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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

When You Cannot Change

Why is it that we often believe God can do everything but help us stop scratching our itch? 

I was this person. I believed God for EVERYTHING concerning EVERYONE but me. I believed God wholeheartedly that all my single friends would marry amazing people. These same friends would also start new businesses, become best-selling authors, create new products, travel the world as experts in their respective fields, and prosper in all of their endeavors.

For myself however, I believed God for “food on the table and clothes on my back.” I was grateful for what I had, but I was afraid to trust God for the unexpected in any area of my life. I guess I didn’t want to be disappointed or ‘‘bother’’ God with supplications for myself, so I found contentment in the here and now. The only problem, beyond my actual discontentment, was that the limitations I put on my prayer life created a very thick glass ceiling.

Glass ceilings are invisible and as a result, I ran into a lot of headaches when I finally desired to elevate in life. No matter what area I strived to grow in, I kept hitting my head on something I didn’t even know was there. What’s worse is that I created it.

Having shattered many of the ceiling layers now, I can look back and say the following characterized my existence under the dearth of trust I had in God to change areas of my life.

1. A Life of Hopelessness
“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13 (NIV)

I didn’t know I was living a hopeless life. My plans included graduating high school, obtaining a bachelor’s degree, and moving on to complete a master’s degree. After the master’s, I decided to opt out of the PhD for some time, and go into the work world. This is where the signs of hopelessness became evident. There were no more plans in my reservoir. The next step in my life was a mystery. With two degrees, several unemployment checks, and no road map, my future looked bleak. Sleeping on the couch in my mother’s living room and living out of the one suitcase of belongings I had to my name seemed to be it. What did I have to hope for when I already decided nothing would change? Trusting in God was the only option I had, and I did not know how to accept that option. As a result, I did not see joy or peace, but rather a half empty glass.

2. A Life of Anxiety
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7 (NKJV)

I worked very hard to achieve the best. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but it became increasingly difficult to trust God for help when I thought I had to use all my strength and energy to make things happen. I always thanked God at the end of the job, but never depended on Him during the ‘‘in between.” I did not want to be a person who had faith without works, so I did not relinquish control to Him during the process. Self-reliance left me overwhelmed and anxious. I did not view anxiety as a problem, but simply counted it as a norm in my life. I identified myself as an anxious person, became content, and expected to have anxiety attacks anytime I would plan projects/events.

3. A Life of Displeasing God
“But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” Hebrews 11:6 (NKJV)

This one is a hard pill to swallow, but a very necessary one. I believed that God existed, but I could not call on Him regarding myself. It was like I felt unworthy to be heard unless I was praying about something other than myself. Hebrews 11:6 says that the faith needed to know He exists is the same faith that knows he will reward those who seek Him. In order to be rewarded, He has to hear us. Thus, it’s impossible for me to believe He exists, but not have faith that He hears and rewards. Faith is faith, either we have it or we do not. I simply did not. I knowingly disbelieved that God could work in all areas of my life.

The Hope for Change
Ultimately, even if I believed God could change me, I had to want change (John 5:6). There is a big difference between doubting what God can do for you and simply not wanting God to intervene. Once I decided I wanted change and believed God was actually mighty to save me, demolishing my glass ceiling began.

Every great story has two main characters, the protagonist and antagonist. The first conquers many challenges and evolves throughout the novel. The latter typically does not evolve, but rather creates his or her own demise by the end of the story. Which character do you want to be in your own life’s story, the one who evolves, or the one who dies stagnant? God is the master author and can write a great manuscript for you, if you let Him.

Will you trust Him for your change today?

Song

Same Power – Jeremy Camp

“…The same power that rose Jesus from the grave

The same power that commands the dead to wake

Lives in us, lives in us

The same power that moves mountains when He speaks

The same power that can calm a raging sea

Lives in us, lives in us

He lives in us, lives in us…”

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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Why You Might Be Offended

I was listening to a sermon when the speaker said that the spirit of offense is born in a person between the ages of 3 and 10. I do not know the source of that fact, but I entertained the thought enough to do my own research. After a few Google searches, I found myself reading Erik Erikson’s Theory of Psychosocial Development, which states that children develop their sense of self-confidence between the ages of 5 and 13. 

“The failure to master trust, autonomy, initiative, and industrious skills may cause the child to doubt his or her future, leading to shame, guilt, and the experience of defeat and inferiority.” (Source)

These types of feelings are likely to cause anyone, child or adult, to offend easily. When you are not confident in who you are, you become susceptible to believing the lies that you or others declare over you regarding your identity or your life’s purpose. Insults such as “You are fat, dumb, worthless, ugly, unaccomplished, etc.” are all lies that can attack self-confidence at any stage of life. I’ve noticed that those who appear to have a strong sense of self are driven toward success by the negativity surrounding them. Others ultimately end up feeding into the negativity and developing less successful ways of coping.

Before the age of 30, I missed developing self-confidence. As a result, I struggled to define myself for a long time but adapted by placing my identity and purpose in my intelligence and gift of service. No one could tell me I was not smart and that I was not a great helper. However, this created a challenge because I set myself up to solely foster working relationships with people in my adulthood. When you sell what you do instead of who you are, people will seek you out for what you do. Projects, tasks, and skill sets were the only things that kept me connected to the majority of the individuals I knew. I wanted more personal connections with people, but I didn’t know how or to whom I was asking them to connect. I knew who I wanted to be more than I knew who I was. In my mind, outside of acts of service and being smart, I wasn’t anyone worth knowing. It became increasingly difficult to break out of the box. I prayed to God to give me a clear vision for the person I had yet to become – who He desired me to be.

My first hurdle involved what T.D. Jakes, in his book entitled Destiny, refers to as “internal streams of critical commentary.” I had to address my inner me (enemy) or negative self-talk. Oftentimes, I assigned negative intent to situations and was overly critical of others and myself.  I refused to allow myself to believe I was valuable. To begin the journey of renewing my mind, I had to actively and regularly use prayer, accountability, and God’s Word.

Prayer
For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.”
2 Corinthians 10:4-5 (NKJV)

I was not good at praying for myself, especially during hard times. The more distressed I was about something, the more I shut down, closed up, and didn’t reach out to anyone – not even God. Prayer, however, was essential in helping me 1) release control from thinking I had the power to help myself; 2) mitigating the lies in my head; and 3) releasing power, God’s affirming Words over my life. I had to develop a new routine to pray in all seasons whether good or bad.

Accountability
Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” James 5:16 (NKJV)

I had an accountability partner, however, my struggle with trust often hindered me from reaching out to this person when in immediate need. My delayed outreach stunted my progress and made me more fearful and ashamed to speak up about my “little” issues. An accountability partner, while a necessity and great support during any change process, should never be looked at as the sole solution. S/he cannot fix you, but should minimally be someone who can hear you out and pray with you.

Word & Faith
For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says.” Mark 11:23 (NKJV)

I needed an overhaul of my faith. All the scriptures I knew had merely become memorization exercises. I did not use the power in these verses to speak life into anything I was struggling with. So I began reviving those scriptures in my heart. I said them daily, read them out loud, and hung them on the wall. I declared them until the power of the words resonated within me again. “He will keep you in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Him, because he trusts you!” (Isaiah 26:3, NKJV) “The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want!” (Psalm 23:1, NKJV) “He will perfect that which concerns me!” (Psalm 138:8, NKJV)

Thus, the next time you find yourself being offended, take a moment and think about what inadequacy or unhealed wound(s) the person just spoke to. My pastor often says, “True humility knows no humiliation.” If you do not believe you are a failure, someone calling you one should not faze you. Discover your areas of offense, acknowledge whatever hurt happened to create that sensitivity, and begin the process of renewing your mind in that area.

Song
Plumb - Exhale

It's okay to not be okay
This is a safe place (2x)
Don't be afraid
Don't be ashamed
There's still hope here (2x)

No matter what you've done or who you are
Everyone is welcome His arms

Just let go let His love wrap around you
And hold you close
Get lost in the surrender
Breathe it in until your heart breaks
Then exhale
Exhale


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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Four Spiritual Lessons from Pixar’s 'Inside Out'

I love animated films, and Pixar’s Inside Out was especially enjoyable. If you have not seen the movie, the story depicts Riley, an 11-year-old girl, coping with her family’s move from Minnesota to California. Her emotions—Joy, Anger, Fear, Disgust, and Sadness—work as a team to manage her transition from one place to another. Many Internet posts have been written about the lessons taught in the film regarding parenting, understanding emotions, and psychology. In addition to these great findings, I think there are a few spiritual lessons that can be taken from the movie as well.

1. Something Has to Die for Something to Grow
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NKJV)
 Riley has several personality “islands” that define who she is at her core. These include Family, Honesty, Hockey, Friendship, and Goofball Island. Throughout the film Riley loses each island as she struggles to adapt to her family’s move to a new state. As I watched the destruction of each island, I honestly thought Riley would become a vegetable. As Riley adjusts to her new home, her islands redevelop into bigger, better, and more joyful places. The solution to Riley’s problem was already within her. The personality islands simply needed an upgrade to handle the work in the next chapter of Riley’s life. Watching this process inspired thoughts of how God allows every heartache we endure in our own lives to strengthen the core of who he created us to be.

(Source: http://pixar.wikia.com/wiki/File:Inside-Out-Island-Down-all5.jpg)


2. A Song of Release

“But I will sing of Your power; Yes, I will sing aloud of Your mercy in the morning; For You have been my defense And refuge in the day of my trouble.” Psalm 59:16 (NKJV)

Bing Bong, Riley’s imaginary friend, and Joy find themselves stuck in a dark place—The Memory Dump. With no way out, they uncover the rocket ship from Bing Bong and Riley’s past. The rocket, a wagon only powered by singing, is their last hope of escaping the ditch. Bing Bong and Joy sing as loud and as fast as they can, but cannot seem to get enough power to fly out of the abyss. During their last attempt, Bing Bong jumps off the rocket, making it light enough to carry Joy out of the Memory Dump. Although the weight of the past i.e., Bing Bong, was holding Joy back from getting out of the Memory Dump, Bing Bong was critical to helping Joy find and learn her freedom song. Oftentimes we want to forget the past, but taking time to reflect on your past may be the jolt you need to find your freedom.




(Source: Left: Instagram.com, Right: www.txtmovieclub.com)

3. When You’re Sad, Joy Is Working on Your Behalf
“Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6 (NKJV)

Joy and Sadness become travel companions throughout the film. No matter what Joy tried to do, Sadness seemed to “mess things up.” In life, when our sadness seems to overwhelm us, look around for joy. Joy never stopped working on Riley’s behalf. She was a very present help, even when thing seemed hopeless.




(Source: http://movies.disney.com/inside-out-gallery)

4. Come as You Are
“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28 (NKJV)

Riley’s emotional state worsens throughout the movie. Her parents cannot decipher what is wrong with their daughter. They encouraged her to smile and “be happy.” Riley tries abiding by her parents wishes, but ultimately cannot find happiness in her situation. She’s friendless in a strange city and attending a new school while no longer participating in her favorite past times. Many times throughout the film Sadness tries to control Riley, but Joy always intercedes. Although Joy was assigned to manage Riley, during much of the movie, Joy only manages Sadness. Once Riley acknowledged she was sad about moving, Joy resumes charge of Riley’s total well-being, and Riley’s personality islands begin to redevelop.

We oftentimes look to God to solely manage our sadness, when He is fully capable of managing our total well-being. However, He can only assume this role, when we acknowledge where we are and how we truly feel about it. Rest is at the other end of self-reflection and honesty.



(Source: Left: moviepilot.com; Right: Tumblr)

Song
Hillsong - Inside Out

“In my heart and my soul
Lord I give You control
Consume me from the inside out
Lord let justice and praise
Become my embrace
To love You from the inside out”


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What's your favorite 'Inside Out' moment?

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

How Fearing Love Saved My Life

“Hurricanes evolve through a life cycle of stages from birth to death. A tropical disturbance in time can grow to a more intense stage by attaining a specified sustained wind speed.” The progression of tropical disturbances can be seen in the three images below.
(Source http://ww2010.atmos.uiuc.edu/(Gh)/guides/mtr/hurr/stages/home.rxml)



While studying storms, I realized many of my life’s “hurricane” situations started out as a tropical depression. I never took the time to recall each of the small wind gusts that ultimately became the hurricane problem I was currently in.

One of my life’s hurricanes, in particular, was realizing I had a fear of love. It sounds absurd to fear love. What makes love ‘‘scary’’? I don’t know. What I do know is that the concept of someone liking everything about me and wanting to be with me forever secretly terrified me. At the time, I was convinced if anyone ever knew me that well, they surely wouldn’t want to stay with me that long. The love concept made sense for everyone else, just not me. I was completely content with feeling this way until my stance was challenged, and I was forced to deal with an issue I didn’t even know I had. The process of discovering my fear was emotionally traumatic. During a time in my life, where I knew who I was, and was totally comfortable with that person, this fear reared its ugly head, and made me lose all sense of self-identity.

Looking back over the storm, I believe my tropical depression started with storms of disappointment, rejection, and what Bishop T. D. Jakes calls “internal streams of critical commentary.” I recollect many instances where 1) I felt disappointed that someone I expected to show up or listen did not, 2) someone I wanted to be with rejected me, and 3) I often criticized everything, including myself. My work was never good enough; there was always more to do. Productivity was my measure of self-worth. These repeated occurrences led to a great deal of anxiety. To avoid disappointment and rejection I tried to control life by evading hurt. Control was my coping mechanism, but over time, it only built distrust, low-self esteem, and false perceptions of myself.

The prolonged tropical depression left me in a state rife with anxiety, confusion, and emotional instability. Each day brought a new emotion: resentment, bitterness, loneliness, hopelessness, irritability, anger, and depression. As the storm intensified, I doubted if an end was within reach. I settled that this hurricane would be the death of me emotionally and spiritually.

Recognizing death before me, and nothing behind me, in desperation, I finally turned my complaints into a prayer:

“Lord God, you are Mighty to Save! Free me from the casket of confusion suffocating my heart and mind. I want out of this storm Oh God! I want out of this storm Oh God. Only you can deliver me and make me whole! In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
It was in this place that the eye of the storm passed over. The uniqueness of a hurricane lies in the presence of an eye in the center. The eye is the focus of the hurricane, the point around which the rest of the storm rotates. Within the eye, the winds become very light—sometimes even calm. At the center of my storm, the eye was God’s grace. 

The years of hell: distrust, low self-esteem, negativity, and false perceptions distorted my view of love from man and God. I created a false sense of inner peace, where completely trusting people and self-acceptance were not apart. Prior to the hurricane, I was convinced that neither trust nor self-acceptance was truly needed to be happy and successful.

In the midst of my spiritual death and drowning in depression, I started to hope for more. I hoped for the opposite of every emotion I was feeling. Hope opened my eyes to the notion that I needed to feel God’s love to understand and accept love fully. His grace would love me in spite of everything I ever did. Forgive me, restore me, and challenge me. A love that required me to trust that He couldn’t lie (Numbers 23:19) that He’d never disappoint me, and would fairly judge me (Psalm 11:7). A love—I had to trust and believe—actually existed. Initially, the thought of this love gave me more anxiety, but was ultimately worth accepting in comparison to dying in confusion. A love that said I was valuable (Psalm 139:13-15), important, chosen (John 15:16), and not forgotten (Hebrews 13:5). A love that rebuilds the devastation of life’s storms and makes one new (Isaiah 43:8-9, 2 Corinthians 5:17). A love that always trusts, rejoices in the truth, bears all things, and believes all things (1 Corinthians 13: 4-6). A love I could no longer afford to fear.

At the edge of hopelessness and in the midst of a hurricane, I chose to take a step. I stepped into the roaring wind and pouring rain of my fear and believed God’s grace was enough. His grace was sufficient to not only restore me, but also allow me to love others as I truly wanted to be loved.  


Song
Love Lifted Me - Candy Staton



I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore,
Very deeply stained within, sinking to rise no more,
But the Master of the sea, heard my despairing cry,
From the waters lifted me, now safe am I. 

Love lifted me! Love lifted me!
When nothing else could help
Love lifted me!


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What's your saving storm? #mysavingstorm