Archive | November 2015

Choose the Path Marked “Unknown.”

Because I’m familiar with my daughter’s neighborhood, I often walk there. But yesterday I decided to go off in an unknown path. Assuming that all the streets had been laid out in rectangles like the ones I normally traversed, I walked a little further down the main highway and turned down an unfamiliar lane. I soon discovered that my assumption was wrong. In the part of the village that I entered, the streets curved up, down, and around the hills. I thought that if I just kept turning in the right direction I would soon see a familiar street sign which would lead me back to the main highway. No such luck! I recognized none of the street signs, and many were marked “Dead End.”

Oh well (I thought) if I get lost, I can call my husband and he will pick me up. To reassure myself of that fact, I put my hand into my coat pocket to touch my cell phone—only to find out that I had left it at home. Rather than panic, I prayed. I asked God to show me someone who could tell me where to find the main highway. In a few minutes, I saw a car backing out of the garage onto the street. Suddenly, a girl came running out of the house and waved for the driver to stop. “Can you tell me how to get back to North Country Road?” I yelled. “I can’t; I don’t live here but she can,” said the girl, as she pointed to the driver. Having clear directions, I was soon walking in familiar territory; back home, I said to my husband, “That was fun!”

As I reflected on this simple experience, I came up with the following principles:

  • In choosing an unknown path, I will likely find surprises that I’m unprepared for.
  • Some paths are dead ends that I’d be wise to avoid.
  • There’s no guarantee that I will have everything I need, but that’s no reason for panic.
  • If I lose my way, I can ask God and others for help.
  • Choosing an unknown path offers me an opportunity to grow and learn; it can be an enjoyable adventure.

Here are some questions for you to consider and some actions to take:

  • What familiar “paths” do you walk in, day after day?
  • Which of these paths are helpful and which are not?
  • What dead end paths do you know from experience that it would be wise for you to avoid?
  • What one unknown path would you like to explore? Tell someone about it.
  • What fears are causing you to avoid exploring that path?
  • Write down a baby-step that you are willing to take in order to overcome that/those fear(s).
  • Make a time commitment to take that step and tell someone what you are going to do.

 

This entry was posted on November 27, 2015. 4 Comments

My Thoughts Regarding Isis and Syrian Refugees

Despite the immense devastation that Isis-inspired terrorists have caused, they do not have ultimate power. There is one thing they cannot destroy—the invisible and eternal part of us called our spirit. Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid of people who can kill the body but after that can do nothing more to hurt you” (Luke 12: 4NCV).  If we call ourselves Christians, then we must take these words seriously? What would it look like for us to not be afraid of Isis? Would  doing nothing to protect ourselves mean?

Jesus did not say, “Don’t protect yourself; he said, “Don’t be afraid.” I don’t think that means we will have no feelings of fear but that we will not make decisions based on those feelings. In order to do this, we need to continually bring all our fears to Jesus—not pretend to be brave when we feel scared. (Writing down my fears helps me recognize them and be honest about them.)  When Jesus’ peace rules our hearts,  we can think rationally and base our decisions on the wisdom of his word (Scripture).  It would be foolish to close down our security systems and disregard intelligence reports of possible threats. But some of us want to go further; we are so paranoid that we want to close our country’s borders to refugees who are fleeing for their lives.

If fear of Isis causes us to close our country’s borders and our hearts to refugees who are fleeing for their lives, what will happen to our spirits?  Jesus called us to radically love, not radically fear. During my time of Scripture reading this morning, I was reminded me of what radical love looks life. The Apostle Paul declared that even in the face of execution he would rejoice, because he was “pouring out” his life in faithful service to Christ, bringing hope to others. (Phil. 2:17-18)

Corrie Ten Boom, a Christian who lived during World War II, did not fear those who could kill her body; she put the words of Jesus into practice and followed Paul’s example. Because of the protective measures that she and her family took to save the lives of Jewish refugees during the holocaust, the Nazi’s arrested the entire family; most of them died with the Jews in the Nazi concentration camps. Due to some clerical “mistake,” Corrie was released the day before all remaining women at Ravensbrȕck were exterminated.

She spent the rest of her life traveling around the world to tell others of the love of God. I never met her but once heard a tape recording of her voice. I will never forget it. Her spirit was so connected to God that when I heard her speak, I felt enveloped in an ocean wave of love. Even now, the memory brings tears to my eyes. I want that kind of a spirit. I covet it. Don’t you?

We can only obtain such a love-filled spirit by staying connected to Jesus Christ, believing, and receiving his love. These choices will free us from fear (1 John 4:18) and give us courage to open our hearts and (with wisdom) provide protective boundaries to refugees fleeing Isis. The alternative choice—living in terror—will cause us to become their victims, even if they never reach our borders.

In the words of Martin Luther,

Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill;
God’s truth abideth still,
His Kingdom is forever.[i]

[i] “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” Hymns II   (InterVarsity Press Downers Grove, IL 60515) 1976 p.11

 

This entry was posted on November 20, 2015. 2 Comments

Become a Distributor of Grace and Peace

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In every one of Paul’s thirteen letters to the early church, he begins with this greeting: Grace and peace. What a contrast to the litany of news items we receive each night from media newscasts!  Because we want to be aware of what is happening in the world, John and I do listen to these reports; in the midst of conflict and pain, we want to be like Paul—distributors of grace and peace. I’m not where Paul was but I’m learning 1) not to cave in so quickly to anxiety, fear, and doubt and 2) how to restore my inner peace when it’s been disrupted. I can’t pass on to others what I do not have.

If I’m not going to cave in to anxiety, fear, and doubt, then it’s crucial for me to recognize what my thoughts and feelings are in the morning when I’m just waking up. Detecting a gray cloud of negativity then, and disposing of it right away, is a whole lot better than letting it hang around with me for the rest of the day. Doing this takes time. That’s why my plan for each day includes time before I start any other task (even my writing projects) to read Scripture and write in my prayer journal. I write down any fear, doubt or anxiety in a prayer and ask the Holy Spirit to give me the knowledge and strength to dispel it.

This morning the Holy Spirit restored peace to anxious my heart as I read and meditated on this statement: “Great peace have those who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble” (Psalm 119:165 NIV). The Message  paraphrase reads “ my awe at your words keeps me stable.” How does being awed by God’s words give us inner stability? I asked.

Looking at the context, the surrounding verses, I saw that, for David, standing in awe of God’s words meant these four things:

  1. He did not cave in to lies; instead, he believed God’s words were true; this freed him from self-doubt and the fear of what others think.
  2. He placed his confidence in what God said and acted according to God’s instructions; this freed him from anxiety related to guilt.
  3. He placed his hope in God’s ability to make things turn out for his good; this freed him from the anxiety of an unknown future
  4. He stopped frequently throughout the day to acknowledge and praise God; this raised his level of joy and gave him strength.

Today, I’m choosing to follow David’s example to stand in awe of God’s word, and I believe that he will give me the inner stability that I need to handle whatever happens. I hope that you make the same choice, so that together, we can distribute God’s grace and peace to a world filled with anxiety, fear, and doubt.

This entry was posted on November 13, 2015. 2 Comments

The Unrecognized Benefits of Worry

Until recently, I did not think of myself as a worrier. I wasn’t verbalizing my worry thoughts, so I did not hear my worry’s, and I didn’t know how much of the time they occupied my mind. What about you? Do you recognize your worry thoughts? They often take the form of phrases that start with “what-if I” or “what if that” and end with some negative statement. Here are some examples: “what if I lose my____what if I can’t____what if that storm____what if that doctor____.” Worriers fill in the blanks with disastrous  or painful possibilities.

When we allow such thoughts to keep circulating in our heads, they rob us of mental creativity and deplete our physical energy, as well. Knowing how detrimental that can be, it seems like we would be eager to learn how we can recognize and give up worry, but that’s not always so. Why not? Maybe worry brings us some hidden benefits— benefits that we interpret as good.

What good thing can worry do?
Tell me how it works for you.
Does it bring you peace of mind?
Prompt you to be sweet and kind?

Does it help you get things done?
Would it make my life more fun?
Bring me comfort when I’m sad?
Cheer me up and make me glad?

What good thing does worry do?
Tell me, friend, how it serves you.
Does it help you reach your goal?
Feed your body, mind, and soul?

Would it fill my heart with grace?
Put a smile upon my face?
Could it, perhaps, make me strong,
Give me courage with its song?

What good thing does worry do?
Tell me please, what’s your view?
It seems that you have learned it well;
What’s your secret; won’t you tell?

Surely it has benefits that I could get;
Would you teach me how to fret?
I’d like to hear the facts, my friend;
I’ll do anything you recommend.

I wrote the above poem in jest; I don’t believe that worry has true benefits. However, in the following ways it may appear to be beneficial: (To such believes I’ve, sometimes, unwisely succumbed.)

  1. By keeping our minds occupied with negative possibilities, worry protects us from the anxiety of stepping into unknown territory.
  2. By preventing us from taking action, worry protects us from the necessity of learning disciplines and making difficult or uncomfortable lifestyle changes.
  3. By helping us to avoid close relationships, worry protects us from possible feelings of loss, hurt and rejection.
  4. By facilitating procrastination—so that our desired goals are always in the future—worry protects us from possible criticism, along with feelings of failure and inadequacy.

If we value these benefits, then there’s no reason for us to quit worrying. But if we, by faith, see that stepping into unknown territory, learning disciplines, making difficult and uncomfortable lifestyle changes, pursing close relationships, and working to accomplish our desired goals will bring us joy, then we most certainly will learn how to overcome our worry habit. That’s the decision I have made.

I believe it will move me in the direction of accomplishing my challenge to celebrate New Year’s Day 2016 with emotional, physical, and spiritual reserve—a heart filled with love, a body filled with energy, and a spirit filled with joy. (Read more about that challenge here.)

I hope that you join me both in my New Year’s Day 2016 Challenge and in my decision to give up the unrecognized benefits of worry.

This entry was posted on November 6, 2015. 4 Comments