Fear Devotional, Part 2

Fear

He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

Genesis 3:10 NIV

Fear, apart from the holy fear of God, entered the world at the fall of man. Prior to the sin of Adam and Eve they had no fear. They didn’t fear for their safety. The didn’t fear how they would provide for their family. They didn’t fear the ills of health. Cancer wasn’t a fear.

They trusted God because of their deep, intimate relationship with their creator. After sin entered the world, sin came. Destruction arrived. Chaos. Disappointment. Uncertainty. As a result, fear was ushered in also.

The fact that you are afraid, therefore, should be no surprise. If you are facing something unknown, or something you know is bigger than you, you can expect fear. It’s a very natural human reaction.

So, think for a moment… of what are you afraid?

That’s okay to admit….really…it’s even understandable. We live in a scary, mixed up world and fear is the result of the times in which we live.

I want to encourage you, however, to live counter-cultural. (That’s the way believers are to live anyway.)

Be brave! Stand strong!

First, admit you are scared! It may be the necessary step to finding the faith you need to be obedient to God’s call on your life.

Then surrender. Quit. Give up. Tell God you’re done trying. You’re finished hiding in your fears. Your public confession today is fear. Real, honest fear.

Then trust again. Renew your faith. Take a fresh and deep breath in the reality that God is on His throne. He hasn’t moved. He’s in control. And you can trust Him.

For today, live fearless. Not in your strength. If you’re like me you stink at that consistently. Live fearless in the reality that He is God. And everything is going according to His will.

For bonus points and encouragement, read Psalm 121.

Be honest, what’s your biggest fear these days?

The Power of One

Female finger counting one isolated on white

I ran my first and only marathon a few years ago. I’ve run lots of halves, but only one full. I hope to do another this fall.

I chose the Huntsville, AL marathon because it was small, flat and low on fanfare. I know some runners who love the interaction with people in a race. That is their motivation. For me, however, running is what fuels this introvert with renewed energy. I run for personal down time, not for fellowship. Races simply give me a goal for which to train and compete.

I wasn’t able to finish my training schedule prior to the race. I had too many interruptions and so I ended up only running 18 miles and my last long run was 6 weeks prior to the marathon. I know how important training is, so I considered dropping out, but decided to push through.

I was great for the first 21 miles, but 22 miles in I hit rock bottom. I had had enough. I wanted to quit.

As I said, there’s little fanfare on this course, so few were cheering on the side of the road. It had been a few miles since I had seen anyone cheering. Everyone running near me was equally struggling. A few chose to quit.

Just past the mile 22 marker, on the sidewalk, stood a young Boy Scout in uniform. I spotted him in the distance. He looked to be about 10 years old. As I approached him…panting…aching…miserable…he ran out into the street towards me, ran with me for a few steps and chanted:

“You can do it! You can do it! Keep going!”

I don’t know what it was about that little boy’s enthusiasm, but it was the charge I needed. I didn’t finish strong, but I finished. I went another 4 miles and crossed the finish line…running!

I had finished my first marathon!

It was a reminder to me that sometimes it just takes one voice. One voice in a crowd. One positive word. One voice that says you can when everything in you and around you says you can’t.

It’s the power of one.

Is there someone you know who could use a little encouragement? You may be the sole voice in a sea of negativity. You may just make the difference. You could turn a bad day into a good one. You could reverse a failure and produce a success.

Be that one in someone’s life today.

Look for opportunities to be the power of one.

Have you ever had the experience where one voice made the difference in your story?

Fear Devotional, Part 1

Fear

In great fear and distress Jacob divided the people who were with him into two groups, and the flocks and herds and camels as well. Genesis 32:7 NIV

I have often wrestled with this question:

Could my greatest fears be God’s greatest opportunity to express His glory through me?

As I read the stories of the characters in the Bible, I see men and women who faced enormous fears…challenges far beyond their own natural abilities, and yet it was in those times, when they obediently followed God’s plan for their life, that God seemed to do some of His greatest work.

Jacob was surely afraid to meet his brother after their time of separation. He had tricked Esau out of his birthright. Esau could have killed him. Instead, because of Jacob’s obedience, God transforms a man who was to play a large part in the lineage of Christ.

What are you facing today that scares you to death?

Over the next few weeks, every Saturday, I want to explore the issue of fear. It is my prayer that these will challenge us to step out in faith to accept God’s call on our life, regardless of our fears.

Who would be bold enough to share their greatest fear?

The Elasticity of the Heart

Be aware of the elasticity of your heart.

I’ve learned through hard lessons that a stretched heart never returns exactly the same.

The Bible says, “Above all else, guard your heart.” I think part of the reason is that once the heart stretches, it’s changed. Forever.

Let’s say you had a dream. You pursued it with passion. It didn’t work out. You failed. But, in the process you stretched your heart for something new. You’ll have to find yet another dream to fill the void you created by stretching.

You thought you had the job. You were beginning to get excited about it. You even looked at houses in the area. You didn’t get the job. Your heart stretched. You will have to refuel your passion where you are now or you’ll be miserable. Your heart was stretched.

You felt a call to ministry at some point in your life, but you ignored it. Or something happened. You’re not serving right now and your heart is empty. Your stretched heart has never been the same.

And, it works in other ways too. You looked at things online you shouldn’t have seen. Now you want more. And more. You can’t seem to find satisfaction. You stretched your heart.

Be aware of the elasticity of your heart.

My advice is to find something to fill the new space you have created. You can’t just “get over it”.

You have to fill the void left behind because of the stretching. That may require prayer, discipline, accountability, practice or even counseling. Maybe all of them.

But your stretched heart is too important to ignore.

Above all else…guard your heart“. (Proverbs 4:23)

Helping Complainers Complain Better

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It surprises me how many well-meaning, even nice people don’t know how to offer a complaint. One that actually gets heard. The Bible says “do everything without arguing or complaining”, but I don’t believe that means we aren’t to ever voice our opinions. There are times when letting someone know what you don’t agree with or how you were mistreated is warranted. If I owned a business, and you were unhappy with your service, I would want to know. As a pastor, I realize you see things I don’t see. If there are issues of concern we want to know it. If you saw a glitch in our preschool security, please come tell me quickly. But, knowing how to offer a complaint (or an opinion), even when it is good information, can make sure your input isn’t quickly dismissed.

I wrote THIS POST recently on how to offer a criticism that actually gets heard.

Then I heard from a pastor who is undergoing change in his church. Needed change. But, along the way, he’s receiving a lot of complaints. Lots. And, they aren’t being delivered in very nice ways. They hurt. There are weeks he feels he is doing nothing right even though the church has grown, new families are being added, and overall the attitude of the church has improved. Complaints, mostly the way they are presented, are shadowing out the good he is doing in his own mind. (I don’t completely understand it but for some reason the filter of civility is often lost when speaking to pastors.) I tried to coach him through this, reminding him of truths he already knew…God is in charge…change is hard…some people are mean :). But, I’d love to address his church sometime. Especially the complainers…and help them see how they could offer their opinions (even if they are merited) in a way that is more beneficial for everyone. Right now it’s not working.

But, it’s not just pastors. I was standing in a checkout line recently. Apparently this customer who frequents this store nearly everyday (his words) was unhappy. He didn’t know how to complain. Not in a way that he will ever be taken seriously. And, in my observation, he may have had a valid issue, but it was quickly dismissed and he was labeled a jerk by store staff.

I watch it in restaurants when the waitress is chewed out by the customer. It’s sad. We may have a valid complaint, but we many times don’t know how to complain.

That’s what this post is about. Complaining. In case you need to complain. (Make sure you do first. Is it rooted in selfishness or rightness?) Honestly, I think we’ve become very selfish as a society and should work to complain less, but that’s another post I guess. For this post, let us assume people are still complaining. This post is: Helping complainers complain better.

So…as much as possible…

Use the sandwich approach.

Basically, in between two pieces of praise, insert the meat of the complaint. You might even put a little sweet jelly on it if needed. (I didn’t invent the process. I’m just expanding upon it.)

Praise – What do you like about the person? What are they doing right? Focus on the positive as much as possible. People listen better to people they think actually care for them as a person.

Complaint – As much as possible, make it constructive criticism rather than a complaint. Be honest. (Don’t embellish.) Be professional. Be kind. (You can offer disappointment and still make someone think you like them.) Be clear. Be quick. Be helpful. Use “I” statements more than “You” statements. Stick to the point.

Praise – Thank them for listening. Bonus points for encouraging them in some way. Complaints can be hard to hear. Soften the blow by ending with kindness.

Of course, doing this may require you to think before you speak. It may even mean writing out your complaint first and reading over it several times. At times, after this step, you may see your feelings have changed and you don’t wish to offer a complaint. (The “sleep on it” approach is never a bad system.)

I’m not saying your complaint will always be heard doing it this way and I’m certainly not saying it means you’ll get what you want. I am saying it gives you a better shot at being heard and you’ll offer your complaint without as much injury to the party receiving it.

This is a serious post, written in a lighthearted way. Honestly, it appears to be a problem in society these days. In the end, I believe it’s a heart issue. For all of us. We’ve lost the art of how to talk to people…how to offer a serious criticism when needed. In the process, we injure people. Thumper’s mom was right…(My mom too)…”If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.” Proverbs 15:1

What do you think?

25 Things Mom Used to Say

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Moms are great! Gotta love ‘em. But, seriously, they say funny stuff. I was remembering on vacation recently some things my mom said…some of them I’ve repeated.

Which of these are familiar to you?

Here are 25 things my mom used to say:

“Whatever floats your boat”

“If I had a dollar for every time”

“I’m always a day late and a dollar short”

“You’re cruising for a bruising”

“And if you don’t quit it you’re gonna get it”

“Use your head for more than a hat rack”

“You’d forget your head if it wasn’t attached to your shoulders.”

“These socks won’t pick up themselves.”

“If you keep looking like that your face is gonna freeze.”

“Cut it out before someone gets hurt.”

“When I was growing up…”

“Starving children in Africa…”

“Get outside and play”

“A little “birdy” told me!”

“Am I talking to a brick wall?”

“I don’t care who started it, I said stop!”

“If you don’t stop crying, I am going to give you something to cry about!”

“If it were a snake, it would have bitten you.”

“You will eat it, and you WILL like it!”

“You can’t find it? Well, where did you leave it last?”

“Keep crying, and I’ll give you something to cry about”

“Because I said so”

“I’m not made of money”

“Don’t give me that attitude.”

“…talk until I’m blue in the face….”

What is something your mom used to say? Do you say them to your kids today?

12 Game-Changing and Tweetable Proverbs

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A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare. – Proverbs 15:1

A wise person is hungry for knowledge, while the fool feeds on trash. – Proverbs 15:14

Plans go wrong for lack of advice; many advisers bring success. – Proverbs 15:22

Greed brings grief to the whole family – Proverbs 15:27

Pride goes before destruction – Proverbs 16:18

Discretion is a life-giving fountain to those who possess it – Proverbs 16:22

Kind words are like honey— – Proverbs 16:24

Better to be patient than powerful – Proverbs 16:32

Love prospers when a fault is forgiven. – Proverbs 17:9

A cheerful heart is good medicine. – Proverbs 17:22

Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish. – Proverbs 18:13

Enthusiasm without knowledge is no good; haste makes mistakes. – Proverbs 19:2

Which of these most speak to you? 

The Cosby Show – Revisited

cosby

I am a Bill Cosby fan, so when I was asked if I’d allow a guest post in honor of his birthday this week, how could I refuse? (This is NOT a sponsored post.)

The Cosby Show – revisited

The 1980s was a much different time in American culture than the current era, a period in which a television show featuring a middle-class African-American family was a revelation and something never seen before. The Cosby Show was a landmark TV comedy even without considering race — but with race in mind, it was a groundbreaking one. As star Bill Cosby turns 76 this week, let’s take a look at how The Cosby Show helped make the entertainment world ready for Will Smith, Oprah Winfrey, and many more African-American TV stars whose shows didn’t revolve around the projects or even make a big deal of their families being a part of mainstream America.

Humble Beginnings

Inspired by his standup comedy show triumph Bill Cosby: Himself, the star and network NBC created a show focused on the family life of the Cosby-like Dr. Cliff Huxtable. In fact, many of the jokes from the first season of the show are taken word-for-word from Himself. It was natural for the new sitcom to feature an upper-middle-class African-American family, since that is what Cosby himself had and talked about during that comedy special. (In fact, Cosby’s TV family and real family both had four girls and one boy, the boy being the middle child.) NBC, however, didn’t have high hopes for the series, especially since it would go head-to-head on Thursday nights with the hugely popular Magnum, P.I. on CBS. They needn’t have worried, however; Cosby soon pulled ahead of Magnum in the ratings, prompting Bill Cosby himself to rub it in by wearing a Magnum ball cap on an episode of his own show.

Gentle Humor

Bill Cosby is known for being socially active and even somewhat harsh in his criticism of all races when it comes to racism and hypocrisy. Cliff Huxtable, on the other hand, was always an avuncular presence, wearing sweaters and college sweatshirts and dispensing funny fatherly advice to his kids. Also, Clair Huxtable kept her husband in line with sharp wisecracks as well as warm understanding. The show was sometimes criticized for not consistently taking on racial issues such as poverty and crime, but Cosby retorted that this was not demanded of shows featuring Caucasians although many people of that race also live in such conditions. To its fans, The Cosby Show was just a funny and heartwarming TV program.

A Trend-Setting Star

It’s fair to say that without The Cosby Show, which ran from 1984 to 1992, shows like The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, starring clean rapper Will Smith, or That’s So Raven, starring Cosby regular Raven-Symone, would have had a harder time getting off the ground. But Cosby — and Cosby — showed that African American characters can be people first and then, if the time is right, symbols later.

As of his 76th birthday this week, Bill Cosby has created some of the most indelible entertainments of the late 20th Century, from I Spy in the 1960s, Fat Albert in the ’70s, and The Cosby Show in the ’80s and ’90s. And he hasn’t stopped making people laugh: he still does standup comedy on tour all throughout the year, and those shows consistently sell out from Las Vegas to New York to Miami. His books still sell briskly. He is still an icon of humor among all races, a breakthrough for those entertainers who followed.

Author Bio: Spencer Blohm is a television and movie blogger for DirectTV who covers everything from previews and new releases to classic films and shows from the ‘70s and ‘80s. He’s been a huge Cosby fan since he was a child. He lives and works in Chicago.

Happy Birthday Bill!

What’s your favorite work of Bill Cosby?

7 Things Forgiveness IS NOT…

(I’m on vacation this coming week, and so for the next couple weeks I’m posting again some of my most read posts, but also ones I think are actually helpful. These are my “favorite top posts”. Some posts had more hits, but they simply do well in the search engines. I’m actually proud of these. :) None of these were posted this year. All are older than that. Thanks for reading my blog. Feel free to share these on Twitter, and Google Plus to get them circulated. I won’t be doing much of that while I’m gone.)

We get confused about what forgiveness is and what it isn’t. Maybe we don’t really know sometimes.

Forgiveness is not an option for the believer. We are to forgive others as we have been forgiven. For most of us (all of us if we will admit it), that’s a whole lot of forgiveness. Understanding forgiveness doesn’t make it easier to forgive, but it does make it more meaningful…perhaps even tolerable…but I believe understanding the process could make us more likely to offer the forgiveness we are commanded to give.

With that in mind, in two posts, I want to share what forgiveness is and what it isn’t.

Here are 7 things forgiveness IS NOT:

Forgetting - When you forgive someone your memory isn’t suddenly wiped clean of the offense. I know God could do that, but it seems that would be the easy way. I suspect God wants forgiveness to be more intentional than that.

Regaining automatic trust - You don’t immediately trust the person who injured you when you forgive them. That wouldn’t even be logical. Trust is earned, and they must earn trust again.

Removal of consequences – Even though you forgive someone, they may still have consequences to face because of their actions.

Ignoring the offense – You don’t have to pretend nothing happened when you forgive. The reality is an offense was made. Acting like it never occurred only builds resentment and anger.

Instant emotional healing – Emotions heal with time. Some pain runs deep and takes longer to heal.

Restoring the same relationship – The relationship may be closer than before or not, but most likely it will never be the same.

A leverage of powerGranting forgiveness does not give a person power over the person being forgiven. That would violate the entire principle and purpose of forgiveness.

Here is the companion post….7 Things that Forgiveness Is… Just a note before you get there: This post may have seemed easy, even freeing, but the next one may be more difficult.

What would you add to my list of things forgiveness is NOT?