Calming Life’s Storm

“I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.”  Psalm 27:13 NIV

In the midst of a world pandemic we are surrounded by scary statistics, rising death tolls, overcrowded hospitals, limited medical supplies, etc.  We’re told the safest place to be is home.  People wear masks and other personal protection equipment when they have to go to public places.  Personally, I have even resorted to “washing” my groceries before bringing them in the house.  Why?  Because our world is fighting against the spread of a scary and unpredictable virus that continues to wreak havoc and steals our hope and our freedoms.

Life, as we know it, has been put on pause for an indefinite time period.  People have temporarily lost their jobs due to businesses closing down.  High school seniors lost the last few months of their high school careers because school buildings closed in mid-March and have been ordered to remain closed for the duration of the school year.  Spring athletes like baseball players and track stars will have no season this year.  Weddings have been cancelled or rescheduled.  Family gatherings are halted.  Grandparents can’t see their grandchildren except through their picture window or via video technology.  It’s as if the world itself has stopped turning and is standing still on its axle.

For many, this sudden change in lifestyle, cancellation of plans and loss of  tradition has brought much despair.  Others wrestle with anxiety while trying to hold their family together with little or no income.  Still for others it brings anger, resentment, sadness and even fear.   Watching TV or scrolling through social media only adds to these emotions due to the barrage of false and overly exaggerated information that pours through both media channels.  Even in the comfort of our homes we cannot escape the eerie silence and chaotic noise of COVID-19.  It’s almost like that dreary calm in nature when the skies are dark and the trees are motionless just before the madness strikes as a destructive storm blows through.

I can imagine the disciples knew that exact dread and fear when their boat sailed right into a deadly storm.  Mark 4:37 describes it as a “furious squall…that broke the waves over the boat making them nearly swamped.” (NIV)  I  imagine twelve men scurrying around, panicked doing everything that can to keep the boat from sinking.  Although verse 38 tells us they ran to Jesus asking Him to save them, based on their history of unbelief, I think they tried to save themselves before running to Jesus.  Here’s the kicker of this story.  Jesus was in the stern, SLEEPING!  When the disciples woke Him, He stood up, “rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ (verse 39) Then He said to His disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

I think Jesus could be asking Christians of today’s world these same two questions-Why are we so afraid?  Do we still have NO faith?  Does His word mean nothing to us when we need it most?  Jesus reminds us in John 16:33 that “in this world [we] will have trouble. But take heart! [Jesus] has over come the world.”  In Deuteronomy 31:6, God told His chosen people to “be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you.  He will not leave you or forsake.”

We do not have to be afraid or in dread of a deadly disease.  We can be at peace through this tumultuous whirlwind the Coronavirus has brought upon us.  We do not have to entertain anger, despair, grief or fear.  We can choose joy, gladness, gratitude and hope.  How? Taking His word for the very truth that it is and standing on scripture that combats every negative emotion that floods our spirits.

Are you angry because your plans have been ruined and you feel stuck at home?  God’s word says “…human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (James 1:20.  Ecclesiastes 7:9 warns to “not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools.”  Instead of anger, God tells us to “Consider it pure joy…whenever we face trials of many kinds because…the testing of [our] faith produces perseverance.” (James 1:2-3 NIV)  We combat anger with choosing joy.

Are you anxious because you’ve lost your job, maybe have no income and unsure how you will meet your family’s basic needs?  God is our Provider.  In fact, in Matthew 6: 25-27 (NIV), we are told this; “Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body…is not life more than food…? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet [our] Heavenly Father feeds them.  Are [we] not of more value than [those birds]? Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” Worrying doesn’t grow a money tree or put food on your table.  But prayer and faith can.  We don’t have to have big faith either, just the faith the size of a mustard seed.  Isn’t that ironic?

Have the cancellation of milestone events (graduations, weddings, etc.) left you grieving what you or your loved one are missing out on?  Are you crumpled in a pit of despair?  Grab on to hope and don’t let go.  1 Peter 5:10 promises us this: “The God of all grace, who called [us] to His eternal glory in Christ, after [we] have suffered a little while, will Himself restore [us] and make [us] strong, firm and steadfast.” Milestone events may not happen exactly as were planned or even in the traditional manner we looked forward to.  But that doesn’t mean they will not happen.

If it’s a part of God’s plan, it will happen.  Sarah and Abraham are the perfect example of that.  Sarah’s dream of becoming a mother fell to the wayside as she grew to be past the child bearing age.  She “thought outside the box” even and tried manufacturing her own family using Haggar. But God’s plan was for Sarah to bear a child, not adopt one.  Even though Sarah laughed at God’s promise, Hebrews 11:11 tells us that “by faith…Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered Him faithful who made the promise.”  Sarah laughed at God-clearly her faith was the size of a mustard seed.  BUT-God is a god of His word and He always keeps His promises.

Lastly, have you been paralyzed by fear-fear of the unknown, fear of the future, fear of this virus itself?  Then memorize these scriptures and follow these commands!

     1.) “Do not fear..when you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.  When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned, the flames will not [even] set you ablaze.” (Isaiah 43:1-2)

2.) “Be strong and courageous.  Do not be terrified, do not be discourage for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

3.) “Tell everyone who is discouraged, be strong and don’t be afraid! God is coming to your rescue…” (Isaiah 35:4

4.) “Do not be afraid…The Lord your God Himself will fight for you.” (Deuteronomy 3:22)

5.)  “...do not be afraid, just believe.” (Mark 5:36)

God is in control.  God is bigger than COVID-19.  This pandemic did not surprise Him.  I do not know His “why” for this world crisis but as He tells us in Isaiah 55:8; His thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are His ways the same as our ways.  He doesn’t call us to find the “why” in every situation.  He calls us to trust Him and take Him at His word. He also calls us to obey His word.  Right now I believe, He is telling us to “Be still and know that He is God.” (Psalm 46:10)

In the end of this terribly long pause, God will be exalted among the nations.  Until then, we can stave off anger, despair, grief and fear by  setting our minds on things above and turning off the earthly things.  When the news and social media posts feel like cataclysmic waves crashing into you life’s boat, remember these strategies and trust that just like he did for the disciples, Jesus is calming this life storm too.

When It’s Hardest to Forgive

“Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭18:21-22‬ ‭NLT‬‬

If you were raised Christian, ever visited a Sunday School class or have been witnessed to, I am confident you’ve heard a message about forgiveness. The plan of salvation alone consists of confessing our sins and Jesus forgiving us. Christ’s death is the epitome of forgiveness both to those who crucified Him and for those He died for. As He was hanging on the cross already beaten and tortured, He cried out, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)

Throughout the Old and New Testament there are many passages on God and Christ forgiving sinners. We aren’t just forgiven. God calls us to forgive those who “trespass against us.” If you’re anything like me, being forgiven is easy. Forgiving others can be a very tough pill to swallow especially those who aren’t even sorry.

There are people in this world who may hate you, hurt you, and lie about you because of their own toxicity. Perhaps they’re jealous and insecure, sociopathic or narcissistic even. The stories of Jezebel, Joseph’s brothers and even Saul’s murderous behavior toward David are prime examples. The Pharisees even blasphemed against Jesus. Yet there are multiple scriptures that tell us to forgive. In fact a few verses even say love your enemies and pray for them/do good to them.

Here are a few more scriptures on God telling us to forgive:

“If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you.”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭6:14‬ ‭NLT‬‬

“But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too. ””

‭‭Mark‬ ‭11:25‬ ‭NLT‬‬

“Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.”

‭‭Colossians‬ ‭3:13‬ ‭NLT‬‬

“Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”

‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭4:32‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Over and over God tells us to love our enemies, be kind to each other and to forgive each other. When someone we love hurts our feelings or disappoints us-it tends to be easy to forgive them because our love supersedes the offense. It’s hardest to forgive those who’s offenses supersede the ability to love that person. That’s where surrender to God and an obedient heart comes in to play. That’s where seventy times seven needs to be applied.

You may come across someone who will never be sorry for the wrong they did to you. You may want to just avoid them or ignore their existence. However, there may be circumstances where you cannot ignore or avoid them. You may have such a justifiable aversion to them that being kind to them makes your skin crawl. Our wounded hearts don’t want to forgive. Our defenses don’t want to be around them let alone offer them grace or kindness. But God says “Forgive them.” God says “Be kind to them.” God says “Love and pray for them.”

Seventy times seven means we forgive every offense, every time. I think it also means we may have to forgive the same offense over and over as a means to truly let go and fully forgive our offenders. Think about it. How many times a day do you dwell on the offense? Ever have arguments in your head between yourself and the offender? Ever think unkind thoughts or call them vicious names in your mind? Gossip about them maybe? Can you feel roots of bitterness growing and consuming you? Do you think any of that hurts your offender? Trust me-it does not. Your offender is most likely not even thinking about you. If their not sorry for their actions then they’re certainly not dwelling on them either. Our dwelling only keeps us wounded and keeps us from forgiving.

We combat this by choosing forgiveness. When a negative thought pops in your head-confess in your mind or aloud that you forgive the offender. Dwelling on specific actions they did against you? Name them aloud as you declare that you forgive these offenses. Confess each and every hateful thought you entertain and give it all to Jesus. When circumstances arise that you have to engage with that person, force yourself to be kind. You may have to fake it until you make it but if you do this, you will cut off all roots of bitterness and walk in the freedom of having a forgiving heart. You will make it to forgiving your offender(s).

Your enemy may never change. Our greatest enemy will never change so why do we expect our human enemies to change? We cannot control the behaviors and actions of others. We can only control how we respond, what we hold on to and what we let go of. We have a choice to forgive or to hold a grudge. Holding a grudge steals our joy and makes us more like our haters. Always choose to forgive. Even if you have to say it 490 times (which is 70 X 7 by the way) choosing forgiveness makes you more Christlike. That forgiveness may be the exact stepping stone Jesus uses to bring your enemy to salvation. After all-Joseph told his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.” (Genesis 50:20) You never know how God will use your forgiveness to save the lives of others also.

Show Me Love

“Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”

‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭13:7‬ ‭NLT‬‬

I seem to write a lot about love. More so, God seems to put this word on my heart a lot and so I write about it. I’ve written about different types of love, the cost of love and what real love is. This weekend, God has really been pressing on me to write about breaking down walls in order to give and receive love. The walls I’m referring to aren’t that of someone else-they’re the walls we build around our own hearts to keep us from getting hurt.

There are a variety of reasons those walls are there-perhaps your parent deeply wounded or abandoned you. Maybe a lover or spouse was abusive or cheated on you. Maybe you grew up around members of the opposite sex who were abusive and addicted to drugs and alcohol. Maybe you’ve gone through a string of relationships feeling used and disposable because that’s how past lovers treated you. Maybe you’re like me and select “all of the above” as your reason for hiding your heart behind those walls. Whatever the reason, each disappointment or heart breaking experience added another brick or layer and your wall is probably at a point where no human in their own strength could ever break through it.

I watch a lot of romantic comedies and Hallmark movies. I love Love. I love watching couples meet, flirt, date, share a first kiss, fall in love, face conflict that nearly tears them apart yet and in the end see love conquer with them living happily ever after. My favorite fairy tale has always been Cinderella. Realistically speaking I don’t wait for a prince on a white horse to show up with a glass slipper and whisk me off to his castle but I do long for a man who would cross the ocean and travel through Hell or high water just to be with me. I think some of that stems from watching so many romantic movies.

Movies are a great source of entertainment. I work two jobs and my second job is actually working at a video store so I obviously love movies. Romantic movies can give us a false sense of what real life romance and love are really all about, but they can also model what grace and forgiveness look like. Take for instance the Hallmark movie, All of my Heart, Inn Love, starring Lacey Chabert. In this movie, Lacey’s character is small town girl with dreams of being a successful baker and owning a country inn. Her fiancé is a big city financial guru who moved to the country and joined in on Lacey’s character’s aspirations. They’re character set-ups are really polar opposites. Every love story has to have a climax-the moment where viewers think the couple is breaking up or will never end up together. In All of my Heart, that moment comes when the big city fiancé takes a temporary job back in the city to help make ends meet and starts displaying old characteristics that Lacey’s character isn’t attracted to. Obviously they’re wants start to pull them away from each other.

At one point, Lacey’s character gives the engagement ring back telling her fiancé to give it back to her when he’s ready to come back to the life they were building. Then there’s a few minutes of scenes showing them living apart and both very unhappy. In the end the fiancé realizes a life with the woman he loves is more important than any successful business adventure or financial gain. He leaves the city life for good and returns to the small town, goat farming, inn keeper life devoting himself to celebrating his fiancée’s accomplishments. Of course the ending is written to lead the viewer to believe the couple lives happily ever after.

Here’s where grace and Forgiveness comes in to play. Never in this movie does Lacey’s character attack or speak hurtful things to her man (her fiancée also never speaks unkindly to his woman either.) When he returns to the home they were sharing, she greets him with open arms and embraces him. There is no punishment or even thought of punishment or spite displayed. She does nothing to make her fiancé prove his love for her or make up for nearly abandoning her and their relationship. She simply welcomes him home and shows him love.

Then there’s my heart. When I watch these movies I tend to think about how I would handle such scenarios. With each conflict I’ve watched in these types of movies I tend to have the same response-put up a wall, don’t forgive easily and make the other person prove his love. Unfortunately, this is how I’ve handled many relationship issues in my own life. Why? Because I unknowingly have punished new relationships for past lovers’ mistakes. I’ve also been far too prideful to ever admit that to anyone or myself, until now. I have a wall built around my heart. I’ve blamed men from my past for having this wall. I naively believed God was going to send me a man so out of this world that would have the super strength to demolish this wall and then I would know it was safe to love him. But let’s be real-God is telling me I need to open up my heart and let Him knock down this wall because my fortress is not only impenetrable, I think it’s covered with barbed wire to ensure nobody can even try to climb over it!

There’s a song from the 90’s by Robin S called Show Me Love. It’s the inspiration for the title of this post because it’s been playing through my mind today. The first few lines of this song describes my heart to a tee-

“Always been told that I’ve got too much pride,

Too independent to have you by side

Then my heart said, all of you will see

Just wont live for someone until he lives for me…”

Character was definitely God’s word for me in 2018 but I am thinking love is too. Maybe it’s a sub part to my character? I’m not certain but I do know this-God is showing me the walls that have to come down so that I can freely and unabashedly love those already in my life and everyone God will continue to bring into my life.

What about you? Do you live behind walls of false security? Are you governed by pride? Are you holding on to past wounds and guarding your heart in an unhealthy way? I pray Ezekiel 36:26 over you and stand on God’s promise to “give you a new heart and a new spirit. May He remove from you this heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” May you and I become fully surrendered and allow God to demolish the walls we’ve hidden behind for far too long. It is only with a surrendered will that God can really show me (and you) love.