God, Our Champion in Hard Times

Did you know God promises to put you back together after a hard season is over?  If you’re in a trial, a time of suffering right now, there are brighter days ahead.  I know it might not seem that the sun will ever again shine as brightly as it once did, but it will, because God says so.  Days darkened by death, disaster and disappointments will give way to the light of new hope, provision and direction.

1 Peter 5:10 is a powerhouse of promise for your future. “In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So, after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation. “(NLT) First, he indicates that suffering will pass. Second, he assures us that after the storms of life deplete us, he will replenish us. Some tag team verses to this idea are: Psalm 34:19, 2 Corinthians 1:5, Jeremiah 29:11, John 16:20, John 16:33, Psalm 27:13-14, Job 5:11, Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 and Isaiah 61:1-2.   I encourage you to put these on sticky notes and plaster them around your house if you’re in the thick of it right now.

Remember, the hideous torture of Christ’s cross turned out to be the beginning of new life for millions of people, not the death of God’s agenda, as Satan imagined.  Our enemy is no different today than 2000 years ago.  He sees us up against the ropes and he works to convince us that this is our new life, defeat and anguish.  Lies, lies and more lies.   Jesus said, in John 10:10, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”  We must decide who we will listen to and believe during dark days.

Here are more strategies for holding onto hope, peace and the belief that once again, “you will see the goodness of God in the land of the living. “(Psalm 27:13)

  • Memorize scripture. You can’t see sticky notes in the dead of night when you are awakened by fears and troubling thoughts.  Truthfully, Satan will try to dump his garbage anywhere he thinks you might be vulnerable.  I often become gloomier about problems when I am ill or tired.  Be prepared with a well-sharpened Sword of the Spirit, to cut through his strategies and keep moving forward.

The work of the cross establishes us as victors.  We battle, but it is from a position of victory already accomplished by Jesus Christ.  Filling our hearts and minds with key verses keeps us in a victor mentality instead of a victim mindset.

  • Stop sharing your troubles with everyone.  Let’s follow the example of Christ and not talk about our crosses all the time.  Yes, he spoke of his coming suffering, but he talked so much more about the power and beauty of his Father’s kingdom and its truths.  Share the good things God’s done for you during your troubles.  Talk about his goodness, mercy and faithfulness.  It’s up to you whether people will inwardly say, “Oh nooooooo….” when they see you coming, or “Oh good.”  Do you want to be known as an encourager or a complainer?
  • Set aside time to listen to God.  Struggles can tempt us to talk too much during our prayer times.  God asks us to present our requests and he loves to hear us speak his word out in faith.  He’d also like to get a word in edgewise.  Yes, he speaks to us through the Bible, but he also speaks to us.  I’ve become more certain that he is talking far more than we are listening.   Psalm 42:7 tells us that “deep calls to deep.”  God hungers to commune with us, spirit to spirit.

In our culture, this requires discipline.  My pastor often says that Satan makes the best to-do lists for him during his prayer time.  Our own flesh and the enemy will constantly try to shanghai our thoughts when we still ourselves before God.  Keep a pad of paper handy and write important thoughts down to attend to later.  Ask God to cover your mind with Jesus’s blood and to quiet you.  Then, don’t doubt what you hear.  Expect to receive some confirmation from other sources but rest in the knowledge that you are his sheep, and you do know his voice.  My former pastor used to say, “The first voice you hear will be God’s.  The second one will be Satan trying to convince you that you didn’t hear from God.”  Truth.

God knows the intimate details of what you are facing today, and he cares deeply.  He’s given you his own dear presence, his word and the countless resources of the body of Christ.  Grab hold of every sermon, song, book, conversation, blog, podcast or whatever, that will speak life into your situation.

Finally, remember, no matter what is against you, he is always for you.

 

The Weapon of Chaos

Crouched on my dining room floor, terrified, I crept towards our only phone, on the kitchen counter.  The year was 1960 something and I was home alone. The setting was our new house in the country, a sharp contrast to our city house in Philadelphia.  Country sounds are very different from city noise.

I felt certain someone was breaking into our house.  We now lived next door to my father’s childhood home, five miles from the largest prison in Michigan. When we lived out East, he shared tales of prison break outs that occurred during his childhood.

I managed to call my grandfather, next door, who appeared quickly, loaded shotgun in hand.  He stalked around the outside of the house to confront intruders.  We both enjoyed a hearty laugh when it turned out to be a tree branch tangled in a window screen.   My imaginings messed me up yet again.

My natural mind tends towards a daydreaming, sporadic rhythm.  The imagination that prompts me to create, design and write can also be a fertile field for what my grandmother used to call “vain imaginings.”  When someone irked me, I used to engage in entire conversations in my head with them; words that couldn’t and shouldn’t be said. Tiny grains of fear in my mind used to explode within minutes to full on potential disaster scenarios for me or my family. I forgot things frequently.

Only in recent years did I come to recognize another one of Satan’s strategies, that of creating chaos.  By my observation, it’s a strong tool he uses that everyone must contend with at some point, somewhere in their lives.   Chaos is the opposite of peace and it never comes from God.  1 Corinthians 14:33 says,

“For God is not a God of disorder but of peace….” (NIV)   Before God created the heavens and earth, what did exist was, “formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep…”  (Genesis 1:2 NIV) In other words, no design, just a chaotic element mixture.  When God moved he spoke beauty and order into everything on and around earth.

I believe Satan, consistently wars against beauty and order wherever it may be.  He incites chaos in three key places, our minds, our homes, and our relationships.

I’ve met dozens of people like me.  We fight our largest battles against chaos in our minds.  Creative personalities seem more prone but I know people of all temperament types that engaged in this fight.   Worry, fearfulness and forgetfulness can be signs that your mind is not at peace.  Chronic depression and irritability are further symptoms.  How can we allow God to transform a jumbled mind into a peaceful one?  Here’s some ideas:

  • Consult a trusted doctor.  Please don’t poo poo this.  For most of my life I lived with some chemical imbalances that created a great deal of mental confusion.  Simply taking some vitamin supplements, under my doctor’s guidance, completely changed that.  Numerous physical problems can create problems.  Your diet, particularly if you eat a lot of processed, sugary foods, can mess up your body chemistry.  It takes medical expertise to unsquirrel what you may have done.  (I used to eat Oreo cookies a bag at a time. Yikes.)
  • Recognize any weakness in this area.  Satan will get his foot into the tiniest crack in a door or window of your mind.  It takes a quiet, steady mind to pray and listen to God.  A scattered mind struggles to sit peacefully reading and meditating on the word then carrying that with you through the day.  This works out great for our enemy.
  • Take charge over imaginations that go against God’s Word and His ways.  If you struggle with brain chaos, 2 Corinthians 10:5 is a crucial verse, but you can’t just read it, you must do it!  “Casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”  I know, “every thought,”  sounds impossible but I will testify that it becomes easier.  Nowadays, I recognize the seeds of mental chaos and  usually eradicate them before they bloom.
  • Ask God for wisdom and healing. God knows every cell in your brain intimately.  Ask Him what to do and do it.  He might guide you to a doctor, like me, or, He will point out lifestyle choices that are not working for you.  Media can be fun and useful, it can also overload and overstimulate your nervous system and brain.   Nervous system and sleep disorders are at an all-time high due to our over-engagement with media.  The question to ask yourself after any media experience is simple, do you feel better and more positive about life, or worse?
  • Exercise regularly. In a large study reported in the Harvard Health Blog, scientists concluded that your hippocampus actually grows with consistent aerobic exercise, something that makes your heart pump and your sweat glands work.  Your hippocampus is the part of the brain involved with memory and learning.

It is also widely known that good exercise (not OVER- exercising) releases our endorphins, one of the natural peace chemicals God placed in our bodies.

If Satan can keep your mind in a chaotic state, you will not achieve your God ordained destiny.  Don’t accept a chaotic state as normal.  It is NOT God’s design for you.  Start today to clean your brain house.

 

 

 

 

Bullies

Bullies are everywhere found.  One friend of mine entered his first ministry assignment with full heart and eager energy. Serving as a layperson for many years in music ministry, the excitement of a full time opportunity drew he and his family to another state.  The church welcomed and enjoyed their new pastor and things flowed well for quite a while.  Sadly, my friend discovered that his boss, the senior pastor, was embezzling funds from the church.  When confronted, the thief did not respond with repentance.  Instead, he fabricated charges of insubordination, deceived the church board and fired my friend.

Another friend in ministry was recruited away from a highly successful youth group he led, to a different church.  The board and senior staff greatly admired my friend’s gifts and connection with high schoolers and stated they wanted to see the same thing happen in their youth program.  He did that.  Unfortunately, the power brokers didn’t genuinely desire to reach the youth of their community, just the ones in their church.  When dozens of students started flooding in from nearby schools, suddenly my friend received poor performance reviews, even though attendance numbers went up among the church’s own youth also.  They fired him within a few months claiming his philosophy didn’t mesh with theirs.  One hundred percent true.

In between full time ministry and building his own insurance agency, my husband sold cars. He quickly rose to the top of the sales chart.  One day his boss invited him to a party at his home for a multi-level marketing business he represented.  We were already involved with a different competing company and so Ken politely declined.  He was fired for “poor performance” two days later even though his sales numbers consistently ranked higher than most of the other salesmen.

Bullies are demoralizing.  Whether on a playground, a place of business, a church, or other organization, everyone deals with a bully at some point.

The harassment and bullying Jesus and his disciples received from religious leaders is what ultimately led to his death.  Huh.  That’s not very encouraging sounding is it?

What can be done when a superior is a bully?  How do you know when to turn the other cheek, stand and fight or shake off the dust and leave?  I think the answer is simultaneously simple and complex and encapsulated in Zechariah 4:6. “’It’s not by might nor power, but by my Spirit’, says the Lord.”  The simple part is, we know what to do with a bully by listening to the Holy Spirit.  The complexity is listening to the Holy Spirit.

Sometimes Jesus flipped tables or shouted at demons.  Other times he just slipped away from angry mobs without saying a word.  How do we know when to do what?

A few observations and suggestions:

  • Use the whole counsel of the word to deal with a bully.   For example, Proverbs is filled with wisdom for dealing with foolish, evil people.  Paul’s writings are also laced with advice on interpersonal relationships.  Our problem is not a lack of advice from the Word, it’s a lack of the Word stored in our hearts.  God uses the Bible to communicate His ways and methods to us.  The Holy Spirit will quicken certain verses for particular situations but only if we read and internalize them.
  • God uses bullies to move us.  Joseph’s brothers almost bullied him to death.  God used their behavior to begin the young man’s journey to destiny.  A church who cannot recognize that their senior pastor is a thief and a liar is not healthy.  I suspect God hastened my friend’s family out of that place for His reasons.  The point is when we are fired, forced to leave or resign a situation, this is no surprise to God.  He knows the wickedness of character in those around us and will use it for His purposes.
  • If you stand and fight, be certain you are standing on THE Firm Foundation.  A number of times, disgruntled people in our church tried to run Ken and I off with falsehoods presented to our denominational leadership.  We stood our ground for two reasons.  First, and most important, God withheld any peace about leaving, even though our flesh wanted to flee, kind of like Gideon.   He supplied us with strength to keep our anger righteous, not sinful.  He supplied wisdom to discern spirits and motives. Secondly, our denomination leadership supported us %100.   Each time, they advised the verbal bullies to leave, which they did.

Fighting back a bully can be a bloody business, so be certain the Lord is in your corner, sanctioning the fight, before you go into the ring.

  • Keep your heart and motives pure. If your secret desire is to see a bully destroyed, God won’t honor that.  In fact, He might just let them trouble you more.  I wonder if He would have allowed David to run longer from the bully king, Saul, if David allowed hatred and vengeance in his heart?  After all, he was the rightful, anointed king, treated horribly by a lunatic with power.  Remember, God loves the bullies too.  Keep your heart pure, as David did, towards your persecutor.  Forgive them however many thousands of times you need to, to keep your hands clean.

If you are in a tough situation right now, bury yourself in the Word so God can feed you wisdom, insight, discernment and understanding.  Listen, then obey. Allow God to deal with other’s reactions and whatever consequences occur.

 

 

Valleys of Despair Part Two- Money Blues

Twenty years ago, God called my husband, Ken, and I out of full time ministry into the business world.  No moral failure or any such thing was involved.  God simply said, “Appreciate all you’ve done but I’m wrapping up this phase of your lives now. I want you over here instead.”   Unclear as to exactly where “here” was, we still packed up and left, excited and scared.

In retrospect, God clearly designed a Ken-sized spot in the insurance industry.  The journey to success, though, took us through the bloody battlefield of financial loss and setback.  The first insurance company who hired Ken was a sketchy outfit.  He spent 50 hours a week trying to sell poor quality products.

No openings existed with larger, more reputable companies for a guy with no insurance experience.  The result: no income for six months.  Each day we started the morning convinced he’d sell product, but in that whole time he sold three small policies which didn’t even cover his expenses.

So, what did you live on, you might ask?  I started teaching private piano lessons which almost paid for groceries.  We paid the rest of our bills using all our savings, retirement funds and some credit cards.  Despair lived at our house.  We questioned our ability to hear God and ourselves daily.

Most days I’d spend a chunk of the morning on my face, crying out to God in praise and intercession.  This discipline emotionally carried me through the rest of the day.  I felt sick to my stomach with every dollar I spent.  We tried to buy necessary items, like clothing, at garage sales and thrift stores.  I spent hours in garages and discount clothing bins trying to find fashionable outfits for my growing 13-year-old daughter.  We ate a lot of macaroni and cheese.

What can we do when faced with financial lack?   When ministries, churches, businesses and homes are faced with severe monetary challenges, stress can become a constant companion.  Sometimes you feel angry, resentful, especially when others around you are financially solvent or blessed. Let me share with you some disciplines God taught me during that season.

  • Respect God’s processes.  Was it a surprise to God that Ken couldn’t sell the low-quality stuff?  Were we being punished ? Was He withholding finances?  No, no and yes.  Let me explain. We repeatedly asked God to show us any areas of sin or poor stewardship.  Neither of us sensed that this was the case. This attitude remains my first posture towards a holy God when things go sideways for me.  I ask Him, “Are you disciplining me or training me with this?” Knowing the difference is important.  If I’ve sinned against Him and His Word, or been careless not to follow the wisdom therein, I best be sortin’ that out first.

God did withhold finances for a while to train us.  We had zero experience in going without and living on a very short shoe string.  He wanted us to know what that feels like for several reasons, I suspect.  We developed new thrifty purchasing strategies.  Thankfulness for what we had became far more profound. We are more compassionate prayer warriors towards others in dire straits. Most importantly, the whole season humbled us as we understood better Jehovah Jireh, our provider.

If God has temporarily put a stopper in your finances or slowed your stream, know that He is purposeful.  God is a story teller and uses us to create His narratives.  He wants to use my story right now to encourage some of you out there and help you to get through another day.

  • Praise and thank Him for provision, by faith.   I turned verses into positive statements of faith, usually out loud.  My soul and the enemy of my soul need to hear the truth of my situation. Here’s a couple of my favorites from that season:

               So, I will not worry saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?”  For the pagans run after these things and My Heavenly Father knows that we need them.  But, instead, I will seek first His kingdom and His righteousness knowing that all these other things will be given to me as well.   Based on Matthew 6:31-34

 

              My God will supply all my needs according to His riches in glory.  Phillippians 4:19

 

  • Focus on the needs of others. I promise this strategy will keep your sanity intact when you’re going through any challenge.  Ask God to show you someone facing a similar problem.  When I am tempted to fret or pray only for my own needs, I discipline myself to pray for someone else.  You are essentially saying to God, “I trust you to handle my concerns which we spoke about already today.  Since it’s come to my mind again, I’m using that passion to intercede for someone else.” This might happen many times in a day. Yay!  God’s heart is always moved when we put others needs before our own.  It also gives Him room to work on our situation without us meddling in it.

So, what happened with Ken’s insurance job and our finances?  He scored an interview with one of the top three companies in the nation.  They only interviewed people who were already in the insurance industry.  That’s the only thing God ever intended the first job to be, a stepping stone.  The larger company set him up in his own place of business including staff and numerous resources.  They paid all his bills, including a sizable salary, for five years, until he purchased the business as his own.

Take courage my friend, dark financial days will give way to brighter ones, if you remain obedient, teachable and thankful.

             

Valleys of Despair Part One

My first landscape project nearly killed gardening for me.  Our parsonage yard butted against the church parking lot.  Congregation members randomly appeared on my back patio by strolling in from said parking lot.  If we weren’t outside, they’d appear at the slider to our family room.  Sometimes we were dressed, other times not so much.  One week, resting on the couch during a rough surgical recovery, I’d randomly see faces by the slider screen.  Due to pain pills, I’m still not sure if all of them belonged to real people, but I think so.

I welcomed people to our home, but longed for them to use the real back or front doors.  Unannounced arrivals usually prompted Martin Luther and Johnathan Edwards, our theologian dogs, into barking protection mode. It startled the skittles out of us and woke up baby Jennifer.

Ken and I decided some strategic landscaping might indulge our love of yard design and solve problems.   If people insisted on sneaking up on us, they’d have to wade through some flora and fauna to do it!

Clay dominated the yard with a little black topsoil. Every hole we dug tested our determination and shovels.  Persistently, we planted the border.  Within a month, delphiniums, hollyhocks and foxglove died and half of the trees and shrubs looked suicidal.  Over the next couple of years, we learned every plant which tolerated clay, and didn’t.  At times that garden looked so horrendous, I wanted to go after it all with a chain saw.

The thing is, I discovered that I loved gardening while I labored on that battlefield.  I determined a garden would flourish in this clay valley.  I learned how to amend and improve my soil with sand, compost and mulch. I gained plant knowledge. The border eventually became lush and afforded us the privacy we needed. Recently, I drove by that house and took delight in seeing mature shade trees and neatly trimmed shrubs enjoyed by a new family.

This month’s topic is things which create valleys of despair for leaders. Today let’s ponder a lack of growth.  It’s disheartening when something we are passionate about doesn’t thrive.  Is your church membership number stagnant, despite all those church growth seminars you’ve attended?  How about a company, ministry or school  that is languishing for any number of reasons?  Maybe it’s a relationship that used to produce fruit but lately, just leaves.

Here’s some lessons learned in gardens and life about growth.

  • Growth occurs when the right conditions are present. This is a biological principle that applies everywhere.  My original plants didn’t belong in clay.  Maybe your business is gasping because you haven’t adapted to market changes. My husband built a large insurance company fifteen years ago, with telemarketing. If you tried that today, it’d be as smart as when Kodak decided digital photos were a passing fad.

 

Is your church ministering to the community that IS around you geographically or are you still structuring things for people groups who USED to live there?  Did your organization used to fill a need but that need no longer exists and you’re not sure what to do?

Whatever your non-growth situation is, you need to learn what your soil is made of and what will grow best in it. 

 

Why did God position you, your family, your company, church, etc. where He did? What gifts, skills and strengths do you uniquely possess?   What felt needs of people can you meet that others can’t? What plants can grow in your soil?

 

  • Growth is a sequential process.  With perennial plants, (the ones that come up each year) there is a saying, “First year sleep, second year creep, third year leap.”  The idea is that for the first two years of a perennial plant’s garden life, growth happens underground in the root system. If you respect roots, after two seasons of patience and care, you should see a real show in year three.  One year, my impatience caused me to use Miracle Grow on all my plants.  For a while, EVERYTHING looked amazing and lush, just like the commercials.  Then midsummer, while the annuals continued to thrive, my perennials fell over.  A master gardener taught me that Miracle Grow is junk food for perennials.  I forced them to grow beyond what their roots were prepared to sustain.

 

I’ve observed this exact scenario in organizations, businesses, churches and ministries.  Eagerness for growth causes people to launch things prematurely. We see something working somewhere else so we grab it, whether it suits our roots or not.  Impatience is a poor decision maker and leaves a wake of failure behind it.

 

Build and respect your roots in these ways:

 

  • Strengthen and improve what you’ve got. Train folks, re-model your facility or website, prepare, prepare, for when God brings His show to your doorstep.  What if increase came today? Are you ready?
  • Create new systems with your existing people to accommodate growth. If your business processes are structured to only handle 20 clients, what are you going to do with 50?  If your church nursery only holds five infants, where are you going to put four new ones?
  • Learn what your strengths are then build and market on them. Small organizations possess qualities of camaraderie and community that large entities struggle to create.  Large endeavors offer variety and options.  Whatever your strengths are, there are people searching for them who don’t know about you yet.
  • Amend your soil with new ideas and methods. Your core message doesn’t change but methods must.   My generation loved flannel graphs, today’s children are computer savvy.  My husband is building a different book of insurance business using no telemarketing. Instead he’s enjoying success with social media and referral rewards.

Take heart, growth is God’s idea.  When you combine the right soil with the right plants, there’s no end to how well things can grow.