My Little Devotional #116: “Forgive-Me-Not”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “No Second Prances”

I liked this episode on its own to begin with, but on thinking about it while considering a message for today’s devotional I realized something new about it.

Former-villain-and-new-friendship-student Starlight Glimmer is tasked with making a new friend in Ponyville, but is constantly beset, internally and externally, with the fact that her background makes her rather untrustworthy. Nevertheless, she finally believes she succeeds in making a friend on her own when she finds an individual who shares a history of being a former villain: Trixie Lulamoon aka “The Great and Powerful Trixie”. Things go sour, however, later in the episode when Trixie accidentally reveals she only initially made friends with Starlight in order to show up Twilight Sparkle. Yet on realizing that she really wanted to be friends with Starlight, Trixie ends up not only apologizing but is willing to do “penance” in the form of doing a trick that could kill her if Starlight doesn’t help her out.And as for Starlight? She has to make the choice of whether or not she wants to forgive Trixie for her treachery.

Initially I keyed in on the title on thinking it referred to how the two main characters of this episode were both former villains, but on thinking about it harder I realized that Starlight Glimmer found herself in an interesting position toward the end. She herself had been wronged by an individual, and now she had to decide whether or not to forgive them for what they had done. Normally Starlight goes around asking other ponies for forgiveness for her own actions, but now she was faced with a similar situation…in which she had been hurt and now had to decide if the one who wronged her deserved another chance.

I’ll be bold enough to say that my life has been a lot better than that of most people’s, and I’ve been spared a great deal of misery. Yet one bad thing I can claim I have experience with is being in a situation where someone I loved backstabbed me and those I cared about, not once but multiple times, causing a lot of hurt and pain that drove me to rage against them…and I was given the opportunity to forgive them or not.

This wasn’t nearly as easy or simple of a situation as one might think. I don’t think anyone can really appreciate how much of a challenge this is unless, unfortunately, it happens to you. If some stranger or acquaintance does something against you and says they’re sorry later, that’s one thing. Even if a friend does it, one can eventually move on, with or without some lasting bitterness.

But when someone you love and trust does it, and when you feel the pain of your heart breaking and the hollow state of having been backstabbed, it’s something else. David expressed the bitterness of this sort of situation in Psalm 55. “If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were rising against me, I could hide. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship at the house of God, as we walked about among the worshipers.”(Psalm 55:12-14)

The end result of this sort of betrayal, I can say from this sort of experience, is usually growing hard-hearted in response. That’s something easy to glance over and read over, but, again, this is something that is a lot more potent when it happens to you than when you read it on a blog. People have the myth in mind that you become cold and emotionally detached from people in this situation just out of anger, spite, or carrying a grudge, but that’s not it. When someone you love seriously wrongs you and leaves you hurting and wounded emotionally as a result, it’s a defensive mechanism. You’re tired of being hurt by these people and you don’t want to hurt anymore. So you block them out of your heart and mind and grow aloof to them, just so that you’re no longer exposed and giving them an opportunity to injure you emotionally…sometimes even physically.

In this case, forgiveness becomes two things. One: it becomes overwhelmingly difficult. You know full well if you open up to this person again you’re exposing a scar and daring them to stab it again, and you’re supposed to trust that they won’t even if they already broke that trust once already…or perhaps even multiple times. There have been incidents when I have forgiven an individual only to have them turn around do the same thing again. Naturally, if they seek forgiveness later after that, it becomes even harder to forgive because now in addition to the increased hurt you have a voice telling you that you’re being a fool for even considering it. (And, in some cases, that’s an accurate statement.)

Two: forgiveness stops even being a factor in the equation. It’s human nature to seek retribution for injury, especially if the injury done to us was particularly painful. I didn’t want to forgive this person; if for no other reason than to make them feel a measure of the hurt it felt like when someone you loved turns away from you so brutally. Why should I want to do anything for them? Why not let them “rot”?

The fact of the matter is right now I’m dealing with whether or not to forgive someone in my own life. This is another individual who has taken past offers of forgiveness and reconciliation and has eventually torn them up and thrown them in the dumpster.Some of the things he did not only hurt ones I love in the emotional sense but the physical one, and there was a time where he was spending more time in jail than holding a job. By most people’s standards, this individual is “human trash” and only an idiot would be willing to give him the time of day no matter how much he claims to have repented. At this point he’s fully in the realm of a lost cause and he should be shunned and avoided; for one’s own protection if nothing else. The fact that he’s back in Church, holding a job, and seeking help for his own mental problems should be irrelevant. It might be good in any case not to trust him, but it also seems perfectly justified to carry bitterness and resentment toward him.To treat him like an unwanted creature and let him know, both verbally and nonverbally, that I will always hate him and shun him.

Yet at times like this, I try to remember the parables of Jesus. Many of them dealt with the topic of forgiveness, and how, difficult as it is, one must be willing to do it. (See the parable of the Unforgiving Servant, Matthew 18:21-35). I think about all the times this individual sought forgiveness only to relapse into his old ways, and how the world would say each time is further evidence that I need to hold onto my anger toward this individual and feel justified in shunning him. How the world would render most relationships irreparable after two or three infractions at most. Yet then I think of how many times I asked God to forgive me for a sin only to relapse into it, and I expect God to be just as ready to forgive me not only the second or third time but often the fiftieth or sixtieth time. That is truly why it is said: “To err is human; to forgive divine.”

While there are certain measures one must take to ensure that they are protected from being hurt a second time (because gaining forgiveness is not necessarily the same as gaining trust, and if the only thing different about the individual is them saying they’re sorry without committing to change or getting help they need that is a warning sign), one of the biggest demands Lord Jesus had of us as Christians is to forgive others. However, it was indeed a demand for a Christian way of life and not merely a “suggestion” or “guideline”. Simply put: if we expect God to forgive us, we have to be willing to do the same. C.S. Lewis once said: “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” That means every time someone turns back to us saying they’re sorry and seeking forgiveness genuinely, even if its for the tenth time in a single day, we have to be willing to give it to them. We have to be willing to be “exposed”. And in some cases, we have to be humble enough to let go of our grudge and past hurt.

Remember, there’s been times in our lives when we’ve all been a “Starlight” or “Trixie” and we sought forgiveness and reconciliation. Let’s keep that in mind when we are faced with the same choice.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, I can never thank you enough for the gracious gift of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who died to pay the penalty of all of my sins so that I could have everlasting life and be with you in Heaven forever. Please help me to live every day for you in all ways, and help me to follow the example of Jesus…including in regards to forgiving others. As I have been forgiven, help me always to do the same to others who seek it from me. Gratefully in Jesus’ name, Amen.”

My Little Devotional #115: “Give Me a Sign!”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “Gauntlet of Fire”

I may not have much in common with a fire-breathing dragon, but I think something that all of us have in common with Ember in this episode is a desire to set ourselves apart from our parents at some point in our lives. Maybe we were unfortunate enough to not have the best, or even “nominal”, parents in the world and we want to rise above our background. Or maybe we had great parents…ones so great they left a legacy hard to live up to…and we want to make a story and name for ourselves. Or maybe we’re like most people and at some point we want to be apart from our parents and do things for ourselves. Ultimately all of these came from the same reason: independence.

Asserting independence is part of everyone’s development. Most of the time it takes the form of breaking out in teenage years and starting a period of disobedience or rebellion so we can make our own decisions, however minor at first. But even if it’s more gradual and later in years, eventually one gets a desire to do things for oneself and to make one’s own choices. It’s a necessary part of becoming a mature, healthy individual…even if at the time it’s plagued with catastrophe and false starts.

Which is why the majority of churches tend to confuse me in regards to the issue.

There was an infamous slogan years ago that was placed on bumper stickers nationwide: “God is my co-pilot”. However, as the years went on, most churches had a backlash to that with the following slogan: “If God is your co-pilot, switch seats”. The idea, of course, was that God isn’t there to be solicited for advice or to be asked for directions as we’re moving along in our lives, or even to walk hand-in-hand and side-by-side with us, but rather God is supposed to be in control of everything. We are supposed to surrender everything to him. In most churches in America, the emphasis nowadays is complete surrender and dependence on God for every action, no matter what or where. There are praise and worship songs all about giving up everything to God and not directing our own ways in the slightest, and even a lyric “we won’t move without you”.

While I can understand the point most people are trying to make with this, in my opinion that’s taking things not only a bit to the extreme, but might actually be counter-productive.

It’s undeniably true that in the Bible a lot went wrong because people didn’t bother to consult the Lord first. From the mishaps in the conquest of Canaan (Joshua 9)  and the times of the Judges (Judges 19-21) to Saul’s impatience to wait for Samuel to arrive (1 Samuel 13:1-15) to David’s insistence on conducting a census (2 Samuel 24) to the various corrupt kings of both Judah and Israel (1 Kings 12:25-33, 16:29-34, 2 Kings 16), there are a lot of people who suffered for going their own way. Enough, one might reason, to conclude that everything needs to be waited for a decree from God for. However, if one looks closer at those individuals in these cases, that might be an oversimplification. In each of those situations, the people knew already what God wanted of them. They just didn’t listen. God was neither a co-pilot nor a pilot in these cases; rather it was a situation where the “driver” went the wrong way and only later went back to God and asked him to declare it “right” even after he told them it was the wrong way all along.

But those instances aside, Lord Jesus wanted us to be complete and perfect as God is perfect (Matthew 5:48). He wanted us to be mature, responsible individuals. And as already said, part of growing into maturity is not just asserting our independence but showing we can be responsible with it. We are, after all, free-thinking individuals with the ability to choose, which is why our good is virtue and our evil is sin; and we have a responsibility to ourselves and to God to uphold.

For example, we are to trust the Lord to take us through all difficulties. While I believe in that, if I had a difficult chemistry test back in college and I didn’t study, instead deciding to pray and rely on God to get me through it with an A, that would not only be foolish of me but irresponsible of God. It’s my own responsibility to study and learn if I want to improve myself, and to do what is required to get what is rightfully due to me. And I won’t learn to be diligent or self-sacrifical by letting God handle that part for me.

The same with health habits. I can’t pound away cheesecake and pizza all the time and pray to God to keep me thin and from getting diabetes. I have to take ownership of my own health and weight. It’s my duty to maintain the “temple” God has given me custody of.

And while I believe God does help us in instances of financial distress, I also don’t believe in just sitting around and expecting checks to appear out of thin air because I pray for them; not actually getting up and working or trying to make things happen to overcome the difficulty. Part of the power of God’s miracles is that he acts only after we are rendered totally helpless and unable to save ourselves from a situation, which thereby manifests his power as there is no other way out of that instance except through the power of God. Simply waiting for God to fix everything without lifting a finger to do anything ourselves…not so much. Paul even warned against this sort of behavior. “For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”” (2 Thessalonians 3:10)

Still another example is in callings. Yes, God may call us to do something great or to fulfill a destined ministry. However, odds are more than likely that I’m not going to get that sort of calling if I just sit around at home waiting for it. If I’m wanting to hear the call of God, it’s probably best that I try to go “where phones are”, in the proverbial sense. There’s not much chance of me finding what I’m best suited to if I just hope it comes to me in a vision. And I won’t likely run into anyone I need to lead to Christ if I never go around to places where I can run into people, let alone connect with them.And if I want to try a mission trip or some sort of ministry, it’s probably best to start looking for one in my local church or other local churches rather than just hope one gets put on my doorstep, to say nothing of preparing myself for the ministry.

Sometimes I fear that waiting for the call of God can be used as an excuse for inaction. There are many small things everywhere we can do for God each and every day, and many opportunities to be like Christ to others. I don’t want to discount those by saying “I haven’t heard a call from God to do that” when he might be waiting for me to take the first step.

A pastor I once listened to put it eloquently. The Bible says that God takes care of all the sparrows…it didn’t say he dumps food in their nests. While we want God to direct our lives and to follow his direction day to day, remember that there are some things that we have to do for ourselves for no other reason than to prove ourselves mature and responsible enough for greater things; both in this world and from God.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you that your guidance and direction is always available whenever I desire to look for it. I commit my life and trust to you today. Please use me however you see fit and direct me to help build the Kingdom of God. And if there are any tasks today that I need to do for myself, please confront me with them so that I can use them to grow in maturity and responsibility. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

My Little Devotional #114: “The Forest for the Trees”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “On Your Marks”

Apple Bloom had an interesting problem in this episode. Now that she had discovered her true purpose at long last, she found herself sad and dismayed to learn that there wasn’t much “demand” for her and her friends to help ponies with Cutie Mark problems. When they decided to split up and try different things more suited to their interests and hopefully find ponies in need of help in those tasks, she was unable to find anything else she liked save one thing (dancing), and then saw that she was not suited to do that with someone else; making her think it was a waste of time as, if she couldn’t be paired with anyone else, she wouldn’t have a chance to help them out with their Cutie Mark problems.

Yet as it turned out she was so bummed about this that when a fellow dancer came up and pretty much laid out a Cutie Mark problem for her to help him with, she didn’t even notice. She was too busy dwelling on how things didn’t go the way she planned and how the way she set out to find something to do didn’t work.

While I personally think the biggest problem plaguing the Church in the USA today is allowing ourselves to subscribe to the societal mindset and behavior, and the next biggest problem after that is just plain apathy, another problem that afflicts even the energetic, well-meaning Christian is looking for just the right opportunity to join a ministry, be involved in some sort of outreach, or find where we “seem to fit in the best”…and completely ignore what’s right in front of us. This was definitely true of me back in college. I was trying to find something big and daring to do with my life that would make a major impact for Christ. I kept hearing all these stories one after another of not only incredible missionaries and modern-day martyrs, but accounts of incredible miracles and acts of faith. It got to the point where I figured the only way I’d make any impact at all would be if something like that happened to me, even though I couldn’t honestly see myself in the same situation. I kept looking for something that would be a big calling for me; something that would really let me stand out and make a difference.

Unfortunately, as a result of always looking for something big that would make me like one of the major “saints”, I missed out on a lot of smaller opportunities that I could have had for outreach. When I did do the smaller opportunities, I was so fixated on how I could be an outstanding Christian in those situations and so worried about always saying or doing just the right thing that would lead someone to Christ that I never noticed how the other Christians around me were doing a much better job just talking and interacting with strangers as friends rather than preachers. And never did I think of my own talents and aptitudes, instead thinking I needed to be like those with other talents and aptitudes. In the end, I didn’t grow nearly as much in my spiritual life as I could have in college even with all of the opportunities right in front of me.

I think the same goes for many Christians in one sense or another. A lot are probably like I was–always looking for what our calling is and, in the course of doing so, missing out on all the opportunities around us. Perhaps we expect it to be something so big and grand and in the way we expect an encounter that we forget to listen to God’s voice telling us we found our place.

Yet even if that’s not the case, I think a lot of Christians expect opportunities to be like Christ to be poignant and stand out, rather than seeing that the Christian walk is a way of life rather than an event. Case in point: I know one Christian who constantly puts out devotional messages and statements on the need of Christians to be more on fire for God and less politically correct about our messages…then turns around and constantly puts up posts mocking people of different political affiliations and nationalities. Just for me personally, I don’t think going out of your way to make fun of people you want to become Christians is that good of an idea. And it’s somewhat contradictory if you talk about major political issues and revival while at the same time engaging in petty little behaviors that drive all those around you away.

As the Bible says, God’s ways are not our ways. “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.'” (Isaiah 55:8-9). It provided a rather heavy example of that in the bulk of the New Testament. Because most of the Jewish people of that day and age expected a Messiah to come in one way and were looking for Him to appear in that way, they didn’t even recognize Him when He did show up, even when He fulfilled all the prophecies about Him. Nowadays we tend to mock and laugh at those people for not recognizing Jesus, but the fact of the matter is when we expect (or want) things to occur in a certain way or fit into a certain framework, we’ll often ignore anything that’s contrary to that even if it’s another way of achieving the same end. I honestly do wonder how many Christians today would just have easily fallen in the same camp as the Scribes and the Pharisees of Jesus’ time.

In no matter what situation we find ourselves in, or what contradictory notions, mixed messages, or the like circling about us, one thing we can never neglect is to keep listening for the Voice of God, and to prepare ourselves for whatever it might be telling us. Odds are, more often than not, when God does command us to go to a new ministry or to try something different, it will be something we didn’t expect or don’t feel too prepared for, as trying new things is the only way we grow.

There’s also a good chance it will be something closer at hand than farther away. A good example in the Old Testament is the calling of Moses. True, he was called to do something great and fantastic and far beyond anything he had ever done before or thought he could do, but when he started asking God what he should do if the Israelites didn’t believe that he was sent by God, here was the response: “Then the LORD said to him, ‘What is that in your hand?’ ‘A staff,’ he replied.” (Exodus 4:2). God ended up using that staff as a way of providing miracles, by first granting it the power to turn into a snake, and then later using it as a symbol when Moses turned the waters of the Nile into blood and later to part the Red Sea. God didn’t break the heavens and send down some magic sword or stave or any other object to do these things; he used what Moses already had at hand and was right in front of him to work his power.

For these reasons, none of us need to be getting too lax or too focused on one portion of the horizon. Instead, it’s better that we make a determination to make ourselves available for whatever God is doing in the world and around us each and every day of our lives. That is ultimately how we can not only be ready for his calling if and when he does call us to something great, but also to make a difference here and now.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you that each day of my life is filled with opportunities to bring the Kingdom of God to all people and to improve the world in which I live. I am available today. Please use me however you see fit to do your Will. And please grant me the wisdom to see what opportunities you are offering to me every day, whether they be minor or major, and to respond accordingly. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

My Little Devotional #113: “You Really Shouldn’t Have”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “The Gift of the Maud Pie”

As an Aspie, one of the little nuances I get is fixating on something that most people would completely overlook. When it comes to Christian living, the big one for me is in certain praise and worship songs. Specifically, ones that feature the singers or praise/worshippers singing about how they will do nothing but sing the praises of God for all eternity in the new life to come.

While God is greatly to be praised above all other names and things, and there is none higher than God, I can’t help but think about that statement. Somehow I don’t really picture God as having such a huge ego that he would create billions of people to do nothing but tell him how great he is forever. Yet that, in turn, got me thinking even further about a more general idea: Does God really “need” our praise at all? We are his creations, after all. Anything we would say or do he already knows full in advance. As a amateur writer myself, if I was to write a character who sang about how great I was, it would be rather meaningless in the real world. How much less one of God’s own creations? Besides, as the Bible says, and as many pastors are fond of quoting, all of our good deeds and praise are ultimately “filthy rags” to God compared to his holiness. “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” (Isaiah 64:6) In another sermon I heard once, it was likened to anything that we do good for God is ultimately the same as a toddler picking dandelions or drawing something crude on construction paper: worthless and/or ugly to the recipient. So why bother?

Well, for once, the message itself of an episode of MLP:FIM seemed to give me the answer rather than me looking in an episode for a message. In this episode, Pinkie Pie was determined to get her older sister Maud the best gift ever for their annual day they spent together as Maud always gave her the nicest gifts, and every year she always felt her gift was inferior compared to hers. Yet when she became too determined to outdo her, to the point of giving away her own prized possession to try and get the best gift, Maud reminded her that the whole exchange was never supposed to be a competition…that the ultimate reason for it was to show that they cared about each other; that the act of gift-giving was a sign and expression of love.

In the same vein, thinking again to the “character in a story” analogy, we might be creations of God but, unlike the characters I come up with in my own writing, we get to choose our own story. We can choose to praise God or not to praise him, and since we have the option to do it or not do it as well as decide when and where, that makes it more valuable.

And as for the “dirty rags” analogy, a bouquet of dandelions may not mean much in the grand scheme of things but, to a child, that was the prettiest flowers they could find and a symbol of their affection. And a crude drawing on construction paper might not be worth anything in terms of monetary value, but the time and effort put into it, as well as simply doing it out of an act of love and goodwill, certainly makes it valuable to parents.

For God, both in the Old Testament and the New Testament, it was never so much about what physical commodity was presented to him as an offering so much as the spirit behind it. In ancient Israel, it wasn’t the holocausts and sin offerings that God desired so much as obedience to his Word; doing good and avoiding sin. (Isaiah 58:1-14); “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire—but my ears you have opened — burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require. Then I said, “Here I am, I have come—it is written about me in the scroll. I desire to do your will, my God; your law is within my heart.”” (Psalm 40:6-8). It was showing devotion to his command that he considered a true sacrifice and honor to him.

Likewise, when Jesus pointed out the poor widow’s contribution in the Temple, He showed that the amount of money given to God wasn’t nearly as important as the spirit behind it and the intention. “Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”” (Mark 12:41-44).

Maybe a person can’t “outgive” God, and definitely nobody can give or take anything from God that leaves him better or worse off, but things that are done in his Name are not only not wasted, but are not to be “pooh-poohed” or compared to others either. God sees the heart and inner thoughts of people, and so what ultimately matters to him is what matters to us personally rather than anyone else. Keep that in mind the next time you feel a sense of jealousy, shame, or even “competition” when seeing other Christians and their good works.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you for everything you have blessed me with, both materially, in terms of people in my life, and in terms of my talents. Please help me to use these to make a fitting and loving offering to you every day; always coming from the heart, from genuine desire, and out of love for you. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

My Little Devotional #112: “Skip to the Next Problem”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “The Crystalling”

In this episode, the repentant Starlight Glimmer, who spent most of her life coercing and manipulating people as a substitute for friendship, finds her first “friendship assignment” from Twilight Sparkle to be a hard one: reconciling with her former best friend whose departure led her to become the cruel and controlling individual she was for most of her adulthood. Needless to say, Starlight was more than reluctant. Meeting up with him would not only mean facing up with a painful reminder of her past, but talking things out with him would expose all of the failures she had made since they last parted. The fear she felt about the whole prospect grew so overpowering that she ended up trying to avoid it all together; figuring it would be easier to just forget it. She tried to make excuses and avoid the confrontation at first, then later tried to distract Spike from ensuring she completed the assignment so he’d forget about it, and when she finally did meet with her old friend she tried to keep the conversation as superficial and brief as possible to avoid talking about herself. All to avoid having to deal with this problem as it was too painful to go through.

This, in turn, got me to think about myself. It didn’t take me long after finally moving out from my folks and living on my own to grow more irritable and moody. Some nights I don’t feel like doing housework or even doing anything fun. I lie awake in bed sometimes brooding over the future and picturing myself in my empty house years from now. Even when in the company of my sisters and parents and their families, I still feel down and left out. After dealing with a number of smaller “sins” and problems on the side, I eventually began to realize my main problem: I’m lonely. I don’t feel comforted by the presence of my family because they all have families of their own and I don’t. I fear to lose what people I do have because that means one day I’ll have no one at all. I’m beginning to feel a sense of not belonging anywhere or having anyone and being totally alone. And for anyone who knows about it from personal experience, loneliness is a horrible, horrible feeling.

However, I also began to notice something else: I wasn’t really doing a whole lot to do something about my loneliness. As I’ve mentioned in earlier inspirationals, I have Asperger’s Syndrome. I’m not exactly a social butterfly and I’m incredibly awkward in social situations. Any new person I run into usually leaves me sitting quietly and only saying a few words to them. Being at a party finds me standing in a corner struggling to smile and look like part of the crowd while I keep watching the time for when I get to leave. As lonely as I am, it’s a massive uphill battle to meet people. And even when I do, I know I lose my temper and do awkward things from time to time. I’ve had people outright abandon me or hate me for that, and at times they never said anything about it to me until it reached a breaking point; leaving me feeling betrayed. So, in the end, I began to think it might be easier just to deal with my loneliness…either directly, by giving up on anything social, or indirectly, by playing a video game, burying myself in writing, or doing anything else to distract me from my problem.

But the bottom line is that root problems like this that leave such an impact on us don’t go away no matter how much you cover them up. In my case, every time I successfully distract myself, there will still be nighttime when I’m alone in bed with my thoughts or the morning when I’m alone in the shower with my feelings and the loneliness will come back. No one can avoid their problems by ignoring them or substituting for them. They may be covered up for a while but they still have to be dealt with eventually, or their symptoms will keep being felt either directly or in new ways.

When it came to resolving personal issues, Lord Jesus was never that big on excuses. He ran into a number of would-be followers who wanted to join Him but always had one thing or another holding them back. “Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.” “Which ones?” he inquired. Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery,you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’” “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.” (Matthew 19:16-22). “He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:59-62). 

Sometimes people were holding onto something not too worthwhile, and sometimes it was something that seemed valuable. In either case, however, Jesus said to abandon it…not out of some sort of “self-punishment” or mortification but because He knew the Will of God was more important. “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24).”Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5).

There are some things that have to be taken care of and done now, no matter how painful or stressful, that anything “easier” can’t substitute for. And there are many cycles that won’t be broken until you confront the issue. To me, it’s like when you want to lose weight. The only way is changing your diet and exercise…permanently. That’s hard and it takes a lot of habit building, but making excuses for it (“I have no time”, “I’ll do it later”, “I’ll just cheat this month and start the next”, etc.) doesn’t help. The only way to do it is to commit yourself to getting through the problem. In the same way, many personal problems and issues can be hard to solve but substituting won’t fix them. You just keep yourself in a state of arrested development the longer you try to avoid the struggle to go through it. And furthermore, yes, most of these issues are hard to resolve and require us to confront ourselves with how badly we want to be over them, and if it’s worth the pain and fear. As Lord Jesus put: “Do you want to be made well?” (John 5:6).

However, the good news is it’s never for nothing. Again referring to more diet and exercise, it’s painful at first but once you do commit to it and make it a habit, the rewards of being fitter and lighter are undeniable. In the same way, for those who commit to resolving their personal problems, relying on help from God and willing to push through it and do whatever is necessary to resolve them, the end result is not only more happy and fulfilling lives, but freedom to continue to grow and develop as a human being. Furthermore, it also grants an increase in self-discipline and courage to deal with the next issue that comes along, so that we are more capable, courageous, and able to not only help ourselves but others.

That is how one learns maturity and personal responsibility. It’s also how we grow as Christians.

If you yourself are suffering from a long standing problem that you’ve been avoiding or ignoring, I urge you today to pray for God to confront you with it, for the guidance and determination to do what you need to do to resolve it, and fully live to be what God has envisioned you to be.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you for the instruction as outlined in your Word to quickly resolve whatever issues make us angry, bitter, fearful, or otherwise hamper us from growing as individuals–so that we can be free to fully live and fully love. When I’m feeling too weak and uncertain to resolve my own issues that I know I need to deal with, please grant me bravery and strength to press through them. And if I am refusing to see the root cause of pain, loneliness, anger, or depression in my own life, please also grant me the courage to face the true problem so that I can resolve it. And if I need assistance, please grant me the grace and humility to seek that as well. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

My Little Devotional #111: “Just One Mistake is All It Will Take”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “The Cutie Re-Mark”

Starlight Glimmer…possibly the greatest villain ever to appear on the show. Cunning, ruthless, demented, powerful, and sadistic…her obsession with revenge and determination to get it not only nearly destroyed the friendship of the Mane Six, but all of Equestria with it. Yet what was the remarkable thing about this episode is all of this hate and desire for vengeance ultimately stemmed from what many think is ultimately a rather minor event: losing her best friend as a child after getting his “Cutie Mark”. In a world where most narratives and stories like giving long, elaborate explanations for why people do the things they do, or at least punctuate it with very poignant and emotional tragedies, this might seem somewhat weak by comparison.

Yet the truth is while life is rich, involved, and has many times for experiences to shape who we are, there are critical moments of seemingly small importance that make all the difference.

The Bible contains numerous examples. Consider in the book of Genesis where Joseph related his dream about his brothers bowing down to him to, who else, his own brothers. That incident was what eventually spurred them to sell him into slavery (Genesis 37).A mere glance from the roof of his house and spotting an attractive woman was what eventually led King David to commit his sins of adultery, the murder of Uriah the Hittite, and eventually the curse of his house to always suffer from warfare (2 Samuel 11:1 – 12:12). And, of course, it was the first man and woman eating and sharing a piece of forbidden fruit that led to consequences for mankind, and creation itself, that ended up being eternal (Genesis 3).

For more modern examples, when I was going through high school I initially thought about being a history teacher. I was doing well in my classes in it, I enjoyed learning about it, and I liked passing it on. One night in the car I mentioned it to my dad. He scoffed at the idea and outright said how he thought it was a waste of a career. Because of that moment, I abandoned any pursuit of history as a career path and ended up becoming a biology major and eventually a computer engineering major. I never thought about it again though it was something I liked a whole lot. Likewise, my oldest sister has never fully trusted me based on one particularly mean prank I played as a child, which she remembers to this day even whenever I forget it, and it gets dragged up every time we get in an argument though it’s been nearly 30 years at this point. In a more bitter case, one relative I know changed their attitude completely toward members of another race due to one small incident that went out of control. It colored everything she saw about them now even if such a bias is dramatically unfair and prejudice. And another family member put up emotional walls and spent most of his life being aggressive and detached due to one single incident as a child; namely calling out an adult on abuse only to have the adult twist it around to make it look like it was his fault. That one incident made him feel the only way to make it in the world would be if you could intimidate everyone else into doing what you wanted, and that’s how he lived for decades afterward until he finally faced up to the truth when this mindset caused him numerous health problems.

A small accident that takes place during a moment of thoughtlessness can nevertheless leave a scar that lasts for a lifetime. This is true not only for physical things but mental, emotional, and spiritual. One moment of cruelty, one sin, or one act of unkindness can warp someone’s outlook on life for decades…perhaps forever. And that outlook can have a cancerous effect of spreading more evil to others through the affected one’s behavior and attitude, which in turn spreads it even further through the actions of those on the receiving end. That’s why the penalty for even one sin is so severe–death and eternal separation from God.

This places quite an amount of pressure on the Christian. It puts the consequences of sin far more into perspective and, if one sin really does hold that much power, it seems to almost create a perfection standard. I’ve thought about this before and, to be honest, there have been times I’ve questioned whether or not the power of God is really greater than sin if one evil has such eternal effects while grace and favor can always be lost at a proverbial snap of the fingers.

Fortunately, there are other moments in the Bible, and in life, as well…

Going back to Joseph, after years in slavery and imprisonment, it was relating the meaning of one dream to a fellow inmate that set off the series of events that eventually caused Joseph’s ascension in Egypt and the migration of the tribe of Israel to that country (Genesis 40-41). It was because Esther went unbidden in the presence of the king of Persia that the Jewish people were saved from genocide and the Feast of Purim occurs to this day (Esther 5-7). It was because a boy packed two fish and five barley loaves with him when he went to hear Jesus’ sermon that over 5,000 were fed (John 6:1-15). It was because Abraham simply trusted the promise of God that a blessing was put on him that lasted for a thousand generations, and which we ourselves enjoy to this day (Genesis 15:1-6).

It’s true that one sin can cause a scarring impact, but one virtue or act of kindness can leave a lasting impact as well. I met my best friend simply because while in college I played a video game theme out loud for passers by to hear. I reconciled with my younger sister after years of resentment because I invited her to an office Christmas party, having no one else to go with. The main reason I clung to my Christianity in my later years now is because back in college I met a man I considered a “true Christian” more than others who invited me, while I was highly unwilling, to one of his services. I still think of him and that group whenever I find myself slipping in faith.

The take-home message for this devotional is the same as in this episode. Twilight Sparkle not only learned one brief moment of hurt could cause the potential destruction of everything, but one new friendship could change a person completely. In the same way, we must be on guard for times in which we might thoughtlessly sin or indulge in a bit of selfishness, spite, or wickedness…for we never know how it might impact someone else; but we must also be watchful for small acts of kindness and opportunities to show the love of God…for we never know how those too might impact others. Both, potentially, for eternity.

In short, always live the Kingdom of God at all times. What you do today is an investment in eternity. Make it a good one.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you that every day you give me is a gift from you, and that how I live that day is a gift back to you. Please help me to make the most of each opportunity. Strengthen me to be on guard for any moments of temptation toward cruelty or evil, whether it be a snarky comment, an unkind gesture, a way to “get even”, or simply venting my own frustrations; and help me always to be on the lookout for ways in which I can share the Gospel, whether it be helping someone in need, encouraging someone who is downhearted, comforting one who is sad, standing up for someone who is defenseless, or sharing the Message of Salvation. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

My Little Devotional #110: “A Whole New You”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “The Mane Attraction”

In this episode, Applejack got a rather big shock on seeing her old friend Coloratura from summer camp as a nation-wide-renown pop idol. Not because of her fame, though, but rather because she seemed so radically different from the pony she remembered. Rather than being down-to-earth she wore elaborate makeup, costumes, hairstyles, went around with an entourage, and passed around fake kisses for autographs. At first it led her to think her friend had changed. A deeper look, however, revealed she was still the same pony; she merely adopted this persona (on her dishonest manager’s advice) because she thought she’d be a failure without it.

This brought something to mind that I’ve puzzled over in the past: the concept of being true to yourself. It seems like it’s a fairly straightforward maxim. Most people always encourage you to “be yourself” even at any early age rather than try to imitate other people. We as a society value uniqueness, individual quirks, and personality traits. We hold “diversity” to be a virtue, and while that is normally applied to people of different races, genders, creeds, and the like, it’s also applied simply to personality differences. Nevertheless, as a Christian I find this subject rather contentious and I believe others would feel the same way.

The topic of being true to oneself is one matter where many Christians might feel a bit “confused” as to what the Bible instructs. On one hand, we have messages about how we are special creations, and how all of our differences come together to make a whole. “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (Psalm 139:14) “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” (Romans 12:4-5). And it’s true indeed that everyone is different and no one can be “you” or anyone else. Yet at the same time, we hear a lot about how we are to be conformed to the image of Christ and to become more and more like Him in every area, as Jesus represents the ideal Christian.”You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24). “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1-2). “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1).

That begs the question of whether or not the message of being true to oneself, or, more succinctly, “being yourself” is one supported by the Bible. Does God truly appreciate us as we are? Aren’t we all sinful and therefore displeasing to God? Isn’t one of the goals of Christianity  for us to become “better” because none of us are good as-is? After all, if we were, why would we need Jesus?

It’s not just in the Bible but in many areas of life where we can get the message that we ourselves are “not good enough”–that we need to improve ourselves in some way or alter who we are in order to be acceptable in certain situations, circles, or even to certain individuals. In the extreme case, a person can get it into their head that they are no good in any way and constantly need to change to fit other molds…usually ones made by other people. Certainly many religions do that, especially in horror stories involving cults. The question is…is Christianity just a “lighter” example of that?

First and foremost, God hates sin not sinners. God hates things that are evil and bring death and destruction to his creations, which includes human beings. I personally refuse to believe that God creates anything just to hate it or destroy it…especially people.No one is exactly like anyone else and all people are unique, and this is something I strongly believe God takes delight in and created intentionally. The world itself is full of wonder and variety, and the way life exists and evolves, as I learned in my background through the life sciences, increases the wonder and variety as time goes on.

In the same way, while I have my times where I have doubts or questions, ultimately I don’t believe God wants us to change the core of our being or personality. After all, why would God create us to be a certain kind of personality just to want to change it completely? To me, that would imply imperfection or a “mistake” on the part of God. And no one is ever created as a mistake.

What God would like us to do, and what I believe the passages up above are saying, is remove anything that keeps us from being the best that we can be. A different pastor that I listened to once likened it to a block of marble in the hands of a sculptor. The sculptor doesn’t change the marble that the statue is made out of. Nor does the sculpture takes bits of this and that and mold it together to make the statue. What he or she does is remove everything around the statue until one can only see the statue itself.

As I said before, God hates sin, wickedness, and evil; not people. What he wants us to do, I believe, is not to remove things that make us who we are but remove things from our lives that keep us from being who we are. Things that we’ve devoted too much time and energy to that have no value, or things that are ultimately self-destructive. While it’s taken me years to figure this out and it’s still something I’m trying to accept, I believe while God may call us into difficult situations and to do things we have no experience doing, he ultimately won’t call us to do something that is completely contrary to what we are.

For example, I feel God might call me to step out of my comfort zone to talk to someone even though I’m terrible at interacting with strangers, or to volunteer for something that I feel antsy about doing; but I doubt God will ever call me to design an attractive new form of footwear or play a complete concerto on a violin because I haven’t the slightest idea, talent, or inclination to do either of those things, even if God could somehow make either of those things benefit the Kingdom. God could possibly call me to do those things, because all things are possible through him, but it’s more likely that he will direct me to do something that only I can do with my unique set of talents, such as my writing ability, my attention to detail, my knowledge of biology, or my skill at computing. Something that perhaps only that unique combination can service.

While we should always strive to not sin, it’s important to not only appreciate our own differences and be true to ourselves, but not to let ourselves be lured into thinking we need to change fundamentally who we are to become acceptable to God.

A. As already stated, God made us and knows who we are, and he designed us so no one else is like us.

B. God already accepts us and sent his Son, Jesus, to die for our sins while we were still sinners. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) We are already where he wants us when he wanted us.

C. God’s love is unconditional. If we had to change to become pleasing to God for him to love us, it would be conditional and therefore not true love. He may not want to leave us where we are at or to want us to keep sinning, but his love for us is not something that is earned or contingent on merit.

D. Feeling the need to change ourselves to become pleasing to others is unhealthy and a mark of low self-esteem and acceptance. It is used by others as a manipulative tool. God doesn’t desire to manipulate anyone against their will because he gave us all freedom to choose. If one is around others who pressure them to change to be acceptable to them or, worse yet, in a Church that preaches that God desires such a thing, it’s important to get away quick.

E. Finally, while there are many worthwhile and important ministries out there and the temptation might be to try and change ourselves to fit one of them, and we should always “aim high”, there are also ministries that are a perfect fit for us. If we try to change ourselves to fit one of these “higher callings” because we feel they are more important rather than a genuine calling, the end result will likely be disaster (as I found out myself the hard way). When trying to hit a target, it’s important not only to aim high but point ourselves at the right “bull’s eye”…probably one that’s geared toward one of our aptitudes.

To paraphrase Lord Jesus’ parable about the sparrows and throw in a bit of my own Biology knowledge into the mix…  There are easily over 350,000 species of beetles in the world. While they’re all just “bugs” to most people, each one of them fills their own little niche in the world and no two species do the exact same thing. All are necessary to make the natural world as wondrous as it is now.

And I believe God likely holds we are all “worth more than many beetles”. 🙂

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, I praise you for how wonderfully you made me, with all of my virtues and all of my faults, and that no one is exactly like me. This day I wish to give you the very best of who I am as I commit and trust my life to you. Please remove from me everything that keeps me from living up to this potential. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

My Little Devotional #109: “A Little Sidetracked”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “The Hooffields and the McColts”

If you keep up with this devotional at all, you know I already did one about nursing a grudge. Not wanting to repeat that here I decided to try and find a different message in today’s episode, and as a result this episode got me thinking for a long while. It was several days before something finally jumped out at me.

In this episode, the two feuding families, the titular Hooffields and McColts, are completely obsessed and fixated with continuing their endless feud. They no longer care about anything else except finding ways to fight with each other. Each new individual who comes along doesn’t interest them unless they’re there to aid them in their feud, and either respective side doesn’t even focus on either food or shelter so long as they can keep fighting. Most of all, they don’t care at all about how much they’re ruining the land around each other with their squabble; which is ironic as it is eventually revealed that the whole reason their ancestors settled in that land was to preserve and maintain it. In the end, their obsession with getting even with one another destroyed the whole reason they began to fight in the first place, and they ended up hurting the very valley they wanted to preserve. They fixated so much on their own anger and wants that they totally lost sight of the bigger picture.

When I thought of that, I began to think of my own recent life…

The past two weeks have been putting me in a progressively grouchier and angrier mood. Work has been brutal since before Thanksgiving. You see, I work all week during “prime time” hours so I have to rush to schedule any sort of service if I need it. The battery in my car suddenly went out on a Friday night, and since it was a special type I ended up without my car that weekend. I couldn’t schedule an appointment until Monday and I had to arrange with family to borrow a car.That got made worse by the fact one of my light fixtures went out in where I spend most of my time in the house, so I had to try to work out how to repair it and go through the expense of doing so on top of that.

The next week I managed to schedule an appointment for the car and finally got it in by making phone calls while on break and rushing after work, but then I missed picking it up due to not having anyone to take me. When I did finally arrange to go with someone and get it, not only was it on the day of an ice storm, but on that same day my work computer hard drive went out and took a project I had been working on for a month with it. Again, since it was the weekend, nothing could be done until Monday although I stressed the entire weekend trying to save my data. On going home from the dealership, I ran into a sign and broke the bumper on the car I just got fixed, forcing me to run out and buy parts (which didn’t fit on my first two tries) to enact a temporary fix. When I got into work the next week my plans for staying late to try and make up for lost time were ruined because my computer was still being fixed. Finally, I lost my keys the first day of the week and had to stand out in the freezing cold for 45 minutes waiting for a family member to bring my spare.

By then, I was irate, miserable, and at my wit’s end. By that point I thought God had cursed me to have a new misfortune every day. That I did something to make him mad and now he was punishing me. I felt depressed, angry, and sullen. I was nearly to point where I didn’t care if I “skipped Christmas” as all I could do was focus on everything that went wrong those past couple weeks. All the songs, the baking, the gifts, the decorating, the time with family…all of it seemed an annoying bother. I just kept sulking in misery and wondering how everything had gone wrong.

But today, as I was coming home from work, I heard some news. My sister’s friend had her house broken into by an armed robber. He stole all the presents, wrapped and still unwrapped, for the family and her children as well as family heirlooms.

Looking around on Facebook, I also got reminded while I had some damage to my bumper, other people slipped, fell, broke multiple bones and split their heads open, and an ambulance couldn’t even get to them for hours due to ice and traffic. One of my own coworkers had his car wrecked, not just damaged, and got sick waiting four hours in the freezing cold for assistance.

Lots of people don’t have spare keys, spare cars to borrow, or relatives to bail them out. And while all of this may cost money I’m far from being bankrupt.

There are thousands of people in this country…and millions across the world…who would gladly trade their past week for mine. There are people living in poverty or under cruel oppression every day of their lives who continue to praise God day after day, while here I sit thinking God cursed me because I had more inconveniences and expenses than usual.

And as for me? The light fixture went out but it got fixed. The car bumper was damaged but the car still drives fine. I waited for 45 minutes in the cold but I drove home to a warm house. As hard as work has been I’m still employed and making a good living. I’ve been showered with blessings compared to a lot of people, and yet I chose to ignore all of those to only focus on my few relatively minor problems. I neither appreciated what I was given nor the people who helped me out with all of these problems.

Over 2,000 years ago the same thing happened. The Jews of Jesus’ day were so focused on wanting a king to reestablish the kingdom of ancient Israel and drive out the Romans that they failed to even notice the birth of the Messiah. Nor did they recall the words of the prophets on how He would become more than the ruler of Israel but that He would bring salvation to all the world. In the end, it was only a few shepherds and non-Israelite astronomers who even noticed His coming into the world (Luke 2; Matthew 2). For everyone else…they were so focused on their own desires to be out from under Roman rule and ideas for that day and age of having a kingdom like David’s that they couldn’t even see the one they were waiting for when He stood before them.

There’s been a lot of anger and hate thrown around this year in this country. A lot of people seem to think we’ve “hit bottom” and are choosing to focus on negative things as the Christmas season approaches. To let that consume them and cause them to ignore everything else. But with few exceptions, all of us have something to be thankful for, and most of us have a lot to be thankful for. Even if you’re only free to read this devotional, it at least testifies to the fact that you’re alive, cognizant, have access to the Internet, and are able to take time out to read devotionals at some point during your day. All of that is more than a lot of people have.

As this is probably the last message I’ll have before Christmas, I encourage everyone reading it, if they’re feeling miserable or unhappy or otherwise suffering from “holiday blues”, to take time out to appreciate not only their blessings but the reason for the season. Like in this episode, if necessary, force yourself to come to a halt and take a look around your situation and the others surrounding you that haven’t been given the attention they deserve.

And most of all, don’t let anything blind you or “choke” the reason for the season or the magic of the holiday out of you this year. As I get older I find I have to make time for myself to get into the season, but I never regret it when I do…only when I don’t.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, there are no words to express the amount of gratitude, praise, and thanks you deserve for giving us the ultimate Christmas gift in the person of your Son, Jesus, two millennia ago. Yet in addition to that, you have also blessed me in the following ways: (list them). Please forgive me when I whine and complain about what I lack, and grant that I may focus on you and things of importance not only in this Christmas season but for all of 2017. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

My Little Devotional #108: “To Thine Own Self Be Truthful”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “What About Discord?”

In this episode, Twilight Sparkle spends a three-day weekend doing a stay-at-home activity, only to emerge afterward and discover that the rest of her friends have been having a great time with Discord and without her in a series of events she missed out on. On hearing the amount of good memories and laughs her friends had, it isn’t long before she starts to regret having missed out on it and, even more so, grows a bit jealous that Discord and her friends had such a great time that she didn’t get to participate in.

However, her big problem as a result of this is not in being jealous in and of itself but refusing to admit she was jealous. As a result, it leads her to a series of unfortunate mishaps in which she first tries to get Discord and her friends to relive the weekend’s events with her present to experience them firsthand (under the guise of calling it valuable friendship lesson research), and then later to actually accuse the girls of having been “mind-trolled” into only thinking they had a good time. As a result of the second act, she not only made a fool out of herself but also ended up insulting her friends for even suggesting it.

And all for one reason: inability to admit her true feelings. Inability, and unwillingness, to admit she was jealous.

There are many things in the world that keep us bound to sin or from improving ourselves, but one of the big culprits is not being honest with ourselves. At the bare minimum, most of us, Christian or non-Christian, likely get into a rut about certain behaviors. We develop bad habits or unhealthy tendencies for one reason or another, and then we never bother to examine ourselves at some point to see if it’s really the best thing for us. Yet in a worse situation, we may recognize that something is bad for us and yet we refuse to change.

Take, for example, someone who has a problem with anger issues. Perhaps someone is always blowing up at other people and things for no real reason. Let’s say it gets chronic enough to where the individual is disrupting others and his own life, and is in need of professional help to resolve it.Yet this individual may never get it. Perhaps he claims that he doesn’t really have a problem. Perhaps he tries to brush off his worst incidents because it’s too difficult to deal with. Or perhaps he says something we’ve all said before: “all of this stuff keeps making me angry”…in spite of the fact that nothing can physically make us feel anything. Only we can make ourselves feel one way or another.

Or consider an individual who constantly puts down others and points out their faults and shortcomings. No matter the place or event in question, this person points out what’s wrong with what someone there was doing and how silly/dumb/thoughtless they were for doing it, until it reaches the point where others feel insulted around him and don’t want to associate with him any longer. I know someone like this, and the truth is it’s their own self esteem that is lacking. He doesn’t feel good about himself, so the only way to feel better is to insult others…point out how bad they all are so that he can feel better by comparison. Yet as bad behavior as this is, he refuses to admit there’s anything wrong with himself personally. And so the negative behavior continues.

I hardly need to mention other problems such as people with addictions, affairs, habitual vices or sins, or simply bad dispositions and self-destructive behaviors. In all these cases, people have either made themselves blind to the problem they have or have convinced themselves they don’t have a problem at all. In the extreme case, this leads to a situation called “cognitive dissonance”, in which a person has mentally broke themselves off from considering their own behavior and attitude and is now blind to their own need to change.

Biblically speaking, a good example is King Saul in the Old Testament. He too grew jealous of his servant David when he heard the people praising him for his victories more than they did for his own. David himself was perfectly loyal and considered it a privilege to be in the service of the Lord’s Anointed. Yet Saul, refusing to admit his jealous, instead began to stew over it in his mind that David was somehow seeking to seize power from him and overthrow him, and his obsession with this and failure to come face-to-face with his own jealousy eventually caused him to murder innocent people and ironically self-fulfill the prophecy of losing his kingdom to David.

Yet David himself fared little better. On his part, he gave into his lust for Bathsheba, and he ended up not only committing adultery but killing one of his own closest followers in order to try and cover it up. He had so deluded himself into not facing his own sin that even when Nathan the Prophet came forward and confronted him with an allegory for his own case, he failed to see that it was he that the prophet was talking about and condemned himself by his own words in pronouncing judgment on this “fictional” case. (2 Samuel 12:1-12) Both of these examples illustrate the ultimate result of trying to “run and hide” from one’s own feelings and sin; and how it’s far worse than admitting it. For when it does come out, the consequences are far worse than they would have been confessing at the onset.

Jesus performed many miracles and acts of healing throughout the Gospels, but one of the key things that many scholars have noticed is that He never “forced Himself” on anyone. He let people come to Him, and He asked what they wished of Him. He asked if the person wanted to be made well. In other words, He didn’t heal anyone unless they admitted they were sick and were in need of healing. He never turned anyone away who did, but they had to make the first step.

In the same way as physical ailments, a person cannot be healed of spiritual or emotional ailments, even by Jesus, unless they first admit they need healing. “When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, ‘Do you want to get well?'” (John 5:6) This is one reason Jesus encouraged people to be honest with themselves and to bring their “secret” things “into the light”. “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said: ‘Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead,and Christ will shine on you.'” (Ephesians 5:11-14) Only when a person is honest with themselves can they receive healing.

And just like in Jesus’ day, one of the major reasons people aren’t honest with themselves is because they are ashamed. They feel other people will see them as less or that their own religious communities will see them as less, and as a result God will see them as less and disapprove of them. Yet Jesus always embraced sinners when they came to Him, because He, like God, already knew everything about them, past, present, and future, and accepted them anyway. It was never people who admitted they had done wrong who were shunned by Him; only those who claimed to be perfect and refused to acknowledge their own sin. “Jesus said, ‘For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.’ Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, ‘What? Are we blind too?’ Jesus said, ‘If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.'” (John 9:39-41)

In the same way, if we are suffering from an addiction, recurring sin, or personal problem, we’ll never be over it unless we first admit what we are contributing to it and are honest with ourselves; taking a brutal (perhaps painful) look at our own situation and seeing what we are doing wrong so that we know what needs to change and/or be confessed to receive forgiveness.

Remember, the only person who can ultimately change you is you. Therefore, if there is a flaw in your character or lifestyle, it’s also your responsibility to do something about it.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you for your blessed assurance that you already know me inside and out, past, present, and future, with all my flaws and faults and love me regardless and desire me to come to you. With this in mind, help me to be strong enough to face myself and all of my own flaws and faults, confront them, confess them, and thereby resolve them and obtain not only forgiveness but grow as an individual. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

My Little Devotional #107: “Christmas Future”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “Scare Master”

If you pay attention to my reviews, you will know that I didn’t think much of this episode’s ending moral. Nevertheless, there was a “secondary” message presented at the beginning of the episode that I thought was likewise important, even if the writers didn’t necessarily intend it. Fluttershy has been terrified of Nightmare Night for years, obviously; not caring for any of the traditional “fun scares” that go along with it. And while at the end of the episode she came to the conclusion that she didn’t like scaring others, even for fun, the important thing is that she reached the conclusion based on a matter of preference and not simply because she was scared of…well, being scared on Nightmare Night.

When I thought on this episode and this week for myself, it got me to thinking about my own faith life and the role of fear inside it. Sad to say, I am one of those individuals for which fear plays a much larger factor than it should.

By nature I am a pessimist, and that makes things difficult for me in multiple ways in multiple situations. Pessimism only has one advantage that I half-jokingly refer to: things can only ever get better. 😛 But in reality it’s not a good trade-off. By always fearing the worst out of every situation, and going to the point of expecting it, I eventually get to the point of not wanting to bother with anything.

Why see that movie? It’s just going to be corny and cliche and probably something I won’t like. Why try that activity? I’ll just get sore, not be any good at it, and wish I had done something else later. Why try to make friends with that person? I’ll just be awkward and fail to hit it off with them. These are just some of the questions and “answers” I give myself as a pessimist.

Yet the ones for my Christian life are far worse. Why write a devotional this week? No one reads it and for those who do there’s nothing of value in it anyway. Why bother greeting that person at Church? It’ll just show off how awkward and less open and genuine I am. Why try that ministry? I never get along with anyone and I won’t be as good as everyone else. Why talk to that person about Jesus? I’ll just end up being preachy and not connecting with them, and I’ll end up embarrassing myself and driving them farther away.

Why do I even try to be better? I’ll just relapse and sin again and be back to where I started, and just as miserable.

I’m guessing you don’t have to read much of those comments to realize that it doesn’t take long for this line of thinking, day in and day out, to make one not only be stuck never doing anything and live a rather empty life, but also feel depressed and hopeless. The default response to everything is dread and fear. Similar to Fluttershy in the early part of this episode, rather than try hard enough to enjoy herself on Nightmare Night, she just kept focusing on the worst outcome. It was small wonder that she soon wasn’t having any fun (and neither were her friends).Conversely, for the Christian, it isn’t long before they’re own faith fades to practically nothing. As Proverbs 17:22 warns: “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”

This problem has been plaguing me for a while, and I’m sure there’s at least a few of you out there who have a similar problem of pessimism, constant dread and fear, and always seeing the glass as half-empty. Once it becomes a learned thought process, it’s not something that can easily be undone (as I myself am discovering).

However, I can think of no better season than the Christmas Season to try and look at the good things in the world, as well as to have the most opportunities to do some good in the world. To that end, I have resolved to start performing, just for this season, the following thought experiment:

“How would I act if I never had anything to dread or fear?”

How would I act if everything could only lead to success or, at minimum, an enjoyable experience? If nothing could get me down? If everything would have a positive impact on myself and everyone around me? If everything I tried would only lead to something good?

It may not be fully realistic, and if you’re a life-long pessimist like me it’s definitely something you have to train yourself to do, but in terms of the payoff for a few disappointments on the side, I’m anticipating a far better outlook on life, a far more energetic and hopeful demeanor toward new things, and hopefully a better Christmas season both for me and the people I touch.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you for your Word through the prophet Jeremiah: ””For I know the plans I have for you,”’ declares the Lord, ”’plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”” (Jeremiah 29:11) This Christmas season, help me to learn to cling to this Word when I am called to serve you or when you send an opportunity my way. Remind me of the blessed hope you have assured me and the future you have promised so I will more joyfully and readily step out in your Name. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”