Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Are You Giving Life to Faith or Fear?

When I was a child, my family lived in the beautiful town of Williams, Arizona. I have reconnected with several people from there through Facebook. One of those friends is a man named Bill Sutton who was born and raised in Williams. He attended college At Northern Arizona University and became a schoolteacher and local newspaper writer. He then became a judge for 20 years and was awarded the McKeachem Award for being the nation's outstanding non-attorney judge. He is the founder and president of Yes, I Can, Inc. as well as the founder and president of his own company, Wise Choice Alternatives. I have enjoyed reading his Facebook posts, especially his posts called Thought for the Weekend. This weekend's post was called "Peace on Earth." He graciously gave me permission to share it here. I hope you enjoy it and benefit from it as much as I did!

Thought for the Weekend: Peace on Earth
Bill Sutton
       With Jeff being home this week, I'm reminded of a Christmas story of when he was a toddler, and unable to sleep because of a terrible fear. He screamed in the night, and I arose from my bed to see what was the matter. He said that he was seeing a giant bug on the wall of his room. He was pointing to an area directly above the little lighted Christmas tree. I told him that there were no giant bugs, and to go back to sleep. He soon screamed again, and again I had to tell him and show him that there were no giant bugs. The third time he screamed, I was getting mad, and went into his room to tell him to knock it off. Then what to my sleepy eyes should appear? A foot long shadow of a bug; Jeff had much to fear! What was going on was that a tiny box elder bug was climbing on the Christmas tree, and every time it climbed on a light, the shadow of the bug projected on the wall! He was right, in his own little eyes. I felt like the Grinch for getting mad at him.
       Jeff's story is a lesson for all of us. Fear gives big shadows to small things. What you focus on, you give power and life to. Once Jeff saw it was a common box elder bug, we had a prayer time, and soon he was nestled all snug in his bed. He went from fear to faith in minutes.
       What you focus on, you give power and life to. Do you give life to your faith, or life to your fear? Fear won't take away tomorrow's troubles, but it will take away today's peace.
       On the night of Jesus' birth, there were shepherds in the fields, probably looking in wonder at the beautiful star shining through the night. Then an angel appeared and they were terrified. Then the angel said, "Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be for all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord." The angel replaced their fear with great joy and faith, because of the truth. Just like Jeff.
       Everyone has fears, so how do we go from fear to peace? First, when those fears start taking over, ask God for help. Let him show you what is truth and what are lies about your circumstances and about your tomorrows. And maybe most importantly, quit giving life to your fears by talking about them so much. That gives your fears a much bigger shadow that will follow you wherever you go. You may have some big fears and big problems, but always remember you have a bigger God. Ask God to help you trade your fears for faith, and bring peace to your life, starting this Christmas.
"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." ----- Luke 2:14

I love the picture of the bug casting a big shadow in Bill's article and the fear it caused for his young son. In the support groups we run at our church, we often deal with fears. Some of our fears are very real and based on truth. leaving us to have make some hard decisions to stay safe and some of our fears are based on lies that cast big shadows like the one Bill's son saw. Those lies can cause fears that leave us paralyzed and unable to move forward. When we share our fears with the wrong people who can't discern the lies that create the enormous fear we experience, the fear only continues to grow. But if we choose to talk about our fears with wise people who help us discern the difference between the lies we believe and the truth, the shadows grow smaller and we can walk more securely in our faith. The truth is ruminating on lies casts big shadows resulting in paralyzing fears, while ruminating on God's truth puts things into perspective which keeps our fear from overwhelming our faith. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Life Isn't Fair!

God has gifted me with wise friends. When my kids were young, I struggled with wanting to make sure I treated my children fairly in every possible situation. One of our wise friends who had kids about the same age as ours, saw my struggle and pointed out that it was a fruitless struggle. He told me that when his kids complained that something wasn't fair, he would simply respond, "You are right, life isn't fair." He went on to explain that he viewed parenting as preparing our kids for real life. I was reminded of that conversation as I have worked through the Bible study, Discovering Hope in the Psalms. This week I am studying Psalm 73, which is Asaph's psalm in which he is trying to reconcile what he knew about God with what he believed he was seeing in the world. 

The first time I remember struggling with thoughts about life not being fair was in the eighth grade. I came into art class and as I was sitting down a fellow student pulled my chair out from under me. I wasn't hurt, but because I was wearing a dress I was pretty embarrassed. The teacher became angry and marched the student to the principal's office. The guy and I were friends and I took it as a joke, not something he had done maliciously. But when he got to the principal's office everything changed. He told the principal he had done it because I had called him a racially derogatory name. The next thing I knew, I was called to the office and lectured about what I had done. I was crushed, because if anyone used racially derogatory name in my presence, I confronted them. Additionally, the principal never once seemed to consider that the student might be lying to get out of trouble. I remember crying out to God as I sat through that lecture feeling confused and unheard, telling him how unfair it was that I was being accused of something I wouldn't do, especially when I had tried to take a stand with people who did what I was being accused of. 

The next time I struggled with the "not fair" thoughts at a deep level was when someone close to me was struggling with infertility. It was at the time that abortion was becoming legal. I remember her telling me all that she had gone through trying to conceive. Within a day or two, I heard about an acquaintance who chose to have an abortion and watched a news story about a baby found in a dumpster. Those thoughts crossed my mind again on a short-term mission trip when a man came up to us and frantically begged us to come pray with his wife. When we got over to her she was slumped over in a drug-induced haze. As we knelt down beside her it became obvious that she was very pregnant. Life was unfair that she was going to be giving birth to a baby who would in all probability be born addicted, and my loved one who would have cared for a baby couldn't conceive. Those thoughts occurred again when I stood at the grave of my friend's six-month old baby, knowing her breasts were still full and her empty arms were aching. 

The next time I struggled with those thoughts was when I was sitting in church one evening and met a couple new to our church. She made it clear that she didn't want to live in Mississippi. My heart ached so much because my husband tried so hard to get a position in that town after He finished his doctorate, but nothing became available and we were having to leave a place we loved and in which we felt at home. I remember going home that night and crying long and hard after the kids went to sleep, resenting the lady and anyone else God brought into that college town.  

I still occasionally struggle with thoughts of "it isn't unfair" when I see sweet friends who live godly lives, longing to be married and know others who are on their second or third marriage complaining about their current spouses. I struggle with those thoughts when I know a man who has been full of integrity in the work place is laid off while a lying backstabber keeps their job. I struggle with those thoughts when I think of friends who would never drive under the influence who were either killed by drunk drives or suffered traumatic brain injuries that forever altered their life. I struggle with those thoughts when seeing the pictures of natural disasters when one house or street of houses is demolished and another one stands. I struggle with those thoughts when a young person is killed by violence, who had plans to be a NICU nurse, a doctor, a teacher, a pastor, an artist, a chemist, or an engineer, knowing sex traffickers, drug dealers, and people full of hate live and impact this world in such negative ways. I struggled with those thoughts when good kids were taken by cancer and brain cysts and others weren't.   

Sometimes good people respond in hurtful ways as we share our pain with them. Jean E. Jones, one of the authors of the Psalms study I am doing shared that after one of her miscarriages, a young man approached her and encouraged her to remember that God probably knew she would be a terrible mom. She confronted the young man and pointed out the errors in his thinking, but many people don't confront. They just suffer, feeling shamed to the core. I have known people struggling with autoimmune diseases who were told if they would deal with unconfessed sin, God would heal them. I was even told that if I dealt with resentment over an accident I was in, I would lose my limp and be able to walk normally again. Resentment, by-the-way, that I didn't experience. Looking at Job and the discussions he had with his friends, I am pretty sure generations of people have had these kinds of experiences, feelings, and thoughts. There is a part of us that wants life to be fair and there is a part of us that really wants God's grace to be a "right" that comes with trying to be good. 

I think it is important for us to deal with the "not fair" thoughts by taking them to the Lord. I learned several years ago it is okay to ask God questions. I also learned sometimes my questions are just statements of protest in disguise when something doesn't seem fair. It is at that point that I can choose to go down the path of pride believing I know what is best for me and everyone I know, which leads to envy, discontentment, anger, and sin. Or, I can choose the path of humility, acknowledging that I am not God, and the view from my human perspective is limited and sometimes tainted by lies I believe or my desire to have more control over painful events my loved ones or I experience. It is important to realize the very events we consider unfair may be the events God uses to expose parts of our hearts that aren't surrendered fully to Him. They may expose ungodly desires for control that is not ours to have. They may expose trauma or losses we never acknowledged or grieved that He desires to heal. They may expose desires that over time we have made into idols we think must be fulfilled to be happy or to prove that God really is good. They may expose lies we believe about God and how His goodness and grace are to be manifested. If we aren't careful, we can become bitter, and bitterness can skew our view of God causing us to withdraw from Him, slander Him, or even rage against Him as many people in our culture are now doing. 

I know, I want to process the "not fair's" I face as Asaph did in Psalm 73 so that in the face of the hard, I know without a doubt that God is good. I want to rest assured that He holds me with His right hand and will guide me with His counsel every step of the way until, in His perfect timing, He receives me to glory. While longing for glory, I want to be content and live in such a way Asaph's words are my words, "My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever...But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge that I may tell of all your works."  

Monday, November 6, 2017

Praying for the Persecuted Church

Sunday was a day Christian churches set aside to pray for the persecuted church. It used to seem like persecution was what happened on the other side of the world. We are all aware of the killings of our Christian brothers and sisters in Asian and Muslim countries. We are aware of the dangers that missionaries face going into tribal areas and eastern bloc countries. Most of us know believers in our own country who were rejected by family members when they became Christians or who were punished or made fun of when they refused to take part in ungodly behaviors. As I was sitting in my 9:00 o'clock service in California, a small Baptist Church in Texas was under attack by an active shooter who killed 26 people and injured over twenty more. This was the third church shooting and to be honest, my heart just hurts. It hurts for the lives lost. It hurts for the families grieving the loss of loved ones so abruptly. It hurts for those who have been forever changed by the trauma they experienced in what should have been a sacred meeting. While we don't yet know the shooter's motives, we can view the hate speech posted beneath the posts of the news clips. Our country has definitely entered a new era and I believe every believer will experience persecution just like those in other countries. 

How we respond to persecution is important. We would do well to remember Jesus’ words in John 18:15-20, "If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you; 'A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.'"  We are often surprised when people express hatred toward us, especially when they can hide behind online posts. The question we must ask ourselves is how do we respond? There are several things we must consider. 

First, we must remember that there is a very real enemy who is doing everything he can to destroy God's people because they have the potential to reflect Jesus to the world. The more believers become like Jesus the more he will attack them. Jesus warned us, and if we believe him we won't be surprised. We can be prepared and ready to stand firm in our faith in the face of persecution. We can also choose to make sure we respond the way Jesus would want us to and that is not with hatred.   

Second, we want to remember some people get angry with us because of the moral values we have and the moral voice we have in this country. This is because the world doesn't want to call certain acts sin. When they are around us, and have conversations with us or discuss politics with us, they may have to face painful truths about decisions they have made and it sometimes is easier to be angry at moral truths and those holding to them than to face up to one's choices that took another's life as in abortion, or come to terms with how they have deeply wounded others through choices they have made through pornography, sexual harassment, sexual abuse, sexual conquests, easy divorce, verbal abuse, etc. Their hatred and anger is often covering deep shame. We want to remember shame is a very painful emotion we all go to great lengths to avoid. That is the root of gossip, critical spirits, judgments, and even self-condemnation. Maybe the more transparently we share our stories and our own struggles with deep shame, and how choosing to deal honestly with it by bringing those shameful things to the Lord, His light sets us free from it. Our church has begun to tell stories and I believe through those honest and transparent stories, people are going to find that they, too, can face the shameful things of their pasts and find forgiveness and freedom from shame that for many drives their hatred of all that stands for God. 

Third, we want to remember that some people are also angry at believers because they are deeply angry at God. Some of them experienced deep pain at the hands of people who claimed to be believers. Some of them were also deeply wounded when others in the church didn't protect or help them. Some were judged harshly by church members when they chose to remove themselves from violent marriages, marriages that were tainted by pornography, or to protect children from sexual predators. They not only feel deserted and misunderstood by the church, they feel abandoned by God. We want to build relationships that allow us to find out the backstory of those who don't trust God and His people and be the ones who will take a hit and hear an accusation in order to gain the opportunity to show them God as He really is.   

Finally, we can pray for the persecuted church as we come to grips that that includes us. The following is my prayer: 

Heavenly Father, I pray the Holy Spirit would strengthen ever believer who is being persecuted, whether it be with words, with rejection, with imprisonment, with physical violence, or with death. Lord, please let every believer facing persecution or the loss of loved ones due to persecution know how much you love them. Help them to be settled to the core that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, not things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate them from Your love. (Ro. 8-38-39) I pray that all believers, persecuted or not, would love fiercely and share fearlessly about Jesus. 

Lord, I pray for those who are persecuting believers through their actions, words, and attitudes. I pray that they would be impacted by the love we have for one another. I pray that they would come to the place that they would become believers like Paul who had been responsible for ravaging the early church. 

Please help every persecuted believer to be resilient and enduring, even if it is unto death. Please, fill the emotional needs of those being rejected and for those being harassed for their faith. Please provide for physical needs of those being fired, disowned, or displaced because of their faith. I pray that each one would glorify God through their witness. Lord, I pray that believers would have access to your Word and that they would find your words a comfort.

Lord, I pray for those being martyred because of their faith. I pray that you would fill each one of them with Your Spirit as you did your servant Stephen, that they, too, would gaze into heaven and see the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And each would say, 'Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.'" 

Lord, we know you have already defeated the enemy at the cross. We know that the time of the Gentiles is going to come to an end. As persecution becomes more rampant, help us stand firm in the faith with our eyes forever fixed on Jesus. I believe even now You are in the process of setting the table for the Wedding Feast of the Lamb and you are coming for your Bride, the church. May we live in hope and in victory, knowing that the Lion of Judah is on the move. 


Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!