Perseverance

We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance- Romans 5:3

Perseverance is a tricky word. When we think about it we might picture an athlete pushing through pain to accomplish his goals. The runner pushing themselves toward the finish line. The single mom pushing through her exhaustion to care for her child after a full day at work. Persevere. Keep on course. Push through the pain, the hurt, the disappointment.

The world we live in now is a place of perseverance. What we thought would last only for a little while, is now dragging on. Our plans have been changed so many times to accommodate new rules, new restrictions, new guidelines, new quarantines, it almost seems pointless to make any plans.

We have also seen the worst in people, at times, and not the best. Those who cannot deal with this world of change and of suffering. Some are pushed too far and seek to take it out on others. Hurtful words. Violent exchanges. Demands for things to get better.

Others bury their heads and pretend it is the new normal, or that the reactions to the pandemic are overblown and exaggerated. They hide their frustration when they need to, out of the fear they might offend. The frustration builds until they too, begin to find fault with their fellow human being and lash out on social media upon people they barely know.

We might wonder, and rightly so, just what has happened to the world in which we live. It is not the way it should be and its not about a world wide pandemic. We are all being pushed and squeezed, aroused by the pressures to survive. We all have this deep need for freedom. To live free. To live in Grace and Mercy. Yet we find ourselves struggling to persevere. We are so accustomed to fast food, fast internet, fast dating, fast connections to a global community that when we must wait we cannot bear it.

If you are familiar with the Bible, you will notice that I did not complete the verse above from the apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans. If you read on in the rest of the verse, you’ll find Paul’s adds that perseverance produces character. Character produces hope. And hope does not disappoint.

I did it on purpose because I think we all want to quickly move past the perseverance part, past the character and move onto hope. We want hope. We need hope. Hope that everything will get better. Hope for this world. Hope in Christ. Hope in Heaven. Even before the verse mentions perseverance, Paul tells us to rejoice in suffering. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like suffering. I do not find anything to rejoice about when I am suffering. Yet this is what Paul begins with. Is there something that Paul knows that we do not? If we study his life we will find that yes, he does know suffering. He nearly died several times after being stoned and beaten. He was shipwrecked and nearly drowned. He was bitten by a venomous snake. He lived with the guilt that he had personally seen and approved of the arrest and deaths of Christians,including women and children, before he himself became one. He had been put on trial and put in jail. He knew suffering. He knew perseverance. He developed character.He found hope. He, like many of the Roman Christians he was writing to, were persecuted, arrested and beheaded because of their faith. But he did not think of himself as a type of superhero or martyr, he knew his weaknesses. He struggled with them, he prayed for his thorn in his flesh to be removed. God said no. Instead Paul relied on God’s strength. not his own to persevere. He wrote and he encouraged others to do the same. God is our strength.

What we are going through now will produce character, not in a flash, but overtime, as we learn to trust in God and rely upon His strength and not our own.

Doing Battle

We all know that the past several months have not been easy and more than likely you thought we would all be out of this much sooner. Back to normal. Back to regular. But in some parts of the world, we are still feeling the effects the global pandemic has brought us. At times we do not know what to call the feelings we are all experiencing. Is it stress? Yes. Anxiety? Yes. Fear? Yes. Frustration? Yes. We can identify many of those feelings and I have brought up in previous posts, how to limit the effects of those overwhelming feelings. Move away from dependence on social media and news, have a quiet time with God, read the Bible, get away and pause to hear from God. But, perhaps we have been overlooking the one feeling, the emotion that might seem unlikely; grief. See, grief can come in many ways, not just from the death of a loved one.

I was reminded of grief this week upon hearing of the sudden passing of a pastor’s father. My Mom passed away five years ago, so I have been well acquainted with grief that hits like a train. Like a tornado. It’s inescapable. It’s overwhelming. It hurts. And it changes everything in our world. It is something that simply cannot be undone. It’s final. Permanent.

Grief can be felt with any kind of loss. A job. A home. A business. A relationship. A reputation. A schedule. A normal life. We often experience this sense of loss and sadness that we can’t shake. We feel guilty for feeling sad over what seems such temporary losses. We know we can find another job, another home, another boyfriend or girlfriend, start another business, create another routine, start over. But we still grieve that which has been lost and what has been changed.

So, how do we deal with it? Well, much in the same way we deal with anxiety, fear, stress. We need to go to God. We need to pray. And we need to realize that the emotions we are feeling do not need to consume us and consume all our thoughts. We must choose our thinking. We must get back to capturing every thought and weighing whether or not the thought is truth or a lie. When we recall the losses in our life, we can remember the good, let go of any guilt, and remind ourselves that God is still in control.

We do not do this battle alone. God is with us and will answer our prayers, even when we are not quite sure what to pray. Sometimes the best answers to prayer I have experienced are after I simply cried out “Help! God I need you” Just a simple request when I’ve realized I am in over my head.

We also need to do battle for our thoughts alongside others. We can encourage each other. Open up to each other and share our personal struggles. The body of Christ should never shy away from a friend who wants to share their struggles. We are all broken vessels, needing God’s help. If we really think we have it all together, we are mistaken. And if anyone looks to Christians to have it all together, they will sadly see us fail miserably. Christians do not have it all together, we just know who to go to when we are overcome by sadness and grief. We do not need to stay in our sad, discouraged places. This is only temporary. Life will get back to normal, even if normal means change.

a.) or b.)

When I first began college I was 48. By some, still young and by others too old to start my education. I did all of my classes online and despite new technology, I found that the tests were the same as when I was in High School, some decades ago. Online tests were either made up of multiple choice or true/ false. I’ve got to be honest; I like multiple choice. With a choice of four to five correct answers, the odds of being right are better than with true/false that only gives you a fifty percent chance of being right. Or being wrong. Multiple choice gives you the opportunity to eliminate the answers that are clearly wrong, or if you’re guessing, the most wrong possible answers. Yes, I admit, I did a lot of guessing.

I finished my undergrad degree in a little over five years and for me, I think that’s pretty good, since I attended part- time. Now I am in the early stages of graduate school/ seminary and I am once again facing the dreaded multiple choices.

But, I don’t mean the tests. I find myself, trying to decide what my next steps are. Do I stick with my degree plan, change degrees, stop school, stay in school, find a job, find a job in my undergrad field, write, or just go on vacation, and not have to decide? Whew!. See there’s the problem. I have made everything more complicated than it has to be.

Thankfully, I was able to be encouraged this week by another believer. If you’ve read my post last week, I shared how we need to inspire and encourage each other as believers. I was challenged by her to choose to believe. That might sound an oversimplification, but its the truth. We all need to CHOOSE to believe and not let our own fears, doubts and worries drive us to confusion and anxiety. Such confusion, worry, anxiety, doubt and fear never comes from God, but from our own thoughts fueled by the enemy.

How should we choose to believe then? In the simplest answer: by changing our thoughts. In Romans 12:2 there is the perfect instruction; “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God”. The best place to start this renewal is found in reading the Bible. From it, we can learn what pleases God and what He thinks about us and how He wants to help us. I am reminded that I need to choose to believe that God has a good plan for my life. I do not have to fear that somehow I might make a wrong choice and miss God’s will for my life. The world teaches us to be anxious about everything; to worry over money, careers, health, aging, status, but the Bible teaches us to trust God. I’ve realized my stress is coming from a place of fear, not faith. Of anxiety over making the wrong choice. You might be facing a similar situation, it seems like there are always multiple choices in life. So, here’s a easy way to remember what to do when you are overwhelmed; you can choose a.) Anxiety or b.) Believe. I’m going to choose b.) it’s the best answer. -God Bless- Nancy

 

Setbacks

Some of the best ideas I get when deciding what to write in this blog come from my family. Just last night my Husband made a very good observation; we have a bike seat but no bike and pillows but no bed. Let me explain what he meant. See a couple weeks ago I ordered an exercise bike. Nothing fancy, just something to help my husband get back in shape. Oh, and me too! After reading all the reviews online I decided that we also needed a gel seat thingy to go on the bike. Well, the gel seat arrived, but the bike never did. They lost it. Just how do you lose a 76 pound box with two day shipping is beyond me. Oh well, so we have a seat and no bike.

Later that same week we ordered a new mattress and yesterday the delivery company called and said they have the pillows, but the mattress wasn’t loaded on the truck. So…. I will have pillows but no bed. The mattress will be delivered sometime later in the week, but until then its just the pillows.. And the bike seat.   Have you ever had something like this happen? We make our plans and purchase our items, but then there is a setback. A wait. How do you handle the wait?

I have had many setbacks over my years on this planet. Some turned out to be really good, like issues with infertility. We now have three grown children, but I recall the times when everyone I know was getting pregnant. It was tough. To wait. The biggest thing I have learned is that no matter how upset or angry I might get when things do not turn out the way I want when I want them to is it doesn’t change a thing.

I have also learned that people can make mistakes with orders and getting upset and angry at the other person, whether it is a store or a delivery company, doesn’t do much good. For one thing, it doesn’t make a lost bike reappear, or a mattress suddenly load itself on a truck. It doesn’t change my mood either. But, showing grace towards others can. We all can make mistakes, so wouldn’t it be nice if someone would extend some grace towards us when we mess up? And how we handle the wait when we have a setback is what God is trying to help us with. To grow us up, so we won’t get upset over the little things in life. He is helping us to learn to trust Him.

If you have felt like learning to wait and trusting God is difficult, you’re not alone. King David wrote about trusting God in the Psalms. It is a good book of the Bible to read when you’re struggling. It has helped me. In Psalm 20:7 David writes, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of our Lord our God” (NIV). Sounds good huh? But then keep reading to chapter 22 when David cries out to God and exclaims “Oh my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer” (vs. 2, NIV). So, what’s up with that? Well, what you’ll find is David’s heartfelt conversation with God in prayer and praise. He complains at times out of his desperation, but then remembers how God has been there for him in the past and ends up praising God for His goodness.

See, sometimes we want to believe all those people in the Bible were so perfect and so spiritual without major problems or setbacks, but in reality they are like us. Or we are like them, if you will. As you read the Bible you will discover that the people God worked through were not the mighty spiritual giants, but just people like us. The ones that make mistakes and the ones who have setbacks. The ones without bikes for our seats or beds for our pillows. The ones who have to learn to trust Him and not ourselves. God Bless -Nancy

Adequate

So allergy season has begun in the southeastern part of the United States where I live. How do I know? I am feeling the physical effects of the yellow pollen covering the ground. Just like the foggy layer on my car’s windshield, my head seems to be in a fog as well. My throat scratches, my eye blurs, my nose stuffs, and my head hurts. Yay for Spring! Actually, I really love Spring; it is my favorite season. Everything feels fresh and new and I enjoy planting flowers and planning for the summer ahead. I remember my Mom used to plant a large vegetable garden and in early Spring she would draw a map of her proposed garden, designing each row according to the size and shape of the plants she would have. I like to do the same, so I guess in that way I take after her.

Yesterday I was standing in my driveway, when I noticed all the weeds that had popped up in the small flower bed alongside. I was already feeling bad, but thought to myself, “Maybe I can build up immunity to allergies if I just expose myself to them more.” So I decided to spend the afternoon weeding out said flowerbed, despite my headache, stuffy nose and scratchy throat. It was great until after dinner, when I felt worse. So much for the immunity theory. I can tell you it doesn’t work. So around 7:30 p.m. I faced a dilemma: go out for a walk as I usually do in the evening, pushing through my allergies, or just put on my jammies and go to bed early. What would you do? Are you someone who pushes through no matter what, or do you realize you have to stop and rest sometimes?

I’m sure you’ve seen so many commercials that advocate just pushing through everything. No pain no gain, just do it, winners never quit, let nothing hold you back, pain is fear leaving, etc. Yeah, those are great and there is a time to push past the pain and struggle. There is even the Christian motto; I can do all things. Which is so often used for exercise and sports themes, we begin to think we really can do everything, and that we MUST do everything. But, what some people don’t realize is that the Apostle Paul wasn’t talking about sports at all in this passage. He was talking about contentedness, and about Christ’s strength, not his own. In fact, he was actually talking about money.

If you’re not familiar with the passage, here it is from Philippians 4:13; “I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (NIV). Some Bible versions, such as the English Standard Version, ESV, substitutes the “this” with “things”. But what is the “this”  Paul is referring to? Well, it’s not about lifting weights, running marathons, or going for walks. In verses 10 through 12 he explains he had learned to be content whether he has money or is poor, and whether he has eaten or is hungry. See, when Paul wrote this letter to a church in the city of Philippi, he was in jail and he was thanking the church for sending him money and encouragement. And he was reminding them he could only do this (be content) with Christ’s strength, not his own. He had learned that only through Christ’s strength, could he trust in God’s provision.

By the world’s standards Paul would have seemed like a failure, like he didn’t measure up. He had planted many churches, yet here he was in jail and was talking about not having money and even of being without food. We can assume there may have been times when he didn’t have a place to live. He did freelance work as a tentmaker. So, in the passage he is admitting, he had at times been inadequate and lacked money and food. He also mentions he had learned to be content (verse 12). It must have been a process to go through these times of supply and lack so that he realized he could only be content if he relied on Christ. It wasn’t about self-motivation at all.  You have to wonder if Paul would have “learned” to be content, had he not had shortcomings in his finances. It’s easier to trust God when everything is going our way. So, this brings me back to my dilemma.

I’m sure you have times when you realized, you didn’t measure up. You felt inadequate. When everyone around you is doing great and everything’s going their way. And here you are, not quite up to the standards, struggling. Maybe even like Paul, you’re struggling with finances or even health problems. You reflect on the times you had plenty and the times you had food or felt great. And that is the secret to finding contentedness, remembering those good times. In fact Paul uses the word “secret” in verse 12; “I have learned the secret of being content”. It is not pushing through, but realizing God’s provision. It is not about doing everything with an attitude I am going to do this because I can if I just try hard enough. It is about recognizing how to be content when you can’t do everything. The secret is relying on Christ for strength to find peace and contentedness despite the circumstances we find ourselves in. And sometimes it is about just putting on your jammies instead of going for a walk. Allergy season will pass. God Bless- Nancy

The Right One

Decisions. Are you good at making them? I confess that I am not. Decisions can be as simple as choosing a side with your entree, or as time consuming as selecting a mattress, college degree, spouse,home, or job. I mention time consuming because these are the things and people we should choose only after careful consideration, because they are big investments and longer lasting ones than a side of potatoes or fries. But… there are no perfect people or perfect jobs, or even perfect mattresses. If you look for everything to be perfect you’ll probably wind up disappointed. Some times there are not perfect decisions. We might think we’ve found the perfect job, only to realize it wasn’t the right one for us. That happened to me recently. I thought it made sense to take on a new job right after I graduated and I also thought why not pursue my grad school at the same time. It made sense in my mind, but it wasn’t right for me and I soon resigned from my position. I’m still in the process of deciding to keep on course with my graduate degree or stop, but I trust God has a plan and it will work out for my good, which ever decision I make. I might make a mistake, but there is good to be found even in the mistakes.

We are all finite creatures who can and will make mistakes. But we can trust God, who, unlike us, is infinite. He is omniscient.  He can use our own failings to grow us and for our good. Romans 8 :28 is a favorite Scripture and for good reason. I believe God can work out all things for our good. He can take our bad decisions and find something good to glean from them. We shouldn’t be afraid to make decisions, but step out in faith and trust in God, and not in ourselves. In the big picture of our lives, God is using all the elements of our lives, the good, the bad, and even the downright ugly, to create in us an image of His Son and fit us for Heaven. Sometimes, I think we are much harder on ourselves than God is when it comes to making decisions and failing. God understands we fall short, but He offers grace to us. He can and will work out all things for our good.

So while I contemplate my next step, I have learned the best thing to do is to pray continually when I have a decision to make and  to stay focused on God and His Word. I’ll keep you posted. God Bless-Nancy

 

 

(Dis) Appointments

Have you ever been let down by someone? You expected the best of them and yet they disappointed you? I’m sure you have felt this way before, it’s part of being human. We are a bunch of imperfect people- even Christians- though some might attempt to convince you otherwise. We all let each other down at times and can be let down by others. But, I want to focus this week not on others disappointing us but on God. Have you honestly ever been disappointed in Him? Or missed appointed? Let me explain..

Last weekend I was reminded how God protects my loved ones through missed appointments. Now, please don’t be too technical here on the wording. Maybe you’ve heard the term God appointments in church before- those situations and timings that could only have come from God. But, what I’m thinking of are those missed things- those tragic circumstances that God has kept you from- those missed appointments. Have you had one of those? See, last weekend my youngest  was supposed to be working the closing shift at a fast food restaurant. A shift that puts him on the road back to his dorm late at night. However, he had gotten food poisoning the night before, so he was unable to work his shift. Sunday morning I read of a tragic auto accident that happened on the road he would have been traveling had he worked. The vehicle crossed the median and had landed in the oncoming traffic lane- the lane my youngest would have been on. I know if you ask him, he would tell you he did not particularly like throwing up, etc, but after I told him what had happened, he too realized it was a God missed appointment.

I could give you a list of other times that we have found ourselves in moments that were frustrating, but ultimately were for our protection. Children who just HAD to stop one more time at a rest stop, long red lights, wrong turns, children who refuse to get back into their car seats after a stop. Things that delay your trip, but save your life. The times when God’s hand of protection is clearly visible, when you understand what He did. In Joshua 1:5 there is an awesome promise that God gave Joshua “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (NIV) It’s a promise for Joshua to affirm that God would be with him as he led the Israelites into the promise land. But I believe it’s also a good promise for us all. God is with us. He doesn’t let us down.

Now, I don’t want to sound unrealistic here. God is with us, even when He is walking us through the most difficult of times. As a Christian, it doesn’t mean I will never have a difficult situation come my way or a tragedy, or a terminal illness. It does mean God is with us through it all. When we are in the middle of a difficult situation we can’t see into the future. All we see is our current conditions. My son couldn’t see anything good past feeling awful. He didn’t know what God was keeping him from. It all seems bad and wrong, not good and beneficial. That’s where many people find themselves. In a difficult situation and they feel let down by God. There are no easy answers to many of the difficulties we face in life. We can’t always see how God is there with us or what kind of good can come from it. But He is. We might not ever fully understand what He is doing, but He can be trusted. Don’t miss your opportunity to trust Him. -God Bless -Nancy

Trusting God When We Don’t Want To

I have a confession to make. I’m not crazy about some Bible verses. You know, the convicting ones. The ones that divide marrow and joints, that  “Judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb. 4:12, NIV). The particular verse I’m thinking of is Proverbs 3:5-6; “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (NIV). If you’ve been in Christian circles for a bit, I’m sure you’ve heard this verse before. It shows up on cute little plaques and magnets in Christian book stores, and is often quoted at graduations as advice for the new graduate. It sounds sweet, simple and easy to understand and follow. I mean we all know Solomon, who wrote the Book of Proverbs, was the wisest man in the world, so why should this passage bother me? Well, I’m a planner and I figure-it-out- er. If you are like me, you overthink everything. You figure out everything. You speculate about everything until your brain hurts. You’re a fixer, a solution finder. The whole world depends on you. If this describes you, you might be a mom like me. The mom who over packs for family vacations, squeezing every little item that might be needed in case of injury, sickness, accident, trip delay, hunger, thirst- I think you get the picture.
But, over the years God has tripped me up with all my planning and figuring out for every contingency. Just when I think everything is going as planned and is all figured out, bam! something I hadn’t planned happens. Then I am left scrambling to figure out what to do and how to react, or why did this happen?  It is usually about this same time I will be reminded of Proverbs 3: 5-6. Maybe from a sermon or the verse of the day on the radio. But there it is “trust in God, don’t lean on your own understanding. Uggh! then comes the guilt over leaning on my own understanding.
     So, I’d like to offer this hope for all of you fixers out there and planners. God has a way of helping us to understand His Word through practical application and experience. I’ve learned to pause and trust God when I’m overwhelmed by my thoughts of figuring it all out. It has taken time, but God is patient, He never leaves us as we were, but changes us overtime to become all He has for us, transforming us into the likeness of Jesus.(2. Cor. 3:18)

Recently, my husband and I moved to a new home. We are on the verge of being empty nesters with our youngest in his sophomore year of college. So, we decided to sell our large two story four bedroom house for the smaller bungalow with the master bedroom downstairs. Our house sold within 24 hours of going live on the market. Wow! So we had been looking to build a new home with all the bells and whistles, fresh clean, new. But.. we couldn’t find a good fit for us, we went to every open house, checked out new home communities and it was getting stressful. But the stress was just beginning. We stopped at our current home with our real estate agent, and took a quick look. It wasn’t even on our list to tour for the day. It was the last house to see and we were just driving by when our agent saw the for sale sign on the lawn. We returned home later that afternoon and decided the home we toured might be a good buy, so we quickly put in an offer. It really wasn’t what we “thought” we wanted as it was not new. I had promised myself I wouldn’t compromise on my desire for a brand new build. So here I was putting an offer on a older home. Yikes! Of course after the offer was accepted I began to second guess myself. What had we done? My husband and I pray about all decisions and we prayed for God’s direction and if He wanted us to continue, then the doors would remain open. We trusted God would lead us. But to be honest I woke up on many early mornings and panicked. What we were doing? This can’t be right. Maybe we made a mistake. I wanted a brand new house this time. The purchasing process continued and then it was time to move in. And little by little I began to understand this house, was the one I was looking for. It had all the bells and whistles as a former model home. It was perfectly set on a pond lot with a long driveway- just what we were looking for in a newer home. The appliances were upgraded and not builder grade. I could go on, but I’m sure I would bore you. So, I’ll just say, God had it under control. He knew what we needed better than we did. I was looking at the outside, not really understanding what I thought I needed. When God began to show me this, He reminded me of Proverbs 3:5-6. I am slowly learning to trust God, follow His opportunities and let Him direct my paths. I’m a slow learner- definitely a work in progress. But aren’t we all? We are not perfect nor have we arrived. We can’t figure it all out. As much as I try- I need to relax and trust God. This applies to this next stage of life for my husband and I. This is unknown territory to us as we become empty- nesters. But I know God’s got this! I don’t have to figure it out! -God Bless -Nancy