In the Pit

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Ever felt like you were in a pit? When life or emotions seem to bring us down, it is difficult to see anything but the pit in which we dwell. Interestingly, did you ever notice that there are several instances in the Bible where people were in literal pits? Think about it. Joseph was thrown in a pit by his brothers and then eventually sold into slavery. Not the Plan A Joseph had for his life. And then there’s a little known story about Benaiah who ended up in a pit with a lion. Seriously! The Bible tells us that Benaiah was a valiant warrior and performed many great exploits. The prophet Samuel recorded, “Benaiah struck down Moab’s two mightiest warriors. He also went down into a pit on a snowy day and killed a lion (2 Samuel 23:20).” Now that probably wasn’t on his schedule of things to do that day either.

David described God as the one who “redeems our life from the pit. Now perhaps you have felt as though your life or your day was in the pits and you could see no hope, no redemption and no way out.  I suppose that’s how pit-dweller Jeremiah felt. Jeremiah was one of God’s prophets who was thrown in a pit as a result of simply proclaiming what God told him to say. That doesn’t seem right! There he was obeying God, and he was thrown in the pit. Take a look at how low this Old Testament prophet must have felt as he wrote, “The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words. I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss.”

But Jeremiah didn’t call it quits. He was able to keep his eyes on the Lord despite his circumstances. Here’s what he said after describing his situation, “Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this:  The faithful love of the LORD never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.  I say to myself, ‘The LORD is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!’ The LORD is good to those who depend on him, to those who search for him (Lamentations 3:19-25).”

Now there’s a person who has their eyes in a positive direction!  He’s not dwelling on his dismal circumstances in the pit, instead He is dwelling on the Lords faithfulness. His sight is going beyond what he can see, and looking to the hope of what a faithful God can do.  How’s your eyesight? In one of his most fearful moments David declared, “Those who look to Him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame (Psalm 34:5).” Oh for the faith to look past the dark clouds of despair and see the sunlight of God’s faithfulness peeking through to bring us comfort and hope! May He be your strength today.

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Connecting Through Conversation

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One of the most important ways for us to engage with our culture is to encourage healthy conversation instead of shutting down conversations. How do we shut down dialogue? By failing to listen. When we are willing to listen to people God’s puts in our path and converse back and forth, we open up the possibilities for building into the lives of others. It’s easy as Christians to think it is our duty to set everyone straight and let them know where they are wrong. Jesus wasn’t afraid to engage with sinners. He asked questions. He loved and did not condemn. He showed us what it looked like to engage with the culture by reaching into the lives of people who needed His love.

Paul wrote, “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” He went on to say, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:5-6). So how do we speak the truth of God’s Word, while lovingly reaching out to the culture around us? We must be both gracious and wise in what comes out of our mouths, recognizing that those who do not know Christ do not see life through the same perspective.

Theologian and philosopher Francis Schaeffer wrote, “Each generation of the church in each setting has the responsibility of communicating the gospel in understandable terms, considering the language and thought-forms of that setting.” Often Jesus answered a question with a question. Questions can help us get to the heart of the matter and lead people toward truth. Recently I had an e-mail dialogue with one of my readers that went something like this.

 

            Reader: Do you think ___________________is a sin?

Me: Why do you want to know?

Reader: I want to know if God is mad at me.

Me: Why do you care if God is mad at you?

Reader: I want to know if I am disobeying Him. I don’t want to feel far away from Him.

Me: If you care about what God thinks about you, then you don’t need to know what I think about that sin, rather you need to know what God says about it.

 

I then led her to the passage in Romans 3 that reminds us that we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. We all have a sin problem, and yet God in His loving-kindness provided the solution to our sin problem through Jesus Christ. I led her to passages in the Bible about Jesus, so that she could understand His love and mercy, as well as His righteousness and His desire for your life. You see, we need to lead people to the love of Jesus first, because without Him, picking out this sin or that sin is meaningless and unfruitful. When someone is inquiring about sin, they either sincerely want to know what God thinks about sin, or they are trying to get you to say something so that they will feel offended (and sadly this is usually the case).

The message of the Bible is simple: We all fall short of God’s glory, and we all need Jesus. Our objective is to argue less and point to God more. Often our words can be misunderstood or not received in the spirit which we give them. The most important thing we can do is to refrain from surface-level disputes and instead get to the real issue of the heart. Ask questions, listen, engage in conversation, and lovingly lead people to the core issue of Christ’s love. Remember how Jesus handled the woman caught in adultery? The Pharisees brought her to Jesus wanting Him to condemn her. Jesus wisely and gently responded by pointing out the fact that all have sinned. We all need Jesus. Our job is not to cast stones at sinners; our job is to point to the gospel of salvation.

Instead of condemning, we ought to be engaging and shining the light of Christ. Our first objective is to live biblically and examine our own hearts and motives, repenting and seeking the Holy Spirit’s help in living righteous lives ourselves. As we humbly reflect the love of Jesus in our words and actions, then we have the platform to lovingly share the gospel with a world that desperately needs Him. Am I willing to step out and touch the people who are different than me, just as Jesus did? It all comes down to asking ourselves, “Am I willing to take the time to engage in conversations and build relationships with those who need Christ?”

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Five Steps to a Happier You

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We all tend to define happiness in different terms. For some, it’s a euphoric feeling when circumstances are ultra-fantastic. For others, happiness may be on the scale somewhere between joy and delight when we are with people we love or in a job for which we are passionate. Still others, may define happiness as a clean bill of health or a pain-free day. Whatever your definition of happiness is, you don’t need to wait for the right set of circumstances to experience it. Here are five positive steps to help you create your own happiness right where you are.

 

Gratitude Journal – Begin a daily routine of writing down at least five things for which you are grateful.  Be specific and think about the people you met or the small joys you experienced over the last 24 hours. Go one step further and consider the blessings you can find in the challenges you are currently facing. Your mindset and perspective will begin to change as you choose to focus on what is good in your life, rather than what is frustrating to you.

 

Kind Actions – If you want to do a happy dance, do something to make another person happy. When you elevate others through your words or actions, you can’t help but experience a sense of delight. Whether it is a smile, or holding the door open or helping a co-worker or neighbor with a project, when you give kindness it will be returned to you in heaping doses of happiness.

 

Regular Exercise – Get up and get moving. Whether you go for a walk in the park, grab a short jog on the treadmill or stretch and do Pilates on your bedroom floor, exercise has a proven track record of releasing endorphins (the happy hormone in your brain) and providing a release from stress. As you form a habit of exercising at least five days a week, you will not only feel better physically, but you will experience emotional benefits as well.

 

Alone Time – In our overconnected culture, we rarely have time alone to relax, think and pray. We must take deliberate measures to disconnect from technology and have some time to communicate with God and listen for His direction. Stillness rejuvenates our soul. Set aside at least ten minutes a day to put away your phone and devices and spend some alone time with the Lord. Praise Him for His greatness, listen for His direction and cast your cares at His feet.

 

Forgiving Heart – In my opinion, one of the greatest robbers of joy and happiness is a bitter heart, filled with unforgiveness. Every day we have new opportunities to forgive others because every person we encounter has a few flaws or shortcomings. As followers of Christ, we reflect His forgiving nature as we forgive others. Release your resentments into the hands of a just and understanding God. He will heal your wounds and set you on a new path of freedom.

 

Start this week with a new mindset! Fear, anger, self-doubt or a critical spirit are just a few mental attitudes that diminish our joy in life. Identify the negative attitudes that you are allowing to dominate your thinking and make a deliberate effort to change your focus. Begin to live with a mindset filled with victory and hope, rather than defeat and negativity. Apply these five steps to your daily life. You don’t need to sit around and wait for happiness to happen – you can begin the journey on the road to happiness now.

 

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Are You Enjoying Life?

In the melody of our life, the music is separated here and there by rests.   – John Ruskin

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In music, as in life, a rest or a pause is a part of the making of the music. There are times when we must take a deliberate pause from the activities of life and the rapid pursuit of our dreams in order to rest and be still.

 

Recently, my husband and I had the opportunity to travel to Hawaii with his work. I must admit, at first I felt guilty for enjoying such a beautiful respite. As I sat by the pool reading one of Chip Ingram’s books, Good to Great in God’s Eyes, I came to chapter 8 entitled, “Enjoy Great Moments.” In this chapter, Chip expressed the importance of balance and the beauty of enjoying life. He wrote, “If heaviness is always the tone of your life, you’ll be out of balance, and a lot of other areas of your life will be negatively affected.”

 

He went on to say, “Here’s a question many Christians will never ask you: Are you enjoying your life? Are you deeply satisfied, drinking in rich experiences with people, places, and circumstances God is providentially surrounding you with?”

 

How kind our God is to allow me to read those very words as I took a rest from the rush of daily life and ministry. I needed a fresh reminder that it is not only good, but necessary to embrace the respite God provides in our lives. Yes, He leads us beside peaceful streams as our Good Shepherd (Psalm 23).

 

This week, I want to encourage you in two ways:

  1. Be deliberate about times of rest in your life. Don’t be afraid of the pauses, rather embrace them and allow yourself to enjoy them.
  2. Rejoice in the Lord. No matter what your circumstances, you can take joy in the fact that your Heavenly Father is with you and cares for you. He never changes. Take joy in Him and the love He has for you. The joy of the Lord is your strength.

 

Chip reminds us, “Being happy and finding satisfaction in life are gifts from God.” Don’t wait to enjoy life, embrace the blessings and great moments God gives you each and every day.

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How to Be a Thankful Person

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Thankfulness is a game-changer! It’s one simple attitude that can make a monumental difference in your personal relationships, your work and your outlook on life. I know it may sound simplistic to say that being a thankful person can have such a powerful impact on our lives, but this one mind-shift has the potential to transform your actions and interactions with others. So how can a person develop an attitude of gratitude? Here are a few ways to redirect your thought-life and make positive difference in the world.

  1. Write it down. Start the habit of writing down your blessings in a thankfulness journal every morning as you enjoy your first cup of coffee. Write down at least five things that happened over the last 24 hours for which you can be thankful. You will begin to notice and pay attention to all the good things in your life, rather than being overwhelmed with the negative.
  2. Turn around challenges. When you face frustrations, mistakes, difficulties or challenges, instead of thinking that the world is against you, look for something good. Every challenge has a silver lining, but you must look (sometimes long and hard) to find it. Keep your focus on the benefits and what you can learn from your difficulties.
  3. See the best in others. There are no perfect people. Everyone has their own set of flaws, but thankful people choose to find something good in everyone. It’s easy to focus on people’s negative qualities, so it takes a deliberate effort to look for the good points in others. It’s a choice, but one that will turn your relationships around and open up your heart to the people around you.
  4. Stop grumbling. It’s time to get rid of the complaints and use your time and energy to do something positive. Negative talk only leads to discouragement, bitterness and anger. When you are tempted to grumble, save your words and find something productive you can do to make a difference. Turn grumbling into gratitude through loving actions.
  5. Step back and look at the bigger picture. Often we get worried and upset over circumstances and events, but if we step back and look at the bigger picture we can gain perspective. Often I ask myself, “In the big scheme of life, how much does this really matter?” When we look at things in light of eternity, it reduces our fears and opens our hearts to the opportunity to find blessings in the long run. As the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, “Our light, momentary afflictions are producing in us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen, but the things that are unseen.” Now that’s the perspective of someone with an attitude of gratitude!

Be a grateful person and you will become happy and content with life. It begins with simple habits formed over time to change your perspective. Most important, start each day thanking God for His unfailing love. Let’s celebrate Thanksgiving every day of the year!

 

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!

…How kind the Lord is! How good he is!

So merciful, this God of ours!

…I will offer you a sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord.

Psalm 116:1,2,5,17