Sheep are protected in the valley by the shepherd. And so are we. Psalm 23:4 says, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.” We get weak, sick; we break, lose our way; we grow weary, disoriented. But our Shepherd doesn’t. His power, wisdom and protection never weakens—it is consistently eternally consistent. Does our Shepherd shield us FROM the valley? Not always. Sometimes it’s the only way to get to the goals and dreams (“green pastures”) He has for us. But nothing can separate you from God when you’re in it; and only God allows what happens through it. I know dark valleys. Even with God, it stinks to be in them. But it would stink more to be in it without Him. Some of you are walking through difficult valleys. REMEMBER: we walk through the valley we don’t live there. And our fear in this dark valley is legit, but the fear is our prerogative—because Jesus said, “don’t be afraid, little flock.” We don’t need to fear the valley if God is with us. We ONLY need to fear the valley if He isn’t. I hope this encourages someone today.
Sometimes I’ll read a bible verse and it’ll be like Rock Candy going off in my head: BOOM! BAM! ZAP! That’s what happened the other day when I read: “Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.” (Deut. 31:8) I read it, reread it, let it marinate, then it hit me. God is a 360-degree God! God is ahead of me. That means He’ll walk into a place, season, or occasion before I will. That means He puts Himself in harm’s way for me. But according to this verse, God is also WITH me. He’s next to me, arm in arm. That means that during times when I’ve been weak, He carried me because that’s what “being with” does. But this verse also says God will not abandon me. That means He won’t fall behind. He won’t make me feel like I’m walking this alone, wondering if He’ll catch up. Oh my gosh, what a revelation, especially if you struggle with fear or anxiety. This verse is a PROMISE, a truth, a FACT. We don’t need to be paralyzed or accept immobilization due to fear. Because…God isn’t just near, He’s 360 degrees around! You can’t get more coverage than that! Go God! Go you! Go God’s Word that comforts us, right when we need it.
Sometimes we find ourselves going places where we have to put on a smile. I suppose the argument can be made that’s being fake. But may I offer a counterargument? If I am a Christ-follower, and there’s a smile veiling my sorrow, maybe it could mean I’m being Christ-like? A smile is contagious, so it is a powerful witness. A smile is a universal love-language, requiring no translation. A smile is visible proof that the joy of the Lord is my strength. A smile can turn my entire disposition strong, even if my soul is weak (James 3:4-5). A smile is part of God’s creation–He designed me with this facial option. Since God smiles upon me (Numbers 6:25) tho I let Him down, I can smile upon others, because I’m made in His image. And what about the hidden sorrow behind the smile? I validate it! That sorrow is REAL! Psychologists (and more importantly, the Bible) say that some of us carry a tinge of sorrow our entire life. But take heart, we’re in good company. The bible says Jesus was “a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.” (Isaiah 53:3). I don’t consider myself a fake when there is sorrow behind my smile if it is reflecting Jesus Christ alive and well in my soul! One caveat to hidden sorrow: make sure you don’t let it go unattended and cause you to isolate. Tend to it with Christian counseling (let me know if I can help you find one). And keep smiling.
We get dumped. We get fired. We get benched. For most of us, there will be a time when we get taken down. And it won’t be our choice. But giving up doesn’t have to be our option. When God created us, He created us with an intricate wiring system that only gets circuited when we get taken down! This wiring has electricity of resolve, tenacity, and fortitude. I’ve seen this in my own life, in the lives of people around me and most importantly, in the life of Jesus. Around April 7, A.D. 30, Jesus was physically, relationally, socially, politically and emotionally taken down. It wasn’t his choice (Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me.” Matthew 26:39) but you know the story: staying down wasn’t his option! (“Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead!“ Luke 24) If you walk with God, BELIEVE the truth that He made you in His image, UNLEASH that wiring system that flows through the deepest cavity of your soul, and LET it help you back up again. Maybe this trial wasn’t your choice, but giving up doesn’t have to be your option.
Several years ago, someone hacked into my online accounts, deleting them from the Internet without a trace. Back then, I was running an online ministry (of sorts) that included a blog, Gmail, twitter and Facebook under the name, “LeadHership.” In the days that ensued, I neglected my priorities as I obsessed to get it all restored. But it would not be. It was unretrievable. In all that haze, one thing was becoming clear: I needed closure. And (for me) that would only be through one way: forgiveness. The kind of forgiveness that hurts before it heals and doesn’t happen at microwave-speed but crock-pot speed! As I look back, there were (approx) 5 things I did to forgive…
1) Christian Therapy. Forgiveness is straining, stanky and messy. The therapist office is where we can proverbially projectile-vomit without having to clean it up or put it back in.
2) Prayer. Even if it was a simpleton-prayer like, “Lord you love them. Help me.” A God-heart will prevail in a hurt-heart, if the currents of prayer are running through it.
3) Read. “Choosing Forgiveness,” “Exquisite Agony,” “Total Forgiveness,” and “Forgive and Forget” were healing salves, in paperback.
4) Set a goal. My goal (thanks to my Christian therapist) was to get my HEART to the point where it could say to the hurter, “I wish you well.”
5) Ask Jesus. I had a lot of questions no one had answers to. But Jesus (who asked “why?” in Matthew 27) knew what it was like. Since He resides in my heart—I knew He was closer to my “why’s” than anyone on the outside.
So on a crock-pot slowwwwww setting, eventually God helped my heart get to a place where it could wish the hurter well; let go of “LeadHership” (which was actually His in the first place!) and slowly stir up something new…or should I say wondherful? 😉
I’ve heard it said, “Praying is the least you can do.” SMH. Now that I’m half-way through my (hopeful) century on this planet, I’d say many times, prayer was the most I could do. Let’s say someone in your immediate family is battling addiction, and in a classic cycle: lying, inventing excuses, straining relationships, impulsivity, erratic and/or violent behavior, codependency, enabling, and financially desperate. Generally speaking, experts would say don’t give them money, lest it feed their addiction. Wisdom would say don’t let them back in your home if they’ve disrupted it, lest someone get hurt or something get damaged. Love would say don’t give them what they need, lest we create enablers out of our well-intention selves. Well, gheesh! If these options aren’t options then prayer literally is the MOST I can do! And prayer isn’t to a statue or a person who is imperfect, conditionally loving and temporary. Prayer is to the One who is perfect, unconditionally loving and eternal! Prayer is to my personal Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, who has never changed and STILL answers prayers, heals, mends, sets free, performs miracles, and collects every tear. Maybe my hands are fundamentally tied with what I can do, but spiritually, nothing is impossible with God! Praying for that family member calls down the Savior of the world to a situation I can not save, and a life I can not rescue, but Jesus Christ can do both. When we pray for someone, we may be the ONLY one in the entire human-race who is at that moment…or who is at all. Let’s never reduce it to “the least we can do.” It’s always worth it to pause and pray. I’ve never regretted praying about something or someone. I’ll end with three simple words from God’s Word: Never. Stop. Praying. (1 Thessalonians 5:17)
Love is a huge subject, and when it comes to God, He displays his love in huge ways: creating everything in six days, parting the Red Sea, sending Himself to die for the sins of every human, and having the power to come back to life. But how does God display his love in little ways? I think God does when He showcases it on unknowns: a man with leprosy, a mother-in-law, a bleeding woman, a mute man, a man with a shriveled hand, a woman at the well, a boy with a demon, and a demon-possessed man. Do we realize the insignificance of these people? They don’t even have names! But I don’t think that’s the question. The question is: “Do we realize their significance to God? To help distinguish, let’s juxtapose who He picked to showcase His love, to who he didn’t pick: A-list celebrities, viral YouTuber’s, Athlete All-Stars, People’s Most Sexiest or Twitter’s Most Trending. In the Gospels, out of twenty-two miracles Jesus performed, twenty were for unknowns. Today, we may not be performing miracles, but we ARE made in the image of God who does. Maybe some of our biggest ways to showcase God’s love are through (and for) the unknown’s opportunity. Maybe the one who everyone else has overlooked, God has personally preserved and reserved just for you. For you to be the first (and maybe only) one to show them how much God loves them. You know what I hadn’t thought of til now? The unconditional, unwavering, everlasting, perfect love of Jesus Christ is the same whether I show it to a famous millionaire or an unknown beggar. It is HIS LOVE that is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow–not mine or yours! You feelin me? If you are, maybe we can pray this together: “Lord, help me find ones no one is noticing and find ways to love them. Amen.“
Have you ever noticed we never see that kind of post? We post about going to work, school, church, shopping, vacation, but who’s posting about going to their counseling appointment? If you know me at all, you know I unashamedly advocate christian-counseling. There are no numbers I give out more than the psychologists,’ psychiatrists,’ and counselors,’ contacts in my iPhone. As long as I’m breathing, christian-counseling is what I’ll be shouting. How can I be so bold? Because I’m not just an advocate petting a good cause. I’m a satisfied, (literal) life-long customer. I had my first session when I was eight years old, after I penned a letter to my grandparents saying I wanted to die. Thanks to my parents for having the smarts to know I needed to talk to someone. For 37 years, I haven’t felt shame with counseling because I haven’t distinguished it from any other professional I’d see for any other organ in my body that was struggling. FurtherMORE, it’s biblical! Proverbs 15:22 says, “Without counsel, plans go awry, But in the multitude of counselors they are established.” God Himself, authored verses about counseling in the Book of Life. Why? Because He made us, and our brains, and knew we’d need it. We all have garbage we need to dump. I can’t think of a better landfill than a God-filled, spirit-led, judgement-free, 100%-confidential counselor’s office. If you don’t have one, and need one, email me (email@example.com), I’ll do my best to help you find one. I hope this encourages someone today!
Several years ago, DJ and Andy found a tadpole. They didn’t want it to die, so they put it in a bucket. They didn’t want it to be thirsty, so they put water in the bucket. They didn’t want it to be hungry so they put a bug in the bucket. They didn’t want it to be cold, so they put a fabric-softener sheet in the bucket. They didn’t want it to be bored, so they put leaves to jump on in the bucket. They didn’t want it to sink, so they put water to the top of the bucket. The frog jumped out. I think life’s like that bucket, and we’re like that tadpole. God gives us all the provision we need. And everything we think we need? He knows the even-better of it. When we are in his Kingdom (bucket), we will never be neglected by the King. He will tirelessly and eternally care for you and me. He will even go to the extreme to jump out of the bucket to die, so we can be saved. Even still, some tadpoles won’t want the provision and safety of His bucket, and will choose to jump out. Or worse, reject His hands that want to catch them and put them back in. Today, if you’re a tadpole in the bucket, thank HIM!!! And never forget to tell others–so they may know Him too.