Posted in Bible Study

Feeling stuck?

Do you ever feel like you’re stuck? Like you’re stuck in a season of life that you want out of but you can’t seem to get out of? Stuck having the details of something painful replay in your mind over and over, and you can’t seem to escape it? It’s as if your legs are stuck in thick mud or clay…you’re trying and trying to get free, but little progress seems to be happening? You’ve cried out to God over and over, asking for help…but you’re still stuck. Ever feel that way?

That is exactly how I’ve been feeling for a while now.

When I first lost my marriage and job a couple years ago, I was just focused on recovering and healing from the pain of being rejected by the person I had loved and chosen to spend my life with, as well as losing a job that I was passionate about and thoroughly enjoyed. For the first year, my focus was just on allowing myself to heal from it all. I wasn’t thinking about what the future held or how to move forward, I was just focusing on surviving a day at a time.

After a year or so of that, as God began to bring healing to my heart and mind, I began to think about the future and what it would look like for me. I started praying for more than continued grace and healing for both me and my children (who unfortunately also have to learn to live in this new reality), which is what my prayer life had been focused on up to that point. As I began to look forward to my future, I began to pray for that future; prayers for getting back into ministry, being able to be financial stable again, paying off debt that I’d accrued from the divorce, getting my confidence back (it’s amazing how rejection like this can take all confidence from you), being able to not have my mind be overrun at times with the pain of what happened, and so on.

But, after a long time praying for those things, most of them have still not happened. Yes, I’m back in ministry…God answered that prayer a couple of months ago! But I’m still stuck in debt, struggling with finances, working to get my confidence back, and honestly there are days my mind is still overrun with the painful memories. Recently, I was struggling so much with the pain of it all that I just decided to go to bed really early, so I could end the day and not think about things anymore.

I still feel very much stuck.

A few days ago, I decided to look up different verses/passages in scripture that talk about patience. I am definitely struggling with patience, but I also know I need to be patient as I wait for God to lead me into a future. If I continue to try and work out of things myself, struggling with all my might to get unstuck, I’m going to just exhaust myself.

Yesterday, I read Psalm 40:1-4

I waited patiently for the Lordhe inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LordBlessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust, who does not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after a lie!

In this passage, a few truths stuck out to me that I needed to be reminded of…

“I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined and heard my cry.” – The Lord heard the author’s cry for help…but he didn’t respond immediately. The author of this psalm starts by saying they ‘waited patiently’.

When we are crying out to God and not getting the answer we want when we want, it is so easy to get impatient and feel as though God isn’t listening. God hears our cries…we just have to learn to wait patiently for God to respond. How long do we wait? Until he responds. His timing is perfect…we don’t like to wait and may not understand his timing, but it is perfect and we just need to continue to be patient.

“He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock.” – The author definitely felt stuck. They even give a pretty strong description…pit of destruction. That’s strong language to describe a very difficult and overwhelming feeling of being stuck. But, the author also says that God drew them out of that place of being overwhelmingly stuck, and set them on a rock…a place that is solid and secure.

When we are stuck, it’s so hard to see or even imagine not being stuck again. It can get so overwhelming that seeing a future that’s different than the present is so hard to do or believe will happen. But God is so much more powerful than even the most difficult of circumstances, and he can draw us out of any pit and place us on solid ground again. While we are in the pit and feeling overwhelmed, we just need to keep our focus on the truth that someday we won’t be stuck anymore, because God will draw us up and out.

“He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God” – A new song implies that there was a song before this new one. Perhaps the author had been complaining a lot to God, or singing a “woe is me” type of song as they were stuck. But when God showed up and drew them out of the pit, he also put a new song in the mouth of the author…a song of praise.

It can sometimes be so hard to not complain when we are in the midst of being stuck, down in that pit we so desperately want out of. And if we aren’t careful, our complaining or “woe is me” attitude can overtake our heart and what comes out of our mouths. But when God draws us out of the pit, we see such a contrast from where we were to where God has put us, that we can’t help but praise him! Perhaps that’s part of the reason he waits to draw us out, so that we properly appreciate all that he does for us when he does draw us out.

“Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust” – The author realizes that, through their struggle and having to wait patiently on God to respond, it is the one who continues to trust in God even while in the midst of the struggle that will be blessed.

It is so easy to place our trust in man made ways of trying to fix our struggle or deal with our situation. There’s so many different voices in this world that say “do this” or “do that”, and honestly we begin to be tempted to follow after those ideas rather than wait on God…because we get impatient. Trust requires patience. Trust that God will eventually answer and draw us out, trust that God’s timing and plan is better than our ideas, and trust that God hasn’t abandoned us in the pit.

When we feel stuck, overwhelmingly stuck, and unable to see any way out, may we continue to wait patiently on God to respond at just the right time, knowing that his timing is perfect. May we remember to trust him, even when we are struggling so much that it takes all of our energy and strength to do so…because it is the one who trusts in the Lord that will be blessed.

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Posted in Bible Study, My Thoughts

While in the wilderness

Promise. Blessing. Abundance. These words describe what the Promised Land represents. They are opposite, however, of what the wilderness represents.

In Exodus 3, we see that God has seen the affliction of his people Israel. They were slaves in Egypt, and they had been crying out for him to deliver them. In verses 7 and 8 of chapter 3 is says Then the Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey…”

“A good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey”. The Promised Land. A place that is good, full of promise and blessing and even abundance.

However, before Israel was able to get into this land that God told them of, they had to make their way through the wilderness. A place that would not be described as good and full of promise and blessing and abundance. Words that describe what the wilderness represents would include difficulty and scarcity.

One thing that makes the wilderness a difficult place is the scarcity of proper food and water. In chapters 15-17 of Exodus, we see this played out in the lives of the Israelites…they needed water and there was no good source for them, and they needed food and there wasn’t anything adequate for them.

We also see something else played out in these chapters. God took care of them, performing miracles to provide and bless them with the water and food they needed. When water was bitter, he made it sweet and drinkable (Exodus 15:22-25). When there was no water at all, he provided it miraculously (Exodus 17:1-7). And when there was no food, God delivered again.

In Chapter 16 of Exodus, it tells us that God sent Quail into the camp of Israel for meat, and provided a flake-like substance they called “manna” that could be used for bread. In the evening quail came up and covered the camp, and in the morning dew lay around the camp. And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground. When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. ” (Exodus 16:13-15) 

The Israelites were commanded to only take what they needed for that day, and each day more would be there for them to collect. If they collected too much, the excess went bad. They had to trust God each day for what they needed, and each day God delivered. Even though they were in the wilderness, where food and water were scarce, the Israelites had what they needed for the day to survive.

The Promised Land was where the journey was leading. That is the land that is good, the land that provided promise and had abundance. However, to get to that place, they first had to travel through the wilderness.

If you read the story of Israel in the wilderness, you see a few different consistent themes happening. One of them is that Israel consistently complained. To be honest, I get that. I’m pretty sure I would have complained too! We all would have. No one likes to be in a place that is best described by words such as scarcity and difficulty. Like Israel, we too would want to get to that place that is described as good and full of abundance.

The second thing you see happening consistently is that God continually provided for them, often in miraculous ways. He knew they needed water, and he provided when there was no water. He knew they needed to eat, so he provided food for them when there was no food around.

 

We all go through seasons in life that are best described as a wilderness. It seems as though everything is surrounded by difficulty, and often the things we need to get through life are in scarce supply. Bills are hard to cover. Often debt begins to mount up. Purchasing things such as food and gas, basic necessities of life, are way more stressful than we would like them to be. We never have enough time to take care of all the things in our life that we need to. We have minimal energy, little time for fun, good friends seem to be in short supply, and so on. During the wilderness season of life, it’s honestly a daily struggle just to survive.

During that season of life, it is very easy and tempting for us to long for the time when we will reach the Promised Land…the season of life that is full of promise and blessing and even abundance. We see others around us being able to pay for things, go on trips and afford fun, have times of rest, and truly thriving in life rather than just surviving. We see that, and we long for it. If only we could get to a place where we have everything we want, and life seems to be under control, then everything would be so much better and life wouldn’t be such a struggle.

BUT

While we are in the wilderness, if we only spend our time longing for the Promised Land, we will miss out on seeing something amazing. We will miss seeing and recognizing that even in the wilderness, God still provides us with blessings.

God provided water and food for Israel while they were in the wilderness. And God will provide for us too.

How do I know this to be true? Because I’ve been in the wilderness the past 2 years, and while I do look forward to someday reaching whatever the Promised Land may be in my life, I can’t deny the fact that God has continually provided me with what I’ve needed to survive. I’ve had to learn what true needs are and what really aren’t needs during this time as well, which hasn’t been easy. However, my true needs, God has provided for…sometimes seemingly out of thin air. 

God still blesses us, even while we are in the wilderness. His blessings don’t stop just because we are in a difficult place. And, our journey through the wilderness also helps us learn to trust God for everything we need that he blesses us with, as well as to be thankful for every blessing he gives us.

May we not miss out on seeing God’s blessings while in the wilderness. May our eyes be open so we can recognize all that God is doing in our lives, even while in the wilderness of life. May we see, recognize, and be thankful for his blessings.

Posted in Bible Study, My Thoughts

Faithful above all else

What does it mean to be successful? I mean what does it REALLY mean…past the ideas we often first think of like becoming popular/famous, making lots of money, or receiving accolades. Beyond all of that, what is the deeper meaning of success?

Several years ago I defined success in my life as having a strong marriage and family, being the leader of a growing and vibrant ministry, being asked to speak at conferences/events/camps/etc, having people read my blogs and books and think of me as a gifted teacher, and making enough money to cover bills and be comfortable as well. These were many of the ways I defined being successful. When they were accomplished, or as I believed they were being accomplished, I would see myself and my life as being a success.

I think it’s safe to say that nothing in that list is a bad dream or desire to have. It is good to have dreams and desires for your life. And none of what I listed above would be considered sinful, so those things I shared are all good things to aspire for. 

But, are those dreams and desires, or rather the accomplishment of those dreams and desires, what defines success?

I honestly used to think so. But then I lost my marriage despite all I did to try and save it, I lost my ministry and most of the opportunities that came with it, and I lost my ability to be financially sound and comfortable. In the span of 5 months near the end of 2015, I went from defining my life as successful to not knowing how to define my life or what being successful looked like anymore. And it took me another 23 months of recovering, healing, searching, and growing before I was able to finally change my mindset and be able to see and understand the deeper meaning of success. 


That is how true success is really defined. Success that goes beyond fame, money, and accolades. Success that isn’t dependent on our accomplishments, nor affected by life’s difficult circumstances.

This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful – 1 Corinthians 4:1-2

A faithful man will abound with blessingsbut whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished. – Proverbs 28:20

One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. – Luke 16:10

The success of my life is not determined by what I am able to accomplish. It is not determined by how many people I know or the number of people who follow my teaching or buy my books. It’s not determined by how much money I make, where I live, or what job I have. The real success of my life will be determined by my faithfulness. My faithfulness to what I’ve made commitments to, faithfulness to not giving into what is wrong when doing what is right is hard, faithfulness to take serious my role as a Pastor and teacher to those I have been given the opportunity and privilege to minister to. Ultimately, it is determined by my faithfulness to God.

His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much.  – Matthew 25:21 (and 23)

In Matthew 25:14-30 Jesus tells the parable of a master who entrusts a different amount of ‘talents’ to 3 of his servants. After the master returns from a long journey, he asks each servant to give an account of what they did with what he entrusted to them. Two of the servants share how they used what he gave them and gained more, and the verse above is the masters response to both of them. The third servant shares how he didn’t do anything with what he had been entrusted, and the master condemns him. 

This parable is an example of us and God. God entrusts to each of his servants, those who are followers of Christ, with doing his will in this life. In the parable, the two servants didn’t accomplish the same amount as each other, but because they were faithful with what they had been entrusted with, they both received the same praise from their Master. Because it’s not about what we accomplish, but rather our faithfulness with what he has entrusted us with. 

Not all of us are entrusted with the same things in this life (although when we read scripture, we see that we are all entrusted with many of the same things: loving others, sharing the gospel, living righteously, serving God by serving those around us, trusting God, etc). However, we are all to be faithful with what we have been entrusted with in this life. And true success is not determined by what we have been specifically entrusted with, or what exactly we accomplish, but rather if we are faithful.

All the things I listed at the beginning are great dreams and desires, and it is always good to have dreams and desires in this life. But, they are not what define success. They are blessings the Lord can choose to give me because of my faithfulness, but I must be faithful first. And even if he chooses to withhold some of those blessings…or take them away, I must still remain faithful. Because true success is determined by my faithfulness. 

Regardless of the hand we are dealt in this life, we are to remain faithful to God above all else. No matter how large or small of a ministry or sphere of influence God gives us, we are to simply be faithful with what God has given us. In the midst of great tragedy, even when we don’t understand why, our focus must continue to be on faithfully living for our Lord and Savior. 

When being faithful above all else is how we seek to live, then no matter what we do or do not accomplish, and no matter what circumstances we deal with in this life, we can be confident that our lives have been successful. 

Posted in Bible Study

Devotion part 2: the right focus

Part 1 of this blog talked about how we can easily make our time with God something that is a checklist item…something we do because we feel like we have to or because we will feel like a failure if we don’t. That is not what God wants. God is more concerned with our heart, life, and devotion than whether or not we do the right rituals and check them off our list each day.

So how do we move beyond spending time reading God’s Word and praying because we feel like we have to or so that we don’t feel like a failure? How do we move it to where we are focused on doing it out of our devotion to God and a desire in our heart, because we want to learn how to live our entire life for him?

Here are a few practical steps that can help us change our thinking and focus when it comes to having a time set aside that is devoted to hearing from God and speaking to God.

1 – Start somewhere – Don’t assume you have to go from struggling to have a consistent devotion time to having the greatest devotion time ever. It takes time to grow and build. Just like any relationship, you start small and grow. So start somewhere. Figure out when and how long you’ll set aside and begin with that. It doesn’t have to be hours long either…start somewhere and be consistent. It will grow over time. And if you miss a day or two, let it go and work to make sure you have it the next day.

2 – Make a plan – Plan when you’ll have your time, what you’ll read, and how you’ll pray. It may seem a bit unnatural at first, but making a plan will help you be consistent. At first you’ll have to work to stick to the plan, but over time it will become natural. Pick a time of the day you know you’ll consistently have the ability to devote some time to reading and praying. Pick a devotional book or book of the Bible to begin reading through, and each day do some reading. Pick up a journal and write down some prayer requests, and when you pray begin praying through those items.

3 – Ask for help – Find a friend or someone you know whom you would consider a strong Follower of Christ, and ask them for help and advice in getting started. Ask them where they suggest you begin reading in the Bible, or what devotional book they would recommend. Ask them to share with you how they go about having their time with God. Let them share with you their struggles and victories as they were developing this time in their life. And allow them to keep you accountable by asking you from time to time how you are doing.

4 – Embrace God’s grace – We are not perfect, never will be. God knows that. Jesus died for us because we aren’t perfect. God’s grace is incredible, and we need to learn to start embracing it and living according to it. That doesn’t mean we intentionally do what is wrong because we presume upon his grace (Romans 6)…but it does mean we stop thinking and acting like we must be perfect or else we are a failure. If you miss a day or two, let it go and just focus on making it a priority the next day.

5 – Realize it’s an all-day thing – Yes, we set aside a time during the day to focus on reading God’s Word and praying. But, that doesn’t mean the rest of the day we don’t think about or focus on God and his Word. No! All day long, think about and pray for what you last read. When a verse pops in your head that you’ve read before, think about it for a moment. If someone or something pops into your head, pray for that real quick. Always be focused on God’s Word and prayer, and you’ll find out it becomes a lot easier to give God your heart, life, and devotion.

6 – Help someone else – As you develop a strong and consistent time devoted to reading God’s Word and praying, and your devotion for God grows in your heart and you seek to live your life for God, begin to help others who are struggling themselves. Give them pointers. Share verses with them that mean a lot to you. Encourage them. Help them…and watch how you continue to grow yourself as you help them as well.

The ultimate reality is that we will devote our time and energy and focus to what we care about. But the hard part is that it’s often not known how to best go about devoting time to read God’s Word and pray. It takes work, especially in the beginning. Like any relationship we value, we have to put the time into it. So make sure to do that.

Follow these steps here, continually pray and ask God to develop in you a love for him and his Word, and it will help you get to the place where it is no longer be about a checklist you must keep so you don’t feel like a failure. Rather, it will become something you love and long for and crave and honestly miss when you don’t have it one day. It will become a part of your life, something your heart desires, and something that you will want to be devoted to.

God wants our heart, life, and devotion. He doesn’t want to just be reduced to a ritual we check off our list.

Posted in Bible Study

Devotion part 1: the wrong focus

Devotions. Quite Time. Time with the Lord. Reading my Bible and Praying.

Whatever term or phrase you use, it is referring to the idea of a time we set aside to read either a devotional book or the Bible and then pray. A time during the day where we put everything else away and devote time hear from God as well as speak to God through prayer.

As Followers of Christ, having this time is important. If we want to be able to live for God, we have to know what he tells us in his Word. And prayer is how we communicate with God about what we are thinking/feeling as well as ask him to help us with things such as applying what we’ve just read in our devotion time. So having a time set aside that is devoted to hearing from God and speaking to God is obviously important.

HOWEVER…

Far too often, it can easily become something that we can feel we are either expected, forced, or obligated to do. We may have been told that we have to do this to be able to truly follow Christ, that we must make sure we have this time in our life each day if we want to grow closer to Christ, or that we have to do it because it’s part of being a Christian.

I’m not saying all of those ideas don’t contain some truth. There is truth in each of those ideas. But when all we hear is what we must do, what we need to do, and what we have to, eventually we can begin to believe that if don’t then we aren’t a good Christian. It starts to put into our head the thought that if I miss one day…just ONE DAY…then we are failing God and aren’t being a good Follower of Christ, so maybe we need to repent and try harder to not miss a day. But then when we miss another day down the road, we begin to beat our self up, and we feel like less of a good Christian and more of a failure in our relationship with Christ.

That can quickly become a vicious cycle of making sure we can check that off our list of things we must do to be a good Christian.

Each time we can check it off, we breathe a sigh of relief for not being a failure…and each time we can’t check it off, we sigh for feeling like a failure that day. The entire focus of our devotion time becomes “don’t be a failure”.

THAT’S NOT GOOD!

Being a Follower of Christ should not be reduced to a checklist of things to do or things to avoid each day. Being a Follower of Christ is so much more than that. It’s about living our entire life for Christ, our Lord and Savior. Not just certain times of our day or aspects of our life…ALL of our life.

A checklist of what we need to do today or not do today reduces it to something less than what it should be. It reduces it to being more about following certain rituals or doing certain things each day out of obligation. Whether it’s having a devotion time each day or praying at certain times each day, or whatever feel we need to add to our list, reducing our relationship with God into a checklist at all is not healthy.

God himself even tells us that is not what he wants…

And Samuel said, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. (1 Samuel 15:22)

‘To obey is better than sacrifice’. The Israelites had several sacrifices they were to make for different reasons (won’t get into details here). They were aspects of living for God at that time, things that they knew they needed to do, rituals they had. And while those sacrifices were given to them by God and were important for them to do as God intended, we see here that God cared more about their obedience…living their lives according to his Word…than them only doing the rituals they were supposed to do. He wants our life.

“…For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

‘But the Lord looks at the heart’. We as people often focus more on the external than the internal. We want to look good, do the right thing, and give off the appearance that all is right and we are successful and doing well. That is one main reason we can easily allow ourselves to make our relationship with Christ a checklist type of relationship. We want to feel like we are succeeding…and appear to others as though we are succeeding. But as we see here, God is much more concerned about who we are inside than how we appear outside. He wants our heart.

And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”(Mark 12:41-44)

‘She…has put in everything she had, all she had to live on’. This story is not so much about money, but really more about devotion to God. Jesus does not say that those who gave a lot because they were rich did anything wrong, he simply pointed out that they had a lot to give. The widow, however, did not have much and yet she gave all she did have. She, more than the others, showed her total devotion to God, because she gave all she had. He wants our devotion.

Is having a time set aside to spend reading God’s Word and praying important? Absolutely! It is how we learn what God says and what it means to live righteously and how we grow closer Christ. But God wants it to be done out of our devotion to him, out of a desire in our heart to hear from him and speak to him, because we want to learn how to live our entire life for him.

We shouldn’t have in our heads the idea that if we do it today we are not a failure, and if we miss it today we are a failure. That’s putting all the focus on ourselves and how we think we will appear (to ourselves, to God, or to others), and that is not the right focus.

Question is, how do we get past the thinking that it’s a checklist item we must do each day or we will feel like a failure that day? In part 2 of this blog, I’ll share practical steps that will help us have the right focus…

Posted in Bible Study, My Thoughts, Parenting

What I want my kids to know about hate

White Supremacy. KKK. Free Speech. Violent Protests. Hate.

Those words have been seen and heard all over the media this past week since the events in Charlottesville, VA on August 12. You can’t turn on the news without it being talked about, can’t visit social media sites without seeing someone posting their thoughts about it, and honestly can’t be anywhere that the media can be accessed without hearing about it. It’s all around us.

Today there is a rally/protest planned in Boston. I was actually driving through Boston early this morning, and I started thinking about what it might be like to be in Boston during that time. If I had nothing going on and nowhere to be, perhaps I would have ventured into Boston to observe and see what would happen. But, today I get to see my kids. First time in a week since I’ve seen them…so that takes precedence for my day today!

As I was driving and thinking about that, I began to think through what I would want to say to my kids about what is happening in our society right now. My kids have TV, and my oldest is on social media, so I guarantee they’ve heard at least something about Charlottesville, White Supremacy, KKK, Free Speech, Protests, or Hate this week. They might not understand much of what is happening, but I’m sure they’ve at least heard about it.

So what would I want my kids to know about all that is going on? What would I want to tell them and teach them regarding this? I want my kids to know right from wrong and to live to do what is right…so what do I want them to know about all of this hate?

I want my kids to know that acting in hate toward other people simply because they are different than us is NEVER right. 

I want my kids to know that believing you are better than someone else…anyone else…is NEVER right. 

I want my kids to know that every human being is valuable, so treating them as inferior or believing they are less valuable than you is NEVER right. 

That is what I want my kids to know about hate. That is what I want to teach my kids as they grow up.

But I want to do more than just tell them this…I want to teach them to be able to know why this is true. I don’t want to just give them the ability to simply recite truths that I passed on to them (yes, I do want them to listen to what I say…and I’d be proud if they every quoted me), but I also want to instill in them the ability to think critically about things and understand the why behind something being right or wrong. I want them to grow up knowing how to know if something is right or wrong on their own, because I won’t always be here to tell them what is right and what is wrong.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son…” John 3:16

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love… If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. 1 John 4:7-8, 20-21

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:37-39

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” Matthew 5:43-44

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2:3-4

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Romans 12:14-18

I want my kids to know and understand that God loves everyone, regardless of whether or not they believe in him or love him, what they look like, or where they are from. I want them to know that God loved all of us so much that he was willing to send his son to die for all of us…not just certain people. I want them to know and understand that God calls us to love others, and that we are even told in 1 John that if we hate someone but say we love God, we are a liar. I want them to realize that we are commanded to love our neighbors, and that we are even told to love our enemies. I want them to begin to put into practice now the fact that we are challenged to not be conceited but rather put others before ourselves. And I want them to strive to live peaceably with all people, seeking to promote peace by living in harmony with others.

When my kids know what God says in his word about how we are to treat others, they will be able to understand that they are not better than other people who are different, and that will lead them to realize that any form of hate toward another person for that reason is NEVER right.

What do I want my kids to know about hate? I want them to know that hate is wrong, including why it is wrong. I want them to know that treating others who are different in any way that is degrading is wrong. I want them to know that thinking they are better than others who might be different is wrong. And I want them to know that anyone who promotes hate toward a group of people that are different is wrong.

Posted in Bible Study, Broken Thoughts, My Thoughts

Some dates just carry more weight than others

Recently I’ve posted some pretty open and honest blogs concerning my life. I’ve shared all that I’m struggling with in terms of what I have lost in the past couple of years, and the loneliness I had been feeling because of the loss. I’ve also shared what I have learned from the loss and pain that is associated with it, and even why I’ve chosen to not forget my past as I move forward.

Forgetting the past…at least attempting to…is often the normal response to painful experiences. There was a time I wanted to forget everything and start over. I will be totally honest and even admit that at one point when I was really hurting, I wanted to just walk away from everything and everyone and start a new life somewhere else. I’m SO GLAD I didn’t, but I admit it was a consideration at one point.

I know that painful memories are not fun, and we want to get rid of them whenever possible. I get it, I really do!

Today for example, is a date that brings with it a lot of memories and pain for me. July 19th. A date that I’m sure I’ll never forget, and a date that I’m sure will always bring me more pain and reminders of the past than most other dates. Some dates just carry more weight than others, and this date is one of those for me. This date was my wedding anniversary. But not only that, it is also the date that I first realized that my marriage was in serious jeopardy of coming to an end (and it eventually did end).

For many years this date carried with it good memories. Memories of another year being married to a woman I loved and had a family with. In more recent years, however, it has carried more painful memories with it. Memories of the pain of loss and rejection. There are both good memories and painful memories associated with this date, which is why it carries so much weight.

But despite the pain, I don’t want to just try to forget the memories associated with this date. As hard as it has been, I want to learn to accept all memories as part of the journey that I have been through in my life. I want to learn from the memories of my past as I move forward into the future. And I want to learn to continually trust in God and rely on his strength in my life, and painful memories help me do just that.

“Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Corinthians 12:8-10

“…for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” – Philippians 4:11-13

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” – James 1:2-3

“…but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” – Romans 5:3-5

If I try to push away or forget the difficult times in my past, then I’m trying to live my life in my own strength, and I’m trying to act as though I’m not vulnerable to pain and hurt in this life. But when I choose to remember the difficulties of the past, then I’m constantly reminded that I am weak and vulnerable, which reminds me that I need God.

I need God’s grace in my life. I need God’s strength in my life. I need to remember that difficult circumstances help me to look to God for his grace and strength in my life. I need to remember that it is because of his strength that I am able to do all the things I need to do as well as what he has called me to do in this life. And I need to remember that trials and suffering in this life serves as the catalyst for me to grow deeper in my faith, gives me the ability to endure and remain steadfast, creates in me a stronger character, and ultimately leads me to hope.

July 19 is a painful day for me…but I know that it’s also just another date on my journey that God is using to produce faith and strength and character and hope in me.

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To anyone who has certain dates or memories that are very difficult and painful…

May you be able to find rest in God’s grace. May you admit that you are weak so that you will allow his strength to be your strength. May you continue to seek him each day as he produces stronger faith in you. May you remain steadfast and endure the trials with full confidence that God is at work in your life despite the pain. And may you find hope again for your future because of all that God has done in your life through the trials and pain.