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    All posts in "faith"

    From Fearless To Fearful To Freedom

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    Fear stifles our thinking and actions. It creates indecisiveness that results in stagnation. I have known talented people who procrastinate indefinitely rather than risk failure. Lost opportunities cause erosion of confidence, and the downward spiral begins.

    Charles Stanley

    When I was born, I had no fear.  What was there for me to fear?  I didn’t have any ideas about pain, about failing, about danger, or about evil.  I was fearless!

    For example, I used to love climbing trees.  If I could reach the lowest branch, you would find me climbing as high as I could go.  My parents had a giant willow tree in the backyard, and I remember climbing high into the tree as high as I could go.  Things changed on one of the first days of first grade when I fell out of an apple tree at a church picnic.  The fall was not very far, but I managed to land on my wrist.  From this point on, I became more cautious when it came to climbing trees.

    The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

    Franklin D. Roosevelt

    I don’t remember being afraid of the dark when I was a baby, but I know I was scared as I entered my toddler years (and beyond).  I wonder how I learned to fear the dark.

    I don’t remember fearing failure when I was young.  If I didn’t build the block tower correctly, I could always build it again.  As I went to school, I began to fear getting bad grades.  I feared letting my parents down.  My perfectionism was more driven by a fear of failure than a desire to succeed.

    I went from fearless to afraid.

    Thinking will not overcome fear but action will.

    W. Clement Stone

    I remember in second grade when my grandparents were visiting from Minnesota.  On the last day of their visit, my Grandpa walked with me to school.  I remember my Grandpa being a lot of fun at this stage of my life.  He wrestled with my brother and me in our living room.  He liked to tease us and have fun.  Grandpa liked to hang out with us, and I enjoyed the times we had together when he visited us in Illinois or when we traveled up to Minneapolis.  When Grandpa dropped me off at school, we said our goodbyes as I headed into the school yard.  Not long after he left, I became upset.  I was afraid that something would happen to Grandpa and I wouldn’t be able to see him again.  In tears, I talked to my teacher who somehow arranged for a phone call to my house.  A little while later, Grandpa showed up back at school where I was able to give him another hug.

    You would think that growing up would take me beyond my fears.  In reality, my fears have only matured.  I am now afraid of other things that are now on my radar as an adult.  I fear for the health of my wife and kids.  I fear for the future and my ability to provide for my family and to retire with enough funds to make it to the end of my life.  I still fear failure at my job, in my parenting, in my faith, and even in my writing.

    Fear can paralyze us.

    I think fearless is having fears but jumping anyway.

    Taylor Swift

    A few years ago, I suffered from fear-based paralysis.

    I was absolutely terrified about the prospect of going to Guatemala with my daughter leaving my wife and son behind.  When my friend, Adam Flora, asked me to go to Guatemala with him as a chaperone for our church’s youth group, I was initially convinced I was staying home in the comforts of the familiar.  I was afraid, and I was prepared to miss the adventure of a lifetime if it meant I didn’t have to face my fears.

    It took a major leap of faith for me to say yes to Adam.  And the rest is history (if you’ve been reading along).  I traveled to Guatemala, and I fell in love with the people in the small village of Santo Domingo Xenacoj.  This first trip led to two more trips the past two summers with my family.  And it has led to a vision for returning to Xenacoj over and over again for the rest of my life.  Besides this, my initial trip to Guatemala helped me learn to face my fears with more confidence.

    I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.

    Louisa May Alcott

    I still have fears in my life, but I have learned to move forward in faith and wisdom as I face the various things in my life that scare me to death.  I wouldn’t say I’m fearless, but I can say that my fear has become healthier.

    This new perspective has given me freedom to face life with a renewed sense of fearlessness.

    Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.  Isaiah 41:10

    There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.  I John 4:18

    How has fear impacted your life?  What do you fear?  How have you learned to face your fears?

    Embarrassed For All The Wrong Reasons

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    It’s human nature to not say everything that’s on your mind at the time you think it. Because we fear saying something that people will laugh at, people will think is dumb. We’re afraid of being embarrassed.

    Taylor Swift

    Do you fear embarrassment?

    When I was very young – probably less than two years old, my parents caught me eating a box of raisins in the garage before church one Sunday morning.  On the way into the church parking lot, the raisins decided to make themselves known, and I had an explosion of epic proportions in the backseat of my parents car.  I don’t have any memories of this event in my life, but my parents have repeatedly explained to me that I was embarrassed when they brought me to the church nursery without any clothes.  Apparently, the explosion “destroyed” my clothing forcing me to attend church this particular morning wearing only a “fancy” cloth diaper.

    When I was a little older, I wore Toughskins to school.  For those who don’t know, Toughskins were a denim-like pants produced by Sears.  They came in all sorts of colors:  blue, green, red, and brown.  At first it wasn’t a big deal.  After all, many other kids were wearing Toughskins.  But then something changed.  All the cool kids switched to Wrangler blue jeans.  Suddenly, the Toughskins weren’t so cool.  I’m pretty sure I felt embarrassment wearing my Toughskins those last few times.

    When I was in college, my parents came to visit with my youngest brother one weekend.  For church, we went to East Main Presbyterian Church where many of my college classmates attended in their Sunday best.  I wanted to make the best impression on my classmates, so I was embarrassed when my little brother decided to crawl under the pews in the middle of the service.  I remember giving my Dad “the eye” as I asked him to take care of the situation.  While my Dad was escorting my brother out of the sanctuary, my brother pitched a fit proclaiming “You’re hurting me!” to the quiet congregation.  My cheeks turned red as I slumped down into my pew.

    Looking back, I have allowed many of my perspectives on life to be blurred by those around me.  I want to fit in.  I want to stand out for the right reasons.  And I certainly don’t want to stick out for the wrong reasons.  The problem is I often get these reasons mixed up.

    My guess is that I’m not alone.  We all get our priorities and perspectives wrong from time to time.  We get embarrassed by the things that should make us proud.

    I’m thankful for my parents’ consistency at church even when they had to carry me into church half-naked.  I’m thankful for God’s provision through my parents (those Toughskins were actually very tough).  And I’m thankful for my brother who I care about far more than those sitting around me in church that Sunday.

    There have been times when I have been embarrassed to call myself a Christian.  Sometimes this embarrassment comes from the “stupid” actions of others who call themselves Christians.  And some times this embarrassment comes from a fear of not fitting in with the world around me.  I want to wear my faith on my sleeve for everyone to see.  I want to represent the gospel well to those around me.  I don’t want to me ashamed to call myself a Christian.

    For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 

    Romans 1:16

    I shouldn’t be embarrassed to be a follower of Christ.  But I should be embarrassed by my lack of follow through on what the gospel says.  I should be embarrassed by the improper use of the gospel to defend positions and actions that don’t represent the love of Christ.

    I don’t want to be embarrassed for the wrong reasons.  How about you?

    Have you ever been embarrassed?  Tell us about it in the comments.

    Facing Your Fears About Short-Term Missions

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    Why are you scared?

    What drives you to paralysis?

    What prevents you from taking action?

    What would it take to get around the obstacles in your way?

    Maybe you are fearless.  If you are fearless, I’d love to get in your head for a bit.  I’m not talking about a stupid kind of fearlessness – a fearlessness that would lead you to jump off a tall building without a parachute or another method of safety.

    Perhaps being fearless is relative.  Somethings scare me to death, but they don’t faze you.

    Many of the questions I get about short-term missions – especially related to my experiences in Guatemala – are related to the fears people have:

    Will I get sick?

    Will I be safe?

    What will I eat?

    Where will I sleep?

    How will I understand the people I am serving?

    Will I make it home safely?

    Will people at home think I’m strange for going to a strange land?

    How will I get from one place to the other?

    Will I be welcomed where I serve?

    Will I really make a difference?

    If we peal these questions back, we can see that they are really questions based on fear.  I get it.  I had many of these same questions before I went to Guatemala the first time.  And to be honest, I would probably still have many of these questions if I went somewhere different from Guatemala in the future.

    It’s okay to have questions.  Here’s the problem though.  At some point, we have to take action.  It helps to get some of the answers to these questions ahead of time, but we may never get all our questions answered.  At some point, we have to take a leap of faith.  We have to trust that God will work upstream ahead of our fears and ahead of our unanswered questions.

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    I’m in the early stages of planning a multi-week return trip to Guatemala in 2016.

    Maybe you are supposed to join me for some or all of this trip.

    Just maybe, it’s time for you to put aside your fears so you can take a leap of faith that will change your life forever.

    Are you in our out?  Don’t let your fears stand in your way of doing something amazing with your life.

    What scares you the most about going on a short-term missions trip?  What will it take for you to overcome these fears?

     

     

    Book Review: Undone (A Memoir) by @MicheleCushatt

    We all have big dreams.

    We all fantasize about the way we’d like to see life turn out.  Call it utopia.  Call it the perfect world.  Call it paradise.  Call it whatever you want.

    We want to live in castles with ivory towers.  We want to be rich and or famous.  We want to come up with some amazing invention, discovery, or cure.  We want to see people getting along.  We want perfect health to go with perfect bodies.  We want the perfect spouse which will certainly mean we’ll end up with perfect children.

    What happens when life doesn’t quite work out the way you expected?

    If your like me, it be pretty challenging to put on a smiling face when life doesn’t work out the way I planned it.

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    In Undone: A Story of Making Peace With an Unexpected Life, Michele Cushatt tells her story in a way that will get you thinking differently about the unmet expectations in your own life.  Michele had many of the same fairy tale dreams we all had before divorce and marriage threw her fantasies into a tail spin.  In Undone, Michele opens up about her own struggles to embrace the unexpected twists and turns of life.

    As she comes to terms with a different life than she had planned, she begins to see God’s greater good in the midst of personal challenge and tragedy.

    If you want to be challenged to look at life’s valleys and turns from a new perspective, I’d recommend you pick up a copy of Undone.

    The book releases to the world today (March 10, 2014).  Pick up your copy by clicking here.

    How have you made peace with the unexpected in your life? 

    (Please note:  I received a copy of Undone for free in exchange for being part of the launch of this book.  I was not required to provide a favorable review.  I truly believe this book can be a helpful reminder to any reader in helping us come to terms with the obstacles that come our way on our life journeys.

    Also to note:  There are affiliate links in this post.  Should you purchase Undone by clicking one of these links, I receive a small percentage of the purchase.  These funds are used to support The Stretched Blog and to extend ministry and missions to Guatemala.  Thank you!)

    VIDEO BLOG: Making The Most Of Today’s Opportunities

    Today’s post is brought to you in the form of a video blog.

    Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

    Colossians 4:2-6

    What opportunity lies in front of you today?  How can you make the most of this opportunity?

     

    Teach Us To Number Our Days

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    Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.  Psalm 90:12

    Last week, I received news that two connections are facing the end of their time here on the earth.  A college classmate was told the chemo was no longer working in her 14 year bout with cancer, and she is heading towards hospice.  Another connection was told their infant daughter has an incurable illness that will lead to death within two years.  On top of this news, my parents lost a good friend in Dallas, TX who was instrumental in helping my parents and my little brother feel welcome when they moved to the area several years ago.

    These pieces of news left me a little down heading into the weekend.

    Life can be tough, and it’s hard to see people suffering.

    As I was participating in worship at our church’s high school youth group, the band began to lead us in Bebo Norman’s song, Nothing Without You.  I’ve always liked this song, but it hit me a little differently this time when the band began to sing the final verse:

    Take my time here on this earth
    And let it glorify all that You are worth
    For I am nothing
    I am nothing without You

    We don’t know how long we have here.  We may live to 100, or we may not see our next birthday.  Either way, we have a limited time left to live here on Earth.

    What will we do with our days?

    Will we waste them?  Or will we use them to the fullest?

    I want to glorify God with my days.

    How about you?

    These words lifted me up out of my melancholy.  They reminded me of the hope I have, and they reminded me to make the most of my days.  Sometimes we need a few words of encouragement.  And sometimes these words come from simple songs like this one.

    When was the last time you heard a song at just the right time?  What was the song, and how did it lift you up?

    Relief

    The blues are what I’ve turned to, what has given me inspiration and relief in all the trials of my life.

    Eric Clapton

    What is relief?

    Whenever I hear the word relief, I think of the “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh, what a relief it is commercial” from my childhood.

    According the Webster’s dictionary relief is:

    – a pleasant and relaxed feeling that someone has when something unpleasant stops or does not happen.

    When did you last experience relief?

    I had this feeling last Friday night when Ryan from the Geek Squad at our local Best Buy helped to locate some “lost” files on our external backup hard drive.

    I was feeling stressed out, frustrated, and awful, because I thought I lost several important files when our Macbook had to be wiped clean.  I made a backup before the computer was cleaned, so I felt certain I’d be able to restore the important files back to the computer after its cleaning.  When I went to restore the files, I couldn’t locate the most important ones on the computer.

    I spent several hours working on the problem.  I even woke up real early Friday morning to work on it before I started my day.  Friday night after work, I tried a few more things without success.  In a last-ditch effort, I took the machine along with the external backup hard drive to an expert (Ryan) who had me on the right path within a few minutes.

    The feeling of relief that swept over me when we located the files was unbelievable.

    I literally spent all night Thursday and all day Friday worrying about these files.  And within a few seconds my worries were erased and replaced with relief.

    Worry is a funny thing.  It takes over like the plague.  It almost paralyzes us.  And yet, Jesus reminds us not to worry in Matthew 6:

    “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.  Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.”  Matthew 6:25, 33-34

    The ultimate relief from our worries lies in trusting and resting in God’s care.  When things get crazy – when you lose the files on your computer – don’t forget to turn to God.  After all, He cares for us.

    When was the last time you experienced remarkable relief?

    Called To Love

    We are called to love.

    “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  Matthew 22:37-40

    Christ did not come into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world.

    For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  John 3:17

    As Christians, we have been quick to judge.  We turn people away from Christianity, because we pass judgement rather than demonstrate love.

    Don’t get me wrong.  We need to flee from sin.  There is right, and there is wrong.  But we must be careful to love first.

     “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  John 13:34-35

    For God so loved the world…

    For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  John 3:16

    …God loves the world.  And we must learn to love as He first loved us.

    We love because he first loved us.  I John 4:19

    God, teach me to love.

    How can you love today better than yesterday?

     

    Warranty Not Required

    Don’t you wish things lasted forever?

    Have you ever had something fail right after the warranty expired?

    Last week, our water heater had to be replaced.  We’ve been in our house for just over 9 years which is hard to believe.  When we moved into the house everything was brand new.  It was nice knowing everything would last for a while.  Nine years later, we are starting to see things fail.  Our dishwasher has been hanging on now for over a year, and our refrigerator makes loud noises from time to time.  Nothing last forever, but I was hoping some of these appliances would last a bit longer.  The warranty has run out on these household items.

    If you read my Ice Breaker post a couple of days ago, you will remember that one of my goals is to dunk a basketball again before the end of the year.  I thought this was a “stretch” goal, but I also was pretty sure it was something I could achieve.  Sunday night at the end of youth group, I was talking to one of my friends who is also a leader.  He knew about my goal, and he encouraged me to give it a try on one of the basketball hoops in our church’s gym/auditorium.  I knew dunking was out of the possibility, but I figured it would be interesting to see how high I could jump.  I stretched out for a few minutes, and I moved to the far side of the court so I could get a running approach.  I took off towards the hoop, and I took off a few feet from the basket.  As I launched myself “upward”, I struggled just to touch the rim.

    As someone who could dunk fairly easily four years ago, this was quite a discouragement.  It was also a reminder that my body is wearing out.  The muscles in my legs have weakened.  My limbs and ligaments have lost some of their flexibility.  My knees are a bit sore.  And my hours spend running over the past several years have greatly impaired my ability to explode vertically.  What happened to the warranty on my body?

    This week, I’ve been reminded that things wear out and people get old.  It’s a fact of life.  It’s easy to get discouraged when things wear out.  I want to stay young, and I want my things to last forever.  If we dwell on the deterioration of our things and ourselves, we will sink deeper into depression.

    There is an answer!

    I can take care of things to help them last as long as possible, but they will ultimately break down.  I can take care of myself to keep myself strong and able, but I will eventually wear out.  This goes for you and all your things too.

    The answer lies in putting our trust in God and His love.

    The book of Lamentations reminds us:

    The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  Lamentations 3:22-23

    God’s love for us never wears out.  His mercies upon us never break down or run out.  In fact, they are new every single morning.  If you’re looking for encouragement, lean into God, His love, and His Word.  Start your day with Him.

    With God, we have no need for extended warranties.

    What is wearing out in your life right now?  How do you stay positive when everything around you seems to be crumbling?

    In Times Of Uncertainty

    Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him.  Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.  My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge.  Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.

    Psalm 62:5-8

    I don’t know what you are facing these days, but we can all use this simple reminder.

    Where does our hope come from? 

    Our hope comes from Him!

    What storm or uncertainty are you facing in your life?