Clinging to Hope in Dark Times

God is good.

One doesn’t need to turn on the news anymore to know that we are in tough times. Log  on to Facebook, scroll the news feed on your cell phone, or attend a social function and you inevitably hear of the latest shooting, terrorist act, or issue of moral decay.

If you have ever felt desperate for hope amidst all of the dark news, then then you are in good company. As the times get darker, more and more people will feel desperate for hope. This is actually a good thing; I have been encouraged lately in remembering that difficult times and persecution often result in God moving in unprecedented ways.

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How to Know God’s Will

Young people today are inundated with choices. I once took a graduate psychology class, and the professor talked about a new phenomena called the ‘quarter life crisis’. No longer do we have just the mid-life crisis. Oh, no. Supposedly when you hit the age of 25, you face the possibility of a “crisis of choices”. Think about it: today’s world presents young people with a plethora of options: studying abroad, internships, graduate school, working overseas, teaching English in another country,  marriage questions, dating questions, missions, etc.

Amidst all of these options, one defining question surpasses them all. Everyone wants to know: What does God want for me?  Do I major in Political Science or Business? Do I attend graduate school or do an internship? Do I marry this person or not?  Do I move to Thailand or stay in the U.S.?

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Your Biggest Keys to Less Worry

This past spring, I unexpectedly had to find another place to live in the space of about two months. It was a stressful time, and there were many weeks where I began to think: “Can God really be trusted in this?” During those months, I pursued new living situations through the Internet, my church community, and girlfriends, but everything fell through over and over.  I knew I had to find a place by early June, but as the spring came to an end, and I still had no place to go, I began to feel a rising sense of anxiety in my heart, like a balloon that was about to burst. I knew I wasn’t going to be homeless, but I sure was feeling lost and abandoned.

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The World’s Best Bucket List – Hands Down

This past week, I asked a bunch of my girlfriends in my singles ministry if they had a bucket list. Most had a version of such an ambition, even if it wasn’t titled ‘bucket list’. I was incredibly inspired in hearing their responses, as it reminded me that living fully does not require a) a huge budget b) plane tickets  or c) a personal calendar filled with events.

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Simple Pleasures That Don’t Cost A Lot of Money

I don’t know about you, but I know I tend to get absorbed in always looking to the “next thing” in life. When this happens, it’s easy to lose sight of all that I have to be joyful about right now. To guard against this, one of the easiest things to do is to notice all of the simple, little joys that are a part of everyday life today. So for fun, I put together a list of ways we can see the daily pleasures amidst the mundane tasks we all have to do each day.

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Stop and Savor

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I wanted to wrap up the Book Club we began months ago on “Shopping for Time” by Carolyn Mahaney.   I hope you enjoyed following along with me. The three greatest lessons I learned from these ladies were:

#3. Live intentionally in each season of life by knowing each season.
First, I need to be aware of what is going on in life instead of just letting life happen to me. I should be alert to the seasons of each family remember under my care-their joys and needs. Sometimes I feel as if I’m just trying to get through the day, or just trying to get to naptime or bedtime.

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Princess Series Part 3: Belle, the Perfect Princess?

A few months back I started on a quest to discover what a princess could teach me about growing stronger in my walk with God.  March brings me to Belle. Ahh, Belle! An old soul with graceful beauty.  Independent.  Smart.  This girl is no pushover, a modern girl’s princess.  She is a historical figure (most likely 18th century France) which provides her an air of sophistication, and to top it off Disney gave this Beauty an attractive feminist twist.  The juxtaposition between classic and contemporary got me curious. Belle, what faults if any do you even have?

Princess Post Part 3: Is Belle the Perfect Princess?Even if she’s not your favorite princess, you might identify with some or a lot of what makes her tick. Let’s consider a few more of her traits – educated, avid reader, doesn’t flaunt her beauty, sacrificial love and respect for her father.  And though she does have a slight tendency to view the people around her as ‘small town’, is it really a fault to want a little adventure with interesting and inspiring people? Other than Belle’s wistful longing to shake the dust off her feet and blow the pop stand of provincial living, she really is quite a lovely leading lady.

In our last princess post, The Ariel Effect, pitfalls were closer to the surface and easier to find. Today we have to dig a bit deeper. Belle’s lessons lie beneath a layer of respectable desires.

Longing for adventure.
Sometimes the journey God tPrincess Post Part 3: Is Belle the Perfect Princess?akes us is on is not the ‘adventure’ we longed for.  There is a literal and figurative way to look at this.   God can literally place us in a geographical location that appears to limit us.  Whether it is isolating, away from friends and family, boring, or culturally shocking, life can look bleak from our perspective and we can get a good dose of “stuck” real fast.  Another scenario is that feeling we get when we just don’t gel with people in our sphere.  There are just not enough interesting opportunities at the time, and just not enough to look forward to.  You start to feel trapped in your own skin.   Have you ever felt like you’re stuck in the small town, with small town people, or how about a small town season?

Sometimes God literally locks us up in a trial to teach us something.
Remember when our heroine Belle sacrificed her freedom in exchange for her father’s and ended up imprisoned with only the Beast and some friendly house ware to keep her company?  Are there people in your life that are beastly? …The boss at work, or the mean girls, or the friends that don’t need you as much as you need them on a Saturday night.  God often takes His time to teach us, and His timing is perfect.  God is gracious in times when I have no one else to turn to, and He alone comforts better than anyone.  In these times His Spirit speaks softly of sufficiency I can learn to rely on.

Whenever we learn something from God, we can view it as a gift, even if in that time it feels a bit like prison.  Or exactly like prison.   Remember Joseph in Egypt?  The apostle Paul? Jonah in the whale?  I don’t anticipate you will ever experience being swallowed by a great fish, or perhapsPrincess Post Part 3: Is Belle the Perfect Princess? even encounter a false accusation that lands you behind bars, but figuratively, a trial can feel imprisoning. At a recent retreat with our college group we learned that longing for escape, or for a trial to end can become an idol.  Our sanctification is in fact a gift, it is the process that makes us more like Christ, and often God does this work through suffering and trials.  Do you see your trials as gifts?

Seeing double and triple.  “There’s something there.”  This is a line from one of the songs Belle sings. She still needed to learn to see beyond the surface with people. That can take time.  At first glance many of the people in her life seemed simpleminded, arrogant, and beastly, not nearly as exciting as the characters in her books.  She was right. Real life proved irritating and lacking.

Can I be honest and say this is where the story line gets awfully familiar?  Because here is where I am Belle.  God has been teaching me sometimes in very humbling ways to see the people in my life with fresh eyes.  Some are beastly.  But I am beastly. And sometimes I see them as beastly not because of their beastliness, but because of mine.

When God reveals a selfish or impatient heart, I see the beast in the the mirror, and my knee jerk reaction is to rage against what I see, which is usually followed by Princess Post Part 3: Is Belle the Perfect Princess?despair.  I can picture Beast in the movie cringing and lowering his beastly head.  This is me – sometimes at work, with friends, or at home.  Then I remember the Lord disciplines those He loves. Those He loves. It is the job of His Spirit to hold that mirror up to our lives and root out the ugly so we can slowly transform to reflect more of the Prince.  (For more about our Prince, refer back the first post in this series.)

I have to see twofold to love – first to really look and see people, and second to see what role God has for me in their life. This requires a threefold intentionality:

1. Prayer for the heart desire to want to God to bring whoever He wants into my life.Princess Post Part 3: Is Belle the Perfect Princess?

2. Prayer to see the people God puts before me.

3. Ongoing commitment to prayer to see the everyday opportunities that push me out of myself and into service for them, not with ‘feel good’ motives, but in sacrifice to God, for His glory.

See the pattern?  Prayer helps me recover when I’ve been battling my beast for awhile.    Prayer is powerful.  A friend recently sent me this quote from Max Lucado.  I hope you find it a welcome refreshment like I did.  “Our prayers may be awkward.  Our attempts may be feeble.  But since the power of prayer is in the One who hears it and not in the one who says it, our prayers do make a difference.”

Please Share: What locations does God have you safely locked up in right now?  What might He want to teach you there?

Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 7.49.49 AMRenee is a single Christian woman who serves as mentor staff in the college ministry at her local church. She works as a literacy coach for a school district in San Ramon, California. Her hobbies include: boating, wake boarding, Zumba, riding roller coasters, and watching classic movies.

How to Manage Your Your Emotions

The following is a prayer which may or may not have passed your lips: “God! I am so sick and tired of feeling this way! Can you please take this away? I can’t take this anymore!”

woman-918896_640It can be easy to get wrapped up in an emotion. When used for good, they give us the  capacity to bond, protect, love, worship, empathize, nurture, and even fight for what is true.  On the flip side, temptation can also come in the form of feelings (James 1:13-15); furthermore, emotions can just be downright confusing or feel more out of control than an onslaught of water gushing over your head.

For instance, you may have had the experience of waking up one morning, and for no good reason, you feel down. Blah. Your roommate or spouse takes one look at you, and immediately decides they need to retreat and put on their armor ‘cuz they ain’t sure what’s going to come at them, whether it be Grumpy, Mopey, or even Woe-is-Me. There is no logical reason for this dearth of sparkle in your eye; you are just down, and may even want to cry without knowing why!

If you have ever wondered why you feel the way you do, then look no further. There is hope for managing your emotions!

What we think about continually – whether we realize it or not – directly affects our emotions, which affects our hearts. You may have heard someone say, “You are just an emotional creature; you can’t help the way you feel”. In answer to that I would day: “Yes, some people tend to be more emotional than others, but you can help the way you feel”. Emotion can color a person’s soul with such richness, but feelings can also be crippling. It all boils down to the mind and its connection to the emotions. In essence, your feelings will follow the nature of what you think about. Let me say that a different way because it might be helpful if you want to chew on it: How you are feeling stems from what you thinking and believing.

Forwoman-980022_640 example, I’ve often gotten caught in the trap of continually wondering about how others perceive me. As you probably know, it just ended up producing a lot of anxiety and fear in my heart. Conversely, if we dwell on God’s truth – the fact that He is for us (Rom. 8:31), and to esteem His opinion far above anyone else’s, then what people think will pale in comparison to God’s thoughts about us. Sure, realistically speaking we will still be concerned with how others see us, but it does not have to overwhelm you or drag you down (there is a difference).

Expectations Set Us up for Disappointment. I used to think God was sorta like a math equation. It went like this: I do this and this = God doing what I wanted. Basically, I was making God into a personal Santa (and I still make this mistake). Yes – God always works for the good of His children (Romans 8:28). No – we humans don’t always know what that good means (Prov. 16:9; Isaiah 55:8-9). Have you ever had something go completely different from how you thought it would happen? Yup. It happens to all of us. When we expect God to work in certain ways according to our agenda, it sets us up for feeling resentful, even bitter, against Him when things don’t go the way we expect. I admit I’ve been in that place!

The good news is that you can expect goodness from God based upon who He is, but  exercise caution when making expectations of Him for your circumstances (Prov. 19:21). We’ve all done it, but there is greater reassurance in knowing God’s way is better than anything you could possible think of! Sweet! (Eph. 3:20)

Out of everything we’ve said, there is nothing more important than how we think of God. For years, I believed things about God that just were not correct, and it caused me a lot of stress. Why? Because, my bible-1089930_640dear friend, what I was thinking about was simply not true! (Phil. 4:8) That’s it – it’s as straight forward as that. Today, I am still learning so much about Abba, my Father; it will be a lifelong journey. The lesson I’ve learned is that the more accurate thoughts I have about God from His Word, the less likely I am to sit and entertain those dark thoughts because I recognize them as false ideas (Psalm 19:7-11; Rom. 12:1-2).

Now, let’s briefly talk about thinking too much (of which I am notoriously guilty too). When you catch yourself starting to over think about X,Y, or Z, use that tendency to instead ruminate about God – “He already knows the outcome and is preparing me for it”. Yes – this can mean a moment by moment choice to replace your harmful thinking with accurate thoughts (II Cor 10:3-6). Is it easy? No! It’s harder than swallowing smelly, curdled milk! To be specific, let’s make it a gallon of curdled milk. However, the more we practice discipline in our thought life by the power of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-24), the easier it gets and the more we realize it was Him and not us at work! (Phil. 2:13) I don’t know about you, but that just makes me wish I could get jiggy like those Irish dancers I see on TV!

Let’s face it: Some days we want to pay big money for a control board in our heads that would allow for an “on/off switch” for those emotions, but that’s not reality. We may never be in full control of our feelings, but we can learn to manage them – for the joy of loving God with our minds and for the sake of those around us.  (Matthew 22:37-39).

Sunshine

Sunshine is a teacher living in the East Bay of California. She has traveled to Ethiopia, Cambodia, Ireland, England, Indonesia, the Philippines, and the Darien Jungle in Panama. Sunshine enjoys discipleship at her church and makes a mean tortilla soup.

 

God is good–what does that even mean?

God is good

“God is good,” is a popular cliche that is tossed around like an after thought. “I had a really, horrible, no good, bad day complain, complain, complain,….but God is good!” It’s often a phrase we use to “sanctify” a conversation where we just spewed massive chunks of heart vomit and felt guilty about the gossip and/or ungodly ranting that just erupted out of our mouths. It can also be a spiritual bandaid slapped on the back end of a conversation after our girlfriend just unloaded the depths of sorrows she’s been sinking in, and we don’t know what else to say.

The statement, “God is good,” is a great truth, but I think the phrase gets abused and over used. I think if we had a better grasp of what the goodness of God was and feasted on it day by day, moment by moment, we’d have a lot less ungodly spewing and more things to say to a heart in need other than just “God is good.”

“O taste and see that the Lord is good; How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!” Ps. 34:8. I’ve often wondered: HOW do we taste the goodness of God? This is the memory verse for our church family this month, so I wanted to write about some ways to understand and embrace this concept.

Redefine goodness in your vocabulary. I typically use that word to mean something that makes me happy, or elicits those positive emotions that give you a buzz of *warm fuzzies*. You know, like a really tasty meal -“that cupcake was sooooo good,” a sweet time with one of my children or husband or bestie!

When we think of God and His goodness, we have to take our framework for the word “good” outside the realm of cupcakes and coffee into the spiritual domain, to the unseen world, to the sphere of morality. Good goes way way beyond your feelings, and “happy thoughts” to something much greater, more meaningful. I love A.W. Tozer’s definition of the goodness of God:

“The goodness of God is that which disposes Him to be kind, cordial, benevolent, and full of good will toward men. He is tenderhearted and of quick sympathy, and His unfailing attitude toward all moral beings is open, frank and friendly. By His nature He is inclined to bestow blessedness and He takes holy pleasure in the happiness of His people.”

God is good.God’s goodness is essential to our understanding of Him. Tozer says His goodness is different than His holiness or righteousness.  We need to rightly understand God’s goodness because failing to see or denying His goodness corrupts our thinking and moral judgement. In other words, when we are not acknowledging that God is good, we are thinking incorrectly and stripping morality of its place in the world. His goodness is the force behind all His blessings towards us. God created us because He felt good in His heart and He redeemed us for the same reason.

Every good and perfect gift is from above. And He is constantly giving us good things, even if we don’t see it. Sometime we have to disconnect our emotions from our perspective. We have to step back and look at the bigger picture to understand the good in what is happening. Trials teach us that. We have to remember that good doesn’t equal easy or fun and hard doesn’t equal bad or difficult.

My natural self would rather escape anything slightly uncomfortable…exercise, scrubbing tiles, being extra kind to an abrasive person…. But refocusing on God’s goodness shows me that whatever trial I am passing through, He is using it to make me more holy. That is vastly better-good in fact– rather than being left in my sin. We normally associate good with those things that are easy, fun, make you do the happy dance.  Just because something makes me happy, that doesn’t necessarily make it good! That’s one thing our culture has twisted. The world will tell you: If you feel good about it, then it’s good for you.

We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God. Thomas Watson summarizes this idea, “All the various dealings of God with his children do by a special providence turn to their good. ‘All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth unto such as keep his covenant’ (Psalm 25:10) If every path has mercy in it, then it works for good.”

God is good.We may not see the merciful part of having a child with disabilities, or having to uproot our lives and move across the country, but God infuses grace into our hearts for each moment as it comes, thus giving strength to accept the situation, and ultimately experience greater joy in our hearts because we are responding faithfully to the Lord. When we love him and obey Him no matter what, God honors that choice. That is good! God is good even with the extra struggles that enter our lives because He knows the difficult circumstance will produce sweeter fruit in our hearts – and that is a taste of His goodness for us.

Remember: everything that God brings your way He is using and working for your good and comes from His goodness. He delights in blessing us, in bringing us that with gives us true happiness. In His infinite wisdom, only He knows what good really looks like in our life. Sometimes we need to trust Him beyond our feelings, beyond our puny finite perspective. He has all our eternal happiness in view, not just our momentary, human gratification. God’s goodness is not dependent on our own limited understanding of ‘good’; God’s goodness is concerned with what is good food for our souls and will be eternally satisfying.

One of the best ways we can taste the goodness of God is to look for it in the Scriptures and look for it in your daily ins and outs of life. As you read your Bible, take note of all the good things God does in the passage, all the footprints of His kindness, mercy, and grace towards mankind.  Then, throughout the day, be alert to the daily drops of goodness He brings. You will see it in a kind word of encouragement, an answered prayer, the faithfulness of a friend, etc. Once your eyes are alert and open, you will see God’s goodness everywhere!

Please share: How has God been good to you lately?

6 Ways I’ve Failed As A Christian

personal holiness. JC Ryle. PuritansI was sitting in church on Sunday and had a great idea! Our memory verses this year are centered on the attributes of God, starting with holiness. So why not encourage my peeps with a little series coinciding with the memory topic of the month? This month is on holiness. Click out right now if you are not in the mood to be convicted. If you’re still with me, get ready for some serious spiritual whip lash! Continue reading