Conquering Fears

This week I read an interesting Bible verse, it was Psalm 112:7 NIV which says: “They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.” Let’s unpack this verse a bit.

The first thing this verse talks about is not having fear. I don’t think we can truly escape fears or not experience them, fear is part of the human experience whether we’re talking heights or spiders or of broken hearts or cancer or drowning. I think it’s one of the things that’s hardwired into us. It’s also a learning experience and warning indicator for us: when we feel fear we know that we need to take a step back and evaluate what’s going on.

But the difference is that fear doesn’t have to take over our lives or make us incapable of moving through the fear. God gives us the strength to experience the fear, recognize what is scaring us and move on. Sometimes moving on means a new path or new plan (you’re making changes as a result of the fear you’re experiencing), other times it just means we recognize the fear and move on (for example not jumping into the pit of alligators but rather walking past or around).

Fear can absolutely control us, so it’s up to us to choose not to let it have the final say in what decisions we make. Instead when you’re faced with fear I would encourage you to take a deep breath, take any immediate actions necessary and/or evaluate next steps before taking action knowing that God will be with you every step of the way, and then move on to continue in the plan He has for your life.

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Fears of the Holidays

I was re-reading the passage in Luke that talks about Mary learning she would be the mother of Jesus, God’s son recently. As I was reading it, I got to thinking about the fear that she experienced in this moment and probably throughout her pregnancy, as well as the fear Joseph experienced in committing to Mary knowing all that was going to happen, the fears many felt as they went through the journey to return to all their respective home towns, the fear Mary and Joseph later experienced as they were fleeing to Egypt with Jesus, the fear the wise men felt when they were told by God that Herod was a danger to Jesus and they should avoid him, and the fear of parents around the kingdom that Herod would choose to kill their son.

It’s incredible that something we see as such a happy and joyous event was so filled with fears. But then the other day I was talking with a friend who shared that her company’s payroll company screwed up earlier in the year and now her checks are less to make up for the difference/mistake and she’s not sure how she’s paying for things (including where she lives) this holiday season. It made me think about this time of year and the fact that we still struggle with fears even though, or especially because, it’s the holiday season. We have fears about our finances, we have fears about how cold it will be (especially if we’re homeless or struggling with bills), we have fears about seeing certain people again, we have fears about attending all the office and other holiday parties with people we don’t know, some even have fears about buying gifts and getting the absolute wrong thing for someone.

Fears are something we live with and work through on a regular basis, but it seems like they’re amplified during this time of year unfortunately. Just when we’re trying to do the right thing and have healthy relationships and give to others and experience the spirit of the season we’re stuck struggling with fears that have the power to dampen if not ruin the holidays for us.

If you’re facing fears this holiday season know that you’re not alone. Just like you work through the fears that pop up during the rest of the year the holiday season is no different and you can work through these fears too. You may never quite get over the need to make the holidays special for those you love and the fears that surround all of the trimmings, but just like Mary and Joseph I think we can learn to make them fade to the background by focusing on what’s important and on what you can control and do something about.

Reality Reflection: What’s Enough?

This week I’ve been contemplating a difficult topic in our world of consumerism and extreme focus on success and wealth. If you’ve been in the self-help industry for a while, especially the success and career related portions, you’ve probably run across people who say they can help you grow exponentially, and they talk about the people they’ve helped earn multi-six figures and millions (or more) each year. Now, there’s nothing wrong with making good money and with being financially well-off. Having financial resources can make many things in your life easier, and you’ve got lots of opportunities to invest in others and in our world. So here’s the question: is it OK if I don’t really want to make millions each year?

I know it may sound like a silly question, but really, there are people who would be very happy with a fraction of the money some of us make (even if we’re only making 30k per year). Yet I also understand how valuable (and powerful) someone can become when they have all those resources at their disposal. And some people find the thought of having that much wealth intimidating or even fear-inducing. Yet I understand that for some of us that by really living our life purpose we’re going to make lots of money. So is it wrong to want to (or actually) make lots of money, and/or is it wrong to not want to make lots of money?

I think it’s OK to be comfortable where you are as long as you’re covering your basic needs (and the needs of your kids or others under your direct care), and have at least a little plan for the future. It’s also OK to want to earn more and to put in the effort that will get you there. I think it comes down to two questions: are you at peace with where you are financially in your life and are you fulfilled? If you’re not at peace and not fulfilled then it’s time to make some changes to your life and start making more money. That doesn’t mean you have to make millions, just more, and while you may not be ready for millions today, there may be a day down the road that you will be. What are your thoughts on how much is “enough”?

Looking Beyond the Ruins

My heart hurts with the people of Vegas as they struggle to navigate the aftermath of the shooting. As much as we may try to do the right thing and encourage others to do the right thing as well, there will continue to be people who are evil and don’t have good in their hearts. With the tragedy in mind, I thought we’d take a look at the words of Isaiah 51:3:

“The Lord will comfort Israel again and have pity on her ruins. Her desert will blossom like Eden, her barren wilderness like the garden of the Lord. Joy and gladness will be found there. Songs of thanksgiving will fill the air.”

No where in the Bible does God or any of the writers make light of the challenges that we face on earth. Look at Job; no matter what way you look at his situation, he experienced some really tough stuff, Elisha and Elijah were both treated to some natural and supernatural situations and disasters, Abraham didn’t doubt that God could destroy a city, and Saul/Paul accepted being shipwrecked and bitten by a snake, and those are just a few examples of the people in the Bible. Today it’s no different, whether we’re looking at attacks, genocides, money issues, economic troubles, bad leaders or natural disasters, you can’t honestly expect that you’ll “escape” this life without incident. But the good news is that God promises that even with the bad days, good days will follow.

I don’t think God sits up in heaven and shakes His finger at us and says “that’s what you deserve!!”, I think He feels our pain and knows that we’re struggling. Jesus certainly, after spending days in the desert, knows what it’s like to feel desolate and deserted by life, as many of us have seen with neighborhoods completely dark and cold after this hurricane.

What Isaiah says towards the end is what captures my attention: he says that the joy will be found in the barren, now reborn, wilderness. Where there wasn’t much promise, now there is. Where there wasn’t anything worth living for, now there is. What only brought sadness and anger, now brings joy and gladness.

The choice that Israel had to make, and we have to make today, is the choice of how we react to the wilderness. Are we going to react with frustration and anger that we’re in ruins? Are we going to go beyond the reality and see the potential in the future and reach for it with hope and thanksgiving? It’s not about ignoring the bad, or bypassing it. In truth it’s important to see the ruins and come to terms with the tragedy. Not only does that give you perspective for the future, it’s also healthy to grieve for what you’ve lost. But just like the story of Jesus doesn’t end at the sealed tomb, our stories can’t end with us grieving for what we’ve lost. We have to choose to be grateful for what and who we have in our lives.

This week I hope you’ll join me in looking for ways to turn wildernesses into gardens and bringing life back into an area, and a country, that used to be vibrant and full of hope. What are you thankful for?

The Truth?

How often do you tell the truth? Do you try to tell the truth most of the time? Do you give the full truth to people most of the time or do you only give partial truths, holding back some things either for yourself or for them? Over the past few years honesty and truth have been given an increasingly important position in our lives and it’s a lot harder to hide things now with all the live video and phones that go everywhere with us. I don’t believe that the truth should be used to hurt someone, but truth can be an educational and self-improvement tool, especially when shared with love and good intentions.

However I know that sometimes we choose to hide from the truth. Maybe we’re scared of the answer we’ll receive, maybe we don’t want to know how far out of proportions we’ve blown something, maybe we would rather continue living in the little bubble we’ve created for ourselves, and maybe we know that if we were to receive the truth we would have to do something about it. I know the truth can sometimes be intimidating and overwhelming, but neither of those are reasons to shut yourself off from the truth.  But ultimately truth should free us to move from the lies and hiding into a better future, or at least give us the motivation to take action on moving past where we are.

Sometimes the truth is unquestionable. You can’t change the fact that the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. But what my truth is regarding the best dog in the world may differ from your truth regarding the best dog in the world. Some truths can be swayed by personal opinions and experiences. However, I don’t think you can really apply the title of ‘truth’ to something unless you’ve got some solid reasons to back it up, more than just “I don’t like it.” I don’t think that this should dissuade us from sharing truth, but we should be more willing to acknowledge when something is “the” truth versus “our” or “my” truth.

Today I encourage you to step up and be open to learning the truth. Whether you are dealing with opinion truths or fact truths, the real focus should be whether it’s honest or not. Don’t ask someone to lie to you or give you partial truth, ask them for the whole truth, and ask them for their reasons or understandings that led them to that truth when appropriate. I don’t believe our world can be improved if we’re not willing to ask for the truth, share the truth and apply the truth to our lives and our world.

“The object of the superior man is truth.”  Confucius

Don’t Fear Love

Love is one of the greatest challenges of all times and has provided countless headaches over the centuries. This little word has created such a stir that I’m sure entire countries would split if someone tried to put the word in any type of legal or political documents. It’s a word we’ve become wary of, one that holds too many meanings (aka traps) and has been exhaustively over analyzed. It’s been used where it doesn’t belong, and as an inappropriate scapegoat. So we’ve run from it.

But what I realized today was that as we’ve run from our definition and application of love, we’ve run from Love. We’ve backed away from the one who can teach us what love really is, what it really means to love and be loved. We’ve put Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit in every other corner we can think of while throwing, maybe even catapulting, Love out of the ring. It’s no wonder that we’re so confused as to what love is and if we’re loved.

2 Timothy 1:7 says: “The Spirit God gave us does not make us afraid. His Spirit is a source of power and love and self-control.” Paul is reassuring Timothy here, as well as all of us that we have no reason to be afraid of what love truly is, specifically and especially when we are looking for the truth about love from Love itself.

Let’s be honest: it will be scary when you first open your heart, open your mind to love again. True love is all consuming, never ending and more patient than any of us deserve. But there are countless examples and verses of reassurance throughout the Bible that tell us that when we love God and are open to His Love we’ll get it and be glad we have it. He promises to be there for us, to support us, to affirm our beauty and value, to celebrate the great moments and comfort us in the bad ones. Feeling a little funny about all that attention, all that, dare I say it, love? It’s not easy to get used to what love really is, maybe that’s why so many of us have shied away from it.

Remember that old song you sang as a child, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so…?” Life may have seemed a lot more simple back then, but the reality is that we’ve let other things get in the way of accepting that some things are just that simple. Love can be very complicated, but when you really take a look at it, it all boils down to the fact that Jesus loves us, has provided the best example, and always will be the best example of what love is for us.

This week I encourage you to take lots of deep breaths and open your heart to what God wants to tell you about love, and what it really is. He won’t rip your heart out and stomp all over it, He may have a strong dose of reality for you though. And no matter what the truth will always remain that God loves you and wants you to love Him.

Reality Reflection: At An End

This week I got the news that a family friend is getting very close to the end of his journey.  He’s had medical problems for years and things have worsened and now he and his wife are working with hospice.  The man has always had a great sense of humor, is good to his friends, loves his wife, and has really endured through serious medical issues in a positive way that you don’t often see.  He’s not perfect, none of us are, and I’m sure that he’s had his moments of anger and frustration, as well as fear and sadness, especially at this point in time.

It’s not easy to know the end is very close, whether it’s your life or that of someone you know well, especially when they’re one of those ‘good people.’  No, it’s not good to wish anyone were dead or think it’s better to lose someone who has some not so great habits (everyone has a family and a mother), but when the world loses a bright soul it seems like it’s felt even more.  What would you do if you knew that your end was near?  I would hope that you would take advantage of every moment you have with those you love, and maybe even do a splurge or two that you’ve always wanted, like take a special trip with your partner or kids, maybe even take the opportunity to try and mend a few fences.

As I was reflecting on the impending loss of this friend it got me thinking about the other side of death and loss, the side of the living.   We don’t go anywhere when someone we know or love dies, we’re still here.  And often we end up at a funeral or life celebration talking about them with other friends and family.  It’s not often that we’ve got the opportunity to let someone know what they meant to us and how thankful we are that they’ve been in our life before they pass.  It adds something to the grieving process for both sides, to be able to share that with them and support and love them, and it can make their last days very meaningful and happy, instead of painful and sad.

Loss is never easy, especially when it’s someone we’ve known for a very long time, and known on a very personal level.  But the way things work right now, everything comes to an end.  So I do encourage you to take a little time to reflect on how you want your end to go and make sure that you’ve got things clearly written down, but more so I encourage you to make as many memories as you can, to love as big as you can and to enjoy as much of life as you can.