Peace in Difficult Times

MBA

A few months back, a friend posted on her Facebook page the following question:

Where do you find peace during the difficult times?

Once upon a time when I struggled with things, I internalized them.  Playing the scenario over in my head, dwelling on what I can’t change, angry at the person who was at the root of it.  I knew, even then, that all of this worry or dwelling on things wouldn’t change the outcome.  It was, what it was.  In someways I think I was hoping I would learn something from the replay.  Catch where I made the mistake, or clues that would have alerted me to the person’s un-trustworthiness.  I could learn how to avoid that scenario or personality in the future.  I was relying on my own self to figure out the complexity of relationships and circumstances that were almost always outside of anything I could control.  As habits repeated, I learned an important thing… I couldn’t rely on myself and my own thinking to resolve every situation or deal with every person.  I was human. Flawed.

For a period of time, I tried to seek the counsel of others.  Guess what?  They are human too, flawed as well.  There were definitely occasions where I was given good advice but more often than not it was biased advice.  These were people who loved me, cared about me, and often sided with me.  They might give me a pass for something I should be accountable for.  Or, try to solve the problem for me.  They immediately blamed the other person, because they knew my heart and intentions.  They were on my side.  But not always on the side of truth.  I learned that I couldn’t rely on others to give me the truth I needed to hear.  Not because they were bad people, but because they loved me.

What I know now is that there is someone who loves me more than anyone else.  Someone who sent his Son to die for every sin I would commit.  Someone who took the penalty but at the same time was holding me accountable to truth.  Christ calls me to be honest with myself.  Christ compels me to forgive others, and myself.  Christ beckons me to his shoulder to cry out in my sin, speak truth to that sin, and set me on the path to reconcile with others (and myself).  I’ve learned that when the times are really difficult, I need to turn to Christ for truth.  What is the truth of this difficult time?  What do the scriptures advise me to do now that I know the truth?  What would God have me do in this situation or with this person.  I can rely on God because His Word is unchanging, infallible, and loving.  He loves me so much that I will face Truth and be better for it.

I find peace at the Cross, because there Jesus did exactly what He promised.  Just prior, he told the disciples that He was leaving peace for them so they wouldn’t be troubled.  He didn’t say that there would be no difficult times, but instead left us with the hope that we can persevere (Romans 5:1-5) until He returns.   When difficult times find me, I turn to the Cross for peace, hope, perseverance, and patience as I await the day… the glorious day… that the difficult times are gone.

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

28 “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. 30 I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, 31 but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me.

“Come now; let us leave.

John 14:27-31

A friend once told me, during a particularly difficult moment, “I am sorry you are in this, but I am so excited to see what happens when you are on the other side of this”.  Now when I face trials and difficulties, I go to the Cross and deposit them there.  Then I leave with excitement to see what the Lord is going to do with that trial, through me, or through those He will put in my path.  Difficult times become a learning experience where I learn how loving, faithful and true the Lord is.

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Conditions, Conditions, Conditions

MBA

Something that has always rubbed me the wrong way are conditional agreements.  I’m not talking about contracts where each side is negotiating their terms.  What I am talking about are those moments when you ask someone for a favor, and they respond with “only if you will….”.   Or, even better, when someone approaches you to do a kind deed and then slips in the terms.  I just don’t like it.

I think it is because I don’t operate that way.  If you ask for a favor, I am going to say yes or no… but my answer is not going to be dependent on what you can do for me.  If I do a favor for you, it is because I want to help not because I want something out of it.

If you do me a favor, I only want you to do it if you want to.  It’s a heart issue, I suppose.  I was always taught to give without expectation of return, even if what I was giving was my time.  As an adult I learned to give money instead of loaning it.  I also learned how to value my time better so that I didn’t say yes to everything and burn myself out.  It also meant I learned how to accept no as an answer without getting upset.

I’ve also learned over the years I don’t like conditions in other aspects of relationships.  I don’t want to be your friend, if the conditions are that I must agree with everything you say and do.  I don’t want to be your friend if I have to change who I am in order for us to keep the peace.

I just hate conditions.  I also think that is the absolute beauty in God’s gift of salvation, and His love for His children.  God did give us conditions.  The Ten Commandments and The Great Commission, for example.  However, what the Old Testament Reveals to us is that as much as man tries, he is virtually incapable of following them.  He knew this, and still loved us anyway.  He knew this was an impossibility for us, and gave us His son to bear our iniquities.

This is not an excuse that allows us to continue to live in the flesh, in spite of His conditions.  It is an assurance that even though we can’t, His love doesn’t waiver.  Our salvation doesn’t balance the line of conditions, fluctuating based on our ability to walk that line.  Our salvation hung on a cross.

#Write31Days – Post 18 – Spiritual Strongholds

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Have you ever found yourself in a building, standing under a chandelier… and suddenly your mind is flooded with every movie you have ever seen in the past.  The chandelier falls, someone dies.  Over the course of your life, subconsciously you have made the decision to never stand under a chandelier.  So, you take a few steps the left and breathe a sigh of relief.

When you were a child, perhaps, you were splashing in the ocean.  Suddenly, a current sweeps your legs out from under you, pulling you out to sea.  A hand grabs you, pulling you to safety.  You were so traumatized by what could have happened, you no longer go into the ocean.  You don’t take your kids to the beach.  You make a conscious decision that the ocean is not safe and to be avoided.

Everyone has some sort of stronghold in their life.  These are beliefs or opinions that are strongly held and fortified in our minds to the point that reason and logic will be locked out.  These strongholds can be based in reality or in our perception of reality. They are often formed by our past experiences, the environment we were raised, and by the people whom we respect or were authorities in our lives.

I have seen plenty of movies where a chandelier falls, on accident or on purpose, and a person dies.  I have personally never known anyone this has happened to, nor have I read about it happening the paper.  Logic and reason stand that the chandelier in any given building isn’t going to just suddenly break loose and fall on me.  It really isn’t a logical fear.  However my perception of that truth can be swayed when I allow those imaginary scenarios to root themselves in fear and paranoia.

The scenario at the beach, that actually happened to me.  It is a reasonable fear, logic would stand that I would be afraid of the ocean.   This was a real life experience for me.  However, that reality also must root itself in fear in order for it to become a stronghold in my life.  I still love the beach, take my children there, and I am not afraid of the ocean.  I do, however, respect it.  I am not careless.    I have not allowed this real life circumstance to impact the logic that being swept out to sea is very rare and small percentage.

As Christians we not only are faced with strongholds in our lives, based on our past or perceptions, that affect our daily decisions.  We also have spiritual strongholds, that have embedded certain beliefs or “truths” into our minds.

For example, if you were raised in a denomination or area of the country where dancing was considered a sin, and you accepted that belief to be true.  You now have a spiritual stronghold, that is going to impact how you engage with the rest of the world.  But, the questions we must ask is:  Is it true?  Is dancing a sin?  What do the scriptures say?

In most instances of spiritual strongholds that come from our environment, how we were raised, or the influential people in our lives… if we truly want to let go of spiritual stronghold… we go to the Word.  When faced with generational or denominational “truths” it is really quite easy to open up the scriptures and do the research for ourselves.  We can see what the scriptures say about any number of subjects, and find truth.  We can study the history of the scriptures, to understand the who, what, where, when, and why of a piece of scripture and then apply that to our own beliefs and perceptions.

We may be right.  We may be wrong.  And, in the grand scheme of things, it may not matter.  Personal convictions are no less important than scriptural mandates, they are just individual verses general.

The most difficult spiritual strongholds are the ones we are self imposing on ourselves based on our past experiences and decisions.  They arise when we live in guilt, shame, and failure.   We become so engrossed with who we once were, that we disregard any of our potential to be better person or live a better life.  We feel unworthy of God’s love, which keeps us from having a true relationship with Him.  This, of course, also means that our faith and spiritual growth is going to be stunted.

And, the enemy loves to use our spiritual strongholds against us.  He knows how to spin our past in a way that makes our sin look greater, more disgusting, and deeply shameful.   Satan puffs up our sin to look so horrible that we feel it would be impossible for God to find us worthy of anything.  We allow this to discount us and discredit us from God’s love, and Kingdom work.  People tend to respond in one of three ways.

  •  They do nothing.  They attend church, read their bibles, pray.  But, they never do anything more than that.  They disqualify themselves from being able to lead a bible study group, give their testimony, or even volunteer for the simplest of things at their church.  They say “who am I, what do I have to give?”
  • They run away.  In this case, the person is so haunted by their past that they are actively running away from God in shame.  They may run to a different religion or no religion, but they are running.  They attempt to hide like Adam and Eve after biting the fruit, hiding from God in their shame.
  • They go extreme.  This person is the one who is not running from God but actually chasing after Him.  They think that God has turned his back on them, or at minimal is deeply disappointed in them.  What they attempt to do is to win back His favor, His affection, by going to the extreme as a believer.  For example, if they had a history of immodest dress and immoral behavior… they will be entirely the opposite now, to the extreme.  Her ultra mini skirts have been replaced by ankle length skirts.  Her long flowing locks may be tempered by a tight bun, her make up drawer has been emptied into the trash.  He may have traded a life of drinking and parties for weekend long, isolated, and silent meditation.

I am certain that at least some of you are looking at the last one and thinking: this is a bad thing?  Yes, and no.   If the reason you have made these changes is out of deep, personal conviction… then NO, this is not a bad thing.  You are to be obedient to the Holy Spirit’s conviction.  However, if you are making these choices to try and earn back God’s love and favor, then YES … it is a very bad thing.  Keep reading, because I will explain why.

For the better part of twenty years, I allowed a spiritual stronghold to stand in my way.  I was totally ashamed of myself and some of the decisions I had made.  I would pray to God for forgiveness, but I was unable to let go of these things.  I held onto them with a tight grip.  His Word tells us that when we ask for forgiveness are sins are washed clean.   Every time I prayed to God to forgive those sins that haunted me, I was putting them at the foot of the cross & walking away.  Yet, in a very short amount of time, I was running back to cross and snatching them back up.

I was saying to God, I believe you can forgive me for so many things… but not this.  This is too big, too dirty, and too shameful for you to forgive.  I’d begin trying to work them off.  If I read more of my Bible.  If I pray harder.  If I volunteer more.  If I alter my dress, my speech, my thoughts, my life, my everything… then I can make up for this shame.

I was sinning against God, every single time I took them back.

I was saying, God … you are not enough.

When we are sinning, we create a division between us and God.  So, no matter how many good, noble, and wonderful things I was doing… they meant absolutely nothing because I was in sin.  I was doing things for a God that I didn’t trust.  I was reading a Bible, but not believing in the promises within it’s pages.   I was praying to a God that I thought wasn’t capable enough.  I was volunteering for Kingdom work, while believing I wasn’t worthy of being in the Kingdom.

You can change your manner of dress, the way you speak, and your daily study habits. You can pray from dusk to dawn.  You can give every cent you earn, volunteer every waking hour, and take up every noble cause.   Man can look at you in wonder and awe, you can have a million gold stars on your chart.  Women can hold you in high regard, men can respect your dedication and loyalty.  However, you will never feel good enough.  You will still feel guilty.  You will keep doing more and more to win the affection of God, because your guilt tells you that you are not worthy of His sacrifice.

We must let go of these spiritual strongholds, and cling to God.  We must surrender WHOLLY…. EVERYTHING.  We leave nothing behind, we hide nothing, we don’t hold anything back from God.

I know that I am not worthy.  That is why God is gracious and merciful.

I know that I never will be worthy.  The Old Testament reveals this every time the Israelites would turn from God.  The New Testament reveals this as Paul shares that he struggles doing what he knows is right.  I see it in my own life, every time I mess up and have to confess to God.

It is in this knowledge that the beauty of God’s love unfolds.

I am not.  I never will be.  I deserve death.

I was given the gift of Life.

There is nothing I can do that will separate me from God’s love.  I can not run or hide from Him.  There is nothing I could ever do, in my flesh, that will repay God for his mercy, his blessings, or his Son’s sacrifice.  It is arrogant and prideful of me to look at God’s gift, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, and say:  Sorry God, that isn’t enough to cover MY sin.

God asks so little of us.

Love God with all of your heart and understanding. – When I love Him, I trust Him.  I know His word, and His promises.  I believe Him.  I hold nothing back from Him.  I am washed clean by HIM and HIM alone… not anything of my own doing.

Love others as you love yourself. – I forgive as I wish to be forgiven.  I love as I wish to be loved.  I help others as I wish to be helped myself. 

I believe, the very first step in letting go of those crippling spiritual strongholds begins when we acknowledge it for what it really is.

Sin.

Confess this sin, ask God to forgive you for taking back what you have put (or keep putting) at the foot of the cross.  Pray for His Word to quiet the voice of the enemy who haunts you.  When you feel the urge to pick it back up, rebuke Satan’s hold on your life.  Then remember you are not who you once were, you are a new creation.  The past has faded, it is gone.  Today, you are a child of God, adopted into his family to start a new life… a far better life than you could ever imagine.

Let my stronghold be the Lord. (Psalm 18:2)

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED – BOOK REVIEW

missionaccomplished

As a parent of kids of varying ages, from High School to Elementary School, finding new devotion books that encompasses the needs of my entire family is hard.  If I shop with my teenager in mind, it ends up being too deep for my youngest.  However, if I shop with my youngest in mind… my teenager is usually bored to tears.

When I had the opportunity to get my hands on a copy of Mission Accomplished, thanks to New Growth Press, I was very impressed.

1)  The book covers two weeks of devotions, specifically written for Easter.  This is a book I reference year, after year.

2)  Each devotion starts with scripture, that supports the devotion theme.  It is followed with sections that encourage us to think about the context of the scripture, discussion questions, prayer prompts and even songs or activities to support that particular devotion.

3)  The devotions are quick and to the point, which is good for shorter attention spans or those with busy schedules.

4) The devotions are written in a way that will engage your older children, but can be explained by the parents when needed.

Overall, this is a great book for the family who spans a broad array of ages.  That said, if your family is predominantly young children, you may want to read the devotions ahead and reword to fit the age group you are working with.  You will find some words that your children may not be familiar with (depending on the verbiage your church uses), some of the discussion questions are better suited for older children who have a background of Sunday school classes, and some of the songs referenced in the “Sing About It” portions were not familiar to me.  This devotion is definitely written for a more seasoned believer, in my opinion.

I do love this devotion, and with all of the tools we have available; simply pre-reading the devotion can help identify areas you might want to brush up on before sitting down with the family.  Since they are short, you can skim it relatively quickly and use your bible or the internet to define unfamiliar words, or even look up the music for the songs.

Do not be intimidated to pick up this devotion, even if some of the references are unfamiliar to you as a new believer.  It will help your grow, understanding the Easter story better, and more accurately.  The devotions are not overwhelming and they do a great job of tying in the Old Testament and the New Testament.

If you are looking for a good devotion for the family, one that you can learn from & teach from… check out Scott James’ A Mission Accomplished.