Tuesday, April 28, 2015

How to Find Joy in our Trials

This is arguably one of the most challenging verses in Scripture:

“Consider it great joy, my brothers, 
whenever you experience various trials”  
James 1:2 (HCSB)

After all, life hurts. Just this week I spoke with a woman who recently lost a loved one to a drug-related accident. Another friend is facing infertility and yet another learned that a nephew ran away from home. How do we find joy in trials like these?

Our women’s Sunday school class had our first discussion on James this past week.  The brother of Jesus hits us hard. He briefly introduces himself, then lets us have it with a powerful exhortation to find joy in our trials. Our class discussion was lively, and members shared thoughts on how to comply. Here are three great starting points that I pray might help us all as we face trials:

1) Remember God’s Character.   

When trials come, it keeps things in perspective when we remember:

God restores

He redeems

He protects

He defends

He delivers

He rescues

He helps

He guides

Remembering that God works for our good and His glory helps us see our trial through the lens of a heavenly perspective. I expect we will get through this trial, and when we get to the other side, our strength will increase, our witness will grow, and our testimony will have more power to impact others. Eventually, (as hard as it may be to imagine at this moment) we’ll see our life as better because of the trial that we faced. Clinging to truths about the character of God will help us find joy in our trials.

2) Play out the “What If’s”.

Fear is a great “squasher” of joy and we can allow ourselves to become paralyzed by worrying about the worst things that might happen.  We wonder, ‘What if ... ’ and consider that our life might very well be ruined by a particular trial we face. If we play out the worst-case scenarios and imagine what we believe is the most terrible thing that can happen, we begin to see that  - no matter what - God is still God. He is still with us.  He is still for us.  When tragedy strikes, we might go down hard. Perhaps we’ll be knocked off our feet. But the Lord will help us up. We can think of His character traits (see point one) and remember that we never walk through a trial alone. God is at our side and He equips us for all we’ll face, both now and in the future.  

Our trials/fears/worries often drive us to our knees. They cause us to seek God in deeper ways and when we seek Him with all our hearts, we will find Him. (Jeremiah 29:13) This is a great promise and an effective way to find joy in our trials. 

3) Express gratitude. 

A story that resonates came came from my friend, Kathy.  Read it here.  Kathy reminded me that if we show gratitude for what we have instead of moaning about what we do not have, wonderful things happen:  Our focus moves from ourselves to our Lord.  Our hearts are softened and joy comes quickly. When we’re thankful for what we have, God often responds with surprising generosity.  

Keeping a gratitude journal, or a simple list of things for which we are thankful, will keep our hearts and minds focused on the provision, kindness, and generosity of God. Even as we face trials, we can find joy in gratitude.

One of the things I’m grateful for today is the fragrance of fresh cut lilacs sitting on my desk.  When we look for blessing, we’ll find it. 

If our lives are so clouded with the burden of a trial that we can’t see the blessings, let’s ask God to open our eyes to see what He’s provided. He’ll respond in remarkable ways. 

Your Turn:

How have you found joy in trials?

After going through a trial, how did you later begin to see the resulting blessing?

Continue the conversation by leaving a comment below, or joining me on Twitter or Facebook!

Be Strengthened Today, by His Word,
Psalm 119:28


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Debunking 4 Myths About Forgiveness

If you’re anything like me, there are days when you feel like you have the forgiveness-thing down pat.  Perhaps someone causes you pain. You examine the situation and discern there was no ill-will or intent involved. It’s easy, then, to quickly forgive and leave the incident in the past.

Other times, when deep wounds are involved, forgiveness seems almost impossible and we realize how much work we have yet to do.  This might happen when…
  • We’re physically harmed or assaulted
  • Our children become victims
  • We’ve experienced infidelity
  • We’ve endured years of neglect from a family member
  • Words cut to the quick 

I’m sure you have examples of your own.

What causes one person deep pain might seem superficial to someone else.  Forgiveness might come easily to one but feel like climbing Mount Everest to another. We all have different histories and different breaking points.  

Consider the following verses:  

Matthew 6:15 But if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses

Ephesians 4:32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you

Forgiveness is a commandment.  Most of us desire to forgive, but over the years, we’ve developed inaccurate ideas about what it means to forgive. At times I’ve condemned myself for unforgiveness when that wasn’t what I carried at all.  Wrong thinking kept me imprisoned until I learned the truth.

Here are four myths about forgiveness that were most difficult to overcome: 

1) Granting forgiveness means I’ll never again remember the offense.

Forgiving is far different from forgetting. Looking at forgiveness as an accounting concept instead of one tied to memory and emotion, we’ll soon understand the separation between these two ideas.   

In Jeremiah 31:34 (Their sin I will remember no more) and Hebrews 10:17 (And their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more), God is using human language to illustrate a heavenly reality.  

Think of it this way: God knows everything. If He is truly omniscient (all knowing), then He cannot be taught. If He needed reminding about an offense that He forgot with His memory, He simply wouldn’t be the God of the Bible.  When His Word says He “remembers no more”, it means He will no longer take action against the offense.  As He judges sin and accounts for the wrongs in our life, His forgiveness blots them off the records. 

Forgiveness is a release from action toward an offense and the acknowledgement that the penalty or debt is paid in full.  It is not tied to the biological idea of memory.  This means that we may continue to feel pain, anger, or frustration over an offense. We may continue to bring the offense to mind. As we do, we can also remember that God has an eternal plan and a purpose and will work all things for our good and His glory. 

2) Granting forgiveness means acknowledging that what happened is okay.

Can God forgive a murder? Of course He can. Does that mean that murder is okay? Of course it does not!  Forgiveness doesn’t correct a wrong or imply that we’ve deemed an offense as acceptable. It does not provide permission to continue in ways that cause pain to others. 

Part of this misconception comes from how we learned to grant forgiveness as children.  When we were hurt or offended, our offender would say “I”m sorry.” We were taught to reply with, “It’s okay.”  At least that’s the way it was in our home.  Saying “It’s okay” carries strong implications that the offense itself is okay.

In contrast, others may have learned to instead say, “Will you forgive me” instead of (or in addition to) “I’m sorry.”  Replying with a positive response does not imply that the offense was okay, but grants forgiveness to the offender. There’s a significant difference. We’ve forgiven a person while still rejecting an offense.

Forgiveness doesn’t make an offense okay, it makes us okay. It sets us free from carrying a large burden and allows us to embrace God’s best.

3)  Granting forgiveness means we’ve fully reconciled the relationship.

Reconciliation can occur as a result of forgiveness but does not always come simultaneously with forgiveness.  We can decide to release penalty or debt for an offense but still need a great deal of work to achieve reconciliation.

In cases where threat of physical or emotional harm continues, reconciliation might never occur.  In these instances, some may judge an act as unforgiven, but the two activities (forgiveness and reconciliation) are separate from one another. 

4) Granting forgiveness means trust is re-established.

Forgiveness is granted. Trust is earned. As with reconciliation, trust may require years of work to rebuild. There are times when we (as the offended) have a willingness to restore trust and a we’re amenable to work toward that goal. Our offender, however, may not choose to put forth the effort. They may find contentment in the status quo. 

In these instances, it’s good to remember that the only hearts, minds and actions that we can change are our own. We continue to pray for those who hurt us and trust God will work out every detail in His perfect timing.

Misconceptions may convince us that we harbor unforgiveness when that’s not the case.  They are used as tools of the enemy to leave us feeling paralyzed and unable to move forward.  As God’s Word says, the Truth will set us free (John 8:32).

Your Turn:

Have you believed some of these same misconceptions about forgiveness?

What other misconceptions about forgiveness have you believed?

How did you overcome?  

What were the benefits of finding the truth?

Continue the conversation by leaving a comment below, or meet me on Facebook or Twitter!  

Be Strengthened Today, By His Word,
Psalm 119:28


Friday, April 10, 2015

Faith Builders: From a First Responder

Today's Faith Builder post is from my dear friend, Debbie in Nebraska.  I trust her story will inspire you as much as it does me.

For approximately 10 years, his heart has wanted to serve others in emergency situations as a Volunteer Fire-Fighter and Emergency Medical Responder.  Throughout the years, he never knew the outcome of his selfless service.  The risks he had to take were worth it in order to help others.

Many people have been transported to area hospitals or coroners were called, and he was left with many unanswered questions after his duty was done.  On to the next call, always ready and willing to do whatever he could.

This Volunteer Fire-Fighter/Emergency Medical Responder is my husband, Charlie.  On October 28, 2014 after leaving a restaurant in a town 2 hours from our home, Charlie and I came upon a very serious car accident.  No emergency help had yet arrived.  Without hesitation he immediately stopped to help.

A young couple had been hit head on.  David, the husband, was out of the vehicle trying to help his wife, April, who was seriously injured.  Sticking his head into the car where April sat, Charlie introduced himself and assured her he was there to help.  He crawled into the car to stabilize her and ensure she stayed alert.  Within a few minutes help arrived.  He and the paramedics worked quickly and efficiently, side-by-side, ensuring she was stable enough to move to the ambulance.  Once April and David were loaded, Charlie walked slowly back to our car where I waited, praying without ceasing.  Our 2-hour drive home was full of conversation by him trying to figure out what happened and wondering if April would be OK.  Again, lots of unknowns.

The next day at work Charlie told a co-worker about the accident.  Days passed and we prayed and he wondered.  Once again, no closure for him.  When appointments took us back to that town, we would go through that intersection and wonder again.  Then one day his co-worker said, “My niece’s boss was in a really bad car accident.”  Yes, you guessed it - - it was the same accident.  Immediately, his co-worker called her niece and told her about Charlie.  When April found out a common friend knew Charlie, she asked if it would be OK to contact him.  This was definitely a blessing from God.  God had a plan that this time there would be closure for Charlie, as well as for April and David.  The three of them could answer questions for each other.

This week (18 weeks after the accident), a doctor’s appointment summoned us to that same town, just minutes from where April works.  Walking into her place of employment was exciting as he decided to surprise her.  When Charlie introduced himself, her face lit up with a huge smile and she screamed, ran to him and hugged him so tight.  She told everyone around her this is my hero, he saved me.  She touched his beard and said all she remembered was he had facial hair, told her he was there to help and she would be OK.  She called her husband and he came right over to meet us.  After talking through the events of that night, taking pictures, trading phone numbers and hugs, we vowed to stay in touch.  She said, “You are now family.”

Charlie has received many comments of gratitude from her friends and family including her dad and father-in-law.

April and David’s story is amazing how family, friends, and co-workers have stood by them.  She is recovering well, yet their life is forever changed.  So is ours, we have new friends who are amazing people.  Serving others brings great blessings to those who serve.

We never know how or when our acts of kindness and love will be needed, but God does.  He calls us when needed and wants us to service with all we have, even if we never know the outcome of our service.

I Peter 4:10     Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.

Romans 8:28    And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Space Between Sleep and Awake

It’s not unusual that I find myself, early in the morning - somewhere in the space between sleep and awake - in the midst of a difficult dream. Usually it happens while the birds sing and celebrate outside my window, or the neighbor’s roosters call out to the morning sun. It’s the time of day when I’d rather sleep, but the world is waking and nudging me to do the same. I drift in and out of a doze, and occasionally I’m haunted by a dreamed assault from an enemy who attacks while I’m exposed and vulnerable. 

More often than not, the dreams pertain in some way to past sin. Several times a month, I wake with disturbing thoughts about my marriage - a message from the evil one who constantly accuses and whispers the lies that I’ll get what I deserve.  Some have suggested the dreams come from a “taunting spirit,” since they’ve stayed with me for so many years.

In the past, I’d carry these dreams with me for days. I’d allow the doubts and the insecurities they introduced to manifest in my thought life. I’d share the dreams with no one - they were too ugly to verbalize.  Sometimes in those morning hours, I’d cuddle into my husband, Mike, and let his arms protect me from the assault. Since I was still carrying the burden alone, It’s wasn’t an effective defense. It didn’t stop my hurt feelings, anger, or imagined betrayal of my husband who was purely innocent.   

Over time, I eventually learned the benefit of sharing the dreams with Mike. Now, he reassures me of truth, of his love, and fights for me with prayer. Instead of carrying the assault for days, I now can release it after a few short minutes and celebrate victory.  The dreams haven’t stopped, but they no longer grip my mind and emotions. Together Mike and I band together, put on the full armor of God and extinguish the fiery darts of the enemy.  

Well - most of the time we do, anyway.  

Recently I had one of those difficult dreams. In the dream, Mike and I had been called in separate directions for work-related tasks and I found myself in an unusual situation of sitting with one of his employees. Out of the blue, she said to me, “I’ll just bet that he was the one who cheated first.” In the architecture of the dream, I came to realize that Mike hadn’t been called away for work - he chose to leave our marriage and everyone except me knew of the infidelity.

Soon I was awake enough to take action. I swung my feet onto the floor, tiptoed around our sleeping dogs, and navigated my way to the bathroom.  When I gathered my wits, I returned to our bed to share the dream with Mike.  I found him, however, in his own space between sleep and awake.  When I said, “I dreamed you left me,” he somehow mistakenly heard, “I dreamed you loved me.”  

His reply:  “It’s more than a dream, baby.”

As you can imagine, that wasn’t at all what I needed to hear.  We had to replay the conversation a few times before we got it right. By the time we understood one another, we were laughing over the entire exchange.

Had this same conversation taken place a few years earlier, before I’d learned to navigate and combat the dreams, it could have been disastrous. Over the years, I’ve learned to overcome the temptation to be offended by my husband for things I’d only dreamed he’d done.

We sometimes feel hard-wired to react with defensiveness, to put up a fight for our own honor, or to show the world that WE are right.  When we feel wronged, we hold a grudge, we build a proverbial fortress of protection around our own hearts, or turn our backs on anyone we see as dangerous.  

This is a troubling place to reside, and one that hinders us from living in the fullness of Christ. Our thoughts stay fixed on ourselves instead of facing our problems and walking in redemption.  I want no part of living here.

I’m grateful for what I’ve learned over the years. If the dreams continue as a reminder - as a memorial stone - of the journey we’ve navigated, I’ll accept them. Today, unlike my past, the dreams remind me of victory in Christ and the beauty that comes from recognizing and embracing His best.

Your Turn

Share spiritual growth you've achieved that set you free from a plaguing situation.

What are your best tips to help others overcome something similar?

Continue the conversation by leaving a comment below or commenting on Facebook or Twitter.

Be Strengthened Today, By The Word,
Psalm 119:28