Loving Hope

“The Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love,” Psalm 147:11

It’s apparent that America is hurting as a nation. We’ve had tragedies upon tragedies that have sparked feelings of anger, fear, worry, hatred, and even hopelessness among other things. In only a month, there have been three shootings that gained national attention – two by the police and one act taken against them. Prior to these senseless events, there have been countless other tragedies that have unfairly claimed the lives of loved ones for one reason or another. These things make me angry. The most recent incidents have probably been the hardest for me because they happened back-to-back. Before I could process one, another happened, and then another. I’m careful to take my feelings to the Lord so that I don’t allow anger to take me to a dark place. It’s because of Him that, in the midst of anger, I have hope.

Yes, I’m angry that some police officers and the justice system, in general, don’t value the lives of African Americans, particularly those of black men.

Yes, I’m angry that people have been acquitted of killing innocent black boys and men.

Yes, I’m angry that black men are often given tougher penalties when they commit crimes than others.

Yes, I’m angry that, when a black man is killed, some people ask what he did to warrant such action instead of being sorrowful about the devastation of a life lost.

Yes, I’m angry that I have to instruct my children to play by different rules than the rest of society if they want to live or get ahead in life.

Yes, I’m angry that, no matter how hard I try to instill in my children that everyone has value, there are those who think they don’t nor do others with darker skin.

Yes, I’m angry that someone chose to retaliate against innocent officers because of idiotic ones.

Yes, the many injustices that take place in our society infuriate me! Yet, I have hope!

I am determined that my anger won’t corrupt my spirit. I won’t allow my anger to fill my heart with hatred or bitterness. I won’t allow my anger to cause me to hate an entire race or a certain group of people based on the actions of some. I won’t allow my anger to cause me to sin in word or deed. Instead, I am taking my emotions to the One who created me . . . the One who understands me better than I do myself. It is to Him that I go and it is in Him that I have hope when everything around me suggests that I should be hopeless.

In the midst of turmoil, it’s natural to wonder where God is? Why did He allow these things to happen? How long is He going to let the world suffer? Why doesn’t He simply end it all and take His children to their heavenly home? Maybe it’s presumptuous of me to assume that you have had these same questions. Perhaps it’s just me. There are times when things happen that don’t make sense. Yet, I have hope!

My hope is not in the laws of the land, the justice system, or others. My hope is in God. I don’t see how people make it in this world without Him. I would literally lose my mind because of all the devastation that takes place. Even with external chaos, I have internal peace. It’s a peace that passes all understanding, including my own. My anger has caused me to dig deeper in the Word. It has propelled me to pray for more people and to pray more specifically. As Benjamin Watson said in a post last fall, the problem is sin, not skin. We live in a fallen world. What we see happening are the ramifications of such.

As angry as we are about the current happenings and the years of injustices that have taken place, we, as Christians, can’t render evil for evil. We can’t allow words of hatred to spew from our mouths. We can’t allow ill will to enter our hearts. We are to speak life and we are to love when loving seems impossible. The Bible says that love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:8). I’ve seen this truth operated in personal relationships in my life that seemed beyond repair. I know for a fact that the Word works. We have to apply it.

Make a determination that God’s love and light will shine through you no matter what. Filter your words, thoughts, and actions through the Father. He can handle anything you bring His way. He will also give you comfort through His Word so you, too, can see that there is hope. Change can’t be legislated. If it could, injustices would not still prevail considering that Jim Crow laws and segregation were abolished years ago. Laws changed, but hearts did not. Christians can be the agents of change through our words (speaking the truth in love and speaking words that bring life and healing instead of pain), our will (being determined to follow Christ), our walk (showing the world what it means to be His disciple), and our work (doing all things to His glory and not our own).

May the love God has for you lead you to show that love to others. It’s because of His love that there is still hope! 

Do you still believe?

downloaddownload

Advertisements

The Faith Struggle

6357838219301979991115997151_prayer-imgopt1000x70

 

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” James 1:2-4 NKJV

Lately, I’ve been evaluating my faith. I don’t question God’s ability to do anything. As a matter of fact, I sincerely believe that there’s nothing He can’t do or any person He can’t reach. My concern has more to do with His desire. I know He can, but will He?

I don’t think I’m the only one who’s ever wondered if God would do something? Many people struggle in their faith for one reason or another — the wife who has seen God save her friends’ husbands, but her husband still resists Him; the mother who’s witnessed God heal people of cancer wonders if He’ll heal her as well so she doesn’t leave her children prematurely; the father who’s been encouraged by stories of miraculous provision wonders if new job opportunities will open for him so their home doesn’t go into foreclosure. All of these scenarios have something in common — they are people who know God has the ability to change their situations and yet struggle with understanding why He has not.

It can be encouraging to hear about the wonderful things God is doing and has done in the lives of others. If we aren’t careful, hearing such testimonies can create feelings of inferiority or despair and cause us to wonder what’s wrong with us since God hasn’t worked this particular miracle in our situation. The enemy loves to see us discouraged. Discouragement opens the door for him to speak loudly to us. He’ll begin to say things like, “Why isn’t God doing this for you?” Or, “There’s no need of praying about this any longer, God obviously does not intend for this to change.” Statements like these can erode our hope.

I wish I had an answer as to why God moves quicker in some situations than He does in others. I would love to tell you that He will work out a circumstance in a specific way. The truth is, I can’t. No one can. What I can say is that giving up on Him to work cannot be an option. We must trust His sovereignty even though His ways don’t always make sense to us. Furthermore, we must place our faith in Him, not a particular outcome.

In the Bible, Jesus healed some by speaking (paralyzed man in Mark 2:11), others had to jump through what seemed like hoops before healing came (blind man in John 9). The end result was the same — the people were healed despite varying methods.

In my own life and from what I’ve learned from others, I believe misplaced faith is where we often go wrong. We’re so convinced that God will do it our way (or the way so-and-so said He did for her), that we are disappointed when He doesn’t. It is true that God is no respector of persons (Romans 2:11). It’s equally true that He is sovereign (Psalm 135:6). Where ever you find yourself struggling in your faith, ask God to help you to re-focus on Him and what He’s doing in you in the midst of your situation. In the end, you will be “perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”

Let’s talk. In what areas of your life has your faith wavered?

 

True Love

images

“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 (NLT)

Yesterday, millions of people throughout the country declared their love in some form or fashion. Husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends, parents and children, and close friends may have exchanged gifts such as flowers, candy, stuffed animals, or some other means as an expression of their love. As sweet as these things sound, I wonder how many of these relationships will still be intact by this time next year.

We humans have a severely flawed way of loving. To many, love is based on the warm, fuzzy feeling we get when that someone special is around or when the behavior of our loved ones coincide with how we think they should be. When the warm fuzzies fade or the person commits what we deem an unlovable act, our feelings of love toward this individual tend to get weaker. This type of “love” is based on feelings. When we love someone based on our feelings, the love is never going to last because our feelings fluctuate. Husbands and wives can get on each other’s nerves and not feel like being married any longer. Boyfriends and girlfriends may feel like their relationship has reached a dead end and so has their love. Children and parents can have a disagreement about various things that will cause a permanent strain on their relationship. Given the right circumstances, close friends can become best enemies. These situations and more can lead to sayings like “I love him, but I’m not in love with him,” or “I’m going to just love her from a distance.”

This is not to say that our feelings of being upset or hurt by someone are wrong. God made us as feeling creatures. We have to accept emotions as part of our makeup. However, we cannot be led by our emotions because they are subject to change at any time.

The love that God has for us never changes in intensity or volume. He doesn’t love us because we’re smart, pretty, giving, etc. He loves us. Period. No strings attached. By “us,” I don’t mean only Christians, but rather mankind. “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life,” (John 3:16 NLT). Whether or not you believe in God, He loves you. Whether or not you serve God, He loves you. Whether or not you love yourself or others, He loves you. He will never stop loving you. (See Romans 8:38).

True love isn’t based on feelings or characteristics of the person whom we love. It simply is. It is possible to genuinely love others, but not on our own accord. We don’t have the ability to love flawlessly without the help of our Heavenly Father. Allow Him to work through you. More than anything, I hope you accept the love that He has for you. When you accept His love, also accept the gift He gave to you in Jesus as an expression of His love.

Share on Facebook download

The “S” Word

marriage

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church . . . Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her. — Ephesians 5:22-25

“Is Daddy your boss?” my daughter, eleven at the time, asked me one day when we were in the car.

“No,” I emphasized carefully. “Why do you ask?”

“Because . . . every time I ask you something, you say that you have to talk to Dad first.”

Taking a deep breath, I answered, “Well, honey, that’s because your dad and I are partners. I will not make a decision that affects you, your brother, or our entire household without first consulting him, and vice versa.” I told her that, as husband and wife, her father and I were accountable to each other.  I used the “s” word (i.e., submission) and explained that, though he was the leader of our family (a.k.a. head of household), it was only right for us to talk about decisions first. “Not doing so would be disrespectful,” I added. I was sure my voice was calm . . . at least I think it was. Inside I was fuming. Not because she had done anything wrong. Rather, the question had struck a nerve. I thought, What in the world am I doing to make this child think that David Sanders is my boss!

When we got home, I told my husband about the conversation. I’m not sure what I was expecting. Perhaps, subconsciously, I wanted him to have a talk with her and repeat what I said to add validity to my words that we were both accountable to each other. Whatever my motive was, it backfired. My husband laughed as I was telling him the story, including my thoughts. “Yeah, I’m her boss,” he playfully yelled across the hall. Both he and Tia cracked up. Not funny! I said something sarcastic and, in my mind, I started making plans about how I was going to insert my independence so that everyone knew I was controlled by no one.

For several hours, I thought about things I would do without “asking” to prove my point. It wasn’t until I was getting ready for bed that I felt the Lord convicting me of my attitude. He showed me that I was dealing with pride. Everything I told Tia was true. My husband and I do consult each other when it comes to decisions, but why did I feel the need to explain it so craftily? My words themselves were not incorrect. It was the spirit in which I said them. My motive wasn’t to teach her about healthy communication between a husband and wife. It was to make sure she clearly understood that submission wasn’t one-sided because I didn’t want her thinking I was a punk and that her daddy was my boss!

I was forced to admit that my I-am-woman-hear-me-roar attitude was foul. Not only did I admit this to myself, but also to my daughter and husband. For months (maybe even years) after that, Tia would tease me. She’d say things like, “Mom, what are we having for dinner? Oh, wait, you gotta ask Dad first.” I would laugh and call her a brat. Years later, I asked her if she thought her father and I set a positive example of marriage. She said “yes,” and stated one of her reasons was because we talked about things. I smiled.

Now, this isn’t to say that David Sanders and I have the perfect marriage. Um, not! We have both acted foolishly in the past. Like the Bengals in the last playoff game against the Steelers, we fumbled the ball big time. We continue to grow in our knowledge of the Word, our relationship with God, and in our relationship with each other. The key was not necessarily me submitting to my husband’s leadership. Rather, it was my submission to God. In fact, it’s the key for both my husband and me. Neither husband nor wife will be able to walk out the Scriptures in Ephesians if they don’t first submit to the Lord. It’s only then that submission doesn’t seem like a bad word.

Weigh in. What are some reasons why you may struggle with submission? (Note: Feel free to share about submitting in areas other than in marriage (e.g., at work).

Share on Facebookdownload

Anticipatory Praise

praise

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. – 1 John 5:14-15

One of my favorite comedy shows is King of Queens. Though it has been off the air for over eight years, I still watch the re-runs and I even have the DVD set of the entire series. To my knowledge, there is not a single episode that I haven’t seen. Yet, whenever I watch the show, I laugh as though it’s my first time seeing that particular episode. Sometimes I begin laughing before a scene because I already know what will happen. My laugh is anticipatory in nature.  It happens because my mind recalls something hilarious that the characters will say or do. I react in advance because I know what’s coming based on my history of watching the show.

When it comes to our relationship with God, we also have a history. The Word tells us that He’s our provider (Philippians 4:19), healer (James 5:15), protector (Psalm 91:1-3), deliverer (John 8:36), and more! If you’ve had any type of encounter with Him at all, then you know these things to be true. Yet, when faced with new circumstances about which we are uncertain, there’s a tendency to be fearful instead of faithful.

While fear is a natural emotion, it should not overtake us. The Word says that He has given us a spirit of power, love, and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7). It’s hard to have a sound mind when we’re constantly worrying about our circumstances. Based on what we already know about God, we should be able to praise Him in advance. We may not know the specifics about how He will work things out or when, but because of our relationship with Him we do know that He will.

Anticipation is a realization in advance that something will take place. Do you really believe that God will come through for you? Or, has the enemy planted doubts in your mind that, perhaps, this is the one time God will fail you? Don’t buy into those lies. Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). Reflect on the things He’s already done for you. Now allow those things to propel you into anticipatory praise, knowing that, whatever your situation, you will be victorious when all is said and done because He has already worked things out for your good!

Think about the situations that have been holding up your praise. What’s stopping you from letting go and getting your praise on regardless of how things look now?

Share on Facebookdownload

Short-Term Memory

Then He went up into the boat to them, and the wind ceased. And they were greatly amazed in themselves beyond measure, and marveled. For they had not understood about the loaves, because their heart was hardened.Mark 6:51-52 NKJV

At the end of Mark, we learn that a storm began to rage while the disciples were separated from Jesus. He walked on water to come to their rescue, but they were troubled by this. They thought it was a spirit. Jesus got into the ship and the wind ceased. They were “greatly amazed.” Verse 52 states, “For they had not understood about the loaves, because their heart was hardened.”

The reaction of the disciples is interesting to me. They had just witnessed a miracle prior to this incident. Immediately before getting into the ship, they saw Jesus feed 5000 plus people with five loaves of bread and two fish. Think about the magnitude of that miracle. For real, I don’t care how much I pray and break bread into pieces, it will only go so far. But, when Jesus did it, not only was everyone full, but they had leftovers! Why, then, were the disciples so surprised when Jesus walked on water, got into the ship, and the wind ceased? The power He manifested should not have been a shock to them. Not only had He performed the miracle with the food, but in Mark 4, we learn about another storm they were in that Jesus handled with three simple words, “Peace, be still!” (Mark 4:35-41).

It’s easy to read the Gospels and point out all the faults of the disciples, but we must be honest in that, the disciples represent us. How many times in our own lives has God done what seemed impossible, but when the next “big” situation comes against us, we wonder if He’ll be able to fix things this time? When He does come through, we are “greatly amazed” as if the power He manifests is an anomaly and not the norm.

Life is full of ups and downs. There will be things that are guaranteed to frighten us or test our faith and we won’t know how to handle them. We must not forget all that Jesus has done for us previously. Reflecting on such will help us go through our new trials with courage and confidence in the fact that He is able to handle whatever comes our way. When He does, we won’t be amazed because we weren’t sure it would happen. We will be able to celebrate what He has done because we knew that, eventually, all would be well because we serve a God who is able to do the impossible.

What are some things you can do to prevent having short-term memory when it comes to God’s ability to perform miracles in your life?

downloaddownload

Proper Nutrition

girl_youarewhatyoueat Matthew 16:6;12: 6Then Jesus said to them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.’ 12Then they understood that He did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

I like these two pictures so much that I have had them hanging in my home for nearly a decade. The words on the paper say, “You are what you eat.” I love the symbolism of the children feasting on the Word. It’s a reminder to me of the necessity of spiritual nourishment.  When we fail to feed our spirits with godly things, it will show in our thoughts, our words, and eventually our actions.

Have you ever known someone who, at one time, was “on fire” for Jesus and then years later he/she cooled off? I think of a dear friend whom I met about a year or so after I’d given my life to Christ. She was a great inspiration to me. According to Proverbs 27:17, “Iron sharpens iron…” and I can say with certainty that my friend helped to sharpen me. We continued to talk throughout the years from time-to-time and one day she told me that she was questioning the legitimacy of Jesus and the authenticity of the Bible. She had doubts about salvation. I was shocked and yet I had compassion for her at the same time. I knew she was speaking from a place of pain. She’d recently been hurt by “church folk” and that experience caused her to question everything she’d ever believed. Fast forward five or six years and she’s still in that place of unbelief and searching for the “truth.”

I love my friend dearly and I will forever be grateful for the role she played in strengthening my walk with God. I also pray that one day she will come back to Him. It feels like a personal failure for me not to have the words that will change her heart. Deep down I know that changing her heart is not a job for me. Maybe God is using my continued walk with Him to speak to her. The fact is, I don’t know. However, there are several things I do know…

I know that it’s possible for any of us, no matter how much we claim to love God, to draw away from Him if we start feeding our spirits with the wrong things.

I know that negative thoughts are dangerous if they are allowed to linger.

I know that actions speak louder than words, so if I really want people to “hear” me, I have to live out this gospel that I believe. I won’t have to “preach” about being a follower of Jesus because people will see that I am through the way I carry myself.

I know that there are many things that happen in life that can make us wonder where God is and why He’s allowing certain things. Yet…

I know that it’s essential to trust Him because ultimately, He is sovereign.

I know that when I fall short, and inevitably I will, I must not wallow in any failures or mistakes because doing so is contrary to His word.

I know that spiritual malnourishment is a real thing.

I know that there is no substitute for God.

Ultimately, I know that I don’t want to live my life without having a relationship with Him. Romans 8: 38-39 tells us that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. I want the same to be true in reverse. I never want any person or situation to affect me so that I turn completely away from believing in God and the Word that has brought me through so many crises.

In Matthew 16, Jesus warned the disciples against believing in the doctrines of the Pharisees and Sadducees. We, too, must be careful not to believe in ideologies that will cause us to stray from God. All of us will undoubtedly experience things that will shake our faith, but there must be enough biblical nutrition in us that we won’t fall. Entertaining the wrong thoughts or doctrines too long will eventually infect our walk with God. What have you been feeding your spirit lately?

downloaddownload