Saturday, November 22, 2014

Down but not defeated

Defeat is often a stepping stone on the path to victory. There is no better example of this truth than George Washington.
The heroic figure of American history and our first president certainly had his fair share of setbacks. From a young age Washington had obstacles and defeats and disappointments. When he was a young man his father died and Washington was never able to finish his proper schooling as he had intended. Instead he became the surveyor of a little county in Virginia. This was his mothers wish. She didn't want him study far away and she didn't want him in the military. Surveyor seemed safe.
During the French and Indian War Washington was called on to fulfilled the role of "adjunct general." He didn't command many men but did share in a number of defeats. Worst of all was at Braddock. As the British were attempting to take over the Ohio Territory they experienced a massive set back when, in 1755, the Indians pushed back the army and served it a severe blow in regards to causalities and land acquisition. Throughout the war Washington longed to be commissioned by the army but the call never came. He headed up a small regime of men but was never elevated to the military status he had hoped for.
Then came the American Revolution and Washington's big promotion. The man with little experience and no professional title to his name was appointed commander of the Continental Army. This would have probably been more exciting if Washington would have had ample supplies, a strong force and endless financial resources but he didn't have any of the above. Instead he had a ragtag army, challenging weather conditions, a lack of military provisions and even a shortage of shoes. But in 1775 Washington became commander.
He fought in Boston and won. He took his army to New York and was terribly defeated. He couldn't keep his enemy out of Philadelphia and suffered terrible loss due to disease and trying weather conditions in Valley Forge. The future of the Continental Army looked bleak.
But then came the summer of 1779. Washington hadn't given up the fight. He plotted one last campaign to overtake the British and miracle of miracles, it worked. For the next few years the American army beat back their foes until the British had retreated all the way back to Europe.
Even in those final years of victory Washington was fighting not only an opposing army but the dissolving of his own. Supplies ran short. Money was scarce and the troops were getting restless. Yet Washington never gave up. He fought until the battle was won. In 1983 America claimed victory and the revolution was won.

This may seem like a bore of a history lesson that you learned in grade school. Maybe you remember the details or maybe you promptly forgot them after you took the test on the subject. But there is a method to my historical madness and a lesson in the life of Washington.
Washington endured so much defeat that anyone would have understood if he had completely given up. Not only was he being defeated by an opposing military but he was freezing and hungry, too. And we know how people are when they get hungry! Not a pretty sight.
Yet, with all of the cards stacked against Washington he refused to let defeat stop him from trying again. Even after military losses Washington never stopped devising new strategies and new plans. Even after harsh winters he picked up the pieces of a ravaged army to fight again. He never let defeat keep him down and out. He rose above it and kept the hope of victory alive.

If you are like me then some days you need to be reminded to try again. Defeat is a dangerous trap and it threatens you and I to stop moving forward in our lives just like it threatened Washington and his army. But just think, what would have become of this nation of ours if Washington would have given in to defeat?
That is a question I don't even want to know the answer to. The ramifications of a defeated spirit would have been so great that history dares not ponder the possibilities of it for too long. 
The great news is Washington never stopped trying and believing that victory was possible. He looked defeat in the eye and overcame it. You and I can do the same thing. Whether it is on a physical battlefield or just the battlefield of our mind, we can overcome any defeat with the power of Christ in us. We have the great promise of a victory already won. So laugh in the face of defeat and try, try again because the battle is already won and the foe has already retreated.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

All Hope

What I am about to write is as much (okay, it's more) for me than for anyone else. Maybe, hopefully, some lonely and frustrated soul will stumble upon this post in their time of need and find comfort in what I have to say. That is my prayer for all of these posts but this one in particular. So here it goes...

Dear Reader, do not put your hope in people. They will fail you and let you down. Putting our hope in people is a sure-fire way to be disappointed. If, on the other hand, disappointment and let down is what you seek then by all means, put your hope in the human race.
As for me I don't want to be rejected, let down and disappointed any longer. I've spent years alone - literally years. Not a single date and very few "friend" outings to speak of. I can count them on one hand and that isn't an exaggeration. It is the sad truth of it. The loneliness I have felt and continue to struggle with has taken its toll.
Even in the face of my despondency I've continued to have hope that I would someday find friends and maybe even a significant other but as of late that hope has been dashed. I have thrown in the towel on ever having a life that includes interpersonal relationships and meaningful human interactions. I have hoped long enough. Now it is time to abandon that hope and move forward.
If you are feeling weighed down by crushing rejection and disappointments then the only advice I can give you is to put your hope in something else, someone else. Because human beings just won't cut it.
So I'm taking the hope that I've held out for God to bless my life with companionship and I'm shifting that hope to simply a hope in meeting Christ. That is the only thing I know for sure I am safe to hope for without the danger of being letdown. The only one thing in this world that I know without a shadow of a doubt is that God is real and His Son is real and the Holy Spirit is real. Every word written about God in the Bible is real and true. Jesus came to this earth to save me and He is coming again. Until then He has left the Holy Spirit as my companion. I know all of this to be unshakable, unchangeable truth.
I can put my hope in God and know that it is safe there. I will never face rejection from God. He isn't going to make a promise He can't keep. He isn't going to suddenly abandon our relationship. Sometimes He might be quieter than others but He is still there. After all, no one talks all of the time!

There is no point in putting my hope in anyone or anything apart from God and God alone - not what God can do for me or what blessings God could bestow on me. That hope is faulty, too. The only hope that is secure and unshakable is the hope that rests on the person and character of God.
It is that simple. Put your hope in God and meeting Him face to face. You don't have to wait for Heaven to meet Him. You can do it in your closet or driving in your car. Putting your hope in God is the only way to ensure that your hope won't ever be crushed. You can bet the farm on God. You can rest assured in putting every ounce of hope in Him. He'll never let you down. The one and only God never fails those who put their hope and trust in Him.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Lost and Found

Lost and found. The two appear to be opposites. Either your sock is lost or it is found. Your dog is either lost or he's found. Something or someone can be lost for a time until their whereabouts are no longer a mystery and they are found. Right?
This is the common understanding of lost and found. At least, it's what I have always assumed was the common and correct understanding of the phrase. In my simple mind I always assumed that if you were in the lost category you were obviously not in the found category. And if you were already found then there was no reason for you to be thrown in that lost and found bin.
My simple thoughts about lost and found have long extended past dogs and classified ads, all the way to faith and salvation. I can thank the hymn "Amazing Grace" for my long held belief that if you were lost then you weren't found. As my favorite hymn sings, "I once was lost but now I'm found." Simple, concise and to the point. If you're lost then you aren't found. End of story.
Or is it? Is lost and found that simple? As a Christian are you really one or the other?
A thought dawned on me today and it is making me question and rethink my whole belief on lost and found. Could it be that the key to the Christian life is to be both lost and found at the same time?
You may be thinking, "Lost? Doesn't that mean I'm wayward and still stuck in my sin?" No, the lost I'm referring to is lost to self. This might be the biggest road block standing in the way of many Christian's embracing a life of complete surrender. They don't want to be lost to the self - myself included.
It is easy to say, "Yes" to being found in Christ. Well, maybe not exactly easy but it is far easier to embrace the love and grace of being found then it is to be lost to self. Being lost to self means putting to death sin that entangles. It means relinquishing control and the right to one's self. Being lost to self means being lost to our ideas of what our life should look like - in our humble yet deeply engrained opinions.
Here in lies what many struggle with in the Christian life. We sing of being found in Christ. That discovery happens when we repent of our sins and accept Jesus' free gift of salvation paid for by way of His death on the cross. But what about the self that we have become so accustomed to relying upon? Are we still found in ourselves or have we lost our indivdual hold on our lives?
Instead of being lost in the way we were prior to our re-birth we must be lost to ourselves. We are found in Christ and therefore we can no longer also be found in ourselves. Because we are sinful. We are fallen and imperfect and terribly, terribly flawed. If we try to remain found to self and found in Christ then we will constantly be in a state of struggle trying to have our way while trying to go God's way. The two cannot coexist. If we want to be completely found in Christ then we must be completely lost to self.
I wish I had the golden ticket, fail-proof piece of advice that could help my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ learn to lose themselves. Quite frankly I'm still working on this key aspect of my faith, too. I'm still trying to run so far away from my old self that it is too lost to ever be found. And I'm finding that this is more difficult then I could have ever imagined. Ask me to lose a hat or a pair of gloves or one single sock and I'll have no problem fulfilling the request. But ask me to lose myself and I hesitate. Lose myself? You mean lose my ideas, dreams, will, control and desires? You mean let all of that fall away and get buried under a pile of rubble? 
It isn't necessarily painless and easy to lose oneself. But it is what Christ requires of us. In Matthew 16:25 Christ says that, "whoever loses their life for me will find it."
There you have it boys and girls, brothers and sisters. We must be willing to lose ourselves while at the same time be willing to be found. We must be lost to ourselves so that we can be found in Christ and share in eternity with Him. If you are found in Christ but not lost to yourself then a battle will constantly be under siege for control of your will and direction. To fully submit and surrender to Christ then our old self must go missing, vanish, wander astray never to be seen again.
Once we are lost to self we are free to experience the peace of being found in Christ, a peace that only comes from giving up the fight for control. A peace that is only found in being lost to the ways and the sin and the control of the self.
So my question to you is this, are you lost and found?

Monday, November 10, 2014

Good posture

Posture is important, very important. How you stand, place your shoulders and align your spine can impact your entire body. Rounded shoulders are more than just an unflattering way to stand. A curved spine affects more than just the lower lumbar. Bad posture can cause some real heartache for the nerves, blood vesicles, digestive system, discs and even the mood. Yes, poor posture can lead to depression. Did you know that not sitting up straight enough could actually be hindering your brain's ability to be energetic and positive? Even your cheerfulness could be compromised because your posture is all out of whack!
It's crazy but true, your mood and your outlook on life are impacted by how you carry yourself and your body's posture. Lay around like a slouch on the couch and you increase your risk of having your attitude fall into the same lazy, languid state. Walk around with rounded shoulders and a downcast gaze and don't be surprised if your spirit starts to wane while depression sets in.
But, take heart, there is good news. Posture can be corrected. When you stand up tall, place your shoulders back, fix your eyes forward and maintain a straight spine your mood will fall in line, too. Your energy will increase. You may find that you have a renewed pep in your step. All because you're standing up just a bit straighter.
There is no denying the power of the body's posture.
But I believe there is a posture even more powerful - and infinitely more important - than our physical posture. That is our prayer posture. I'm not talking about how you place your body while talking to God - standing, sitting, kneeling, or dancing. I will leave that posture up to you - although I will recommend that you keep your spine in alignment during prayer. (Your chiropractic bills will thank you.)
The posture I'm concerned with is the posture of the heart. Is your heart (and mine) in a constant position of prayer? Are we carrying our spirit in such a way that we are in perpetual and continual communion with God on an intimate and personal level? What is the stance - the posture - of our hearts?
The question is one worth asking today and everyday: how is my prayer posture?
The most powerful and important posture is our prayer posture. Our prayer life is our direct line to God, the Almighty King of Kings. When our posture on prayer is out of alignment the rest of our life will be off whack.
The Bible makes it clear that prayer is critically important. It impacts ever facet of our life and without it we will suffer. I suppose that's why the Bible talks so much about prayer. Here are just a few examples: 1 Thessalonians 5:17 tells us to, "pray without ceasing." Colossians 4:2 says to, "continue in prayer..." In Luke 18:1 Jesus taught His disciples to, "pray and not give up."
The Bible and the teaching of the Lord Himself define what our posture should be. They give us the diagram for proper prayer alignment. Prayer should be continual, steadfast, never ending and hopeful. If you and I let our prayer lives become couch potatoes then our mood, spirit and entire life will suffer as a result. Prayer is that powerful. Prayer changes things. Prayer changes people and transforms hearts. Most importantly, you and I are directed by God to pray and keep praying.
So remember to stand up strong with our spine in line with God, eyes fixed on Him and heart in tune to His spirit. Once you check your prayer posture and realign your heart you just might find that the rest of your life will follow. Your mood, your attitude, your joy. Yes, even the pep in your step. It all starts with your prayer posture. So be sure to check yours today.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Happily Ever After

It's time to be honest...brutally honest.
Lucky for you (or maybe not so lucky), brutal honesty is one of my strong suits. Well, at least that's what a ninth grade teacher told me. He said I was, "...brutally honest and although that was good it might get me in trouble someday."
I hope today isn't that day because I'm about to indulge my brutally honest inner self and reveal to you the difficulties, struggles and, thankfully, triumphs of my recent days.

My ex-finance is getting (And yes I'm aware that he very well could stumble upon this post someday. I'll take that chance.)
He's getting married today to a girl who seems to be a wonderful match for him. Honestly, I'm happy for both of them. Those aren't just empty words. I mean them. I want him to be happy. He is not a bad guy. He just isn't the right guy for me and , if we had married, it would have been a struggle. I couldn't see that when I said, "yes" to a marriage proposal on the beach but I can see that now. We might have stuck out a marriage for the sake of keeping a vow but I don't think it would have been the union we were hoping for.
Since our breakup my ex-fiance found another girl to date, fall in love with, propose to and now, today, marry. From what I can tell the woman he is about to marry is much better suited to him then I could have ever been. The pictures of them playing paintball together are proof. I was never going to be playing paintball. Bless the woman who does, but it just isn't for me. Thankfully for Mr. Ex, he found the woman who would dawn heavy, combat style gear with him and shoot balls of multi-colored paint in the woods. Till death do them part.
So you see, I understand and recongnize that entering into a marriage with my ex would not have been in my best interest - or his. Or his new bride's for that matter. They were meant for each other. We, on the other hand, were not.
So today should be no big deal, right? He's marrying the right woman. I was spared from a difficult marriage and possible legal proceedings.
Today should be easy. But it's not. And here's why: I'm still alone.
Oh come on, you had to have known that was coming, right? My lonely laments have given away the pleading of my heart. I want a companion! I want someone to want to get to know me! I want it so badly that it is my number one personal request prayer to God. It is borderline (or not so on the border) begging. Send me someone...please! And soon!

It has been so long since I've had a single male interest in me that I've begun to believe that there simply is no "right guy" for me out there. In fact, I'm starting to believe there is not even a single date or casual get together out there for me. My loneliness feels perpetual and, at times, hopelessly permanent.
On days like today the sting of being alone is extra excruciating. I want to be genuinely joyful for the blessing of companionship that others are feeling but my happy thoughts are stuck under a cloud of my own singleness. My desire to have what they have - albeit with someone else - keeps me from fully entering into a state of joy on their behalf.
Deep inside me there is a twinge of resentment and jealousy that I know is straight form the pit of hell. I don't want to give in to its dangerous, lustful trap yet I have tripped again and let my wandering eye take control. As a result my heart has grown discontent and my joy has tanked.

The internal struggle to break free from this lust and sin was raging inside of me this morning in the pitch black, early hours of the day. I was losing my battle until the sun started to come up.
There, right outside of my kitchen window, I saw a pink sky begin to creep up above the rooftops in my neighborhood. It was a brilliant pink unlike any I've seen before. There was no yellow or orange or blue. It was a pure pink sky as far as my eye could see.
Suddenly I was overcome with the brillance of God and His creation. Not only His creation of nature but His creation of me and my life and even my circumstances. They are not an accident, they are beautifully created by the artistic hand of God. He paints the sky with the same care and eye as He designs my life.
If He can make the sky so beautiful why couldn't He do the same with my life?
The truth is, He is doing something beautiful with my life. Right now the canvas He's painting with my days hasn't included marriage or companionship. Maybe it never will. But my life doesn't need an "I do" or a dinner date to be something beautiful. Beauty can come in all different colors and patterns - some include matrimony and others do not. What is important is who creates the design. If God is the one painting the canvas and stitching together the fabric of my life then it is indeed going to be brilliantly beautiful.

This morning I hope that my ex-fiance's bride woke up and caught a glimpse of a beautiful sunrise. Because the beauty of life is for her, too, and I want a blessed, blissful marriage for her and her new husband.
So, in case he or she ever come across this post I hope they know this: My prayers for a blessed union and lifelong friendship go out to them. I genuinely hope that the journey they travel together is one of peace, joy and an abundance of Christ-like love. Happy wedding day... and live happily ever after!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Goodye Worry Wart

I can't stand the term "worry wart." It makes me think of podiatrists and foot ointment. Yuck. As much as I detest the term I think I detest the character trait that accompanies it with even more passion. A worry wart is "person who tends to dwell unduly on difficulty or troubles."
Again, I say yuck.
Who in the world wants to be in the company of a worry wart? They are downers. Fun-suckers (a little Lindsey Lohan reference for those of you who think I just came up with a new term). Worry warts look at life in shades of grey, more grey and black. There is no light. There is no hope. There are no blue skies and butterflies. The cup is always half empty and the forecasters prediction for 10% chance of rain may as well be 100%. They don't see a silver lining or a light at the end of a tunnel. All they see is gloom, doom and massive amounts of worry.
So what does a worry wart worry about? The question should really be what do they not worry about? Relationships, illness, finances, the weather, the dog, dust... if you can imagine a possible concern the worry wart will be able to dwell on it and become all consumed by it.
It is easy to point to the characteristics of a worry wart and see the flaws in their ways. They are overly negative and pessimistic. They lack a rest and peace. Instead they are wrought with concern and emotional instability, letting the "what ifs" of life control their thought life and outlook.
Yet, despite all that I see wrong with the worry wart, I myself fall into the same troublesome trap. I, too, focus too much on the negative, on what I don't have, on what tomorrow will or will not bring. And I worry about it. I worry so much that today's joy gets sapped right out of my spirit. I step into the shadowy company of a worry wart, pull up a chair and get comfortable.
There is a reason the characteristics of a persistent worrier has such an unappealing name - the characteristics of a persistent worrier in and of themselves are unappealing. Both to man and God. In fact Jesus was so against worry that He spoke against it directly and with crystal clear clarity. In Matthew 6:25-34 Jesus said,
 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."
Worrying isn't just wrong because it sucks the fun out of a room. It is wrong because Jesus says so! There are many examples of Jesus speaking in parables and stories but this isn't one of them. He came right out and dealt with the matter of worry plainly and concisely so that not one person would miss this important command: do not worry.

Corrie ten Boom, a survivor of Nazi Germany who hid Jews in her home during World War two, said this about worry: "Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”If there is anyone you can trust (apart from Jesus) on the matter of worry then it would be Corrie ten Boom.
Hiding Jews in Nazi Germany was punishable by death. She faced the possibility of torture in a concentration camp if her acts of disobedience to the Nazi's would have been discovered. She had to feed the hideouts in her home along with her family during a time period when food was scarce and a rise in food coming into her home could have set off suspensions to the authorities. She could have worried about all of these things and more. Needless to say she had countless reasons to be a worry wart. But instead she trusted God. Corrie ten Boom lived according to Matthew 6:25-34.

There is simply no question that worry is unattractive. God doesn't like it. Your friends won't appreciate it. And the name you'll earn for your worrying personality won't be appealing, either. There truly is not a single redeeming quality to worrying.
So why waste another moment worrying? Cast your worries upon the Lord and let Him handle them. He'll do a much better job. After all, all the worry in the world won't change a thing. But God can. God can change everything. Let Him have you worry and let Him have your praise. He commands us to give Him both and in return our burden will be light, our hearts will be at rest and our name won't be one with the word "wart" attached to it.
Can I get an amen?

Monday, November 3, 2014

Heed the call

Five years to the day. One thousand eight hundred and twenty five days. Forty three thousand eight hundred hours. Two million six hundred twenty eight thousand seconds.
It was on November 2, 2009 that I surrendered my life to Christ. I didn't wake up on that morning anticipating a dramatic life change or conversion experience. It was just a Monday and who expects anything earth shaking to happen on a Monday?
November 2, 2009 was anything but a boring, mundane Monday. In fact, it is the most extraordinary and miraculous of days I have yet to experience in my life. It all started with the haphazard decision to open a book. I had purchased the Oswald Chambers devotional book a week or so earlier while vising Parkside Church but I had yet to open it. At the time of purchase (and on the morning of November 2, 2009) I was living in an out-and-out state of rebellion against God and my parents. I don't know what possessed me to buy that devotional in the first place given the state of my spiritual life but something, or someone, planted in me a seed that took that book to the checkout line in my hands. From there it traveled back to college with me where it would stay in its bag until that fateful Monday morning.
For some reason that I will never know I decided to open that devotional on that particular Monday morning. And in it I found God's call on my life: complete surrender. I finished reading the day's short devotional and immediately committed my life to Christ. I asked for forgiveness for my rebellion and ugly sin. Then I decided to obediently follow wherever God would lead.
Since that day I haven't been perfect, trust me on that! I've made mistakes, had setbacks and been angry with God for allowing hardship to befall my life. But God has always forgiven me. Even when I've ignored Him for days on end He has always taken me back.

My road of obedience all began with that one simple decision to open a book. I still don't know what possessed me to open it or why I choose November 2. I look back on that day now and I can see that it was the hand of God guiding me to the words He had destined for me on that particular day. He stirred my heart, my hears perked up, I listened and the course of my life was forever changed.
Dear Reader, if God calls, listen. If He tugs on your heart, pay attention. If He sends you a word, read it. You never know how that one little decision to follow God in the small, seemingly insignificant details of life may impact the entire course of your future.
On November 2, 2009 I thought I was just reading a few paragraphs in a book. Little did I know I was about to be reborn. And it all happened with a single decision to repent, surrender and follow Jesus.
All it takes is one single decision for you, too. Heed the call. Make the decision.