#IAmNot: The lens of conviction versus condemnation

For this week’s blog post for the A Confident Heart OBS, one of the choices is to “Describe a time when you felt condemned (by yourself or someone else), and answer two key questions: What would the difference have been if you had processed the situation through the filter of conviction instead? and What steps can you take the next time to usher in restoration instead of condemnation?

For the last 2 1/2 years, I have been riding a roller-coaster of emotion and behavior with consequence. I made a mistake in leaving a fairly secure position to take on a title. In the last year alone, I have dealt with the ups and downs associated with caring for a loved one who is undergoing significant medical treatment (open-heart surgery, followed by two major cancer surgeries, and all kinds of follow-up treatments); in addition, I lost a loving cousin and was unable to attend her funeral and grieve with the rest of the family; further, I nursed my beloved pet through toxic shock and surgery, pneumonia, and cancer until her death 4 months ago; and right before her death, we suddenly lost a wonderful friend who had done much in our lives. Finally, I lost my job — and I am really not entirely sure why; but with this latest loss, there was an undercurrent of personal failure, voices of accusers implying that I should be condemned for my actions (or lack thereof). Somehow, it seems that I was entirely at fault that I could not cleanse the toxic environment in which people operated long before I entered, and will likely continue to operate in after my departure.

As a result of all of this, I have felt like I was madly treading the waters (filled with sharks) simply to keep going. I grew to not like myself very much — at least not the me that I had become, wallowing in self-pity, blaming God and others for my misery and condition, and standing mired in the quicksand of my insecurity to the point of being unable to take the steps necessary to move forward.

About two months ago, as my job search seemed to hit a dry spell, I knew that I had to do something — and as I have always done in the past — my first step was try to find my way back to Him. If nothing else — from returning to prayer, reading and reflecting on the Scripture, and joining an OBS — I have begun to take great comfort in the fact that no matter what, there can be redemption — for He loves me! Through research and reflection, I have learned more in the last two months about the precepts of the Church that I was baptized into, along with the depth of my faith and the power of the Divine Truth than I had in the last 55 years. For that, I cannot even begin to express my gratitude!

So to view my situation in the lens of conviction versus condemnation, I sought to understand the difference between condemnation and conviction, and note the following:

Condemnation is not constructive — it is accusatory and critical, and judgmental. It affirms guilt, and perpetuates feelings of insecurity and inadequacy. Conviction, on the other hand is constructive and specific in its revelation. Conviction points out sinful actions and attitudes and ways to mitigate negative results and consequences. We have the opportunity to reflect and to change harmful behaviors that impede our relationship with Him and with others.

It gives me pause to think that I have been acting in accordance with my free will, with complete disregard of His — but also hope that I can turn it around and use it to create a better me as I move into the next phase of life.

On p. 129 of A Confident Heart, Renee notes that when we feel like a failure, we should ask ourselves some questions:

Did I do something wrong or make a bad decision that led to this failure? YES — I relied on my own free will and ignored His plan and Will — seeking validation of my worth through position and others — I moved without doing due diligence, from a perfectly good job to one in a very volatile environment, simply to attain the next rung up a ladder.

Am I acting independently of God? YES

Is there anything I am not doing to fulfill a commitment I made? YES — this haunts me, as I vowed to do everything within my power to make things better for all around me. I am not sure however, that I could have done more — because as I noted, the toxicity was deep-rooted, the climate not conducive to positive change — and yet, I know from their own lips and actions, that I did make a difference in the lives of some people.

Did I pray about this or just do it because I wanted to? NO, I did not pray about the decision to make the move, and YES I simply did it because I wanted to — I wanted the title.

Was I responsible for the outcome? Given what I know now about the environment — I could make a case that I was not entirely responsible for the outcome, but did play a role in it.

Did I over-commit myself in agreeing to do this? Again, given what I know now — I would have to say YES, because at one point, I had an inflated sense of my capability. In hindsight, I am not sure that anyone could have done much more than I did or have enjoyed a different outcome.

Is God using this to refine my character? YES — I firmly believe that to be the case — it has served as a giant “wake-up call.”

So, in the lens of conviction rather than condemnation, I cite the following conclusions:

I have been seeking validation through all other means than His provisions and promises. I can thus make a conscious decision not to continue to pursue this course of action.

I have pursued positions with wrong motivation. I can thus seek always to fully understand my motivations and if they are not in alignment with His Will — change course accordingly.

While I have soothed some, I have hurt others through my words and actions. I can thus make a commitment to watch my tongue, obey His laws, and act in accordance with His way — treating and serving others as I wish to be treated and served.

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The Art of Spiritual Warfare (Pt. 1)

In times of trial, when spiritual battle becomes necessary, the best defense is a great offense. And there is none better than can be found through faith in Him. This is particularly true in times of what seem to be extended adversity when you reach the brink of despair.

Remember always #WhoIAm in Christ and that —

Everything is possible for [her] who believes. (Mark 9:23, NIV)

“Don’t Quit,” Author Unknown

When things go wrong as they sometimes will;
When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill;
When the funds are low, and the debts are high
And you want to smile, but have to sigh;
When care is pressing you down a bit-
Rest if you must, but do not quit.

Success is failure turned inside out;
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt;
And you can never tell how close you are
It may be near when it seems so far;
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit-
It’s when things go wrong that you must not quit.

Today’s Verse

Be strong! Be fearless! Don’t be afraid and don’t be scared by your enemies, because the LORD your God is the one who marches with you. He won’t let you down, and He won’t abandon you. (Deuteronomy 31:6, CEB)

Exploration

This verse comes from a passage wherein Moses, in contemplation of his impending death, announces that Joshua has been chosen to see the journey through, and seeks to assure his people of the constant presence of God — to encourage them to continue their journey in faith and hope.

Looking deeper at the meaning of key words:

  • Fearless = courageous, bold, determined and confident; brave
  • Afraid = apprehensive, frightened, or hesitant
  • Scared = full of worry or fear
  • Abandon = renounce you or leave you behind; won’t fail or forsake you

Said another way, the promise is full in its magnitude — the strength, courage, and confidence found in total reliance on Him will dispel your apprehension, hesitance, and fear. You are always assured of a victory.

Stay strong! Be courageous, bold, determined, confident and brave! Don’t be apprehensive, hesitant or frightened, because the LORD your God is marching with me always. He won’t let me down, and He won’t renounce me, won’t forsake me, and won’t fail me.

Affirmation

There are numerous passages throughout the Scriptures that reinforce this particular promise, some of my particular favorites are included here:

Be strong — (trust his promises)

But now, says the LORD— the one who created you, Jacob, the one who formed you, Israel: Don’t fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; when through the rivers, they won’t sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you won’t be scorched and flame won’t burn you. I am the LORD your God, the holy one of Israel, your savior. I have given Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in your place. Because you are precious in my eyes, you are honored, and I love you. I give people in your place, and nations in exchange for your life. Don’t fear, I am with you. From the east I’ll bring your children; from the west I’ll gather you. (Isaiah 43:1-5)

Stay awake, stand firm in your faith, be brave, be strong. (1 Corinthians 16:13)

Hope in the LORD! Be strong! Let your heart take courage! Hope in the LORD! (Psalms 27:14)

Fear not — (there is no need to entertain negative emotions or thoughts)

The LORD is my light and my salvation. Should I fear anyone? The LORD is a fortress protecting my life. Should I be frightened of anything? (Psalms 27:1)

Don’t fear, because I am with you; don’t be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will surely help you; I will hold you with my righteous strong hand. (Isaiah 41:10)

He will say to them: “Listen, Israel: Right now you are advancing to wage war against your enemies. Don’t be discouraged! Don’t be afraid! Don’t panic! Don’t shake in fear on account of them, (Deuteronomy 20:3)

He will not abandon me or let me fail

because the LORD your God is a compassionate God. He won’t let you go, he won’t destroy you, and he won’t forget the covenant that he swore to your ancestors. (Deuteronomy 4:31)

I am the LORD your God, who grasps your strong hand, who says to you, Don’t fear; I will help you. Don’t fear, worm of Jacob, people of Israel! I will help you, says the LORD. The holy one of Israel is your redeemer. Look, I’ve made you into a new threshing tool with sharp teeth. You will thresh mountains and pulverize them; you will reduce hills to straw. When you winnow them, the wind will carry them off; the tempest will scatter them. You will rejoice in the LORD and take pride in the holy one of Israel. The poor and the needy seek water, and there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst. I, the LORD, will respond to them; I, the God of Israel, won’t abandon them. (Isaiah 41:13-17)

I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, or any other thing that is created. (Romans 8:39)

Reflection

By placing all of my trust in Him, I can overcome trial and adversity, be strong and confident in any situation, win all battles, and ultimately attain the rewards inherent in His Word.

deuteronomy 31 6

 

#MovingForward: Living Beyond the Shadow of My Doubts

MovingForward

This Week’s Truth

He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? (Luke 24:38, NRSV)

Exploration/Affirmation

When I stumbled on the Proverbs31 Ministries website, I saw the ad for their next online bible study and it spoke directly to my heart. I signed up immediately. Since I have started this study, I have had several very emotional revelations. The biggest of these is that it is likely that everything that has been happening in my life for the last several years is my wake up call to surrender — to Him, once and for all — and that He has been waiting pretty patiently for me to do so.

So — this week we are working through Chapters 4 and 5 of A Confident Heart by Renee Swope. As I began to read the material, I was overcome with a range of emotions — pain, anger, resistance, and finally acceptance and willingness to try anything to make myself feel better. All of this just reinforces the fact that I can’t #MoveForward effectively in my everyday life, or in my journey with and to Him, until I open up my heart and begin to work through all of the issues and situations from my past that keep impinging on both my ability to be consistent in my belief and trust in Him and my ability to perform in all areas.

The title of Chapter 5 — Living Beyond the Shadow of My Doubts, lets me know that once I identify the triggers and responses, I can work daily to heal. The title of Chapter 4 Hope for My Future Despite the Pain of My Past — reassures me that once I begin to heal, in faith, I will be able to reaffirm my trust and listen to what He is trying to tell me. Combining the wisdom and exercises of the two chapters will help me start living a fuller life daily — and hopefully I won’t be the only one to benefit from that.

The context of the verse for the week is in the aftermath of the crucifixion, when Jesus miraculously appears to his disciples. While he is offering them every blessing, he notices their disbelief — they think perhaps they are seeing a ghost. He is disconcerted because He feels that even if they don’t remember the words of the prophets, they should certainly remember what He told them earlier:

Then he took the twelve aside and said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be handed over to the Gentiles; and he will be mocked and insulted and spat upon. After they have flogged him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise again.” (Luke 18:31-33, NRSV)

BUT,

…they understood nothing about all these things; in fact, what he said was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said. (Luke 18:34, NRSV)

So he is moved to remind them in this passage:

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:36-49, NRSV)

Inspiration

This made me think several thoughts at once — He’s been waiting for me to open my heart, is not pleased that I am suffering and anxious, or that I entertain troubling thoughts about things that shouldn’t be troubling at all.

Some of you know that I have been desperately seeking employment after having been told that my current contract would not be renewed beyond October 31, 2013. (And this DEADLINE seems to loom over my head in red letters). This news comes on the heels of dealing with significant concerns regarding my other half’s health, losing 2 people who were dear to me, and having to put my beloved canine baby to sleep after 13 years.

This week — I have the opportunity to interview for 3 different positions — any of which would be a great opportunity for #MovingForward. This, of course, is great news, and I do feel blessed. HOWEVER — (isn’t there always a HOWEVER); with my confidence at an all-time low, particularly after having already been through a few great interviews over the last few months with no offer, uncertainty has rooted itself in my heart, and doubt is whispering in my ear as I prepare for these interviews. Because this process seems so heavily dependent upon what others think of me and may abilities — I have reverted to seeking my worth other than through Him.

I find some small consolation in the disbelief of the disciples — for it tells me that they, too, were fallible. The passage also reminded me that He has likely told me over and over, in many different ways, how to overcome my doubt and uncertainty.

Just prior to starting this study, I had been trying to work my way back to Him through prayer. I had been praying well-know prayers and I often sought guidance from the Spirit to help me personalize them. In relation to my concern about my abilities and getting through the interviews, the following verses caught my attention:

But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.” (Psalms 31:14, NRSV)

in God I trust; I am not afraid. What can a mere mortal do to me? (Psalms 56:11, NRSV)

Reflection/Prayer

LORD, let me always remember the sacrifice that You made for my salvation. When insecurity makes me begin to falter in my trust and belief in You, let me understand that Jesus is dismayed since he has repeatedly assured me that He sends upon me what His Father promised. Let me remember that for this, and many other reasons, I need not be afraid of anything that happens nor entertain disquieting thoughts, because mere mortals cannot harm me and I can always rely on You in times of trial. It’s time to move forward, working through the lessons You have for me from the pain of my past in order to live beyond the shadow of my doubts. In Jesus’ name, I pray, AMEN (See: Luke 24:38; 

#Priceless Love: love that delivers

Today’s Truth

How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings. (Psalm 36:7)

Exploration

This psalm in its entirety highlights the magnanimity of God’s response to man. It notes that despite human fallibility as manifested in our behavior. He metes out justice tempered by his abiding and unconditional/non-partial love, and there is every opportunity for redemption, once we understand and accept that.

Mapping the verse, through contextualization and defining key words and phrases, I have personalized it as follows:

How impossible it is to put value on your limitless and inexhaustible love toward me, O God! I can take sanctuary and respite from distress in the the cover of Your all-powerful existence, in order to rise above challenges and overcome adversity.

The term love here represents agape, because it derives from God — this love is unconditional, non-partial/non-discriminatory, and sacrificial when contrasted with “phileo” or brotherly love, or the common definition of love between humans.

Reflection/Application

As I have throughout my life, I’ve had my share of trial this past couple of years. With the intervention of God, and the collective prayers of myself and others, I have experienced many bright spots, and certainly have a greater appreciation of those blessings because often they have been hard-won.

I really struggle to learn to balance praise and thanksgiving for the blessings that come, with calls for fortitude and grace when the storms supplant the sunlight.

Inspiration/Affirmation

Mostly, I feel that I am making great strides in my journey of faith, yet there are days that offer challenges that throw me off-stride. These are the times when I know I need to regroup and seek solace in Him. Now, when I stumble, I first ask the Spirit and look to the Scriptures for inspiration for my prayers.

The beauty of seeking “refuge in the shadow of His wings,” is that His protection can be extended in its scope through the intervention of others as well:

For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. They will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. (Psalms 91:12, NIV)

Further, there are distinct personal benefits to be derived by weathering the storms:

Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (Romans 5:3-5, NIV)

The promises of these truths, and putting them into practice allows us to better weather the storms of the future.

Prayer

Lord, let me not despair in my misery. Rather, let me always remember me that Your abiding love ensures that I will not repeatedly strike my foot against a rock, and that this priceless love allows me to persist in faith during times of trial. Ultimately, let me remember that the ability to endure will reinforce itself through building the necessary disposition in me that retains optimism in a love that always delivers. In Jesus’ name, I pray, AMEN.

The Power of #Perfect Love

Today’s Truth 

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishmentThe one who fears is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:16-18, NIV)

Exploration

In breaking down some of the terms and phrases, and personalizing them I note that:

  • Fear = I worry a lot, and depending on the nature of my worries, real or imagined, I can sink quickly into feeling apprehensive and fearful. Most of the time, my fear is unwarranted, in that what I dread is not likely to ever happen; if the threat is real — I need to remember that I should seek help to deal with it anyway because undue worry is never productive for me
  • Perfect love = the exact amount of profound, tender, and passionate affection that comes from the Lord and His full understanding and acceptance of me
  • Punishment = suffering, pain, or loss that serves as retribution

Part of the description of perfect love found in 1 Corinthians is : [Love] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:7-8, NIV)

Coupling the description found in 1 Corinthians with portions of today’s truth, causes me to conclude that:

The one who fears has failed to understand the power of perfect love — since, fear has to do with punishment, and there is no punishment in perfect love since it NEVER FAILS, but protects, trusts, hopes, and perseveres.

My Challenge and Encouragement

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. (Psalms 139:23, NIV)

So today, my significant other goes for yet another biopsy. And I, have yet another phone interview in search of employment as the clock ticks down to October 31, 2013 when my current assignment ends. We are both anxious and snappish. Although, I must say he takes things in stride far better than I do.

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalms 73:26, NIV)

In addressing the fears related to the current situation — I am struggling to accept that my loss and suffering are not occurring as punishment or retribution, but as a means of moving us forward somehow.

Inspiration/Affirmation

There is tremendous promise in today’s truth — Perfect love drives out fear!!

I am further drawn to the following truths in substantiation: Perfect love provides a place of refuge in times of trial and additional support so that I don’t keep taking the wrong turns and “striking my foot against a stone.”

How priceless is Your unfailing love! Both high and low among [women] find refuge in the shadow of your wings. (Psalms 36:7, NIV)

If you make the Most High your dwelling– even the LORD, who is my refuge– then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. (Psalms 91:9-12)

My Reflections and Prayer

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer. (Romans 12:12, NIV)

 Lord, when I am feeling anxious, let me seek refuge in the shadow of your wings. For though my heart may fail, Your love for me never does. I trust in Your love which is perfect and unfailing to drive out my fears and keep me and mine from harm. You are my portion  – You protect me, You strengthen and calm my heart and my special patrons guard me in all my ways. In Jesus’ name, I pray. AMEN