Embrace the Challenge

I have not been writing much lately, as I seem to be going through a season of being challenged in recent months. If you are a person who likes to grow, you will understand the importance of being challenged in your life. From what I have learned, a person can only get so far doing things the way they have always done them. Eventually you will hit a plateau or the proverbial glass ceiling. I have found myself being challenged on multiple fronts recently, letting me know that the staleness I had been feeling in recent months was because I was plateauing. God has been challenging me in my way of thinking, in caring for my physical body, in my relationships, and in my spiritual life. None of this has been comfortable for me. I have spent some days feeling downright miserable, but I know that God has a plan and a purpose…He doesn’t waste any of our pain or discomfort.

In my way of thinking, I have been challenged in my initial response to situations that arise. I have a tendency to think that I have all of the solutions to stuff, you know, kind of a know-it-all. I have come to realize that I don’t have all of the answers. What I do have is a lot of opinions. Opinions are not a bad thing. In fact, we all have them, but having an opinion and constantly voicing that opinion are two different things. I have been challenged to hold my opinion until asked for it, unless it is in an area of direct influence in my life. In other words, if it’s not mine, I don’t need to speak on it, unless the person it does belong to asks for my thoughts. This may seem like common sense, but if you are a person with lots of opinions, this can be much more difficult than you think.

In caring for my physical body, I have been challenged in finding a balance between doing/consuming what is best for me versus what makes me feel good. Again, this may sound like common sense, but it is more difficult than it seems…at least for me. I love food, I love to cook it and eat it. I also enjoy exercising. I am one of those crazy people who loves to lift weights. On a side note, I hate cardio! I do it but I hate it…people who love cardio are just weird to me. Back to the point, I know that I can never out exercise a bad diet, but believe me, I have tried to do it. Balance and moderation are keys to healthy living, but I have struggled with both, to the point where God has been challenging to care for myself and take better care of the body He has given me. How can we accomplish what God designed us for if we are constantly in self-inflicted health battles?

In my relationships I have been challenged to view them in their proper context and for their actual purpose. God has put people in my life, in my sphere of influence, not because of what they can do for me, but because of what He can do through me in their lives and through them in my life. The chief purpose of all of our relationships is for God to be glorified through them, not for us to be satisfied through them. Our satisfaction should come from our relationship with the One we are trying to bring glory to. Often, we get that out of order and place unfair expectations on people. Consequently, we place a weight on them that they were never designed to carry.

In my spiritual life, I have been challenged to be more focused on spending time with God, reading my Bible and praying. I have been challenged to live like Christ, to love what He loves, to do what He would do, to pursue what He would pursue. Jesus’ ultimate purpose was to bring glory to the Father. Jesus died on the cross to bring glory to the Father. Jesus told His disciples that whatever they asked in His name, He would do so the Father would be glorified in the Son. Jesus’ entire purpose was to bring glory to God. If am I to live a Christ-like life, then that should be my purpose also, to bring glory to God. I need to live a God-centered life, not a people-centered life.

One overarching lesson that I have learned through all of this is that you get out what you put in. Again, this may sound like common sense to you, it is to me, but that doesn’t mean that I was living by it. In every area of life, in our thinking, in our physical bodies, in our relationships, in our finances, and in our spiritual lives, we get out what we put in. We cannot expect to fill ourselves with bad but get good in return. I challenge you to find a person that fills their head with bad stuff, but lives an emotionally healthy life. I challenge you to find a person who eats junk food all day, every day, but performs like a world-class athlete. I challenge you to find a successful marriage where the husband and wife cheat, don’t communicate, and argue all the time. I challenge you to find a spiritually mature person who doesn’t spend time with God and who is more focused on their personal life than they are on God. You get out what you put in. I think that is what Paul was telling the church at Philippi when he said, “Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9 ESV)

I appreciate being challenged, it causes me to evaluate where I am and determine how to get to where I want to be. It is also a necessary part of personal growth. For me, the areas I identified earlier are all hindrances to me moving to the next step in my journey. Don’t forsake the challenges in your life. Jesus said that God prunes every tree that bears fruit so it can bear more fruit (John 15:2). James said to count it all joy when we face various trials because those trials test our faith and produce patience in our lives (James 1:2-3). No one likes to be challenged, but don’t forsake the challenges in your life and don’t underestimate their value. They identify areas of potential growth for you. If you want to grow, if you want to accomplish all that you were put here to accomplish, embrace the challenges, keep your eyes focused on Jesus (not on your circumstances), and remember that you get out what you put in.

 

In Him,

J

Why God, Why?

Sometimes we go through things in life where all we can say is, “Why God, Why?” I’ve heard people ask this question many times. Christians and non-Christians alike, tend to have moments where all you can say is, “why God, why? “ I have experienced these moments in my life, moments where it felt like I was doing everything I was supposed to do, but things were still going wrong. I’ve also had moment when I have treated others the way I wanted to be treated; you know…the whole Golden Rule thing, yet they still wronged me in some way. Moments like that make me want to ask, “why God, why?” I’ve seen bad things happen to good people. I’ve counseled families that lost a loved one unexpectedly, watched good parents cry over the choices their children have made, and witnessed little children in a battle for their lives as they war against the disease raging through their bodies. All of these things make me want to scream, “why God, why?

So, what if I screamed out at the top of my lungs, “Why God?” What would the outcome be? What if He answered me.? What if He didn’t answer me? Has God broken some promise by not answering me? Has he proven himself unfaithful by allowing these things to happen in our lives? I don’t believe so. The truth of the matter is that Jesus told us we would go through troubles in life. He told us we would have to face things that we did not want to face. You will not find a passage in the Bible that says bad things will never happen to good people. What you will find in Scripture is the answer for how we are to handle these things and the promise that we won’t have to go through it alone. Jesus, prior to His death, burial, and resurrection, told His disciple that in this world they would have trouble, but to be of good cheer because He had overcome the world. He was preparing them to face hard times. Notice that He did not say, “Now that you are my disciple, nothing bad will ever happen to you.” We are going to face hard times. We are going to have trouble in our lives. We are going to face situations that make us want to throw up our hands and yell, “WHY GOD, WHY?”

So why do we face those situations? The simple answer is that we live in a fallen, sinful world, full of fallen, sinful people. Often times, we find ourselves caught up in someone else’s sin. Hence the parents crying over their children’s choices, or the person who has just found out that their spouse is cheating on them. We have to prepare ourselves to face the troubles we are going to face on a regular basis. The Bible gives us some insight into how to do this. First, the Bible tells us, “do not be anxious about anything, but in ALL things, through prayer, supplication, and giving of thanks, let your request be made known to God,”(Philippians 4:6). Secondly, the Bible tells us to, “cast all of our anxieties on God because He cares for us,” (1 Peter 5:7). The key is to give it over to God…to let go of it and let God handle it. It is not easy, but it will help you if you can do it. I will admit, I struggle with implementing this myself.

A part of the problem for me personally, and I am guessing that I am not alone in this, is that I want the problems to be fixed on my timetable. I don’t want to go through trouble, especially the trouble I did not cause. I want to understand why things happen, and not just settle for the fact that stuff happens. I want to be able to give answers to the hurting and the grieving. I WANT TO BE IN CONTROL…and therein lies the frustration…it is the lack of control, the uncertainty, and the fear of realizing just how little control I actually have. But there is one thing I can control in every situation, my response. I can choose to respond out of fear and frustration. I can throw my hands up and ask, “why God, why?” I can fight against that which I cannot figure out OR I can choose to trust God. That “OR” in the middle of the last sentence means that I have options, I have a say in the matter. I can choose to believe that He is in control, that He has overcome the world, and that He has a plan and a purpose, even for my pain. I CAN CHOOSE! Remember, the Bible has told us how we are to handle bad situations; we get to choose how we respond.  God also makes us a promise in His word, that we don’t have to go through it alone. He has promised to never leave us nor forsake us. Even when we don’t feel Him near, He is there. Luke 12:7 tells us that God knows the number of hairs on our head…He cares about us that much. Surely our pain grieves Him but it has a purpose. We have to remember His sovereignty, and trust in His faithfulness. So, when we are tempted to yell our, “why God, why?” we need to remember that He is Lord of all, so we don’t need to be.

Instead of saying, “Why God,” try saying, “Lord, I trust You…even in the midst of this mess, I trust You. Even though I am dealing with a problem I did not create and receiving treatment I do not deserve, I trust You…Even though I’m hurting, I’m choosing to trust You. I might be frustrated and confused, but I am choosing to respond in faith instead of fear…I trust You and I”m giving it over to You” Cast all of your cares on Him because He cares for you!

Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all of your ways, acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6

 

In Him,

 

J

When Family Disappoints…

There are times in life when it feels like nothing could hurt more than the pain caused by being disappointed by those we love. I have felt this pain personally and counseled others who have experienced it as well. We tend to be more emotionally vulnerable with our family members than with anyone else, and as a result, the disappointments cut that much deeper, the wounds sting that much longer. But how do we get over those hurts…how do we deal with the pain and put the pieces back together after the damage has been done? How do we move forward after we’ve been hurt and disappointed by family?

I have a few personal examples, but I’ve decided to keep the focus of this blog on the lessons I’ve learned rather than the specifics that led to the lessons. I made that decision, in large part, to protect the relationships involved, which is a good way to introduce you to the first lesson I learned: family matters should remain family matters. In this world of social media, it is easy to turn personal matters into public matters. With just a few clicks, we can expose our family business to people all over the world. The sad truth is that when we do this, we typically do it to get approval, to feel validated, to get people to understand our side of the story and join our team in the fight. It may feel good at that moment, as you count the likes and read the comments that say, “They were wrong for treating you that way,” but what have you gained by doing this? How do the likes and comments stop your hurting or mend the brokenness in your relationship? What do we hope to gain by revealing our private matters on a public forum? In most instances, exposing your private family matters on social media only vilifies the others involved and delays the healing process in your family. This is not to say that you should keep all matters to yourself. You should, by all means, seek wise counsel. Talk to a pastor, a counselor, or a close friend or family member for the purpose of gaining insight and perspective, not to gossip or gain an ally.

The second lesson I learned is that I should pursue reconciliation over being right. Now, you may not agree with me on this one, but hear me out. Relationships are like a bank that we can make deposits into and take withdrawals from. Every good thing that we do, every time that we put the relationship first, we are making a deposit into the relationship bank. The opposite is also true, every time we put our selfish interests over the relationship, or make a decision that is not in the best interest of the relationship, we are making a withdrawal. Each time I choose being right over being reconciled, I am saying that I am more important than us…I am choosing me over we, which causes a withdrawal from our relationship bank. What happens when the bank gets to zero? In marriages, the outcome is usually infidelity or divorce. In other family relationships it creates distance and distrust. In the interest of full disclosure, this relationship bank analogy is not my original thought, but I like it, so I am using it. Either way, reconciliation should be our goal when things go awry. There are no real winners in an argument; there is only victory when the relationship has been reconciled.

The last two lessons kind of go together: consider the source and fill it in with grace. Always consider the source (the other party) when you run into disappointment. Understand that some people may not be where you are mentally, emotionally, or in maturity. Take that into consideration when you are evaluating the wrong that was done to you. For instance, if my brother and my 14-year-old son both wrong me in the exact same way, I will handle the two situations differently. My brother is older than me and has more life experience and maturity than I do, so he should be more aware of the damage he is causing than my 14-year-old who has yet to have any real life experiences.

Fill it in with grace is a statement that we use on staff at the church I work at. We’ve made it a policy to assume the best when people wrong us and to fill in the gaps with grace because that is what Jesus does for us. This is especially true if you are a believer and your family member is not. If this is the scenario you find yourself in, I want you to remember two things: First, you are in the process of being sanctified by the Holy Spirit dwelling inside of you, your family member is not. Second, you have been reconciled to God, so you have been given the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18). Your family member’s eternity is far more important than the wrong they did to you. Your reconciling with them, exercising forgiveness the way that God has forgiven you, may be what God uses to reconcile your family member to Himself.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that some wounds are deep and some hurts are long lasting. I’m not making light of that in any way. What I am doing is challenging you, challenging myself, to be more like Christ. I’m not saying it’s easy, but I do believe it’s necessary. Let me make one caveat to all of this. I used reconciliation instead of forgiveness because I do believe that we should try to reconcile broken relationship with our family members. My caveat is this: Not in cases where you have been abused or where abuse is a possible outcome. In these cases, forgiveness is an option for you but reconciliation may not be the best choice because of the physical and emotional danger involved. In circumstances like this, pray for everyone involved. Ask God to protect you and to give you the grace and the strength that you need to heal. Ask God to mend your brokenness and to work on the other parties involved, but please do not put yourself or any of your loved ones in a dangerous situation by reconciling with an unrepentant, abusive individual. If you are currently in an abusive situation, call 9-1-1. Get the proper help that you need to get out of that situation!

As always, I hope this helps you as much as it has helped me.

In Him,

J.