Out of Balance


We all have a past. We all have things we are ashamed of or wish we could change about ourselves. We all have people in our lives who have hurt us, rejected us and played a role in forming who we are today. The degrees of our brokenness varies based on our past, our wounds and our current circumstances. But no matter who you are or what you’re going through, you feel like your pain and your unhappiness is the worst and no one else can possibly understand.

thMJT7OP2AAnd so we seek happiness. We want to put our pain, our regrets, our shame and our mistakes behind us and wipe the slate clean. We believe that if only (fill in the blank) could happen then we would be happy. And sometimes it happens and we are happy, for a moment. But then we find that the happiness doesn’t last so we seek something else that we believe will bring us happiness. And many of us spend years, some their entire lives searching for that one thing that will bring them the peace and happiness they so desperately desire.

And we know those people and we know their struggle and we hurt for them and we desire for them to find their happiness. We love them through their darkest times as the Bible calls us to. Even when we know that what is really making them unhappy and the real reason they can’t find peace is because the sin in their life has caused them to be separated from God. But we love them and continue to point them toward the answer they seek but are blinded to.

They are blinded because until they find their identity in Christ, they will be in a constant state of trying to discover who they really are. And that desire to be someone other than who you currently are stems from not knowing who you are in Christ. God designed us to seek our identity so that in our search we will eventually be pointed toward Him. And He is where true happiness is found because apart from Him there is no such thing as true happiness.

But in our love for the hurting and our compassion for them in the midst of their struggle, we cannot lose sight of the fact that at the end of the day they don’t have a happiness issue, they have a sin issue. They are lost and are in desperate need of a Savior. My concern is that we are out of balance as Christians and in our attempt to love people and have compassion for them, we have become desensitized to sin and the things that God says are wrong. We are becoming over sensitive to our fear of not wanting to offend people and in turn it’s causing us to become soft toward sin.

This is a subtle way that the enemy is deceiving Christians. We must have empathy and grace toward the lost sinner. But we cannot be deceived into simply feeling bad for their struggle and forget that at the end of the day the real issue is that they are a sinner in desperate need of a Savior. We can feel bad for all that someone has been through but we can’t forget that what they are doing is still wrong. Their sin is not their right. It’s not what they deserve to make them happy. It’s sin.

Let’s love them, but let’s love them to Christ.

Prisoner of War


thDU0YGLOPI’ve never known someone who was a prisoner of war – or so I thought. Toward the end of my grandmother’s life she began to experience the effects of dementia and she started to say things that didn’t make sense. One of the things she frequently mentioned was that she was being taken as a prisoner of war each night but that they would let her go in the morning. My family thought it was odd that she thought she was a prisoner of war since no one in our family is in the military and she didn’t have much contact with anyone or anything that would cause her to think thoughts that were related to being a prisoner of war.

But after several weeks of her sharing these thoughts with us, I began to see how she could see herself as being a prisoner of war. At 101 years of age my grandmother knew she was in the final season of her life. Death was imminent and she was extremely fearful of that fact. She had lived her whole life in fear of many things. In her mind, she was a prisoner to those fears and insecurities. And in reality she was a prisoner to the lies of the enemy.

thN54LHBHM

My grandmother, like many of us, fell into the trap of being imprisoned by the her thoughts, her fears and her insecurities. She was consumed with the lies that replayed in her mind over and over again that she wasn’t good enough, that she didn’t deserve happiness and that she was unloved. Although none of that was true, the audio of those lies had been replayed so many times in her mind over the years that it had become her reality. She had become a prisoner of the spiritual war that raged for her thoughts and what she believed.

Often we allow the negative thoughts and emotions to take priority in our minds and over time those thoughts begin to take deep root. They start to control how we think of ourselves, how we think others perceive us and how we respond to and treat others. Those thoughts can then begin to spill out of our heads through our mouths as we begin to speak negatively about ourselves and our situations. Instead of speaking life into our situations and relationships we condemn them to a death sentence through our negative words. We allow the enemy to define what we believe about ourselves and others and we become imprisoned by our own doing.

There is a war for your thoughts. There is a very real enemy who wishes to convince you that you are no good, no one loves you and you are incapable and undeserving of whatever it is you dream of for your life. It may be a particular profession, it may be the restoration of a broken relationship, it may be healing for a hurt within your heart or it may be forgiveness for your past. Whatever it is, you are a prisoner of war if you believe the lie that says you are unworthy and incapable.

th45NVTJIYThe good news is that it’s never to late to break free from that prison. God wants to set you free and He gave His one and only Son so that you may live a life free from the prison of your thoughts and your sins. Your identity is who Christ says you are, not the person the enemy tries to make you believe you are. The choice is yours – will you believe the truth of God’s word and who He says you are? Or will you continue to be held captive by the lies of who Satan says you are? It’s time to set your mind on Christ and take back control of your thoughts. Your life can be completely transformed simply by renewing your mind through the reading of God’s word and through the thoughts you allow to enter into your mind (Romans 12:2). Jesus Christ came to set the captives free. He came to set you free. The next step is up to you – surrender your thoughts and you WILL be set free.

Every Man For Himself


cruzThis morning as I watched Senator Ted Cruz speak from the Senate floor, I became engrossed in the details he shared about what had happened to the original 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence and the sacrifices they made in their quest for liberty. These were well-educated, successful men who had all they needed for themselves and their families yet they valued liberty more than their security. As a result many lost everything they had. Most of them had nothing to gain personally and everything to lose when they made the choice to put their signature on one of the most well-known documents in history, certainly in America’s history. Their personal sacrifices were made in part because they saw the bigger picture. They knew what they would have to endure for the remainder of their lives in order for generations to come to live in freedom would be worth it. They knew the costs yet they were still willing to lend their signatures because it was not about them, it was about freedom.

selfieAt this point I will now do what I vowed never to do when I was a teenager – sound like an old person complaining about “young people these days”. Heaven help me. But seriously, have I become that person I disliked so much as a teen or were the older folk really right and I was just a dumb teenager? Or is there something truly disturbing about the behaviors of the next generation? I’m not sure but there are a few things that I do know for sure that I’d like to share. My generation certainly had issues, there’s no doubt about it. Like all younger generations, we were viewed as self-absorbed, lazy, know-it-alls who were lacking in knowledge of what the “real world” was like. And while every younger generation, including the current one, has plenty of those same qualities to go around, I dare to ask the question – is it just me or are young people today, generally speaking, taking self absorption to a whole new level? The good kids, the questionable kids and the completely rogue kids today all seemed obsessed with themselves. I’m pretty sure they spend more time taking pictures of themselves than they do anything else in their lives and the term “selfie” will soon be an official dictionary word if it’s not already. If I never see another duck face selfie again I’ll be just fine but I somehow doubt that will happen. Social media and reality/competition television shows have driven the desire and pursuit of instant fame through the roof. The need to have more Instagram and Twitter followers than anyone else they know is bizarre to me. And the lengths at which they are willing to go to become known is scary. And I’m pretty sure the use of the word “scary” when referring to young people throws me directly into the old people category.

But it’s not just the young people in our society. Adults too are willingly crossing moral and ethical lines to get ahead in the workplace and justifying destructive and hurtful behavior because they “deserve to be happy” no matter who gets hurt in the process. We’re living in a time where the sacrificial mindsets of the 56 individuals who signed the Declaration of Independence would be mocked and ridiculed. Maybe it is just me but it seems that there are fewer and fewer people who are truly willing to sacrifice so that others (outside of their immediate family and friends) would benefit. It’s an every man for himself kind of world we’re living in.

declarationAnd as I listened to the devastating consequences that many of those 56 men and their families endured because of their dedication to the cause of independence, I questioned how we all can be so selfish and so unwilling to sacrifice at that level today. What has changed in our human nature since their time? What would those men and their families think of us today if they could see how we treat the freedom many of them sacrificed everything for?

And then my thoughts went, as they often do in those melancholy moments, to my Lord and Savior. I thought of the ultimate sacrifice that He made on our behalf. I thought about how different my life would be if Jesus had thought “I’ve got nothing to gain personally and everything to lose by sacrificing myself.” I thought of what my family’s lives would look like if He only thought of Himself in that moment instead of knowing that His personal sacrifice would give freedom and liberty to those held captive by sin for generations to come. I thought about how different our world would be if Jesus had an every man for himself mentality instead of an attitude of “my life for every man”. I gave thanks in that moment that no matter how discouraging things may seem to me at the times when my focus is on the negatives, I know that if I’ll just turn my thoughts back to Jesus, I find peace.

freeMy peace is in knowing that when I was still a self-absorbed, lazy, thought I knew-it-all young person, He loved me. My peace is in knowing that when I’m a self-absorbed, lazy, think I know-it-all “somewhat middle-aged” person, He loves me. My peace is in knowing that because of Him and the sacrifice He made, there is hope for those who are drowning in their hopelessness. My peace comes from knowing that the only freedom that REALLY matters is the freedom HE died for, the freedom from the bondage of sin. My peace comes from knowing that I live in a country where I can still be free to share the good news of the freedom in Christ thanks to the 56 men and their families that sacrificed so much for that freedom a long time ago. My peace comes in knowing that I have the choice to be that crabby, “somewhat middle-aged” person complaining about young people or I can choose to love them as Christ loves them and as He loved me at their age. My peace comes from knowing that the Son set me free therefore I am free indeed.

 

Beyond the Crashing Waves


August 2013 1397On our recent vacation to Florida I was lying in my perfect beach chair, under a perfect beach umbrella, looking out at the perfect calm waters beyond the crashing waves and thinking “can it get any more perfect than this?!” and the answer was no, not at that moment. I was relaxing among sheer perfection and relishing every second of it. But the calm beyond the waves was calling my name and I had to get out there to see if it really was as peaceful as it appeared from my point of view. When I reached the water and began to make my way toward the peace I could see in the distance, my focus was interrupted by the waves that suddenly began hitting me with pounding consistency. The harder I tried to get toward the calm waters, the harder and faster the waves came at me. The distant calm seemed to be getting further away instead of closer. But I was not about to give up that easily.

I looked back at the perfect chair and perfect umbrella I’d left behind. I was so very tempted to just turn back and return to their ease and comfort. But when I looked back out over the crashing waves, the peaceful, still waters ahead once again called out to me.  I began to get frustrated because it seemed like for every bit of headway I made after a wave passed, the next wave just seemed to push me right back to where I’d just been. But then I glanced back again to the chair I’d left behind and realized I had made it a lot further out than I had thought. Even though it felt like I really wasn’t getting anywhere, my persistence was paying off. I looked forward to refocus on the destination and it was a lot closer than I had realized. Just a few more waves and I’d be there. And the further out I got toward the calmer waters, the less punch the waves seemed to have. They were losing their power to knock me backwards. Either my determination was making me stronger or the waves were getting weaker. Either way, I was re-energized for the final stretch.

waterThere was no real line that I crossed, I was just there. I looked around and realized that I was in the calm, peaceful waters that had been almost impossible to reach – but they hadn’t been because I was now right smack dab in the middle of them. There was a stillness out there that I don’t think I’ve ever experienced. The laughter of the children playing close to shore was so distance I could barely hear it. I was so far out that when I looked back to the shore I was a little afraid for a moment because I was alone in the deep – and it was really, really deep. But it was the most peaceful place I had ever been and it was worth ever bit of energy, frustration and determination it had taken to get there.

Many times we see the peaceful waters in the distance from our current vantage point. We know it’s calling our name but some of us never leave the comforts of the here and now because we decide where we are is “good enough.” But God desires so much more for us than “good enough”. He wants to give us the very best but we get too lazy and too comfortable and decide to settle because His “very best” requires commitment and maybe a little hard work on our part.

water4Then there’s those of us who leave our place of comfort and venture out toward the deep but as soon as the crashing waves come at us we retreat back to where we came from. We decide the calm isn’t worth it and we determine to go right back where we were. Others make it further toward the peace of the calm waters. They fight the waves and keep pressing on in spite of the difficulties and challenges. But no matter how focused they were in the beginning, the waves become too much for them and they quickly forget the destination that lies ahead. They loose their focus and become consumed with the crashing waves that rob them of their energy, determination and ultimate goal. They begin to believe they can’t make it so they turn back and retreat to the starting point.

August 2013 1424My encouragement to you today is that no matter how hard the waves are crashing all around you, the still and peaceful waters of Christ are not out of reach. Stay focused. Be determined to reach the stillness of His presence knowing that He has so much more He wants to give to you – more of His love, more of His peace, more joy, more blessings than you could ever imagine or hope for. Take your eyes off the waves and look out to the calm that lies beyond the distractions and obstacles. It hasn’t gone anywhere and it’s not beyond your reach. Keep pushing back against the waves and every now and then take time to glance back so you can be reminded just how far you’ve come. The harder you fight and the more determined you are, the closer you’ll get and the waves will lose their punch. Then suddenly you’ll look around and realize that you don’t know when, or really even how it happened, but you entered into the stillness of the peaceful waters of Christ and it was all worth it. Just keep swimming.

Lessons From Remodeling: Lesson 2 – You Must Perform Preventative Maintenance


remodelingThere’s that old saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. Well, that’s exactly what we learned from the whole remodeling experience. Owning a home is a big responsibility and we discovered that if your not really paying much attention and when you’re definitely not taking preventative steps in caring for your home, it’s going to cost you.

I am a bona fide procrastinator and when I see that something needs to be done, I can unfortunately find reasons to put it off. There’s always a to-do list for our lives, and for me house stuff tends to be low priority. But the problem with not performing regular maintenance and  fixing things when they first need repair instead of putting it off, is that it will usually end up costing more than if you’d just fixed it when you first noticed a problem. I learned through our bathroom remodel that many times there are things happening that you cannot see until it’s too late. Regular maintenance and checking on the condition of things in your home can ensure you don’t end up with unforeseen surprises that cause you to spend more than you had bargained for.

remodeling2The same holds true in our personal lives – both physically and spiritually. Most of know that if we take care of ourselves on a regular basis by eating right, exercising and routine visits to the doctor and dentist then we lower our chances of illness and disease while improving our overall health. Our spiritual lives require the same preventative care. But unfortunately many do not consider their spiritual lives an area of concern when it comes to regular, routine maintenance.

Many times we ignore our spiritual health much like I ignored the repair needs in our home. We rationalize that we’ll do more “some day”, when we have more time, when our circumstances improve, when we “clean up our act”. We plan to go to church when work’s not so busy, when the weather gets warmer, when school starts back for the kids, when things get better. The problem is that just like our health and our home repairs – things don’t magically get better and there’s never a good time. You have to start somewhere and you have to take responsibility for yourself. No one else can do it for you and ignoring it won’t make it go away. You have to do your part then trust God to do His part. The longer we ignore our spiritual life, the more damage is done. And like my home, there can be things going on that we’re not even aware of. We can have unforgiveness toward someone, issues with pride, wrong attitudes and thoughts or a lack of knowledge about something we’re doing that can cause harm and we can be completely unaware of the damage it’s causing to our spirit.

remodeling5So how do you perform preventative care of your spiritual life? The same way you do your physical health – with regular, routine visits with the Great Physician. You must spend time with God regularly through prayer and reading the bible so that He may reveal to you the areas in your life that need attention.  The Holy Spirit will convict you of the things you need to correct in your spiritual life and God will speak to you through His word to teach you how to improve your spiritual health. But you have to make it a priority.

remodeling3And you need people in your life who are trusted fellow believers who can point out the blind spots that you may miss or are unaware of. We need spiritual family – people who have gone before us and can help teach us how to follow Christ, not just on Sundays, but every day. The only way to ensure you maintain your spiritual health is to do regular maintenance. You must be purposeful and it must be a priority. Remember, there may be things occurring that you’re not even aware of and preventative care will keep you from a spiritual catastrophe that can happen when we ignore the need we have for God daily in our lives. Denying that fact could cost you more in the long run. Don’t learn that truth the hard way like I did with our home. Check your spiritual pulse today and make an appointment with God to ensure a healthy, peace-filled spiritual life.

The Monopoly Strategy


monopolyOne of the best gifts we bought our son for Christmas was the game Monopoly Millionaire. I grew up during the height of Monopoly’s popularity and remember playing for hours at my friend Donna’s house along with a group of friends from school. To see my son discover the same enjoyment I had when I played so many years ago has been so much fun for me. However, the bad part about playing with my family is that I shared my strategy for winning and now it’s not so easy to beat them. When I play my goal is to buy everything I land on. I spend every fake dollar I have to acquire the most property because I know that I can defeat them by taking from them each time they land on one of my properties, especially once I start building houses and hotels. They don’t stand a chance when I keep taking and taking from them what they hold on to so dearly. They wrongly believe that if they hold on to their money and I spend all of mine then they will win. They don’t realize that even though they may have money in the beginning, eventually I will take it all away from them.

monopoly2We live in a world today where so many people are simply taking from others. They believe they will “win” if they can aquire more and that they will defeat the hurts hidden inside of them by taking from and hurting others. For many their life strategy is “I’ll hurt you before you have the chance to hurt me.” They take trust, time and love from those closest to them and misuse it, abuse it and never give it back in return. They play the monopoly strategy until those who love and care for them have nothing left to give. The game never ends for them because once they’ve taken all they can from one person they just move on to someone else and continue the game. The problem is that no one ever wins in this game.

monopoly5But there’s a different strategy for life that may not work in the game of Monopoly but it’s a proven winning strategy when it comes to real people and real relationships. It’s the strategy modeled by Jesus and one that all believers are called to follow. The world we live in teaches us that the way to defeat people is by taking from them. But God’s way is not to defeat people but to win them over to a relationship with Him by giving to them. When we give of ourselves sacrificially to others – we can give our love, our attention, our time and our trust – we model the same selfless love that God showed when He gave His Son to die on the Cross for us. It was an understanding of that sacrificial love that won me over into a life committed and surrendered to my Lord and Savior. It’s the same strategy that we as Christians are called to today. When we sacrifically give to others – from those we are in intimate relationship with to those who are complete strangers to us – we win them over to the love of Christ by showing them how much He loves them.

monopoly7What’s your strategy? Are you a taker? Are you selfishing hanging on to all you could be giving due to fear of being used or rejected? Are you trying to defeat people for a better position or more pay? Are you taking from others but giving nothing in return? Are you trying to defeat past hurts by refusing to give forgiveness, your time or your love to those who caused the hurt? Has your strategy changed from a giver to a taker because someone betrayed your trust? Are you unwilling to give until you receive?

Or are you a giver? Do you give of yourself – your time, your love, your attention, your resources – in order to win God’s way? Have you experienced the joy and the blessing that comes from giving instead of taking? Do you seek ways that you can give more to those you love? Do you give even though you may receive nothing in return?

monopoly8Being a giver does not come without risk. But with God’s guidance on how to give and who to give to, you can minimize that risk. The joy you will receive from giving will far outweigh any risk involved. There are so many people who are empty because others have taken from them. So take a look around and see who God puts in your path that desperately needs to receive what you have to give. There’s someone waiting to filled with the love and hope that can only come from God. Let God use you to show others the incomparable love of Christ through sacrificial giving and in turn you will see how truly amazing our God is.

 

You’ve Reached Your Destination


gps 3I began this particular journey about 5 years ago. It began like most journeys God has sent me on with a little apprehension, a little uncertainty of what lie ahead, a little curiousity as to how long the journey would last and a lot of expectation as to what God would do through this new journey.

It wasn’t long into the journey that I realized this one was not going to be an easy one. In January 2008 we moved my grandmother in to live with us. She was 96 years old at the time and in remarkably good health. She was pretty self-sufficient and the change to our lifestyle was minimal. That all changed pretty rapidly. Her health remained good for her age, but her expectations increased a lot. At first it was not that big of a deal. After all, she was my grandmother who I love dearly and I wanted to make this final season of her life as comfortable and enjoyable as possible. But the more and more that was required and expected of me, the more difficult the journey became.

I found myself becoming resentful toward what I began to see as unrealistic expectations. I struggled to continue the journey without an attitude, especially when I felt everything I did was not appreciated and was never enough. The more the journey impacted my lifestyle and my family, the more my resentment built.

destination 4I began to question God as to why He sent me on this journey. I wanted to know when it would end. Don’t judge – I’m just being honest because this is truly one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I wondered what lesson I could possibly be missing that God was trying to teach me. Oh, I knew the obvious ones – patience, serving others with no expectation of anything in return, doing all things as unto the Lord, obedience, praising God through the difficult times – but I just knew that there was something I was missing. I knew I was right where God wanted me to be, yet I became frustrated and defeated because I just couldn’t seem to change my attitude no matter how much I prayed about it.

God certainly encouraged me along the way with special encounters with complete strangers who had also been caregivers. Each time I experienced one of these chance meetings I walked away with a renewed resolve to stick it out until God showed me I had reached my destination and the journey was over. We also had opportunities to go on vacations over the past 5 years that allowed for a time of rest and rejuvenation to continue on. But in the past 6 months, more often than not, I found myself dealing with emotions that were not Christ-like and left me feeling ashamed.

Shortly after Christmas, Sissy (that’s what we call her) fell in her room. We took her to the hospital but they soon sent her home after finding no broken bones. She began having difficulty sleeping, was in constant pain and her health seemed to be declining. After a second fall, we decided together that it may be time for her to be in a place that would be better equipped and trained to care for her. I began to look at different facilities and prepare for the end of the journey.

I quickly found that moving Sissy into a long-term care facility was not going to be an option based on a lot of different variables. I surrended to the fact the journey was not over and in reality, there was no end in site. Once again I felt deflated because I thought I had reached the end of a difficult season only to realize it was not only going to continue, but was going to continue indefinitely.

destination 5I began to pray once again for God to give me the strength to continue on the journey He had set before me and to help me to have a Christ-like attitude in caring for Sissy. A few days later I was doing my typical routine of checking email/Facebook/Twitter when I came across a link to an article on Twitter. It was an interview with Amy Grant, a Christian recording artist, who was caring for her aging father. She talked about the challenges of being a caretaker and the abundance of emotions you experience. But then something she said “clicked” with me. She said there’s no map for this kind of journey but it may be the last lesson you learn from your loved one. My heart began to change and I stopped looking for what God was trying to teach me and began to focus on what I could learn from Sissy.

Within a few weeks God began to open doors for the journey to come to an end. Even though I clearly knew God was orchestrating everything that was happening and I saw that the opportunity was there for my prayers to be answered, for some reason I questioned if I really had reached my destination. I had gotton comfortable in my difficult situation and no matter how much I had longed for it to end, when God did open the door for that to happen, I did not immediately step through. It’s funny how sometimes the very thing we pray for, is the thing we hesitate to receive when God offers it. And when we hesitate, we miss out on the fullness of blessing found in His perfect timing.

gps2In my hesitation, I realized I felt like I had not completely “got it” and that I still needed more time for my heart and my attitude to be completely right. Then one day in Sissy’s room while I was kneeling down before her putting her socks on her feet, God whispered “I see your heart, the journey is over. You’ve reached your destination.”

On March 1st Sissy will be moving to a small, privately-owned assisted living home. She is looking forward to being somewhere offering around the clock  care and to meeting new friends. She knows the time is right for this next season of her life.

Are you on journey or in a season of difficulty that you wish would come to an end? Or perhaps God is bringing to an end a season you’ve been in – even a comfortable and good season yet you may sense that He’s telling you it’s time for it to come to an end? Don’t question the end of your journey, God just may be preparing you for your next great journey in life. Trust in His timing, you have now reached your destination.