Categories
Handling Life's Problems

Shake It Off and Move On

Sometimes trouble doesn’t want to let go…

I’ve never been shipwrecked, but I watched a lot of Gilligan’s Island when I was young. As far as I could tell, being shipwrecked was delightful. I couldn’t figure out why they kept trying to leave the island, and I kind of understood why Gilligan kept foiling their rescue plans.

Turns out, being shipwrecked is not as fun as they made it out to be.

Paul, falsely accused, left a Jerusalem prison and boarded a ship headed for Rome. After 14 days of storms and violent seas, the passengers were forced to abandon the ship and swim for their lives in the stormy ocean, ending up on the island of Malta.

It was cold and the castaways and natives were gathering wood to keep a fire going. Paul was doing his share, carrying a load of wood to the fire, but as he put the wood into the flames, a viper hidden in the sticks latched his fangs onto Paul’s hand.

Paul’s journey went from prison, to a storm, to the dangers of the ocean, to being bitten by a venomous snake. That’s a long string of trouble.

Acts 28:4 says the viper, “…latched onto Paul’s hand with its fangs.” Latched on means it’s fastened there, it’s hooked there. It’s locked on and doesn’t plan to let go.

Sometimes trouble seems to latch on and doesn’t seem inclined to let go. Paul was doing everything right. He was trusting God. He was gathering firewood. He did nothing to deserve an imprisonment and a ship wreck. He certainly didn’t deserve a viper latched onto his hand, but there it was. Life can be that way. Sometimes we do nothing to deserve trouble latching on to us, but there it is.

Here’s what Paul did about his trouble—he shook it off. He shook the snake off into the fire. The snake didn’t choose to let go. The snake didn’t apologize. No, Paul had to deliberately shake him off. With that viper hanging from his hand and viper venom burning through his body, Paul shook it off into the fire and he went on about his business.

Friend, maybe it’s time to shake the snake off and go on about our business. We may need to to shake off abandonment, discouragement, betrayal, fear, pain, or anger. We may need to shake off a situation we’ve been stuck in for too long. Our next step may be to shake it off.

Paul went through some stuff and we will, too. We will face opposition. We will encounter troubles. But God always has a plan. God’s plan turned Paul’s snakebite into a revival. The imprisonment, the storm, the shipwreck, and the snake may have been meant to harm Paul, but God used all of it for good. And God will do the very same thing for us.

Dear God, replace my fear with faith. Replace my pain with peace. Help me walk through my troubles as an example of what it means to serve the God most high. Let me reflect your love and glory to everyone I meet. In Jesus’s name, amen.

Categories
Handling Life's Problems

Difficult People: Our Response Matters

Our response determines our growth…

Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist, survived three years in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. He endured starvation, disease, and constant violence at the hands of prison guards. In his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” Dr. Frankl says, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing—the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.”

In the face of dehumanizing violence, Dr. Frankl chose his attitude. He realized that between stimulus and response, there is space. In that space is our power to choose how we respond.

How we respond to difficult people matters. Those we consider “difficult people” can range from the guy who cut in front of us at the DMV to the person who treated our child unfairly to the one who destroyed our marriage. Whether the offense is small or great, the space to choose how we respond is always there. Choosing that response wisely can make a world of difference.

We choose our thoughts. We control what we think about. Philippians 4:8 says, “So keep your thoughts continually fixed on all that is authentic and real, honorable and admirable, beautiful and respectful, pure and holy, merciful and kind. And fasten your thoughts on every glorious work of God, praising him always.” When we focus our thoughts on those who hurt us or frustrate us, we feed the hurt and frustration and encourage it to grow.

We choose our words. My mom always told me to take a breath before I spoke. I’ve never regretted that pause before speaking, but I have often regretted not waiting and saying something stupid or hurtful. “My dearest brothers and sisters, take this to heart: Be quick to listen, but slow to speak. And be slow to become angry” (James 1:19). What we say can escalate or diminish a difficult situation. Take a second before speaking—and remember that sometimes saying nothing is the best response.

We choose our attitudes and actions.  Consider these instructions from Jesus in Matthew 5:44: “…Love your enemy, bless the one who curses you, do something wonderful for the one who hates you, and pray for the very ones who persecute you.” We choose whether to love or to hate, to bless or to curse, to be kind or to be mean. We choose to seethe with anger at those who persistently mistreat us, or to pray for them instead.

Dr. Frankl said, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” Friend, there are some people and some situations we may not be able to change. But as we carefully choose our responses to those people and those situations, we will see God use those things to change our hearts, grow our character, and bring good into our lives.

Dear God, give me grace to control my responses to people who hurt me or make me angry. Help me choose uplifting thoughts, words, attitudes and actions. Bring all of my life under your perfect control. Protect my heart from becoming bitter or resentful through troubles. Instead, let me grow kinder and stronger through the difficult people and situations I encounter. I ask these things in Jesus’s name, amen.

Categories
Handling Life's Problems

Difficult People: They’re Everywhere

They’re at the supermarket, at work, at school. They’re in our families and in our churches. They’re even in the Bible. David had Saul. Nehemiah had Sanballat. Elijah had Jezebel.

Difficult people are everywhere.

If difficult people are a very real part of everyone’s life, how do we deal with them? How do we handle a person who annoys us, criticizes us, and drives us a little bit crazy?

Jesus probably dealt with more difficult people than any of us. The Jewish religious leaders were constantly angry with him. Judas betrayed him. Peter denied ever knowing him. Jesus had it so bad that after his very first sermon, people were so furious they wanted to throw him off a cliff (see Luke 4:28-30).

Here are three tips for dealing with difficult people in our lives the way Jesus dealt with the difficult people in his life:

  • Know who you are. Jesus knew who he was. In Matthew 3:17, God spoke these words about Jesus, “This is the Son I love, and my greatest delight is in him.” Friend, we are a child of God. We are his beloved and favored. Let’s walk in that identity. What others may say or think about us isn’t important when we know who we are.
  • Know what God called you to do. From childhood, Jesus knew he had a purpose given to him by God. Matthew 20:28 says, “For even the Son of Man did not come expecting to be served by everyone, but to serve everyone, and to give his life in exchange for the salvation of many.” Negative, angry people didn’t flummox Jesus because he was focused on his calling and his purpose. We also have a God-given calling and purpose. We’re here to bring glory to God. Negative, angry, difficult people become less difficult when we keep our focus on our calling.
  • Look at difficult people through God’s eyes. People who frustrate us look different when we look at them through God’s eyes. In Matthew 9:36, Jesus looked at a crowd with compassionate eyes: “When he saw the vast crowds of people, Jesus’s heart was deeply moved with compassion, because they seemed weary and helpless, like wandering sheep without a shepherd.” When Jesus looked at these people, he saw how tired they were, how powerless and weak they were, and how lost they were. Sometimes, the people who hurt us, who make us angry, and who seem determined to judge and criticize us are actually weary, weak, and lost. When we see them through God’s eyes, we become less annoyed and more compassionate.

The bottom line is to treat people, even the difficult ones, the way Jesus did—with love and compassion, with a steadfast determination to fulfill our purpose, and with a heart of prayer for those we find difficult. Isn’t that how we would want others to treat us?

Dear God, draw me closer to you. Give me such intense joy in the work you have for me to do that I’m not easily distracted. Bless those people in my life who frustrate me. Give me a heart of compassion and wisdom in dealing with difficult people. In Jesus’s name, amen.

Categories
God's presence

More Aware of His Presence

He’s always there, but are we aware?

Why has anyone today heard of Brother Lawrence, a man who died over 400 years ago? It’s because he actively pursued an awareness of the presence of God. He looked for God’s presence not just when he was in church, but when he was working in the kitchen, running errands, repairing shoes, or talking to people.

As a result, he was genuinely filled with joy and peace. He was sought after for spiritual guidance from those in his community and church leaders all over France.

Ordinary people become extraordinary when they focus on the presence of an extraordinary God.

“The most holy and important practice in the spiritual life is the presence of God—that is, to take great pleasure in every moment because God is with you.” – Brother Lawrence

God is always with us. It is our awareness of his presence that is lacking. When we open our eyes in the morning, God is present. When we close our eyes to sleep at night, God is present. And during everything that happened in the hours in between, God was right there, waiting for us to notice his presence.

How do we increase our awareness of God’s presence? Here are three suggestions:

  • Schedule quiet time. Take five minutes each day to sit still, be quiet, and rest in God’s presence. Psalm 46:10 instructs us to, “be quiet and know that I am God.” Busy lives and constant distractions move our focus away from God. Five minutes of silenced phones, no activity, and resting in God’s presence can change our lives.
  • Speak one-breath prayers. We are told in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 to, “pray without ceasing.” A one-breath prayer is a short sentence we repeat throughout the day. It may be, “I love you, Lord,” “Jesus, give me your peace,” or whatever is in our hearts. Just speaking his name throughout the day keeps our minds on God and increases our awareness of his presence.
  • Soak in the Scripture. Hebrews 4:12 tells us that the word of God is, “alive and powerful.” When we read the Bible, we are encountering the living, breathing, active presence of God. A Bible verse makes an inspiring wallpaper on our phones or magnet on our refrigerator. We can listen to the Bible while we do chores or errands. God’s word moves us into his presence. Let’s immerse ourselves in it!

We are seldom aware of the air we breathe, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. The same is true of the presence of God. God is always with us, always there to strengthen and guide us. It’s up to us to pursue a higher awareness of his presence.

Father God, I know you are always with me. Whether I’m happy or sad, whether times are good or bad, your presence remains. Help me focus more on your presence. Let me lift my eyes to you, where my help comes from. Give me the peace and joy of living with the awareness of your presence. In Jesus’s name, amen.

Categories
forgiveness

Like It Never Even Happened

Do we still feel guilt for sins God has forgiven?

Have you ever heard of Wite-Out™? I’m pretty old, so I remember it well. In a world with no word-processing software, Wite-Out™ allowed you to cover a mistake with correction fluid and then type over it instead of throwing away the document and starting over.

Of course, it didn’t make the mistake go away. The mistake was still there—it was just hidden. With word processing, one keystroke erased the mistake forever.

Isaiah 1:18 says, “Come now and let’s deliberate over the next steps to take together…” The word translated as, “deliberate,” means to judge, to convict or clear. It is a judicial word and implies deliberation in a court with a decision pending as to whether the defendant is guilty or innocent.

In God’s courtroom, we all stood guilty. We couldn’t even make a case to defend ourselves. Our only hope was to throw ourselves on the mercy of the court.

The verse goes on to say, “Yahweh promises you over and over: ‘Though your sins stain you like scarlet, I will whiten them like bright, new-fallen snow! Even though they are deep red like crimson, they will be made white like wool!’”

Instead of the guilty verdict we deserved, he offered us grace, mercy, and complete forgiveness of our sins.

The word “scarlet” referred to a cloth that had been dyed twice, making the stain permanent. Washing wouldn’t get rid of the stain. No amount of scrubbing could budge it. It would take a miracle to return the twice-dyed scarlet cloth to its original white color.

A miracle is exactly what we received. Our sins aren’t just hidden or covered over with Wite-Out™. Our sins are completely removed, just like someone pushed the “delete” button. Through the blood of Jesus, the permanent stains of our sins are gone and we are returned to our original stain-free condition, beautiful and glittering like new-fallen snow.

When our sins are forgiven, our record is expunged. In God’s eyes, our sins disappear. It’s as though they never even happened.

Sometimes we bring those sins back up and rehearse the guilt and shame in our minds. We beat ourselves up for something God has declared forgiven and dismissed. Maybe God knew we would do this, because he reminds us again in Isaiah 43:25, “I, yes I, am the One and Only, who completely erases your sins, never to be seen again. I will not remember them again. Freely I do this because of who I am!”

Our sins, our mistakes, our regrets—God doesn’t see them any longer. He doesn’t even remember them. Why do we feel guilt about that which God has forgiven? We are no longer condemned. We are righteous. The past belongs in the past. We can move our focus off the mistakes in our past and place our focus on the glorious future God has prepared for us.

Dear God, thank you for forgiving my sins. It’s so awesome that you don’t even remember them. You aren’t holding a grudge against me. You aren’t angry with me. You love me so deeply. Help me forgive myself just as you have forgiven me. In Jesus’s name, amen.

Categories
The Culture

Humility and Boldness: Why We Need Both

Humility is often misunderstood, but is essential for godly boldness…

When we think of a “humble” dwelling, we imagine a hut with no indoor plumbing, no glass or screens in the windows, and—heaven help us—no air conditioning. In a secular, every-day sense, humble means lowly or inferior, and humility means thinking we are lowly or inferior.

In the Bible, humility is so different and so important. The Bible dictionary definition of humility is: “A personal quality in which an individual shows dependence on God and respect for other persons.” Humility is the foundation for godly boldness.

In Acts, chapter 4, we see how humility is essential for boldness. Peter and John had been arrested for preaching salvation through Jesus. After a night in prison, they were freed, but commanded to never talk again about Jesus.

Right after they were released from prison, they gathered with other believers to pray and seek God. I imagine they were tired, discouraged, and scared, but the first words in their prayer acknowledged the sovereignty of God. They prayed about the opposition and threats they were receiving. And in spite of their negative circumstances, they acknowledged that God was in control and that their trials were part of God’s plan.

Before they asked anything of God, they humbled themselves in his presence. Humility is acknowledging that we are nothing on our own, but also knowing who we are in Christ. Godly humility is the recognition that we are completely dependent on God’s help, coupled with the confidence that, through him, we can do anything.

Here’s the rest of their prayer: “O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word. Stretch out your hand with healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus” (Acts 4:29-30).  They knew their own strength was insufficient. They needed courage in an ungodly land. They needed boldness in an unbelieving culture. And they had enough humility to know they desperately needed this equipping to come from the hand of God.

Verse 31 says that after this prayer, the Holy Spirit filled them. The disciples preached the word of God with boldness. Here’s the secret: Godly humility comes first and Holy Spirit boldness follows.

Being bold means something different in each of our lives. It may mean offering to pray for a neighbor or a co-worker. It may mean inviting someone to church or telling them what Jesus has done in our lives. It may mean standing up for God in the face of opposition. God will give us courage and boldness IF we have humbled ourselves and asked for his strength.

We have an amazing hope living within us. Let us rely on our God and speak the truth in humility and boldness.

Dear God, my help comes from you. On my own strength, I’m nothing. But through your strength, I can do anything. Give me humility and boldness to obey the leading of the Holy Spirit and reach people with the message of your love and salvation. In the name of Jesus, amen.

Categories
The Culture

But If Not, We Still Won’t Bow

Three young men who would not give in…

They were born with the Hebrew names of Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, but many know them by their captivity names of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. When they were teenagers, they were selected to serve in the Babylonian king’s palace because they were handsome, healthy, and smart.

Although they were in a strange, pagan culture, they never forgot who they were. They never forgot that they were in a covenant relationship with Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They never forgot how God brought their ancestors out of Egypt. And they never forgot that their God required their allegiance. They could not bow in worship to any god but Yahweh.

They did well in captivity. They were well liked and successful.

And then the king started building a statue, one made of solid gold. It kept rising, taller and taller. When it was finished, it rose 90 feet into the air, glimmering golden in the sunlight.

You know the story. The king commanded everyone to bow and worship the statue when he played the statue-worshipping music. The punishment for not bowing was instant death in a fire. No trial, no jury, no excuses.

I wonder if Hananiah, Mischel, and Azariah wrestled with what to do. I wonder if they discussed it. We’ll never know that, but we do know this: The music played, but they didn’t bow.

The three of them were brought before the king. He was furious, but he gave the teenagers a final chance to change their mind: “I will give you one more chance to bow down and worship the statue I have made when you hear the sound of the musical instruments. But if you refuse, you will be thrown immediately into the blazing furnace. And then what god will be able to rescue you from my power?” (Daniel 3:15).

The king apparently didn’t know the power of the God of Hananiah, Mischel, and Azariah. But the boys knew who they served, and they weren’t shaken. Their answer stands with the greatest words recorded in all of history: “We do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up” (Daniel 3:16-17).

Abraham Lincoln said some amazing things. C. S. Lewis had an inspired way with words. But, friend, have you ever heard anything more humbling, more inspiring, more thrilling than three teenage Jewish boys, far from home, in a heathen culture, facing being burned to death, who opened their mouth and said: “We. Will. Not. Bow. Down.” We serve a God who is able. We serve a God who has all power. We serve a God who can rescue us from any situation. But even if he doesn’t, we will not bow down.

Dear God, give me courage not to bow down to those things that tempt me to serve them rather than you. Help me remember the greatness of the God I serve. Let my whole heart and my loyal allegiance belong to you alone. In Jesus’s name, amen.

Categories
The Culture

Confronting the Culture with Truth and Love

Nothing looked familiar anymore.

I was driving alone on a trip I had been on before, but never driven. I was prepared—map printed out on the passenger’s seat and smart phone as a backup. I suddenly stopped singing along with the tune on the radio when I realized nothing had looked familiar in a long time. I was very lost.

When culture pushes against godly boundaries, people get lost. Proverbs 22:28 warns us about the danger of moving boundaries: “The previous generation has set boundaries in place. Don’t you dare move them just to benefit yourself.”

Declaring something evil to be something good doesn’t make it good. Even if the culture embraces it, evil is still evil. “You can rationalize it all you want and justify the path of error you have chosen, but you’ll find out in the end that you took the road to destruction” (Proverbs 14:12). If a lie is told long enough, people may start to believe it, but that doesn’t make it truth. It’s still a lie that leads people to destruction.

As the culture pushes boundaries, the world looks less and less familiar. Cultural norms are upended at a dizzying rate. More and more people embrace evil and call it good. How do we navigate this culture while bringing glory to God? How do we walk right when the world heads in a wrong direction?

Here are two essentials to navigating in a world without boundaries:

  • Have convictions. We must know what we believe. Our boundaries are rooted in our faith in God and knowledge of his word. We cannot give in to an anti-faith, anti-God, anti-Bible culture. Regardless of what is accepted as “normal” in our culture, we cannot embrace it if it is counter to God’s word. We have a duty both to do what is right and to stand up for what is right.
  • Trust God. God is in control of our lives, our culture, and our world. The consequences of standing up for what is right is also in God’s control. Friend, there may be times when there are consequences for standing up for what is right. In those times, we must trust God and not give in to fear. Regardless of what the culture may say, we stand up for what is right—by living right, by declaring the truth of what is right, and by loving people even when they’re wrong. And we trust God with whatever consequences may follow.

The days of fitting in with the culture are over. When I was lost on my drive, I didn’t need someone to pat my back and say I was headed in the right direction. I needed someone who would acknowledge I was lost and help me find my way. When our culture loses its way, people need our help, not our approval. We must not be driven by being liked or being accepted by our culture. We must be committed to loving people, following God’s word, and bringing him glory.

Joshua 24:15 has never been more appropriate than today. We must choose whom we will serve. Will we serve the values of the culture in which we live? Or will we boldly, faithfully serve the Lord?

Dear God, give me discernment to see when today’s culture is moving away from your word. Help me recognize lies and give me courage to stand with truth. Give me and my family faith to stand up against the pressure of an ungodly culture. Tear down strongholds. Establish your kingdom in the earth. In Jesus’s name, amen.

Categories
The Power of Words

Friends Don’t Knock Down Your Tower

There are people who build up and people who tear down.

He came home from preschool and was telling me about his day. My son was four and was into building large towers out of the oversized wooden blocks at his preschool. This day, he mentioned that Dustin had knocked down his tower.

“I thought Dustin was your friend,” I commented.

“Well, he’s not,” said my son matter of factly. Friends don’t knock down your tower.”

He’s said a lot of clever things in his life, and he probably doesn’t remember these words of wisdom. But I never forgot them.

Some people build up others. They are encouragers and appreciators. They are kind, observant, and helpful. They’re the people we need to be, and also the people we need in our lives.

Some people tear down others. They criticize and complain. They point out everything wrong with what we’re doing. They make life less pleasant and more difficult.

Who would you rather have in your life—someone who builds you up or someone who tears you down? That’s a rhetorical question. We all prefer someone who edifies rather than someone who is negative and hurtful

Building people up is more than just a nice trait. It’s an instruction from God. Here’s some Bible:

“So encourage each other and build each other up…” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs…” (Ephesians 4:29)

“So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.” (Romans 14:19)

I’m convinced our words and our actions should build others up, not tear them down.

Here are two questions to think about:

  1. Do your words edify, encourage, and strengthen others?
  2. Are there people in your life who edify, encourage, and strengthen you?

Y’all, the world has plenty of people who will knock down our towers. We don’t need to add to their ranks. We need to be people who speak a kind word about someone’s tower and then hand them the block they need next to keep building . And we need to appreciate those amazing people in our lives who do that for us.

Dear God, thank you for the people in my life who have encouraged me and built me up. Help me be that person in the lives of others. Help me build others up and stop my words before I say anything that discourages someone or drags someone down. In Jesus’s name, amen.

When have you received a timely word of encouragement? Let us know about it in the comments!

Categories
identity

But God Says You Are Wise

“I’m so stupid.” “I can’t do anything right.”

Have you ever heard those words whirl in your mind or come out of your mouth? If you are a child of God, those words are untrue.

James 1:5 says, “And if anyone longs to be wise, ask God for wisdom and he will give it! He won’t see your lack of wisdom as an opportunity to scold you over your failures, but he will overwhelm your failures with his generous grace.”

This is a remarkable promise. The conditions are few and simple: We must want to be wise and we must ask God for wisdom. That’s it. How many things in life are that easy? How many things can be received merely by wanting and asking? We can want and ask for a million dollars, but it won’t get us very far. Wisdom is worth far more to us than a million dollars, and it’s ours just for the asking. Wow!

The rest of this verse explains how God looks at what we think of as our foolish, stupid failures. We may imagine God is terribly disappointed in our lack of wisdom or angry about our failures. Nothing could be further from the truth. When we come to God with our failures and our need for his wisdom, he doesn’t see an opportunity to scold us and make us feel bad. He’s such a good God that he overwhelms our failures with grace.

It’s dangerous to listen to the voices in our head that call us stupid and foolish when we can listen to the voice of God that tells us we are wise.

 It’s also dangerous to think we know it all and don’t need any wisdom from God. Our wisdom will always come up short. The wisdom we receive from God will always bring good results.

James 3:13-18 gives us a picture of the differences between worldly, human “wisdom,” and spiritual wisdom from God. Worldly wisdom results in jealousy, boasting, phoniness, selfishness, and is actually called, “devilish.” Some versions of the Bible call it, “earthly, unspiritual, and demonic.”

In stark contrast, wisdom from above is, “pure, peaceful, considerate, and teachable.” It never displays prejudice or hypocrisy. Godly wisdom produces a fruitful and righteous harvest.

We are not who our parents, our friends, or our own opinion tells us we are. We are who God says we are. And God says we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16). We aren’t foolish. We aren’t stupid. We are filled with wisdom from a never-ending source. All we have to do is ask.

Dear God, I want spiritual wisdom. My human wisdom is lame and limited. Your wisdom is from above and brings blessings and fruitfulness. I ask for your wisdom today, and I receive it in the name of Jesus. Amen.