Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Guard Your Heart in Jesus

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. ( Proverbs 4:23)

My moods and outlook on life fluctuate depending on my emotions at the moment. If things are going smoothly and everything is taking place in a way that pleases me, I tend to have a positive outlook on the day. If the opposite is true, and I don't feel I have the ability to steer situations to my advantage, I go into a negative tailspin. Should my attitude really be determined by my surroundings or by a sense that I can manage what is taking place in my life? How do I guard my heart from my own emotions? It appears I need to check my heart and direct my thoughts away from myself and my circumstances and back into a focus on what Christ has done for me and the promises He extends to me, His child in faith. 

We can't solve life's deepest problems when separated from God. Our quandaries are not usually due to external factors; rather our problems often come from within us and are related to our spiritual frame of mind. Although we may not be able to change our circumstances, we can guard our hearts. 

The future is not in our hands; it is in God's. When we pass from this life to the next, we will no longer face the evils and injustices of this world. God tells us, "See I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind" (Isaiah 65:17). 

How do we guard our hearts from our own fickle emotions and from pessimism at our circumstances? "Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart" (Hebrews 12: 1b-4). 

When I want to stop wallowing in self pity and find joy in something other than my own situation, I need to guard my heart by fixing my eyes on Jesus.  He died for me, forgave me, and placed His Spirit within me. He endured the cross so that you and I might not be encumbered by the sin that entangles us. When I put my life and my future into Christ's hands, I understand His promise: "I will give you a new heart and put my spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh" (Ezekial 36:26).

Dear Lord,
Help me focus on Your promises rather than on  circumstances over which I have no control. Teach me to guard my heart from my emotions so that I do not grow weary and lose heart. I want to trust in You, for You are the my foundation! Create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me. Thank You for the hope I have in You. In Jesus' Name. Amen

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Cast your cares on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken. (Psalm 55:22, NIV)

After having brought my daughter home from Vietnam, I assumed that I had conquered the "patience battle" or that patience became easier to access with age - Wrong!! It is not easier or less frequent a problem. Nor do I get less frustrated with the stress it causes. One thing I have perhaps learned: to expect struggles in life. What sort of patience battles consume me at present? When our kids get older, we deal with their waiting issues in addition to our own. It is painful to watch our children struggle as they try to understand the consequences of living in a sinful world. My 17 year old son tore his ACL 17 months ago.  His first ACL repair was not successful and the second ordeal was more complex than the first.  He recently had a revision ACL and meniscal repair.  We are fearful that he isn't healing well once again.  I grieve for him and perceive his sorrow at all he wants to be able to do and can't; it is as if I experience his loss with him. It seems that each of my children has issues of sorrow to deal with or questions about their futures that I don't have the answers to. What do I do when I am impatient or grieving over my children's sorrows? I fuss, I fume, I get angry, I try to inform myself about possible treatments, causes, ways to help them attain their goals.  These attempts to understand and deal with pain give me a sense of control. It is not until after I am exhausted from my own fussing that I finally lay my burden at the cross and ask Jesus to carry it with me.  Jesus said:
"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30, ESV)

Dear God,
When I am impatient or full of sorrow at the trials I experience, rather than lean on You, my first response is to try to fix things by myself. Teach me to come to You.  Take my burden from me, and guide me to rely on Your strength. Help me take refuge in You. In Jesus' Name. Amen

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Freedom in Christ

I used to drive my kids around to their after school activities and listen to political talk radio. Although I still attempt to stay politically informed, I found these radio shows caused me to become frustrated and angry; the negativity began to cloud my perspective about life. I then started to listen to audio books. Presently, I'm almost finished with Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher-Stowe. Uncle Tom, a slave, is repeatedly promised his freedom. His strong faith gets him through many a trial, and his hope is anchored in Christ. In a sense, Uncle Tom symbolizes Christ. As the story comes to a close, Tom gives up his life so that other slaves can escape to freedom. Like Christ, Tom is obedient to his master, even unto death: "And being found in appearance as a man, he [Christ] humbled himself by becoming obedient to death--even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:8) Tom dies at the hands of a brutal slave beater who kills Tom because of His faith in Jesus and obedience to Him. As Tom is dying, he remarks that he dies with joy in the knowledge that he will be united in death with his Savior. Tom understands that, "the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom" (2 Corinthians 3:17). 

Just as Christ died for Tom, He died for each and every one of us. Yet, we get so caught up in our daily frustrations, such as a sense that we have no power to change political corruption, or that our life is unfair, or that it is just plain not easy to deal with day to day dilemmas. Paul reminds us that, although we encounter hardship on earth "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery."

How do we not remain burdened by fear, anxiety, stress and sin? Christ wants us to enjoy freedom. Our freedom does not depend on the daily decisions we make about whether we should stay at a job we aren't enjoying or which school we send our children to, or which neighborhood we hope to live in, etc. Our freedom depends on fully surrendering our life to Christ and, like Tom, living a life of obedience to Him: "whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked" (1 John 2:5-6). Yet, even when we try to be obedient, we fail. Fortunately, it is not our goodness that saves us but our faith in Christ. He gives us freedom from our failures. He gives us everlasting hope. "And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him" (Hebrews 11:6). God is merciful. He forgives us and removes the burden of sin we carry with us. Christ died, and rose, and sent us His Spirit to set us free. If we trust in Him and give our burdens to Him, He will lead us in freedom and guide us to obedience in Him.

Dear God, You are a gracious God. Even when I become burdened by day-to-day complications, You are with me extending Your hand of freedom from these burdens. Help me to take Your hand and submit my life to Your Lordship so that I can be free indeed in You. In Jesus' Name. Amen.