How to Run with Endurance

Are you exhausted from running the race marked out for you? Have your faith muscles been stretched further than you thought you could endure?

This year I learned, once again, the importance of FAITH when I had to endure a heart wrenching event. Followed by a continual avalanche of minor first-world problems that threatened to trip me.

The Hebrews Hall of Faith (Hebrews 11) show men and women who endured hardships where the physical reality—what they could see—often made no sense. And may have presented God as absent and unloving.

These people weren’t commended for who they were or what they accomplished. They were commended because they held onto their faith despite hardships.

Their faith moved them from a ‘contract faith’ which means I’ll follow God if He treats me well—to a relationship that surpasses hardships.

I learned this lesson when I was in my mid-thirties. I thought my faith was rock solid. Then I had three miscarriages in a two year span.

I accepted the first miscarriage. Life happens, right? Plus, I had two toddlers. However, grieving for my baby made me long for another one. The second miscarriage threw me in a downward spiral. Instead of praising God in the storm, I whined because my two best friends had babies. By the third miscarriage, I shook my fist at God.

“Why is this happening? Don’t you love me?”

I had a contract faith: I expected God to prove that He loved me by giving me what I wanted.

Then one night I cried out, “Lord, I trust you to give me a baby in your time. Or, fill my void with Yourself.”

I claimed Isaiah 27:13,14. “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord … Wait for the Lord; Be strong….”

Sometimes, all we can do is believe God and wait—for His guidance, His intervention, His promises.

That season of loss and—believing God—was a pivotal turning point in my faith. The Lord renewed my spirit and gave me His perfect peace. When I least expected it, He gave me a son … who was born premature, but that’s another faith lesson.

Remembering God’s faithfulness over the years enables me to run with endurance. Even in this … latest hardship.

“Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).

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How Do I Give Up Control?

I stumbled across this old blog and thought, wow! I haven’t changed. I still like to be in control. When will I ever learn…….

Even In This

My teenage son is going on a weekend trip. He waits till the last minute to pack his duffel bag. I follow him out the front door with my mental checklist.

“Did you pack extra socks? You want to keep your feet warm.”

“One pair should be enough.”

“Did you pack sunscreen?”

“Someone else should have some.”

“Do you have a flashlight?”

No answer.

I’d say my voice is going in his one ear and out the other, but there’s an ear bud inserted into his right ear.

Dad’s voice, “Leave him alone. He’ll be fine.”

“What if he forgets something he needs?”

“Then he’ll remember it next time.”

They drive away, leaving an exasperated mother. “I wonder if he packed a tooth brush.”

My daughter says I’d make a great administrative assistant. Even when I leave home, I type out detailed instructions.

“Water the plants on these days. Don’t…

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Want Some Gum?

April Fool’s Day 2018 fell on Easter Sunday so it didn’t seem appropriate to trick folks like I have in the past. However, I found this blog post from a few years ago that occurred near both those days. I’m no longer a volunteer jail chaplain, but the memory of Harry “the juicy fruit guy” still inspires me.

Even In This

crossOn April 1st, April Fool’s Day, a fellow jail chaplain passed away. Harry was 92 years old, but he was no fool.

The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”  (Psalm 14:1)

I attended Harry’s memorial service this past weekend. I went, not to weep, but to celebrate a life that belonged to Jesus. To honor a man whose earthly fruit glorified God.

Folks called Harry the “juicy fruit man” because he always …and I mean always…carried sticks of gum. That’s how I met him one night, many moons ago, while I waited to go into jail.

Smiling, he offered me a stick of gum. The yellow wrapper said Juicy Fruit, but it was Harry’s “Gospel Gum.” Whether it was a jail guard or a stranger sitting in the lobby, Harry used gum to break the ice, to part…

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Becoming Like Jesus Isn’t for Sissies

Tears rolled down my cheeks when I received the sad news. My stomach burned like I’d been kicked in the gut. The age-old question taunted me, “Why, Lord?

Even so, I took a deep breath and told myself, every circumstance is an opportunity for me to become more like Christ. But what does that mean? More patient? More compassionate? More … what?

Heartache colored everything grey. What was I supposed to learn from this sorrow? Was the lesson worth the cost?

And yet, if I believed God could use my sorrow to make me more like His Son, Jesus, then I had to unclench my fist. If nothing else, I could respond like Jesus on the night just before He was arrested.

“My heart is so full of sadness that I could die,” Jesus said. Then He fell on His face and prayed, “Father, not what I want, but what you want!” (Matthew 26:38,39)

Becoming like Jesus isn’t for sissies. Sometimes, the idea of being Christ-like seems downright impossible. Thankfully, the Spirit of God does the work of conforming people into Christ’s image.

The process begins when a person is born again. Jesus told Nicodemus “unless a person is born again from above, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.”(John 3:3)

Like any birth, growth follows.

I wish I could take a daily hallelujah pill and have my thoughts, words, and actions be the same as Christ. But the Bible says I won’t fully be like Jesus until I see Him face to face. Meanwhile, some days I feel less like Jesus than the day I trusted Him to be my Lord and Savior. On a good day, I feel as though I’ve had a spiritual growth spurt and hope others see Christ in me.

But, how I “feel” has nothing to do with reality.

Romans 8:29 says God predestined His people to be conformed to His Son’s image. (Predestined means to determine in advance.) Only, nobody ever said the process would be painless.

When I was a kid, my long dirty-blond hair easily tangled at the nape of my neck. The fine hairs would bunch up into a tight-fisted ball until it resembled a rat’s nest. I’d go to my mom with a comb and try to sit still as she pried the hairs apart. However, it was impossible to straighten my hair without pulling at the tender roots. I’d complain and wiggle which only made the process worse.

I haven’t changed. When my rat-race of a life becomes a hairy mess, I run to God with my circumstances. Cry for help. Beg for relief. Only, I’m too busy wiggling and complaining.

“It hurts, Lord. Make it go away. I can’t deal with this!”

And yet, for every emotional tantrum, I’ve also had victorious moments. Last month, life hit me below the belt through no fault of my own, I felt the pinch, the pain. I agonized over my powerlessness to change things. Only this time, I sat still in God’s presence and allowed Him to dry my tears. God didn’t explain why He allowed the sorrow. He didn’t tell me how He’d use it for my good.

However, if my ultimate good is becoming more like Christ, then I can trust God to work everything together towards that end.

So, what’s a believer’s role in this process?

Get to know Jesus. Study the Bible’s four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) that are in the New Testament. Who is Jesus? What does He say about Himself? What do His actions reveal about His character? What does Jesus expect from His followers?

—Pray for a transformed heart. Our human tendency is to avoid pain and want our own way. Jesus said, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” But we can pray that our heart’s desire would be a deeper relationship with Jesus, and the desire to become like Him. Willing to follow Him even if it means getting a taste of the Garden of Gethsemane.

—Change perspective. View every circumstance as an opportunity and the means to be like Christ. Having an eternal perspective affects our attitude towards hardship. It also enables us to respond like Christ and accept God’s will.

Even now, when my heartache lingers, I know God is good. His eternal purposes for my life includes making me more like Christ.

Who is this Jesus, the Christ? He’s the Alpha and the Omega. The Lion and the Lamb. Lord of Lords. King of Kings. And He made a promise just before He ascended to heaven: “And remember! I will be with you always.”

Jesus. Always with us.

Even in this … hard place.

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What If You Thought?

In the movie, Casablanca, Vichy France’s prefect of police (Captain Renault) tells his men to “round up the usual suspects” when a Nazi officer is shot. That famous line is something I tell myself:

“Karen, whenever your thoughts go wild, round up the usual suspects.”

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For a long time, I thought my usual suspects were fear and worry because those negative emotions robbed my joy, woke me up at night, and prevented me from stepping out of my comfort zone. Then I realized my thoughts were the culprit, instigating all kinds of wild imaginings especially over my kids’ safety.

What if my toddler chokes on a hotdog? What if a stranger steals my kid? What if my teenage child gets injured in a car accident? What if my husband and I die, who’ll raise our kids?

My children grew up, but the wild imaginings continued. I felt more vulnerable with age, and realized how little control (if any) I had over the well being of others. I’d also witnessed enough tragedy in the news and among friends to justify my what ifs.

I told myself worry and fear couldn’t prevent bad things from happening. I told myself worry and fear were a waste of mental energy if these trial weren’t going to happen. I told myself fear is not from the Lord. But all that self talk didn’t help because I’d failed to recognize the source of my worry and fear.

Finally, someone listened to my wild imaginings and said, “You need to capture your thoughts so you’ll experience God’s peace.”

Duh! Why didn’t I think of that?

I understood the impact thoughts have on our moods, words, and actions. I’d often told my children, “Think happy thoughts.” I’d quote Philippians 4:8. “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

So what was I thinking?

If I was going to capture my thoughts, I had to recognize my malicious thoughts so I could round them up at the first sign of goosebumps or dread. When a fearful moment arrived, I envisioned minuscule soldiers stationed in my mind—arresting that terrifying thought before it got out of hand. No visitation allowed. I refused to let my mind entertain that thought.

 

police-306317_1280But the nagging thoughts hollered:
What if your negative thoughts are valid?
What if your worst nightmares come true?

That’s when I mustered my second defense. It wasn’t enough to capture my thoughts, I had to renew my mind by reading God’s Word. Then, I challenged myself. “You like to dwell on what ifs. Think about this:

What if you controlled your thoughts instead of allowing your thoughts to control you?
What if you believed God is able to do more than you can imagine instead of focusing on your wild imaginings?
What if you believed God’s promises to provide, comfort, and guide you instead of wondering how you’ll cope?
What if you trusted God’s sovereignty instead of worrying about the future?
What if you believed God’s grace is sufficient even in your worst nightmare?
What if you believed that nothing—no sin or failure—can separate you from God’s love?
What if you believed to be absent from the flesh is to be present with the Lord?
What if you gave thanks in everything for this is God’s will for you?

Would these thoughts, these mind-blowing truths, alleviate your worries and fears? Would they free you to live? If so, round up the usual suspects–even in this moment!

 

Images: Pixabay.com

 

 

No If, And, or But

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“I love you, but…”

Has anyone said that to you?

For me, instead of owning the love, I camp on the words that follow that statement because it seems the person’s love (or approval) is contingent on something I do or don’t do.

When I raised kids, I probably said the same thing. “I love you, but . . . you need to clean your room, do your homework, behave.”

I assumed God spoke that way to me. “I love you, but . . .”

But, what? What do I need to do? As a performance-driven, people pleaser, I turned myself inside out to find the answer.

Do I need to earn my salvation?

No, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9).

Do I need to earn God’s love?

No, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Maybe I need to be a better Christian so I don’t lose God’s love.

And the Loving God who calls me “Beloved” assures me, “Nothing can separate you from my love” (Romans 8:35-39).

You see, I spent years learning God’s Word, but I had to believe God.

Imagine my relief and the mind-blowing joy to know that I know—God loves. There is no if, and, or but!

Hold onto this truth no matter what your feelings or circumstances suggest otherwise. Even in this…coming new year!

Do We Clearly See?

Sun sets on the Hawaiian Islands, and the crowds stand along the shoreline with their cameras aimed westward while frothy surf tickles bare feet. Hundreds of eyes—young and old, round and almond-shaped, brown and blue—glued to the grandeur of a huge orb of fire, slipping serenely into an aqua sea. The sky is ablaze in hues of pink, lavender, and orange.

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I want to shout, “To God be the glory!”

But I’m a silent observer. My heart heavy with the weight of a world who pauses to experience a breathtaking sunset while often ignoring, if not denying, the Creator who made this very moment possible.

The people see, but can they hear the heaven’s declaring God’s glory?

“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20)

I’m not passing judgement on a band of international tourists on holiday. Who knows what eternal thoughts (if any) came into their minds as they witnessed the daily miracle unfolding. Most people don’t wear a T-shirt proclaiming their faith. But imagine the eyebrows I might have raised, if I’d kneeled in the cool sand and raised my hands towards the sky, praising God’s name. Would anyone have joined me? Whispered, “Amen!”

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I’m not a bold witness when I’m alone among strangers. And yet, I’m convicted. How can I not proclaim the gospel that is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes in Christ Jesus?

A Japanese couple takes a selfie with the sun peeking over their shoulders. When they gaze at the sun, are they privately worshipping Amaterasu—the sun goddess—who is a major deity in the Shinto religion? According to the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki in Japanese mythology, the Emperors of Japan are considered to be direct descendants of Amaterasu.

Curious, I search the internet for “sun gods” and a long list of names from cultures around the world reveals mankind’s desire to define and worship the sun, or link the sun to a god or goddess. When the Apostle Paul wrote the Christians living in Rome, the culture worshipped the sun god, Apollo.

Does it matter what we call the god who created and controls the sun? Does it matter if there’s a god? 

According to Acts 17:23-31 . . . it matters very much.

That’s why Paul talked to the religious people of Athens about their statue to “an unknown god.” Paul stood in a crowd and assured them, they could know “the God who made the world—the Lord of heaven and earth.” He explained….

  • God does not live in temples built by hands.
  • God is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything because he gives all men life and breath.
  • God desires that men would seek him and reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.

I wonder if Paul and the crowds paused that day to watch the sun set on Athens?

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What were they thinking when the sun seemed to brush the earth with a goodnight kiss? Did they credit Apollo with another sunset, dismissing Paul’s words as foolishness? Or, were their eyes opened to clearly see their Creator’s invisible attributes, His eternal power, and divine nature so they could believe and worship the One, True God.

Something to consider even in this . . . glorious God-ordained sunset that happens everyday!