Warriors of Christ.

When your heart is in turmoil, it feels like every day you fight to see the sunshine peek through the clouds. Sometimes it can feel like you’re scratching and clawing your way out of a hole you’ve stumbled into, only to feel the land give way beneath you. But what we sometimes forget as Christians is we are fighting for our lives every day, regardless of the situations we find ourselves in.

God has called us to be his children, but we must work for that honor every single day. 

I think as Christians, we often get hung up on the idea of life on Earth. We strive to achieve Earthly standards of accomplishment like wealth, career achievements, and personal relationships. We put so much stock in the things that satisfy us now, that we sometimes forget that this is not our home. We are so distracted by the things around us, that when tragedy strikes, we often find ourselves lying on the ground wondering how we got there. As my family has experienced first hand the devastation that a disease like cancer can deliver, it seems that my ears are more in tune to the number of times I hear people question why things like cancer, death, illness, and tragedy happen. You hear people talk of the goodness of a human, their service to others, and the love in their heart and how it simply isn’t fair that such a person has to suffer through such terrible things.

But what my heart is constantly drawing me towards is the promise in the Bible that our days on Earth will not be easy. In fact, we find the pages of our Heavenly Father’s beloved book packed full of verse after verse encouraging us to move forward in the hard times, to stay strong in him when we face suffering. Our love letter from Christ tells us that life will be hard, even more so because we are cloaked in the Heavenly spirit. But what we can lay our head to rest on is the promise that for whatever suffering this life may bring, our Heavenly home will satisfy a desire in our heart we have yet to uncover and the immensity of the happiness we will experience there will leave whatever sufferings we encounter here on Earth in the dust beneath our shoes.

Instead, what we should remind ourselves is that every single day, we are fighting a battle for our eternal lives. We are facing our demons, Earthly woes and things we cannot even begin to understand in our quest for an eternal seat at the Father’s table.

And what that battle requires is preparation. It doesn’t call us to weep about our troubles, or cry out for an explanation. It demands that we take refuge in the love of God and allow him to carry us when we cannot go on anymore. This week it was laid on my heart to simply talk about staying strong on the battlefield of life and training everyday to handle whatever life throws at you. I encourage you to spend your days seeking the guidance of God through scripture and prayer. If you train your heart each and every day, you will be better equipped to handle anything that is thrown your way. You will be in tune with your Father and have that foundation to lean on when your foes fall on you.

In my quest for a way to write just what was churning around in my mind, I stumbled upon yet another prayer from the book of Psalms. And like Psalm 23, this too was written by David. In this Psalm, David is crying out to God in a moment of trouble, asking for his help and his guidance. We see this vulnerability from David as he is fleeing for his life from Absalom. What this Psalm holds for me, is a prayer to God in the midst of a storm that although the Earth is shaken, and although the enemy seems stronger than ever, I know that my God is there with me, fighting alongside me.

Psalm 3

“Lord, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me! Many are saying of me, ‘God will not deliver him’.”

People often say that when it rains, it pours. And oftentimes we find ourselves in a situation where it feels that as everything is crumbling around us, the very floor beneath us seems to be failing as well.

What are your foes? Are you struggling with temptation, are you facing an illness? Maybe you are fearing for your life literally, or you can feel yourself losing a grip on who you are and who you want to be. Does it feel that your back is against a wall?

And in those times, as we find our world straying farther and farther away from God’s word, it seems that when we walk through valleys of hardship, we must also dodge the contagiousness of negativity and doubt.  I think that David was experiencing this very same thing all of those years ago. He was in a bad place, he was fearing for his life, and it seemed that the foes were too many to count. And undoubtedly he had a host of people questioning his faith in God and why he would end up in such a situation when his God should have delivered him. But although he is questioned, and although he is challenged, David knows that his God is near. As should you.

“But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high. I call out to the Lordand he answers me from his holy mountain. I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me. I will not fear though tens of thousands assail me on every side.”

David speaks to the power and strength of having God as your fortress, equipping yourself with his word and his grace to face your biggest threats. He knows that it is only because of God that he is able to lift his head up and move forward in the wake of hardship. He also trust that God will help him through, giving him the strength and the will when he has neither to continue in his battle. As Christians there will be times when we simply can’t go on, that is when Christ picks us up and carries us. He gets us out of bed in the morning and lays our heads on his armor at night. And because of his glory and his love for us, we should never fear whatever it is that we face. Even death. For we have the creator of Heaven and Earth on our side, whom shall we fear?

“Arise, LordDeliver me, my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked. From the Lord comes deliverance. May your blessing be on your people.”

It is with this verse that I like to imagine David laying down his worries at God’s feet and asking him to arise and deliver him. Have you ever been in a dark place, or struggling with a mound of fear and finally come to the point you knew you couldn’t face it alone? As Christians, we can lay down our ego, we can say “I give up,” and we have a Heavenly Father that is ready and willing to go to battle on our account. Some days, we won’t be strong enough to fight, but with a personal relationship with God, on those days he will be near and he will deliver us.

It’s easy to give up when your heart is so full of angst and worry, when you feel like your back is against the wall and your life as you know it is crumbling. It is easy to feel that there is no hope for your situation, or that you won’t survive what it is you face on your battlefield. But what is even easier is crying out to the glorious God and Savior and simply saying, “I need you.” Then we are able to fight side by side with God. And I pray that if you find yourself in this battle, that you would push away doubt and the need to understand this life and call upon the strength of the Lord’s armor. We will never belong here, therefore we will never be at peace here. We will face battle after battle in the name of the Lord. But we will always have deliverance in Christ alone, and we will have a Heavenly home waiting for us that far outweighs all.

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Days of Doubt.

I’ve struggled with what to write about this week. Not because of writer’s block or a lack of content, but because I have battled with how to put on paper exactly what has been laid on my heart. My dad has prostate cancer, a very advanced form of it, and right before my eyes I have watched a strong, healthy man suffer not only from the disease itself, but from the treatment. There are so many loved ones in my life who are either battling cancer or watching someone they love fight and it breaks my heart. I struggle for words every day to say to them and to my family to comfort them.

What do you tell someone who’s life has been ripped out from underneath them like a rug when they get yet another dose of bad news? How do you remain positive for them but be respectful of the fact that their heart is literally breaking in front of you?

And while it seems that every human instinct in me should be questioning why such a horrible thing is happening to people I love and care about, good people, instead my heart seems to draw closer to the Lord every day. It is so hard to explain to people how I can keep my faith, because the last thing that crosses my mind is to question God’s will. In fact, the question that is constantly on my mind instead is what do people do who go through these things and don’t have God to lean on because they don’t have a personal relationship with him? As I searched my heart for answers, I continued to pray to God for strength, for myself and for those I love. And that’s when Psalm 23 crossed my mind.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” – Psalm 23

The magnitude of comfort that this Psalm brings is me indescribable. I have heard this preached, and taught, and recited since I was little and yet never has this passage meant more to me than now. I often describe the Bible, as many people do, as Christ’s love letter to us as Christians. Imagine sitting down and putting into a book everything that you ever wanted to tell or teach your children. How incredible this piece of literature is, as it is Christ’s personal instructions to us as to how to live life and survive whatever may come our way.

This Psalm in particular, to me, is so stripped down and honest that it resonates with my soul. Here is how I break it down and keep in hidden in my heart.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

Wow. To take this line and apply it to your life really reveals the life Christ called us to live. The Earth is our physical home for now, but we do not belong here. God has destined us for a far greater home with him in Heaven and in this verse we know everything we need to know about life with God. Though our egos and our human nature demands that we have worldly possessions, though we judge our success by our things, and our value as a person by the opinions of others, this verse tells us that if we have God, if we allow him to lead us through life, we will be ok. God has provided us with everything we could possibly need to survive and thrive with him. We lack nothing.

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.

For me this part is twofold. One, this part of the passage says to me that God will satisfy every need we have if we allow him to be Lord of our lives. The Psalm as a whole equates God to a shepherd and us as his sheep. As a shepherd, he knows what is best for us, he knows how to help us steer clear of harm’s way and he will always provide for our physical and spiritual needs. We all know those people who seem to be constantly searching for something in life, they never feel fulfilled. They buy Earthly goods, or seek the companionship of others, thinking that it will leave them filling whole. But in truth, that fullness can only be felt when we put our trust and hope in God. He will provide for us in a way that no one else can.

This part of the passage to me is also God’s way of saying he knows what is best for us and sometimes that means lying down in green pastures. As humans we are driven to fix problems, to control situations and often times it is a true struggle to just be still. But that is what God calls us to do in certain instances in our life, to just be still and let him work. Just as a shepherd will give his flock rest as he prepares for the remainder of their journey.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

This right here is the most precious part of the entire Psalm to me. God promises us as Christians that no matter how hard things are, no matter how absolutely terrified we are, he is always there. There is nothing in our lives that we should fear, or worry about. Not even the evil things of this world or death itself, for if we are living in the glory of God, he will protect us and lead us through the hardest and most difficult times of our lives. For me, this is the passage I want to repeat every single day to my dad, and to those around me who are suffering as well. There are dark times in our life, God never promised there wouldn’t be. He equates those times to the valley of the shadow of death, teetering on the edge of the demise of our physical being, and yet there even still he remains with us, guiding us with his light and his staff until we can make it to the other side of that valley. But what may be perhaps the most difficult thing about this, is sometimes that outcome, that ascent from the valley is not what we want. It is not the answer we search for. But what it is, is God’s will for our life and it is far better than anything we could have ever planned ourselves.

He knows every single second of our lives before we are even born and much as a storyboard is laid out for a movie, he knows what scenes come next. Take comfort in the fact that our all-knowing and ever-present God knows what lies ahead and he knows exactly what lies beyond and he will get us there, one way or another. We only need to trust him and take comfort in his presence.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Again, the Lord shows us that we will encounter enemies, whether physical or spiritual. There are beings and things that will drag us down and threaten our spiritual well-being around every corner. But he is quick to show us that not only will he help us merely survive those times, but he will provide everything we need to go through them and then some. We can compare the description of “preparing a table” to laying out a feast for us. He will not merely provide a slice of bread to keep us moving, but will fill us with all of our desires.

Anointing our head can only be described as a Biblical practice that was used to honor and dignify a person. God does that for us by allowing us to live a righteous life through him. Despite what evil and darkness we may find in our lives, God always promises a robe of white and a life of goodness and mercy if we trust in him. So much so, that as described in the Psalm, it will run over and burst from its container. For me, this is every time I read his word or worship him through song, I truly feel like my heart may burst from how much happiness and true love he gives me. When I think about the people that have been placed in my life and the impact they have had on me, I feel full to the brim.

Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

And our final promise from God is what we can expect from a life with him, if we trust in him with all our heart and lean on him, goodness and mercy, love and protection, will always be a part of our lives. He promises strength for the times that are hard, and mercy for when we fall short. The house of the Lord to me in my relationship with him through the Holy Spirit. Because I accepted Christ so long ago, his spirit has been within my heart, guiding me and protecting me. The fact that I will have that for every day to come is what helps me pick myself up and put one foot in front of the other, each and every day.

God never promised that our time on Earth would be free from suffering and pain. What he did promise was eternal strength and love through him at all times, especially those days when we need it most. He promised fulfillment and satisfaction in everything through him. We must only seek him and his will to fill the fullness that we are programmed to yearn for. And not only will God provide for us, he will give us more than we deserve. Not in physical worldly possessions and measures of happiness, but in every Heavenly desire our heart, mind and soul can crave.

Some days are just hard. There are times I just want to stay in bed, cover my eyes, and lock the world out. I want to be selfish and run from everything that threatens my happiness. I sometimes feel like the world is closing in on me and the heaviness of the weight I carry is suffocating me. But in those moments of doubt, in those seconds of anger, my God is always with me. He is whispering in my ear, “Be still child, for I am here to comfort you, to love you, and to guide you through.”

God loves you, and he understands that we struggle to grasp his grace and goodness. He gets that there will be days of doubt. But he calls us to never let those emotions win, to fight against them with the grace and love he has tucked away in our hearts. I encourage you, when you struggle to find your way, pick up your Bible and remember this passage. For our God is an awesome God and his word is true and good.

He will never, ever forsake you.

Love Without Abandon.

I’m a dog person, it’s no secret. If we are friends on Facebook, fellow Tweeters on Twitter or connected on Instagram, you know that my feeds are full of pictures of my fur children. I have two dogs, one little and one big. They have their own unique personalities but the one thing they have in common is that they love their momma. As I type this blog, my Doddle is literally resting his head on my shoulder.

Being a dog mom has taught me a lot, it’s given me patience and showed me that if I can make it through the puppy years, I can raise a child one day. But the most important thing that my sweet boys have taught me is how to love. It may seem strange to think of an animal that doesn’t speak our language or share our belief system as the perfect symbol of how we should love, but I truly believe that the love a dog shows is the purest love and the closest we will ever get here on Earth to knowing the true immensity of God’s love.

Let me explain.

My pups meet me at the door every time I come home, and their excitement is uncontainable. They are wagging their tails, licking my toes, and doing their very best to get my attention and let me know that they are so happy to see me. Our doodle is one-year old, and Andy my shih-tzu mix is only three. I remember their younger year very vividly. I got frustrated a lot and let’s face it, I still lose my temper with them now and again. But you know what? No matter how loud I yell at them, or how many times I get angry with them, they are always right back at my feet, begging to be loved.

As sad as it is, we see it all the time in the news. Every time a new animal neglect case comes up or animal cruelty pictures surface, those gruesome photos depict the face of a poor dog who loved its owner despite their cruelty and shortcomings. We see a heartbroken, defeated animal learn to trust a human again in such a short time. We see a puppy who gets a second chance with a new family and falls in love with them all over again. It seems that no matter what this world does to these defenseless babies, they bounce right back and learn to love in spite of it all. We could learn something from our furry friends.

But what may be the most rewarding thing ever about being a dog owner is their ability to love endlessly without expecting anything in return. Sure they like to be loved on, they are hearty eaters and enjoy the occasional stroll through the park with you. But they demand none of it. They would love you the same if you both sat day in and day out in one spot and never ate again.

“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31

The greatest commandment that God ever gave us in the Bible was to love; to love Him with all our hearts and to love our neighbors as ourselves. And yet as humans, this is often one of the most difficult task for us. We are quick to judge others, we are afraid to expose our hearts and we hide behind walls that prevent us from loving unconditionally. And we are skeptical. We are threatened by anything that presents itself as pure love. We are quick to discount it, and toss it out of our way because it scares us.

Whether it is in a relationship with a significant other, a second chance connection with someone who hurt us or basking in the light of a potential love, we often run and guard ourselves from hurt. I sometimes wonder if it is that exact reason that often times people stray from the church and God’s love because they just don’t quite get how someone as awesome and powerful as God could love them, and forgive them and keep on loving them through all of the bad and the good. But the truth is, he does. Our God is an amazing God that loves us no matter what we do.

Do your reservations about love hold you back in life? Is it holding you back from the relationship with your Lord and Savior that you crave?

The Bible itself tells us to guard our hearts, they truly are important. But for us that typically means hiding our hearts, and containing them from the cruelties of this world. But I encourage you to not let the state of our world, or the hurt you’ve experienced keep you from a true relationship with God. Open your heart to him, only there will you find the peace and comfort you crave. The truth is, each and every one of us have a God-shaped hole in our heart that is yearning to be filled with the Holy Spirit. And if you have been holding God at an arms length, scared of what that love may feel like, you my friend are missing out on one of the greatest things we will ever experience. God’s love can change not only your life, but your eternity.

“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” Luke 6:35

And perhaps what is often times even harder than the immensity of love, is giving something so dear to you to someone who has done you wrong. But even so, God calls us to not only love Him, love ourselves, and love our neighbors, he calls us to love our enemies. If we are so guarded against love from those we care about, it may seem impossible to love someone we despise.

As Christians we have something that no one else has; the perfect role model. God is the very definition of perfection and his love is the purest and most real love you will ever experience in your life. He loved us so much that he sent his only son, Jesus, to be crucified on a cross, ridiculed and beaten, just so that we could have the choice to live free of sin. God himself said it in John 15 “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” And that is exactly what Jesus did for us. I encourage you as Christians to look to the example of your Heavenly Father to love one another.

How are you holding back from giving your love away to those in your life?

Have you had bad experiences with love in the past? Were you done wrong by someone when you had just opened your heart to vulnerability of truly falling in love? Or maybe you had your love taken advantage of by a family member or friend and you were left feeling scorned and exposed. Whatever the case may be, I encourage you today to not let that experience keep you from experiencing one of the greatest gifts God has ever given to us. There is a hole in our hearts that is perfectly carved out to hold the love that we will carry with us through our lives here on Earth. God intends for us to find fellowship and companionship with our brothers and sisters on Earth through friendship, a church family, a husband or wife or even the joy of a pet. What he didn’t intend for us to do was take a gift so great as love and find a hole in the ground and bury it so we never have to be hurt by it.

So if you are on teetering on the ledge of falling in love, jump in with both feet.

If you are cultivating a new friendship, open your heart and soul to that person.

If you are married to the love of your life, cherish them and tell them how you feel every day.

If you have children, encourage them to love without abandon.

If you have a furry little head resting on your shoulder, give that sweet puppy kisses every day.

But don’t stop there, share your love with others by doing things out of love. Don’t do things because you feel obligated, or because you have to. Do things because in your heart you feel that small tug that says “this is right.” Look for ways to do small acts of kindness for others. And when you experience one yourself, find a way to pay it forward. If there is anything that we can do as Christians in a world so full of hate, it is love. You have no idea the amount of power you have sitting right there in your chest. If we open our hearts and let the love that our Heavenly Father gave us poor out into our everyday life, we can change the world.

I pray that every day you would pick up your Bible and read this verse. Memorize it, put it on a post it in every room of your house and carry it in your hearts. Live this verse, practice this verse and share this verse with the world because nowhere will you find a more perfect definition of how we are called to love one another…except maybe through the eyes of a man’s best friend.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

Fire and Gasoline

Don’t lose yourself in anger. It’s gasoline. You can burn it as fuel, or you can use it to torch everything you care about…

I have always been an avid reader, for as long as I can remember my heart has always been happy to curl up in the sunshine with a new book. The only thing that has changed since I have gotten older is the number of pages have grown. In high school, I was blessed to have a librarian that was almost like a second mom to me. She would always recommend books to me and I never hesitated to jump into whatever she suggested. And while I had favorites, there was no book that I read that had a more memorable line to me than the one above written by Karen Marie Moning. Words have always spoken to me and I used to keep a little notebook full of the song lyrics that I loved. It would just be a simple line from a song but something in them spoke to me. That was how this phrase struck me.

I’ve mentioned it before but we are merely human. Anger is a large part of our DNA for the most part, whether we like it or not. Just as easily as we can become sad or excited, we can get angry. But as for all human emotions, it’s not about the emotion itself, it’s about how you deal with it. And Karen was right, if you let anger consume you, you are pumping oxygen into an ember that is eventually going to erupt into a flame. But the thing with this flame is, it will turn into a raging forest fire before you can blink an eye.

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” James 1:19-20

The book of James tells us a lot about how we should behave as God’s children and in the verse above we see that anger does not produce the actions that God desires from his children. Does this mean that you can never be angry again? Not at all. In fact, God knows that we are human, he knows that we are susceptible to sin and human desires. All that he asks of us is that we approach those things with a loving heart full of his word and if we have that, he will guide us through how to handle things like anger.

I think so many times in our lives, we come across a person that just infuriates us. Maybe that person is a family member, maybe it’s an ex-spouse or someone you have dated. Or maybe it’s someone you are forced to see every day because they work at the same place you do. And we get mad at them for different reasons. Sometimes their beliefs are different than ours and maybe they aren’t shy about voicing them. Maybe they go out of their way to make you feel bad about yourself, or make themselves look better than they are. Whatever the reason is, they just make you mad. And often times as humans, we try to suppress that anger, to the point of letting it smolder right below the surface. But all that ends up doing is building up so much anger and pressure that one we day we erupt and explode. At that point, the anger is free flowing and words and accusations come tumbling out before we even realize what we’ve said.

And sometimes, once that eruption happens, something terrible happens. We feel better. And so the next time we get angry, we just let it all go until the next thing we know we are looking into a mirror we just punched because we dropped a cup of coffee on the rug. And sometimes, we hide that anger in our hearts to the point that it drives our other behaviors. It turns us bitter, and distrusting and makes us into a person that we never thought we would become. I’ve been in those shoes, I’ve let my anger become a torch and I woke up every morning full of anger and went to bed every night cuddling with hatred. I was miserable. I heard myself lashing out to the people I loved and I saw myself pushing away everything I cared about. But in that moment, for me the anger was worth it. I wore it like a cloak and let it become a part of my skin. Until one day, I woke up exhausted from it all. I was tired of the turmoil taking place in my heart, and I was tired of fighting. I was just tired. Just as I did with every other time I felt like I had fallen off the track, I dropped to my knees and I prayed for forgiveness. I prayed for God to take away the anger and the resentment, the bitterness and the hatred. I prayed for the people I thought I hated. I prayed for the people who had hurt me. And something amazing happened, it was like God took that cloak and plucked it from my back and all of a sudden, it was daylight outside.  There was sunshine and blessings in my life that wouldn’t allow me to hide in my hatred.

That moment is one of the ones that I think my Heavenly Father for the most because it taught me a lot about myself and my relationship with him. It showed me how dark a path without Godly love is and I truly believe that if I had stayed on that path, I would have wound up a very different person from what I am today. But even more so, that moment taught me to trust in God more than I ever had. It taught me not to worry, not to stress and not to get angry because he was in control of everything around me and the ground I stood on and all I needed was him. There was nothing that anyone could do to me to take that away and I started to look at people in a different light. I started to feel sorry for people I once hated, I started to understand that somewhere in that person was a longing that they couldn’t fill and didn’t even realize they needed to. That their lack of love and faith in God was what was driving them to do things that angered me. So I prayed for those people, and I still do today.

I also realized that life is too short to be angry. That holding a grudge may get you the last word, but it will leave you feeling empty and misunderstood. Now, when I have those moments when I would love to be angry or get mad about something, I stop and ask myself, is this really worth ruining my day over? It never is. Unfortunately sometimes I still do, but the recovery time is much shorter.

Does this resonate with your soul? How do you express your anger? Do you let your anger fester and smolder or are you quick to blow off steam?

Every person is different in the way they express their anger. And as humans that is natural. But what the book of James is trying to tell us is that anger can sometimes drive us to do things that God doesn’t approve of.

“But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” Colossians 3:8

God knows that by giving into our anger, we are opening ourselves us to be vulnerable to things such as rage, malice, slander and bad language. What he calls us to do is handle that anger we experience as a child of God. He doesn’t call us to get revenge, he doesn’t call us to tear someone down with our words. He calls us to turn the other cheek, literally.

I think for me that is the one of the hardest things about being a Christian, is constantly being beat down by those who are not children of God and standing there with a smile on your face and taking it. Sometimes you find yourself on the receiving end of that anger and you just want to fight back. You want to let go and give them a piece of your mind because after all, that’s what they are doing, why can’t you? But as Christians, we are called to turn the other cheek. And God makes that pretty clear in the Bible that it doesn’t matter how terrible the thing they are doing to you is, you are to turn the other cheek. Story after story in the Bible talks about these servants of God who are faced with opposition and anger from those who did not know God or approve of the beliefs that they had. We hear about how they were tortured or beaten, held captive or slain. And yet we find it so hard to just simply walk away from a person that is trying to tear us down.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that there is anger in life that comes from a wound that is so raw that your insides are screaming for you to get liberation. There are people on this Earth that endure so much more pain and hurt from other people that I couldn’t even fathom it. But what we have that the person standing over you holding the stick doesn’t is a Lord and Savior that is ready to step into the ring as soon as you are ready to tag him in.

If you are suffering from anger and rage that stems from something that is too much for you to bear, I encourage you to seek out guidance from someone who has been trained to help you deal with that. I encourage you to find a pastor, or a professional who can walk you through how to heal yourself from years of pain. But if you are someone who just seems to find yourself quick to anger, I invite you to do a little soul searching. What is it that sets you off so quickly? Is it a certain person, or a certain issue? Whatever it may be, get a grasp on it and really try to understand what it is about that thing that makes you so angry. Then I invite you to take that and talk to God about it. Let him know that you recognize that this thing is controlling you, that it is forcing you to let loose a fire that you can’t control. Tell him you are ready to put it out, once and for all. And then I encourage you to listen for that sweet, sweet voice of our Lord and Savior to tell you how to handle it.

I also encourage you to find little ways to deal with your anger. One of my favorites comes from a book that I read long ago, I’ve already shared that quote with you. Another comes from a devotion I did as a college student. A husband was talking about the fights he had with his wife and that one day he just decided to see her for what she truly was, a child of God. He spoke about how viewing her that way made it almost impossible to be angry or say harsh things to her because that person that stood in front of him was someone that God specifically created. Someone that God knew every hair on their head and breathed life into their very chest. That is something I have tried to do ever since and I promise you, it is so easy to let go of anger when you think about things that way. It has allowed me to let go of a lot of bitterness and hate that I didn’t even know was in my heart.

Human beings have a way of hurting one another like nothing else can, and the closer you are to someone, the easier it is to break their heart with your words. So I encourage you, the next time you find yourself in anger, take a moment and see things from God’s perspective. Take a breath and ask yourself, is whatever I’m angry about really worth striking a match that you don’t know if you can put out? Anger is gasoline, how will you chose to use it?

A Mere Whisper in the Wind

Many of us have been taught from a young age that when you are searching for answers or seeking guidance, to pray for God to send you a sign. This is such a loaded statement because who are we to know what is a sign and what is something we are interpreting the way we want to? Many times the desires of our heart drive what we see and what we hear. One of my all-time favorite stories in the Bible is that of Elijah in 1 Kings 19. This story is packed full of lessons that are cloaked in the narrative of one of God’s greatest messengers. Elijah is an interesting character in himself, for we can relate to his life very much so as humans. While we do not deal with quite the same trials and tribulations that he did, and our triumphs are of a different colors, the ups and downs of this prophet’s life are the same as the ones we face today. I encourage you to explore the entire story of Elijah, but for today, let’s focus on his time on the mountain.

Elijah, in trying to fulfill the will of God in his life, was faced with turmoil and trouble, resistance and heartache. He was tired, he was frustrated and he didn’t know what else to do. But the Lord reached out to him:

“The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.” 1 Kings 19:11-13

This isn’t a piece of scripture you see on a sign in someone’s house, and it’s not going to be a meme on Facebook. However, the message it sends to Christians is so loud to me and resonates with my soul. That’s why, as I mentioned above, it stands to be one of my favorites. See Elijah was in a period of wavering faith at this point in time. We’ve all been there. We are human and we fall short of the glory of God. So in times of hardship, we often back away from our faith and search for something more physical or permanent to make us feel better. And while those worldly things may offer immediate gratification and temporary relief from our woes, the strain of wavering faith is nothing compared to emptiness without Christ.

It’s hard, even as a Christian, to completely and utterly trust in God to deliver you from a time that is so trying that your body just wants to lay down and give up. We go through things that challenge us, things that beat us down until we feel like even with God we can’t get back up again. For some it’s the weight of problems you are currently facing. For others, it’s a constant resistance throughout life that at some point you just feel like you have to give up or lose yourself in the process. And in Elijah’s situation, that weight was his faith and his devotion to delivering the message God was calling him to deliver. This perhaps is the greatest challenge of all, to keep your faith when the call to action of that very faith is what is causing your suffering. God tells us in the Bible that it will not be easy for Christians that we will struggle and often be persecuted for our faith. And while we know that he paid the ultimate price for us, we are human and selfish and sometimes we just don’t think we can go on. That is exactly where Elijah was. He had just had his life threatened for the work he was doing, and the work he was doing was appearing fruitless and quite frankly, he was done with all of it. But the Lord came to him, in this most trying time and told him to go out on the mountain, that the Lord was about to pass by. So Elijah, being the faithful servant he was, pulled himself back to his feet and obeyed this command. What happens next is incredible.

The scripture says a “great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord.” Imagine, the worst storm we’ve ever had, then intensify that. We are talking a wind that is so strong, that it has the ability to tear pieces of rock from the mountain, to take rocks that no man could ever even begin to lift, and shatter them. We equate power with God, so this earth shattering wind sounds appropriate for such a higher power, right? But the Lord was not in that wind.

The next line says that “there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.” We know from experience that earthquakes are next to impossible to prevent. They can’t be stopped, we simply have to ride it out and pray that we make it through. No matter what procedures we put in place, there is only so much we can do to simply protect ourselves from this horrific event. One that shakes everything you stand on. And fires are devastating and have the ability to wipe out what would takes months to build in a matter of minutes. They can tear through a town without slowing down. Sure water can help fight them, but sometimes even that is not enough. There couldn’t be a more appropriate vehicle for the one who created the Earth, right? Wrong. The scripture tells us that God was in neither of those. But what comes next is the kicker, the line that gets me every time I dive into this chapter.

“And after the fire came a gentle whisper.”

Three great, intense, and powerful forces of nature and yet Elijah found God in a whisper. So many times we look for these earth shattering, show stopping signs from God to tell us which way to turn and yet we often forget to listen for the whisper of his voice. We are so busy waiting on the search and rescue crew to coming sweeping in on a helicopter that we sometimes find ourselves drowning when all the while there was a boat sitting next to us.

What fork in the road have you come to that you have been praying for a sign from God to lead you? Think back, was there a whisper in the wind that you could have missed?

It’s human nature to fall down, for our feet to falter and for us to lose sight of our faith in times of trials. God understands that, and that is what makes him so amazing. Time after time, his grace finds us on our face and picks us back up and dusts us off. He is forgiving and takes us back every time we stray away. But what we have to do is learn to not just wait and look for the signs and miracles we think should come, but rather train ourselves as children of God to look for the whisper in the wind. One way to do that is by reading our Bibles, learning the scripture and holding it close to our hearts. This is a verse that I personally cling to when I feel my physical feet failing me. We must look to his word for the answers to our questions, and listen to his voice to find what we seek. It won’t always be a search and rescue team, it may not even be a boat at all. Maybe it’s just a life vest to keep you afloat until God picks you up and takes you to the place where he needs you most.

“…And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13

God tells us flat out in his word that he will never forsake us or give us more than we can bear. No matter how defeated we feel, God knows our limits and he knows our strength…because he is both of those things to us. He tells us in 1 Corinthians 10:13 that he will provide a way out of life’s hardships and he will help us endure it. So I invite you to take all of that time that you spend worrying, all of that time you spend trying to find your own way out of the darkness, and use that time to learn God’s word, pray to our Heavenly Father, and wait for the whisper in the wind.

Isn’t it incredible to know that the Creator of Earth, the God of all things, the Alpha and the Omega needs only a whisper to show you the way? What a mighty God we serve.

 

Walk Blind in Faithfulness.

You often hear people refer to children when they are trying to describe a feeling or an emotion. Perhaps it is because children represent a pure, unbiased vision of what raw human emotion is. Their perception is often untouched by life and its hardships, by politics and prejudice, but rather is stripped down to the very emotion that God created when he formed Adam from the dust.

What qualities do you miss the most when you think of your childhood innocence?

For me, it is the blind faithfulness. The ability to forge forward without a plan, or a care in the world, knowing that whatever happens, you will be taken care of. The amazing thing is, God has given us exactly that. I sometimes think the Bible is so much easier to understand if we just look at it through the eyes of a child. After all, that is what God is calling us to do, to put our faith in him and allow him to lead us where he wants us to go. So put on your Mickey Mouse sunglasses, your plastic princess crown, or whatever it takes to get you there and let’s look at today’s verse.

“For we live by faith, not by sight” 2 Corinthians 5:7

Woah. Terrifying right? But to a child, this is the core value of how they live their life. Although some may be too young to understand that there is a Lord and Savior, he has blessed them with this vulnerable spirit that trusts that someone will take care of them. Sometimes that someone is you; their mother, father, brother or sister. Their aunt or uncle, babysitter or teacher. But sometimes that person is God, and they don’t even realize it.

What would happen if we stopped trying to feel our way through life, looking for those markers that the world tells us exists, and just starting living by faith?

Think about it. God calls us to, metaphorically speaking, close our eyes and just start moving forward and trust that when we open our eyes again, he will have delivered us to the place we are meant to be. I sit here in awe of how great our God is just from simply writing that statement. There has been so many times in my short 25 years that I have laid awake at night wondering where my life was going. What was I going to be when I grew up? Where would I live? Who would I have to spend the rest of my life with? Would I have anyone to spend the rest of my life with?

In those instances, God called me to only be still and let him go to work in my life. There were times I listened and things turned out better than I could have ever imagined. The perfect example of this is my husband. God has truly blessed me with an amazing, Godly man to spend my days with. I look back on prayers I prayed when I was alone and it brings tears to my eyes to think that today that very person I prayed for sits right across from me at the dinner table every night. And you know what? He is better than I could have ever imagined. He has qualities I never even thought to pray about, but that God knew I would need the day he created each of us for the other. And every day God’s plan for our lives continues to evolve.

But there were times I didn’t listen. There were times that I was impatient, and selfish. There were times I thought I knew what I needed more than he did. But you know what? I quickly discovered that I was wrong. It’s no secret I am a headstrong person, I am driven to the point of driving other people crazy when I set my mind to something. I think back on so many stages of my life that I approached things with that headstrong attitude, only to be knocked back down to my knees, praying for God to show me the way.

So what causes us to be so stubborn?

We are scared.

There were so many times in my life that I was scared out of my wits at what was happening in front of me. I saw my life moving forward at an alarming pace and I felt like I was just holding on for dear life, praying for a stop sign.

The truth was, God had a plan for me and he was delivering me there.

Other times I felt like I was trapped in a corn field and everything around me looked familiar and yet strange at the same time. Like I was frozen in time, not moving forward and not moving backward. It terrified me. Was there something wrong with me that everyone around me seemed to be making progress, but here I was back at my dead end trying to make sense of it all?

The truth was, it just wasn’t time for me to move.

But no matter why we are scared, God is always with us and we are exactly where he wants us to be.

Isaiah 41:10 says “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Maybe things feel like they are spiraling out of control for you. Or maybe your life has become frightening still. Either way, hear me when I say that no matter where you are, God is there and he is the strength in your will. My advice to you is pray without ceasing for God to show you which way to turn, pray that he will lead you the way you need to go and he will deliver you.

We don’t like change.

It is human nature to cling to what we know, that which makes us secure. Again, children are a perfect example of this. They long for security and a constant in their life. They cling to schedules and repetitive days. But as adults, as mature Christians, we are called to go where God takes us. Everyone knows the story of Jonah and the whale. If you do not, or if you haven’t read it in a while, I encourage you to pick up your Bible and flip to the book of Jonah. It is not a long book, and is a light read, and has a blatant way of showing us just how important it is to follow God’s call for our lives.

Many people keep their toes on the edge of the water, scared to fully jump in and immerse themselves in the faith of God’s love. But the truth is, until you take that leap of faith, you will always be unhappy. You will be searching for more, all the while being tethered to whatever makes you feel comfortable.

Is there a decision in your life right now that you need to make that will take you out of your comfort zone?

Often times it is in those most pivotal moments of our lives that we feel closer to God than ever before. Maybe it is because sometimes they leave us feeling like the rug has been ripped out from underneath us. When you fear change, always remember that God is an ever present help in your life, he will always be there for you to rest your worries and sorrows on. Lean on him during times of change, look to him and trust that he knows exactly what he is doing with your life. Open your hearts to what he is calling you to do. That tug in your heart is his way of telling you, “Come child, it is time to move.”

We have expectations.

I know it sounds crazy to think of going through life with no expectations, especially coming from someone who just described themselves as being driven. But that is exactly what 2 Corinthians 5:7 calls us to do, to leave behind any idea of what our life would look like, or what the world tells us it should look like, and walk blindly in faith, knowing that what is meant to be, will.

This is never an easy thing. I am a self-proclaimed control freak and the thought of walking blindly and unprepared anywhere literally makes my palms sweat. But Jesus’ love in my heart is stronger than any human quirk I may have and so in times of decision or stress, I often feel myself take a deep breath, whisper a prayer, and I can physically feel the tension release between my shoulder blades. There is something to be said for feeling like someone else is handling the big stuff.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where often expectations come from other places than ourselves. They come from family, friends, and even perfect strangers. It seems that somewhere along the way, the world has painted a picture of what a “normal” life should look like. What we should be doing at every stage of our life. At every age I can remember the stress of worldly expectations and as I grow older, they never leave, they just simply change.

What worldly expectations are weighing on you today? What is the world telling you that you should be doing? Give it to God.

I encourage you to take a moment now to spend some time with God. I know its cliché, but kneel down by your bed or a chair, get comfortable and talk to God about what you are feeling.  There is something about humbling yourself before him that really allows you to let go. Let him know that this life is bigger than you, that you can’t do it by yourself. That whatever you’re facing, whether it is that scares you, makes you uncomfortable or just feels like it is not enough, that you know he is there with you, strengthening you to take on whatever it may be. And then I want you to give that to God. Whatever “it” is for you, give it to him today. Lay it down at his feet, even if you have physically write it on a paper, fold it up and lay it on the floor in front you, give it to God. Allow him to lead you to the place he desires you to be.

Now the last thing I want you to do is this:

Imagine your perfect life, imagine if you were exactly where you wanted to be right now. Not where the world wants you to be, but where you want to be. Got it?

Good. Write it down in a journal, or on a slip of paper and keep it safe. Open it in three, five or fifteen years. I promise you that where you are then, is better than you could have ever hoped for it to be.

 

When Darkness Comes…

The world can be a dark place.

You know that moment when you wake up in the middle of the night and it’s pitch black in your bedroom, and for a split second, you panic? Whether you’re scared you overslept, or you remember something you had forgotten the day before, that heart wrenching panic exists, if only for a brief moment. These days, with the shape that our world is in, I feel like with every new day that I walk through, that darkness follows me. I feel like with every new story I read, or every new video I come across on Facebook that speaks to the sheer evil that exists, is a weight added to my feet, dragging me down into this darkness, to the point that I feel as though I am suffocating.

What darkness have you experienced today? What tragedies and crippling heartbreaks have you experienced?

It’s funny that for my first post for a blog entitled “Shining Son” I would write about darkness. As a Christian you are naturally drawn to the light, and when the light isn’t there, you panic. You want to replace evil with kindness, you want to replace disappointment and distress with faith and grace. You want to tidy everything up until it is a pretty picture of salvation, just the one we think the Bible paints for us. But the truth is, the world can be a dark place. And every day, I find myself asking, can there be any more evil on this Earth? And now with the multitude of communication channels that exist, we are faced with the horrid events that just makes you question the humanity of people around every corner. If you stop and think about it, it can swallow you. You can almost feel a weight bearing down on you, threatening to consume you in the all too familiar darkness. And I’m human, sometimes I let it bear me down. Sometimes I want to walk outside and scream at the top of my lungs, hoping maybe someone, anyone will hear me and wake up to the reality that is our world. But every time I feel that weight, I also feel a tug in my heart. I feel a warm glow radiating from my heart that lets me know that everything is going to be ok. People laugh because I sometimes live by the philosophy that ignorance is bliss, but when it comes to the evilness of this world sometimes it is the best policy. It helps to push away the fear, the anger and the disappointment and pretend it doesn’t exist. Pick up your Bible and drown yourself in His word.

Psalm 27:1 says “The LORD is my light and my salvation– whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life– of whom shall I be afraid?”

God knew that our days here on Earth would turn darker. He knew that mankind would struggle with sin, he knew that from day one. Take comfort in the fact that he not only anticipated it, he sent his Son, his one and only Son, to die on a cross so that we may have the chance to escape that sin. But he also knew that even that would not be enough for some. He knew that some of our brothers and sisters would succumb to evil. He knew that the threats that exists today to the goodness and kindness of people would grow stronger every day. And he knows that one day, that evil will prevail. But that, my friends, is when he will deliver us from this Earth. Verses like Psalm 27:1 were put in the Holy Word for days when you feel the burden of sin and evil raining down on you. It is for the days that it just doesn’t seem like there is any good left on this Earth.

Sometimes I like to imagine God sitting in his rocking chair on a front porch somewhere, staring out over his beautiful creation and writing in a journal all of the things he wants to tell us when we finally meet him. I imagine him whispering to himself, “Things will be hard child, there is no doubt about that. But I will always be here for you,” as he drafts verses like Psalm 27:1. Much as a parent or guardian yearns to protect their child, God will always protect us. And no matter what circumstances we find this world in, the one ever-present joy will be in that our Holy Father, Lord of all is the King and Ruler of this world. And no matter how bad, or how dark our days may seem, he is there.

Every day when I am faced with how truly corrupt and sinful our world is, I keep this verse close to my heart. I keep it where at a moment’s notice, I can pull it out and recite it over and over again until that shadow of darkness that I feel creeping over my shoulder subsides…or at least hangs back a few feet until tomorrow.

Let’s break down the verse.

“The Lord is my light and my salvation…”

This is where you ask yourself, is the Lord my light and my salvation? It utterly pains me to think about the people on this Earth that are going through these dark days without the Lord Jesus in their hearts. Every time I attend a funeral, I stop and ask myself, if I did not have hope and faith in Jesus Christ, how would I ever deal with such a tragedy? It is heartbreaking to me that there are people who carry the weight of this darkness on their shoulders, going through every day of their life believing that there is nothing that can change it. The truth is, if you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, there will always be a way to change it. You simply turn your face to his blinding light and let it wash away the fears and the pain. If you’re reading this and you haven’t accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, please hear me when I say that there is a way to change the darkness. There is a way to stamp it out. All you have to do is acknowledge that he is Lord of your life, pray to him to save your life and come into your heart and live for Him and Him alone.

Romans 10:9 says “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

I invite you to reach out to someone close to you that can mentor you and show you what this verse truly means. Ask them to help you find the light.

For those of you who have given your life to Christ, take a moment and pray to him and thank him for his glory and his grace.

God, I give you this moment of my day to say thank you. Thank you for speaking to my heart and guiding me to your light. I am forever grateful for the day I gave my heart to you and I pray that you will help me to continue to grow and develop as a Christian each and every day. I want to strengthen my relationship with you and live your will each and every day of my life. Amen.

“…whom shall I fear?”

Our world has consistently praised those resilient athletes and leaders that grace the cover of Sport Illustrated and Time Magazine, those that in the face of devastation, or adversity, rose above it to conquer their goals and dreams. We often wonder how someone could ever find the strength to do such a thing. And yet right in front of you, you have a personal love letter from your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that is telling you, who should you fear? There is not a person, not a thing, not an obstacle or a tragedy or ANYTHING in this life that you should fear. There is someone who can literally take every scary, frightening thing in this life and flick it away with a wave of his hand. How awesome, how immense does that feel to read that? Let that soak in.

What are the things you fear most in your life? What are the things that wake you up in the middle of the night, stricken with panic? Write them down.

Now I want you to take the piece of paper you wrote those things down on, and I want you to wad it up like you would something you are going to toss in the trash can. Now throw it away. Literally walk to your trash can, and toss that ball of paper in. That is what our Lord God does with our fears. He takes those fears from the weight of our shoulders, and he tosses them behind him into the dust. He is the Creator of this world, and because of that, he is greater than ANYTHING we face. He is more than any fear we have. If you like superheroes, think of God as the greatest superhero of all time, walking beside you each and every day, holding your hand or lifting you up to carry you when you need him to. There is NOTHING that can touch you, because you are His.

“The LORD is the stronghold of my life…”

In the Bible we read about the times of war and how armies would surround their towns and their bases with large, strong walls to keep the enemy out. We read fairytales about castles surrounded by moats to protect the royalty from danger. We equip our own homes with security systems, each one better than the next, to protect ourselves from whatever may try to harm us. God is all these things and more. He is the stronghold of your life. That means that he is that safe place that we read about, dream about and hope for. He is where we go to find comfort and peace, to relax and know that we are cared for and we are watched over.

The easiest thing I can equate this to is a newborn child. We all know, whether we have been parents or not, that a newborn baby will often cry when it is placed in a crib or laid down. But the moment its caregiver picks him or her up, they are comforted and the crying subsides. That person is a safe place for that baby. Their arms, coddling their small frame and wrapping it up tight, gives them security and peace. If a small child can understand this, why can we not? God has his arms wrapped around us daily. He has gathered us up to himself and he holds us there every day of our life. We often look for ways to protect ourselves or guard our belongings. God has surrounded you and I with the biggest force field you have ever seen and He alone is our protection and our stronghold.

“…of whom shall I be afraid?”

When you look to the definition of being afraid, you see the phrase “feeling fear or anxiety; frightened.” But it also says being “worried that something undesirable will occur or be done.” Not only does God take away our fears, he takes away our worry. He gives us the opportunity to walk through each day with our eyes focused on him and the confidence that we are forever in his care. I told you I’m human, I worry everyday about what this world will be like when I have a son or daughter, what evil they will encounter in their lives. But God calls us to leave that worry and anxiety behind when we come to Him. And we do this through faith. One of my favorite verses in the Bible is literally God’s definition of faith.

Hebrews 11:1 says “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

This verse tells us that by having faith we are putting our confidence and assurance in the fact that God’s willing and able to take care of us.  We all hope to be safe and protected, to feel secure and content. God can give us that. And although we can’t see him, and we can’t see the shield he has placed around us and our hearts, it is there and it is stronger than you could ever imagine it is.

The truth is, thought the Bible often paints a beautiful picture of what a relationship with Jesus Christ is like, the Bible spoke of dark days. But it also promised us eternal light for those who believe. So today, I pray that when you feel that darkness, when you witness that darkness, that you will remember this Psalm. Hold it dear in your heart and let it guide you. Because alone, the darkness is deafening, but through God, the darkness is behind us and we hold tight to a light that will never be put out.