Saturday, August 29, 2015

A bitter heart brings sadness, but God can heal it!

I came across this picture on Pinterest the other day, and it really spoke to me. I gave my testimony at a church earlier this week, and while telling my story and remembering all of the horrible things that had happened in my life, I realized that I could have very easily been a bitter person. In fact, I was for a long time. I had such traumatic things done to me (and loved ones) by other people, and self-inflicted hurts as the result of bad choices I made, that I was angry at God. I thought it was unfair that I had to suffer through what I did. I thought that by holding onto bitterness and anger and seeking revenge, I was somehow making the people who had hurt me pay. When in fact, all I was doing was hurting myself, and stealing the beauty out of life. The people who had hurt me had moved on with their lives, and didn't care that I was hurt. I wasn't punishing them. But I was making it impossible to see the true beauty in life, because I was so focused on holding onto the negative.

I was a very hard hearted person for a long time, holding onto bitterness and resentment as a protection mechanism. It got to the point where holding onto the hurt felt good- I liked being a victim. I liked seeking pity for what had happened to me. And it gave me an excuse to keep going in my addiction. It was easier to hate others than to work on myself and take away my excuses for why my life had turned out the way that it had. It was easier to blame all the things that had happened to me, and all of the people who had done things to me, then to face the fact that I was making a choice to continue to be a victim. Yes, I had been victimized. But I was continuing to allow the people who had hurt me to victimize me years later by holding onto unforgiveness. They still had power over my emotions and mind. I was hurting MYSELF for years, whereas if I would have forgiven right after the incident, that would have been the end of it. All of my resentment, bitterness and unforgiveness accomplished absolutely nothing but making me sick physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It truly was a spiritual cancer.

There is a reason why Jesus admonishes us to forgive in the bible. When you are offended or disappointed by others and allow the hurt to germinate in your heart, bitterness and resentment will take root. Characterized by an unforgiving spirit and generally negative, critical attitudes, bitterness and resentment are sinful and self-defeating. They will color your conscious and unconscious thoughts and actions. Allowed to fester, they will destroy and kill (Galatians 5:19-21). Your relationships will always suffer, and you will never truly be able to experience love or happiness. Bitterness and joy cannot reside in the same heart.  However, bitterness and resentment can be dispelled with love.

What Scripture Says

"Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many" (Hebrews 12:14,15).

  "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you" (Ephesians 4:31,32).

"When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly" (I Peter 2:23).

"Jesus said, Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing..." (Luke 23:34).

 "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins" (Matthew 6:14,15).

"Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord. On the contrary: 'If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:14-21).

How To Be Free From Bitterness and Resentment

God can free you from this sin. It is an oppressive and destructive emotion having its root in hate, which is likened to murder. You must repent. No one can have peace and happiness with such emotions tearing at him. If you have not done so, ask God to forgive you and to come into your life right now. He will deliver you from the power of the enemy (Psalm 91:3).  If you are already a Christian, you should still ask God to forgive you for being bitter and resentful. Then ask Him to forgive anyone who may have hurt you, and toward whom you are bitter or resentful, even as He forgives you. Refusing to forgive opens up doorways to many demonic forces in your life, and the lives of your family. You must recognize it as satanic. The devil will tell us that we have a "right" to hold onto bitterness and hate, but Jesus tells us to forgive. Whose voice are you going to listen to? Scripture tells us to take every thought captive against the word of God. Follow what Jesus tells you, anything contradictory is from the enemy!

One thing that has helped me tremendously when it comes to forgiving people who have wronged me is asking God to let me see the person through his eyes. Doing this allows you to have sympathy for the person, and understand the reason they did what they did. Not to use it as an excuse, but to see that they hurt you because they were acting out of some kind of hurt themselves. It wasn't about you. Even if it was intentional, it's because they have some deep wound within them that caused them to be so unfeeling. Have compassion on them the way that you expect God and others to have compassion on you. Realize that they were acting out of their pain the same way that you are acting out of yours. Remember all of the things God has forgiven you for- even the secret things that you think no one knows about. Grant them the same grace, over and over again, until you no longer feel bitterness, but empathy.

God forgives and forgets sin. However, you may have made your best effort to forgive and forget and find that you cannot. God can help you to cleanse your memory. Instead of remembering with malice and hurt, remember with forgiveness. Then go one step further and ask God to forgive your offender. By forgiving and then asking God to forgive your offender, you release God to bless you and the other person. You also let God deal with the other person, and let him serve justice on those who hurt you. Trying to take justice into our own hands through revenge and resentment takes the situation out of God's hands. Forgive, and God will make it right. God will make right every hurt, and everything that was stolen from you, if you give it to him.

I remember very clearly God telling me not long after I got saved that I had to let go of unforgiveness if I ever truly wanted to be happy, free, and in order to stay sober. I had to let it go, because spiritually, it was weighing me down. I am so eternally grateful that God loved me enough to save me from the horrible fate that bitterness had in store for me, and instead gave me the wisdom to forgive before it destroyed my heart! Others are not so lucky, and will never experience true happiness despite trying, and putting on a happy front- due to the torment of unforgiveness. They may try to convince people that they are happy, but their bitterness speaks the truth loud and clear. True happiness, love, and gratitude drives out bitterness. Saying that you can be happy and bitter is like saying you can be depressed and joyful. Bitterness sucks the life out of everything good. I have great compassion for these people because I cannot imagine choosing to live a life of such misery, when the key to their prison is right infront of them. It is truly sad, and I my heart breaks  for them, because their continued pain is unnecessary, and self inflicted. At any moment, they can choose TRUE happiness and healing by forgiving. They can end their own nightmare.

I know it's not easy, and I would never claim that forgiveness is. But it's what will free us. Remember that forgiveness is a choice, not a feeling. My heart is very soft now. The hardness has been chiseled away by the love of God. I have noticed that every once in awhile, God will bring a very bitter, unforgiving person  into my life to remind me where I came from. To remind me to be thankful for all God has saved me from and brought me out of. To remind me to be grateful for my life, because I could be them. To remind me to pray for people, no matter how nasty they may be, because I was in their shoes once. To show me how lucky I am that I can truly love my life in spite of everything that has happened, and that I am stronger for overcoming bitterness than for giving into it. To remind me that nothing that happens is worth carrying a lifelong grudge which steals your happiness and poisons the people around you, because God will make it right if I let it go.

I am also reminded that I am setting an example for my kids. By choosing to not be bitter, I am able to model forgiveness to them, protecting their hearts from bitterness and ensuring they see the blessing in all of their hardships, teaching them to love everyone, and turning them into the type of human being that Jesus desires them to be. They will be forgiving because they see me being forgiving. I want to teach them that we need to forgive ESPECIALLY when it is hard. They will not welcome bitterness because they see their parents taking action to ensure it doesn't take root in their hearts. Instead of perpetuating dysfunctional generational pain patterns of bitterness and hate, I am teaching my children to love, and modeling the fact that God loves and forgives them no matter what they may do in the future. They won't have to live with the emotional scars that embittered hate leaves, but instead will carry on a legacy of love and compassion. I refuse to pass on dysfunction to my children.

Getting over bitterness is hard, because people feel entitled to it. Playing the perpetual victim can become a lifestyle and start to feel comfortable. They feel that if they let go of their resentment, it is somehow letting the person that hurt them off the hook. But it's not. You're letting yourself off of the hook. You will never, ever be able to hurt the person who hurt you by being bitter. Your bitterness is telling them that they were able to hurt you so badly that it has ruined your entire life. Don't give them that power any longer.

I pray for the broken, embittered people in the world. I pray that God can soften them so that they can enjoy life before they die, instead of leaving a legacy of bitterness and resentment, and watching life's blessings pass them by- never able to fully appreciate them, because underneath the surface, their hurt and bitterness is still there regardless of the good things they have in their life. The good in life will never outweigh the bad when you choose bitterness. I pray God opens their eyes to the fact that their bitterness is allowing the hurt to continue to steal from them. Don't let them get the best of you. Don't let them win, don't allow them to permanently wound you while they are happy living their lives with no thought of you. It is heartbreaking, because it's preventable. You don't need to continue to be controlled by the ones who hurt you. God has so much more for you. God can give you beauty for ashes, but you have to give him your ashes.

If you are bitter, God can heal you. He wants to heal you. But you need to give it up. I know. I was there. And I could be there again if I ever take my eyes off of Jesus and put them on myself. If I allow myself to lose sight of the fact that God is good, he is just, and he is for me. If I stop being grateful, and start trying to take justice into my own hands. If I let myself wallow in self pity.  There but for the grace of God go I.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Bear fruit where you are planted

Matthew 21:17: Early in the morning, as he was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, "May you never bear fruit again!"

The bible has a lot to say about bearing fruit. This passage from Matthew, however, has always really stuck with me. I remember when I first became a Christian, thinking "wow, that was kind of overkill." I mean, did Jesus REALLY have to curse the fig tree because it hadn't grown fruit? Maybe it was just a late bloomer. I mean, Jesus is a sympathetic guy, I thought he would have compassion on the poor fig tree. So what if it didn't have fruit, maybe it was just an off day? Surely it should be given another chance?

As I grew more mature in my Christianity, however, the cursing of the fig tree started making a lot more sense to me. When I went through the women's Christian Restoration Home in Milwaukee, one of the things the pastors used to always preach on was bearing fruit. I was taught that if you have the light of God in you, it should affect the people around you. If you are living out your Christian life the way Christ directs us to in the bible, and are speaking the gospel to people and telling them about Jesus, people around you will start changing for the better, and they will start getting saved. Not because of anything we do, but because we are allowing God to use us to accomplish his will. It's his power that changes people, we are just the vessels. People begin to change because of the power of God in you. You begin to bear fruit in the way of people around you who begin to transform by the power of God, because they saw the God in you and your Christian walk. You have no option to NOT bear fruit if you are in Christ, because the power of the Holy Spirit is too strong for people to be exposed to it and not be affected.


For whatever reason, though, I've noticed that there has become a trend among Christians where they are choosing NOT to bear fruit until they get to the point in life where they feel they are ready for ministry. Bearing fruit is looked at more like a career choice than an every day activity. Sharing the gospel is looked at as something that you don't do in everyday, mundane life, but rather a job position. "When I move, when I understand more of the bible, when God places me among the particular people group that I want to minister to, when I'm ready, then I will bear fruit. Then I will share the gospel. Then I will share my testimony. When I am in a position that I feel comfortable, then I will tell people about God." This, my friends, is not what God wants. It's not about us or our timing or our comfort. A Christian should never say that they will begin ministry WHEN. Your ENTIRE life should be a ministry. RIGHT NOW. Everything that we do should be for God's glory. Someone who has been saved for one minute can have an affect on an unbeliever. I work with drug addicts who get saved and are telling everyone who will listen about how God saved them as soon as they leave. They don't wait until they have the bible memorized, or they have a ministry team, or until they are commissioned. They do it out of the overflow of their heart and the power of the Holy Spirit, just like the disciples. The church has no excuse. People should be able to see the light of God in you, and want to follow it. Don't hide it, don't repress it, and don't save it to be used later.

Matthew 5:15: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

John 15:8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.

You see, when we put conditions on our evangelism, when we choose who, where, and when to minister, we stifle  the Holy Spirit. We put God in a box by saying we will only minister to who we have decided to. We miss out on all of the people that God has placed in front of us- the cashier at the grocery store, the drunken neighbor next store, the grumpy old man across the street, the lonely single mom at work- because they don't fit our "criteria." By saying that you are going to wait to start ministering until God has things set up the way you want them is working out of your own flesh instead of letting the power of the Holy Spirit work through you. Think of all of the souls that you are missing out on having an impact on because you're waiting for God to place you in your "mission." Your mission is right in front of you, right now! We live in such a lost, hurting world, and we should be telling the gospel to EVERONE we meet.

Another thing that I was taught in Milwaukee by my pastor, which has been proven time and time again, is that if someone isn't doing something where they are at right now, they are not going to do it in a different position later. Luke 16:10 says that He who is faithful in the little will also be faithful in much. If you are sharing the gospel right now in the little- to the gas station attendant, the grumpy old man across the street, the addict on the street corner- God can trust that you will continue to be trustworthy to do it in the much (ministries, missions, pastoring, ect.). If you are bearing fruit where you are at, you can be trusted to continue to bear fruit somewhere else. If you are not bearing fruit right now in the little, then you will not do it in the much either. To say that you will start ministering when you get to a different location, or around a certain group of people, while their are lost souls right in front of your face that you aren't filled with compassion to minister to, makes no biblical sense. If you aren't ministering where you are at, you're not going to minister in a different location either, because the spirit of God will not be stifled. Once God has touched your life, it's impossible to contain. There is no "waiting to share the gospel." You will want to tell everyone you meet. You will shout it to everyone who will listen, right where you are. Missions are very biblical and valuable, but if you look at the disciples in the bible, they preached Jesus everywhere they were. They didn't wait until they got somewhere else. We should be doing it continuously.p

As Christians, we do not have the luxury of deciding who is worthy of ministering to, and delaying sharing the gospel until it fits into our time table. People are dying right outside of the church doors, because they don't fit the criteria of people's ministries. Because they aren't in women's bible study, youth group, the worship team, or any other church ministries doesn't mean they're not worth ministering to. In fact, they probably need it more. But by being so focused on our "mission target" of people, we can overlook people that don't fit the mold. I can only imagine how much that breaks Jesus' heart. There are so many souls to be saved, and so few Christians that are willing to reach beyond their comfort zone to share the gospel with someone that doesn't fit into their ministry box. We should be sharing the gospel with everyone possible, whenever we can, because we are running out of time.

Which brings me back to the Fig tree. The reason that Jesus cursed the fig tree is because it wasn't bearing fruit. It was useless. Symbolically, it is the same as a spiritually dead Christian- one who is bearing no fruit. Jesus knew the fig tree was going to continue to be fruitless, because it wasn't bearing fruit where it was at. He could have moved it to a different country and replanted it in hopes of it bearing fruit. Or waited to replant it in a different season- when it was ready- and seen if it would bear fruit then. But he knew that would be, well, fruitless (ha!). It's the same way with Christians. If we are not bearing fruit where we are at, right now, then we are not going to bear fruit anywhere else later either. That's a lie that the devil tells us to keep us from proclaiming Jesus to those who need to hear. He says those aren't your people, someone else will tell them, this isn't your time to minister, someone else will tell them, you can start telling people about Jesus later. But it's not true. We should have fruit at all times, in all seasons, in all places. Maybe not in the same way, but the fruit should always be there. To not believe this is to be rendered useless in the kingdom of God, and forfeit touching all of the souls that God strategically places in front of us. Because as Christians, we are " a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." 1 Peter 2:9. There is no right place or right time to share the gospel. The time is right now, right where you're at. Bear fruit where you are planted, until God moves you somewhere else. Then bear fruit there. But don't wait. Never become fruitless, even for a season.


Sunday, August 9, 2015

My Hubby's Surprise 50th Birthday party!

My gorgeous Hubby at his surprise 50th birthday party!
 My husband Ben has thrown me two surprise parties this year. One was for my birthday, and the other one was less than a month later for my college graduation. I can say, without a doubt, that I was totally and completely surprised. My husband has never had a surprise party in his life. No one has EVER been able to pull it off for him. He notices everything and pays too much attention to details. It's hard to get things past him. I was determined to throw him a surprise party for his big MILESTONE birthday though, and I refused to accept defeat. Especially since he made a comment a few weeks ago that I couldn't pull of a surprise party. Anyone who knows me knows that I take comments like that as a challenge to prove people wrong ;)

Two of Ben's centerpieces. Filled with Hot Tamale candy and Hershey Kisses =) There were balloons tied onto them but the kids had hijacked by the time I had gotten around to taking pictures;)
 The biggest problem for me was figuring out WHEN to throw his party. Our schedules are so crazy that it is hard to schedule anything- let alone a surprise party. We had tentative plans to go camping with his brother the week I decided to plan the party, but I didn't know until the last minute if we were going or not. We had numerous crisis this week as well, and a lot of the plans we had to do thing as a couple got put on the backburner in order to help people. Things change so quickly in the type of ministry we are in that planning anything (and actually being able to go through with it) is quite a feat. So I had to come up with some way to plan him a surprise party that I knew I could get him to NO MATTER WHAT. Now, if there's one thing I know about my husband, it's that he makes a point to keep his commitments to ministry engagements. This Friday, three days before his actual birthday, there was a worship outreach concert being held in a local park, and they were specifically reaching out to drug addicts. My husband and I were scheduled as guests. And I knew I had the perfect spot for his party. I knew he would make a point of showing up, regardless of where the circumstances of the day brought us. We were going to throw his party DURING a ministry event, so I could be sure he'd show up!
Arriving at the park. In the first picture, he is starting to realize what is going on. In the second picture, he's sure of it, as our friend carries his lit birthday cake towards him. In the third picture, he uses all of his lung power to blow out the fireball that is created when you have 50 candles lit on a cake simultaneously =)
I could have never pulled the whole thing off without my Co-Conspirators Jessica and Malissa from CROSSroads. We spend days having secret party planning meetings, going on shopping trips where they took everything home with them in their cars so Ben wouldn't see party supplies in the house, coordinating facebook event invites and ride schedules and menu items. Jessica even baked Ben a GORGEOUS German chocolate birthday cake with Pecans and homemade frosting- because there was no way I was going to be able to hide a sheet cake in the house!On the day of the party, they left and set everything up at the park, brought all of the food, and reserved the tables while Ben and I were getting ready to leave for the concert. And Ben never suspected a thing. Imagine that- a bunch of female drug addicts being able to sneak around , plot and hide things in order to have their purposes prevail. Talk about harnessing your powers for good now instead of evil!

Ben's amazing German Chocolate birthday cake- and him cutting it with the Cake Lady herself ;)
 The look on my husband's face was worth every second of planning, of plotting, of running around. He was truly surprised, and I am so thankful that I could do something to make him so happy. He deserves it more than anyone I know. He is so self-sacrificial- always putting others before himself,
putting his needs last, and adjusting his schedule to meet everyone else's. He gives and gives of himself and expects nothing in return. He always makes sure that everyone else realizes how important, special, and valuable they are to God- and it's important that he always remembers that about himself as well. He has been such an enormous blessing in the lives of others, and the least we could do was make sure that he was blessed for his 50th birthday.

Ben speaking with some guests and opening up his FAVORITE birthday gift (courtesy of yours truly)- the SECOND set of the Star Wars Trilogy movies on both blu ray and DVD to go with the first set of trilogy movies that I got him for father's day- now he owns all 6 on 12 discs and looks like a kid in a candy store!
I m so honored to be the bride of this amazing, Godly man. I thank God every day for him bringing Ben into my life and blessing us with a beautiful family and amazing ministry. I am so grateful that Ben is even standing here. He shouldn't be- he should have died in his addiction, but God knew what he was doing. As horrible as it was, I am so thankful that God allowed him to go through his addiction. It taught him empathy, compassion, and how to depend on and seek God in a way that is unheard of for most people. He was in such utter darkness that it allowed him to see the light of God in all of its glory. The light shines the brightest in the darkest places, and it's in the dark places that you see just what the light is capable of. He knows that he is nothing without God, because he has been nothing without God. His addiction allowed him to make mistakes in his relationships with significant others and children that he was in turn able to learn from and be sure he didn't repeat with me and Justin. His addiction enabled him to find out what matters in life, and that everything is meaningless if it's not done for the glory of God. It gave him a heart for the broken- because he was broken. He has compassion for the lost and hurting, because he knows what it feels like to be in their shoes. And- last but not least- it prepared him to deal with me and my craziness. He is a much better person coming out of addiction than he was before he went through it. Addiction can turn out to be a blessing if you hand if over to God and allow him to fill your broken places that the drugs couldn't. If you give God the same priority as the drugs, you will have a mind-blowing relationship with him and be sold out to him in a way that religion could never make you. And that's our hope for every addict we come into contact with at CROSSroads- that they will see that no matter how far gone, how hopeless, how desperate the situation- no matter the mistakes, the past, or the damage left in their wake- God holds true to his promises that he will work it all for our good (and the good of others) if we allow him to. We can be much better people on the other side of addiction before we went in. My husband is living proof of that.

Are we having fun yet???
All in all, things ended up going off without a hitch. For a good portion of the day we were worried we were going to have to cancel because we were experiencing severe thunderstorms, but God heard our prayers for the rain to stop and granted our requests for the rain to stop (oh, the little ways that God lets you know he loves you! He cares about every little detail- even it being dry on your special day!)

A deck of cards made into a book from Justin and I. Each card has a reason why we love him, and there's 50 of them.

 To make it even better- my hubby got to listen to a two hour worship concert after his party! Who else is special enough to get a live band at their birthday party? ;) Plus, we got to bring community awareness to the cause that is near and dear to our hearts and our lives' mission- drug addiction, and the fact that there's freedom in Christ. I know that there is no other way my dear husband would rather spend his birthday. Surrounded by people he loves, preaching the gospel, and seeing the broken restored. That's who my husband is. And that's why I'm so grateful for his birth 50 years ago.

Concert after the party, and my husband and I along with other members of the recovery community being introduced to the crowd. 

Here's to 50 more!