Fear Devotional, Part 5

Fear

“I am God, the God of your father,” he said. “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. Genesis 46:3 NIV

Jacob was obedient to God because he shifted from fear to faith.

If you recall the story, Jacob would have to leave for Egypt, a foreign land, in search of food and to see his son Joseph again, whom he thought was dead. It could have meant death for him and his remaining sons too. And, he was old. Past the prime risk-taking years. He had faced so many trials and disappointments in life…many he brought on himself…but at the end of his life, Jacob was willing to face his fears and walk by faith again.

In fact, he had a history of times he moved from fear to faith.

All of us will have fear. Fear began with the fall of mankind and, since we still live in a fallen world, we are still subject to fear. We shouldn’t be surprised when we are afraid when facing something that seems beyond our abilities or when the outcome of the situation is unknown. That’s natural in a fallen world.

To counter our nature we must do something spiritual. We must place our faith in something…really SOMEONE…who has the power and ability to accomplish what appears to be the impossible…the unnatural. That someone, of course, is the Creator God. The controller of nature. When we place our trust in God, He takes our inabilities and turns them into His abilities. Then, working all things towards an ultimate good, He works through our situations and circumstances to bring about His final plan. Our job in all this is to be obedient…in spite of our fears…by placing our complete faith in Him.

What is that fear that has you stagnant right now?

Perhaps you need to move from fear to faith!

Do something which may seem unnatural, depending on your circumstances. Turn your fear into a complete and total trust in God. Then watch Him do His miracle work and transform your situation into a glorious tribute to His power and strength.

Let me give you an easy 4 steps to begin this process:

1)Admit your fear

2)Renew your faith

3)Obey completely

4)Repeat steps 1 through 4

Again. And again. And again.

4 Steps to Rebuild Trust

couple in distress

I wrote a blog post on winning back the heart of a wife several years ago. (Read it HERE.) The post was written in reponse to the dozens of times I had given the same advice to men who had hurt their wives in some severe way…mostly affair type situations…where it seems the wives heart has left the relationship.

When men find themselves in this type situation they feel hopeless. When the marriage begins to unravel around them…when the wife is ready to quit…even when it was the man’s fault…he often is finally broken and willing to do whatever it takes, but doesn’t know what to do.

That post has been Googled thousands of times. It is obviously a needed subject. As a result of that post, I have heard from dozens of other men and women (mostly men) who have done something dumb and want to win back their spouse’s trust. (Some of them even still comment on the previous post.)

Building on that original post, I want to address how to regain trust in general. This is advice I would give to any relational setting. It could be a marriage, a family, friend or even a business relationship. Regaining trust is difficult…just being candid…but the process usually follows a similar path.

Here are 4 steps to rebuild trust in a relationship:

Ask forgiveness – If you did wrong…apologize. If your aren’t sure…apologize. Even if you don’t think you were completely in the wrong, the other person may…a sincere apology is a great place to start. Being humble enough to admit fault is a trust-building characteristic. (Some are experts at saying “I’m sorry”, but it stops at that. That’s not enough to rebuild trust…keep reading.)

Do the right things – Whatever you did to offend the relationship. Stop. Stop now. Quit. Never again. Get help if you need to, but you have to do the right thing to counteract the wrong things. You may need to learn how and don’t be afraid to ask the person you offended or get professional help. Relationships are too important not to take them this seriously. Do the right things.

Keep doing the right things – Over and over again. Trust builds over time and experience of doing things which are trustworthy. This will require discipline on your part, and may not even be received well at first, but doing the right things is still the right thing to do. A mature response to life is to do the right thing even when wrong is easier or even expected.

Be patient – Trust always takes longer than the one seeking to rebuild trust thinks it should. Always. Trust has to work through emotions that have been severely injured. That doesn’t happen in an instant unless God intervenes. Most of the time He seems to let them heal naturally. Be patient with that process. It’s worth it. (By the way, this appears to be the hardest step for people from whom I hear.)

Now I realize the obvious next question. What happens if the offended party doesn’t reciprocate? That’s probably the subject of another post, such as 7 Things Forgiveness is Not, but know this: You are not responsible for the actions of another. You are responsible for your actions. And, attempting to rebuild trust is the right thing to do.

Any testimonies of how long it took someone to rebuild trust? Share and help others.

Rest in the Shadow of the Almighty

shade-tree-summer

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. Psalm 91:1 NIV

When I was a little boy, air conditioning was a luxury. Most of the schools didn’t have it and many of our houses were without it. Still it seems like we spent more time outdoors then than we do now. In the summer, we would go to my grandparents quite often. When the time came for homemade ice cream, everyone would gather around, bowls in hand, and head for their favorite shade tree. No matter how hot it was, with ice cream in hand and a shade tree above, the weather was always just right.

That is what I think of when I think of the “shadow of the Almighty”.

Resting within the protection of God’s glory, I find peace from the burdens of the world.

No, my problems don’t always disappear, but the journey is made easier. The valleys aren’t as deep, and the mountain tops seem to last longer and come more often.

Dwelling within God’s shelter means that I trust Him even when the odds makers say I shouldn’t. It means that I choose Him over the achievements I can make on my own. It means that my life is not my own. I am bought with a price, the shed blood of Jesus, and that my home is in Heaven, where awaits for me an eternal blessing, which far outweighs the problems of this world.

My grandparents tree is no longer standing. I have air conditioning now everywhere I go. We seldom make homemade ice cream. In fact, at family gatherings now we rarely go outside. As I reflect on the good memories about that shade tree, however, I realize that the best shade I will ever experience is within the “shadow of the Almighty”.

Why don’t you rest in His shade with me for a while?

Like maybe for an eternity!

How I Battled Claustrophobia (and other life applications)

airplane

Cheryl and I were recently on an airplane flight for 2 1/2 hours. It wasn’t the longest flight we’ve been on by far, but it seemed longer than it was. We managed to get the last seat in the back corner of the plane. There was no window. No reclining to the seat and limited leg room. I realize that’s typical these days for most seats, but trust me when I say this was the worst seat I’ve ever had on an airplane and I’ve flown a bunch.

To make matters worse…The guy in front of me reclined his full 3 inches and wouldn’t sit still the entire flight.

I knew I was semi claustrophobic, but on this flight I thought I would die. I allowed myself to be psyched into a frizzy of miserableness. Cheryl tried to calm me, but I was restless.

I know it sounds extreme, and like I am a big baby, but it became that big of a deal for me at the time. I had to do something.

So, how did I survive?

Well, the way I turned an uncomfortable situation into a manageable situation was a lesson for me for other life situations. Real life situations. The kind that last longer than a 2 1/2 hour airplane flight. (Even funnier was that I read a book about a WWII POW survivor on this vacation…talk about surviving…I am a sissy! But, still…)

Here’s what I did:

Thought about destination. We were getting out of town. Somewhere exciting. Vacation. Better times ahead.

Reminded myself this was temporary. These things too shall pass.

Redirected my thoughts to something that I enjoyed thinking about. (Such as writing a blog post.) And planning a new strategy. And studying my Bible.

It made the trip more pleasant and helped me arrive in a better mood. Cheryl was happy about that.

But, as I said, it helped me process how I respond in other claustrophobic times of life.

When you feel stuck. The walls feel like they are closing in around you. You are miserable in your current circumstances.

Here’s what you do:

Destination – Think about where you’re going. Better days ahead. If you’re a believer…a follower of Christ…you are living with some promises. (If you’re not on the right path…redirect here.)

Temporary – Remember life has ups and downs. These days shall pass. And, as Paul said, even if troubles last a lifetime, these “light and momentary troubles are achieving for us a glory that far outweighs” anything of this world.

Redirect – Change your thought process. Many times what we think about determines how we feel. Again, Paul said, “whatever is pure, whatever is noble, if anything is excellent or praise worthy…think about such things”. Maybe we need to think better thoughts.

When you have a proper perspective you can sit back, relax and better enjoy the flight.

Just for fun, what’s the most miserable flight you’ve ever been on and what made it so?

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

complaint

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?