Helping women live victorious lives in Christ

Posts tagged ‘God’

Surviving the Holidays? How Did I Do?

Happy New Year! I’m grateful to be in the number of those who made it to 2019!

As I promised in my previous blog post entitled “Preparing to Survive the Holidays,” here is my follow-up on how things went.

daisy flower in the desert

I must admit that I am glad to be on the other side of the holidays (insert sigh of relief).  As I anticipated the first holiday season without my mother, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I wondered if I would be extremely sad, angry or what, as Christmas, New Years’ Eve, and New Years’ Day approached.  Shortly after New Years’ Day would also be the first anniversary of my mother’s passing (January 6).  So, all of those milestone dates were back to back on the calendar.

I think overall, I didn’t do too badly.  On Christmas Day, my daddy and I spent the afternoon and evening visiting friends. People were very gracious to us, and we had several invitations to Christmas dinner (too many to accept lol).  Overall, the day was filled with fun and laughter.

It was on New Years’ Eve 2017 when my mother went into cardiac arrest. My plan was to go to a church service this year, but the later in the evening it got, the more I knew I wouldn’t make it.  I ended up sleeping through midnight, and woke up in time to call my Daddy to wish him a Happy New Year in the Central Time Zone.  New Years’ Day was quiet…I made some of the traditional food for the holiday (collard greens, black eyed peas) and reflected on what I was doing a year ago….trying to get home to be by my mother’s bedside.   I was back to work the next day, and my busy schedule resumed.  It helped to be busy when the anniversary of her passing came.

What did I learn in this process of surviving the holidays?

Don’t be afraid to share with people what you are about to face during the holidays

I’m not saying share with everyone, but only with those who understand what you are going through and who will show you compassion. They may or may not remember that you are facing the holidays without a loved one (and that’s ok…we shouldn’t expect people to remember every significant moment of our lives).  Those who really care about you will check on you, invite you to dinner, or do something to help you get through this period.

Some people choose to share these milestones on social media.  I chose not to, because I didn’t think I would be up to responding to hundreds of responses about my loss.

Go with the flow

For Christmas, while my Daddy and I had made plans, we also let the day unfold as it would.  It was great spending time with loving friends, and we also knew when it was time to call it an evening (even though we didn’t make it to every house we thought we would).  We didn’t put pressure on ourselves to do it all…and it was ok.

Thank God for the grace He extends

Through the entire holiday period (from Thanksgiving to New Years’), God showed Himself gracious to me!  Yes, there were some sad moments.   Yes, I shed some tears.  Yes, I wished things could be different.  But God showed His love and concern by giving me the strength to face this season, knowing that He would never leave me nor forsake me.    I’m grateful to God for placing people in my life who would remember and acknowledge my loss…just the acknowledgement alone, and the fact that I was thought of, was a comfort.

 

Yes, I still grieve, but I am grateful.  And…I’m looking forward to a new year with new possibilities.

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Responding to Trials

Trials, difficulties, struggles, challenges.  They all happen to each of us throughout life.  These situations come in all shapes, sizes, and flavors:  job loss, loss of a loved one, divorce, or a health challenge.  As Christians, we should not be surprised when they happen (although they do sometimes catch us off guard).  Scripture reminds us that we should not be surprised when challenges come in our lives: “Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you– 1 Peter 4:12, NLT. Whatever the situation, we have a choice as to how we react…we can try to embrace the challenge and push through it, or we can resist it and possibly become bitter and angry because this thing has happened to us.  The path we travel on during our situation is really up to us.  And for Christians, as we push through our situation, we do not do it alone.

In my own experiences, my trials have eventually turned out for my good.  Note I said “eventually”!  The good from my situations was not instantaneous, but was revealed over the course of time.  And as a result of my challenges, I am a better person, a stronger person, a more compassionate person, a more grateful person.   So, as we are facing difficulties, what can we do to get through them, to the point where we can see the good, and can experience the transformation that God wants to make in us?

Choose our perspective

How do we view this negative experience?  In our mind, is it the end of the world, or is it an opportunity for a new beginning?  James, the brother of Jesus, reminds us of this: “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” (James 1:2-4, NLT)  This trial is an opportunity for our endurance to grow!  Something good will come out of this!  We choose to look at this situation from that perspective.

Choose to trust God

As we experience our trials, we can choose go to the Word of God to bolster our faith.  When we read passages about the heroes of faith (Moses, Mary, Paul, and Joshua are just a few examples), we can see how God worked in their lives, and we are reminded that He can also work in ours (AMEN!)  We can also look back on my own life and remind myself of what God has already done for me (if we were to really count our blessings, we would lose count!)  As we read Scripture and look back at past blessings, we are learning to trust God more and more in what’s happening right now.  If He did it before, for me as well as for others, can He not do it again?

Choose to be patient with ourselves

We should remember that as we experience trials, our change may not be instantaneous (in fact, most times, it’s not).  There may be days when we feel we’ve make one step forward, and the next day we get knocked two steps backwards.  That’s ok.  We should be patient with ourselves as we trust and believe that we are being transformed by God (and that transformation happens by the renewing of our minds…see Romans 12:2).  So, be patient with the process…it is a process. We choose to be patient and to take each day as it comes, believing by faith that transformation is happening (even if we cannot see or feel it).

As we press through trials, we have choices!  We can choose to be bitter or better, we can choose to trust God, and we can choose to take things one step at a time.  It’s up to us.  Make a decision to want to be better as a result of what has happened to you. And watch what God does in you and through you.  The lyrics of this song by James Bignon remind us of this:

“On the other side of through
There’s a blessing waiting for you
Hold fast
Hold fast
Your troubles will not last
There’s a blessing
There’s a blessing
On the other side of through”

I’m on the Potter’s Wheel

There are times in our lives as Christians when we feel pressed on every side.  It seems like we’re catching it from everywhere…our relationships with our loved ones are challenging, we’re overworked on our jobs and are feeling unappreciated, we’re dealing with health concerns, and the place we go to worship and get encouragement is going through a season of trial (these are just a few). The Apostle Paul experienced this pressing and shared his plight with the church at Corinth: “For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life” (2 Corinthians 1:8, KJV)

When we’re feeling this pressure, the first thing we want is relief!  We cry out to God, just like Job did (which is what we should do) and ask, plead or even beg God to free us from the pressure.  We want these burdens off of us, and we want them gone NOW!  Can anyone else besides me relate to this?

Instead of desiring to be released, let’s take a moment to look at things from God’s perspective.   The prophet Jeremiah observed in chapter 18 a potter working on a pot on the potter’s wheel.  According to Jeremiah, “the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands.” (vs. 4, NIV) Doesn’t that sound like us?  We are marred creatures, yet God desires to work on us.  Jeremiah goes on to say in verse 4:  “so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.”

Potter

That is what our Heavenly Father is doing while we are being pressed.  He’s forming us into another pot, shaping us as He sees best.  He’s allowed those sandpaper people to be in and stay in our lives for a reason.  He’s giving place for the challenges we’re facing at work for a purpose.  He’s letting some things happen in our lives that we may not like.

Picture in your mind what Jeremiah sees as he watches the potter work with the pot.  If the pot could speak, what would it say? “Ouch, that’s hurts, Mr. Potter.”  “When will you be finished, Mr. Potter?” “That’s enough, Mr. Potter!”  Don’t we say these same things to God when we’re being pressed?  I know I have!   But it helps to remember that we’re not going through what we’re going through for no reason.  God is allowing our experiences to shape up us in the image of His Son Jesus, to become the person He wants us to be.

For me, I believe in my own season of ‘press,’ God is preparing me for something greater.  He’s getting rid of some things in me so I can be ready for the purpose for which He’s called me. And He’s replacing those character traits and habits that are not of Him with those that are.  So, as the pot, I’m going to stay on the potter’s wheel until the Potter is finished with me.  Being on the potter’s wheel is not the most comfortable place, but it’s the most necessary place.  And I’m trusting that the Potter knows what He’s doing as He molds me until what He wants me to be.

God Answers Prayers, But…

Yes, we know that God answers prayers.  Those of us who believe in the power of prayer know that He’s there to listen and that when we pray according to His will, He hears us; and because we know He hears us, whatever we ask, we know we receive it (see 1 John 5:14-15).  Many times when we pray, especially for those things that are extremely challenging situations (serious illness of a loved one, difficult marriage, long-term financial strain), where we may not see breakthrough for quite some time, we continue to pray but sometimes wonder when the answer will come.  But the question I want to pose today is…as you continue to pray, are you looking for the answer?

prayer image

 

What prompted me to write this today is the fact that I am praying for a few ‘big’ things and have been praying for quite some time.  And God showed me signs of his answering them all in one day, all in one church service.  But I wasn’t looking for the answers! I was just going along enjoying the worship service, when boom, boom, boom…there were the answers.  Three prayer requests, three answers just like that. The situations are not completely solved, but I can see that God is working (note the present tense) to answer the petitions that have been brought before Him.  And these prayers have just not come from me, but from others as well.  I know that He is going to answer, but I was in awe at how God is working and the timing in which He’s working.  My mind is still blown as I’m writing this the next day after it happened.

 

What’s the lesson for me (and hopefully you) today?  Don’t stop looking for the answers and for your breakthrough to come!  They are coming!  And they are coming in ways and through people that you may not expect or anticipate.  When your answers (or the beginning of the answers) appear, give God praise for them!  For me, what God did yesterday was a reminder for me to keep praying, keep pressing, and to not give up.  God is sovereign and has our situations under his complete control. He is well able to handle them, and I am trusting and believing that He WILL answer (just like it says in 1 John 5:14-15). I encourage you to join me and do the same.

Church Leadership and Vulnerability

As leaders in ministry, we are looked upon to set an example for those who follow our guidance.  It goes without saying that we should be above reproach, honest, consistent, loving, fair, just, and people of integrity.  There are many scriptures that speak to these characteristics (just take a look at what the apostle Paul wrote to his mentee’ Timothy for examples).

Vulnerability-Just-Ahead

It’s true that a leader should possess a certain level of spiritual maturity (again, Paul talks about these qualities in his letters).  Leaders should know the Word of God, not be swayed by every wind of doctrine (Ephesians 4:14) and be able to live out the Word that we teach and preach on a daily basis.  There are countess books by authors such as John Maxwell who expound greatly on the concept of leadership and what makes an effective leader.

Recently the question of transparency and vulnerability in leadership has entered my mind.  Yes, leaders are to be examples to those around us, but how far should we take the example?  The issue I’ve seen recently is the fact that in many instances, church leaders are placed on pedestals by those whom they lead.  Leaders are saddled with sometimes unrealistic expectations of perfection and super-human strength (and no I’m not talking about Superman or Wonder Woman strength), and are expected to always “take a licking and keep on ticking” (anyone remember the old commercials for Timex watches…I guess I’m dating myself lol).  Leaders are sometimes expected to be able to withstand any and everything and keep going as nothing has happened…nothing should be able to faze them, right?

However, sometimes the people we lead (and us as well) forget one very important point: Leaders are human beings!  We experience emotions like sadness, anger, and frustration.  We get tired and sometimes feel like throwing in the towel (or at least taking a hiatus).  We sometimes get confused and are unclear about a decision we need to make.  We sometimes feel disappointment when things in our lives and ministries don’t turn out the way we thought they should.  I could go on and on, but I think you get what I’m saying.

So in light of that, how does a leader balance his or her own vulnerability with the need to set an example?  I’m certainly not an expert in this area, but my thoughts are this: it’s ok to be vulnerable and transparent to a certain extent.  How can this openness benefit those around us?  Being open with some of our struggles can help remind people of our humanness.  Just because God has called someone into ministry or leadership doesn’t elevate a person to the level of perfection.  Everyone struggles with many of the issues I mentioned before, whether we’re a leader or not. We need to stop worshipping people (after all, that’s idolatry – go back to the Old Testament to remind yourself about what God says regarding idolatry), and remember that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23).

Being open with our concerns can also be an encouragement to those around us.  If you’re dealing with an issue, our followers are watching us to see how we’re handling a situation.  Are we living in defeat because we’re facing challenges, or are we standing on the Word of God and in faith to help us overcome?  Paul reminds us that we are more than conquerors (Romans 8:37)! And we may experience emotions as a result of our situations (and sometimes those emotions are visibly seen on our faces and in our eyes), but our faith helps us to keep going, and can serve as an example for others experiencing similar situations.

Vulnerability and transparency are not easy.  Our egos sometimes don’t want to admit that we are flawed or imperfect.  But I believe a certain level of vulnerability can be healthy and helpful, not only for us, but for those who follow us.  However, I would caution that we be careful to display wisdom regarding our vulnerability.  Everyone can’t handle hearing everything (AMEN somebody), and we never want to be a stumbling block (1 Corinthians 8:9, NIV) to anyone.   We’re not going on Dr. Phil to tell it all (of course, this is an exaggeration, but you get my point).  We probably shouldn’t share every last one of our issues and concerns, but there are some issues that if shared the right way, can help strengthen someone else.

Your decision to be vulnerable can be a blessing to you and to others but we must be wise.   Every spiritual leader should have a spiritual mentor who has traveled the road you’re currently on, and provide you with Godly advice and can help counsel you through those issues that everyone’s not ready to hear. Ultimately, we should seek God’s guidance about what areas to be transparent in, when and with whom. Stepping outside of God’s will in this area could prove to be disastrous.

So leaders, I believe it’s ok to be vulnerable and transparent.  And followers, I believe it’s ok for your leader to be vulnerable and transparent.  Leaders are human, and we’re all trying to accomplish the same thing: to live fully for Christ, live a victorious life, and to look forward to the promise of eternal life in Christ Jesus.  Whether you’re a leader or a follower, we’re all in this thing together.

Just my $0.02.

I’m Already Complete

A dream I had this morning left me feeling odd.  In this dream, I was searching for something that would bring me peace and contentment.    I was literally trying everything I could to find this desired state, and finally, after munch struggle, I found it.  It was a little girl.  And when I found this little girl, I knew she was what I’d been looking for, and I began to release all the other things I’d tried in search of satisfaction. 

Searching

Well, who among us can’t relate to searching for something that seems to elude us, but we believe that once we get it, it will completely fill and satisfy us.  It could be that career, that relationship, that fortune, that house…it could be any number of things.  We think that if we just get that thing, all will be well with us and the world.  But time and time again, we’ve been disappointed and discouraged.  If we finally receive the thing we believe is the panacea for the lack of peace in our lives, we soon come to realize that it isn’t!  So we go on a search for the next thing, and the pattern repeats itself.

I believe the message from that dream is that Jesus is the One thing that can fully complete us. Colossians 2:10 (KJV) says “And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power.”  The NIV says that “in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority.”    According to Clarke’s Commentary on this verse, “the Colossians were empty – spoiled and deprived of every good, while following the empty philosophy and groundless traditions of Jewish and Gentile teachers; but since they had received Christ Jesus they were filled with him.”  Doesn’t that sound like us?  We are empty and trying to fill ourselves with any and everything, only to fall short every time.  In Jesus, we find our completion, contentment, and peace.

So what does that mean?  Do we stop striving for the dreams and goals we may have?  Absolutely not!  But we put those goals and dreams in their proper perspective.  They are designed to give us some level of satisfaction and fulfillment, but they are not meant to complete us.  Only Jesus can fill that space each of us has inside.  And when we’re feeling empty and alone, we should seek Him out in prayer, Bible reading, meditation or quiet time (instead of trying to fill that space ourselves). And when we will draw closer to him, James tells us that Jesus will draw closer to us (James 4:8). 

So today, I’m resting in the truth that I am already complete in Christ. I’m believing what Jesus said about seeking Him first and the kingdom of God. (Matthew 6:33) And I’ll strive to press into Him to remind myself that He is my source of peace and contentment.  Will you do the same?

It’s Storm Season…Are You Ready?

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash. Matthew 7:24-27

 

Hurricane image

 

I live in West Central Florida, and from June 1 to November 30, we have to contend with hurricane season. As I write this, we’re about 6 weeks into the season.  Things have been quiet so far, but that could change at any moment.  Having been born and raised in New Orleans and now living in Florida, hurricane season is a part of life.  What can this weather phenomena teach Christians?  I’m glad you asked!

 

We know it’s possible that a storm will come

There are some years when the season is a quiet one, while other years, it’s crazy! But we know, based on scientific evidence, that a storm will come! In 2004, we dealt with 4 hurricanes back to back here in Florida that took just about the same path (right up the middle of the state).  Just as soon as we breathed a sigh of relief, there was another one on the way that we had to brace ourselves for.  It’s a proven fact that, because of the warmth of the water and other factors, these storms WILL form in the Gulf of Mexico and travel around the states surrounding the gulf, or to the states bordering the east coast of the United States.

Just like we know hurricanes will come, we Christians also know that the storms of life will come. James 1:2 tells us to “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” (NIV, emphasis added)  James doesn’t say “if” trials come, but “when” they come.  Peter says in 1 Peter 4:12: “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you” (KJV).  Just like we shouldn’t think it strange that a tropical storm or hurricane will form in the Gulf from June to November, we as Christians should not be surprised that storms and trials come in our lives.  So, if we know storms and trials are coming…

 

We need to be prepared for when a storm comes

During hurricane season, there are several ways to find out how to prepare for a storm.  The local city and county governments publish brochures and update their emergency preparedness websites, local TV stations air news specials, and local newspapers have entire sections dedicated to hurricane preparedness. When the storm hits, we know what to do (or we should know what to do), and there should be no excuse for lack of preparedness.  Unlike sections of the country that deal with tornados, when facing hurricanes, we have advanced warning.  We have the resources at our disposal to get ready, so we can prepare ourselves as best we can.

Christians also have advanced warning of impending storms (we already know that they will eventually come).  And we’ve been given instructions on how to get ready.  What are those instructions?  According to Jesus, we are to hear his words and put them into practice. As we read and hear the Word of God, we become more assured of the promises He’s made to us.  Our faith is growing as we study and meditate on his word, and we are becoming like “a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matt 7:24, NIV)  Although we don’t know the exact circumstances, we are shoring ourselves up for what will come.

 

We have an assurance that, despite the storm, all will be well

When a tropical storm or hurricane comes, there will be some after effects or consequences.  There could be flooding, downed power lines, interrupted phone service, and damage to our homes.  But if we’ve prepared properly, we’ve secured a generator, we’ve evacuated to a safer location, or we’ve stocked non-perishable food and water to have on hand until the comforts of home are restored.  We have what we need to face the consequences of the storm, and we know that eventually, things will get back to normal.

I’m sure you can see the parallel for the Christian!  J  Look what Peter says in 2 Peter 2:9a: “Now if [all these things are true, then be sure] the Lord knows how to rescue the godly out of temptations and trials.” (AMP)  Praise God, He know how to rescue us! Also, look at Jesus’ words to us: “The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.” (Matt 7:25, NIV)  Despite the rain, wind, and streams, the house that was built on the rock remained, while the house that was built on sand fell.  The house on the rock remained because it was built on a solid foundation.  Rock is far more stable than sand, right?

Don’t be caught unawares, we know that a storm will come.  It’s our responsibility to prepare for impending storms when things are going well, not when the storm is barreling down on us.  And as we prepare for impending tests and trials, and build our spiritual house on the solid foundation of Jesus Christ, we are assured that we will be able to withstand the storms of life, because God has promised that we wouldd.

A storm is coming…are you ready?