Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Peace is our birthright

A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”  (Mark 4:37-41)
Today, I just want to talk a little bit about peace. Without peace, I cannot even begin to fully experience the joy of this life gifted to me.  Peace is not something I create; it is something I receive and allow to come into my life. The way we do this is not by analyzing, worrying, trying to figure it out, fixing, manipulating, setting up defenses, punishing, judging, living in guilt, condemning . . . Rather, we are instructed to "not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."  

You see, God has given us the power to quiet the storms within --  the storms ruling our minds and emotions.  But just as the disciples were commanded, to calm the storms, we must get quiet. In the stillness of God, we have nothing to fear.

As the Psalm tell us, "When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply till I entered the sanctuary of God."   It is in the sanctuary that I receive the peace of Godgifted to us by Him and in Him.  In his rest lies our salvation.  In His rest we will never be shaken.  In His rest we have strength.  In His rest we are protected.  In His rest we have hopeIn His rest we find beauty. In His rest we live in unity.  In His rest is refuge from everything that we allow to diminish us. 

Peace is our birthright.  It is time we claim our inheritance.


Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”. . .  He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.  A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. . . .  If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,” and you make the Most High your dwelling,  no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent.  For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways;  they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.  You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.  “Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.  He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.  With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation. (Psalm 91)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Enjoying life's journey

Recently, I have been reflecting on the saying, "life is a journey, not a destination."

I was having lunch with a friend who was intimately sharing with me some of the anxieties that have plagued her. Most of the fears she spoke about had to do with the future. She was caught up in trying to figure out the outcomes of various situations in her life.

Have you ever felt like that?

I shared with her my own journey to grow in trusting God with my relationships, my family, my finances, my career -- all the things He has destined me for. As I was reflecting on our conversation later in the evening, my spirit asked, am I so attached to the outcomes, the ending, that I am missing the process, the whole journey?

What if rather than looking at where I am not, I focused on where I am? I might realize that my life, right now, and every experience I am having is bringing me closer to my true self and to realizing all the things God has for me.  What a more joyous experience that would be! The fact is no man can discover anything about his future -- so what am I gaining by concentrating so much of my energy on how it is going to turn out? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

The question then becomes, how can I be present and enjoy life while on the journey?

Here are some things that I want to focus more on embedding in my everyday walk with God:

1) Stop resisting. Rather than fighting what may or may not be happening, be fully there in it. One of the ways I do this when I feel my body literally tightening up against something is to stop and begin to breathe. With each breath, I am reminding myself that I am here in this moment for a reason and that God is with me. In God I live and move and have my being. Breathing allows me to relax and open up to whatever is happening. Rather than letting my feelings overwhelm me, I can embrace them. Too often, we try to fight what we are feeling through denial but that just gives what we resist more power. We have to know what our burdens are in order to lay them down. As I breathe, I often will close my eyes and put my hand on my heart. By connecting with my heart, I am reminded of the God in me who loves me and who has designed all the days of my life. I am reminded that, with God there is no reason to fear, which is usually the cause of my resistance. The safety of that space allows me to feel my feelings. I allow each feeling to come and then I gently, prayerfully surrender them to God, thanking God for empowering me to overcome any obstacle or challenge that may come. This brings me to the next point…

2) Surrender. Akin to resisting, is to let go. Surrender whatever it is that you have been wrestling with to God. Let go and stay present with yourself, looking upon yourself with love and kindness and compassion. Remember that what you long for, what you need, and what will heal you is already yours, gifted to us from Him.

So often we are trying to hold on to a false sense of control when the most powerful thing we can do is to be still and know that He is God. When you do this, you will find that it’s not that the feelings, thoughts or situation will necessarily change - but your perception will! So many scriptures describe what happens when we trade our sorrow for the joy of the Lord:
  • Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30).
  • You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. (Isaiah 26:3).
  • Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6).
Once you let go and seed your faith, just watch how God will move!

3) Show gratitude. Give thanks to the Lord! There are so many ways in which you can practice gratitude daily; including keeping a record/journal of all what you are thankful for, offering thanks verbally through prayer, or demonstrating kindness to those around you through acts of service.

Show gratitude by enjoying your life. Among the fruits of the spirit are joy; yet, so many people have never asked themselves the question, what brings me joy? Find the things that make you uniquely you and run with them. Delight in the gifts, people, opportunities He has given you. God gave us life -- how we dishonor Him by walking as the living dead. Rather than getting caught up in worry and anxiety about situations, we are invited to cast our cares on Him. This enables us to move on and take hold of what God has for us!

No matter what is happening in your life right now, each day, each moment is an opportunity for gratitude. We all know how to thank God when we perceive “good” things happening; but even those things that we feel distressed over should be cause for celebration. What we think as painful are often moments of great growth when God is preparing us for the next phase of our journey.

4) Last but not least, be confident! Remember who you are and who God is. Remind yourself of how God has consistently moved in your life. Do not underestimate the power of keeping a record – I guarantee God will come out on top! Last year, I created my own prayer box. I write specific prayers on a piece of paper and put it in a picture box I purchased – it is a symbolic way of physically releasing something to God. It’s amazing when I go back in the box and see how God has answered my prayer directly or made that prayer no longer relevant in my life. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.

Be confident that God will do what He says He will do. Meditate on His word:
  • God is our refuge and strength; an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. (Psalm 46:2-3).
  • Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9).
  • For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ (Jeremiah 29:11).
  • No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame. (Psalm 25:3a).
  • Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6). 

Yes, life is the journey not the destination – and it’s a beautiful journey indeed! Below you can find some musical inspiration. Be blessed!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

You don't have to bear it alone

you are not alone

Last week, I wrote about the importance of maintaining peace with each other. This week, I had the opportunity to reflect again on why our spiritual bond is so important. It has been a tough week for me. The past two years in fact have really stretched me spiritually. In fact, the very things I have been writing about here -- understanding who we are, trusting God, surrendering -- are teachings I am grappling with myself. Experience is indeed the best teacher! But through the highs and lows of life (all relative!), I am grateful that we never have to bear it alone.

Along life's journey, I have been so blown away by the support and love received from those God has placed in my life.  It is a blessing I am learning to access more and more.

A little over a year ago, I came across a passage in Acts that really touched my soul:

The Fellowship of the Believers: They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47).

What a wonderful example of how we are called to be with each other! Full of joy, breaking bread together, praying with and serving each other.  Notice how out of this love and support of each other, great miracles and favor resulted.  This was a reminder to me that, while we all have our unique paths and must be careful to stay focused on God's will (and not the opinions of others), the power of God is magnified when we operate in unity (remember it is not about you!). From Him, the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament,grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

But we're so resistant to reaching out to each other. We have our pride. We feel like we ought to be able to handle it on our own. We are ashamed. We don't want to even say out loud what we are experiencing because then it will be too real. Or we feel like whatever hurt, confusion, or distress we are experiencing is not worthy of conversation. We don't want people to know what's really going on in our lives for fear they will not love us. We feel like we have failed. We've been living a lie and we don't want the truth to come out. We don't need or deserve anyone's help. 

All lies we tell ourselves.

Thankfully, God in His infinite love and grace understands that we cannot do it alone. Search Description Even Moses needed help! When Moses cried out, God responded. All Moses had to do was bring his burden to God and God surrounded him with the support he needed. You see, God does not intend for you to operate in the world on your own strength and doing. He wants us to love and support each other; for, if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us . . . for whoever lives in love lives in God and God in them.

So when you feel alone, remember you are not. Give your burdens to God. He will either open your eyes to the people in your life you've been resisting or bring new relationships into your life at just the right time. (Thank God for the "strangers" that  "coincidentally" have come into my life with just the right message/confirmation/resource/push I needed at that time!).

Jesus' prayer for all believers was that we all be brought to complete unity -- "then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." Thank you God for the people you have blessed us with to help us carry out our purpose. Thank you for loving us enough to do so.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Living in peace with each other

Like many of us in this country and abroad, I have been struck by the divisiveness that has overtaken our political decisions. I have stopped watching the news. It even pains me sometimes to read online articles and blogs because the comments sections are so full of venom.  The post might be on a topic that seemingly has nothing to do with politics and before you know it someone draws out a thread that spins into a heated, cutthroat attack on another's views.

Now many of us will say, "I just have a strong belief but I would never set out to hurt someone. I am just passionate about my viewpoint."

But what if what you consider "just passion" and "healthy debate" is really causing another pain? How do you draw the line?


I will speak from experience. The other day a friend of mine was sharing with me how her family is struggling to accept some of the lifestyle choices of her brother. They have chosen not to meet certain people in his life or engage in certain conversations with him because of their disapproval.

Now, because I love my friend, it pained me to hear how hurt she and her family were. I also felt great empathy for her brother. I immediately started telling my friend that her family needed to surrender this situation to God in prayer and continue to show love to her brother.  Something in the way I delivered my message caused her to start becoming  upset. She said she felt like I was saying that she and her family do not love her brother. On the contrary, I was trying to say that because they love her brother, they have to let go. But this caused us to go down a whole "debate" of what love means, what it means to judge and/or correct others, and whether her brother's actions were "wrong" in the first place.

Now a part of me knew we were just going in circles. We were just repeating each other's points, talking past each other, and often making the same point (just in our different ways). But I could feel my voice getting louder, my responses becoming more clipped, my tone more self-righteous or sarcastic as I dismissed her points and suggested scriptures and various readings her family should study.

I later attempted to apologize. Typing this now, I'm like whoa, how did I even get there?

I could look to different experiences in my life that made this  tendency to become combative  easy to latch onto. I could say that my friend pushed my buttons, that I was tired that day and lacked the patience required for the conversation. I could say it was a sensitive topic that evoked emotions.  And those might reasons - but not excuses.

A renewed mind is not stuck on old habits and behaviors. Each day is a new day to try something different. Fortunately, that opportunity to try always comes again!

The Word exhorts us to:
  • bear with one another in love 
  • make every effort  to do what leads to peace and mutual edification
  • build each other up
  • accept each other as Christ accepts us 
  • be humble and gentile

So how do we do this? Here are a few things to keep in mind:

1) You are a reflection of God. You are made in His image. You may be the only expression of God that a person encounters in any given day. Through your deeds, you exhibit God to others. So, what are you showing them?

2) Each  of us is a unique work of art. God tells us that we are His masterpieces. But each of us were formed intricately with our own individual paths to him. Look around and you can see the great diversity of God's creation. It is a fact that people will have different opinions, beliefs, paths, trials, victories, thoughts, and interests from yours. We are all being molded by the one true Potter. Might you be interrupting the process by insisting that people think and believe the way you do. "Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand."

Remember, God is still working on you too! (I know that is hard for some of us to admit ;))

3) We are One body, united in Spirit, in love. Ephesians 2 reminds us that we are all members of the same one household, a holy temple, being built together to be a dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. Later in that chapter we are told to be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

One way I have learned to build this unity and break a me-versus-them pattern, is to really imagine myself as the other person. What must he/she/they be thinking? Is there a reason that could explain this? How might I also react if I felt that way, held those beliefs, had been through that experience? What would I have needed or wanted? When you pause and start to ask yourself those questions, it becomes much easier to see how you and others are so much more the same. We all have the same fears and pain at some level. And for all of us love is the antidote!  Walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

A few months ago, I found myself in a really negative space with a co-worker. Because I didn't allow myself to understand her, I judged. But one day I decided to break the pattern between us. Rather than reacting and perpetuating our cycle of sniping, I stopped. I tried to look at the situation from her perspective, seeing her in the best light I could. I found myself finally empathizing with her. I reached out to her to let her know that I was on her side and wanted to work together to resolve the issues she was having. Since then, our interaction has made a complete turnaround.

4) We are saved to do good . . . not harm by trying to ram our beliefs down people's throat. In Titus 3, Paul writes that we must "be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone." He reminds us that there were times when we too acted foolishly, were disobedient, and were deceived. We hated and were hated by others. BUT when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us not because of anything we had done but because of His mercy. (Can I get an Amen!) Justified by His grace, we are now made known of our inheritance. As Kingdom-builders, we must be careful then to devote ourselves to doing what is good. Specifically, Paul writes that we must "avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless." 

When we keep love in our hearts, the result is pure bliss. (Believe me that this lesson is as much for me as you!)

As it relates to my friend, I can see now that all I had to do was listen, show empathy for the pain she was feeling, and pray for her, her family, and myself to seek God's wisdom and trust Him to act in the situation.   

Lord, help us to reflect your love to all of our brothers and sisters.  Let us not tear each other down but rather continuously seek to lift each other up to the high places to which You have called us. Amen.