The Sweet Stuff Ministry

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The covenant of friendship

1 Samuel 18:3  And Jonathon made a solemn pact with David, because he loved him as he loved himself.

Jonathon and David became close friends from the moment that they met.  Their friendship is one of the closest and deepest recorded in the Bible.  It is a friendship that should serve as a picture and type for all of us.  

Their friendship contained so many delicacies as well as difficulties.  Jonathon was King Saul's son and David had been chosen by God to replace King Saul. None of the parties involved realized these things at the time when the friendship developed.  Early in the friendship, David and Jonathon made a covenant.  This covenant contained symbolic details and was a BIG deal.   Jonathon gave David his robe (an exchange of their identities), tunic, sword, bow (responsibility to protect each other) and belt (exchange of strength).  These items represented their dedication and commitment to each other. 

Saul appointed David to a high ranking position in his army, however his motives for doing so were self-magnification.  He was confident that David would be killed and "out of the way".  Keep in mind that David had slayed Goliath and had killed thousands of other Philistines.  The people of Israel began to praise David for his success against the Philistines.  They shouted his name and praised him and this made King Saul very angry and jealous.  His plan had backfired.  One of the other delicate details is that Jonathon was the heir to the throne of Israel, so he had every reason to be jealous as well since this meant that he would not become king.  However, his covenant with Jonathon and the depth of their friendship reigned.  He was very protective of David.  When his father, Saul, tried to kill David three times, Jonathon protected him.  The other delicate detail of the story is that David married King Saul's daughter.  Talk about some tough family choices!  She also protected David from her own father because her marriage covenant to David was important to her.

I have spoken on this very topic at several engagements.  One of the most common questions that I receive regarding this story is "Why do you think this type of covenant friendship does not exist today?"   I believe that this type of friendship probably does exist today, however, I also think the occurrence is few and far between.  We hear every day of betrayals of friendships, business partners, marriage partners, and family members.

My only offering of an answer contains these thoughts:
                          -1.  People love themselves more than they love God and others
                          -2.  people choose not to live by God's values
                          -3. jealousy is a strong emotion between rivals.  It may not seem like a great sin to
                                many, however it is one step shy of murder   (see #1 and Genesis chapter 4- the
                                story of Cain and Abel)

In order for friendships or any other relationships to contain the deep bond and integrity such as Jonathon and David's, each of us must love God more than anything or anyone. Period.  If that is truly the case and we seek God with all our hearts, nothing will come between that friendship.  If you are dealing with a friendship or relationship that seems to be lacking the covenant that you desire, pray for the other person.  Pray that everyone involved will love God with all of his/her heart.  Pray that the small details of day to day existence will not shatter a wonderful relationship between two people.  Pray that jealousy and rivalry will not be at the center of the heart, but that each person will have a real desire to uplift the other and grow together.                                             

Friday, May 27, 2016

Trust in God's strength

Jeremiah 17:5-8  This is what the Lord says:  "Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the Lord.  He will be like a bush in the wastelands; he will not see prosperity when it comes.  He will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.  But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him.  He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream.  It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green.  It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit."

This passage contrasts those who trust in the strength of man versus trusting in the Lord.  In times of trouble, those who trust in human beings will find themselves spiritually weak.  Their strength will have little reserve from which to draw.  In the time of this passage, the people of Judah were trusting in false idols instead of God.  They were fruitless people.  

If we place our trust in the hearts of men, then we will find that we will often be disappointed.  We can depend on God's heart. Those that rely on God in times of crisis will find that strength is plentiful.  There will be strength to endure and a reserve of strength for helping others.  Reliance upon God gives us the same promise of survival that the tree in Jeremiah 17:8 shows.  When we put our trust in God, we are well rooted and our lives will be fruitful. 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Same God. Same purpose. Different gifts.

1 Corinthians 12:4-6  There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.  There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.

Several years ago, I became burdened with this question, "What are my spiritual gifts?"  I do not play a musical instrument, nor do I have singing talent (trust me on this one).  Eloquent prayers do not flow from my mouth.  I do not preach nor do I prophesy.  I had a very general view of the list of spiritual gifts and I was convinced that I had none.  Satan had convinced me that I could be of no use to God's kingdom.  I began to pray and search earnestly for my spiritual gifts.  How could I find them?  How can God use my gifts for the advancement of his kingdom?   

The search for my spiritual gifts gave birth to The Sweet Stuff Ministry.  As it turned out, I was looking too hard for my gifts.  God had placed them within me long ago.  He had prepared the pathway for the use of my gifts over the course of my lifetime.  Allow me to show what that looks like in retrospect.

One portion of The Sweet Stuff Ministry is motivational speaking.  I speak to groups large and small.  Some of the people I know, most I have never met before.  Throughout my early school years, one of my favorite things to do was to compete in public speaking.  God was priming my gifts.

Another element of The Sweet Stuff Ministry is the clothing trailer.  God broke my heart for giving away clothing when I was four years old.  My daddy came home one afternoon and had my mama gather some clothing for a family in need that lived near us.  I went with Daddy to deliver the clothing.  God impressed mighty things upon me that day.  God prepared my heart for using my gifts later in my life.

My favorite hobby is sewing.  God provided a way to put this gift into action.  A few years ago that gift was used to make and sell enough scarves to purchase the trailer for the clothing ministry. 

I was never interested in a career in writing nor did I want to write for pleasure.  My field of study is not English.  My background is in the medical field of Radiography.  However, God had plans for me in the writing department.  He saw to it that I retained valuable information from composition classes.  He has shown me beneficial resources to accomplish teaching the Word.  God preserved knowledge that I would need at a later date for His work.  

I tell you these things to point out that God has gifted each of you with something.  You may think that your talents and skills are not valuable but God has a plan for using them to advance His kingdom.  Finding your gifts and applying them to service for His kingdom is between God and you.  He has planted gifts and talents within you.  Your passions are hints to your gifts.  The things that break your heart are additional clues to the service you can offer.  Your gifts will differ from mine.  He planned it that way in order to accomplish ALL His great and mighty works. 

God expects us to use our spiritual gifts.  He wants us to be committed to the use of the gifts in which he instills within us.  We are to exercise those gifts through service to him.  He is to be glorified in all that we do. 

I urge you not to fall into the same thought pattern in which  I was trapped for several years.  Do not assume that if you do not sing or play an instrument that God has not given you any gifts.  Gifts are different for each of us; God's purpose is the same.  If you have not found your spiritual gifts or if you are not currently using those gifts to fulfill God's might works, I urge you to begin to search.  He created you for a specific purpose.  Ask God to show you the gifts which he has bestowed upon you.  Earnestly pray for insight for utilizing your gifts.  Your gifts are needed. 

With our gifts we serve the same God.  We strive to accomplish the same purpose for him.  To God be the glory for all the work that accomplishes through our gifts and talents.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

We cannot go east and west simultaneously!

Psalms 103:12    as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

We must model the same forgiveness that God has offered us in our dealings with one another.  If we are forever remembering the wrongs committed against us, we must wonder if we have truly forgiven.  If we continuously remind others that they have caused us hurt or angst, we must ask ourselves if we have really let go.  When we feel the need to hold on to the thoughts of wrongs that have been committed against us, we still have some forgiving to attend to.

When God forgives our sin, he removes it from our record forever.  Psalms 103:12 is symbolic of how far He has removed our sin from us.  God is telling us in this verse that east and west will never meet up.  When you think about the east and the west, think of it this way: we cannot travel toward the east and west at same time.  We can never go in an eastward direction and a westward direction simultaneously.  If we are in the east and are going eastward, it is necessary to turn around and change directions in order to travel westward.  Therefore, the east is far, far away from the west in terms of direction.       

The same is true about forgiveness.  We cannot forgive while turning around and moving toward unforgiveness.   We can truly only move in one direction or the other.  We either advance toward forgiveness or remain traveling in the direction of unforgiveness.  God does not forgive and at the same time review our record of wrongs.  Likewise, our actions and attitudes must reflect forgiveness in its entirety.  We are expected to view forgiveness in the same fashion as we receive it.

He has removed our transgressions.  The slate has been wiped clean.  The record of wrongdoings has been expunged.  May we offer the same clemency to others who may trespass against us. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

We must step out of the frame in order to see the whole picture.

Proverbs 19:21  Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails.

We must step out of the frame in order to see the whole picture.

Remember in elementary school the yearly class photo?   I remember every year "picture day"  when we would go to the school library to have our pictures made.  We would try hard to keep our clothes clean, food off our faces at lunch, and we would brush our hair multiple times to have it just right.   Our classes usually consisted of three rows of students.  The front row sat on the floor, middle row sat in chairs and the back row stood.  I was always in the back row due to my height.  The teacher stood beside the back row.  Same photo line up every year, grades 1-7.  Oh, the sweet memories!

When standing in the back row of the line up, I could see the person to the left and right of me and directly in front.  I could not see the students on the far ends nor could I see the ones sitting on the floor.  So when we received our class picture, it was always fun to spend time absorbing all the details of how everyone else looked during the picture.  Were they smiling or making faces?  Did anyone have messy hair, food on their faces, or eyes closed?    We could see happiness in faces and sadness in some.   All these details could not have been observed while in the back row during the making of the photo.  Seeing these details required us to step out of the frame of the picture and look at the whole scene. 

When we are in situations in life, often we must step out of the frame in order to see the whole picture.  When at times we cannot understand why our plans are not going as we would have them, we need to absorb all the details of the picture.   We easily fall into only being aware of what is going on to the left and right of us, only absorbing the details in our immediate vicinity.  God can see the whole picture-every tiny detail.  He has a plan for each of us and that plan involves His purpose and His will. 

Often times we can see clearly to the left and right of us, however, we have difficulty seeing ahead of us into the future.  This is where we must have faith and trust that God will produce a perfect picture of all the details for us.  We must rely on him place every detail exactly as it should be. 

If you are trying to understand why a situation has not worked out as you had intended, ask God to show you the whole picture.  If you are frustrated or disappointed because the plan has seemingly failed, ask God to give you wisdom to understand His purpose or to show you what His will is for you.  Don't be afraid to step out of the frame in order to see the whole picture.  When we can see the picture in the way that God looks at it, we can readily accept when things  do not go as we had planned.  I have found that most of the time, we will come to see the big picture in each situation as we progress toward God's purpose for us. 

Monday, May 23, 2016

Are you being kissed by an enemy?

Proverbs 27:6    Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy.

Life's hurts and trials can sometimes leave us frazzled and struggling to find which end is up.  We may become so involved with the situation and emotions that we cannot reason the truths nor sort enemy activity from friendly activity.  We may experience kisses from an enemy without recognizing what has taken place.

No one wants to be wounded by a friend.   No friend wants to inflict a wound on a friend.  However, when a true friend has your best interest at heart, there may be times when unpleasant advice may be necessary.   A friend's advice is a valuable opportunity, especially if we are struggling with the right path to take.  

When seeking people to give you advice, it is necessary to seek out people that have your best interests at heart.   An enemy may whisper what you want to hear or tickle your ears with justifications of how a situation is acceptable.  A true friend is not afraid to help you understand the reasons that a decision or situation may not be acceptable in God's eyes.  Even when a friend's advice may be painful or not what you want to hear, it is valuable.

We are to come together, encourage, lift one another up, and also teach one another to be accountable to God.   Offering advice is more than simply telling someone what you think should be done.  Giving advice should be a teachable moment that uses the Bible as a reference to all the "could have, would have, should have" statements.   Giving advice and receiving advice should not be taken lightly.   If the advice does not line up with the Bible, we may cause a person to stumble and there are clear warnings in the Bible about that (1 Cor. 8:9 and Mark 9:42).  

Are you being kissed by an enemy?  An enemy does not always present itself in obvious form.  Many seemingly friendly people are used by the one enemy, Satan, to accomplish his work.   When you seek and receive advice, check with the Bible to see if it lines up with God's word.   Advice from friends should be an extension of what the Bible tells us to do in every situation.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Is your job a career or a fulfillment?

Ecclesiastes 3:11-12   He has made everything beautiful in its time.  He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.  I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. 

In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon talks a great deal about working and accumulating things on earth.  He comes to the realization that neither working solely for money nor material possessions will provide lasting happiness.   The old saying "you can't take it with you" is precisely what Solomon came to realize about working to earn and accomplish.   He had the realization that when he was gone from earth, all his material things would stay behind and that some of the people that would gain his possessions would not appreciate all the time and efforts that he had put into gaining them.  Perhaps Solomon's greatest realization was that our work should be with an eternal focus.

Our work on earth should be satisfying but not in the sense of satisfaction from material things.  Our pleasure from working should be found in enjoying our gifts from God, serving Him, and serving others.   A job or career should not only be about fulfilling our own personal goals but should also be centered around the purpose that God has for us in that career.  In verse 11, Solomon says "yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end".  We are only a part of God's eternal plan.  We have a purpose and job to do while we live here on earth.  We should strive to fulfill the eternal thirsts that God has set in our hearts by realizing that we can never be completely satisfied with pursuits of earthly pleasures and accumulations.  We can be happy with when we trust God to fulfill us through our work on earth. 

If you are unhappy with your work, pray for an attitude of eternity to burn within you.  Seek the happiness that comes from serving others which in turn serves the purpose that God has set for you.  Seek fulfillment in knowing that your part of God's eternal plan matters! 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

There is power in the choice to forgive

1 Corinthians 8:9     Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak.

Each of us possesses the power to forgive or not to forgive others.   We are given that freedom, free will, to make those choices.   This is a huge responsibility as a Christian.  The decision to forgive and allow forgiveness and grace to cover all offenses can change the course of another person's life forever.  (Read that sentence again)    Our actions and reactions pertaining to forgiveness can change a person's life. 

Forgiveness may offer a positive change of direction in the life of another.  Positive change could be:
                        -leading someone to salvation
                        -offering strength in times of weakness
                        -healing and restoration of a relationship

A lack of forgiveness may in turn offer negative or destructive change of direction in the life of another.  Negative change could be:
                       -causing a person to stumble
                       -division of family
                       -destruction of relationships

Anger, hurt and disappointment tempt us and cause us to withhold forgiveness, mercy and compassion.  Our flesh wants to focus on vengeance and justice.    There is great power in our freedom and ability to forgive. That power should not become distorted nor misused due to self righteous pride. 

We are commanded to forgive and told that we will be forgiven according to the forgiveness that we offer.   (Mark 11:8; Luke 6:37; Col 3:13).   If you are dealing with unforgiveness, I urge you to pray and may you realize the power that you hold in your freedom to forgive. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Sometimes it is hard to be humble

James 4:7-8   So humble yourselves before God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Come close to God and God will come close to you.

It is possible to spend years in bitterness and misery.  Some people spend a lifetime in misery, living with bitterness, anger, and malice in their hearts.  It is Satan's desire for us to be miserable and to distance ourselves from God.  If we have drifted into a state of bitterness and misery then how can we establish a closeness with God?  The first step is to humble ourselves before God (James 4:7).  To humble ourselves means to surrender and submit.  We must surrender all our ungodly thoughts and attitudes and yield to God's authority.  This step is sometimes difficult.

Why is it so difficult to surrender and submit to God?  Pride and control are part of the issue.  We want to feel as if we are in control of our lives; we are really not.  Surrendering all our thoughts and attitudes to God may present a feeling of vulnerability.  We fear that we will be hurt again.  However, by holding on to bitterness, we are vulnerable to Satan and that is far more risky than being vulnerable to the goodness of God. 

There is a part of us that holds on to bitterness because we are holding on to the desire for vengeance.   If we can hold on to bitterness or keep the grudge kindled against our offender, we feel more in control.  Tough to admit.  Tougher to let go.  We may even think that if we hold these thoughts and feelings inside of us that no one will notice; this is our little deal.  They do notice.  The loved ones in our lives are grieved by these types of attitudes. 

If you are harboring bitterness and anger, all the while thinking that it is your own battle, please realize that everyone around you is affected by that battle.  I ask that you ponder these things:  1. God is in control.  2.  When we try to control, we go against God's will in our lives.  3.  We cannot change things that have happened to us   4.  We can change how we feel about the things that have happened.  

Humble yourself.  Surrender.  Make yourself vulnerable to God's plans.  Life will be much sweeter this way!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Life is not perfect but God's plan for you is.

Psalms 42:11  Why are you downcast, O my soul?  Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

Disappointments should be fleeting emotions, not permanent feelings.  Unfulfilled moments in life may leave our hearts heavy.  Our emotions will be deflated to a level of frustration when we expect events to fill us with certain feelings of enrichment.

Expectations and disappointments are directly proportional.  If we decrease our expectations of people in our lives, we will also see a decrease in our disappointments.  When we can look instead to what we can expect from God, we will never be disappointed.   

Holidays, birthdays,vacations, and other special occasions may heighten our expectations.  We may dream of an over-the-top celebration where every moment is perfect.  We might plan for weeks so that all the details will be comparable to something we have seen on Pinterest, television, or other media.  Often, we expect the day or event to flood us with euphoria.

The problem is that life here on earth is not perfect.  Humans are flawed.  Our lives contain situations that that have left us with disappointments, some small and others large.  Life will not always be picture perfect.  It will not have fairy tale endings as books and movies do.       

Heightened expectations can lead to deepened disappointments.  This is especially true when we fall into comparing our lives to the seemingly perfect lives of others.  As I have said before in other posts, when we expect every second of our lives to manifest like the pictures of others that we see on social media, we kid ourselves.  A single photo of an occasion does not begin to reveal all the details of the lives represented.  What we see in the pictures represents a single, joyful, memorialized moment.  Yes, we should celebrate each and every one of those precious moments; however, we must NOT begin to believe that the lives of those in the photos are filled with never ending bliss.

Enjoy every blissful moment with which God blesses you.  They are your moments, filled with special details about the people in your life.  Do not fall for believing that the lives of others are perfect while your life contains flaws.  Do not begin to compare the realities of your life with photos that present only a portion of the actualities of the lives of others.

Life will not always be over-the-top with perfect days.  There will be times when holidays make us sad.  There will be times when bad memories flood our days and crowd out joy.  There will be days when disappointment fills our minds with discouragement.

If you find yourself in a period of discouragement because life does not seem to be perfect, find a piece of paper and begin to list the joys and times of fulfillment that you have experienced.  Declare the truths in your life that God has provided and continues to promise.  Settle into the fact that life is not perfect and neither are people but God has a perfect plan for you in mind.  Put your hope in Him!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Facing Hurts from the Past

Psalm 139:23-24   Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  Point out anything in me that offends you and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

We are all busy.  Life is busy.  Some of the busyness is necessary to take care of our homes and families.  Perhaps some of the busyness is in the name of evasion.   Let's think about that for a minute.

I seem to thrive in a busy environment.  Not that I need to be going somewhere all the time but I think I need to keep my mind busy with hobbies, reading, projects, work, etc.  I have often said that being busy keeps my mind off the bad stuff, some of the unpleasantness of the past.   This works to a degree.  However, if you will read Psalm 139:23-24, the words of the verses show us a different view.  This verse tells me that God wants us to take time to focus our minds on those unpleasant occurrences.  He does not want us to dwell on them but instead he want us to lay them to rest and rid of bitterness.  He wants us to sort the truth from emotions.  It is his desire that we arrive at a point where we can reflect upon any unpleasantness as merely opportunities to experience spiritual growth. 

When we possess emotions, attitudes and thoughts that are offensive to God, it is beneficial to allow him to show us what those are.  We can then in turn deal with emotions, thoughts, and attitudes that contain vengeance, bitterness, anger, and hurt.  Filling all our time with work, hobbies, or social activities does not afford us time to hear God and seek the things in our hearts that he would have us address.  Busyness in the name of evasion only perpetuates things of the past that need attention. 

In order to emotionally heal and grow in our relationship with God, it is necessary to face past hurts, the emotions and thoughts brought about by those hurts, as well as any wrong motives.  We do not necessarily need to face or confront the people involved, but we do need to deal with the feelings that brew within us.  Admit the emotions and allow God to replace them with righteous motives.   Facing the past and dealing with the emotions frees the heart to accept the love and good things that God has in store for us.  Bitter, negative emotions and attitudes crowd the mind leaving little room for positive, productive ones.  Facing hurtful feelings and events is not always easy.  No one wants to recount unpleasant events.  However, by facing feelings, we are able to allow God to take the hurt and turn it into healing.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Pray for the broken hearted

Job  30:15    Terrors overwhelm me; my dignity is driven away as by the wind, my safety vanishes like a cloud.

Job was a man that suffered immense tragedies in his life.   Along with his extreme loss of his family,  possessions, health and his position, he was also mocked by the younger people.   They even mocked the way he suffered.  Talk about a lack of compassion. 

Verse 15 conveys such deep emotion and raw honesty.  Job cries out about his fear and anxiety.  He was insecure and worried.  He even felt like he had lost his honor, that his name was no longer respected. 

Job's situation typically brings to mind a man of great patience, endurance and steadfast faith in God.  I am certain that he felt broken in ways that seemed unbearable at times.  I would like to focus on his broken heart.  Think of a time in your life when you have suffered.  Maybe it was the loss of a marriage, job/finances, family member or close friend, friendship, health, pet, or home.  Maybe you have suffered broken dreams.  Whatever the loss, think of how your heart felt; the fear that terrorized your mind, the worries and anxieties that kept you awake at night.  Can you recall the despair that left your heart feeling empty and beyond repair?  Now, multiply that times 10 and perhaps that will come close to how Job suffered. 

With the thought of the brokenness, I also want to focus on compassion (on our part).  When we hear of the suffering of others, do our hearts break or do we acknowledge that the situation is bad yet move on with our busy lives?   When we listen to someone describe their brokenness and suffering do we merely hear the words or do we hear the emotions, fear, and distress?

Let us make it our personal prayer to be more compassionate for situations no matter what the source of the suffering.   May our hearts feel the brokenness along with our our friends and family members.  I pray that we will have a burden for the brokenness of others and that we will not forget what it is like to hurt and worry.  Hurt and brokenness are in the eye of the beholder and we should not discount any one's suffering.  When we pray in earnest for others, God will hear our intercessions.                                               

Prayer focus for today:  Lord, I ask you to pierce our hearts with a deeper level of compassion.  May we not only hear the hurts of those around us, but also be concerned with the hurts of others.  We cannot always fix the brokenness of others but, God, we know you can! 

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Bitterness is a thief.

"Some people die at 25 years old but are not buried until they are 75 years old".  Ben Franklin

I came across this quote from Ben Franklin a while back.  I have pondered it.  While I do not know exactly to what he is referencing in his quote, I am going to apply the meaning to bitterness.

Bitterness is a thief.  It robs people of peace, happiness and contentment.  If left unaddressed, bitterness will steal your relationships. 

Bitterness is like an emotional death.  It is numbing in ways.  It allows fear and negativity to enter into one's emotions, pushing away the positive feelings and experiences.

Untreated bitterness can cause a person to feel dead inside.  The body can function.  The mind can function although it is a in a guarded and untrusting fashion.

Bitterness is an emotional cancer.  It requires treatment just as a cancer of the body does.

I urge you to avoid being a person such as Ben Franklin described.  Do not allow yourself to die an emotional death and simply function through life until your physical death.  Look the demon of bitterness square in the face and say "NO MORE!".  God designed us to function well both physically and mentally.  He can rid of the bitterness and emotional numbness for you.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Rest in His peace

John 14:27   "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."

When the flesh wants to panic, there is PEACE available.  But, how do we find peace in the midst of chaos and turmoil?  How can we rest when our hearts are troubled?  How can peace exist along with fear and anxiety?

John 14:27 describes the peace that we can have when our worlds seem to be turned upside down.  It is not a peace that we can find from things in the world.  It is peace that only can be found in Jesus Christ. While people around us may act peaceably, no other person can offer the peace that allows our hearts to trust and rest.

The peace that God offers us is available anytime we need it.  It is that peace that passes all understanding.  It is the Holy Spirit reminding you "I can take care of this".   It is peace that comes when you immediately cry out to God when facing difficult situations.  It is a peace that is offered to all of us.  It is that security that tells us we do not need to be afraid, but we must trust and accept the peace. 

If you are willing to accept peace, God offers it.   Accepting it will free your life of stress, anxiety, fear and worry.  Philippians 4:6-7 reminds us that when we go to God with prayer and petition, he will give us that 'peace that passes all understanding'.

If you have turmoil, whether it be acute or chronic, I urge you to seek the peace that God has to offer.  Cry out to him to send it your way and then open your heart and accept it.  Allow your heart and mind to rest in His peace!  

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Dealing with broken emotions

Psalms 147:3  He heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds.

Jeremiah 31:25  I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint.

Hearts can be broken in many ways.  A heart is broken when intense emotional stress occurs.  The stress can be from a single hurtful event or cumulative events over a long period of time.  In essence, a broken heart means broken emotions.  A broken heart has the potential to cause problems in various areas of life for many years following a hurtful event.  A broken heart has great potential for causing bitterness and all its by-products.

Psalms 147:3 is a praise for what God can do for a broken heart.  He can and will heal a broken heart and bind up the wounds that keep us from enjoying life and moving forward.  He does not want a heart to be broken.   He wants our hearts to be full of love and good things.

If you are experiencing anger, sadness, and bitterness, you may want to examine your heart to see if these effects are from brokenness and unresolved emotions.  The event may have occurred many years ago, however the brokenness can still effect yourself and others in your life.  Healing the brokenness may include unpacking each and every occurrence, feeling, and thought.   Go ahead and unpack it!  Bitterness and lingering anger are useless, fruitless pieces of emotional baggage.  They take up space in our daily lives that could otherwise be occupied with productive, positive feelings.

Dealing with emotions, especially those that carry hurtful memories, may not be a pleasant experience.  It is vital that we deal with them anyway.   Release those pent up feelings, face them, grieve them, and allow God to bind them up forever.   Experience the catharsis that will lead to a peaceful heart and a freeing of the mind!  God can replace your sorrow with joy.  

Monday, May 9, 2016

Jacob's ladder is our ladder too

Genesis 28:10-13    Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran.  When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set.  Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep.  He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.  There above it stood the Lord, and he said:  "I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac.  I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying.

Each of us, at one time or another, has used a ladder.  Ladders help us to climb to a level to reach things that we cannot otherwise reach from standing on the ground.   Ladders allow us to go up and down.  We use ladders to paint the tops of walls, change light bulbs, clean out gutters, or to get on the roof.  We are often interested in climbing the proverbial career ladder to advance in a job. Climbing a ladder allows access to things that may otherwise be unreachable.

In Geneses 28:10-13, Jacob dreams of a stairway which has become known as "Jacob's ladder" over time.  Jacob had done many things wrong.  He had plotted with his mother to trick his father, Isaac, into giving him the family's blessing that Isaac had planned to give to Essau, Jacob's brother.  Instead of relying on God to bless him, Jacob relied on deception.  When Essau realized that his family blessing had been stolen by Jacob's deceptive scheme, Essau planned to kill his brother.  Jacob fled the area in order to escape his own murder.

When Jacob stopped to sleep for the night, he dreamed vividly.  His dream contained a stairway that led to heaven.  The stairway resembled a ladder with angels going up and coming down the rungs.  God stood at the top of the stairway.  Let us focus on what God said to Jacob at this point.  With all that Jacob had done wrong, we would expect that God would have chastised him and given him instructions on how to make things right.  God told Jacob that he was the father of all Jacob's forefathers and that the ground on which he was sleeping belonged to Jacob.  God told Jacob that he would bless him and give him all that he had promised.

God was at the top of this ladder offering Jacob love, mercy and protection even though Jacob had just committed a huge act of deception and robbery.  With all the mistakes that Jacob had made, God blessed him.  He blessed him!!!!

Points to take away from this passage are:
            -God is reachable.  He is at the top of the ladder from earth to heaven.  Even if we break off
              rungs and render our ladder severed, God is still reachable.
            -God does not dwell on our mistakes and flaws.  He focuses on our potential!
            -No matter what we do, God's promises are always available.
            -No matter what mistakes we have made, we are still able to receive mercy and grace.

Use the ladder to heaven. The same ladder that Jacob dreamed of is there for us to use to access God. Allow the angels to take petitions up the rungs.  Wait as the angels bring answers down the rungs.  God is at the top of the ladder!!

Friday, May 6, 2016

Perfect love is full of grace, outlined in compassion and built upon sacrifice

1 John 4:18-21   There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.  The one who fears is not made perfect in love.   We love because he first loved us.  If anyone says, "I love God, yet hates his brother, he is a liar.  For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.  And he has given us this command.  Whoever loves God must also love his brother.

Let's get real here.  There are some people that are difficult to love.  There are some people that have a difficult time loving us.  I have experienced both sides.  A friend of mine once made this statement, "sometimes, you have to love them like you find them".  That seems to be all we can do sometimes.  Honesty, that is all that we want to do sometimes.  God expects more from us.

Why does love, such a great emotion, come with so many difficulties?  First of all, if the giver and receiver are not on the same page with their perception of love, then there will be trouble.  Love can produce fear and insecurity.  It is not designed that way, but when events happen in life that distort the true meaning of love, then negative emotions arise pertaining to love.  1 John 4:18 tells us that there is no fear in love.  There is no fear when the love is perfect.

What is perfect love?  Perfect love is the love that God has for us.  He showed us his love when he sent his son Jesus to the world.  Jesus modeled perfect love and then died so that we could fully understand love in its perfection. This love was full of grace, outlined in compassion and built upon sacrifice.

It is difficult for us as imperfect people to love one another in a perfect manner.  Mainly because we are not willing to make sacrifices.  Let us repeat that:  We are not willing to make sacrifices for one another.  We are not always willing to give the time and energy that perfect love for one another requires.  We find it difficult to continue to offer our brothers and sisters compassion and mercy.  We often do not want to try to understand someone on a deep and intimate level.  Our attitude is often that we have enough things of our own to do besides helping a friend to bear their burdens.

Love requires work.  Whether the love is a friendship, family relationship, marriage, or our relationship with God, it requires time, attention, focus, and effort.  Love that is perfect, first and foremost, requires a love for God.  Through that relationship, we can learn to love others.  We also can gain strength and a desire to love others when we accept a loving relationship from God.

I pray this today:  Lord, help me to love you with the same perfection in which you offer all of us.  Through this love, show me how to love others, even when it is difficult.  Give me the strength, wisdom, and desire to understand how to love others.  If I present myself in a way that is hard for others to love me, then grant me the insight to be more lovable.  May your perfect love for us help us to experience a perfect love with others.  May that love be filled with grace, outlined in compassion, and built upon sacrifice.  AMEN

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Stockdale Paradox

2 Timothy 4:7-8  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day-and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

Vice Admiral Jim Stockdale was the highest ranking Naval officer at the time of his capture by the enemies during the Vietnam War.  When his aircraft was hit by enemy fire, he ejected from the plane and parachuted into a village where he was captured.  For the next seven and one-half years he was a prisoner of war.  During those years, he was tortured physically and emotionally.  His arms were twisted until they were dislocated from the sockets and he was severely beaten.  Because he was a high ranking military official, his torture was more severe than the other POWs.  In the midst of it all, he served as an encourager to the other prisoners instilling in them mental fortitude by reminding them of their naval code of honor.  

Stockdale endured.  He persevered.  He stated after his release that he would not trade the experience because it was a defining event in his life.

I am captivated by his statement regarding the lesson he wants others to glean from such an experience, "you must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end-which you can never afford to lose-with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be".

Read that again and process what he is saying.

Jim Collins, the author of Good to Great refers to this principle as the Stockdale Paradox.  In his situation of torture and possible death at the hands of his enemy, Stockdale remained confident that he would endure.  It seems contradictory that a person can have such hope in the midst of such agonizing persecution.

The duality of his statement exemplifies the type of faith that we must possess.  Most of us will never have the experiences that he endured and I thank God for that.  However, in this world of brutal realities, we do need to develop the same attitude of faith and perseverance.  Each day, we face enemy territory where the spiritual battles are real.  The facts around us can cause us to feel as if our efforts to work for God are insignificant.

We must hold firmly to the belief that we will prevail in the end by holding on to our faith and trust in God.  We have a commitment to continue to work for God even when things around seem bleak and without hope.  Even when our current reality is filled with pain, sorrow, or uncertainty, we must stand firm and carry on.  

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Unresolved Anger

James 1:19-20    My dear brothers, take note of this:  Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. 

What is anger?    Why do we experience anger?    Anger is a strong emotion within usually follows an injustice or being "wronged".   The physiological response in the body produces an increase in adrenaline which leaves us with the instinctual "fight or flight" option as a response.  This occurrence is what causes the heart to race and the warm rush throughout the body.  Many times it also leads to a reaction with the tongue before engaging the brain.   

Is anger wrong?  No.  But how we deal with feelings of anger can lead to wrongdoings.  Anger must not manifest into retaliation, lashing out, or sin.  Anger becomes sin when we attack the wrongdoer instead of addressing the situation/problem.  Anger must not be allowed to linger.  Lingering anger prolongs forgiveness and allows roots of bitterness to grow.  Physical problems may arise from unresolved anger. 

At times it is necessary to experience anger in order to let go and reach a place of forgiveness.  Notice I said EXPERIENCE it.  That means within yourself and it does NOT mean that we use the anger in unacceptable ways.  It is important to deal with anger in a way that does no harm to others.  No one else should be on the receiving end of our dealing with emotions. 

Why do some people become angry over situations that would not slightly upset others?  Anger is related to our internal disposition.  Attitudes about forgiveness and unconditional love for others are factors that affect how we perceive injustices in our lives.   When unresolved anger exists, the slightest offenses will produce the strong emotion partly because the person is reminded of all the offenses that led to the unresolved issues.   Super sensitivities and being easily angered are indications of deep unresolved issues that may not have anything to do with the current offense.

An angry disposition is a hindrance to righteousness.  It is like an internal volcano awaiting eruption. Unresolved anger also disrupts inner peace.   

If you are easily angered, I encourage you to pray for God to reveal to you why you respond in this manner.  Seek the unresolved issues or any forgiveness that may need attention so that you can improve your disposition and be free of this destructive emotion.  If someone close to you is easily angered, pray for him/her as well.  Realize that there must be issues that need to be resolved and that he/she need your prayers.  It is time to seek peace.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The mask of functional bitterness

Ephesians 4:31  Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form
of malice.

I have used this verse in other posts and focused on different words found in the verse.  Today I will focus on the word "all".  God wants us to rid of ALL bitterness, rage and anger.  Each and every bit of those emotions must go.  If ALL bitterness is not rid of, even the smallest bit can cause resentment and barriers between you and the people in your life.

You might be inclined to think that if you are not paralyzed by bitterness that your life is in good shape.  Not necessarily.  There can be a level of what I call functional bitterness.  The bitterness is there, and causes barriers within relationships, but the relationship is still functional.  You are able to be in the presence of the person which you have bitterness toward, however, there are inhibitions with the level of closeness and enjoyment that you can experience with this person.  Functional bitterness is a mask that conceals what is truly in the heart.   

With functional bitterness, you are able to operate and perform your regular every day duties.  The bitterness is not constantly on your mind, however, there may be periods of intense reminders or thoughts about the situation that caused the bitterness.  The people around you may not notice the bitterness within you, however, you still feel the effects.  Functional bitterness allows you to get through the days but you do not experience the joy and delight that could be yours if ALL the bitterness is gone.

If you allow your heart to be clear of ALL bitterness, you can then realize the wholeness which God intends for us.  When you experience the wholeness of heart and the delight that the freedom from the bondage of bitterness and anger can bring, it is then that you will become acutely aware of what you have been missing.  The desire to have wholeness and delight will outweigh the desire to wallow in the bitterness when you realize how wonderful the freedom can be.

It is my prayer for any of you that are suffering from any type of bitterness, rage, or anger that you will allow God to examine those emotions and help you rid of them.  For those of you that may have functional bitterness, I pray that you will allow the mask of denial to be removed and that God will take any and ALL of those feelings away.  I pray for each of you to experience the wholeness that God has to offer.  In Jesus name, Amen!

Monday, May 2, 2016

Declare others more valuable than self

Philippians 2:3  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.

Jesus helped people to feel valued.  He did so with a spirit of humility.  Even though Christ was sent to earth as a king in order to carry out God's plan, he never had an attitude of being more valued in God's eyes than any one else living on earth.

Christ befriended sinners.

He defended criminals.

He treated all people with love and compassion.

When Jesus approached a dishonest tax collector, he did not address him as such.  He called him by name saying, "Zaccheus, come down from the tree" (paraphrased Luke 9).  He called him by name which expresses value and honor toward people.  Jesus was interested in helping Zaccheus to become the person which God intended him to be. 

Jesus approached the woman at the well to tell her of the Good News (John 4).  She was a Samaritan, a member of a hated race of people.  She was living in sin and was in a public place which was not honorable.  She was surprised that he spoke to her since no Jewish man would have associated with a woman under these circumstances.  Jesus valued her as a person, not according to her situation and wrongdoing.  Neither her race nor her sin mattered to him.  She was important as one of God's creations.

When the Pharisees brought a woman before Christ that had been caught in adultery, he protected her from being stoned which was the law in that time.  When Jesus said to them, "if any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her" (John 8:7).  This statement incited the people around the woman to consider her value.  It prompted them to compare their own lives to hers and to regard her with humility.

No matter the person, situation, or degree of sin, Jesus values each and every one of us.  If we revere others and deem them more valuable than ourselves, we will display the type of love that Christ has for all of us.  If we love the unlovable, assist the helpless, share the Good News with sinners, and protect the persecuted, it is then that we have declared the value of the people around us.  If we can place the needs of others above anything that we need, then we have loved with humility as Christ displayed.