The Red Sea Or The Jordan River?

Sometimes you just don’t know what to do or when to do it.  Lately, it seems I keep finding myself in that position.  My grandpa used to say, “If you don’t know which way to turn, don’t turn.”  I know exactly what he meant.  I personally do not believe we should make decisions just for the sake of change.  I believe we need to have that pull from within and not be guided simply by emotion.  We need to listen to that still, small voice that whispers to us which way we should turn.  Waiting on direction is good, but this isn’t really about the act of waiting.  This is about the way in which we wait, and in the way God brings us through (or out of) very difficult and distressing situations.

Life is just hard sometimes.  We all go through stages where we don’t see a way out of situations that are draining us of our joy and peace.  It might be a relationship, a job, financial difficulties, our health or a host of other things.  No matter the source, we just can’t see a way out, and sometimes the “light at the end of the tunnel” really IS a train.  As a person of faith, I truly believe that God can make a way through any circumstance, no matter how dire it may appear.  After all, there is one account after another where He did exactly that for his people.  Sometimes they were grand deliverances and sometimes they were quiet, but what came to mind for me today were two specific stories of God parting the literal waters for His people to cross over.  Two miraculous times, and yet there is something very different about HOW He did it.  This is where I find myself these days: wondering if I am standing at the Red Sea or the Jordan River.

shutterstock_154498460Most of you have at least heard of the story in Exodus 14 of the people of Israel being trapped in front of the Red Sea with no way out.  There was impassible terrain on both sides, they were being pursued from behind by Pharaoh’s army, and there was a sea in front of them.  Death and destruction seemed certain, but God had actually led them there with a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night.  They didn’t end up there by accident; God purposely and unmistakably led them.   They were exactly where He wanted them to be, with no options of escape by their own power.  He did it because He wanted them to see HIS power and deliverance in a way they could not deny.  They were scared.  They were probably terrified when they looked up and saw the army charging toward them.  Moses told them to stand still and they would see the salvation of the Lord.  Then he reiterated that they just needed to be still because the Lord would fight for them. (Exodus 14:13-14)  God told Moses to stretch out his staff over the sea, and the waters would divide.  Moses did what he was told, and God divided the waters.  The people crossed over on TOTALLY DRY ground!  Amazing, right?!  There was no way out, but then a way miraculously opened up before them to be delivered from certain death.

None of us want to be faced with situations that seem like they will destroy us.  We don’t want to be in a place where we have to trust God to make a way.  We don’t want to have to wait and trust Him to deliver us in those times.  We just want out!  So we complain and grumble (just like the Israelites) about how God doesn’t see what we are forced to endure or, even worse, that He sees our struggles and doesn’t care!  I have experienced occasions where I had no way out, but God opened up a path for me that I couldn’t have opened for myself.  When it happens, it is thrilling!  It is a mind-blowing experience that restores and strengthens my faith.  It reminds me that nothing is impossible, and that God will always provide direction and make a way, even when it isn’t on my timetable.

Lately, I have been feeling pretty defeated in some areas of my life.  Sometimes I am discouraged, and sometimes I am downright overwhelmed and depressed.  Like many of us, I try to wait until I finally see the ocean part so I can walk through on dry ground to the other side.  I believe God will impress on my heart the direction(s) I am supposed to take, and I am convinced He will make a way.  So I stand and  watch.  The wind blows and the waves churn, and I watch.  I look behind me and see the enemies closing, but I hold to my faith and trust there will be a way.  I watch, but I have learned something very valuable along the way: Sometimes God doesn’t part the sea; He parts the river.  Let me explain…

shutterstock_303650477I mentioned there were TWO times where God parted literal waters to make a way for His people.  The first was the Red Sea, but the other was Jordan River.  The people of Israel were still journeying along the path God was directing them, carrying the Ark of the Covenant (Joshua chpt 3).  They arrived at the edge of the Jordan River, and there was no way for them to cross.  This was the time of year the river ran so high and swiftly that it would overrun its banks.  It was a rushing, flooding river!  God instructed Joshua that when the people come to the brink of the flowing waters of the Jordan, the priests who were carrying the Ark were to “stand still IN the Jordan.”  Joshua passed the message along, and they did as they were told.  As a result, the waters parted, and the people passed across on DRY GROUND! Sound familiar?  Wait until God tells you to do otherwise and He will make the way clear.  There is a glaring similarity in these two events: God’s direction was to “stand still” and He would provide a way.  On the other hand, there is also a glaring difference.  At the Red Sea, the people were to stand still and watch God open the path ahead. The sea parted before anyone stepped into it.    At the Jordan River, the men were told to stand still IN the Jordan first and then God would open the path. The waters didn’t part until AFTER they stepped in.

So back to my life (and probably some of yours).  I look around me, and most of the time I think “when and how can I get out of this?”  I am often exhausted, stressed and sometimes even afraid.  Sometimes I am angry, not only that God hasn’t delivered me from my circumstances, but that He actually LED me to a place where I can’t see any way out on my own power.  We all find ourselves in places like this where we are completely stuck.  It wears on us.  It wears on me, but then my faith kicks in, and I remember that God is always leading me.  Sometimes He leads me to wait, and sometimes He leads me to walk forward.  He IS leading.  The question is:  Am I actually following?

Many of us are “leaders” in one way or another.  We have positions in our jobs, churches and homes that require us to step up and lead.  Many people, however, do not see themselves as anything but a follower.  They have no desire to lead (in the traditional sense) or be responsible for others.  Neither of these types of people are better than the other, but for those who fall into the latter group, don’t fool yourself into thinking you don’t struggle with control issues.  The reality is that the vast majority of humanity desires (and pursues) the ability to control their own lives and their own journeys.  We may not want to lead others, but we do want to be able to direct our own paths.  Let me put it this way:  We want freedom.  We want to choose what we do and when we do it.  We don’t want to feel trapped or stuck in any area of our lives, and, too often, we view waiting as being stuck.  Waiting goes against our nature when things aren’t going well.  We are hard-wired to do something, or make something happen, and have come to view anything less as laziness.  We overestimate our intelligence (no matter how high or low your IQ may be) and set off in a direction based on a list of pros and cons.  We think through our options and make what we believe is the best decision.  In those rare occasions that we find ourselves temporarily without options, we may wait, but we do not do it gracefully.  As people of faith, we want to be delivered and for God to clear the path ahead the minute we face the ocean or the raging rivers of our lives.  We want to walk through on dry ground, but we cannot do that unless we first stand still.

shutterstock_86702158Standing still isn’t easy.  Waiting for God to open doors and paths in our lives isn’t easy, but knowing where we are supposed to stand still is an even tougher dilemma for us.  Are we (am I) standing at the edge of the sea or the raging river?  How do I know if I am waiting on God to move, or if God is waiting on me to step into the water first?   Are we at a standoff of faith?  Am I misinterpreting my role in this journey?  Questions flood our minds when we are struggling.  We question why God isn’t opening the path before us or why He doesn’t seem to be moving.  We strain our eyes for signs of where we are supposed to go or what we are supposed to do.  Do we wait or do we leap?  My friends, God is not the author of confusion! (1 Cor 14:33)  He is continually leading us in all different ways – some are obvious and some are subtle, but all are powerful if we are willing to follow.  God may drop a sign as obvious as a pillar of fire or cloud in front of you and say “follow that,” or you may have to rely simply on His words.  You may be led to a dead end and told to stand still on the banks of the ocean and wait, or you may be told to step INTO the waters first and wait for them to part.  I think most of us probably prefer waiting for the path to open before we embark upon it.  We like to see it before we walk it.  There are some, however, who actually prefer jumping into the river first and then seeing the path emerge.

I’ve been at the “Red Sea” before.  The stress of looking around and seeing no way out, while an enemy is barreling down on you to destroy you, is overwhelming.  There is an urgency and survival nature that kicks in and creates panic.  “GET ME OUT, I’M GONNA DIE!”  Standing still, feeling like a sitting duck, is terribly difficult in those moments.  We are in fight or flight mode, and being still is contrary to everything in us because time is not on our side.  That is precisely why God tells us to stand still at those moments.  We need to stop and quit freaking out over what is happening.  We need to stand still and remember God led us to this place for a reason, and if we will stand still at that point, we will see the “salvation of the Lord.”  Take a breath.  You followed unmistakable direction in good faith, and God just needs you to calm down and let Him do the heavy lifting.  Be still and let Him show you the way.

shutterstock_224938534The “Jordan River” brings a total different type of stress.  I’ve been there too.  There isn’t the same urgency of survival that happens at the “Red Sea.”  You aren’t trapped and no one is actively pursuing you to destroy you.  You are simply lacking direction.  It isn’t hard for us to stand still in these times because the status quo can be an addictive drug.  When there isn’t an urgent threat, it’s easy to just stick with what you know, but we find ourselves in situations where we are driven to fear, depression, and anxiety.  We know God has the ability to deliver us, but we can see different options or paths for that to happen.  As a result, we become paralyzed because we don’t want to give up what we have if God hasn’t shown us the path yet.  We don’t make the leap because we fear we will be worse off than we are now.  “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t,” right?  So we give up joy, peace and contentment for the sake of stability and safety.  The stress of the Jordan doesn’t come from having to calm yourself to be still in the face of a charging enemy; it comes from having to get the courage to let go of safety and stability FIRST and then wait for God to reveal the path.  Let me add one other thought here.  God told them to step into the raging flood waters and THEN to stand still.  He didn’t tell them to step in and keep walking.  Our tendency at the Jordan is to say, “I know God wants me to step into the river and He will show me the way.”  What we forget is the very next step after leaving the safety of dry land, is to stand still in the unknown.  The fear and anxiety that comes with the Jordan comes from letting go of a sure thing and seemingly risking everything.  It comes in doing making the leap and then having to calm yourself as the flood waters rush around you.  It comes in trying to stand while the force of your circumstances are trying to pull you under.  Instead of asking God “Why did you bring me here to be destroyed,” we ask ourselves, “What was I thinking?!”  We start questioning if we did the right thing, because destruction seems certain as a result of our decision.  We experience the elation of courage, only to be hit with the panic of survival.  We step in, but when the way isn’t immediately made clear, we step back out and wonder why we still don’t see a path.  That isn’t God’s fault; it’s ours.

So the question remains – Am I, or are we, at the Red Sea or the Jordan River.  To answer that question, you need to look at where you’ve been.

  • Have you been following God’s direction with a certainty in your heart that it is Him, only to find yourself in a place where it seems there is no way out? Are you frantic and worried?  If so, take a breath.  Remind God of His promises to take care of you (Deut 31:6; Matt 6:26-34).  Calm yourself and stand still and watch what God is about to do.  You will be walking on dry ground soon,  and the circumstances that were chasing you down to destroy you will be drowned in the sea behind you.
  • On the other hand, have you been following God as he leads you to where He wants you to be, only to find yourself faced with a barrier or circumstance that confuses you? Is there something in your way that is causing you to look at other options, thinking you must have misinterpreted God’s leading up to this point?  Are you stressed or anxious, but leaning instead on safety and stability, settling for less than what you know God has for you?  If so, take heart!  Remind yourself that God is not the author of confusion, and He is simply waiting for you to move forward and step into the water with confidence – even without knowing for sure the outcome at that point.  Just because it’s scary doesn’t mean it isn’t where you are supposed to be.  The waters may be pulling at you once you step in but stand still and watch what God is about to do.  (2 Cor 4:8-9 – 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed)  You, too, will soon be walking on dry ground, safely and with clear direction.

shutterstock_270894053No matter where you find yourself today, standing at the Red Sea or the Jordan, don’t panic.  God is with you, leading you forward.   He isn’t holding His will behind His back and making you play a game to try and figure it out.  If you truly want direction, and are in fellowship with your Father, then He will reveal it to you.  You may still be asking, “But how do I know?”  Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways, acknowledge Him, and He will direct your path.”   Notice the little word in the middle – “all.  That little word leaves no room for creating your own directions or forging your own path.  Are you the master of your destiny?  Yes, absolutely.  You have complete freedom of choice to live your life how you choose.  You can go it alone, bumping into walls, frustrated and always seeking direction, or you can acknowledge God in ALL your ways and He will provide the direction for which you are seeking.  If you want to know which way to go, then get humble, surrender your will to His in every area, and then listen to that still, small voice within.  He has promised He will lead us; we simply need to be willing to stand still first, and then follow where He leads.

Blessings!

Time For A “Face” Lift

shutterstock_351834119Our society places a lot of value on beauty and outward appearance.  We think nothing of having work done (or of others having work done) to try and circumvent the effects of aging, and yet we are paying less and less attention to how we look on the inside.   We are losing our ability to be civil and courteous, and nowhere is this truth more apparent than on Facebook and other social media sites.  Over the past 6 months or so, I have been spending less time on Facebook and much of the time I’ve spent was, or is, hiding posts from people on ALL sides of varying issues (political or other).  My tolerance for the intolerance shown by so many people on so many subjects has really worn thin.  Before I go any further, let me just say that if you think I’m one of those people who just wants to stick their heads in the sand and not care, or are not willing to be engaged in thoughtful or even passionate discussion, I can assure you nothing is further from the truth.  I choose to be very engaged, just not online.

These days, there is turmoil all around us.  For one thing, the recent election cycle in our country has really taken a toll on most people and some people are very concerned – some for the same reasons and some for very different ones.  Then we look around us at other divides caused by different belief systems (whether religious or not), and it seems we are in a constant state of disruption and disagreement.  I have news for you: It has always been this way!   We think our debates are deeper or more enlightened.  We think the consequences are greater.  Guess what?  Every generation from the beginning of time has thought the same things.  And yes, people have always fought (and disagreed) passionately over what they believed.  From the beginning of time, there have always been people who were nasty and mean when trying to prove a point or argue a position, but it was different.  They didn’t have access to instant communication with the entire world!  We are bombarded with opinions and even mean-spirited lies about different positions or events.  We have instant information when something happens, and sometimes that information is not always accurate.  shutterstock_516722350That’s part of what is wrong with instant news.  Stories used to have time to develop before everyone heard something and reacted.  We’ve seen many stories that turned out not to be as they were originally portrayed, but it was too late to stop the reactions or public opinion – even when the facts finally come out.  On top of that, there is so much “fake” news that now exists for the sole purpose of stirring people up, or even worse, slandering or attacking them.

We live in a world where we can fire off our opinions immediately online, almost with impunity.  We no longer have to resort to picking up the phone and calling someone to discuss something.  We don’t have to wait until we are “around the water cooler” or face to face with someone before we throw out what we think.  There is something very valuable about waiting before we speak or give an opinion.  It gives us time to rethink HOW we want to give that opinion or state that comment.  We have lost our civility, and it has only escalated the meanness and fueled the fires of anger and hate.  Then we start choosing sides and refuse to listen to anyone who disagrees.  It’s true in our government as well as our own lives.  It needs to stop, but there are days when I fear we are too far gone.

Online we lose so much of what makes us human.  We lose tone, facial expression and body language. We lose accountability, and most of all we lose the trait of being courteous.  It’s easy to be rude when you don’t have to look people in the eye.  It’s easy to tear people down (including those we claim to love and care about) from behind a computer or phone screen.  There are no bounds to what people say or how far they will go to destroy someone who thinks, believes or lives differently.  As I mentioned earlier, even if we do not actively engage in the arguing, it is affecting us.  Even though we think we are ignoring it, we still feel its effects.  Think of it this way:  If you were in a room of people where the noise level and arguing (or fighting) was that loud, you would most likely leave even if you had an opinion that you wouldn’t mind discussing civilly.  Most of us would condemn the behavior we were witnessing and refuse to be part of it, but social media is different.  We’ve turned differing opinions into blood-sport.  We don’t care if a news story is real or fake; we use it as a weapon to go after people who disagree with us.  We’ve become more rude and intolerant as we hide behind our devices.  And that goes for ALL people of ALL beliefs and opinions.  shutterstock_74446510We don’t walk away from people who are rude or aggressive anymore, instead we devolve into them ourselves.  We forget that we are talking to human beings, and instead treat each other like animals.  We are bullies.  We are arrogant and insensitive asses.  We devolve into everything we say we aren’t or that we preach against.  We watch our friends tear each other down and just sit there.  We think, because we don’t read or react to the garbage that rolls through our feeds, that it isn’t affecting us.  But it is.  It wears on us until we finally crack.  I’ve fallen victim to it on several occasions myself.  “It” being that almost uncontrollable urge to fight back or snipe back at someone who is being unreasonable or, God forbid, wrong!  I’ve given into it on occasion, but it has almost always come with regret at some point.

The truth is, Facebook has become Face-less book.  We see photos but not each other.  We’ve become social voyeurs.  Voyeurs see others as objects and have no problem victimizing them as a result.  We, ourselves, have become less human and yet feel more entitled at the same time.  Everyone screams about intolerance, yet everyone IS intolerant.  Why?  Because it’s easy. Because even though we might love the people in our feeds, we feel faceless to them too.  The old saying that “character is what you do when no one is looking” is very true.  People sometimes ask, “What would you do if you knew you wouldn’t get caught?”  The answers are always interesting, but we are actually living in an age where we have created places where we think we can act like Neanderthals because we can’t be touched.  And then we wonder why our relationships (personally or professionally) are suffering.  We are so used to letting words fly out of our mouths without thought for others that we’ve started doing it in our real lives.  It was bound to happen, and yet we never saw it coming.  I see people who should be leaders acting like children, or even worse, teenagers whose only concern is being part of in the “in” club.  I see people snickering in corners about fellow workers, family members, church members or friends because their minds are being trained to think it’s normal to behave that way.  Just like we do on social media, we are watching it even if we aren’t actively participating.   And just like on Facebook, it is affecting us whether we want to admit it or not.

shutterstock_57395806So why does it matter? It matters because we are conditioning ourselves in ways that are harming us as individuals and as a society.  Our “real” lives are in turmoil.  We hear of tragedies almost daily where someone has attacked or even killed others.  We hear of relationships of all kinds falling apart and everyone is more concerned with blaming each other and making sure they are the one who  comes out “looking good.”  We watch kids bully and be mean to each other but then whine and cry when someone does the same to them.    We wring our hands and wonder why this selfish behavior has become so common, but we refuse to look in the mirror and admit we are part of the problem.  Whether we are actually fighting or being a voyeur, we are part of the problem.  We are more and more desensitized which makes us less and less self-aware.  In our “real” lives, we are becoming quicker to point out others who are being rude, offensive or a host of other negative traits while not seeing our own.

I said earlier there are days I fear we are too far gone, but there IS hope!  We actually can change, but we first have to want to change.   There is a passage of scripture (James chapter 4) that affected me very deeply the first time I read it when I was a teenager.  The entire chapter is great admonition as to how we should live, but it ends with this verse: “Therefore, to the one that knows to do good and doesn’t do it, to him it is sin.”  We forget that not doing the things that are right and good are just as sinful in God’s eyes as doing all the wrong things.  It’s time for us to stand up for what is good instead of defending our positions.  It’s time for us to “think on these things” that are “true, honest, just, pure, lovely and of good report.” (Phil 4:8) We must remember that our hearts and the hearts of others are not protected behind a wall of perceived immunity.   shutterstock_290171423We are ALL humans.  We are all imperfect and we all are tempted to get caught up in the drama with which we are constantly bombarded.  Instead, let us hold each other close in heart.  Let us truly love each other instead of tearing each other down.  Let’s purge our social media feeds AND our lives of the things that continually remind us of how we are different we are and start looking at how we are all the same.  Yes, it’s time for a “face”lift of a different kind, so I will leave you with this:  “Therefore, we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)

Blessings!

Why Can’t You Let It Go?

shutterstock_251283712There is a very familiar song from a very popular movie that continually tells us to “let it go.”  Not a bad thought considering how many things in life seem to take us down in one way or another.   We are hit continually with circumstances beyond our control – jobs, family issues, health issues, even the political climate – all of it can just wear us down to the point we truly feel like we cannot get up one more time.  After all, why get up when life is just going to knock you back down again?  That seems like a very valid question, doesn’t it?  Of course it does, until you remember something all people of faith forget:  Our circumstances may be out of our our control, but they are never out of God’s.

I have written a lot about the struggle with trying to control everything in our lives, to mitigate the effects of the world around us.  We save to avoid financial collapse.  We work out and eat right to avoid illness and disease.  We go into professions that we don’t want to be in because they provide stability.  We do all kinds of things to keep from being at the mercy of the elements.  The truth is we can do everything perfectly and think we are prepared for (and protected from) almost anything, but we aren’t.  I’m not saying it doesn’t help, but saving won’t prevent a financial disaster if the conditions are right.  Eating right and exercising won’t keep you from getting sick.  There are people every day who are examples of perfect health who suddenly drop dead from a heart attack, or find out they have cancer or some other dreaded disease.  We don’t want to consider it, but it seems we really are at the mercy of the elements.  Or are we?  How do we walk through this life, bombarded with situations that shake us to our core or bring us to our knees?  How do we keep moving when things fall apart?  How do we press on, when we’ve been betrayed or let down by someone we love?  How do we lift our heads when we lose jobs, homes, or even families?  How do we actually let it go?

We tend to hold on to things; it is in our nature.  We even hold onto things that are harmful for/to us.  How many people remain in terrible relationships because they can’t let go?  How many jobs do we stay in because we can’t let go?  How many places do we live in because we can’t let go? We like the familiar, even when it’s bad.  We like to be in control, or have the illusion of control.  Sometimes the illusion of control is more powerful than actually being in control.  We mix up those two things often – actual control vs the illusion of control.  We rationalize our hoarding of things or relationships and then wonder why we feel so bogged down, stressed out or depressed.  shutterstock_218214685God never meant for us to hoard things in this world.  He never wanted us to put down roots here when our forever home is actually with Him.  “Yeah, yeah, but that’s just a nebulous concept when I’m living in the NOW.”  We really struggle with letting go of anything!  The things we consider “good” in life (money, secure jobs, good relationships, homes and possessions, etc.) are hard to let go of because we think if we “let it go” that means we lose it.  The things we consider “bad” (money, secure jobs, bad relationships, possessions we’ve acquired, etc.) are hard to let go of because they are familiar and serve a purpose for us – even if that purpose is less than desirable.  What we have is what we know, and we don’t like to consider the unknown.  We don’t want to consider that letting go means everything might change.  Letting go of the “good” means we lose and letting go of the “bad” means everything will be unfamiliar.  After all, either way, what if we let it go and then don’t make it?  What if we don’t survive? What if, what if, what if?

What if?  Therein lies the problem.  We don’t know the “what ifs,” but as children of God we know that HE does.  He knows what is around the corner and tells us over and over to trust Him even though His ways are not our ways.  As people of faith, we talk a good talk but our “what ifs” paralyze us and keep us from letting go.  We can’t let it go because we don’t trust the One in whom we claim to place our trust.  The truth is that it is impossible to let go without having trust in something higher than ourselves.  That is true not just for people of faith, but for everyone.  We tend to make our decisions from a place of emotion rather than a place of reason, but God wants us to look at what He has said/promised to us and then trust Him to keep His word.  Trust is not an emotion; it is a decision.  We can trust and let things go, even if we are fearful or apprehensive.  We can have faith even though our knees are shaking.  We can decide to let go and trust, even when we may feel like it’s crazy to do so.  Trust (or faith) and fear are not mutually exclusive.  We can let go and be afraid.  We can let go and be sad.  We can let go and feel all kinds of things, but we cannot let go without trust.  No one can – people of faith or not.

shutterstock_299434214Life is difficult.  We were never promised it would be easy, but it can be rich and fulfilling if we can learn to let things go.  When we learn to let go, we also learn to embrace.  Hurts that we have endured through various means or people can cripple us forever if we let them.  People who have let us down, angered us, treated us poorly or unfairly, or rejected us completely don’t have to diminish us.  Situations that have (or are) less than perfect don’t have to destroy us.  We don’t have to hold onto our grudges or hurts.  We don’t even have to hold on to our expectations that have gone unfulfilled.  We probably need to readjust those expectations anyway.  We, especially as people of faith, have a problem.  We hold ourselves in such high regard that we feel like we have a right to hold onto our anger and hurt.  We think so highly of ourselves that we feel entitled to NOT let things go.  We think it is our right to make sure everything is eventually evened out in our world and that we are treated fairly, and we spend a lot of our time, energy and resources to ensure it happens.  I have news for you: making things “fair” is not your responsibility.  Do you know what IS your responsibility?  Loving God, loving each other and letting things go.

The key to being able to let go is in rationally, reasonably and logically taking God at His word, in spite of our emotions or our desire for control.  It isn’t an easy thing to do, and I struggle with it continually, but it doesn’t change the truth of it.  Emotions are powerful things that can drive us into all kinds of states.  They are volatile and yet they are a very real part of who we are and how God created us to be.  Every emotion we experience, God himself has experienced.  Every betrayal and hurt, every anger and fear, He has experienced them all.  Yes, in the fleshly manifestation as Jesus Christ, He had to deal with every emotion we have dealt with – or ever will.  He was betrayed by those He trusted, his closest friends.  He wept with sadness and grief over losses during His earthly life.  He was terrified in the garden of Gethsemane as He looked at what He was going to have to endure.  But you know what?  He let it go.  He let all of it go and died for us anyway, in spite of how He was treated or how we would dismiss Him today.  He loved us even though He knew we would often reject, disobey and even hate Him.  How was He able to endure such emotion and still press on?  Because He knew the truth and rested in it.  He knew He had a higher purpose and the end result was worth it all, regardless of how he felt emotionally.  When we are able to live from a place of knowing the truth and being willing to walk in it, regardless of how we feel, THAT is when we are able to finally trust and let go.

So I guess I will leave you with what I desire for myself as well as all of you.  I pray we all can step back and realize just what we give up when we are afraid to lose what we already have.   BlessingStop trying to cling to the familiar or to your desire to see that others get what you think they deserve.  Quit holding onto your wounds as badges of honor and be willing to let the wounds in your heart heal.   Let it go.  Open your heart and let go of the pain from those who didn’t love you and embrace the One who does.  And when the circumstances in your life start overwhelming you, or you feel that need for revenge start to rise within you, let it go.  It isn’t worth it.  We were never meant to carry around the weight of the world with us.  We can do exactly what God’s word says in 1 Peter 5:7 – “Cast your cares on Him because He cares for you.”  When we do that, we can still see the sun, no matter how the storms may rage around us.  We can say, with great assurance, “Here I stand in the light of day.  Let the storm rage on, the cold never bothered me anyway.”

Blessings!

Why I Have To Know Why

shutterstock_113875279There is no mistake that life throws problems at us over and over.  We are going to have trouble in this life.  It is simply a fact, and  if you are like me, then you spend a lot of time and energy trying to figure out solutions to whatever problems arise.  We do not like to be troubled by finances, illness, relationship issues or anything else that results in us feeling bad or stressed.  Stress caused by life’s trouble is something most of us want resolution to as quickly as possible.  So what do we do?   Well, that’s where it gets a little more grey, especially for people of faith!

We are assured by Jesus, himself that trouble is going to come.  In John 16:33, Jesus ends His words to His disciples by saying, “These things I’ve spoken to you , that you might have peace.  In this world you will have trouble and trials, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”  In Matthew 6:25-34, He tells us not to worry about things because He knows what we need and will take care of us completely.  Then why do we lose so much peace when trouble comes, and why do we spend so much effort trying to come up with a solution to our problems?

Most of us are intelligent people, and God has blessed us with the ability to reason things through and solve all kinds of problems.  Our intelligence is a gift directly from God, but so often we take that intelligence and then begin to think that we know better than He does.  That sounds stupid when you say it out loud, but consider this:  How often do you make decisions based on your own reasoning?  How many times have your taken a job because “it makes sense” after considering all the angles?  I mean, after all, it’s more money.  That’s a no-brainer, right?  How many times have you had issues in a relationship and you spend all kinds of time and energy walking through each scenario, trying to ensure you find a way to work things out?  Have you ever made a purchase because you think it’s the best fit for you (whether car, house, computer, or anything else you can think of)?  My point is that most of us go through life making decisions all the time based on what WE think, without any input from our Heavenly Father.  I do it more than I care to admit.  I look at a situation, consider all the facts, and then begin a process of finding a solution.  It’s only after I hit a brick wall that I turn to God and ask for His help or His input, instead of starting at that point.

shutterstock_264757496When I am faced with problems, no matter what area of life they are in, I become almost obsessed with gathering information and figuring out a solution.  People close to me have seen it first-hand.  I love puzzles, and I LOVE figuring out the answer to a problem.  And you know what?  I am good at it.  God blessed me with a great brain that can see trends and spot paths through a jumbled mess that will lead to an effective solution.   It has served me well in many ways, and most certainly in my professional life.   I don’t say that to stroke my ego, but rather as a statement of fact.  It’s been that way ever since I was a child.  The problem with that ability is that it becomes very easy to rely on that rather than to trust God to provide a solution to whatever I am facing.  I recently had a very profound revelation regarding this issue with which many of us struggle.  I was listening to a message and the speaker said, “God didn’t call me to understand; He called me to believe.”   That statement literally stopped me in my tracks because God doesn’t continually tell us to “understand.”  He continually tells us to believe and trust Him.  As I stood there considering this statement, I suddenly realized the reason I have to always know the whys or wear myself down analyzing and assessing every situation in my life.  It’s because I actually don’t believe God most of the time.  Every person of faith would always answer “yes” if asked, “Do you believe God?”  But do we really?  Do I believe God has a plan for each of us – or for me specifically?  Yes, I do.  Then why do I waste so much time stressed out over figuring out solutions to every problem that comes up?  Because no matter what I SAY, my actions show that I think God is not capable of providing a solution or taking care of me.   My mindset, like many of yours, is that God gave me a brain and He expects me to use it.  Yes, that’s true, but I am not to use it to the exclusion of trusting Him.   I am not supposed to come up with plan A-Z to make sure I have everything covered no matter what happens.  Quite frankly, that’s not my job.  My job is to ask God for clarity on where He is leading and then trust Him, even if I don’t understand how it is all going to work out.  That is what faith is – the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).

shutterstock_317335277Look, I’m not advocating taking leave of your senses and just sitting down in the yard and saying, “I’m not going to do anything because God promised to take care of me.”  He expects us to work, but He also expects us to trust Him for the results and not ourselves.  We often hear the admonition that we need to “save for a rainy day.”  Have you ever asked someone for the definition of a “rainy day?”  Better yet, have you ever asked yourself that question?  The answers vary but here are the most common:

  • The day something goes wrong like my car breaks down.
  • The day I get sick and have to pay medical bills.
  • The day I lose my job.
  • The day I retire and want to be able to still live comfortably.

So we do what we can to put ourselves in a position where we feel safe from trouble that might arise.  We work long hours for employers who don’t care about us and sacrifice precious time with our family and friends in order to put ourselves in a better financial situation.  We do the same thing when it comes to building up a “savings account” emotionally with people, so that if something goes wrong in our relationship, we have something to fall back on – all the times we helped or were good (in our definition) to that person or group of people.  We try to save up all kinds of grace in every area of our lives so that we are prepared for any negative situations in the future.  We think, reason and plan so that one day we can relax.  But that leaves one huge, missing piece of the equation:  Believing God.

So what is the true definition of a rainy day?  If we are really honest, it is the day God doesn’t bless us anymore.  The truth is if God stops blessing me, there’s nothing I can do to store up enough (financially or otherwise)!  Ouch, that hurts!  Saving, being smart in your decisions – whether financial or otherwise – is a Godly trait.  He didn’t call us to be stupid or NOT think things through.  As a matter of fact, His word tells us often to “consider” things and to count the cost.  We don’t ever want to appear stupid, but faith and belief often appear stupid to those around us – even other people of faith – because God’s ways are not our ways.  He doesn’t do things like we would do, but the results are far better when we follow Him even when we don’t have all the information yet or understand the reasons why He is leading us in a certain direction.  We are to use the gifts He has given us, including our intelligence, but not as a replacement for trusting Him to do exactly what He has promised to do.   When we take it upon ourselves and believe our well-being in any situation is dependent on us figuring out the best solution, our plans will most often fail.  It is burden God did not call me to bear.  It is a job He did not call me to do.  I’ll say it again, “God did not call me to understand; He called me to BELIEVE!”  Belief means trusting.  It means taking God at His word and then acting accordingly.  See, we miss that last part.   We might reflect that outwardly, but in our hearts, we do not act accordingly.  I should speak for myself.  If I did, I would not find myself saddled with weights that seem too great to bear.  I wouldn’t be angry when others don’t “get what they deserve.”  I wouldn’t be exhausted from the mental energy spent on constantly trying to solve problems.  Instead I would have joy and peace, no matter the circumstances.  I would actually BELIEVE Matthew  chapter 6 and my yoke would actually be easy and my burden light!  (Matt 11:30).

BlessingI needed the revelation of that one sentence I heard this week.  I needed to be reminded that my unending struggle for gathering all the information and then leaning on MY own understanding for a solution needs to stop.  There is a better way – a perfect way.   “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.” (Prov 3:5-6).  The most profound word in those two verses is the word “all.”   I need to do it in ALL things, with ALL my heart because He has promised, without condition, to take care of me when I do.  I need to let go of the overwhelming need to have every contingency plan possible.  There is something truly liberating in the realization that the stress in my life does not come from the situations that arise, but in the way in which I react to them.  It is freeing and empowering to finally, after all these years, realize WHY I always have to know why.  It’s because somewhere in my mind, I think I can figure out a plan that will work better and makes more sense than the One who knows everything, sees everything and has the power to DO anything, except override my free will.  If I would just stop thinking for a while and ask God for clarity, I will have it.  The scary thing is the clarity and direction I receive may not make sense based on what I see in front of me.  My intellect will scream it is stupid and can’t work.  Instead, my intellect and reason should be screaming that God has promised and He cannot lie!  Verse after verse in the Bible reflects that truth, and my God-given ability to think would be better utilized to understand His word and exactly what He has promised, then act accordingly by simply trusting Him and following where He leads.

God sometimes leads exactly where our own reasoning would take us, but sometimes He leads completely contrary to it.  As a result, we are often left in a gray area where we are unsure if we are interpreting His leading correctly.  Is this really the way God is leading me to go, act, or respond, or am I clouding His direction with my own desires and intelligence?  Our reasoning will often interfere with the clarity God is providing and cloud our vision.  That is precisely why we are told that “we walk by faith and not by sight.”  God honors the motives of our hearts.  If I have talked with Him and reach a decision based truly on what I believe He is leading me to do, I will be blessed, even if I misunderstood.   He will simply pick me back up, dust me off, and point me in the right direction again…over and over.   Why?  Because He loves me and has promised to give me wisdom if I will just ask for it.

shutterstock_215689504James 1:5-7 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault.  But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.  That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.” (NIV)  The other side of that equation is that if we will simply ask in faith, and not doubt, God will provide the direction through every situation in our lives.  We can let Him do all the heavy lifting and sit back and relax.  We can do what He asks us to do and not worry about the rest because He will provide every solution we need.  It may not be the solution we wanted, but it will always be the one that is best.  Remember, He did not call us to understand; He called us to believe!

Blessings!

Living in the Center of His Wheel

shutterstock_164791247Many people of faith are familiar with the story of the potter and the clay found in the Bible (Jeremiah chapter 18).  We’ve heard the account of how the potter was working to create something, but the clay became marred.  Instead of thinking the clay was ruined or worthless, or instead of getting frustrated and giving up, the potter simply started over remaking the clay into a useful vessel.   Often this story is used as an example of how God never gives up on us, and that is a good and proper picture, but I was thinking about a more specific aspect of the work of the potter that stands out for me.  Pressure.

If you’ve ever worked with pottery (and I have), you understand that it takes complete and total focus.  You also understand that one of the most frustrating things is when the clay gets off-center and becomes out of balance.  You are going along, trying to create something beautiful, but the moment it is out of balance, everything starts falling apart.  Sometimes it happens so quickly, and you find yourself with nothing but a lump that is unrecognizable.  Or maybe as the wheel spins, you find a rock or some other hard substance that can’t just be worked around, and you have to stop everything to remove it and then start over from the beginning.  Either of these things can be disappointing or downright maddening because you only have two choices: 1) Get mad, give up and throw the clay away, or 2) form the clay back into a lump, put it back on the wheel and start over.

shutterstock_97981301It is interesting to consider the change in the amount of pressure a potter must use in order to make the clay into something recognizable, useful and beautiful.  In the beginning, even if the clay has been placed in the very center of the wheel, it starts to become out of balance when the spinning begins.  The potter uses water to make the clay easier to mold, then wraps his hands around it and puts strong pressure in a confined manner to guide it into balance.  A vessel cannot be created until the clay is balanced and centered, but once that happens, the true artwork begins.  Throughout the process, pressure is continually applied in one way or another or to one degree or another.  It is pressure that creates the beautiful intricacies or restores the balance.  But this one thing is for certain: the potter must keep working until the vessel is complete.  There is no stopping in the middle and coming back to it later.  It must either be completed or abandoned.  And the pressure, whether great or barely noticeable, is continually necessary because even with the most masterful artist, the clay can become out of balance at the slightest touch.  When that happens, he must stop creating and spend a little time applying just the right pressure in just the right way to bring everything back into balance.  The same is so true in our lives.

We all endure pressure in life.  It may come in the form of circumstances beyond our control or as a result of poor decisions we make, but it WILL come.  When we feel the pressure, our human nature causes us to become out of balance.  We worry and fret over what we should do.  We get angry over how we have been mistreated.  We get depressed over our lack of ability to change or fix something.  We spin and spin and eventually realize how out of balance we really are.  If only we would realize that God is the master potter and we really are the clay.  He isn’t some mean ogre who is trying to make things difficult for us or punish us.  He actually said He came so that we could have life abundantly!  This world is full of situations and circumstances that will wear us down if we focus on them, but God has promised over and over that if we will simply seek Him first, He will take care of everything else.  That doesn’t mean our lives will be free of trouble, but it means we have a loving Father who is masterfully, patiently and continually creating something amazing, no matter how many times He has to start over.

shutterstock_130134731Pressure in our lives never feels good.  We try to avoid it any time we can but maybe we just need to change the way we think about it.  When we start feeling pressure in our lives, it isn’t time for us to stiffen up and fight against it.  It’s time for us to relax into the potter’s hands and let Him use that pressure for our good.   The most difficult and challenging times for us may be exactly the pressure we need to restore our balance.  The bad decisions we may have made in our lives don’t render us useless or of no value.  Our circumstances don’t destroy us because the Potter has promised to never abandon us.  (“I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  Hebrews 13:5) He has also promised to finish what He starts!  (“He who began a good work in you is faithful and just to complete it.”  Philippians 1:6).

It is important for us to remember God doesn’t cause problems or imbalance in our lives; He simply applies loving pressure when necessary to RESTORE balance.  He continually has us in His loving hands, purposely working all things out for our ultimate good.  Whatever any of us are going through right now may not feel good.  The pressure may feel unbearable and no matter how we try, we can’t seem to find a way to make things work out. We spend our energy focusing on all that’s wrong or what we don’t have and then wonder why we are fatigued and depressed.  If only we could realize the only job of the clay is to be moldable. If only we were more willing to relax, the pressure wouldn’t seem so unbearable.  If only we would spend more of our time being grateful for the fact we are in our Father’s hands, and realize He is working to make our lives amazing and abundant, we would find it so much easier to breathe.   After all, being in the center of His will really means being in the center of His “wheel.”

And the sooner we soften under the Potter’s touch, the sooner our lives shift from becoming a work of restoration to becoming a work of art.

Blessings!

Derailed!

shutterstock_135699662Do you ever have times in your life where things are swirling around you at such a terrible pace that you seem to just run off the rails?  I read a definition of the word “derail” that said it is “to be deflected from a purpose or direction, permanently or temporarily.”  When I read it, I couldn’t help but think of how things have been in my own world lately.

I’ve always said that sometimes life hits us with the most unexpected situations and leaves us absolutely reeling.  We are shaken and the longer it goes on, the more difficult it becomes to find our footing to stand strong.   When these situations involve the people closest to us, it makes it that much harder to not get discouraged or depressed by what is going on around us.  I say “we,” but maybe I should just speak for myself here.  I know what I believe…about life and about God.  I hold to those truths in the very core of my being but sometimes things happen that put a cloud between my heart and soul, and I find myself foundering, even though I still look like I am “on track” to most people.

Difficulties are often a private thing and, as such, we try to keep on going even when we are at the end of our rope.  We push ourselves to keep performing at work.  We tell ourselves we have responsibilities to fulfill at home or even in church.  We just keep plowing ahead with a determination that is sometimes detrimental to our well-being.  We’ve told ourselves that the only way to get through something is to keep going, so we keep pushing harder and harder, even when our bodies start telling us to stop.   We start breaking down physically and mentally.  Our emotions become harder to contain and yet we just keep going!  We will do anything to keep from stopping the motion because it seems like if we stop, we will be overtaken by everything that is around us.  The thought of it pushes us even harder.  We hit the accelerator in hopes that we can just power through whatever presents itself.

And then it happens…

We come into a curve too fast and suddenly find ourselves running of the rails.  Suddenly, the damage is unavoidable and we realize we’ve lost the ability to “maintain” any longer.   We are derailed.

Recently I experienced this pattern in my own life.  Things happened that rattled my world and created troublesome situations in the most grounding areas of my life.  The unrest it created spiritually, both internally and even within my home, was something that felt too painful to withstand. shutterstock_158132312I questioned things and began to wonder not only how it all would settle down, but when.    I tried to just keep going and consciously reminded myself of the truth of God’s promises that eventually everything works out for our ultimate good.  I tried to get up and go to work and do the best job I could for a company I love, even though I felt as though it didn’t matter.  I kept up my daily routines at home and church and kept powering through the emotions that kept hitting me in the face in every realm.  I just kept going…and going.  I just wanted so badly to get through things that I hit the accelerator into a curve and went flying off the rails.  I couldn’t think.  I didn’t want to breathe.  I just wanted to crawl into a hole, curl up into a tiny little ball and hide from everything.  I just couldn’t take one more thing.  If I couldn’t stop the world around me, then my only choice was to stop myself.

Derailments are an interesting process.  They can be massive, with devastating injuries and destruction or they can be minor, with only some small adjustments needed to get the train back on track.  They can require long periods of clean-up or almost none at all.  It all depends on how far off the rails things go…or how fast you’re going when you leave the tracks.  For me, I was so concerned with getting to the end of the line that I ignored the danger signs that kept popping up in front of me.  Maybe I thought I had the ability to manage the track without adhering to the warnings.  Maybe I thought people around me would think I was weak for slowing down.  Maybe I just wanted to keep moving because I thought it’s what was expected of me.  No matter the reason, it resulted in more difficulties than it resolved and caused me to have to stop for a while to rest, regain my bearings and let God repair the track.

shutterstock_691271There are some situations in life that we cannot change.  People disappoint us or have perspectives we cannot agree with.  Our loved ones may be dealing with their own situations or derailments and it can cause distance between us for a while.  We may feel alone and even abandoned as we journey through these times, but sometimes it is exactly what we need in our own lives in order to grow and become who we are created to be.  There are some things we must all journey through alone so that we come out on the other side with a strength, understanding and courage that does not come any other way.

So if you are experiencing your own derailment, don’t beat yourself up.  Take this time to step back and rest while the track is being repaired.  Use this time to assess the situation, and yourself, so that it can actually become beneficial for you.

And if are dangerously close to derailing, look up.  Heed the warnings and proceed with caution.  If you do, you will soon find that the next sign you see is the one telling you exactly which way to go.

Blessings!

Settling For Passionless Work

shutterstock_30626650Work. We all have to do it in one realm or another. Whether it is inside or outside the home, we all face struggles sometimes with the things we do for a living. Every “job” has its ups, downs and cycles of frustration. It is the nature of work. Sometimes it is fulfilling and sometimes it can be draining. Regardless, we spend more time at work than we do anywhere else in our lives. It is important to always be willing to evaluate why we do what we do and the places we do it. This doesn’t just apply to our professional organizations but our personal, spiritual and familial ones as well.

It is interesting to consider the point that you can love what you do and not love the person or organization you do it for OR you can hate what you do and love the person or organization for which you toil. You can also have great passion for an organization or job, secular or spiritual, but that doesn’t guarantee it is what you are called to do. I am a firm believer that our true calling in life can be manifested in many ways over the course of our journey. I have fulfilled aspects of my own calling through different organizations and situations over the years. Sometimes we have to find ways to still honor our calling even when we are in situations where it seems unlikely it might fit. We do whatever is necessary in order to continue moving forward. Over the years, I have worked for people I admired greatly. I have worked for companies and organizations I loved. I have worked for people who are appreciative and I’ve worked for people who aren’t. I have worked for small organizations that were wonderful and some that weren’t. I have worked for a large organization and had pockets of amazing experiences with some amazing people. I have also had pockets of experiences that seemed to drain the life from me but, even in those times, there was something positive to be gleaned. One of the greatest blessings I gained in the seemingly negative times was to recognize the things I vowed to never do to the people that I worked with, for or who worked for me.shutterstock_73290586

Passion can drive us to do amazing things in our homes, jobs, churches and families if we will allow it. The struggle I sometimes face is caring deeply about a cause or organization and then see others trying to tear those things down. It wounds me. It literally hurts my heart to see other people half-heartedly approaching the things that mean so much to me or engaging in activities that are detrimental to the well-being and success of those things. When we find ourselves in these places, we cannot help but question where we are and what we are doing. It’s easy to look at others and be angry when they don’t share the same values or passions as you but it is much harder to not let it deter you from your efforts to make a difference. You can try your best to create something different, to engage people differently and to keep them energized, but you cannot force them. So if you are giving everything you have and you still find yourself faced with a negative or unsupportive environment, what do you do? To complicate matters further, if it’s not your calling, how do you handle it?

Sometimes it is so hard to know what God is working in our lives. When you feel your spirit crushed by the situations you’re in, no matter if it is intentional or not, it hurts. Sometimes the crushing can be a great clarifier but sometimes all it does is injure. Passion is a beautiful and necessary part of truly living but it doesn’t guarantee it will not cause us pain. Having passion about what you are called to do and having to wait for those doors to open is a difficult part of life but there is a reason you are where you are at this moment in time.

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Just remember you may be placed in the midst of people who rarely, if ever, show any appreciation for you even if they do feel it. Some people (or even organizations) seem to think that “no news is good news” and, as a result, only speak up when things are wrong because they assume you somehow just inherently know you are valued or make a difference. Even though it may cause you pain and even create a sensation you are worthless at times, it is important to try and let it go. Holding on to a lack of appreciation will only cause you to become bitter, sad or resentful. Don’t let someone else’s inability to show gratitude keep you from expressing yours.

The passion I have for the organizations I am involved in runs deeper than anyone in those organizations can imagine. That fact often makes for a difficult and challenging life but the alternative does not appeal to me. The reality is if you go through life passionless and numb, it certainly does take the sting out. If you can say, “My job doesn’t matter” or “My church doesn’t matter” then it doesn’t. If you can say, “My family doesn’t matter,” then it doesn’t. There is a certain amount of anesthetic and pain relief that comes with that but it also dulls everything else in life. I struggle with just throwing my hands up and saying “I’m done” when I become drained. I believe life is about truth and passion. I can handle anything but a liar. And I can take anything but apathy.

shutterstock_38318179James described it best when he said, “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (James 4:14). Life really is shorter than we like to think. As James says, it is like walking outside on a cold morning and seeing your breath as it appears for a few moments and then dissipates. Why waste the time we have been given each day by living passionless lives? We need to stop settling for the mundane and expect the extraordinary! If the people around us refuse to step out of their complacency, negativity or sense of entitlement, then we need to refuse to step out of our passion, optimism and sense of gratitude. And if there is no bridge that can be built between the two, then we need to have the strength and courage to step away and follow where we are led.

Blessings!