How To Keep Your Joy In Hard Times

easter-cross“…in me you may have peace. In the world you will have trouble; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

Jesus told us that we would experience troubles in life – “trials fall like rain on the just and unjust” and “the thief comes to kill, steal, and destroy…” We can’t change the fact that at some point each of us will walk through a season of tribulation. But notice Jesus said, “be of good cheer.” What does He mean? How is it possible for us to “be of good cheer” when a member of our family dies, we lose a job or go through a divorce? How is it possible?

Jesus wouldn’t have made the statement if it were not truly possible.

First, we need to understand that there’s a difference between happiness and joy.

Happiness depends on HAPPENINGS and joy depends on JESUS. 

Since joy depends on Jesus then I want to share three ways you can keep your joy in troubled times.

1. Rejoice always, no matter what your circumstances might be.

1 Thessalonians 5:14 states, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Notice it says, “in” everything and not “for” everything. To rejoice means to show joy even when you don’t feel like it. Remember, your not rejoicing because of the bad situation – your rejoicing because Jesus gives us strength to endure all of life’s struggles. “Rejoicing” is a lifestyle characterized by a positive God-oriented attitude that sees mountains of trouble as mere stairs to success. When I leave out rejoicing then I can be assured that joy is going to be left out too.

2. Focus on Jesus who lives on the inside, instead of the trouble happening on the outside.

It’s impossible not to feel the affects of the storms we face in our lives, but we don’t have to lose our joy. During the troubles we face it’s easy to get swept away and to lose site of God, but remember that God gives us strength. Through the Holy Spirit who lives inside we can have peace and not lose our joy when troubled times come.

3. Make sure Jesus is your source of strength.

When hard times come your way, and they certainly will, you will lose your joy if Jesus is not your source of strength. Unfortunately, many people make their source of strength things other than Jesus. For example, some people make their job the source of their strength. Others make their bank accounts and retirement accounts their source of strength. Still other people make their spouse or children their source of strength. All of these are important parts of our lives, but they were never meant to be our source of strength. What happens if any one of these important parts of our lives were to disappear?

The truth of the matter is that real joy can only be found in a relationship with Jesus Christ. In Christ there is joy and peace for troubled times. Jesus made our joy complete by his death on the Cross.

Hebrews 12:2 states, “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Jesus saw before him the opportunity for you and me to receive a complete pardon for our sins thereby making a way for us to have a relationship with God. Because of His great love for us and the joy that was to come, He was able to endure the pain and suffering of the cross for us. Because of the Cross we have the assurance that no matter what circumstances we may face in the world, Jesus Christ has overcome them for us.

You want to keep your joy in troubled times? Remember this:

Happiness depends on Happenings and Joy depends on Jesus.

How To Make Wise Decisions In Difficult Times

Fork-in-the-RoadProverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”

Have you ever found yourself standing at a fork in the road? Each fork represents a different direction for your life and a decision you must make. Possibly a very difficult decision-one in which, depending on the path you choose, could have a significant impact on your life and the life of your family.

How do you know which way to go?

Most people make decisions based on four primary motivations:

1. Circumstances – making decisions based on the situation or the circumstances that surround your life.
2. Convenience – making decisions based on the path of least resistance or the quickest way to a particular goal.
3. Critics – making decisions based on the ideas and opinions of others.
4. Convictions – making decisions based on deeply held beliefs.

There may be an occasion when making a decision off any one of these motivations was successful, but I would suggest an alternative process for the hard life-changing decisions we must make.

Below are the five steps to making wise decisions:

  1. Clearly Define the Decision(s) to be Made. Someone might say you should pray first, but I would suggest defining the issue and then pray accordingly. Wise decision-making is informed decision-making. (Psalm 119:130)
  2. Pray. Ask God to give you wisdom, discernment, and an open mind. Prayer often brings us to a place of clarity. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
  3. Seek Biblical Wisdom. The Bible is full of wisdom to help you make the right decision. Seek Biblical wisdom to help you make decisions that are consistent with the teachings found in God’s Word. (Psalm 119:105)
  4. Seek Wise Counsel. After you’ve defined the issue, prayed over the decision, and sought Biblical wisdom, it’s important to seek wise Christian counsel. Wise counsel has always brought me clarity with the hard decisions. (Proverbs 15:22)
  5. Trust God with the Direction. When you’ve done your part then it’s time to trust God with the outcome. This doesn’t mean the path will be easy, that there won’t be bumps along the way, or that you won’t have to make adjustments on your journey, but remember to trust God. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Trusting God and having faith in Him, throughout the journey, will help you make wise decisions in difficult times.

Hope Wins

image“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

The late rabbi, Hugo Gryn, told how his father secretly used margarine to light the Hanukah lights when they were prisoned in a concentration camp in 1944. When Gryn protested about wasting food, his father replied that while they had often lived for three weeks without food, “You cannot possibly live for three minutes without hope.”

What is hope? Hope is an optimistic attitude of mind based on an expectation of positive outcomes.

Hope is a choice and I believe it is one of the most important attitudes that a person can choose. Life can be tough, but without hope it’s almost impossible. Remember, life will either bless you or bury you. It all depends on your attitude. We must make the conscious effort to choose hope when times are tough.

There are lots of things in life that you don’t get to choose. For example, you don’t get to choose your parents. You don’t get to choose your children. You also don’t get to choose your relatives. Nor do you get to choose the attitudes of others, but you can choose your attitude. Who controls you? Who lives in your brain? Who chooses your actions? The answer is simple – YOU! Nobody else controls what or how you think. It’s up to you, moment by moment, to choose what your attitude is going to be.

Here’s the deal. You don’t need a new set of circumstances. What you need is a new set of attitudes. There will always be troubles in life. You choose hope by moving away from the suffocating focus on your circumstances to the liberating focus on hope.

Here are two important reasons why you can choose hope:

1. God has a plan. One of my favorite passages is Jeremiah 29:11. It states: “For I know the plans I have for you….” As we say in Mississippi — “Ain’t that great!” That’s good news no matter where you were born. God has a plan for your life. Say it with me: “God has a plan for me.” When you choose to believe those incredible words then you can focus your energy on your future and not on your present.

2. The Future is in God’s hands. Have you ever noticed how people’s fear of the future has changed? Some years ago people feared they’d die too soon. Now they fear they will die too late. People are afraid they will outlive their assets and spend their retirement years in poverty. Fear is a powerful force. There are many reasons for us to live in fear. Think about it, there’s international terrorism, violence and financial crisis. The future can be scary, but be careful you don’t get so focused on the problems of the present that you miss out on your future..

Someone once said, “There are no hopeless situations; there are only people who have grown hopeless about them.”

I have good news for you concerning the future — Hope Wins!! Carve it in granite, etch it in stone, hope wins. Hope wins because God wins. There is nothing in this world surer. I don’t know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future!

Choose hope today……

Choose Forgiveness

RelationshipsWhat is the worst sin that a Christian could commit? Murder? Adultery? Stealing? Child Abuse? Although these are certainly awful sins, and many more could be added to the list, which would be the worst? The Bible makes it clear that from God’s perspective there is no distinction made concerning sin. James tells us that the smallest infraction of God’s law is the same as breaking all of God’s law.

“For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” – James 2:10

Sin is sin, but with that in mind, we also need to realize that some sins have greater consequences than others. For example, Jesus told us that if we hate someone in our heart we are guilty of murder, but no one has been sent to the electric chair for hating another person. So, maybe we need to rephrase the question. Instead of asking what is the greatest sin that a Christian can commit, maybe we need to ask what is the most destructive sin that a believer can commit?

Answer: Unforgiveness

In my experience, the most destructive of all sins is unforgiveness. Unforgiveness destroys people, families and even churches. Unforgiveness is an attitude that refuses to forgive offenses. It’s like a cancer; it grows and affects other areas, and if it isn’t dealt with, it destroys everything around it.

The Apostle Paul wrote: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” – Ephesians 4:32

Forgiveness is the most basic and foundational attitude of every Christian. We have no right to choose not to forgive. If you’ve received the free gift of grace and forgiveness offered through Christ Jesus then you have no right to withhold forgiveness from another person. The forgiveness we offer is a result of Christ forgiving us.

#FORGIVEN PEOPLE FORGIVE OTHER PEOPLE.

God forgives us despite the number or the enormity of our sins. Those who recognize what Christ Jesus did for them on the Cross, choose to forgive others. I’ve learned that forgiven people forgive other people. Forgiveness is a choice – not a feeling. The choice to forgive almost always comes during a time in which we don’t feel like forgiving.

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free….. only to finally discover that the prisoner was you.” – Lewis Smede

Do you have someone in your life that you need to forgive? Or do you need to be forgiven? Forgiveness is what you do for yourself, not for other people. So how do we forgive?

1. Choose Forgiveness. It’s not a feeling it’s a choice. You can’t just wait until you feel like forgiving the person who wronged you. When you choose to forgive you are actually choosing to give up the right to revenge.

2. Choose to Work Through the Pain. If you’ve been wronged then pain is inevitable, but continuing to suffer and harbor feelings of bitterness and resentment is optional. Remember this: The only person you can control is you. When you make the choice not to forgive you are actually giving power to the person who wronged you.

3. Choose to Respond in Faith. You can’t change the things that happened in your life, but you can decide how you interpret and respond to them.

Forgiveness is not easy. In fact, it can be very costly. Just ask Jesus – forgiveness cost him his life. But if we are going to truly follow Jesus, then we must choose to forgive. The choice is yours.

#ChooseForgiveness

The Cross – Our Beacon Of Hope

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The Cross

Harry Emerson Fosdick tells this story: Some years ago a little church on the coast of England was ruined in a hurricane. The congregation thought themselves unable to rebuild. Then one day a representative of the British Admiralty came to the clergyman to ask if they intended to reconstruct the church. The clergyman explained why they could not do it. “Well,” said the representative of the British navy, “if you do not rebuild the church we will. That spire is on all our charts and maps. It is the landmark by which the ships of the seven seas steer their course.”

A true parable! Never more than now and at any other time in our history does the world need the message of God’s unfailing love. In a world where it’s often difficult to chart the right course and to set the coordinates of our lives on the right path do we ever need the message of God’s eternal truth. I’m fully persuaded, more than ever, that people need the divine, stable and secure, strong, sustaining, and empowering message of God’s great love demonstrated in the Cross of Christ.

Though the hurricane of hell brought the sins of the world down upon the body of Christ, crushing the life from its limbs, that body was rebuilt on Easter. And the spire of the cross stands to this day as our chart and map. It is the landmark by which the church and our lives steer their course. The Cross and the empty Tomb: Stable and secure, guiding, strong, sustaining, and empowering stands there for all of us as a beacon of hope for all of eternity!

 

 

When Tragedy Strikes

struggle

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.”

My heart has been burdened these last few days, but I’ve come to a conclusion. I don’t know why tragic accidents occur and I don’t know why bad things happen to good people, but I do know that God does not cause them. God is not the source of our pain. He is the source of our strength and comfort. God hurts when we hurt and God cries when we cry. God grieves with us, and God is the One who will bring us through the dark seasons of life.

I’ve had to walk through several dark seasons and I can tell you from personal experience that the key to walking through tragedy is to trust God and move forward one step at a time.

If you try to take it all on at once, you will get overwhelmed, and you won’t move forward at all. When you’re walking through the “the valley of the shadow death” you must take it one day at a time, and one thing at a time, and one step at a time, knowing that you do not walk through the pains of life alone. God is walking with you.

I remember the story told by, Dr. William Barclay who had to face a great tragedy. His 21-year-old daughter and her fiancé were both drowned in a tragic boating accident just a few short weeks before they were to be married. Reflecting on the event, Dr. Barclay said, “God did not stop that accident at sea, but He did still the storm in my own heart, so that somehow my wife and I came through that terrible time still on our own two feet.” He continued to say: “The day my daughter was lost at sea, there was sorrow in the heart of God.” Then Barclay said this: “When things like that happen, there are just those things to be said… first, to understand them is impossible; second, Jesus does not offer simple solutions to them. What He does offer us is His strength and helps us somehow accept those things that we do not understand. Third, the one fatal reaction is the bitter resentment, which forever after meets life with a chip on the shoulder and a grudge against God. The one saving reaction is simply to go on trusting, simply to go on living, to go on working… and to find in the strength and courage to meet life with steady eyes…” and to know that God is with us and that nothing – and I mean nothing – not even death – can separate us from Him and His love.

I think this is what the psalmist meant when he said, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.

4 Steps To Help You Deal With Anxiety?

anxietyWe all have fears. Will I be able to pay all these bills? How many cavities will the dentist find this checkup? How much will it hurt when he fills them? What if I flunk next week’s test? Am I going to lose my job? Is this investment going to pay off or cost me my savings?  Are my children going to turn out right?

Uncertainty about the future and pressure from the world around us add up to anxiety. Anxiety—the great plague of our generation can steal away happiness like a cyber hack at Target. Anxiety in primitive humans was surely a God-given basic gut reaction to prepare them for fight or flight. Those physiological reactions that once enabled humans to run from danger or fight with fury now create problems for them. Anxiety becomes a confusing and paralyzing reaction because it is not appropriate in most social situations to fight physically or run away.

I want to accomplish something very badly. I fear that I will not be able to accomplish that task. Anxiety is the result when the desire to accomplish and the fear of failure collide. My desire to excel in my job collides with my fear of failing the day-to-day expectations of my boss. My desire to be a good parent confronts my fear of failing as a parent.  Anxiety, then, is the natural result and manifestation of fear. This means that if you can understand and resolve your fears, you can overcome the anguish and trauma of chronic anxiety.

But how do we do that?

I. Identify. Identify your fear and you’ll begin to understand the source of the anxiety. Ask yourself, “What is it that I am afraid of right now?” Often times you can feel consumed with anxiety and not understand the source. Anxiety is usually a sort of general, nebulous feeling, but with some thought you can come to a conscious understanding of the fear that lies below the surface. Take a minute and identify the source of your fear. Then you can begin to deal with the problem proactively.

II. Deal. Deal with the problem. Don’t get caught in the “excuse trap.” Excuses will keep you from taking responsibility for the situation. You can only change those things you are willing to take responsibility for. Seek wise council and then develop a strategy for handling the problem.

III. Relax. “God hath not given us a spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7 KJV) Remember that God has not given you the fear; rather, He has equipped you with every tool you need to deal with the source of your anxiety. God has given you the ability, competency and the adequacy to overcome the issues of life. In all honesty I can say, “I am inadequate, but the Spirit of power within me is adequate to equip me for doing every thing I need to do.” He gives you the power to overcome life’s troubles when you ask for His help.

IV. Focus. Be driven by purpose and not by fear. It’s easy to forget our purpose and the task set before us when we become consumed with anxiety. Sometimes you may be anxious because you fear yourself. You think your are going to make a fool of yourself in public; you fear that your judgment will be faulty – that you will make a foolish decision; you fear that you will lack the necessary discipline in a given situation to do the right thing. Remember that God’s power is at work within you, so focus on your purpose and not the fear.

Anxiety can be defeated. As in all situations we find ourselves in, God has given us a way out. He is always at work in your life. All you need to do is relinquish control and ask Him for help. God has given us His Spirit to overcome fear and anxiety.

No Excuses

UnknownIf there is anything that is true about our society it is this: We have become an excuse filled society. “Excuse me,” was once a gesture of courtesy. It’s now a method of getting around personal responsibility.

You’ve heard them before:

  • I was late because of ABC.
  • I can’t succeed because of XYZ.
  • When I was a kid QRS happened and I haven’t been able to move past it other wise I’d be where I want to be.

All of us have been through something. If you’re alive and breathing air you’ve had to deal with a difficult life circumstance. As a pastor, I’m extremely sympathetic to  personal struggles, trials of life and the tribulations we often face. I’ve had my fair share of them. The world however, doesn’t care. I’m not saying, “Just get over it.” Getting over it doesn’t work because it doesn’t allow you the opportunity to deal with the issue and the problem just occurs again. When you don’t deal with your problems they just keep resurfacing in our lives in different places. What I’m suggesting is that you work through it. Mourn, seek council, and pray often, but don’t make an excuse.

My father had a saying when I was growing up: “Winners win and losers have really great excuses.” I generally received this comment when I was making an excuse for not playing my best in a sporting event or the reason why I didn’t make a good grade in a particular class.

Some people think that’s a little harsh, but I’m extremely thankful that he pushed me and didn’t allow me to get caught in the “excuse trap.” Succeeding in life is all about your decision to accept nothing less than the outcome you are facing, regardless of the obstacles. There is nothing that will keep you wandering in the wilderness and outside of God’s best than excuses.

Do You Need A Heart Check?

Heart CheckHave you ever heard the name: Peter Press Maravich? Maybe you’ll recognize this way: Pistol Pete Maravich? Long before there was a Doctor J., Magic Johnson or even Air Jordan, there was the Pistol. He was a skinny white guard from LSU, who controlled the basketball like it was an extension of his body and the basketball court like it was his own private stage. When Pistol Pete was on the court the fans would go crazy. He was a crowd favorite no matter where he played. He was the master of the behind the back, over-the-shoulder, look away pass. He once said, “If I have a choice whether to do the show or throw a straight pass and we’re are going to get the basket either way, I’m going to do the show.”

Pistol Pete is still the NCAA Division I all-time leading scorer. He averaged 44.2 points per game and he was the first NCAA player to score 1,000 points in a single season. This was before there was the 3-point line. Many believe his average would have been 60 plus points per game had the 3 point line been in effect. During his NBA career, he played on 5 all-star teams and was voted one of the 25 best players in NBA history.

Pistol Pete wore his hair long and his socks pulled up to his knees. He was in great physical shape and people often joked that he could play basketball for days without even taking a break. But on January 5, 1988, while playing a pick-up basketball game with a group of men that included James Dobson of Focus on the Family, Pistol Pete collapsed and died of a heart attack. The autopsy revealed his death was due to a previously undiagnosed congenital heart defect. Pistol Pete was born with only one coronary artery instead of the normal two.

When you hear stories like this about Pistol Pete, a person of seemingly perfect health and athleticism who tragically dropped dead of a heart attack at a young age, it causes you to come to terms with a very sobering truth: You can’t assume too much about a person’s cardiovascular health from simply observing that person’s physical abilities.

The same can be said about the health of our spiritual hearts. Jesus said, “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks (Matt. 12:34b).” In this passage of scripture, Jesus tells us that you can’t assume too much about the condition of a person’s spiritual heart simply by observing how a person looks and acts on the outside. Who they really are can be determined by the words that come out of their mouths. Our mouths are connected to our hearts, and it’s out of the overflow of our hearts that our mouths speak.

That’s an important lesson for us. The words that come out of our mouths are only a reflection of what is going on in our hearts. The truth is there are few things that can reveal the heart of a person as much as their words. If you want to check the health of your spiritual heart all you need to do is monitor the words you speak.

What kinds of words are you speaking?

  • Are they kind or cruel?
  • Are they wholesome or dirty?
  • Are they trustworthy or lie?
  • Do they bring peace or division?
  • Do they gossip or slander other people?

Like Pistol Pete, we may have heart issues that we aren’t aware of. These issues, if not dealt with, will eventually manifest themselves in the words that we speak. Spiritual heart problems can cause us great pain if we don’t deal with them appropriately.

Proverbs 4:23 says, “Keep your heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.”

We all need to examine our words because our words tell us the state of our hearts. God doesn’t judge us by the words we speak with care and deliberation in the public eye, but rather by the unrestrained words that share our real feelings.

How’s your heart today? Do you need to check your heart? If so, just listen to your words.

Forgiveness

Guest blog post by Kerri Johnson. Kerri is the Prayer Minister at the Dahlonega United Methodist Church in Dahlonega, GA. Kerri speaks nationally teaching and facilitating Elijah House schools (www.treeoflifetraining.org).

Wash, Rinse, Repeat… I discovered last week that forgiveness is a lot like shampooing. Well, let me restate that… forgiveness IS NOT as easy as but is a lot like shampooing. It’s a process. Anybody that says it’s easy is lying. Without Jesus in our heart, we (as human beings) DO NOT forgive easily. I had a lady in my office just last week because she was still hanging on to unforgiveness regarding an old relationship. I told her you can’t move on until you forgive her. “I HAVE FORGIVEN HER.” She said through gritted teeth. “BUT SHE SHOULDN’T HAVE DONE THAT TO ME.”

Hmmmm… doesn’t sound like forgiveness to me.

First of all, forgiveness doesn’t end in “BUT.” Second, if you grit your teeth at the sheer mention of the “forgiven’s name” chances are you haven’t really forgiven. I felt for the lady. I KNOW how hard forgiveness is. That’s when I realized it’s like shampoo. Wash, Rinse, Repeat, (and for me…repeat, repeat, repeat.)

I don’t know about you but for me it’s seldom a one-time deal. I have to do it over and over again. (Forgive, that is, not shampoo.) I usually start the process out of sheer obedience. I do it because I know it pleases God. It doesn’t please me. It doesn’t make me feel good. I don’t like it. It is absolutely contrary to my flesh. Often, my justification is that they don’t deserve it until they apologize. (That reeks of God doesn’t it? No, THAT, my friend, is what my flesh looks like.)

Back to the process of forgiveness…and it’s not to be legalistic – I am a very simple person and I need things simple – this works for me.
(1) I envision leaving that person at the cross. (That’s one of the purposes of the cross – a place to leave our stuff.)
(2) I leave the circumstance at the cross. (That means I don’t have the right to rehearse it in my mind anymore.)
(3) I lay my “rights” at the cross. That includes my right to be right. The word is pretty clear that if we defend ourselves God will not defend us. And you can trust God to bring justice and defense. (Trust me, I have seen the Holy Spirit in retaliation before and it’s much more affective than anything I could ever do.)
(4) After all of that, I forgive myself. (Hence, wash, rinse, repeat.)

AND THEN… I wait for “the fruit” of my obedience. If I growl at the mention of the offender’s name, chances are, I am still carrying the offense. If I feel a knot (I often refer to it as a “high octane ping”) in my gut the next time I see them – that’s a good indication that I have more work to do.

I was just recently inquiring of God about how to deal with a circumstance I was going through in regard to forgiveness. I have done a lot of work but I was concerned how I would interact with this person knowing that even though I have worked through much of the forgiveness I need boundaries with them. I expressed to him that I WILL NOT BE FAKE. I hate it when people act fake. I told him I refuse to be fake so how do I act when I’m around someone that I’m in process of forgiving but my heart is still hurt and I am still upset. He laughed. And then he said, “Don’t stay upset with anyone!” Duh… (There I go again, Wash, Rinse, Repeat, Repeat, Repeat.)