“I Want What I Want”


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“Stubbornness is an unintelligent barrier, refusing enlightenment and blocking it’s flow.”

Those words grabbed me this week.

They are the words of Oswald Chambers in his devotional My Utmost for His Highest. What gripped my attention was “unintelligent barrier.” Have I ever allowed stubbornness to block the flow of enlightenment or understanding in my life? And if it’s an “unintelligent barrier” then it’s something that I allow with giving it reasoned thought.

Yikes!

So I asked God what causes stubbornness?

Here’s my take from scripture:

  • Leaning on my own understanding. God says not to. (Proverbs 3:5-6) God sees big. We see small. When we think our vision and understanding is the whole picture, we cling to our way as being the only way to think about something. That’s stubbornness. And in a word: pride.
  • Fear. A previous employer once told me he believed I was unteachable in my attitude toward some work I did for him. (Read: stubborn.) His well-intended comment hurt and surprised me. I believed I listened and followed the instructions given me. I respected his discernment, but I asked my manager if he could confirm that observation. His perception brought tears. He told me he didn’t see me as stubborn or unteachable, but rather afraid because I didn’t know how to do some things. When he said that, understanding dawned. Fear can make us resistant and therefore stubborn.
  • Allowing my basest desires to rule me. “Indulge me,” our flesh says. Eating, drinking, spending, sex–all normal, God created activities can get out of control. Then they take over, and we stubbornly cling to them or our right to them. Remember the spoiled rich girl, Veruca Salt, in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? She wanted what she wanted, the whole world even, and wanted it right then. There’s a little Veruca in all of us, right?

God wants good for us.

He put desires in our hearts and promises to satisfy those desires when we delight in him. But it’s only when we think his way that he broadens our understanding and curtails our desires to be for the best things. (Psalm 37:4)

We all know as a parent, the best thing isn’t to give a child sugar at bed time no matter how much he may want it. (Bouncing off the walls, people!) God’s our parent and wants our best. He sees a bigger picture for us.

He promises:

  • That he will give us the mind of Christ (I Cor. 2:16) so we can think as he thinks. If we ask, he’ll give us wisdom without thinking badly of us. (James 1:5)
  • We don’t need to be afraid. His perfect love for us drives out fear. (I John 4:18)
  • Every good thing is a gift from him. (James 1:17) He knows what we need and delights in caring for us. (Matt. 6:8)

So we can say goodbye to that “unintelligent barrier” of stubbornness and “be transformed by the renewing of our minds.” (Romans 12:2) Then we can let go of what we want and let God give us what he wants for us which is far better!

The 3 “D” Words Continued…


IMG_0936Despair.

The dictionary definition of despair is “to lose, give up, or be without hope.”

“The sense of having done something irreversible tends to make us despair.”

Oswald Chambers

I would add that something done to us that is irreversible can also lead to despair. Despair is that feeling that every option is depleted and there’s no use trying anything else because nothing will yield positive results.

Haven’t we all been there at one point or another?

Oswald Chambers in My Utmost for His Highest had some great insights about despair and how to handle it. He explains how the disciples must have felt despair when they were asked by Jesus to keep watch and pray with him, but they fell asleep instead.

That night was a pretty big deal.

When soldiers came to take Jesus, the disciples realized they had lost their opportunity to participate in a special time with Jesus. And the worst was that they may never see him again. Since he was crucified soon after that, it ended up being the last moments they spent with him alive. At least until he rose again. But they didn’t know that then.

Whether a tragic event has occurred in our life, we’ve done something regrettable, or we’ve missed a great opportunity, with God there is always a future. Even if we can’t change what’s happened, we can act for what is to come.

Chambers reminds us that Jesus encouraged the disciples to “Get up and do the next thing.”

When faced with despair, I’ve learned to:

  1. Grieve over the situation. Acknowledge the reality of what’s happened. Neither denying nor wallowing is helpful.
  2. Leave what’s happened in God’s hands. He sees all and has a plan for everything.  What’s been done to us, or what we’ve done is no surprise to him. Our plan B has always been his plan A because he knew what would happen. He’s granted forgiveness. He’ll bring comfort. He’s the God of justice and mercy.
  3. Remember that God has a future hope for me that can’t be cut off.  (Prov. 23:18; Prov. 24:14 & Jer. 29:11)
  4. Look to that future. What is the next step I can take? Take it.
  5. And as Oswald Chambers says…

“Never let the sense of past failure defeat your next step.”

Despair is real, human and expected from time to time. We may even feel we can’t pull out of it. But by taking these steps, and being patient with myself, I’ve learned to move ahead with my life–even when life seemed like it must be over.

It’s not over until God says it’s over.

What are some steps you’ve found to be helpful in dealing with despair?

The 3 “D” Words


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Another tragedy struck Florida this week.

I hate to say this is becoming common place – may that not be true! But at the very least when people are senselessly shot down, we are left with questions, anger and sorrow.

But a tragedy isn’t the only situation that can set off the 3 “D” words. Sometimes it’s past trauma or something as simple as a difficult day. Maybe they’re set off by prolonged distress like abuse or bullying. Perhaps we’ve managed to survive for years when one of them, or all three, strike, leaving us reeling.

What are those words?

Depression. Despair. Destruction.

From the limited information I’ve heard, I would guess that the young man who open fired at the school in Parkland, Florida experienced those emotions. And certainly the families devastated by his actions will grapple with them.

So how do we handle depression, despair and destructive patterns?

I’m not a psychologist. I don’t have formal training. I don’t claim to be any kind of expert. But I’ve experienced all of these feelings at some point in my life, and I’ve talked with others who have struggled to get a grip in the wake of these emotions. Along the way, I’ve learned some information that has helped me.

Maybe if we each learned to cope with our feelings of depression, despair and destruction and noticed the indication of those emotions in others, we could help lessen future incidents of violence that result from hurting hearts.

Depression.

First, I want to acknowledge that there can be chemical and hormonal reasons for depression. For some people, medication may be the answer. I don’t propose that someone who is being helped by medication should not take it or feel bad about taking it. Each individual needs to do what’s best for them. Here are a couple of things that have helped me:

  • A dear pastor friend once told me that depression was caused by something being “pressed down” in my life, thoughts or heart. So I learned that whenever I feel depressed I should ask myself “What are you pressing down?” Usually, it’s sorrow, disappointment or frustration created by some previous incident, and I haven’t allowed myself to process, cry, talk, grieve or somehow deal with my feelings. Maybe I’ve been too busy, or thought I shouldn’t feel that way or tried to pass it off as no big deal. It’s usually a far bigger deal than I think if it leaves me feeling depressed. Sometimes I’m not sure what my feelings are or why, but I believe God knows. So I ask him. The Bible says:

“Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”   Jeremiah 33:3

  • I had to learn how I process situations and the emotions arising from them. Some people process internally, mulling over things until they can sort them in their head. Others process externally. I’m one of those. I think of it as dumping the contents of my purse on the table. When I see it all, I can keep or discard what I need. I have to talk out loud about things, sometimes more than once, in order to sort through it. If I try to process internally, I become depressed. Likewise, for some internal processors, if they’re forced to talk about something before they’ve had time to think, they may feel depressed by their inability to pinpoint what is in their heart or head. How do you process? It’s good to know and act according to how you best function. Whether you are internal or external, it’s good to talk to God and a trusted friend about your feelings when the time is right for you. God says in Hebrews 4:16 that we can approach him with confidence. He understands what we’re going through.
  • Sometimes we need to do some simple, everyday, ordinary task. Take out the trash, get dressed, make a bed or take a shower. Just one task at a time. And then another one when we’re ready. In the Bible, the prophet Elijah was depressed. He’d just had a show down with an evil woman and was exhausted. An angel came to him and said

“Arise and eat.”  I Kings 19:5

No earth shattering advice or vision or deep spiritual explanation. Just get up and eat. Sometimes God tells us to do something ordinary.

“…His inspiration is to do the most natural, simple things– things we would never have imagined God was in, but as we do them we find him there.” Oswald Chambers

  • A change of scenery can change a perspective. Often when I am feeling depressed, I’d rather lie in bed than go out and face the world. But sometimes getting out to another setting even if it’s simply going outside for a little while can shift my thinking. Isolation begets depression so even when I feel I can’t be around people, interacting with others, especially if I’m doing something to serve them, is exactly with I need to break out of a depressed state.

These actions help me when I’m feeling depressed. I pray they will be helpful to you as well.

Next week we’ll look at the next “D” word: despair.

What helps you when you’re feeling depressed?

 

 

 

 

Are You Paralyzed by Inaction?


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Last week we talked about admitting the truth to take our life forward.

Sometimes we can be faced with the truth and know what we need to do, but we don’t act on it. I recently read a devotional in My Utmost for His Highest that addressed this topic so well and gave me a new perspective on putting action to what we learn.

“Refusing to act leaves a person paralyzed exactly where he was previously.”

Oswald Chambers

How can I move my life forward if I’m paralyzed because of inaction? When I know the right or best action to take and don’t follow through with it, I become stuck in that place until I’m ready to take the next step and move forward.

“Once I press myself into action, I immediately begin to live. Anything less is merely existing.”          Oswald Chambers

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather live than simply exist.

Surviving day to day is not living, and it isn’t the best God has for us. He desires for us to have an abundant life full of good relationships, experiences and situations. (John 10:10) He planned for us to have purpose and live making a positive impact on the world around us.

Here’s the best part:

When we tap into God’s power by acting on something he’s instructed or shown us to do or say, we free ourselves and paralyze the enemy instead.

Oh, yeah. Boom!

Take that, Satan. I’m so on board with taking my life forward in freedom and abundance. How about you? What’s one thing you know you need to act on that you can do this week?

I’d love to hear about your experiences in action in the comments below or email me at laurabennet14@gmail.com

John Mark Miller: The Real Deal


Recently I had the privilege of interviewing John Mark Miller, a musician and writer who leads worship at First Baptist Church of Sunset, Texas. John Mark inspires and encourages other Christian artists with his blog and has recently been showcasing various artists. I was blessed to be on his list.

What I admire most about John Mark is his genuine love for the Lord, music and fellow artists. He exudes grace and kindness. I hope you enjoy getting to know him as much as I have.

Hi, John Mark. Thanks so much for spending some time with us today. I’ve appreciated reading your blog and interacting with you through comments and emails. I guess we’ll jump right into the questions I have for you.

First, let me ask when did you first know you were born to be a singer and a writer?

I was born singing, and I caught on to writing as soon as I could! When I was just a toddler, my mom remembers finding me rolling around the back yard on my riding toy, singing a hymn that she and my dad had sung in church that morning. She was impressed that I remembered the melody perfectly, and started to encourage my musical gifts. I sang my first church solo when I was five years old and started taking piano lessons when I was seven years old. I honestly cannot remember a time when music wasn’t an important part of my life, and here I am all these years later, still making music and teaching others how to join in!

Interestingly enough, it was my dad who honed in on my gift for writing. He read some of the stories I wrote for spelling class and told me that he thought I had real talent. He was a pastor, and before I knew it I was writing articles for the church newsletter and helping him prepare Sunday School curriculum and church publications. One weekend as we drove to a funeral, he realized he needed a poem to recite for the Graveside Service and told me to write one on the spot! I did… and thanks to his belief in me as a writer, I’m still at it!

It’s great that your parents were so encouraging and helpful in fostering your God-given talents. Perhaps that’s one reason you are so great at encouraging other artists.

So, along those same lines, what is your favorite worship song?

My all-time favorite worship song is “Before the Throne of God Above,” but I also find great inspiration in “Give Me Jesus” by Fernando Ortega and “All of Me” by Selah.

I love that song by Fernando Ortega as well. A few of his CD’s spend time in my player!

And how about favorite books?

Where books are concerned, I’m going to have to break this down into categories! I would say that my favorite devotional book is “My Utmost for His Highest” by Oswald Chambers, my favorite fictional book is “The Robe” by Lloyd C. Douglas, and my favorite biography/memoir is “Rocket Boys” by Homer Hickham.

That’s quite a nice collection. I read and re-read “My Utmost for His Highest” over a three year period, and it literally changed my life. What do you feel most inspires your creativity?

I feel most inspired when I spend time outside, either walking for exercise or just sitting and drinking in all of God’s beauty. Taking time to notice the splendor of Creation helps me to quiet the distractions, focus my prayers, and allows me to listen for His still, small voice. It has been during these quiet moments of reflection that many of my greatest ideas have come to me.

It’s amazing how even a little bit of time outside can bring out the creator in us!

Now this may seem like a strange question, but I think you can tell a lot about a person by their favorite “working” drink. I tend to stick with water or tea. How about you?

I absolutely love a steaming mug of hot tea (either Earl Grey or Vanilla Rooibos) while I’m working on a project. The warmth is comforting, and the aroma stimulates the senses. I’d have to agree with C.S. Lewis, who said, “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me!”

That’s a great quote! I might have to add it to my bulletin board. When is it that we would find you nursing that steaming mug of tea? Are you most productive in the morning or at night?

Though I’m married to a night owl, I will forever be a hopeless morning person! Much to my wife’s dismay, I wake up bright and early and ready to work. My best work takes place early in the morning, and I’ve noticed that my writing is much stronger and more focused after I’ve spent some quiet time with the Lord.

I so agree with you. Spending time with the Lord makes the difference between a good and rough day, writing or otherwise. Do you have a “life verse?” How does it influence your creative endeavors?

Since high school, my life verse has been John 15:5: “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” I used to get very nervous playing the piano in church, to the point that my fingers and pedal feet would shake uncontrollably and cause the entire piano to have tremors! I remember sitting in church waiting for my turn to play, and reading this verse on a small index card. It was comforting to remember that without God I could do nothing, but with Him behind me I was guaranteed to bear good fruit. I have clung to this through the years, and it’s just as helpful to me now as it ever was!

That’s a verse my husband has been meditating on lately. It’s so true that whatever we produce comes from Jesus working in us. It’s a great reminder. What would you say is the most important message you want your listeners or readers to take away from your work?

The sole purpose of launching my blog, The Artistic Christian, was to help people realize that the beauty of God is all around us. There is such rich beauty in the midst of the most everyday moments, and all of it declares the truth of Who God is. Psalm 19:1 says “the heavens declare the glory of God,” and each aspect of nature tells us something about God’s character. Immovable mountains declare His strength, soft rose pedals declare his tenderness and beauty, and so on. Not only this, but anytime an artist creates he or she is imitating God, since we are all made in His image (Gen. 1:26). Because of this, artistic works also point us to God, since they reveal the divine spark which lies in each of our hearts.

I hope that by reading my work, my readers will have their eyes opened to the beauty and splendor that lies everywhere they look, and realize that all of it was designed to draw our hearts toward worshiping God. And once they begin to see this, I want to remind them that if they will seek God with all their heart, they will find Him (Jeremiah 29:13).

I certainly get that from your blog. Where can people find your work? Can they purchase it yet?

I am still working on getting a book published, but my reflections on art, culture, and life can be found at my primary blog, The Artistic Christian, at http://theartisticchristian.wordpress.com.

Also, my sermons and thoughts on Bible Study and church life can be found at my self-titled devotional blog, at http://johnmarkmiller.wordpress.com

Finally, readers can keep up with my thoughts and latest releases by following me on Twitter: @JohnMark_Miller

Thank you so much for investing this time with us today!

Thank you for interviewing me. It’s been an honor.

Go visit John Mark Miller on Twitter and his blogs. I guarantee you’ll be blessed and glad you did!

What Is Your Darkest Fact of Life?


Until we can come face to face with the deepest, darkest fact of life without damaging our view of God’s character, we do not yet know Him.                            Oswald Chambers

For most of my previously married years, I saw my marriage as the biggest problem with my life. It’s true, it wasn’t good. I longed to be free from the daily stress of emotional and sexual abuse. But while marriage was a nightmare, it wasn’t my main problem.

God wanted to set me free from so much more than a broken marriage.

My life had been dictated by guilt, fear, shame, pride, and wrong perceptions of God, myself and others. Those were the things entangling me and causing me pain.

How did I get there?

Compromise. 

While some compromise (sharing and rearranging ideas in order to come to an acceptable solution) is good,  another definition of compromise is

to expose or make vulnerable to danger, suspicion, scandal, etc.; jeopardize     (dictionary.com)

As a molested child, my life was compromised. And I learned from then on to continue life in compromise, allowing things I didn’t want, to dictate how I lived each day. I accepted a lower standard that was not safe or good.

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I made choices that led to destruction even while I was seeking God, because I didn’t understand God. My perceptions were based on an emotional filter that hung over my life like gauze, clouding what I saw, and giving me an entirely different view without any clarity. Like being in a house of mirrors, my thinking and emotions were distorted. Thus everything in the world around me was as well.

Compromise makes God become to us only what we think we need based on what we think we want.

We can’t see what we truly need that is actually something better than what we want. And our growth is stunted when we seek God on our own terms. It leaves us frustrated with God, thinking that He doesn’t hear us, or purposely won’t answer.

We may believe He is harsh or angry with us.

In this stuck place, we can’t move ahead, but keep returning to the same places over and over wondering why nothing changes for us.

Ironically, it is only as we step out in faith and obey God that we see the truth. Only then can He can lead us into areas of growth and healing. God is faithful to care for us regardless of our circumstances, but in the beginning all we can see is the life we’ve created, surrounding us like a dungeon wall. There seems to be no escape.

God longs to free us. He always has a way out.

For the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at a story from the Bible that moves my heart. Every time I read it. And I continue to receive healing from a new perspective of it every time. We see from this story in John, chapter four, the great love and escape God has for us.

The story of the woman at the well in Samaria shows the process of how God untangles us from the entrapment of our choices, reveals the truth of who He is, and enables us to share our experience with others to set them free as well.

This is a story of the deepest love and compassion of Christ for the most shamed of women. It is a story of the faithfulness of God, the forgiveness of Christ and the joy of new life.

If we want to see the truth about God, then we first must be willing to see the truth about our lives.

Are we willing?

Jesus was returning to Galilee and “…had to go through Samaria,” it says in the fourth verse of John 4. I want to point out that He could have skirted around Samaria as most Jews would have done at that time. The Samaritans were not a highly thought of people. Maybe that is why Jesus had to go there. For the sake of the banished woman and the outcasts of the town.

His great love compelled him to go into places others wouldn’t.

What place are you in that you need Jesus to visit? He will if you ask him. It doesn’t matter where…

A drug house? Jail? The local bar? Isolation in your home? The hospital? An affair? Mental illness, alcoholism or a food addiction?

Maybe it is a secret area no one knows about. A stash of candy or pornography. Or perhaps it’s something outwardly “acceptable,” but you know deep down it might be an issue – like a television program or social media site you can’t walk away from. Anything that dictates our thoughts, time, energy or money is a stuck place of compromise and skewed perspective.

Next week we’ll continue, but for now, let’s ask ourselves to be honest. And let’s ask Jesus to open our eyes to him and the truth that will set us free.

He promises that “…the truth will set you free.”  John 8:32b

 

Do I Take Responsibility for Others?


Last week we talked about our compulsion to step in and take responsibility for others. We do this out of an unhealthy feeling that something bad will happen if we don’t. Most likely, we developed this sense from living in unsafe situations, especially as children. As we identify these patterns, God can free us from those places where we feel stuck.

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We may not realize the severity of the patterns we’re choosing; we may feel sorry for another person; we may feel an unrealistic burden of guilt or we may be afraid that their actions will hurt us. Whatever the reason, even if they all apply, the outcome is not good for either us or them.

When people are relieved of consequences, their hearts grow hard, and they feel entitled.

God uses consequences to help us. No one likes to deal with tough consequences, but the reality is that laws exist. A cause has an effect. We don’t ignore natural laws, like gravity. No one would consider jumping off a ten story building without expecting to die. The law of gravity makes us fully aware of the result of that choice and keeps us from making it! In the same way, God’s laws help turn us around so we can know good instead of harm.

Why then do people expect there to be no consequences for choices they make?

Shunning responsibility, many count it the teacher’s fault for a bad grade; the police officer’s fault for a speeding ticket; the bartender’s fault for a drunken car crash; or the spouse’s fault for their partner’s affair. As long as people avoid responsibility, and we alleviate the consequences of their actions, we get in the way of the good God wants to bring to them.

We are indeed amateurs, coming in and actually preventing God’s will and saying ‘This person should not have to experience this difficulty’    Oswald Chambers

Perhaps we’ve learned from living in an abusive situation to minimize adverse conditions.

Maybe we believe (erroneously as I did) that if we are truly being loving toward someone, we should ignore their hurtful behavior.

If you are the kid we talked about last week, who’s been hurt by a parent’s actions you probably dismissed their actions because your innocent heart could not make sense of someone you loved and depended on hurting you. The very contradiction of that reality and what a child knows in their heart is too much to comprehend. But, those patterns follow us into adulthood whether we realize it or not.

That same child who transfers guilt to themselves rather than those parents may grow up subconsciously believing that everything is their fault and shoulder the responsibility.

It seems ridiculous that we could live with the belief that another shouldn’t be allowed to endure pain or hardship of any kind, but without realizing it, because of deeply ingrained misconceptions, we attempt to fix situations, bear the weight of their consequences and feel guilty if they suffer.

Unfortunately, when we live this way, we can allow people to become dependent on us instead of God. Their reliance on us as a buffer can keep them from turning to God for direction or in trouble. In addition, they may avoid making choices or think they are immune to consequences for bad choices. Fear of their consequences landing on us will keep us running to bail them out which in turn denies them from experiencing the loving discipline of the Lord.

In the end, we benefit ourselves and others if we can learn to confront them, gently speaking the truth in love whenever we feel that little nudge from the Lord telling us that something is not right. Determining what is our responsibility as God leads us and leaving others to live experiencing a greater depth of life will make us refreshed and free just as God intends.

Have you found yourself trying to fix or feeling responsible for others?