Sunday, October 15, 2017

The One Who Never Changes

Change has always been hard for me.  Whether it’s a new job, new living arrangements, or new season in life, getting acclimated to the “new normal” takes me a while. I remember after I finished grad school in 2013, I was out of sorts for a while.  I had been going to college every semester, spring, summer and fall, for 10 years straight, and then that season in my life to suddenly came to an end. I didn’t know what to do with myself, but before I knew it, I adapted, just like I usually do, and found something more valuable to meaningful to invest in: Bible College and church.  Some changes are sudden and some are gradual.  Some changes are easier to deal with; others are much harder to adapt to, like the aging of a parent, the loss of youth, health, and vitality, and the loss of important relationships.  Maybe you never completely adjust to these changes; you just learn how to deal with it, the best way you know how.  But it’s an inescapable fact: change is and always will be a part of life.  I can’t control what happens to me or around me, but I can control how I let it affect me, and I take comfort in God, knowing that He never changes; He is the same yesterday, today and always (Hebrews 13:8), and He promises to be there for me always, through any trial, storm, or change.

There are physical changes that face us all. As I get older, I find myself faced with the subtle changes that come with age: diminished vision, longer recuperating time from illness and physical exertion, and of course the vanity side of aging: more grey hair and wrinkles.  Then there are my health changes that seem to be getting worse with age, namely IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome).  I have lived with this for almost 15 years, and it seems to impact the quality of my life almost daily now.  There are days that I look 5 months pregnant because of the severe bloating (thank goodness for loose and flowy tops and yoga pants), and the pain and discomfort becomes almost unbearable. In the beginning it was more manageable, but now I suffer from various levels of pain and discomfort about 85- 90% of the time now.  God bless my patient and long suffering husband, who has had to endure my numerous complaints, feeling helpless as to how to help me, but doing any and all he can to help alleviate my symptoms.  This condition limits many of my activities often, but my husband is so gracious and compassionate in enduring this, because my limits also impacts him.  The most powerful thing he does is pray for me, and this has helped me to endure the toughest of days.  Needless to say, this wasn’t a welcome change, it is my thorn that I have learned to live with, by the grace of God. I take great comfort in God’s words to Paul “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Change can also come in the form of lost relationships.  Sometimes friends will just drop out of your life for no apparent reason, or maybe there is a reason, but they just didn’t share it with you. Even though it may hurt for a while, you tend heal, and accept that they are no longer in your life.  Then there is the loss of a close family relationship that can be very painful, and you just never quite get over it.  Several years ago, when I was disfellowshipped from the Jehovah’s Witness organization, my brother, whom I was very close to, stopped speaking to me. It has been more than 15 years now, but I still miss the relationship we used to have. Perhaps though, more painful than losing the relationship of a sibling, is the loss of a relationship with your child.  It is painful for sure, and I don’t know if it will ever be restored, but I rest assured in the never changing nature of God, and I rely in Him, to understand my pain, and to comfort me during those immense moments of sadness. I take comfort in knowing nothing is too big or too hard for Him to fix, in His will, and in His timing.

Whatever change I am faced with, I hold on tight to my relationship with Jesus.  I have an unexplainable feeling of peace and security, knowing that He will never change. "I the Lord do not change." - Malachi 3:6. His word never changes, His attributes never change, His promises never change, and more importantly, His love for me never changes.  As I read through all of scripture, I see that His nature is the same throughout, from Old Testament to New Testament.  God is consistent and unchanging ALL THE TIME! When there is a change regarding my health, I trust that God, if it is His will, will heal me, in His timing, or He will give me the strength and the means to endure. If it is change regarding the loss of relationships, I trust that He will comfort me in my sadness, restore the relationship in His due time, or replace the lost relationships with new brothers and sisters in Christ.  God is faithful and unchanging and wants the best for his children. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” - James 1:17.  In this world of constant change and chaos, it it awesome to know that there is an unchanging, steady anchor, Jesus Christ, that I can cling to, and He lets me know that through every change, He is right there with me, and that I will be ok. 

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Worthless Things

A few weeks ago my husband and I were reading aloud from the bible from Psalms, when a particular verse made me stop and pause for a moment. It was Psalms 119:37: “Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things and revive me in your way.” That verse has stuck in my head and I have continued to ponder on what the Lord wants me to learn from this. Worthless things. What worthless things does the Lord want me to turn away from? The first thing that came to mind was Facebook. Like many, I found myself on the addiction side, always checking it to see what the latest and greatest was. What I have found is that it can be a huge time waster. When I first signed up, it was a good way to connect and stay in touch with people, see photos, and be uplifted with an encouraging word now and then. But now, to my dismay, I have noticed it has become an avenue for people to promote hate, spread lies, negativity, and bad news. Instead of photos of the latest family outing, my news feeds are filled with videos of one person beating up or cursing out another, hate filled diatribes against our current president, current political figure, or the police. I started to think: is this some of the worthless things God wants me to stay away from? It certainly feels like it, especially since Facebook now seems to feel much like spam does in my email inbox.

One day it really hit me how much social media and modern technology has really taken over our lives. I was watching the recent miniseries about the O.J. trial (because during that moment in history, I was captivated like much of the world, wanting to know all the details). Watching it brought back a lot of memories; I was thinking back to that time (1994) and what I was doing with my life. I was raising 3 small kids. I was sewing, along with other crafts, making clothes for me and my girls. I was enjoying quality time with people, in person and on the phone. I took my kids to lots of fun places: zoos, museums, plays, and parks. I was totally engaged with life and people, and immersed in the moment. And that’s when the light bulb went off. There was no social media back then. People weren’t glued to their phones, forwarding the latest on the O.J. case, or holding their cell phones out recording every minute. I thought to myself, “wow, how far have we come (or degenerated) that we can’t leave the house without our cell phone?” We have become glued to it, and are always looking down, more engrossed by what is on that device than looking up and enjoying what is outside all around us. I started thinking about all the worthwhile things I could accomplish with my time, if I just stayed off of computers and social media. I could spend more time reading God’s Word and reading more uplifting and spiritual things. I could spend more time in prayer. I could start sewing and crocheting again. I could clean and organize the house better. I could improve my lackluster cooking skills. I could dust off the guitar and take up lessons again. And maybe I could finally take the harmonica out of the drawer and start learning how to play it. I would actually be able to enjoy just being in the moment, observing all the Lord’s goodness and handiwork, partaking in activities that would bring Him honor and appreciation, instead of missing it because I am glued to my device. Instead of looking down, I could be looking up. Hence, I have started to take a step back from social media, and limiting my time on it, and trying to make a more concentrated effort to be more engaged and in the moment, and hence, keeping my eyes worthwhile things.

Bitterness and unforgiveness is also a worthless thing that the Lord has shown me I have been wasting my time on. For years I have had some resentment towards my father for things he did or didn’t do while I was growing up. Harboring resentment did me absolutely no good; I had headaches, I would become upset when thinking about it, my stomach would be in knots, and I could tell my blood pressure would go up. Was this worthwhile, spending my energy holding a grudge? It took some time, but I am finally at peace. The road started a few years ago when I had to interview my father for one of my school papers. When I realized what his childhood was like, and that he didn’t have a positive male role model in his life, I realized my father did the best he could, with what he knew. He still provided for his kids. He still loved us in the way he knew how to. And now, I am very thankful that the Lord has granted him a long life so that I can finally appreciate and love my father in my adult years; it doesn’t matter how late, because it’s better than never. There are times that I still struggle with bitterness, because of certain people who cause problems in my life from time to time. I can feel the difference in my joy and walk with the Lord when I start brooding about the latest episode, and I have to force myself to cry out to the Lord “Oh create in me a pure heart, oh God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Psalms 51:10. Bitterness and resentment can be very difficult things to overcome, and it is only by His strength that I can be successful. Jesus knew how difficult this would be, and I find comfort during times of persecution from my enemies in His words: “I have told you these things, so that in Me you would have peace. In this world, you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world! - John 16:33. I know that the Lord sees all things, and will work out any adversity against me; I just need to trust in Him, and not let any bitterness rise up in me.

The Lord has shown me another worthless thing that I have been spending my time on: regret. I have struggled for a long time with regret over past mistakes and choices. I spent a lot of time in my younger years pursing things that I see now were worthless, and I have a lot remorse for that. And because my relationship with my children has been strained lately, regret has been consuming me quite a bit. Wishing I could have done things differently with them while they were growing up, and even now in their adult years. I know these thoughts are from the enemy, and discouragement, shame, and regret are some of the most powerful tools that he uses to keep us down and from moving ahead in the plan God has for us. God is constantly reminding me that I have to “forget what is behind me, and strain towards what is ahead.” - Philippians 13:3. It is futile to look back; what is done is done, there is no changing that. But I serve a mighty God, and I know that He can restore the years that the locusts have eaten (Joel 2:25). He can turn my past failures into triumphs, and He can turn my mourning into joy. God is forever doing a work in me, all for His glory, and that is a very worthwhile thing to be a part of.

So as I begin my journey of turning my eyes away from worthless things, I expect God to show me some spectacular things. I expect my walk with Him to grow even more, as I will have more time to spend in His Word. I will have more time to spend on extracurricular activities that will let me tap into the creative and unique being that He has made me, and maybe I will find some undiscovered and hidden talent. I will have time to really stop and focus on the beauty of all that is around me, which He has created for our enjoyment and His glory, and I will truly be revived in His way.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

I Work For a King

Sunday evenings are a little hard for me.  After a nice, relaxing weekend with my husband and family, reality sets in and I mentally and reluctantly prepare myself for the work week ahead.  I find myself wishing that I could stay at church all week instead of going to work, because of the safety and comfort I get from my church family, the sermons and bible studies.  Lately, a lot of people have retired from my place of work, and I catch myself envying them, wishing that I no longer had to work.  Once Monday comes and I get myself back into the swing of things and the daily grind, I get over this Sunday evening blues, and am back in full force, attending to my job with dedication and perseverance.  However, come Sunday, the cycle begins again.  I know I am in need of an attitude adjustment; my husband reminds me of this every Sunday when I start complaining.  Why do I dig in my heels on Sunday evenings and fight against it? I know we all have to work; that is what the Lord wants us to do;  and the bible says we can find great reward and satisfaction in work (Ecclesiastes 2:24). I am very grateful for my job; it is a good place to be, it is very rewarding at times, I work with good people, and it provides for all my needs. I know this regular, weekly grumbling session I do is something that the Lord wants me to work on, and it is a little bit of a struggle for me.

Like all workplaces, there is good and bad.  Right now we are very busy, and I find myself exhausted at the end of the day.  I work with the public, so that can present some challenges at times. There can be personality clashes or misunderstandings, so that doesn’t help things.  As in every office setting, there are things that are ideal, and some things that are less than ideal.  Instead of wishing that I could change them or that someone would do something about these situations, I find myself reaching out to the Lord for strength and endurance.  The scripture that gets me through the tough days is “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” –Colossians 3:23-24. I have this scripture taped to my computer to remind me of this when I find myself feeling overwhelmed or frustrated. When I stop and read this, the peace of Lord comes upon me to give me strength. 

I always like to find examples in the bible of whatever particular situation I am going through.  When I am enduring stressful work situations, I like to look at the example of Daniel.  Some people might think that they have a terrible boss, but I don’t think anyone could have had a terrible of a boss as King Nebuchadnezzar.  He was a powerful, brutal, and prideful king. One day he had an unsettling dream, and called upon all the wise men and astrologers to interpret it for him. When they couldn’t, he had them all killed. But Daniel was able to interpret his dream, through God of course, and when he did, Nebuchadnezzar promoted Daniel and “gave him many great gifts, and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief administrator of all the wise men in Babylon” (Daniel 2:48).  What a promotion! But even with all the respect and advancement Daniel received from Nebuchadnezzar, he still couldn’t have been an easy boss to work for.  He was so prideful that he had a huge image of gold (about 90 feet high by 9 feet wide) erected and commanded that everyone bow down to this image when certain music was played.  If they didn’t bow down, they were to be thrown into a burning fiery furnace! When I really stop and think about the type of person Daniel’s boss was, it makes it easier for me to appreciate the fact that my work situation or boss is nowhere near what Daniel had to endure, And I am encouraged by seeing what type of person Daniel must have been.  When Nebuchadnezzar became insane and lived like an animal in the wilderness for seven years, it is believed that Daniel may have helped care for him at times. Years later, when Daniel worked for King Darius, he again made such an impression with his excellent work ethic, that Darius wanted to promote him, setting him above all the other kingdoms (Daniel 6:3).  As we sometimes see in our own work environments, jealousy set in, and his co-workers conspired against him and made trouble for him by deviously getting the King to sign a decree that praying in the open was punishable by death, death by lions to be exact.  Of course Daniel continued to pray, as we obey God rather than man. When the king found out, his reaction is a testament to the love and admiration he had towards Daniel: he was devastated. He fought with all his might to have the law reversed, and when nothing could be done, he had to follow through with his own law. When I read this story, I was so touched by how Darius felt towards Daniel.  He obviously felt sorrow and remorse, as evidenced by his not being able to sleep or eat. Very early the next morning, Darius rushed over to the lion’s den and cried out to Daniel, asking if his God was able to save him. He was so filled with gladness that Daniel was still alive and immediately had him brought up, and had the guys who conspired against Daniel throw in the lion’s den.

What an excellent example Daniel was.  He was a dedicated, loyal, and reliable employee. His bosses, great kings, greatly cared for him and respected him. And Daniel also cared for his bosses, not wishing any harm to come to them; he was also tactful, yet honest with them. When he had to relay the bad news behind the meaning of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, he said “My lord, if only the dream applied to those who hate you and its interpretation to your adversaries!  (Daniel 4:19). Even though his superiors may have done some pretty terrible things, Daniel still was the model employee. He served the Lord first and foremost, and would not compromise his beliefs, even if that meant death. But he still treated his superiors with respect and honor, going above and beyond putting in a day’s work. He worked as he was working for the Lord, and by this, he was able to endure working in some pretty unfavorable circumstances, yet excelling in his duties as he did so. That is the kind of employee I want to be.  By Daniel’s faith, he was an excellent witness for the Lord to his superiors and his co-workers.  Because of his exceptional work ethic, he was considered trustworthy and was respected, and as a result, was elevated and given many responsibilities.   The story of Daniel reminds me that no matter how difficult my work situation may be, the Lord will give me strength to endure, and when I work as I am working for the Lord, I will be blessed in many ways, primarily, by knowing I am working for my King, King Jesus.