Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Fear of the Unknown

There's a lot of scary stuff going on in the world today and I can honestly say it is just more than I can process in my mind at times. What is going on in our world?  It can be tempting to begin to fear. Fear the "what if's" and the "how come's" that we naturally feel when things don't make sense. And on more than one occasion lately, I believe those very words have come out of my mouth: This makes no sense.

In Matthew 14:22-33, we read about a storm the disciples were facing on the boat in the middle of the sea where they were being tossed by the waves.  As frightening as that may seem to us, there is no mention of the disciples being afraid until verse 25..."Now in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying 'It's a ghost!' And they cried out in fear." 

I think that is interesting.  They were just fine with the storm, but it was something they could not explain or comprehend in their mind that tipped them over the edge into fear.  When our brains see something unexplainable, we panic. 
Immediately, Jesus said, "Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid."  Another version of the Bible says "Take courage! It is I; do not be afraid."  And yet another says "Take heart! It is I; do not be afraid."  So, Jesus knows they are afraid of what they do not understand and he knows that in order for them to overcome that fear, they must take courage.

Did you get that?  It wasn't something that came naturally.  It was something they had to take, a choice they had to make, an action they had to take.  And in His presence, they were able to settle their hearts.  Peter even had the opportunity to walk on water!  But once Peter began to walk on water, his mind, again, didn't comprehend how he could be doing it so once again he became afraid and started to sink.  Again, Peter was faced with another opportunity to "take" when he reached out to take the extended hand of Jesus and He pulled him out of the water. Jesus understood the fear Peter felt and had compassion on him, but again, it had to be a choice Peter made to take what Jesus was offering freely.

Today, if you are beginning to feel paralyzed by your fear or if you are sinking because you feel like it's more than you can comprehend, I want you to remember this verse and repeat it over and over in your mind:

Trust in the Lord with all of your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your path. (Proverbs 3:5-6 NKJ)

We cannot trust in our own understanding when things don't make sense, but that doesn't mean we have to panic or fear.  God is still in control.  He is still sovereign, or He wouldn't be God.  When we cannot trace His hand in a situation, we can always know His heart. He knows what is happening and He has a plan, even if we don't understand it. 

"Lean not on your own understanding" would also include when we don't have any understanding at all. Instead of focusing on the things we don't understand, as Peter did when he began to sink or as the disciples did when they saw what they thought was a ghost, let's reach out for the One who understands everything completely.  His arms are always reaching for us and He will give us peace in the midst of chaos, joy in the midst of uncertainty and rest in the midst of a world that is most definitely in a state of unrest.  Fear can be paralyzing or mobilizing.  We have a choice.

So, what's going on in the world today?  I'm going to trust in the Lord with all of my heart and lean not on what I do or don't understand, acknowledging Him as Lord along the way.  Then, and only then, can I "take heart".  It's a choice I must make.  It's a choice we all must make. There are always going to be things we may not understand, but one thing we can always know for sure...God is still God.  That will never change.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” -John 16:33



Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Lifting the Cynical Fog

My friend let me borrow the book A Praying Life by David Powlinson a couple of months ago and it has taken me awhile to pick it up due to my busy schedule. I finally picked it up last week and for some reason, I began reading it in Chapter 9. The title of the chapter? Understanding Cynicism. 

I was instantly drawn to it, as if it had all the answers to all the questions I'd been struggling with for the past year and a half. I've read Chapters 9, 10 and 11 so much I've practically memorized them at this point! They all deal with the sin of cynicism.

I have always been an optimist, a very happy, half-full kind of spirit. I went through some rough spots in some different areas of my life, where I began to see that not everyone was genuine. It seems as though every couple of years, I'm faced with the reality that people are not always what they appear to be and I somehow would be able to push through with God's help. But this time I just didn't seem to have the strength to fight the lies. I kept telling myself that it didn't matter, I needed to focus on Christ, people are not perfect...I kept telling myself those things, but clearly I was not listening.

Fast forward a year and a half later and I've got a real struggle with cynicism. The very thing I hate the most.  And I am learning a lot as I work through this. I process things so much better when I write them out, so here are some of the things I'm journaling about in this journey - I want to share them because as I talk to others about it, I'm realizing this is a big, big problem in the church. We all know it's a big problem outside of the church, but that's for someone else's blog. I'm just going to address what I've seen inside because that's what Paul reminded us to do in 1 Corinthians 5.

Here are a few "gems" from the book:

Cynicism is the opposite of a childlike spirit. It dulls your soul. It questions God instead of believing Him. 

Cynicism begins, oddly enough, with too much of the wrong kind of faith, with naive optimism or foolish confidence. At first glance, genuine faith and naive optimism appear identical since both foster confidence and hope. But the similarity is only surface deep. Often, with naive optimism, faith is put into the goodness of humanity instead of the goodness of God. But optimism rooted in the goodness of people collapses when it confronts the dark side of life.  

A cynical spirit will give you the illusion of righteousness. It assumes you know better than others, it assumes motives of others' hearts and basically, it's rooted in pride.

To be cynical is to be distant. While offering a false intimacy of "being in the know" cynicism actually destroys intimacy. 

The first sin was initiated with cynicism - questioning God. The serpent used cynicism to get Eve to question God. We've been doing this ever since. You see the results!

Cynicism makes us go from seeing the bright side of everything to seeing the dark side of everything. It shifts our focus from Christ to our circumstances.

A cynical spirit clouds your judgment. With every lie you believe, imagine the fog settling into your vision. I've noticed that when I'm cynical, I get depressed easily and I cannot see the good in much of anything. It reminded me of the photo of my front yard view on a sunny, clear day contrasted with the same view on a cloudy, foggy day. Nothing has changed except the circumstances around me. The view is the same, but I cannot see it. I must have faith that it is still there, even though I cannot see it. Cynicism tells me it's not there anymore.

So could you be cynical? Ask yourself a few questions:

Do you question other people's motives? Do you trust less than you used to trust? Do you find intimacy with others difficult? Do you isolate yourself? Has anyone in a ministry or church leadership hurt you and as a result, has it effected your faith? Are you focused more on the circumstances of your life than you are the truth that God is good?

If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, please pray and ask God to show you the root of your cynical spirit. I've been struggling through this and though it has not been easy, it is really helping me to understand that a lot of my cynicism comes from my naive optimism - my faith was in people, not God.

Here's a Psalm that has been helping me, too. I almost gasped when I got to verse 11. It nailed me down to a tee! God's Word cannot fail, my friend.

Psalm 116

I love the Lord because he hears my voice
    and my prayer for mercy.
Because he bends down to listen,
    I will pray as long as I have breath!
Death wrapped its ropes around me;
    the terrors of the grave overtook me.
    I saw only trouble and sorrow.
Then I called on the name of the Lord:
    “Please, Lord, save me!”
How kind the Lord is! How good he is!
    So merciful, this God of ours!
The Lord protects those of childlike faith;
    I was facing death, and he saved me.
Let my soul be at rest again,
    for the Lord has been good to me.
He has saved me from death,
    my eyes from tears,
    my feet from stumbling.
And so I walk in the Lord’s presence
    as I live here on earth!
10 I believed in you, so I said,
    “I am deeply troubled, Lord.”
11 In my anxiety I cried out to you,
    “These people are all liars!”
12 What can I offer the Lord
    for all he has done for me?
13 I will lift up the cup of salvation
    and praise the Lord’s name for saving me.
14 I will keep my promises to the Lord
    in the presence of all his people.
15 The Lord cares deeply
    when his loved ones die.
16 Lord, I am your servant;
    yes, I am your servant, born into your household;
    you have freed me from my chains.
17 I will offer you a sacrifice of thanksgiving
    and call on the name of the Lord.
18 I will fulfill my vows to the Lord
    in the presence of all his people—
19 in the house of the Lord
    in the heart of Jerusalem.
Praise the Lord!

Monday, November 9, 2015

It's Not About the Cups

I have a confession.

It's not going to be pretty. Fair warning.

I got angry today.

I was angry because I heard that some Christians were said to be angry about red cups at Starbucks not representing Jesus well during the Christmas Season. How ridiculous. Seriously? Personally, I don't know anyone who is angry about this but I digress.

Then I became angry that the media, yet again, seemed to be putting down all Christians because of the reactions of some. My eyes rolled. Why must I always defend myself? I vented. It felt great for a few minutes. After all, I wasn't that kind of Christian. And people needed to know!

Then I noticed everyone on social media was venting, too. I began to get a little irritated by that. Now I was angry that everyone was angry. I was even angry with myself. Why did I fall for the hype?

I opened my Bible because I wanted to know what Jesus thought about cups. (smile)

Here's what I found:

Jesus tells us not to be concerned about the outside of the "cup", but more so with the inside (Matthew 23:25-26).  Once the inside is clean, the outside will eventually become clean, too. He was actually speaking to the religious folks, the ones who thought they had it all together. I came to the conclusion, based on Scripture, that He's probably not concerned about the outside of Starbucks' cups. Jesus had bigger fish to fry. That's all I needed to know.

I paused. I prayed. I realized....

The inside of my cup was not clean. I was nursing anger. Anger doesn't produce the things of God. God was using this cup hilarity to show me my heart. It had nothing to do with Starbucks. It had everything to do with my heart.

So, I asked God to forgive me. I was angry, I was frustrated and I was self-righteous. Again.
(I told you this wouldn't be pretty)

All of this to say:

Thank you, Starbucks. Thank you for the brilliant marketing strategy that has everyone talking. I fell for it, hook, line and sinker. God used it to reveal my heart to me and even though it wasn't pretty, it was important for me to see.

Oh, and thank you for bringing back Carmel Brulee Lattes. They are amazing.

#mycupiscleannow


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