An Opening Bloom

Many years ago, I was having lunch at a famous Chinese restaurant in San Francisco and experienced flowering tea for the first time in my life. If you aren’t familiar with flowering tea, it is exactly what its name infers. It is normally a mild tea that contains an actual closed flower in it that, when steeped, opens and blooms. It makes for a truly gorgeous cup of tea.

With the recent deaths of both my mom and dad, it has been a challenge for me to not close myself off to things around me. When we endure trouble and difficult times, it is so easy to curl up and just want the world to stop for a while.  Believe me, I get it! I realized yesterday morning that it has often felt like I am waking up from a very long dream but paralyzed in some way.  Today, however, I can’t help but think about how God has provided so many things in my life to help keep me putting one foot in front of the other, even if it’s only an inch at a time some days.  Throughout all the turmoil, He has continually been walking me through every single moment of every single day. So what does this have to do with an interesting cup of tea?

Flowering tea cannot be done with cold or even cool water because the flowers just won’t bloom. It takes extremely hot water to cause them to open up and reveal their colors. I can’t help but think of how this is also true of our lives and the trials through which we walk. Sometimes it takes enduring extremely difficult and even painful times for our hearts to open and begin to bloom again. Sometimes it is through the heat that we are forced outside the shadows and into the light. If asked, most of us would say we much prefer comfort to pain, yet pain is a result of growth. There is a pendulum that swings between the growth from pain and the healing of comfort, and both are needed in their respective times. Too much pain in life and we will collapse; too much comfort and we will atrophy. If we give up in the middle of the journey on which we walk, we may never see what could have been.

Merriam-Webster defines endurance as “the ability to withstand hardship or adversity, especially: the ability to sustain a prolonged, stressful effort or activity.”  We’ve all had at least some measure of experience with endurance. Enduring, by nature, will wear you out, but there is something beautiful that happens when we push through life’s pains and find the stamina to keep going. When we endure, we are gifted with golden moments in time that we would never experience if we just gave up. Sometimes these moments come at the end of a journey, but often they come all along the way. God not only has a way of strengthening us through ways we could never imagine, but He also provides respites for our weary souls as we travel onward.

Recently, I shared with someone that sometimes we can’t see the trees for the forest (instead of the forest for the trees). It is easy, as a person of faith in times of distress, to say God is in control and we know He is working everything out for our good. Although true, that perspective is like a view of the forest. It is great to step back and remember that God is always making a way through our situations and emotional turmoil, but it is just as important to sometimes step forward and take notice of all the little trees that make up that forest. Those trees might be the people in our lives, organizations to which we belong, the beauty of nature, a text from a family-member or a late-night conversation with a friend. For me, there has been a grove of trees in my life over recent months within the church I attend, and I would venture to say that most of the people involved haven’t a clue of their impact on my journey, or how God has used them as a salve to some of the broken places in my heart. I look at these individual trees with wonder in my heart tonight. I am in awe of how my Heavenly Father continually weaves together a net of His grace to hold me up through individual people and experiences. Yes, the forest of His overwhelming love and grace in taking care of us is a beautiful scene to behold, but each of the trees that make up that forest are unique and special when you look a little more closely. It is in the balance of these two perspectives that I fall to my knees in gratitude to the One who knows the end from the beginning and how to handle every turn of the path along the way.

God is good even when life isn’t. Joy and happiness may be related but they are not the same. We read in James 1:1, “Count it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” You might be wondering how that is even possible! This isn’t about being happy in our trials, but rather finding joy in the fact that our trials are evidence of God working in our lives. Just like an athlete who endures the stress and pain of training so he or she can run a race with maximum strength and efficiency, God is allowing our trials to strengthen us to run the race that is set before us (Hebrews 1:1-2). It is this perspective that allows joy to flow through us even when we are struggling. We read a few phrases later in James 1:5, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” James is referring to what he said in verse one about understanding our trials from a different perspective, that we should (and can) find joy in the assurance God is working in our lives and strengthening us. If we can’t seem to be able to do that, then we simply need to ask God for wisdom necessary for that higher perspective, and He will give it to us.

The best thing any of us can do is to recognize God for who He is and to understand who we are in light of that truth. He is worthy not only of our praise and worship, but also of our trust and faith in the way in which He is directing our paths or the paths of those we love. Storms may rise but we so often need to simply be still and let God move. We need to have a conversation with ourselves that reminds us of the truth that God is in control and there is no need for worry. A dear friend recently shared with me the words to an old hymn, and although the poetry of the original lyrics is so beautiful, it is the message the writer is giving to her own soul in times of distress that moves me to tears and inspires my heart. I share them with you in the phrasing I speak them to myself today. Be still, my soul; the Lord is on your side. Patiently bear the cross of grief or pain. Leave it to God to put things in order and provide, because in every change, He will remain faithful. Be still, my soul: your best, your heavenly Friend will lead you through the difficult and painful paths to a joyful end. Be still, my soul for God has taken it upon Himself to guide the future as He has the past. Don’t let anything shake your hope and confidence. One day you will see and understand the mysteries you have now. Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know His voice who ruled them while He lived here on earth. Oh soul, be still when dearest friends depart and everything is darker in the valley of your tears. Be still and then you will better know His love, His heart who comes to soothe your sorrow and your fears. Be still, my soul and remember from His own fullness, your Jesus can replace everything He takes away. The hour is growing near when we will all be forever with the Lord. When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone, sorrow will be forgotten and love’s purest joys will be restored. When change and tears are past, we will all finally meet and be safe and blessed.”

Whether we are walking through times of distress, grief or pain, there is beauty in what God is doing in us and through us. There is a purpose in the fires through which we walk, and God is always working through the searing pain that flows around us. Every trial we endure is as that glass of flowering tea, and the extreme heat we may sometimes feel will destroy us is the very thing necessary to set us free to bloom. Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning. I pray for stillness for your soul, that it is reminded we can rest in the arms of our Father and trust Him. We can feel a blessed security not only in His promises, but in the truth that neither He nor his promises will ever change because He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. It is overwhelming when our souls are stilled and our vision is cleared. I am so grateful for that clarity, and I cannot wait to see the bloom of the flower this season of life brings forth.

Blessings!

A “180” Of Faith

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543899230565I realize we are quickly approaching Good Friday and Easter Sunday, but this year I’ve been unable to stop thinking about Palm Sunday.  Believe me, I love the reminder of the resurrection and what Jesus did so that I can be saved, but I’ve not paid a whole lot of attention to Palm Sunday until this year.  Maybe it’s because I’m in a strange season of life, trying to determine where or what God is tugging me toward, or maybe it’s because I just needed to see something to shift my perspective a little bit.

Less than a week before Jesus was betrayed, brutally beaten and crucified, He had come into Jerusalem to a grand reception!  It isn’t called the “Triumphal Entry” for nothing!  He was riding on a borrowed donkey’s colt, and the multitudes came out to greet Him.  They laid their cloaks before Him on the road and waived palm branches before Him, shouting, “Hosanna!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” as He rode to the temple.  Just think of that sight!  Crowds hailing Him as King and publicly acknowledging Him as Messiah.  So what in the world happened that caused them to turn on Him so quickly and strongly?  How do you go from one extreme to the other in a matter of a few days?  The answer really lies in one word: Expectations.

Expectations are interesting things.  The dictionary defines “expectation” as a strong belief something will happen or to be the case.  Our expectations in life depend on the information we have been given and the way in which we interpret that information.  For example, I expect that my husband is going to do the yard work because he said he would do it.  I believe he will do it, but I also have my expectations of when it will happen and what it will include.  When he does finally go out to do the yard work, he decides not to weed the flowerbeds or sweep off the sidewalk, and I get upset.  Why?  Because he didn’t do things the way I believed they would be done.  543900368135There may be a good reason why he did things differently, but all I see is my unmet expectations. In my original conversation, all he said was that he was going to take care of the yard.  He did not reveal other details of what he planned to do, and I created additional expectations based on the way I would do things.  My expectation that the yard work would be done rests on believing what he told me.  My expectation of HOW it would be done rests in everything else I assumed from his statement.   Our expectations are colored by our past experiences, and they deeply affect our emotions.  When we expect something bad to happen and it doesn’t, we get excited and happy.  When we expect something good to happen and it doesn’t, we become upset, sad, depressed or even angry.  We’ve all experienced the reality of that roller coaster when we interpreted something differently, and suddenly our world is turned upside-down because something unexpected took place.

So back to Palm Sunday, it was a day filled with people who definitely had expectations!  Some lived in Jerusalem and some were traveling there for the Passover celebration.  They had read the prophesies of old and knew that God was coming to deliver them.  They were being oppressed by Roman rule, so when Jesus, their “King,” showed up, they were excited.  Deliverance was on the way!  They expected Him to ride in and destroy their enemies, deliver them and set up HIS kingdom.  They expected to see fire and fight in Him.  They expected a political leader.  They thought their day had finally come, so they exclaimed His praises as He rode through town.  This was a GREAT day for them, but then things started to change quickly.  They listened to things He was saying and when His message didn’t fit their expectations, they turned on Him.  He said His Kingdom wasn’t of this world (John 18:36).  He didn’t argue or even defend Himself when He faced His accusers (Matt 27:12-14).  He didn’t answer the charges or even respond to them.  By all standards, He appeared weak.  He certainly did NOT look like a King about to take over!  As a result, it must have confirmed (in the minds of many) that He was not the Messiah, and if He wasn’t the Messiah, then He was definitely a blasphemer as charged.  So in a matter of days, the shouts of the crowd went from “Hosanna” to “Crucify!”  When given a choice of who to release, they chose to put a convicted thief and murderer back into their community rather than someone who had only done good to others.  They were THAT convinced it was impossible He was who He claimed to be, because a King would not come as He came.  A King would not just lie down to be slaughtered.

The crowds that shouted Hosanna on Palm Sunday found themselves with serious unmet expectations.  The Messiah they longed for and believed in did not show up like they expected Him to, but He did show up, and He did deliver them, and also all of us.  They just couldn’t accept God had a plan far greater than their temporary political situation.  It was hard to understand after years, or generations, of expecting something different that this could actually be their Messiah, but God was at work on His master plan to change everything for humankind.  He was working things out for their good, even when they couldn’t see it or refused to see it.

543902470228How many times in our lives have we lived out our own personal “Holy Week?”  I have been in difficult situations where I was depending on the many promises of God.  I believe He knows and cares about what I’m going through, has the power to deliver me, and is working things out for my good.  I have shouted “Hosanna” in my expectations and perceptions of what He has said, but then He starts working things out differently than what I expected.  He starts doing or allowing things that I just don’t understand.  If we aren’t careful, we watch what’s happening and start to think that maybe He isn’t who we thought He was.  We look around and start getting angry that He isn’t doing more “smiting” of our enemies or my circumstances and is instead leaving you or me alone to fight for ourselves.  It doesn’t take long for us to think on these things before we end up angry because it seems He doesn’t care enough to take care of us.  In our own way, we go from shouting “Hosanna,” to shouting, “Crucify!”  We start letting our doubts, or even anger, that arises from unmet expectations to drive our perspective, and we can end up choosing to set free the worst of ourselves rather than to trust God knows what He is doing.

Life is hard.  We were never promised that it would be easy.  As a matter of fact, we are told repeatedly in the Bible that we will have trials and struggles, but God is always working for our good.  It’s just so incredibly hard to accept that as truth when our reality feels so much like the opposite.  Yes, God has the ability to come riding into our circumstances, proclaim Himself as King and destroy whatever or whoever is oppressing us, but we can’t see the big picture.  Sometimes He is working on a much grander and better plan for our deliverance than we can see.  Just because it doesn’t make sense to us, doesn’t mean God isn’t who He says He is, or doing what He said He would do.

There are many beautiful pictures in the Easter story – pictures of grace and mercy, of sacrifice and redemption – but this year my prayer is that we remember the crowds.  I pray we remember the way their unmet expectations of HOW God was going to deliver them caused such a drastic change in a matter of days. shutterstock_257497339 Unmet expectations can cause us to doubt what we know to be true.  When we hold so tightly to our version of what our deliverance should look like, or how it should come, we end up spending our lives looking for the next best solution.  We waste our energy trying to resolve it ourselves and end up sacrificing our peace and joy in the process.  Sometimes our deliverance comes through waiting.  Sometimes it comes through struggles.  And sometimes we are yelling “Crucify” at the very One who is delivering us – all because He isn’t doing it as we expected.

So look up, my friends, and I will look with you.  I will look to the cross and see not only love and redemption, but also a reminder that God is working a master plan for my good.  And when it seems like God is doing nothing, He is doing something exceedingly, abundantly above all I could ask or think.  I just need to stop shouting my plans at Him and trust in the fulfillment of His own.

Blessings and a very happy Easter to you all!

Liquid Courage

shutterstock_101290495For years, California has been in a historic drought.  This week we have been hit with torrential rains which have caused all kinds of issues, including flash floods in many areas.  Weather events can bring all kinds of challenges and even destruction, but that’s not the point of this particular post.  Instead, I want to talk about an idea I call “spiritual irrigation.”

There is a great difference between something being watered by irrigation or by rain.  Deuteronomy 11:10-11 makes a contrast between the Promised Land as being one that “drinks water of the rain of Heaven,” whereas the land of Egypt being a land that is “watered with your foot.”  In other words, Egypt required irrigation, and the irrigation was achieved by fetching water and dispersing it, and partly by digging trenches with the foot.  Mechanisms were also used that were powered by men sitting on the side of the machine using their feet to create the power.  It was a predecessor to our modern (and amazing) irrigation processes today.

So why does it matter, and where in the heck am I going with this?  Humankind has, from the beginning of time, searched for ways to rely more on themselves than on God.  That is a reality none of us want to consider, but it is true nonetheless.  We, as human beings, do not like the idea of having to trust God for our needs because we think He may not supply them on our timetable – and often He doesn’t.  We like security, safety and predictability.  Boy how we like predictability.  We want to have enough money in the bank so that we can take care of ourselves in the way WE want to be taken care of.   We won’t admit it openly but we, as people of faith, are afraid God is going to let us down.  Maybe it comes from the fact that we have been let down by others in life.  It’s hard to find someone who is true to their word, always and in every circumstance.  It is hard to trust someone implicitly and yet we are told over and over that God will “never leave us nor forsake us.”  We are told in His word that He will supply all our needs.  So why do we spend so much of our time trying to take care of ourselves?  Because we don’t like the rain, we like irrigation.

shutterstock_93784720Irrigation allows us to be more in control of our destiny.  We can plant crops where they wouldn’t normally thrive because we have found ways to transport water from one location to another in ways it wouldn’t occur naturally.  Irrigation certainly requires less reliance on God to provide the rain we need – or think we need.  We have gotten so used to doing things our way that we forget the source of our blessings.  We start thinking we are truly in control of something as basic as water itself.   Oh sure, we pray for God to bless us with rain but if we get too much, we start to complain.  After all, we’ve been watering our crops and now that it’s raining, there’s too much water!  We wring our hands and wonder what we are going to do.   We’ve all seen buildings (or cities) built in areas where there is little doubt they will be flooded or even washed away if there is a lot of rain.  We actually criticize people in these areas and say, “well what did they expect?  They built in the middle of a flood zone.”  But why?  Because the rains don’t always come and after a while, no one actually believes they will.

So today it struck me, this thought of spiritual irrigation.  As people of faith, we often build our lives on what we think is best.  We make our plans and if they don’t really fit with where God may be leading us, then we find ways to make it work.  We “irrigate.”  I’ve heard my own uncle speak of his call to the ministry and how he really didn’t want to be a pastor.  So instead of doing what God was leading him to do, he tried other ways to get the conviction to stop.  He taught Sunday School classes.  He led the choir.  He got involved, but in his heart, he could not escape his calling.   Most of us do the same thing.  We know what God wants us to do but we would rather do it OUR way than His.  It’s funny to think the Bible tells us “His ways are not our ways,” and yet we still can’t seem to get it!  God is rain and we keep trying to live by irrigation.  We not only want to create the path ahead, we want to control the flow of the water.  We live this way and then when God does exactly what He has promised to do, we often complain that it “isn’t the right time” or “it’s too much,” so we wring our hands and start looking for ways to minimize the effects.  We feel God leading us to something else and we find all kinds of reasons not to go.  Or we feel God calling us to stay right where we are and we find all kinds of reasons to still leave because staying isn’t what WE want.  Believe me, God is not only capable of bringing the rains, but taking care of the drainage when it’s necessary as well.  He knows how to control the flow!

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Waiting on the rain isn’t easy.  It is often terrifying.  To be honest, faith itself is terrifying!  Waiting for God to bring what we need, WHEN we need it takes a strength I sadly admit I do not often possess.  It’s hard not to start irrigating when the rains don’t come.  The more we rely on ourselves and our plans/abilities to make things work, the greater the chance we may build where we shouldn’t.  The more we irrigate spiritually, the less we appreciate the rain.  Just like the farmer who relies solely on irrigation, rain becomes a nuisance.  We want it to rain (or snow) somewhere else so that we can store up the water and then use it as we see fit.  Yes, we want the rain, but not necessarily directly.  Yes, we want God to work in our lives, but not directly.  We want Him to provide our needs in ways that allow us to control the flow.  Whatever happened to the truth of the Doxology?  “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”

shutterstock_73938031I am tired of being a “spiritual irrigator,” and my definition of a drought is probably much different than God’s.  I want to live with a faith that follows God’s leading and trusts Him to provide the rain.  When we shed our need for control and put on that cloak of trust, we get to experience the most amazing moments.  We get to dance in the rain because we know from where it came.  We start seeing God’s providence instead of looking at Him as if His ways are interrupting our great plans.  From our perspective, it is better to plan and execute rather than follow and trust.  But from God’s perspective, it is far better to simply trust Him for everything we need and then dance in the rain when it falls.

Blessings!

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.

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!