What Is Forgiveness?

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What exactly is forgiveness?

How do you know when you’ve forgiven someone fully?

These questions have been asked to pastors around the world for years and years. I of course cannot answer for them, but I can answer what the Bible has to say about it and my own personal experience. Many of you know I grew up in an extremely abusive environment. There was pretty much every kind of abuse you can think of. The one I struggled with the most was sexual abuse and emotional abuse and neglect.

My step-dad sexually abused me for many years. It was just a part of life. I thought it was normal. I thought all people went through it. This of course has stirred in me lately because of the #metoo movement. All of these people getting their day to confront their abuser in court. They are allowed to tell him how it affected their life even into adulthood. And believe me it does. It’s great for them but what about the millions of people like myself never getting to look at the abuser across a courtroom and know that this person who changed your life forever - will never pay? My life went on as normal. There were no police, no charges filed- nothing. I had to as many do, pick up the pieces of my young life and try to put them back together. In my case my step-dad passed away about 5 years ago. There will never be an opportunity for me to confront him. But, he is in the arms of Jesus now. He walks in complete forgiveness.

So back to the question, what is forgiveness? I searched for years for an answer to this question. In my case with this event, forgiveness was hard. Because of this person I have flashbacks, a very poor self-image I fight against constantly and many other issues in my adult life. But, the day I knew I had forgiven I was set free from blaming him for my life. I could picture his face and know that if I saw him on the side of the road in need of help, I would stop. I would help him. How could I ever get to this point? The revelation that Jesus already paid for what my step-dad did. People cannot pay you back after hurting you because Jesus already did it. He sacrificed his own life for what my step- dad did, for what I’ve done in my life too.

 How do you know when you’ve truly forgiven someone? When it’s not a part of your daily life and thinking. If you’re still thinking about it in whatever capacity- you haven’t fully forgiven. Of course, it will never go away but when you find yourself hardly thinking of it and focusing on other things. Then you know forgiveness has set in. Like I’ve said before “who are they to me?”. The people in your life that have hurt you are going to be wherever you put them in your mind. If you want that hurt front and center than they’ll be there. If you’re truly ready to move on, then do so.

 Take a look inside your heart. Is it time to fully forgive?

Are You Lonely?

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Are you lonely?

Recently I was in a conversation and the person began to tell me, as tears flowed down their face, how lonely they felt. This person is a Christian and knows the Lord. But still, aren’t there times when we feel so very alone? God made us to be with people. He never intended us to do life alone. Having relationships is a very important part of being a human being.

Why does it seem, though, sometimes those relationships are stripped away one at a time until it’s just us and God?

As I began to talk with this sweet soul, I said sometimes God sets us apart for a greater plan. There are times when God uses the loneliness to draw us closer to him. It forces us to take a look at where our trust has been the whole time. Have we been trusting people to fill that void or God? What’s in your hand right now? Is loneliness in your hand or your heart? If so - it is only temporary and dare I say, lean into the loneliness. Press into God to fill your heart. When you’re fully trusting in God, then you can have healthy balanced relationships with people.

What is Love?

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What is Love?

Throughout our lives we are shown many examples of love—or maybe I should say what people think love is. Clearly the artist Haddaway thought he got it right in his song “What is Love?”. The lyrics say “What is love? Baby don't hurt me. Don't hurt me no more”. This is a good song, but I don’t think not hurting someone shows your love for them. The word “love” is used in so many ways. We say “I love this coffee” in the same breath as “I love my spouse” or “I love my pizza” at the same time we say “I love Jesus”. How can pizza and Jesus be on the same level? 

Society treats love as a romantic love—falling in love with someone. Having those butterfly feelings is considered having feelings of love. But that’s not really love. That’s infatuation. Infatuation wears off and dries up. Love is enduring. Society also tells us to love ourselves first—to take care of our own needs and strive for our own happiness. After all, if we aren’t happy, then we are going to makes everyone around us unhappy. 

However, we need to not look to society for our definition of love. Our society has a warped view of love. It’s almost complete opposite of what God teaches in His Word. The Bible has a lot to say on the subject of love. Jesus says in Matthew 22:37-39 to love God with all our heart, soul and mind. He goes on to say this is the first commandment and then adds that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. Let’s break this down. If we are told to love our neighbor as ourselves, what does this mean? Of course, it means all people, not just your literal neighbor. I mean, if we took this approach, people who live out in the country would be thinking “Sweet I have no neighbors. I’m good to go”. 

So, loving each other means what? 1 Corinthians 13 says “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails.” This needs to be the filter we put on every morning before our feet hit the floor. We need to see each other through the eyes of love. When we do this, we are looking through Gods eyes. He says He IS Love.

Practically what does this look like in our daily life? It’s putting others first; not making a list of all the wrongs done to you; forgiving others—this is why Jesus went to the cross for us because we have ALL been hurt—not having a 0-60 temper; not trashing others in person, behind their back, or on the internet; giving others a break, and realizing that we are all doing our best to get through life. It clearly says, “love never fails”, and with our understanding that God is love, that means God never fails us. Jesus is our greatest example of love. He died for us. He could have done anything He wanted, saved Himself, or changed His mind. This, my friends, is true love: giving up yourself, your needs, your wants, your desires, for another.

It says in John 13:35 “By this all people will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” This means when you’re walking in love, you will not look like the rest of the world. You will be set apart, which is not a bad thing. I once told a group of girls at a Bible study that our daily filter we look through needs to be a filter of Jesus’s blood. It seems like a strange thing to say, but it’s because of His shed blood that we have everlasting life. If Jesus paid such a great price for us, surely, we can choose to walk in love and live in love towards each other. This is the greatest commandment.

Reduce the Noise

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I sat on my couch, overwhelmed with the deafening noise. What was the noise? Was it the tv, or an airplane, or perhaps the strange things that tend to come from my household of 3 teens? No, it was the noise in my mind. The next step the noise tends to take for me is depression. I get so overwhelmed with things, I cannot handle it, and I sink into depression. Yes, Christians can deal with depression. 

 The noise of the world around us is constantly begging for our attention. The emails, deadlines, appointments, text messages, Facebook notifications, Instagram comments, the never ending “what’s for dinner” question. We fill our lives daily with all the outside noise to the extent that our heart cannot hear what the Lord might be trying to tell us. 

 Why do we do this? Some of it is need. As I always say, “If I don’t do it, no one will”. I know for myself one of my biggest downfalls is busying myself. There are some things you just can’t get around, such as work and demands of the kids’ schedule. But in how much of our lives do we let other people have the reins? When we don’t have control of our lives, we end up feeling burnt out and jaded in life in general. 

 Another source of noise is the expectations we have of our lives. One day, after returning from our vacation for two, I was busying myself in the house doing things that needed to be done. I’m one of those people that doesn’t sit and rest until it’s all done. So yeah...I never sit and rest. Anyway, Robb looked at me as he has many times before with tired eyes and said, “Are you going to sit down and rest at all?” I answered as I always do “Yes, in just a minute. I just have to vacuum, clean the bathrooms etc.” It takes a lot to keep my house the way I want it with 5 people, 3 dogs, a cat, and a turtle making messes every day. But this time it struck me I wasn’t just doing things to get the done. I didn’t want to sit because my heart was hurting, and it was my way of blocking the task of processing what I was struggling with. I was at the point of feeling burnt out and jaded by life. My expectations of life and God we’re not at all lining up with what I had always thought. These thoughts just added to all the other noise in my head, making it that much louder. My mind can be one of my biggest enemies. 

 I know I am not alone in this. I know I am not the only one who struggles with the noise of my mind and the outside world screaming for attention. I know I’m not the only one who hides disappointment in my heart. Whether it be disappointment of the way life has turned out or disappointment in myself, it is very real. I know I’m not the only one who has battled depression. 

 With all this noise many of us deal with on the daily, how do we come to a place of peace? Where is the peace in life, peace with ourselves, and peace with others? How do we fix this? How do we allow God to fix this? I’m sorry to say this, but just picking a scripture and standing on it isn’t enough. I don’t think that was God’s plan all along. We are perfectly capable of being a more active part of the solution than just saying “Yep, that’s my scripture I picked”. Or, as James would say, “Faith without works is dead.”

So, what are some practical applications to reduce the noise in our lives?

 1.     Create white space -  What is this? This means blank areas on the calendar. Have days where nothing is planned. Leave those days open for you and God. Invest in your relationship with God as you would in someone you love. 

2.     Put the phone down - I am oh so guilty of this. I have had a smart phone since 2007. Sometimes I feel like it’s been more trouble than not. It is considered an addiction just as much as any other addiction these days. So, say “no” to Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, and whatever else there is now begging for our attention. We spend so much time in that world the people right in front of us get ignored.

3.     Say “NO” -  It’s ok to say “no”. You do not owe anyone an explanation. If you’re not going to protect your white space, who is?

4.     Forgive -  Forgive others and yourself. Replaying all the hurts in your mind just add to the noise. Have grace on people, realizing their humanity. If you’ve been hurt, get over yourself. Everyone has been hurt. If you hurt someone, let it go. Everyone has hurt someone. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23

5.     Realize God’s goodness -  God is a good God. My favorite scripture has become Romans 8:28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” This means whatever nasty situation happens, whatever disappointment we feel, eventually we will see God’s goodness take over. I have seen some pretty hairy situations end in God’s goodness. God is a sovereign God. And when we walk through things we do not understand, that shows we are only human, and limited in our understanding. God knows the end of the story and His sovereignty takes over. 

6.     Turn off your mind -  Like anything in life, it’s a choice. Paul said in Philippians 4:11 “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstance.” We must override the weakness of the flesh with our spirit. Speak to your mind and tell it to rest. Don’t be a doormat to your feelings and your flesh.

This life we have is our only shot on this earth to complete God’s assignment. If we are spending our days overwhelmed by noise, our minds, and depression, how can we be effective? Let’s take some time to quiet the noise. Will you join me?

An Honest Look in the Mirror

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When you look in the mirror, what do you see? I don't mean a quick makeup or hair check. I mean a real, honest staring yourself down. If you're like me, you're going to see all of your flaws first.  When I look, I tend to see things I wish I could change physically. I've never been a fan of my nose. In fact, when I was growing up it was often the subject of jokes in class. I was once told "You have pretty eyes but an ugly face." Well ok then. That's not very helpful to the self esteem of a teenager. And now that I'm in my 40's I'm starting to notice those lovely lines and drooping eye lids. 

What about beyond the outside physical things? What about your heart and your soul? What do you see? What do you hear in your mind when you're all alone, in the quiet? Are you reminded of all of your flaws and mistakes? Do you go over conversations in your head you've had with people? 

Perhaps you're the opposite. When you see yourself and are left alone with your thoughts, maybe you think "Man I've really got it all together, but that friend of mine does not. She is a mess and should really listen to me." Do you watch people while your out places and think "Wow, those parents really need to change how they're raising their kids"?

What we're talking about here are two extremes: arrogance and insecurity. But are they really two extremes? As Pastor Robb pointed out on Sunday in his sermon, they are not different, they are one in the same. They are two forms of pride. Arrogance is thinking of yourself more highly than you ought. And insecurity is thinking of yourself more lowly than you ought. But when you drop one word from each definition, you get the exact same thing: they are both thinking of yourself more than you ought. 

There is nothing wrong with seeing things that we can tweak in ourselves. The same goes for confidence. There is nothing wrong with having confidence in your life. The question really is, where is your view of God in your life? I recently read a devotional where the author explained that we struggle through life because we do not have God placed where we should. Arrogance and insecurity are not putting others first in our life. Nor is it putting God where he needs to be. Living in arrogance and insecurity is putting yourself on the throne. Your thinking is "I can't" or "I am the best"--the key word is "I". 

When we have God at the center of our thought life, everything else tends to fall into place. As we go through our daily lives, we tend to forget that Jesus is called Emmanuel--God with us. He is always with us whether we realize it or not. He is with us in good times and in bad times. He is with us when we are on top of the world and everything is going great. And He is with us when it all falls apart. He is with us when we feed our addictions, and with us when we are at rock bottom and the only way to go is up. 

He is always with us. So why do we choose not to see him? We are so programmed by our human nature to think of ourselves first. But God has not called us to live a life of one--a life of arrogance or insecurity. How can we ever accomplish his assignment for us if we can't get our eyes off of ourselves? 

Today, evaluate those things you may struggle with like arrogance or insecurity. See if you have God in the spot of your thought life that He desires to be in. He so wants to be first in your life because He loves you so. He knows you better than you know yourself. Give Him a chance to be #1. 

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

John 15:5 ESV

A Desert Worth Fighting Through

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In our walk through life, we are going to encounter troubled times. It's a guarantee - Jesus said we would. Sometimes those are like dry seasons that seem to have no end. Every Monday we wake up to a new week ahead with a glimmer of hope that we might see some relief from our drought. And then by Wednesday we are fairly aware we are still in the desert. 

What are we to do in these times that seem to be a never ending dry season of life? Do we give up, hang up our hat and wave the white towel? Sometimes, I'll admit it's very tempting. We think through our what-ifs of life and start mentally traveling down a different road. We all have a fight or flight response in us. When we are in the middle of these dry seasons of life one of the two responses will be activated. I realized within myself I am very much a flight person.

It gets hard and my natural response is to high tail it out of there. I had always considered myself a fighter. I've encountered a lot in my lifetime that has made me a little rough on the outside. I have in some cases literally "fought my way through life." However, for whatever reason I don't fight, I flee. If I get hurt in relationships - I cut people out. If I get frustrated at a job - I quit. In my marriage - there's the silent treatment (which is also a flight response). 

All of these responses are natural to the un-renewed parts of my mind. I believe we are supposed to have the opposite response, we are supposed to fight. It doesn't always look like what we think it does. Our fight does not have to be aggressive where we scrunch our face and white knuckle through. Sometimes the fight is quiet and calm. The fight is standing right where you know you're supposed to be.

It doesn't have to mean everyone you know is aware of what you're facing. It's not necessary to blast it on Facebook. It's the quiet, peaceful fight in the middle of the  storm or the dry season. The fight in which we give up our urge to flee and stand strong in what we know the Lord has asked us to do. Scripture tells us  in Psalm 46 that He is with us during it all - He is our refuge. 

Take great comfort in knowing that the God who knew you before you were born has an answer. An end to the dry season and an answer in the storm. He knew it was coming and He's walking beside you hand in hand as you grow through the season. We've all heard it before, God is more interested in us growing through our journey than the actual destination. 

Now is the time to stand. If all you've ever done before is flee - this time fight. 

Psalm 46 NIV

1. God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.

2. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,

3. though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging.[c]

4. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy place where the Most High dwells.

5. God is within her, she will not fall;
    God will help her at break of day.

6. Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
    he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

7. The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

8. Come and see what the Lord has done,
    the desolations he has brought on the earth.

9. He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
    he burns the shields[d] with fire.

10. He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”

11. The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Choose Peace

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Every day we see a major lack of peace. On a large world wide scale down to our individual lives. It is so hard to keep the peace in our lives. We are bombarded daily with constant changes and noise. We feel like we can't get a grip on one crisis before another one comes along. In our personal lives we juggle families, work, money, bills, school, and volunteer commitments that all leave us feeling like deflated balloons by the end of the day. Life is coming at us from a thousand different directions, no wonder everyone feels like they're just making it through the day.

Many people today struggle with anxiety disorders. I personally have had a life-long battle with anxiety. This is often a very misunderstood issue. You will hear "you look like you feel fine" or “don't you look nice today." Meanwhile inside, your stomach is turning a million miles an hour like an engine that never shuts off. The kicker is when you hear "just give it to God" or “what scripture are you standing on?" This ends up making you feel like a failure in your faith, like you're not trusting enough in God to control your anxiety. Don't get me wrong! I believe very much that God is our ultimate healer. But, I also believe sometimes healing from things like this is a process and there are things God wants us to learn during the process so we never pick it back up again.

So, with all of the challenges we face in our worlds, big and small, how are we ever supposed to keep our peace? What does Jesus say to us about these things?

In John 14:27 Jesus says, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." Jesus is saying here that He gives us peace, He is our peace. Peace not like the world gives. I have to say, in my 40 years of experience on this earth, I don't think the world has ever given me peace. Jesus knew when He said this how much unrest there would be in our world. Nothing is in the Bible accidentally. He knew what we would face before we ever saw it coming.

Paul also speaks to us about his decision to choose peace and joy in unrest and trials. In Philippians 4:11 he says, "Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content."

And in Philippians 4:7 "And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Paul knew with all his experiences that the Lord gives us peace and it's our choice to receive it or reject it. Clearly, it's a choice to live in peace. No matter what we are facing, what unrest is out in the world or in our own lives - we choose. It's a choice we face daily. Are we going to pick up the peace or the anxiety and unrest? Every morning it's a new day and a new choice.

I used to think, probably like most people do, that when I get to this certain place in life it will be smooth sailing. I'll have it figured out. There will be enough money, the kids will be under control, and that relationships will work themselves out. I was wrong! Life just continues to happen day after day exchanging one issue for the next. Now I realize, that's just life!

If we are to be the example God asked us to be to the world, we must make our peace a priority. We will never be the example of a problem free life but one of maintaining our peace through all of life's punches.

That right there is the greatest example, pointing back to Christ. Whatever the devil or life throws our way to take us down, we get right back up, owning our peace.

Today whatever you are facing in your life and in your world, I urge you to choose peace. Life will never stop but neither will the love and peace of Jesus.

Identity Labels

In my life, I've had many identity labels: daughter, sister, wife, mother, friend, enemy, group exercise teacher, fitness freak, Pastor’s wife and many more. But the one identity I choose to hold closest to my heart is daughter of the King--King Jesus. 

 All through life people will associate you with a label or an identity. We know how brutal people can be to one another. Honestly, Christians can spew more venom towards each other than the world ever could. More often, though, you label yourself. In your mind, you see yourself the way you think people see you, and you start thinking God sees you that way too. You start replaying over and over in your mind how you see yourself until it actually starts to manifest. Many times, this identity is negative. Maybe people associate your identity with something in your past. Maybe it's your job. The devil would like nothing more than for you to forget who you are in Christ. He wants you to forget the price Jesus paid for you on the cross and only look at who you think you've become in the life. 

 While I am thankful for most of my labels, the one I hold closest to my heart is being a child of God. There is nothing wrong with wife, mom or even fitness freak but there is no power in those labels. There is no security in those things. They're all based on human conditions. The true power in life comes when you finally see who you are in Christ and understand the great price He paid just for you. Put your trust in Him not in the hats you wear. Those all involve people. 

 People will let you down. I will let you down. The only One who has unfailing love is Jesus.

It's taken me a long time to put my identities in the right order. In some ways, it's freeing to realize all things fail and are seasonal except One. 

Take time today to think about what your identities are or how you've been labeled by other people or yourself. And remember you are a child of God. All the scriptures below apply to you no matter how you feel about yourself. God's word is true and unfailing. 

I am a new creation in Him!

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17 

I am righteous and holy.

“And to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” Ephesians 4:24

I am saved by grace as a gift, not by my performance. 

“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.” Ephesians 2:8

I am a victor.

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” Romans 8:37

What Are You Doing With Your Words?

Our words have the power to speak life or death to a situation. When I found out I was pregnant with my first child we were ecstatic. What I had always dreamed of was happening. We began to spread the word to the ends of the earth. We had visions of the baby being dedicated in front of the church, being held up like the lion king. Then one day there was a threat to the pregnancy. I was terrified. Being a mom at the ripe age of 21, I had not quite developed a lot of faith. Everyday that passed I thanked God for my baby, but internally I was falling apart. I remembered a paper of scriptures and confessions our church nursery had given me. One stood out to me - "I speak life to this baby. I command it to live". I felt at this point all I could do was confess that over this baby all day. So I did. All day long I spoke that over my baby.

The baby was born and we named him Alexander Christian Yandian. Now that baby is a college freshman.

Our words have the ability to speak life or death to our world. The word says "The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63 NKJV). It's more than just positive or negative confession--words have power--literally. I'm not coming from a name-it-and-claim-it point of view. I'm not saying you can speak a million dollars into existence. But what I am saying is when we speak words over our life, or other people's lives, they have the ability to manifest because, as Christians, our words have spirit behind them.

Proverbs 18:21 says "Life and death are in the power of the tongue." I, by nature, am not a bubbly happy person. I am more of a pessimist, my-glass-is-half-empty kinda gal. I've really had to work on myself over the years to speak words of life over myself, my life, and my family's lives.

What words are you speaking over your world? Are you speaking words of life or death?

Removing The Victim Crown

Our world today is constantly telling us we are victims. For the most part that is true. There are victims of crime, abuse, neglect, etc. We hear about it everyday. Sometimes the victimization is on a little bit smaller scale. We have been wronged, lied about, slandered, treated unfairly--and the list goes on. Really, every person we come in contact with has been a victim in some way or another. Every person has a "story". You watch TV and any prime time athletic competition show or talent show highlights every contestant's story and how they overcame adversity and are no longer a victim. Perhaps you're a victim of yourself. You never let go of mistakes or you are incredibly hard on yourself. I know for myself I never thought I wore the victim crown until recently. I found myself stuck in some thinking patterns, stuck in shell of unworthiness. We can often be harder on ourselves than any person could ever be on us. We know the internal battles we face daily. 

What's my point? My point is we are not called to live as victims. It is very easy to say out of our face hole "I am a victor not a victim," but do we really believe it down in our hearts? Do we really see ourselves as forgiven, fully capable people? I have recently come upon this phrase: "get past what you'll never get over". That struck me like a bolt of lightning.  There are things in life you will never get over but you can get past them and move forward to a happy and productive life. 

When I was 6 years old my step-dad began to abuse me sexually. This was the beginning of a dysfunctional life I waded around in for decades.  I will never get over that but I am past it. I can talk about it and help people who have turned to self destructive patterns trying to medicate that pain.  

The first step to removing the victim crown is to recognize we are wearing it. Take it off. Stop looking backwards. Nothing can be done about the past, but the future is wide open. When you constantly go over in your head what's been done or what you did, you're chaining yourself to that part of your life. Lift up your head, put on a new crown of confidence, love, forgiveness and strength. 

"But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head." Psalm 3:3