Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him. James 1:12

Monday, March 28, 2011

“Stressed? – Bang Head Here”

A man was being tailgated by a stressed out woman on a busy road. They came to a traffic light that turned yellow. The man stopped just at the crosswalk, even though he could have beaten the turn of the light to red. The tailgating woman was furious! She honked her horn and screamed in frustration at the thought of missing her chance to get through the light. She was obviously trying to get to her destination as quickly as possible.

Still in the process of throwing her temper tantrum, she heard a tap on the window. She looked up only to find a policeman standing there. The officer ordered her to exit the car with her hands up. He carted her off to the police station where she was searched, finger-printed, mug shot taken and placed in a holding cell.

After a few hours the policeman came to her cell and opened up the door. The woman asked, “Why did you arrest me? I didn’t do anything wrong?” The officer apologized for the mistake and went on to explain.  “I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing the horn, flipping off the guy in the car in front of you, and cussing a blue streak. When I saw the “What would Jesus do” bumper sticker, the “Choose Life” license plate holder, and the chrome-plated Christian fish emblem, I naturally assumed that you had stolen the car.”

We all encounter moments of stress. Don’t believe those who claim that Christians are exempt. Being a Christian does not free us from experiencing difficult times. We do not remain untouched by sorrow, anxieties, worry, or fear. So if we as Christians are faced with these tough circumstances, what separates us from anyone else?

What is your first reaction when you are stressed? Do you run to the refrigerator, or open the cupboard door? Do you fantasize about getting away to a tropical island? Do you take your worries and stress out on those you love – saying hurtful things, making hasty decisions? Do you have improper thoughts about how to get out of your situation? Do you just want to bang your head against the wall? When we are under pressure, it’s easy to react in anger and frustration.

Stress can be caused by a multitude of triggers. The pressure of living up to the expectations of yourself and others, uncertainty about your future, life-changing events (such as a death, marriage, or birth), and loss of control over a situation all contribute to our stress levels. The results of stress can be catastrophic. People trapped by anxiety lose their joy for living. They become judgmental of others - constantly looking at the negative rather than the good, living a life of failure and defeat. Health issues, depression, obesity and insomnia can all be linked to long-term stress. But how on earth do we win over worry?

In Psalms 55, the Psalmist describes a life overwhelmed by troubles and suffering, a heart in anguish, fear and trembling. Verses 6-8 tell of his first reaction to stress. “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest - I would flee far away and stay in the desert; I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm.” There is a better solution, and the Psalmist finds it beginning in verse 16, “but I call to God and the Lord saves me”. Instead of running away, he runs to God.

Getting away and going on vacation can be a good thing. We all require time to renew and refresh – to recharge our batteries, so to speak. But when we get back, those things that are stressing us out will be there waiting for us. The only remedy to coping with the stressand anxiety is to run to God. “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.” (Psalm 55:22)

As Christ-followers, we should not run from reality. We need to face reality strengthened by our faith and trust in the One who cares about our every need. Keep in mind that stress has spiritual benefits. Often times it is stress that leads us to make a change, give up a bad habit, take better care of ourselves or mature in certain areas. But most importantly, the anxieties that we encounter should bring us to our knees and lead us into prayer. And prayer changes things. Jesus invites us to come and lay all of our burdens upon Him and He will give us rest. (Matthew 6:25) Philippians 4:6 tells us not to be anxious about anything, but pray about everything. 

The enemy wants to thwart the peace of God in our lives. That is why each day when we wake up we have to make an intentional decision to give our cares over to God. In a moment of weakness it’s easy to base our reactions on our feelings rather than truth. The Holy Spirit is constantly whispering truth in our ears, but Satan is constantly whispering lies. Who are we listening to? The answer, my friend, is determined by our prayer life. I have heard it said that “right praying leads to right thinking, and right thinking leads to right living”.

It is true that we all have stress in our lives, but more importantly, are we glorifying God in how we react to them? Our relationship with God is a crucial factor in our stress management. We have a choice to withdraw from life and bang our head against the wall, or to trust God to see us through. What choice are you making today?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

“Calgon…Take Me Away!”

Feel like giving up? Feel like you’re hopeless and the only thing left to do is just walk away, slam the door, never look back and hop on a bus going somewhere, you don‘t even care where? Ever just want to scream out, “Calgon….take me away!”

Recently a dear friend texted me to ask how I was doing. She was concerned about me as I was dealing with a mother in a nursing home following the removal of a second brain tumor, a father dealing with a new spot on his voice box that needs to be biopsied, my own chronic back and leg pain, not to mention all the daily chores of housework, caring for my own families’ needs, and working a job. My response to her was this, “Do Christians ever have a breaking point? Because I believe I’m approaching mine!” I was most definitely experiencing a “Calgon…take me away” moment - my breaking point.

“In human psychology, the breaking point is a moment of stress in which a person breaks down or a situation becomes critical. A breaking point can lead to a shift in morals and world perception.” (Wikipedia)

Now here’s MY definition of breaking point - “the desire to give up, quit, throw in the towel, take your ball and go home; due to stressful circumstances that break your will, that cause hopelessness and despair, that shakes your faith and sometimes can cause you to doubt the very God you believe in, or make you just want Jesus to come back already because you’re sick and tired of all the drama.” Calgon take me away - turns into Jesus, take me away!

Sometimes the circumstances are so heavy, the pain leads many to believe that the only way out is to take their own lives. But the real reason some commit suicide is not because of the pain, it’s because they no longer have hope. They can’t break free and there seems to be no solutions to their problems. They can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, their perception is that they are buried in darkness.

It reminds me of Job. Job knew what it was like to feel hopelessness and despair - to have the light drowned out by the darkness. I’m sure Job had many “Calgon, take me away” moments. God had taken away everything that Job held dear. At one point he begged to die, rather than to live with nothing.

How are you like Job? What has God “taken away“? Do you feel there’s no end to your situation, that it will never get better? Maybe you’ve even considered quitting - giving up on a rebellious teen, walking away from a job where you’ve been cheated and mistreated, closing the door on a broken marriage, withdrawing yourself from your family and your friends to avoid future hurt, going through with the abortion so no one will know, giving up the fight on an illness that threatens to take your life.

In one way or another we all have been there. We’ve all felt hopeless and when we do, the desire to give up floods our very being. There are many who hide and go through the motions of life even though inside they’re hurting. They have cut themselves off from those they love and the things they love. Oh, they haven’t gone anywhere physically, but inside they have stopped fighting. Some hide it so well that no one would ever realize the pain they face daily.

So how do we as Christians avoid the temptation to give up? How do we keep ourselves from hanging up the phone when God puts us on hold? Where do we find the strength to go on when all our strength is gone?

“Then Job replied to the Lord: “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.” Job 42:1-3

God has a plan - no matter how desperate your situation may be. And His plans cannot be altered. God has a purpose for your life AND for whatever struggle you may be facing today. Giving up is not part of that plan. Romans 8:28 tells us that God works everything for our good if we love Him. And we as Christians are called to live out His purposes for our lives. According to Barnes Notes on the Bible the phrase, “for our good” means the following:

“They (our afflictions) shall cooperate; they shall mutually contribute to our good. They take off our affections from this world; they teach us the truth about our frail, transitory, and lying condition; they lead us to look to God for support, and to heaven for a final home; and they produce a subdued spirit. a humble temper, a patient, tender, and kind disposition. This has been the experience of all saints; and at the end of life they have been able to say it was good for them to be afflicted.”

You are not in the situation you are in today by coincidence. It’s not just a case of bad luck. It’s not because your momma chose to feed you peas instead of corn. It’s to fulfill God’s purposes in your life. It’s to remind you that you NEED Him and you can’t do anything aside from His power working in your life. And sometimes His plans don’t seem like good ones in our eyes. Job says on our behalf as well as his own, I have belly-ached about my situation, things I didn’t know anything about, not taking into consideration that You had it all under control God - that You had something more wonderful in mind for me.

God is in the business of transformation and God is able to transform YOU. You want to know His will for your life? “Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God's will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” Romans 12:2 (NLT)

It’s not always easy to change our thinking, especially when it feels as if our prayers are bouncing off the walls, or when it feels as if God must be on vacation, like maybe in the Bermuda Triangle. And when we can’t seem to find the pulse of God, we buckle under the pressures, the expectations that people place upon us and those we place upon ourselves. We just want to give up! It’s important to renew our minds everyday. To focus on the truth of who God is and what He promises to do in our lives. And yes, it’s a faith journey. I have heard it said that heartbreak is a blessing from God. It is His way of keeping us from what is wrong for us. The old way of thinking focuses on the heartbreak. The new way of thinking thanks God for whatever it is He has saved us from.

I myself have experienced, is experiencing, and will continue to experience circumstances in my life where I feel like throwing in the towel. Would I even be writing this if I wasn’t going through what I am facing today? Probably not. Perhaps this is part of God’s invisible purpose for my pain.

Even if God’s plan involves NOT changing my circumstances, I must grasp the fact that my hope is not based upon what God can do for me here and now. The most important hope I cling to is an eternal hope. The hope that has been provided for me by Jesus’ death on the cross. Those who believe in Him and His sacrifice find true hope and healing on the other side. But to receive that reward in glory, I must press on - even in the “Calgon, take me away” moments.  

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Love Letter from Jesus

Thanks to my sister who posted this song on her Facebook wall. With everything our family has been going through lately, the song seems so fitting for us. I feel in my spirit that I have received these words as a love letter from Jesus. It's a beautiful reminder that He won't let go and He won't let me fall, no matter the storm. 

If you would like to listen to the song and see the lyrics, I have posted the video below. It's such a beautiful song. You will want to turn the volume down on my music player at the bottom of the page. If you wish not to view the video, here are the words. I hope that with whatever trials or sufferings that you are going through in life today, that you will find these words as comforting as I have.

"I Won't Let Go" - Jesus (performed by Rascal Flatts)

It’s like a storm
That cuts a path
It’s breaks your will
It feels like that
You think your lost
But your not lost on your own
Your not alone
I will stand by you
I will help you through
When you’ve done all you can do
If you can’t cope
I will dry your eyes
I will fight your fight
I will hold you tight
And I wont let go

It hurts my heart
To see you cry
I know it’s dark
This part of life
Oh it finds us all
And we’re too small
To stop the rain
Oh but when it rains

I will stand by you
I will help you through
When you’ve done all you can do
And you can’t cope
I will dry your eyes
I will fight your fight
I will hold you tight
And I wont let you fall
Don’t be afraid to fall
I’m right here to catch you
I wont let you down
It wont get you down
Your gonna make it
Yea I know you can make it

Cause I will stand by you
I will help you through
When you’ve done all you can do
And you can’t cope
And I will dry your eyes
I will fight your fight
I will hold you tight
And I wont let go
Oh I’m gonna hold you
And I wont let go
Wont let you go
No I wont

Rascal Flatts - I Won't Let Go (Lyrics)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

“It’s Raining”

It’s raining today. It’s been raining off and on for the last few weeks and has caused some major flooding in our area. Roads, fields, and parking lots are being covered – cars and basements are filling up with water.

As I look out at the rain, I notice that it falls everywhere. It doesn’t seem to have a preference as to where it lands. It doesn’t have a choice really. It just falls everywhere, even in unwanted places. It pours down heavily on the windshields of drivers passing by, impairing their vision. It soaks pedestrians as they run for cover. It spoils the plans of many who have had to alter their routines or clear their schedules due to the inclement weather.

It’s raining today – but not just on the outside. As I write this, I’m sitting in a hospital waiting room awaiting the news. My mother is in surgery to have another brain tumor removed. The first tumor was removed three years ago, but unfortunately has returned. It was only a short six months ago, I found myself in a different hospital as I sat with and held the hand of my father as he endured his own medical procedures to remove the cancer that ravaged his voice box and vocal cords.

There are times in our lives when we experience rain. It may just be a drizzle of irritating trouble. The sprinkles don’t really alter our course – they just cause us to take caution. Then comes the season where we experience more consistent showers. We may need to pull out the umbrella in an effort to block our troubles from getting us too wet. These troubles are more than just annoying, they’re very visible and we may even need to alter our direction, or wait for the rains to let up before proceeding.

Then there are the times of intense storms – the lightning flashes, the thunder rolls, echoing our cries for help. The storm of trouble rages on and there may be more than one struggle beating down on our windshield, impairing our vision. But finally we reach the point of literal downpour and the floods come – filling us up to the brim with fear and hurt, overwhelming us with tears and strife, stopping us dead in our tracks. And like the remains of a physical flood, leaving us broken up and cracked – parts of us unsalvageable.

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” Matthew 7:24-27

The question is not whether we will experience the storms. The question is how we hold up in the midst of them. It’s raining today – and the rains will continue to come. What matters is the foundation. When our home is built on the strong foundation of Christ, we cannot fall despite the magnitude of the storm. But if we build our house on foolishness then a mighty crash can be expected.
Everyone wants happiness, no one wants pain, but you can't make a rainbow without a little rain.”  -Unknown
Torrential rains can come and wreak havoc on your life – there may even be some loss experienced. But instead of focusing on all the bad stuff the rain brings, try to get a glimpse of the good. Just as the rain can cause damage, it also has its advantages. It waters the grass and the fields. It makes things grow. It refreshes us on a hot day. It sometimes keeps us indoors so we can take care of things on the “inside” that maybe we have put off for a long while. And then, a rainbow appears.

Now think in spiritual terms at these same concepts. The rains make us grow. The rains refresh the parched and the dry. The rains cause us to “clean up” on the inside, and then the rainbow appears! Trust in the One who provides shelter from the storm and rejoice in the coming of the rainbow!

 “You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in his distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat.” Isaiah 25:4a

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

“The Lion’s on the Move”

“Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 5:8-11

I heard a story once about someone’s interesting zoo experience. The man and his family were standing at the fence marveling at the lion exhibit. As they eagerly watched the cat pace back and forth, they noticed an attendant enter the cage through a door on the opposite side. He had nothing in his hands but a broom. Carefully, the attendant closed the door and proceeded to sweep the floor of the cage.

The worker had no weapon to ward off any attack. As he approached the beast the lion hissed at him and proceeded with his pacing. The onlookers were amazed at the bravery of the attendant, for certainly he was taking his life into his own hands! One of the guests exclaimed, “You certainly are a brave man!” The worker replied, “No, I ain’t brave.” A second onlooker yelled out, “Well, then, the lion must be tame.” The attendant answered, “No, he ain’t tame.” “Then why doesn’t he attack you?” asked another. “Mister,” the worker replied, “he’s old, and he ain’t got no teeth.”

Satan paces to and fro on the prowl and longs to destroy us, but we must be careful and alert because his tactics are very subtle. Some of his most productive weapons are his use of pride and self-interest. He knows that when he can get us to focus on ourselves, then we are not focusing on God. When we put faith in man, our faith is not in the One who created man. If he can lead us into temptation and we fall, guilt and shame can rule us causing us to be ineffective and feel unworthy of forgiveness.

A doctor and his wife flew into the jungles of Africa to enjoy some bird-watching and photography. They cuddled up in their tent with a campfire outside. They had been warned to be sure to keep the fire burning all night, or the lions would come near. The fire was blazing when they fell asleep, but as the night passed on the fire went out. It was then, that a lioness stuck her head into the tent and attacked the doctor in front of his wife. If the fire goes out, the lions move in - even in Christians!

Everywhere we turn the enemy’s roaring is loud and convincing. Even God’s people can often be found cowering in fear at the intimidating roar. His roars are an attempt to drown out the voice of God. I would dare to say that all of us have experienced that roar at some point this week. Perhaps even this very moment you are hearing his ferocious roar in your ear. He wants you to feel defeated by your illness, the loss of your job, your financial situation, that broken relationship, or that bad habit you just can‘t kick. But the good news is that when the lion is roaring, he cannot be biting! The scriptures don’t say the lion roams around biting, ripping and tearing. He only “seeks” whom he may attempt to devour. But if we are not careful and alert, a roar is all he needs to rip our lives to shreds.

So how then, do we fight against the evil one? Not only has the writer warned us to be alert, he wants us to be aware of the devil’s schemes, mindful of the danger and realize if we aren’t careful, Satan can gain a swift advantage. We also need to understand that the devil is able to masquerade as an angel of light - we can easily be fooled by him. (2 Cor. 11:14)

“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” James 4:7 Our true defense is submission to God - placing ourselves under His protection, claiming our place under the shed blood of Christ, fighting evil by the word of our testimony (Rev. 12:11), clothing ourselves with the full armor of our Lord (Eph. 6:11), and taking up our cross daily (Luke 9:23). God is faithful. He will never allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able to bear. The Lord will always provide us with a way of escape. (1 Cor. 10:13)

Are you being hissed at today? Is Satan roaring in your ear? The enemy would love nothing more than to make you feel as if you are powerless against his evil schemes. We need to remember, “he ain’t got no teeth” compared to our all-powerful God! If God is for us, who can be against us?