The Ups and Downs of Life

wepnerLife is an adventure.  Some people seem to stumble their way through it, while others have the ability and agility to bob and weave their way through its obstacles.  Some people have the knack to fall face first into every mud hole that dots their path in life, while others can transform the sourest moments of life into a sweet and exhilarating experience.

Muhammed Ali’s life was more exciting than it was boring.  Ali was fond of saying that he “could float like a butterfly, and sting like a bee,” but even the Champ learned felt the brute force of a punch that was akin to the kick of a mule.

On March 24, 1975, Chuck Wepner introduced Ali to one of the universal laws of life:  Sooner or later you’re going to get hit by a punch you’ll never see coming!

Suffering is a thread that’s woven into the fabric of life, and it’s the sucker punch that can drop you to your knees.  

This universal law is the subject of discourse by both Peter and James:

  • Peter said you should not, “be surprised when the fiery ordeal comes among you to test you as if something unusual were happening to you (I Peter 4:12).”
  • Even though suffering is anything but pleasant, James said to, “Count it all joy when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness (James 1:2–3).” 

It’s important to note that James did not say that the suffering or trial is a joyful experience; instead, he said the joy comes in acknowledging the result of the trial—steadfastness.  The situations that shake your faith are the ordeals that form a faith that’s unshakable.

Your faith is like your muscle tissue—to get stronger, it must be stressed.

The trials of life can buckle your knees and make it hard to see the end of the journey. It’s only from the perspective of hindsight that we have 20-20 vision.  Paul confirms this in 2 Corinthians 1:8-9. When he contemplated the past through the light of the present, he could see the boldly colored thread of hope in the tapestry of his heartache.  He could see God’s purpose in the suffering he had endured: “We want you to know, Christian brothers, of the trouble we had in the countries of Asia. The load was so heavy we did not have the strength to keep going. At times we did not think we could live.  We thought we would die. This happened so we would not put our trust in ourselves, but in God Who raises the dead.”

“This happened”, so Paul would know that God is able and that He would enable him. What God did for Paul, He will also do for you.

 

Strength for Today

bicepI started today as I do most days–with a cup of coffee and the Psalms.  As I was reading Psalms 31, I stopped to consider the 24th verse: Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart, all you who hope in the Lord.
When you step outside of the safety of your house to face the world today, do so with the confidence that God’s:
  • Strength will build you up
  • Love will fill you up
  • Arms will lift you.
Keep this thought with you today, and you’ll begin to know the power of God’s promise to Paul:  My grace is sufficient.
The God of old is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms. He drives out the enemy before you and commands, “Destroy!”
Deuteronomy 33:27

Beat-up and Worn-down?

stressedAre there times in your life when you can’t seem to shake the petty frustrations of the day, and you plop in your chair feeling beat-up, worn-down, and thoroughly annoyed?

I never want these moments to become marathons, so I try to get a grip on my gripes by redirecting my attention. I do this by thinking less about my perceived misery and more on the character and promises of God.

A passage of Scripture that picks me up when I’m feeling down is Psalm 136. It’s a reflection on God’s mercy or the “steadfast love of God.”

The first three verses of this Psalm begin will a call to give thanks to God and each of its twenty-six verses reminds us that God’s mercy endures forever.

This Psalm is a diary of some of the defining moments in history when God intervened in an awesome display of His power:

  • The power of God is seen in His creative acts (136:5-9).
  • The power of God is seen in His faithful deliverance of His people (136:10-15).

The last four verses of this Psalm can strengthen your resolve when you realize that you are never beyond the reach of God, and He will remember you (136:23), rescue you (136:24), and He will restore you through His steadfast love endures forever (136:26).

Stop and Refocus

refocusIf you started today worrying about what might go wrong, I encourage you to stop and refocus your mind on these five words:.

Slow: Take a deep breath and slow down. When you walk in step with God, you will learn that His love is not measured by a teaspoon—it’s measured by the bucket loads.

Time: Take a minute or two to consider God’s goodness.

  • Psalm 34:8: Taste and see that the Lord is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!

Oppose: Don’t yield to catastrophic thoughts that are characterized by words like must, never, and always. These three words are usually false. Discipline your mind so you think about the hope and joy you can have in Jesus.

  • Romans 15:13: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Promise: Claim the promises the are rightly yours. You are not some pauper, you are a child of the King.

  • The key that gives you access to God is not your strength—it’s God’s grace.

I’ll close with some words that can open the door of your mind to some life-changing  thoughts:

Deuteronomy 31:6:   Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.

Tragedy in Texas

broken-heart-valentine-background_1048-4957For many people, today’s shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas has stirred-up unwanted memories of Las Vegas, Columbine and Charleston. We should not be surprised that these events are beyond our comprehension, because they are often perpetrated by people who lack a conscience.

Sociopath and psychopath are words that have been used to described shooters or mass murders like Harris, Klebold, and Roof, as well as Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, and Dennis Rader. The DSM-5 classifies sociopathy and psychopathy as Antisocial Personality Disorders and sets certain criteria for a diagnosis:

  • A disregard for laws, social mores, and the rights of others
  • A failure to feel remorse or guilt
  • A tendency to display violent behavior
  • Sociopaths are agitated, disorganized individuals, and they are unable to blend in with society

Psychopaths are high-functioning individuals who manipulate people with their charming personality. While they do not actually feel emotion, they can learn to mimic emotions to blend in with the crowd.

Due to their lack of conscience, people with these disorders process emotions like a blind man negotiates a maze; one doesn’t feel, the other doesn’t see, and both find the task daunting.

Dr. Martha Stout a Clinical Psychologist and former Harvard Medical School instructor, offers this assessment: An emotional word is love, hate, anger, mom, death, anything that we associate with an emotional reaction. A nonemotional word is lamp, street, hair, rug, that kind of thing. If I had electrodes hooked up to you right now and I said a string of words, and some of them were emotional and some were not, I’d get a larger spike on the emotional words. We are wired to process those words more readily than neutral, nonemotional words. We are very emotional creatures. But sociopaths listen as evenly to emotional words as they do to lamp or book—there’s no neurological difference. ~THE SOCIOPATH NEXT DOOR

The obvious question is: How do you treat someone who has no conscience?  The prerequisite to change is a desire to do so, and without a conscience there is no desire. Without a conscience there is no good or evil, and the need for true healing is a recognition of that which plagues the heart.

One thing that never changes in these instances is the need for prayer, and I encourage you to pray for those who were touched by the tragic events of today.

 

 

Limiter or Lifter?

friendsWhat kind of a friend are you? Do you limit the growth and achievement of your friends or do lift them up when they are down and nudge them forward when they need a little encouragement? Do you stir the pot of life with positive strokes?

In Hebrews 10, we are admonished to stir one another up to love and to good works and to encourage those who are struggling with the daily grind of life.

This may have been what Albert Schweitzer had in mind when he said, “In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.”

Who is the friend that has lifted you up and been a source of encouragement to you? When was the last time you expressed your appreciation to them? Is today the day you can lift them up and help rekindle their inner spirit?

 

 

 

Getting a Grip on Worry

gripIf you could look inside your head, would you find the thought center of your mind dotted with the warts of worry and the ulcers of anxiety? If so, you might find some comfort in the potent promise of Isaiah 26:3: You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.

Here’s the simple truth of this verse: If your mind is not staying on God, it’s straying from Him, and it’s easily disoriented by the worries of life.  Undisciplined thoughts leave room for unfounded arguments that foster fear; however, Christ-centered thinking augments your faith and smothers the fires of anxiety.

Billy Graham has said, Historians will probably call our era “the age of anxiety.” Anxiety is the natural result when our hopes are centered in anything short of God and His will for us.

Worry and anxiety are expressions of fear and both can be attributed to a sense of lacking or loneliness. The next time your mind begins to agonize over thoughts like these, mobilize by taking these steps:

  • Focus on God: I sought the Lord, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears. ~Psalm 34:4
  • Claim the promise of God’s presence: Be strong and brave! Don’t be afraid and don’t panic, for I, the Lord your God, am with you in all you do. ~Joshua 1:9
  • Believe God loves you: The Lord your God is in your midst, the Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you with His love; and, He will rejoice over you with singing. ~Zephaniah 3:17
  • Get a grip on life: For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.” ~Isaiah 41:13

As you begin this week, it might help to remember that God is holding your right hand, so you don’t have to worry about holding the wrong one.

Jesus said:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

~John 14:27

 

 

Beating the Blues

HopeDid you awaken this morning feeling more down-and-out and less up-and-at-it? If so, you might identify with the “woe-is-me” mentality of Jeremiah who said:

“I’m the man who has seen trouble, trouble coming from the lash of God’s anger. He took me by the hand and walked me into pitch-black darkness. Yes, he’s given me the back of his hand over and over and over again. He turned me into a scarecrow of skin and bones, then broke the bones. He hemmed me in, ganged up on me, and poured on the trouble and hard times. He locked me up in deep darkness, like a corpse nailed inside a coffin.” ~ The Message

The sure cure for a case of the Monday Morning Blues is a long sip from this energizing Cup of Hope:  Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness (Lamentations 3:22-23).

When Jeremiah began to focus less on his problems and more on God, his perspective changed.  He began to realize that the high tide of God’s hope has a rhythmic presence that’s just as certain as the appearance of the moon in the night sky.  He also concluded that the faithfulness of God is as cool and refreshing as an artesian well that never runs dry—it’s new every morning.

In the Psalms, David learned that the riddles of life are never solved through the emptiness of the world, but through the fullness of God’s blessing. He said: I did not understand until I went into the sanctuary of God; and, He offered this conclusion: God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever . . . it is good for me to draw near to God; I have put my trust in the Lord GOD, that I may declare all Your works.

As you work your way through today, remember that God is full of compassion, generous in grace, slow to anger, and boundless in loyal love and truth.  ~Psalm 86:15

Refocus

blueeyerefocus-e1402765750552One of the great men of the Bible was David, and he reigned as King for over thirty years. His path to the throne wasn’t an easy journey, and his years as a monarch were often times of great difficulty.

One of the more trying moments of his life is recorded in 1 Samuel 30:6: David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and his daughters.  But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God.

Even though David was greatly distressed, he didn’t allow the trial, the heartache, and the grief to define the rest of his life.  Instead, David strengthened himself in the Lord.

David refocused his emotions, turned his thoughts towards God, and remembered: My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth (Psalm 121).

It’s also likely, that David rehearsed the many times that God had intervened in his life:

  • God once delivered him from a lion and a bear
  • God gave him a victory when he faced Goliath in battle and beat him
  • When jealous Saul tried to kill him, God always provided safety.

Today may be one of those days that you’re feeling distressed.  Whatever your Goliath may be, God can bring your giant to his knees.  Find strength in knowing that what God did for David, He can also do for you.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. ~Philippians 4:13