being able to be in my place of service, so to know God was leading me to take a break from what I’ve felt I needed to do really rattled my brain!  The key phrase to that last sentence is “what I’ve felt.”  When we insist on operating under what we feel instead of what God is asking of us, it creates the most challenging disjoints.  For one thing, we are called to walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7).  If God wants us to walk by faith and not in what we can see with our own eyes, I’m certain He doesn’t want us walking by what we feel either!  Our emotions can wreak havoc on the direction God is leading us in any situation, because we want to feel like what we are doing makes sense.  I’ll speak for myself here:  I don’t want to feel like what I’m doing is stupid or that others may see me as making decisions that appear to be rash or thoughtless.  I don’t want to appear irresponsible or flaky.  I don’t want to follow God’s leading only to have others judging me to be things I am not.  Since it is the holiday season, it reminds me of how Joseph probably had many of those same thoughts when he realized that none of his friends or family were going to believe (or be privy to) all the details of his pregnant fiancee or why he didn’t “put her away.”  He knew how people would look at him or talk about him, but he walked the path God laid out for him and let God take care of the details.

So where is this going?  It is going to the heart of how you or I want to start this new year or live the rest of our lives.  Do we want to constantly be striving for all the things we think will make our lives better, or do we really want to walk where God is leading us?   Are we willing to lay back into His arms and (His will) and let Him refresh and replenish us, or are we determined to spin our wheels attempting to replenish ourselves through the execution of our well-thought out goals and plans?

shutterstock_699640600.jpgWe really need to remember that each new year doesn’t just begin on January 1st.  Every breath is the beginning of a new year.  Every heartbeat is the beginning of what our lives will become.  Living with that kind of refreshed perspective brings hope for a better future, but whether or not anything changes depends on how we view ourselves in comparison to our Savior.  Do I really think I’m smarter than Him or have more resources?  Do I really think I’m more enlightened or understand more?  He knows and sees what I am unable to, and He has already planned ways around or through the maze of my life.  I need to remember He is working things for my ultimate good.  I need to stop trying to cut openings in the dead ends just because I think I’m smart enough to see a better way and strong enough to create it.  I need to remember that I am replenished when I step back, breathe, and follow wherever He leads no matter how it appears to others.  I need to remember the depth of my Father’s love for me, and that everything He does or allows is is bathed in that pure and perfect love.

I read a great meme the other day that said, “Sometimes faith will make you look stupid until it starts to rain.  – Noah.”   New life most often springs from the most challenging circumstances IF we are willing to follow where our Father leads.  It may not always coincide with the way we would do things, and it may even look to some as though we have lost all sense of reasoning, but that’s the point!  If God is leading you to do (or not do) something, then follow that leading no matter how it looks to the rest of the world.  We tell each other things like, “Don’t let anyone distract you from your goals,” but the greatest danger or true distraction to achieving our goals is the manner in which we set them in the first place.

shutterstock_670208887If you are like me, we need to let go of what we think is best for us, or the worry and fear that comes with what others might think of us, and trust what our Father says to us in His word:  “For I know the plans I have for you,”says the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)   His plans for our successes far exceed our ability to create our own, and His replenishment trumps our “resolutions.” Every. Single. Time.

Blessings!

Unexpected Gifts

shutterstock_148595204.jpgGifts.  It’s always a big topic of every holiday season.  We might be busy trying to buy things from a “wish list” of someone we know, or maybe we are thinking about what we ourselves might receive for Christmas.   But here’s a question:  Have you ever received an amazing gift you didn’t even know you wanted or would have ever imagined?  Unexpected gifts often bring unexpected blessings, and yet when it comes to circumstances in our lives, we don’t seem to have that reaction.

As people of faith, we know that God sees the big picture and has a plan for our lives.   We believe Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”   We hold to Romans 8:28 – “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose.”   We know what He has promised, but when things aren’t working like we think they should, we start looking at God like He is some kind of a spiritual grinch.  It’s easy to lose sight of the truth of God’s goodness when we are buried in our perspective on what we think that “goodness” should be.

shutterstock_755066917We want things to be good, prosperous, and somewhat easy, but we certainly don’t want and wouldn’t choose for ourselves things like pain, grief, loss, betrayal or being dismissed.  When we endure those things, it’s hard to see them as gifts.  Over the past year, I have been given many of those so-called “gifts,” and if I am being honest, I wasn’t too happy about it.  I have complained, been discouraged and even distraught at times.  I’ve definitely had moments of feeling like God is a grinch and that He just seems to want to take away everything good from us.  That being said, I have also learned that sometimes when we lose things or go through difficult times, it really does start to change our perspective.  It enables us, if we allow God to work, to see things differently.  It allows us to grow, and that is a gift.  I would dare say it is one of His greatest gifts to us – presenting us with situations that challenge us and force us to re-examine our lives, faith and service to Him and to others in whatever place we find ourselves. Sometimes He allows things to happen that force us to reach out to others, and in doing so we often find incredible people and incredible perspective.  When we open ourselves up to what God is doing rather than trying to explain it, we find love, compassion, care, and genuine concern.  We find His word speaking to us through channels we wouldn’t have previously considered, and all of these things we find coming from a source that we don’t expect.   When we stand back and truly see the goodness of God and His mercy in allowing difficult circumstances into our lives, we can become thankful for it.  It’s truly difficult for us to embrace our challenges, disappointments and discouragements or the people or things that cause them, but they truly are for our good.

shutterstock_243236653We have a good Father who loves us and wants the best for us always.  He has an amazing plan for our lives that includes our places of service.  He knows what’s coming, and while we are freaking out trying to see ahead, He is standing there patting us on the shoulder whispering, “I am the one who goes before you.  I’ll be with you, so don’t be afraid or dismayed.  I’ll never leave you or forsake you.”  (Deut. 31:8)  He knows that no matter what we are going through, that there is a PLAN!  Let that sink in for a moment.  I’ve been talking about “unexpected gifts” but they are only unexpected to us and not to God!  He is not only aware of what is happening, but He is working through all of it to bring us to the most amazing places in this life.  Remember, we see the messy threads underneath the tapestry that look jumbled and ugly, but when you flip it over, you see the beautiful image and artwork that God saw (and designed) all along.

In all of my personal struggles this year, it has caused me to truly step back and search out what God is leading me to do rather than making plans of my own.  He has been stirring things in my heart through some painful circumstances.  Would I rather Him stir my heart by providing beautiful scenes in nature or other wonderful experiences?  Of course I would!  But by bringing me to a place where I became too tired to fight, I was finally able to start listening more closely to what HE wants, and not what I would choose for myself.   If I had my way, I’d choose status quo far more often than not.  I would choose to narrow my vision and settle for the “ok” when God wants me to soar into the amazing!  Letting go of my own expectations of what should be, and dropping the weight that comes with pressing forward when God is telling me to be still, has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.  It has also been one of the most liberating!  When I get out of the way and step back so that I can listen, it is amazing what I am able to hear.

shutterstock_727967878So as we approach this season of celebration, I am thankful for unexpected gifts and unexpected paths.  I am grateful that God doesn’t just know exactly what we need, but also knows the desires of our hearts that we ourselves haven’t even realized!  I am thankful that He continually works in our lives so that we can change our perspective and come into alignment with HIS heart.  When we trust that He is good and is always working ALL things for our good, then we begin to desire what He desires.  We want what He wants instead of depending on our understanding of what is “good.”  Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”  He can do that because when we delight in HIS will and HIS plans, then it’s easy to give us the desires of our hearts because they are the same as His.

Unexpected gifts – things that weren’t even in the realm of our imagination or things we would have never wanted for ourselves, can truly be the greatest gifts we receive.  I guess I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter what’s on my own “wish list” for God, because the gifts He has for me are truly “exceedingly, abundantly above all I could ask or think.”  All I need to do is be willing to accept His gifts even when I don’t understand them completely.   After all, when we think He is saying “no” to what we want, just remember that it’s because He has an even greater “yes.”

Merry Christmas and Blessing to you all!

The Eye Of The Storm

shutterstock_1182832180We’ve all heard, seen, or even experienced being in the eye of a violent storm.  We’ve watched hurricane coverage on the news and marveled at those broadcasts that occur while the “eye” is passing over.  Things change drastically in the eye of the storm.  Raging winds calm down, torrential rains stop, and the dark clouds break to reveal the warm light of the sun.  It really is a beautiful pause, but the reality is that the storm is far from over.

In life, we encounter all kinds of situations and circumstances that begin to beat relentlessly on us.  It could be in a relationship, job, health crisis, church or spiritual upheaval.  When we are faced with extreme storms in our lives, our behavior often resembles that of someone caught in the midst of a literal storm.  We battle and struggle to keep our footing in the raging wind and rain.  We learn the direction in which to lean so that we have less chance of getting knocked totally off our feet.  We adapt as the elements around us change so that we can survive with the least amount of damage to us or what we hold dear.   Survival instincts are heightened and our scope of priorities seems to become more focused, and then it happens; there is an eerie calm that comes over us and a peace that allows us to breathe.

IMG_3002I said earlier the eye of the storm is a “beautiful pause,” because that’s all it is – a pause.  This temporary period of peace and calm is simply a chance to take a breath, gather yourself back together and think clearly for a little while.  It’s a moment in time in which we are reminded that there IS life out there beyond the storm.  It reminds us the sun is still shining and takes us to a place of hope that can strengthen our resolve in the face of knowing there is nothing we can do but endure the impending return of the storm.  This eye is where I find myself right now.  Standing in a place of peace, being reminded of how beautiful life can be, and creating an even deeper appreciation for every other time of calm when the storms weren’t raging.  In this place of peace, it is easy to see clearly the path behind and to gain perspective on the path ahead, even though I cannot direct it.

Facing the second half of the storm is inevitable when standing in the eye.  The peace and calm can be deceiving until we consider what is headed straight for us.  Survival is not guaranteed, nor can we be certain we will come through unscathed.  We may lose many things we hold dear before the storm is past.  We may find ourselves faced with decisions that require us to let go of what we have in our hands in order to hold to the things that might literally save our lives.  It may not be what we want, but if God did not open up an “evacuation route” before the storm hit, then our only choice is to do our best to lean into Him no matter how scared, discouraged or depleted we may become in the process.  He promised He would never leave us and that all things will be worked together for our good.  He didn’t say “most things,” or “some things;” He said ALL things.

Being in the eye of my current storms has provided both perspective and peace.  There is a shedding of things that don’t matter and a refocusing on the things that do.  Am I certain of what else is coming?  Not at all.  Am I certain the things I hold dear will be preserved or preserved in the way in which I wish them to be? No, I am not.  The storm is not over, but I am reminded that I know the Master of the wind.  I know the one who has the ability to say, “Peace, be still” to the raging storm and it will obey.  The best thing I can do is trust the One who is already working things out.  I know He will answer every question in His time and will sustain me through the remainder of this storm.

IMG_2995Sometimes we need the perspective that only the storm can bring.  We can become so complacent in our “ruts” in life, often assuming we will always be able to maintain the status quo.  We float through our days, almost mindlessly at times, and when the storms roll in, we are suddenly more alert.  We may be scared or disrupted by what is happening, but we are no longer able to be oblivious to what is going on around us.  We may endure the shakeup in our routines that come when the storm hits.  We may have seen it coming and tried to make preparations for riding it out, or it may have hit us without warning.  We struggle and react from a survival instinct, and it isn’t easy, but then the eye of the storm moves overhead.  It is then that we have that pocket of peace where we can take a deep breath and be reminded of what it feels like when there are no storms on the horizon.  We can be refreshed and even strengthened in these beautiful moments of perspective.

The eye of any storm is temporary.  It is wonderful and provides the much-needed calm we crave after battling everything that is bombarding us, but it is still temporary.  As a person of faith, the eye is a gift that reminds us God is truly in control.  It is a chance to turn our eyes back to Him and focus on everything good He has promised us.  It is a chance to reflect on what He has already brought us through and be grateful.  It is an opportunity for us to set in our hearts that He has not brought us this far to let us down.

Even if the storm causes you to lose things you wanted to keep, don’t give up.  No one said life was going to be easy.  As a matter of fact, our Father in Heaven told us trouble is a certainty!  “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble, but take heart!  I have overcome the world.”  (John 16:33)  This world is full of broken people, including you and me.  We are imperfect, and it doesn’t matter what positions we or others hold, what status we have in life or even the background from which we came; we all struggle.  You may be struggling with the stages of your own storms right now.  Don’t give up.  Even if the storm changes the landscape, don’t give up.  Most of us are creatures of habit and will do anything to keep from losing the stability of our routines.  We will go to great lengths to dig in our heels when God may be trying to move us forward.  This fight we put up internally is sometimes the exact reason we need the storms.  My grandpa always said, “If you don’t know which way to turn, don’t turn.”  That’s great advice and we should never react out of fear or even being uncomfortable.  I read a quote earlier this week that said, “Sometimes God closes doors because it’s time to move forward.  He knows you won’t move unless your circumstances force you.  Trust the transition, God’s got you.”

shutterstock_319293815If you don’t know which way to turn, don’t turn.  Be steady and listen for God’s direction, but then be willing to do what He leads you to do, even when you know He is leading you into an area you’d rather not go.  But if you are genuinely seeking God’s will for your life, don’t take any path off the table.  We cannot seek His will or clarity in direction but then tell Him which paths we will not take.  And if He is answering your prayer for clarity but you keep creating your own noise that is making it impossible to hear, then He may allow storms in to shake your priorities back into focus.  He will bring you through the first half of the storm into the eye where everything falls into place, and you gain the perspective you need in order to not only survive the storm, but to come out with gratitude for the clarity.  My prayer for you is the same as it is for me, that we breathe and press on with courage and total trust that all is already well, even though we can’t see it yet.  No matter what the landscape looks like when the storm is over, I pray we can find joy and peace in having made it through, and have a renewed sense of strength and clarity in learning what is truly important and what is not.

Blessings!

The Question I Never Asked

shutterstock_220508812It’s funny how God always gives us the answers we need instead of the ones we want.  Right now, there are many things in my world that are causing me great distress, and I have earnestly prayed for clarity in all of them, waiting for God to answer me.  I have been coming to Him with the right heart, but I didn’t know I was asking the wrong questions.  Instead of providing clarity on all my situations, He revealed to me what I needed in order to hear His answers, and in doing so, He answered the one question I wasn’t even asking: “How do I find clarity on HOW to get clarity?”

When we are walking through difficult circumstances, knowledge is not always power.  Sometimes we end up knowing things we really shouldn’t know.  When others share information or details about things going on around us, even if the information is correct, it will almost always color our opinions of those situations. Our opinion or perspective can be deeply affected by knowing what other people think or have done.  I’m not advocating for sticking our heads in the sand, but I’m saying that sometimes the phrase “knowledge is power,” couldn’t be further from the truth.  Knowledge can actually be destructive, especially to our spirits.  The deciding factor on how knowledge affects us is actually found in the source of that knowledge.  If it is knowledge of God’s word and what He wants from us in the way we live and treat others, then that knowledge is absolutely powerful.  On the other hand, if it is knowledge about what someone else has said or done, we are in danger of being swayed. Most of us want to know the details of all the situations around us, especially if they are “juicy.”  We try to rationalize this thirst and hunger for details as a way of helping us make better decisions.  Sometimes we even claim it helps us to pray better, because we can pray more specifically.  Really?  Do you really think that an omniscient God doesn’t already know all the details?   Trust me; He certainly doesn’t need you or me to fill Him in on them.

In my situation(s), I keep praying for clarity on what I’m supposed to do.  What is the solution? Am I supposed to stand firm?  Am I supposed to walk away?  I just want to know which way to turn, because I don’t have that direction yet.  I don’t want to do something I’m not being called to do, so it stands to reason that my heart would be searching for answers.  But what do we do when those answers don’t seem to be coming?

As people of faith, there is an endless number of quotes, verses, statements and sentiments we use for ourselves or share with others when difficult times hit us.  It’s not that these sentiments or statements are worthless, but often over time, they seem to lose something.  As Christians, it’s sometimes easy to find ourselves just going through the motions.  We know what to say and when to say it.  We know what to do, and we may even do it, but something is still missing.  We feel frustrated, discouraged and disappointed but keep pressing on because that’s what we’ve been taught to do.  After all, isn’t that what God WANTS us to do?  Aren’t we supposed to persevere and keep walking in faith no matter how we feel?   Well, that’s where the disjoint has been happening for me lately.  How do I know when God is trying to move me into something else or asking me to persevere exactly where I am?  Little by little, I found myself inching closer to that question I really should have been asking all along.

When we are truly seeking the right direction in our lives or circumstances, we go through a process of discovery.  We ask and ponder and sometimes even drive ourselves crazy trying to wrap our hands or heads around a plan that will work.  Our hearts can be in the right place, but the fog hanging over it can make it confusing, so we pray and consider all aspects of our situation.  For me, that consideration can actually bring up more and more feelings of discouragement and frustration.  Those feelings can then lead me to a place where I am ready to change direction or make decisions based on how I feel.  When we arrive at these places, we need to ask ourselves, “Do I feel called somewhere else or to something else, or am I just frustrated, bored, disappointed, etc.?”  If our response to that question is that we are frustrated and such, then it’s time to step back.  Being frustrated and disappointed is very different from being “called.”   I know because I’m experiencing it in my own life, and yet God has been quietly whispering to me, answering the question I wasn’t even asking:

“How do I get clarity on HOW to get clarity?”

Self-reflection is one of the most difficult things we can do in times of frustration or discouragement.  As humans, we are outward‑looking people.  It’s much easier to look at what someone else is or isn’t doing than to be honest about ourselves.  The more frustrated we get, the harder self-reflection becomes.  As a result of this truth, I realized I needed to step back and ask myself these questions:

  • Am I doing everything God asks of ME to do?
  • Am I loving radically?
  • Am I forgiving radically?

shutterstock_463471961I know we often look at the word “radical” as somewhat of a bad word, especially in churches, but how did Jesus command us to love each other?  And how are we commanded to treat each other?  We know the answers to those questions.  They are simple answers, and yet so difficult to put into practice because we are human.  We get tired of loving, forgiving and serving others when we get nothing in return from them.  Sometimes in the middle of my discouragement, I am reminded of how often Jesus must have felt the same way.  When I shared this with my husband recently, his response was, “I’m not Jesus.  I’m not divine.”  Although I completely understand the sentiment, it isn’t an accurate one.  We ARE divine.  My mind and body may not be divine, but my spirit is!  As believers, we have the Holy Spirit living within us.  Our spirit is HIS spirit, so we truly are divine in that one area of our own trinity (body, mind, spirit).  That means we CAN love and forgive radically, but we choose not to because it’s so hard to overcome our human nature.  It’s a battle, and we are always going to fail here and there because we aren’t perfect!  I often feel like the apostle Paul – I don’t do what I want to do and I can stop doing what I don’t want to do!

Where is your heart?  Where is mine?  Is it in the right place?  For example: How do you react if you plan something for the right reasons, and no one really shows up, even though it was something you felt God wanted you to do?  If you truly feel it’s the right thing to do, and nobody shows up, I can assure you the emotions of disappointment and discouragement will wash over you.  I’ve been there even recently, and it can be heartbreaking and frustrating, but that doesn’t mean we should let those feelings affect what we do next.  That’s much easier said than done, because we usually start drawing conclusions as to why some people didn’t show up.  That’s not how we are supposed to be!  We aren’t supposed to be judgmental, and when we are caught up in our own opinions, then we are missing the essence of what God is asking US to do.

shutterstock_507354892Our actions can certainly be evidence of our commitment or the commitment of others, whether it’s to our family, church, jobs, or anything else.  Talk is really cheap, but we need to remember that actions can also be deceiving.  We’ve all had times where we remained committed to our responsibilities long after our heart was no longer in it.  In these cases, it gives the impression we are committed, but the truth is we are just going through the motions.  It’s no different than those who constantly talk about being committed but won’t ever sacrifice or, as the saying goes, “put their money where their mouths are.”  Our service to God in EVERY area of life is between us and God first.  Only we can determine where God is calling us or in what manner He is asking us to serve.  Our responsibility is to Him first, and if we want to have clear direction, we must keep our priorities in order.  Like most of us, I need to humble my attitude more.  It’s easy to feel pious or like a martyr when we feel like we are the only ones doing all the work.  And guess what?  Sometimes you ARE doing all the work.  When that’s the case, it’s easy to fall prey to that mindset, but then we are letting our emotions take over.  God tells us that whatever we do should be done in love.  Period. (1 Cor 16:14) That also means if I am serving, it shouldn’t be out of obligation, and it shouldn’t matter what others are or are not doing.  What matters is whether or not I am doing things from a heart of true love, forgiveness and service.

shutterstock_294695897We naturally want things to be fair in life.  What we don’t consider is who determines what is “fair” and what is not?  God has commanded us to drop our own attitudes, even if they seem warranted and realistic.  It’s ok to feel angry, disappointed, discouraged and frustrated, but God tells us to let it go!  We know it’s true, but I sometimes act like a whining child and think, “Why do I always have to drop my attitude, but they never have to drop theirs?”  Have you ever felt that way?  Well, God’s response to that question is, “You drop it because you are mature enough to know better.”  Ugh – if that doesn’t hit you in the heart, I don’t know what will.  Sometimes the reason God asks so much of us is because we know better. He asks more of us because we are more spiritually mature.  After all, to whom much is given, much is required.  Go read about the concept of the “weaker brother” in Romans chapter 14, and consider that for a moment.  Sometimes being right isn’t always the right thing for us to do.  It really does all come back to love, but instead we sit and complain about fairness.  I have news for you, until you are hanging on a cross with people spitting on you and torturing you to death, you don’t have any right to complain that it’s not fair that you have to treat people with love and kindness in spite of how they treat you in return.

Look, we are commanded by God to love each other as He loves us!  We are commanded to forgive each other as He forgives us.  If we want clarity, then living as God has instructed us is not an option.  I can assure you that my heart is in the right place when I am asking God for clarity and wisdom in my own situations, but I’m not always approaching things with the right attitude either.  Doing so causes confusion that clouds my ability to have clarity.  Have you ever been close in your relationship with God and been asking for him to provide direction but then get confused when He doesn’t seem to be answering?  Do we think that He doesn’t want us to know what to do in life?  That’s ridiculous, but it’s essentially what we are saying when we get upset that we can’t see or hear His answers.

All communication involves a sender and receiver, a message, feedback and noise, but it’s the noise that comes into play here.  Noise is anything that interferes with the clear sending or receiving of a message.  If you are on the phone, it could be static.  If you are in a crowded room, it could be the sound of all the voices around you.  If you shine a flashlight into the dark, it could be a tree that gets in the way of where you are trying to shine it.  You get the point.  Right now, for me, it’s not my situations that are causing the noise that’s clouding my ability to be confident in where God is leading, but rather my attitude toward them.  If I keep saying to myself, “I am doing the right thing, and I’m going to keep doing the right thing, but it irritates me that I have to keep doing the right thing,” then I am displaying an attitude to God that He never wants to see in us as His children.  Others may not see it, but He does and he knows.  The reality, if I’m truthful, is that I am making my own noise and then wondering why I can’t discern the direction God is already providing for me.

shutterstock_756307036.jpgWhen we are faced with situations we don’t understand or are wondering why God doesn’t seem to be listening, we need to step back.  When we are trying to discern whether or not God is pulling and drawing us toward something else, we need to make sure we aren’t squinting through a fog trying to guess what or where it is.  When we know there are things God wants us to do, but refuse to do them because we don’t like them or think they are fair, then we are turning up the noise that prevents us from hearing what He’s trying to tell us.   If we will simply start loving radically and forgiving radically, regardless of what anyone else does, we can start to clear the fog.  When that happens, I can have far more confidence in the answers to my questions.  It’s definitely not easy to do, but it is the truth, nonetheless.  Clarity in the details can only come after we have clarity on the bigger picture.

When we start doing the things we know for certain that God wants us to do, and then we ask Him for clarity in the detailed situations of our lives, He will give it.  If I’m serving, loving and forgiving radically wherever I am, and still feel God pulling at me to move, then I can have peace in the certainty of that direction.  The truth is most of us don’t want to do those things because it isn’t easy, and it isn’t fair by our standards.

So if you are like me, and are currently struggling for clarity in your life, then maybe it’s time to take a deep breath and remember God is not hiding His will from us.  He takes no pleasure in making us guess at what He wants us to do or in us trying to solve our problems by trial and error.  It’s not that He is waiting to answer us; it’s that we need to clear the noise so that we can hear Him more clearly.  We need to clear the fog of pride, discouragement or frustration that is making it difficult to see where He is leading.  We simply need to get our eyes off the raging sea and look to the One who has shown us exactly how we should treat each other.  And then if He moves us on, we can do so in love rather than in frustration and discouragement.

Jesus was radical!  He loved people even as they were mistreating, mocking, abusing and rejecting Him.  He continued to love them in spite of who they were, and He does the same for us.  He forgave everyone, over and over, even though they didn’t deserve it.  He didn’t question their sincerity, or put conditions on His love or forgiveness, and He didn’t drag grudges around with Him.  As a result, HE had perfect clarity on how to approach the situations in which He found Himself.  He had clarity on what to do, how to do it and when to do it, and He followed that call regardless of His own emotions.

shutterstock_32845126We may not be perfect, but if we will become as radical in our love and forgiveness for others as He was, then the fog will begin to clear.  As it says in Proverbs 3:6, “In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.”  We can’t cherry-pick the areas in which we follow and then expect Him to make the path clear to us.   He just won’t do it.

It’s amazing what we learn when God answers the questions we never thought to ask.

Blessings.