Is Negative Thinking a Choice?

I am an optimist; in case you did not know. I believe the best in people, until I am proven wrong. Even when people have bad intentions, I have seen God change their heart or bring good out of the situation.

I have experienced firsthand God’s mighty power and transforming my lemons into lemonade, time and time again. So, I can have faith that He will do it again, in any circumstance. It brings me peace to be positive. Does that make me naïve? For a very large portion of my life, I would agree. I was very naïve. But, God…you know the rest. Today is a very different story. I came through the fire and I am still positive. I know there are people I cannot trust as far as I can throw them- which is not very far; but I do not dwell on that.

When I see others who lean on the side of negative thinking and pessimistic views, I wonder- is that a choice? Is it in their DNA? Have they genuinely tried (with God’s help) to choose another path? The path of peace. Can they envision the concept of making lemonade? What if they were able to intentionally push out negative thoughts every day and choose to think positive? Would that be a life changer? I am truly curious and ask out of sincerity.

For any pessimists out there- please do not take this personal and respond too quickly without taking time for thoughtful reflection. I do know that I have times of doubt and fear- I do not linger there. I ask God to help me push it out so I can return to a place of peace. I guess I choose to think positive in that way. So as a natural optimist- is it easier for me? Probably. But does that mean it is not possible for a pessimist to do the same thing? It may be more difficult – but I think it is possible. What do you think?

Big ‘G’ or Little ‘g’

I thought I would expand on the Scripture I used in last week’s blog to dive a little deeper into Joshua’s challenge in 24:15 to ‘choose this day whom you will serve’. By this time in Joshua’s journey, he was in the last stages of his life, and he had seen many people be disobedient and the consequences that came from it.

As an assistant to Moses, he saw firsthand the idols and gods the previous generation worshiped in disobedience to God’s commands. He also had the opportunity, as a faithful servant, to succeed Moses to lead the people of Israel into the Promised Land.

We can relate the gods and idols of that generation to ours today. Anything we place ahead of GOD is an idol and a god (little ‘g’). I would venture to say we have many gods, although not in the form of a golden calf, but still just as detrimental to our lives if we place them before God and allow them to become the ultimate thing in our life instead of putting Jesus at the forefront.

Joshua was challenging the generation whose fathers had been disobedient. He was setting an example and asking them to choose if they were going to fall back into the patterns of the generation before them or serve the one true God. They continued to choose to serve God as they had seen what He did for them as they overcame many obstacles, saw miracles when God parted the water for them to pass, when the walls of Jericho fell after circling it for seven days, as God instructed, and the land given to them that God had promised, not to mention the many battles that were conquered with God’s help due to their obedience and putting God in His rightful place in their lives.

We may not have the same circumstances, obstacles, and challenges that generation had, but there is still a lesson to be learned. Just as we see the promises fulfilled in the OT in Moses and Joshua’s day, we can trust God to fulfill His promises through eternity by way of Jesus. Joshua and Jesus are the same name in Hebrew- symbolically, by faith and obedience to God, Joshua led Israel into physical salvation in Canaan, and Jesus leads all who believe him into eternal salvation.

The importance of Joshua’s challenge to the people of Israel is still relevant to us yet today- “choose this day whom you will serve.” (Joshua 24:15 ESV)  

But God…

Today, many of us are reflecting on the past year as we all want a fresh start, a do-over, and an end to the virus, hate, and injustices seen the last few months. In my reflection this morning, I was reminded of all the great things God has done this year. Even during a pandemic, God showed up in a big way to bring good to many. We can rest assured He is with us and still in control.

At this time last year, I had no idea I would be in school, working from home, and getting ready to welcome a new daughter (in law) to our little family. I sit in gratefulness and awe of an amazing God and Father who loves us and wants good for us. I am reminded of Ephesians 2:4-10 when Paul makes what the ESV study Bible calls, “the greatest short phrase in history of human speech”. “But God!” (emphasis added) Just before this, Paul paints a bleak picture of our sinful nature. We are hopeless and helpless on our own, following the devil and his sinful nature that we, as descendants of Adam, inherited at birth. Just when things are the darkest and all hope is lost…God steps in with mercy, kindness, and love; for those who are joined to Jesus Christ are saved from the terrible consequences of their sin and enjoy the benefits of Christ’s resurrection.

Have you ever loved something or someone so much that you set it free? You did not want to keep it, control, or manipulate it into staying with you just because you wanted it to so much. That is the picture of true love. You want to offer a choice to be with you because of love for you. God does that for us. He gave us the free will to choose Him. He sent His Son to die on our behalf so we could have eternal life, but He also asks us to choose whom we will serve. (Joshua 24:15) Do you want to choose this broken world and our sinful nature or the Father who loves us and wants the best for us for eternity?

I look forward to a new year, to see what God will do, what surprises He has in store, as I rest in the knowledge of His love, truth, mercy, and goodness. I invite you to join me in celebration of that truth, not fearing what is next because God is with us. Let us stand on a firm foundation, rooted deep in faith, serving and loving others as He loves us. I choose God. I choose joy. I encourage you to read and reflect on Ephesians 2:4-10 and just what that means for us.

I pray for restoration of relationships, and that God will close the gaps on the many divisions occurring among Christians and family members, the enemy is trying to destroy. But most of all, I pray that you will welcome the intimate relationship God is offering you today.

Happy New Year to all!  May the God of peace be with you in the coming year and beyond.

A Reflection on the Four Seasons

Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter. We all know these seasons and probably have a favorite. Most of us would probably say Spring or Fall is their favorite because it is the right temperature, you like when flowers are blooming or maybe the Fall colors take your breath away. Whatever the reason, good or bad, we have a love/hate relationship with them.

Recently, I had a different thought about the four seasons. I believe we also have seasons of life. A spiritual and physical. For the spiritual we could look at it this way:

Fall: We fell into sin (a fallen world)

Winter: Death to self (we realize we should be living for God instead of self)

Spring: New birth (renewed by Christ for a new life)

Summer: Maturity & peace

Now, let us look at our physical seasons:

Spring: We are born

Summer- We mature

Fall- We are aging

Winter- Death

Winter can be like a dry season in our life. But no matter how long we have been in a dry, dark season, God can bring new life and refresh us with living water of the Spirit.

Just like the valley of dry bones, if we listen to the word of the Lord and have faith, He will breathe new life into us. (Ezekiel 37)

Jesus replied, “I assure you no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and spirit. Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. So, do not be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.” (John 3:5-8 NLT)

For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. (Eccl. 3:1-2 NLT)

Be Specific

Our prayers and goals are interchangeable. We pray for the goals we want for ourselves. We may not get the answer we think we wanted, but God always gives us something better. We cannot see the bigger picture or the view from His perspective. We are like a mouse in a maze. Our view is only of the wall in front of us. When we come to a roadblock, we can feel discouraged. But looking down over our lives is our Heavenly Father who sees all, knows all, and can guide us to the right path. He can remove the obstacles and place people in our lives to help us along the way.

I heard a minister on the radio who said our prayers need to be specific and measurable. His belief was that if we just ask for a blessing that could come in the form of a problem. Blessings are little problems that keep you from a bigger problem.

That reminded me of a lady I was in a life group with a few years ago. She always told us we need to be specific about what we want in our prayers. She told of a friend who prayed for a husband. In her words, “that is all she got!”  I had to laugh about that one.

I believe if we are continually pouring ourselves into the Father, He will pour more into us. The closer our relationship with Him, the more we align our desires to what He wants for us instead of what we think we want. God always knows best and wants the best for us.

And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we do not know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.

(Romans 8:26, NLT)

But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted? (John 15:7, NLT)

The Chosen One

This is another story through the eyes of the character…thank you for allowing me some liberties in the details of his feelings. The story is based on the biblical account of Moses’ brother Aaron.

Moses older brother, Aaron, was an imperfect leader. Even though he was chosen by God for an honorable position, in his disobedience, he died in the wilderness without seeing the Promised Land. As Moses mouthpiece, he spoke to Israelite leaders on behalf of the Israelites to convince Pharaoh to allow them to leave Egypt. He was also chosen to become Israel’s first high priest.

Taking second fiddle to Moses most of his life, Aaron dreamed of the day he himself could lead the people. At this point he only repeated messages God gave Moses. Aaron sat on a stump, carefully carving each letter of his name on a staff that would represent the tribe of Levi. His thoughts racing, he tried to imagine the staff budding and what that meant for him and his family. If he were chosen, everything would change.  This would be a great responsibility. He could feel the palms of his hands begin to sweat, and the tension in his brow became apparent as did his intense grip on the staff. His jaw tightened and then in one extreme exhale of air, he began to relax a bit. He would just have to await until the appointed time.

He delivered the staff to Moses, who took it with the eleven others, representing each ancestral tribe, to the Ark containing the tablets of the Covenant, and placed them in the Lord’s presence. Then they waited. The next day, when they arrived at the Tabernacle, Moses found that Aaron’s staff not only had buds, but it had sprouted, budded, blossomed, and produced ripe almonds, (New Living Translation, 1996,2004,2007, Numbers 17:8). You could not ask for a clearer sign. God had shown the people who will oversee the Ark and the staff was placed there permanently as a reminder.

In amazement, Aaron picked up one of the almonds and touched it cautiously with the tip of his tongue for a brief second and then jerked back. It was real. He chuckled under his breath and popped it in his mouth, relieved and nervous at the same time. Although a bit of arrogance crept in at first, he knew this job could not be taken lightly. If Aaron allowed anyone near the sacred objects of the alter, both he and them would die. God also provided for Aaron and his family, by allowing them to receive a portion of the most holy offerings. He had special garments made just for Aaron and his sons that would distinguish him as a priest set apart for the Lord’s service.

Great skill and care went into making the chest piece that Aaron would wear when seeking a decision from God. He would always carry over his heart the objects used to determine the Lord’s will for his people whenever he goes in before the Lord. The breastplate held sacred jewels representing the sons of Israel with each name engraved on them like a seal, serving as a reminder that the priest represents the people of Israel.

The four rows of gemstones carefully placed were:

  • red carnelian, pale green peridot, emerald, blue lapis lazuli
  • turquoise, white moonstone, orange jacinth, agate
  • purple amethyst, blue-green beryl, onyx, green jasper

The weight of the breastplate rested on Aaron’s shoulders as a reminder of the great responsibility given to him by God. But God also provided everything Aaron needed to accomplish his feat and fulfil his purpose. God has always provided for us, even when we cannot see it. He generously bestows knowledge, wisdom, spiritual gifts, talents and fully equips us with everything we need to accomplish our God-given mission.

Aaron’s story leads him in the wilderness, his impatience with the Lord led him to make a golden calf for the people to worship; and his life was ended before seeing the Promised Land because he challenged God. This should stand as a reminder that even though we are chosen by God for a purpose and He equips us for the journey; we are not to worship His creation, but the Creator Himself. Our disobedience makes us miss out on blessings and joy in this life. Our gifts and talents are not to be made idols in our lives, but we are to always look to the One who generously gave us those gifts and give Him all the honor and glory He so richly deserves.

God’s timing is perfect. When we rush it or try to do it by our own efforts and take control, we are edging God out by letting our ego and impatience take first place. But when we surrender all to God, the Creator of all things, who knows all, sees all and has a plan for our lives, we are blessed beyond measure and everything will fall into place, as God designed. We can trust God with the outcome. He has proven to be faithful and saved us from our own destructive behaviors more times than we can count. His faithfulness endures forever. We when are struggling with something, we can ask God what He wants for us; but we must be willing to listen and make the necessary changes. That is not always easy, but it is worth it. Surrendering to God changes lives.

You are a chosen son/daughter of the King. That is not a heavy burden but an honorable mission that brings delight when we allow God to lead us one day at a time and trust Him with the outcome. It will put you out of your comfort zone into unknown territory, but it is a risk worth taking, every time.

The Precious Gift

Can you imagine what it would have been like to encounter Jesus in the flesh and receive immediate forgiveness? Bear with me as I take you on a journey (with a few liberties) to share a new take on an old story through the eyes of Mary Magdalene and what might have been her perspective.

Mary had never experienced compassion before. Her life had been marked by ridicule and shame. She had no idea she could ever feel the kind of love Jesus offered. Unconditional, relentless, and not dependent on anything she could do for him.

Her life up to this point had been that of a shameful disgrace to her family. She lived out of fear and regrets but did not know how to make changes in her life. Giving herself away to disrespectful men was the only life she knew. Hateful men who made her feel like a piece of meat or a display they could discard after each use; until they yearned for her body and what it offered them.

Yes, the little money she made paid the rent and put food on the table, but at what cost? Her inner thoughts swirled around in her head, making her dizzy, as she stared at the night sky, making a wish on a fallen star, she threw out a question to the listening universe, “how could anybody love me after what I’ve done?” She could not escape these mindful traps or see herself in any way besides filthy in the sight of God.

She had heard of a man, named Jesus, who traveled and preformed miracles. She could not imagine in her wildest dreams that he would have anything to do with her. Albeit an impossible feat, she occasionally allowed herself to imagine a life without shame. These thoughts did not linger as she knew her fate. Then, on one the darkest nights, in the middle of one of the most despicable acts of perverted pleasure, she heard a whisper. “Mary, come with me. You don’t have to live like this.” A cold shiver creased her brow and moved downward through her body, causing a knee jerk reaction, the man on top of her did not see coming. In one lighting sweep, with power like she had never felt, she shoved him off onto the floor and grabbed a blanket to cover herself. She felt as though God himself was standing before her. Through squinting eyes, she tried to focus on the images in front of her. But the room too dark.

She told the man to leave as she handed back the money, knowing he would cause a scene if she kept it. The money was the last thing on her mind. She got dressed and wandered outside to get some air. The cool breeze felt light and airy on her dark skin. Whose voice had she heard? Could it be the man she had been hearing stories about? Her thoughts raced as she tried to sleep. But there was something about that voice; the words he spoke to be more specific, that she could not get out of her head. It was warm, kind, soft-spoken and gentle. She had not heard anyone speak to her in that tone since she was a little girl.

The next morning, as the sun rose above the mountain peaks, she heard birds chirping and a dog bark, before her thoughts caught up to her awakening body; she lay in a kind of dreamy state of mind, enjoying a few extra minutes in bed, before her mind leaped to attention as she was reminded of the voice. Her body followed suite as she felt the cold, damp floor beneath her feet. She got dressed in the most conservative outfit she could find, gathered her belongings, and went on the search for the stranger who spoke to her. She stood at the edge of town, with hot tears stream down her face, she was overwhelmed by a sense of unworthiness and shame. Her throat hurt and her knees felt like jelly as she lost her footing in the dusty street, crashing face first to the ground.

She could feel the creases in the palms of her hands as she covered her face, to hide the tears. A gentle hand reached out to help her to her feet and offered a kind word, in a familiar voice, “Mary, you are forgiven. I love you. Come follow me.” She immediately followed him and was welcomed in the home of one of Jesus’ disciples, where they broke bread together in a most remarkable way.

His words stuck in her mind as she tried to comprehend what all that encompassed. The welcome friendship he offered without conviction. The forgiveness she thought was not possible. She went to her bag and retrieved the most valuable treasure she owned. An alabaster jar, containing nard, an expensive and rare reddish colored perfume she could have sold for enough to pay for a year’s wages. She knelt beside Jesus, overwhelmed by the very thought of being in his presence, she could barely see through the tears as they flooded her eyes, and began to fall on his feet. She gently let her hair down and used it to dry the tears from his feet, then took the jar and broke it open, pouring the contents into the palms of her hands, she anointed his feet; revealing the fragrant, sweet smelling spice, that filled the room with a majestic wonder for the one person who could offer more than Mary could imagine possible. Scolded by the other men in the room for wasting such a valuable oil, she knew the persecution she would face, but chose the act of kindness in a moment of unmeasurable gratitude. (Matthew 26:7-9)

Little did she know, in a few short days, her act of gratefulness would be a symbolic reminder of what Jesus would do for us. His body would also be broken, like the pure white alabaster jar, and his blood, as the rare and precious nard spilled out as a saving grace to cover all our sins. To be forgiven through all our unworthiness, a broken sinner in need of a Savior- a precious gift not to be taken lightly.

Unless otherwise noted, all biblical passages referenced are in the New Living Translation, (1996,2004,2007) Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Carol Stream, IL:Tyndale House Foundation.

Innocence

I love God’s heart. For a lot of us our childhood memories come with a sense of innocence. I had a ton of great memories on our front porch. It brings back so many images to my mind. A place of firsts. Firsts certainly contain a load of innocence. First memory, first word, first step, laughter, singing, loss, tears, family and friends, music out the bedroom window, swinging, pets, long conversations, sleepy eyes, fireflies, hellos, and goodbyes.

First bike, first car, first crush, wedding day jitters, first house, first job, first baby, singing lullabies. I could go on and on. Even though our front porch saw a lot of these firsts, for me, it also was the place I first lost some of my innocence. But that one memory does not have to taint all the others. I was reminded that God restores our innocence. Through all the things we have done since our more innocent days of childhood; We can rest assured God has redeemed it all through His Son, Jesus.

Not only to our level of childlike memories, but to His superlative standards of innocence. That brings a new level of renewed hope and joy, as we travel the high road, looking to the Rock for our comfort and protection. God loves us that much. His heart is so full of love for us that He chose to save us and restore our innocence so we can be free.

From the ends of the earth, I cry to you for help when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I. Psalm 61:2

I look up to the mountains- does my help come from there? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth! Psalm 121:1-2

He will make your innocence radiate like the dawn, and the justice of your cause will shine like the noonday sun. Psalm 37:6

Never Alone

I have learned to distinguish a cardinal from other birds by their call. Even when I can’t see them, I know there is one close by because I hear it.

We have been watching the Masked Singer lately- this is where a group of celebrities in costume compete against each other in a singing competition while a celebrity panel of judges tries to guess who they are. As they are eliminated in the competition, they are unmasked. Most of the time it is a total surprise who they are. But the last show we watched was different; one of the panelists recognized the voice of the singer- they were friends, so she had no doubt who it was. A friend recognizes the voice of a friend. She wasn’t wrong.

We can also learn how to recognize God’s voice and train our ear to listen for it; even when we cannot see Him. We can know He is near- He never leaves us or forsakes us. Sometimes we feel distant because of our sin or simply because we do not take the time to be still, learn His voice and pay attention.

God is the One person we do not have to social distance from during this time of quarantine. Quite the opposite, now is the perfect opportunity, as we have more time at home, to rekindle our relationship with the Father. If you have not experienced a close relationship with Him before, it is a great time to start one through the reading of His word, sitting in quiet time with the Spirit and asking for discernment to understand His voice.

It is also a great opportunity to pray for God’s people all over the world- as we are experiencing the same trials- (I Peter 5:9) We are not alone in our suffering. Not only are there others going through the same things; but God is always with us. He never leaves us alone or forsakes us. These song lyrics have been on my mind for several days: “I’ve seen the lightning flashing and heard the thunder roll…. He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone.” You have a friend that is closer than a brother that you can talk to anytime. His door is always open. He is always listening and waiting for you to come to Him. He knows exactly what you are going through right now.

God’s faithfulness is everlasting. Draw near and abide in Him. His promises stand true. Trust Him to be your constant companion- even though you may not see Him. You can know that He is there. It is in the knowing and trusting that brings a peace and comfort like no other.

Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. Psalm 91:1

Remain in me, and I will remain in you. John 15:4

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. John 10:27