Wednesday, January 2, 2019 1:36 PM

New Year, New Beginnings

Wednesday, January 2, 2019 1:36 PM
Wednesday, January 2, 2019 1:36 PM

“It snowed last night,” I cried out in delight.  As a child, I loved spending weekends at my parents’ cabin in the mountains near Lake Arrowhead, CA. When it snowed, white blanketed the pine trees and carpeted the ground. Footprints had not yet marred the landscape. Everything seemed so fresh, pristine, new. 

As an adult, do you ever want a fresh start? I do. I usually don’t make New Year’s resolutions, but this year I am more reflective. The new year brings prospects for change, becoming unburdened with past mistakes and seizing new opportunities. But to do so takes work. That is why my number one priority for the new year is to think about what I am thinking about.

You have heard it said, “As a man thinketh, so is he.” Scientists have confirmed this by discovering that negative thoughts stemming from emotions such as repressed anger, fear, guilt, and unforgiveness trigger chemical reactions in our brain and body and lead to poor health outcomes. Researchers state that over 75% of illnesses can be attributed to negative thinking. Conversely, positive thoughts, such as gratefulness, lead to increased resiliency, decreased stress, and improved immune system functioning. Being aware of my positive and negative thoughts is important because I have multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease, but it is also important for EVERYONE.       

We can’t always change our circumstances but we can choose our response.

Even when we experience difficult times, we can find reasons to be grateful. Being disabled and in a wheelchair, it is easy to overlook good things and focus on what I can’t do any more. Your situation may be different than mine, but everyone has challenges. This coming year I plan to keep a journal of things I am thankful for, then review it daily, especially when I start to feel “down in the dumps.”

How Do I Get Started?

Some people find it useful to write in a notebook, but for me it is easier to keep the journal on my phone. I started by just jotting down a list on the Notes app on my phone, but of course there is an app for everything, so find one that works for you.

What Do I Include?

Recognizing the little things is important. It’s a good idea to try and write a certain number of things down each day – maybe three or more. Try not to repeat things on your list. You can write about things that happened in your day, physical things (like your favorite shirt or a comfy bed), people in your life, and your abilities. Include why you are grateful for each item and how it makes you feel. For example:

-I am grateful for my Sleep Number bed because in the morning I can make the mattress firmer and the head raises up so I can get out of bed by myself. This makes me feel more independent. 

-I am grateful for my 2 ½ year old granddaughter coming over to play with her new princess toy because there is such joy in seeing a child delighted.

What Else?

Think about and thank God for the things on your list several times each day: morning, noon, and night. I have a wallhanging in my house that says, “Thankful, Grateful, Blessed.”  This reminds me to be grateful to God for all of His blessings.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

James 1:17 (NIV)

BIO: Dr. Sherry Ryan is a blogger, writer and speaker. She retired in 2013 from the University of North Texas as an Associate Professor of Information Technology and Decision Sciences. Prior to earning her doctorate, she worked for IBM, teaching courses and speaking at national conferences.

Sherry's blog SeatedExpectations.com provides "Inspiration and Information for Overcoming Life's Challenges." 

Wednesday, November 28, 2018 7:14 PM

The Joy of Trials

Wednesday, November 28, 2018 7:14 PM
Wednesday, November 28, 2018 7:14 PM

 

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:2-4 English Standard Version)

Trials aren’t considered joyful occasions by many people. Instead they are times of high stress. Even though trials happen, we must remember that they aren’t accidents or mistakes. Trials are also under the control of God.

Does that mean that God is evil since He allows these things to happen? Of course not! Nothing that the Lord does is for evil. There’s a good reason for hardships to come our way.

One of those reasons is that God wants us to rely on Him for strength in such ordeals. When we strive to overcome the hardships ourselves, we drain ourselves spiritually and become burned out. However, if we turn to God, He’ll give us what we need to overcome, according to His will.

Furthermore, God knows what’s best for us. Whether we like it or not, trials are necessary for us to grow into to the people that we are called to be. Trials are an exercise of the soul.

Why should we depend on God when trials come? We trust in the Lord because He sees the big picture. The whole world is like a giant tapestry filled with all manner of color and themes. Each of us has a specific role in this masterpiece and everything that happens to us, both good and bad, forms us into a paint stroke, which makes the artwork more beautiful. Therefore, knowing that God sees the big picture, we can endure the trials of life like an athlete who endures hardship in training. He does so because he knows that it will produce great results in the end.

The trials that we have talked about so far are what happen when we faithfully serve the Lord. The other trials that we face happen either because of outside sources that are beyond our control or by consequences from poor choices. I am not suggesting that God does not have a say in such trials; far from it. As a matter of fact, He usually uses such situations to open our hearts and eyes, and make us see how much we need Him.          

With all this in mind, let us not run away from the difficulties when they come our way. Instead, let’s strive to find joy when we face these trials. Not because these difficulties are pleasant, but because we understand that they will help us to be strong in our faith.     

A wise man once said that it isn’t about how hard you are hit in life, it is about how hard you get hit and not go down. Let us not let hardships cause us to despair, but let us turn to the Lord in prayer. When we do, we find the strength to push on.

BIO:  Bruce Sims was born in Southern California, but the place where he was spiritually born in Christ was in North Texas. He received his Master’s in Education at Dallas Theological Seminary and teaches ESL at an Elementary School. He enjoys spending his spare time having many adventures with his wife Aimee.

His favorite Bible verse is Romans 12:1, which calls us to live life sacrificially for God. He has written several poetry and Bible devotionals, which can be found on Amazon.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018 8:16 PM

God Winks and Signs

Tuesday, October 30, 2018 8:16 PM
Tuesday, October 30, 2018 8:16 PM

God winks are little things that seem to happen randomly. However, some feel they are signals from God giving them direction or reassurance.

In a movie called Signs, two brothers tackle this subject. The older brother, Graham, a minister, has tragically lost his wife. He is struggling with anger and doubt. The younger brother, Merrill, asks Graham if he believes that God is looking out for them—because he is feeling afraid.

Graham responds, “People break down into two groups. When they experience something lucky, group number one sees it as more than luck, more than coincidence. They see it as a sign, evidence, that there is someone up there, watching out for them. Group number two sees it as just pure luck, just a happy turn of chance—Could be bad, could be good. Deep down, they feel that whatever happens, they're on their own. And that fills them with fear but in group number one they feel that whatever's going to happen, there will be someone there to help them. And that fills them with hope. See, what you have to ask yourself is what kind of person are you? Are you the kind that sees signs and miracles? Or do you believe that people just get lucky? Or, look at the question this way, ‘Is it possible that there are no coincidences?’”? M. Night Shyamalan

That scene struck a nerve in me. As a believer, I know that God is looking out for me. But, at times I doubt.  

 Recently, I was reminded of God’s direction when I needed to find a home for my children and me. Newly divorced, we had been living with my parents. I looked at a lot of places but couldn’t find a good fit. I felt hopeless and discouraged. I remembered a house I had briefly seen. The realtor took us to see it. While we were looking at it, I prayed silently for clarity. It was in a sweet neighborhood, very family friendly and the kids liked it.

Our home we had to sell had cardinals that would wake me up every morning. Something about that popped in my mind as we were walking through the house. When we opened the front door of the rent home, there in the tree in the front yard, were at least fifteen cardinals!

My daughter exclaimed, “There are so many!” We all started laughing and knew this was our home. 

Now you may be thinking:  It was a coincidence. But for us, it was God saying, “This is your new home.” We lived in that home for three years and never saw another cardinal, until the day we moved out.

So I ask you, “What kind of person are you? Are you the kind that sees miracles or do you believe that people just get lucky? Or, look at the question this way: Is it possible that there are no coincidences?”

“I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2 NIV)

BIO: Sherry Shepherd is an experienced, adaptable professional specialized in writing for faith-based organizations. She has worked as an editor and writer for newspaper, movie guides, publishing houses, and several non-profits. Her scope of work includes, corporate and fundraising materials, advertising, web, brochures, books, blogs and biblical materials. However, Sherry is drawn to creative writing, where she can inspire others. She is the mother of three grown children, who have been the source of some of her greatest joy, laughter and material!

Sunday, September 30, 2018 4:47 PM

The Most Important Verse in the Bible

Sunday, September 30, 2018 4:47 PM
Sunday, September 30, 2018 4:47 PM

As I wrapped up studying the book of Numbers and turned the corner into Deuteronomy, I parked on the most powerful command in the Bible.

It’s the bold heading for the outline of life.

The umbrella over all the other requests of God.

In my opinion, it's the most important passage in the Bible, because if we do this, everything else falls in place. It’s referred to as the Shema, because God wants us to listen carefully, and heed the following:

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength" (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).

God desires for us to love him above others.

To love him with everything we have.

To love him with a whole heart, not half-heartedly.

This means so much to him that he wants us to teach our children to love him like this (Deuteronomy 6:7).

He asks us to talk about our love for him everywhere we go (Deuteronomy 6:7).

He wants us to wear jewelry that tells others that we love him (Deuteronomy 6:8).

And let visitors to our homes know we take this command seriously by posting signs on our doorframes (Deuteronomy 6:9).

Do people know you love God by the way you converse with them?

By what you wear?

By the way your home is decorated?

I knew a woman once who wore the same cross every day. I asked her about the cross, and she replied, “I never take this off because I never want to forget who I belong to.” That was powerful.

My “fisher of men” bracelet is a permanent fixture on my wrist for the same reason. Every time I look at this piece of jewelry, it reminds me what I’m on this earth to do, to always be on the lookout for others to tell about God, and his son Jesus. Like fishing, sometimes it takes time to snag a seeker, but once they are on the hook, you have to be ready to reel them in! You will see crosses on the walls of our home, and the Shema is posted on the doorframe to our garage, so that when we leave, we are reminded to never walk out the door without God’s love as we walk into the world.

I am also wondering how God feels when we don’t love him with all our heart. When we turn away from his commands, we don’t spend time with him, and he never enters our conversation.

I believe he feels like we do when we are rejected.

Rejection is painful. Our hearts break, and it takes a long time to get over losing someone close to us. We might make repeated attempts to reconcile, as God does with us, but eventually we give them the space they desire. And if you’re like me, you beat yourself up, trying to figure out why they don’t love you like you love them.

Think about the last time you were rejected by someone. How did you feel?

I think God’s heart weeps, when we reject his love, and we don’t reciprocate. I think he is disappointed when we don’t appreciate the gifts he’s amply supplied us with. I believe the LORD wants us to stay connected to him 24/7, but he is sad, when we can’t even find five minutes to spend with him in a day.

The truth is we often ignore the most important commandment in the Bible.

So what can we do about it?

We can pray this prayer every day:

Lord you know I love you, but help me to love you with my whole heart.

Remind me that you are with me throughout the day.

I pray that you use me as a vessel of your love, so that your love and compassion will flow through me to others who I encounter.

Enable me to keep your commandments, and I pray I do nothing contrary to your love.

In the Name of Jesus I pray, Amen.

Psychologists agree love is one of the top needs of a human. Since God created us in his image, it’s not hard to figure out he is the one who provided us with the ability to give and receive love, because he gives love, and desires to be loved, just like us.

The Bible says God is love.

Today, place loving God at the top of your “to do” list. There's nothing more important. 

BIO: Lisa Burkhardt Worley is an award winning author and speaker, and is the Director of Special Projects for Roaring Lambs Ministries. She is also the founder of Pearls of Promise Ministries, a ministry with a goal of helping women overcome dysfunction in their lives.  Lisa has co-authored many books including: the Pearls of Promise devotional, If I Only Had…Wrapping Yourself in God’s Truth During Storms of Insecurity, and The Most Powerful P: A Child’s Introduction to the Power of Prayer. 

 

Monday, September 3, 2018 9:13 PM

Just In Case

Monday, September 3, 2018 9:13 PM
Monday, September 3, 2018 9:13 PM

"Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid." Isaiah 12:2a

The young woman at our restaurant table had a story, and I’m still not sure how much was fact and fiction. Danielle had stopped us on the sidewalk looking for a hot meal. She accepted our invitation to join us for lunch and gladly ordered on our tab.

She said her boyfriend had booted her out of his life, and she’d been pounding the pavement looking for a job. The conversation turned to trust. “I’ve learned that the only person you can trust is yourself,” she declared.

“You know,” I said, “You can’t trust yourself, either.” The Bible has story after story about people who tried to trust themselves. And I know from my own experience why they always failed. I make promises to myself that I fail to keep all the time. Why am I drinking this sweet tea right now, when I told myself I would start drinking more water?

Then we went briefly through the Good News that God spends all of human history foretelling—then living as a man —then dying for our sins (our ongoing efforts to trust ourselves instead of Him)—then proving His power over death with resurrection. I felt like she was letting me tell a story she’d heard a million times before, the cost of accepting a meal from a stranger. But you never know.

She may not have been convicted right then of her misplaced trust, but God was telling me plenty about my own. I kept second-guessing, “Am I telling this story well enough?”

I realized I was falling into that same old trap—wanting to trust myself with the story instead of trusting God to use whatever words He laid on my heart at the moment. What a paradox. What a reminder that my ongoing need for Jesus’ grace never ends.

Who are you counting on today? God or Self? Or maybe that question is too simple. While you count on God, are you still holding onto some expectations of your self to pull out “just in case?” So am I. But God is working on that. He’s already prepared the feast and paid the tab. May His story fall on fresh ears every day, and especially mine (and yours).

 “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God” (2 Corinthians 3:4-5).

Mike Branch has had a career in magazines, marketing and copywriting. He and his wife, Sherry, have four children and are expecting their thirteenth grandchild. Last year, he published his first book, True Stories to Remind You of Heaven When Life Hurts Like Hell. His book is available at PicklePerfectPublishing.com.

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