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!

In One Ear and Out the Mouth

shutterstock_396656035Gossip.  We’ve all been victims of it, and we’ve all been perpetrators of it.  We hate when we hear someone has been talking poorly about us and it might even anger us when what is said is untrue.  There’s a great lesson in the old game of “telephone” where one person whispers something to the person next to them, and then it is passed along through the line or circle of people and then spoken out loud at the end.  Rarely is it even close to what was originally said, which often brings great laughter.  Sometimes the morphing of the statement happens simply from people misunderstanding a word here or there, and sometimes it happens because someone deliberately changes a word or two just for the “fun of it.”  Either way, it is a great reminder that whenever we hear something second, third (or even further) hand, we need to be very careful in how we react to it.

There’s a reason the Bible has so many verses about the need for controlling our tongues.  The problem most of us have is that we often try to force bringing it under control through sheer will.  We say or think things like, “I am just NOT going to say anything!  I’m gonna stop it because I know it is not God-honoring and it’s just not good to do.”  I’m not saying it doesn’t work sometimes to do that because there are certainly times when we have to just power through and force ourselves to stay on the high road in a given situation.  That being said, it is not our nature to take the high road, and the only way we can conquer our natural tendencies is through God’s help.

shutterstock_65540413Lately it seems this subject has come up more and more, whether it is at work, church, family or other relationships. I think we go through seasons where it just flares in all areas, and we watch the destruction that it can cause when people “share information” with or about others. (In case you didn’t know, “sharing information” is just a nice way of saying “gossiping.”  LOL)  Anyway, It struck me this week how important it is for us to go back to that one first and foremost commandment that we love God above all else and the second that we love others as ourselves.  I have shared often about the characteristics and nature of love as it is described to us in the Bible, and one of the traits that came up for me recently is where it says it “believes all things.”  That means it believes the best in people regardless of what is said.  It means you choose to believe the best about those you love, and when gossip hits your ears about something they may or may not have actually said about you, then you choose to believe it was a misunderstanding.  If I love you and esteem you better than myself, I won’t fall prey to spreading gossip about you or taking gossip I hear about you to heart.

It can be hurtful when you hear things about yourself or others that may or may not be true.  As Christians, when this occurs, we sometimes say the best thing you can do is to follow what the Bible says about confronting someone who has offended you.  Although that is a great passage that we should adhere to for personal offenses, it’s interesting when it comes to gossip, we don’t get offended at the person who is telling us.  Instead, we get offended at some other person down the gossip chain.  We misplace our sense of offense, and then have this inherent drive to “set the record straight.”  As a result, we use the offended brother principle and say, “If someone offends me, then I need to go to him or her alone (not tell everyone else) to resolve the issue.  Although that is true, it is meant for direct offense, not a perceived offense based on multiple levels of hearsay.  The truth is, it shouldn’t matter to you what you heard about what someone else has said; what matters is what transpires between you and someone else directly.   We do not have a right to go to someone based on hearsay.  We also don’t have a right to be angry or offended based on hearsay.  When you really think about it, if we are going to be angry and offended when we hear gossip that upsets us, maybe it should be directed at the one who shared it with us. But then again, everything we do should come back to love as it is described in 1 Corinthians chpt 13.

shutterstock_226217977As I mentioned earlier, if I love you in the manner God has instructed me to love, and someone else tells me that you said something mean, nasty or untrue about me, I will choose to not believe it.  Until God reveals otherwise, I will believe that something has been misunderstood or misinterpreted along the way.  And if I don’t do that, then I’m not really exhibiting love at all.  I know there are some who will disagree with me when I say this, but we don’t have a right to be angry, set the record straight or even clear our names.  We don’t need to try and root out the source of the gossip so we can confront it.  We need to simply leave it up to God, and the truth is we don’t like that one bit!  It goes against our nature.  The way we stop tongues from wagging is to simply not be one of them.  And when something is said, we should respond with something like “I’m not comfortable hearing or discussing this unless that person is here to defend themselves.”  That holds true whether we want to agree with the gossip or not.  It’s easy to believe the bad about a person (or their intent/motives) when their personality rubs us the wrong way.  Even as Christians, we tend to always believe the worst in each other.  We may start out believing the best, but then something happens that we disagree with, we just stew about it. It’s just so much easier to believe the negative.  And, truth be told, a lot of times we actually take pleasure in it.  That should never be the case!  We need to remember that we need to guard and control our ears as much as we need to guard and control our tongues!

Telling tales (true or not) is one of the most destructive aspects of life.  And whether we are the one speaking or listening, we feign innocence.  We feign concern.  We do it and then use those things to cloak our gossip instead of calling it what it is.  It doesn’t make it any more innocent to say we are sharing it because, “Somebody ought to know.”  It doesn’t make it any more honorable to say we are just seeking someone from which to get information on something we did not happen to witness personally.  Well the truth is, God already knows what has occurred, been said and/or done.  The question is: Do you trust Him or not to take care of things?  I’m not asking what you SAY, but what you practice internally.  We all answer that question with a resounding “Yes,” but then don’t act accordingly.  When you boil it down to these types of questions, it can really hit you in the heart.  I know it certainly has for me.

shutterstock_128469905This life of faith – “kingdom living” – is a higher calling, and if we are not going to rise up to that level, then we need to stop calling ourselves Christians.  I’m not saying we will always be successful, because we will fail.  We will fail miserably because our emotions will get in the way.  We will fall prey to the enemy’s advances in our lives through our tongue and through our ears.  It is time for it to stop.  It is time to stand up and truly love in the way we are commanded.  Because when we don’t, we are out of fellowship with God.  It is not a feeling; it is a choice.  It isn’t important what someone else says about you or what you may have heard about someone else.  What is important is that when we engage in gossip or any other unloving behavior toward each other, God no longer hears our prayers because we now have unconfessed sin in our own lives (Psalm 66:18; Isaiah 59:2).  The only way we can break through the deafening barrier of our own sin is by confessing it to God and asking for His forgiveness, which he has promised to grant every single time (1 John 1:9).

Genuine love is not easy.  If it were easy, there’d be a lot more of it.  Love requires sacrifice.  Most often, more than any other type of sacrifice, it is our pride and our “justice gene” that needs to be sacrificed on the altar.  It is the nature that compels us to prove our innocence, or sometimes to prove someone else’s guilt, that needs to be sacrificed on the altar.  Brothers and sisters, it is time that we come together.  It is time to lay aside our perceptions, anger, and the incessant need to be right or to hold onto things that the enemy uses to attempt to divide us.   We need to live and love as God commanded us to do – even when we may feel we have been wronged. Trust me, God can and will settle all accounts.

NowSo as for me, it is my renewed commitment to be constantly striving to love as God expects me to love and forgive as He expects me to forgive.   For me, it is a renewed commitment to believe the best in my brothers and sisters (and even non‑believers), whether at home, church, work or anywhere else.  We need to do it with our spouses, children, family, friends, coworkers , etc., and yes, even with our enemies.  There is no such thing as “partial obedience” when God instructs us to do something.  It is pretty simple: either we obey or we do not.  Let’s get back to weeding our own gardens instead of trying to weed each other’s.  Let’s take the log out of our own eyes before trying to remove the splinter from someone else’s.  And let’s quit finding creative ways to rationalize our behavior when it does not coincide with what we SAY we believe or KNOW is true.  I call you to join me.  I call us to action.  Because through love, we are truly unstoppable.

Blessings!

ps – some great reminders…

Ephesians 4:2929 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.

James 1:26 – 26 If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.

James 3:9-10 (In regards to the tongue) –  With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; 10 from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.

Love Really Does Win

shutterstock_290942954Hate.  Anger.  Turmoil.  It seems we are surrounded by it constantly these days.  We could attribute it to recent tragedies or the political season, but I think it’s more than that.  We are a rich country.  I’m not saying everyone is rich, but even the poor in our country have access to more food, shelter and services than many other places.  Here’s the thing about prosperity:  It’s easier to have more time on our hands, and when we have more time, we have the choice to think about the blessings in our lives or all of the things that are not as we would like.  We have more time to think, and yet our thoughts don’t always rest on what the Bible tells us in the book of Philippians: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise – meditate on these things.”  (Philippians 4:8) Instead, it seems our thoughts go to those things that are more selfish and divisive.

In our country, we’ve endured a long period of time in which a very strong focus was placed on noticing and appreciating our differences.  As a result, we have gone to great lengths to point them out more and more.  Maybe it is race or heritage, lifestyle or political beliefs, or a host of other things, but we’ve focused on continually highlighting what is different about each other rather than pointing out what is the same.  Diversity (in all of its buzzword glory) has been celebrated and our sameness has been ignored.  The problem is that when we see ourselves as different, it becomes much easier to judge or fear, or to be angry and lash out.  So as a result of our nation’s prosperity – the prosperity our parents and grandparents worked so hard to secure for us – we have had more time to nitpick and tear each other apart.  We have celebrated our differences so much that now our differences are most often the only thing we see.  The beautiful thing about God is that He doesn’t see what we see when we look at each other.  He doesn’t see what is on the outside (and I am not referring only to our appearance); He sees our hearts.  Unfortunately, I think what He now sees disappoints Him more than we can probably imagine.  After all, He suffered and died for every single one of us regardless of our race, heritage, preferences or even our sins!  To Him, sin is sin even though WE like to pick and choose which ones He disapproves of the most.  Of course, it’s never the ones with which we personally struggle, but that’s a blog for another time.

shutterstock_300707297I am a white, conservative, heterosexual Christian.  I also have friends and loved ones who are of all colors, religions, backgrounds and creeds.  I love them all equally.  I may have more in common with some, which leads me to spend more time with some, but I do not love them more.  As a result of my perspective on love, I have some very deep and meaningful relationships with people that others may not understand.  Some would even say I should not have these relationships based on my own “classifications.”  What a load of crap!  I would not turn my back on those relationships simply because we have different opinions or perspectives.  Even the people I encounter and find extremely difficult to even tolerate (let alone love), I am still to love them.  Loving as God has commanded means that I will love others and see them as God sees them.  And in God’s eyes, they mean so much to Him that they are worth dying for!  Do I always succeed at that?  Sadly, I do not.  Like many of you, I struggle to not get caught up into the anger that comes as a result of one side or another (on any issue) becoming belligerent, uncaring and unloving – even if I might agree with their actual position.   Everyone likes to point the finger at others and say they are the “judgers,” but everyone shares that trait in common!  Everyone is a hypocrite at one point or another.  As a result, we end up living lives that are not abundant.  We stress and fight and get tied up in knots internally over the issues that face us, while at the same time God is looking at us saying, “Come unto Me all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28)  God wants us to rest!  He wants us to rest because resting from our labor should be refreshing.  When we get quiet, our minds should turn to Him and to a true reflection of ourselves – not the image we try to portray to others.

The  truth is that if I am honest and understand exactly who I am, then it doesn’t really matter who you are.  Let me explain.  If I’m focused on my own relationship with God and what I need to adjust in that relationship – whether it is to ask for forgiveness or to be more committed or love more purely – then I will not be focused on what you are doing in your relationship with Him or others.  If I am going to try and love the way I am commanded to love, the only way I can succeed in doing so is if I am keenly aware that without Him I can do nothing – without Him, I am nothing.   That isn’t meant to be a self-depreciating flagellation; It is a reality that I did not and do not deserve His love, mercy and grace, yet He gives it freely and continually.  I should be keenly aware of that fact – without any rationalization of who I am, the impure and sinful thoughts that I have, the words that I say, or acts that I commit.  If I am honest with myself and recognize how imperfect, and even hypocritical, I am, then I won’t see you as less than me.  That’s what love is.

shutterstock_419615524After the recent Orlando tragedy, there are a lot of “love wins” quotes once again being circulated.  I realize that phrase has been used for one particular cause, but the reality is that truest love DOES win – the love of 1 Corinthians chapter 13 DOES win!  It wins because it will cause us to be honest with ourselves and take off our masks so that we can see ourselves for who we are.  It allows us to face the truth of Matt 7:3-5 that says, “Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite!  First take the log out of your own eye and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” 

So in light of recent tragedies, and tragedies that are certain to come over the course of time in an imperfect world, love wins.  In light of a political season that is filled with hate and anger from both sides of the aisle love wins.  In light of selfishness and meanness, love still wins.  Why?  Because loving as God love will allow us to not be first and be perfectly okay with it.  It will allow you to forgive, even if no one ever says, “I’m sorry.”  Love will allow you to treat others with compassion – even those with whom you disagree – and trust God to sort it all out.  It may not be the way we want, and it may not be in the timing we want, but my responsibility is to “do what is right, love mercy, and walk humbly before my God.” (Micah 6:8)

After all, God didn’t say it was an option.  He didn’t say, “Love the way I do if you feel like it.”  He said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”  (John 13:34).    And if you aren’t sure what that kind of love looks like, then I would encourage you to take the time to read 1 Corinthians chapter 13.

Blessings!

(For an in-depth post on the nature of pure love, click here: Love Is Not Grey)

Dance On The Raging Sea

What do you do when everything around you is raging?  It could be many things:  the job is going bad, there are issues in your relationships with friends or family, the church you attend is in a state of flux, your car breaks down and you’ve put on more pounds than you can take off.   Life is just NOT easy!  There are pitfalls and troubles at every turn and sometimes it can make you so worn that you don’t think you can even stand up.  I have news for you:  YOU CAN!  Not only can you stand, but you can do far more than that.  You can dance!

As I pondered my own current situation and the chaos I see all around me in every area, I was suddenly reminded (yet again) of the story of Peter walking on the water.  Most people of faith are very familiar with the story, but if you aren’t, you can read it in Matthew 14:22-31.  When this story is told or preached, it is basically presented with the focus on how Peter jumped out there with all kinds of faith, but then he took his eyes of Jesus and sank as a result.  I’ve heard all the sermons about “taking your eyes off of Christ” or “When you doubt, you sink.”  Yes, they are all well and good but there is something really important we miss when we don’t look deeper.

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It is no secret that Life can be really hard, and there are always going to be struggles we have to face.  We are hit continually with difficult situations or, as someone very dear to me has said, “I feel like I’m being pecked to death by chickens!”  I can relate!  Sometimes it isn’t big stuff that is dragging us down, but all the little nagging things we have to deal with daily.  One peck from a chicken might hurt, but it’s not going to kill you.  But a brood of chickens pecking you over and over is going to cause some serious damage!  When we get overwhelmed by the circumstances around us, it takes a huge toll on our health not just mentally but physically as well.  We end up with all kinds of physical problems, and our bodies respond with all kinds of aches, pains and other issues.  Recent studies have shown that almost 90 percent of all visits to primary doctors are due to stress-related problems.  Think about that!  We are killing ourselves with the stress in our lives.  I know what you are thinking: “I can’t control what is going on around me or the stress I’m under!”  Although you may not have control over the swirling circumstances, you do have control over how you let it affect you.  I’m not saying it is easy, and I personally struggle with it continually.  I’m simply saying most of our stress comes from how we choose to react to our circumstances and not the circumstances themselves.

So back to this story about Peter for a moment.  As I thought about this event again, I was struck with two very important things on which I’ve never heard anyone really focus.

  1. Jesus didn’t ask Peter to come out there.  Peter initiated things by calling out “Hey, if it’s you Jesus, then I want to come out there and walk with you on the water!”  So when Peter said he wanted to come, Jesus told him “OK, come on!”  Peter was a lot like us.  We get excited and want to jump out on the sea and walk with God.  After all, it would be a great experience that most never get to have.   So God says, “Come on” and we jump out of the ship onto the sea.
  2. Everyone talks about how Peter took his eyes off Jesus but that really isn’t what it says. The Bible actually says he saw the boisterous wind and became afraid.  It doesn’t say he took his eyes off of Jesus; It says he put his eyes on something else.  This may seem like semantics but it isn’t.  There is a huge difference between looking away from something and looking AT something.

shutterstock_242253397So why do these two facets of this story really matter?  What a great thing it is to be able to say to God, “Let me walk with You on the surface of this raging sea,” and instead of God telling us to stay in the ship where it is safer, He looks at us and says, “Hey – yeah, come on out here!”  And we step out to walk in places we should never be able to walk.  Peter basically said to Jesus, “I want to walk where You walk.  I want to be where You are.  I don’t care what it looks like or whether or not I’m supposed to be able to do it.  That’s where I want to be!”  I can attest to being in that spot before.  I’ve told God I want to walk where He walks and experience miraculous things, but just like Peter, it has been short-lived more often than I can count.  See, Peter wasn’t just looking around and noticing the scenery of the storm.  He could have seen all of it and chosen to be excited and say, “ This is awesome!  I should not be able to do this and be peaceful and joyful, but I am!  Jesus, thanks for letting me come out here with You.”  But he didn’t.  Instead he focused on the wind and waves and thought,  “What am I doing?!  This was stupid.  Oh my God, this is too dangerous.  It’s going to kill me; I’m going to die.”  And it was that perspective on his circumstances that sank him.   The only reason he didn’t die was he screamed, “Lord, save me!” and of course, Jesus reached out and grabbed him, just like He does with us every time we do the same thing.

I don’t know about you, but I want a really close relationship with my God.  I want a relationship so close that when I see Him walking on the sea, I want to be out there too – no matter how it looks.  I want to dance on the waves while everyone else is huddled in the ship, scared to death.  That’s what I want!  I need to remember when everything is falling around me – whether storms are raging or I am being pecked to death by chickens – that it is perfectly okay for me to say, “I want to be where You are.  Let me come out there and walk out a miracle with You!”  And do you know what He will say every time?  “Come on out here!  I’ve got you and nothing can hurt you.  Come enjoy the scenery and dance on top of the waves.”

Things around me (or you) might be so frustrating, hurtful, angering or depressing that it would be easy to focus on them and let the stress drain everything from me.  I could get caught up in the circumstances that are ever present in one area or another and just keep sinking, or I can look at those same circumstances and be amazed and giddy that I am untouchable and safe regardless of what it looks like – because I am walking with my God.   As the line from the song says, “When you get the chance to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance.”  When you think of what happened with Peter, that line takes on a whole new meaning.

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We aren’t told to put on blinders and try to deny  our circumstances.  Instead, we need to see the storm and get excited that we are walking on the waves.  So jump onto the water and then dance, skip and laugh – in spite of the storms.  Because it still beats staying in the ship.

Blessings!

God Is Not In Control

shutterstock_79823446Yes, you read that right.  And as sacrilegious as it may sound, I will say it again, “God is NOT in control.”   My entire life I have been taught over and over that God is in control and that He is always working in our lives.  It is supposed to comfort us when we are hurting or scared, and strengthen us when we are weak and weary.  After all, He has made so many promises to us in His word, including Romans 8:28 that says, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.”  Although that is true, along with all the other promises about how He will never leave nor forsake us, there have been many times where it seems that just isn’t true.  Sometimes our thoughts, emotions or lives feel so out of control, even when we are trying to serve God faithfully, that we start to wonder if God is REALLY in control.

As a person of faith, with a strong commitment to trying to live out that faith in my daily life, I realized something very basic in the middle of a very troublesome night.  God is NOT in control of everything.  You would think that revelation would make me feel worse, but it actually started allowing me to see things much more clearly.   I believe fully that God is omniscient (all knowing), omnipotent (all powerful) and omnipresent (everywhere at the same time).  If you are thinking, “Then, logically, everything is in His control,” you would only be partially correct.  The truth is He is in control of everything within His control. The Bible teaches us something very, very clearly:  Mankind has free will.  We have total freedom to choose.  In other words, the one thing God cannot control is me – unless I allow Him to do so.   God did not create us as puppets, but rather as intelligent creatures to which He gave an overriding ability to choose.  We can choose to believe Him or not.  We can choose to serve Him or not.  We can choose to obey His word or not.  Are there blessings and consequences that come as a result of our choices?  Most definitely.  Will God override our choices?  No.  He wants us to choose life.  He wants us to choose Him, but He will never force any of us to do anything.  For those of us who have accepted Him as Savior, He continually works in our life to bring us to a place (or keep us in a place) where He can freely bless us, but if we choose actions, behaviors or even attitudes that take us further away from Him, He will honor our choices.  Again that doesn’t mean there won’t be consequences such as the loss of peace, direction, comfort, etc., but we are FREE to choose.  He actually died so that we could have the choice to accept or reject His free gift of eternal salvation, but He also died so that we had the free choice to love, trust and serve Him or not.

I laid in bed awake for hours tonight, struggling with some intense emotional upheaval around a variety of issues and people in my life.  My mind, which is prone to an intensity that some have never experienced, had spun into a chaos that made me physically ill.  Emotions were running rampant, and soon I could not make heads or tails out of whether those emotions were mine or if I am carrying the emotions of others around me because of the empathic sensitivities I’ve always seemed to have.  I tried to sort out each worry, fear, sadness and other troubling sensations based on things I have been (or am) dealing with, but the more I tried to sort, the more chaotic things became.  It’s like trying to trace an impossible spaghetti diagram, or untangle an impossible knot.  shutterstock_57395806The truth is I’ve always struggled with times like this, nights like this.  Stresses in my life seem to pile up, which then increase my already heightened sensitivities, which then cause me to start spinning out of control.   I have written creatively about these times in the past, poems, songs and musings, trying to describe the horrific sensation of such intensity and chaos.  Even when the stresses or emotions are positive, the result ends up the same.  There is chaos that is frightening and sadness that is overwhelming.  I replay every situation, interaction and conversation, looking for clues that will help me understand what I am sensing.  Did I say or do something that made someone angry or upset?  Did I miss something that I should have seen that could have changed a situation personally or professionally?  And the more I ask myself questions, I find there are less answers.  Perhaps it is worse in the dark of the night, but it can be overwhelming even in the brightest day.

I confess I have always been a worrier, which, coupled with my upbringing, has definitely made me prone to analyzing every aspect of troubling situations.  I do so in order to ensure I have multiple paths to reaching a resolution of those situations.  Last Sunday in church, we had a sermon that focused on the ability to wait on God.  At one point, we were presented with the difference between waiting and doing.   I have never been a great “waiter” and usually start immediately looking for ways to resolve the issues in my life when they arise.  As the preacher mentioned, that kind of behavior is most often rewarded in our society.  It makes us look competent, decisive and driven.  Waiting is looked at as being lazy and uncommitted, but God tells us over and over to wait on Him.  For me, the chaos in my mind at times is so difficult to manage that I will do almost anything to restore order as quickly as possible.  I scramble for solutions, but then one troubling situation reminds me of another and another until the cycle perpetuates itself.  It happened last week during a work day, and it happened again in the wee hours of the morning today.  And as I was frantically trying to unravel the tangled knot, I could hear in the distance of my mind, “God is not the author of confusion.”   I kept fighting with the knot, chasing one strand after another, then I heard again in the distance, “God is in control.”   Somewhere inside me, I carry the truth of His word and it echoes back in times like tonight.  But as I heard in my mind what I have heard all my life – that God is in control – I realized it was not truthful in the way I had always heard it.  It is then I actually whispered out loud, “God is in control when you allow Him to be.”  Suddenly things started to become clear.  If I choose to continually try to solve things or unravel the knots on my own, God will completely allow me to do so.  He will never force me to wait, and He will never force me to act.  I am totally free to choose chaos or comfort, rest or worry, freedom or bondage.

The beautiful thing about the statement that God is in control is that we can know we rest in the hands of the One who spoke the worlds into order.  We can rest in the hands of the One who created us and loved us so much that He died to save us.  We can rest in the hands of the One who is with us always, knows exactly what we need, and has the POWER to make it happen. shutterstock_305770604 What a great assurance to know that He is in control.  But all of these benefits, and everything He promises us in His word about having peace and contentment, are contingent on whether or not we ALLOW Him to be in control.  When we just keep saying, “God is in control,” without reminding each other that He is only in control of what we allow Him to be, we are doing a great disservice to each other and to those around us.  It is true that God is not the author of confusion, and if we (if I) will surrender my messy thoughts, emotions, and actions over to Him, then He will sort it out.  I can relax, knowing He IS in control and has promised to work everything out for my good.  We all long for a sense of order and control when things are overwhelming us.  Sometimes we strive for that sense of control above all else, even if it’s false, but I have good news.  You actually do have control.  You control whether or not you will choose to allow God to take over and work things out.

So as I sit here in the dark, exhausted by the battle of the night, or as you sit wherever you are, facing the battles in your own life or mind, take heart.  As a child of God, you have access to every blessing and promise He has ever made.  You can have peace, strength and comfort even in the most stressful or discouraging moments and situations.  You can rest knowing the God who created you and knows you better than you know yourself, cares more about you than anyone else, and has the power to accomplish or change anything at any time.  You can rest because He has got your back and is working things out.  You can have it all, if you are simply willing to give it all up.  God is completely and effectively in control of everything you are willing to surrender to His care.  Neither one of us can do this alone.  I need Him to sort things out and He needs me to let Him.

Blessings!

Change Is a-Comin’

As we start the new year, social media is a buzz with all kinds of things to help us reach our new year’s goals and resolutions.  There are websites, apps, and all kinds of other things to feed our addiction to improve our lives or ourselves – even if it is only temporary.

shutterstock_2175852582015 brought with it a lot of changes that have made me a better person.   God has worked through every situation, whether it seemed (to me) to be good, bad or somewhere in between.  It’s easy to look backward and see how things have changed us or made us think differently, which SHOULD help us as we look forward.  We don’t have to make sense of everything as it is happening, but rather we can be free to live in the moment and experience life as it happens.  Is it good to plan?  Yes, but that doesn’t mean we should become so concerned with planning and trying to figure things out that we miss everything that is working together for our good.

When we are experiencing difficult times, it is natural for us to expend all kinds of energy trying to make things better or easier, when we would be better off simply breathing through it and taking from it whatever lessons we need.  I’ve had things happen this year that have disappointed me beyond explanation or what I can truly express.  There have been things in every area of my life that have been painful and disappointing, but there have also been things in every area that have been beautiful and brought me great joy.  It all depends on where you choose to look and HOW you look at it.  When we look at our difficulties as an opportunity to reveal the truth about a person, situation, job, church or anything else, we become open to growing and changing through those difficulties.  Thankfully we get to make these choices daily on whether or not we will grow or shrink.  We don’t have to wait for the “New Year.”

shutterstock_257497339Inevitably, most of us take a time to reflect on the passing year and on what we hope for the next one.  We consider the mistakes we made or things we could have handled better.  We think of the opportunities we let slip and times we should have stood up when we didn’t.  Then we start making plans for how we will do things differently in the new year.   No matter the specific change we want to make, we determine to become a better version of ourselves.  I’m not saying it isn’t a noble endeavor to begin but somewhere along the way, we start to slip and end up back in the same old rut, year after year.  I must admit, it’s just easier to go along with the status quo than to get out of our comfort zone and develop a new habit…or a new me.  Every year I have great intentions for the new year, but often fall short because life happens, or at least that’s what I tend to say.

It’s time for me – for all of us – to expect more.  It’s time that we start following that still small voice within, no matter where it leads.  I am certain there will be changes in my spiritual walk because without it, no other changes will be accomplished.  For me, everything starts with where I feel God is calling me to be, and yet knowing it is only half the battle.  This year I need to not only listen, but then draw fully on His strength to carry out the things I know I need to do.  That’s the piece I sometimes miss because I take His will and then start making MY plans for how it will be accomplished.  This year I need to KEEP listening past the “what” and put faith in direction for the “how.”  Waiting and being patient do not come naturally when we are feeling desperate for change, but forcing the timing of that change can backfire on us and stall our progress.

shutterstock_15726439Change is going to happen for all of us this year.  It may be small change or it could be larger than we can even imagine right now.  For me, there are already changes in process that I did not see coming and, quite frankly, are not happy about.  It happens sometimes – circumstances take a turn and we are faced with decisions we’d rather not have to think about, especially when the only options we can see are ones that make us figuratively (or literally) sick to our stomachs.   It is like a rollercoaster that just keeps going until it comes full circle back to the station.  We ride it up and down, through the loops and around the corners, without really any control until we end up back where we got on.  The interesting thing is that once we get off, it’s up to us whether or not to get back on it again.  We can keep doing the same futile thing over and over, speeding down the tracks but getting nowhere, or we can walk away down a new path.  Sometimes neither FEELS good to us in the moment, but one will most certainly lead us nowhere but around the same track.  It’s time to get off the ride and get on with our lives.

So as we all look at where we are in light of where we have been, let us stop promising to change and start resolving to listen to that still, small voice within.  If we will pay attention to where God is leading us instead of where we are planning to go, rest assured the path will be revealed.  Yes, as the song says, “change is a-comin’, but everything’s gonna be alright.”

Blessings!

The Power of a Pie!

Lately I’ve been struggling lately with all the negativity that surrounds us constantly in the news.  There are political arguments, issues with terrorism, fights among people of faith over things like Kim Davis (which is a blog for another time) and just general unrest all around us.  It can sometimes start to wear you down in ways you don’t even realize.  We start looking at things in our own lives with a wary eye.  We become cynical and start focusing on all the things we don’t have or what other people DO have.  We start losing our confidence and feel like hunkering down until all the stress of life blows over.  It can absolutely wear you down.  shutterstock_260082779This is where I’ve found myself lately, but then something wonderful happened.  I baked a pie.  I realize that announcement seems to be completely unrelated to what I have to say, but it really isn’t that far out in left field.  You see, sometimes it is the most unlikely, seemingly random things in life that can help you refocus on something positive.

I am not, (I repeat, NOT) a domestic goddess!  Most of you who follow the blog know that I am a true tomboy and always have been.  While my sister was spending time in the kitchen with my mom and grandmas, I was busy outside hunting, fishing, playing football and doing whatever else I could to get dirty and have some fun.  As a result, I never developed a love for cooking and baking, or even knew HOW to do any of it.  I could do enough to eat and stay healthy, but tackling something like a pie?  Well, that was just way too far out of my comfort zone.  I manage to do a lot of things fairly well, but believe me, VERY few of them involve a kitchen!    That being said, I saw a picture of a pie a week or so ago and immediately thought it was one of the coolest looking pies I’ve ever seen.  Immediately I thought, “I want to make that pie!”  (No, I’ve never made a pie from scratch in my life.  No, I’ve never made pie crust.  No, I have no idea what I’m doing.)  I showed the picture to a dear friend of mine who is an amazing cook/baker.  Seriously, everything I’ve ever tasted of hers has been amazing!  When I told her I wanted to make the pie, she chuckled and then said, “Ok, let’s make it!”  We decided on a time to get together so that she could stand in the kitchen with me and help talk me through the first pie-making experience of my life.

Yesterday, she showed up with all the stuff I needed in order to make the pie but knew I probably didn’t have in my house – cookie sheets (I only had one), parchment paper (I had no clue what that was for), spices (believe it or not, I actually already had nutmeg!) and a recipe for apple pie.  We went to the store and bought the other things we needed, and I embarked on my journey.  I don’t know how long a pie is SUPPOSED to take to make, but I’m pretty sure the process isn’t supposed to take almost 7 hours. I watch MasterChef and I’m pretty sure they could have done it in less than 45 minutes!   LOL.  IMG_9285Don’t get me wrong, I made the entire pie myself, but I had to ask questions and have the “whys” of certain things explained to me.  If I’m going to learn to make a pie, I want to really learn how to do it so I can do it again.  By the time everything was complete, I stood in my kitchen staring at something I honestly never thought I’d be able to do.  It made me giddy!  Yes, a pie made me giddy!  I was so excited that I posted pictures of it on Facebook mostly for the shock value since all my friends know I don’t really cook and I’m sure seriously doubt I have any skills at all.  It was a great day/evening, and I made a great pie!  Yes, it even tasted great. Was it perfect?  No, but it was better than I imagined.

So why share the somewhat boring story about making a pie?  Because as I drove to church this morning, with my pie in tow for a potluck, I realized just how good it made me feel.  You can laugh at me for saying this, but it made me feel more confident as a person.  Yes…a PIE caused that.  I realized that no matter how confident I may be in other areas of my life, this was an area that actually made me feel stupid.  Do I HAVE to cook?  No.  Do I HAVE to find a way to be good in areas that do not come naturally for me?  Not necessarily.  But stepping outside my comfort zone and being willing to listen to someone who is masterfully skilled in an area I’m not, made me see just how true it is that any of us can do anything we set our mind to do.

We make decisions every day  – mostly small decisions – that affect how we feel about our abilities, ourselves and our lives.  We make them without even thinking about them.  We gravitate to our comfort zones even when they may be strangling us to death.  If you are a somewhat confident person, it is also sometimes hard to step out of your comfort zone because it can feel embarrassing to have to start from the bottom in something and learn the basics. shutterstock_175906310 I dropped out of piano lessons for that very reason.  I could play enough piano to write songs and play most of what I wanted by ear.  Having to start by learning scales and other basics was just too boring.  I didn’t want to admit I struggled with playing the basics when I could sit down and play and sing an entire song already.   So our comfort zones can sometimes keep us from growing.  Actually, they quite often keep us from growing.  We make decisions to put ourselves in boxes.  There are certainly outside factors that build boxes for us.  People may tell you that you’re not intelligent or that you are brilliant.  You may be told you are beautiful or aren’t attractive at all.  You may be labeled as a hard worker or lazy.  There are so many boxes that are built for us, but here is the beautiful truth:  WE choose which boxes in which to put ourselves!  We are the ones who choose to climb into them, or in some circumstances, refuse to climb out of them.

Boxes and labels can make us feel safe.  We can climb into a familiar box and make self-depreciating jokes about the things we don’t do well so that we don’t have to hear anyone else make jokes about us.  We think it is easier to accept our limitations in ways that hold us captive than to put the energy into climbing out of that box.  Am I saying we all have to be great at everything?  Not at all.  Besides, no matter how great you are at most things, there is always something in which others do better than you. shutterstock_28374553 It is perfectly okay to NOT be good at something.  It is perfectly okay to NOT like something.  What I’m saying is that what we tell ourselves about those things is vitally important to our self-confidence.  What we choose to believe about ourselves is crucial to our mental well-being.  Don’t give in to the peer pressure of a society that tries to dictate what you have to be good at or what makes you “successful.”  BUT don’t become so uncomfortable or embarrassed about those things that you aren’t willing to try them if it’s something you want to do.  As you’ve probably heard before, “You never know until you try.”

We all have natural abilities, and our life should be filled with maximizing those abilities, talents and gifts.  I believe they are God-given for a purpose, and we should embrace them and walk in them.  But doing so doesn’t mean you can’t live life to the fullest by experiencing new things!  I don’t bake, but I made a pretty darn good apple pie from scratch (based on the reviews of those who saw and ate it)!  Had I not been willing to step outside my comfort zone (or ask for help in doing so), I would have missed out on a great experience – both in the time spent with a friend while making the pie and the joy of sharing it with others at the potluck.  Will I make another pie?  Probably.  Do I want to become a baker?  Nope.  I simply found that I didn’t have to be intimidated by something just because it’s something I wouldn’t normally do.

The greatest thing you can do is to live YOUR life!  Be who you want to be and stop making choices based on someone else’s assessment of what you are or are not capable of doing.  We are all amazing human beings. shutterstock_82458775 Every single one of you reading this is AMAZING!  You make look at others and label yourself as being less creative, talented, skilled, smart or a host of other things, but the truth is if that is what you believe, it is because you CHOOSE to believe it.   If someone tells you that you aren’t capable of doing something, it is your choice whether or not to believe them. Don’t let someone else’s definition of your potential limit your dreams!  And don’t let your potential go unattained because you are held captive by your own comfort zone!   Listen to your heart and go boldly in the direction of your dreams – even if those dreams seem insignificant or unreachable to those around you.  Achieving even our smallest dreams can become confidence builders that take us to new heights in our lives, even if no one ever knows why it is so important to us.

I guess sometimes all it takes is to bake a pie.

Blessings!