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A compass and a companion

B-17-Jesus-pilot2014 is coming to a close!

I would be remiss if I did not reflect on the lessons that I have learned this year. If I could sum up the past 12 months in one quote, I would borrow the wise words of Thomas Edison: “I haven’t failed. I’ve found 10,000 ways that don’t work.”

I didn’t have any goals or resolutions in January. My resolve was to go with the flow. The problem with my course of action is that it did not include an objective. So I was distracted and consumed by what was going on in everyone’s life and trying to act accordingly (often times falling into various sins such as coveting).

Naturally, I was all over the place. I realize now that when you don’t know where you’re going, you either wander (ramble without a definite purpose or objective) or become stagnant (inactive). I found myself in both positions. Some days I wandered aimlessly, going nowhere fast. And other days, I felt stuck. It was depressing to the say the least.

The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 400 years. God was trying to take them somewhere (to the Promised Land), but they were stuck in the past. They lamented:  “We remember the fish we used to eat for free in Egypt. And we had all the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic we wanted.” In essence, they were praising their hardships (remember they were enslaved to Egypt) instead of glorifying God for their newfound liberty.

As a result, many of them missed out on an opportunity to enter Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey. The generation that was able to inhabit the land became corrupted over time. They forgot about God like their ancestors did and bowed down to other idols. Subsequently, God allowed for King Nebuchadnezzar to deport them to Babylon and hold them captive for 70 years.

In my wilderness experience, I longed for the good old days. King Solomon advised, Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?” For it is not wise to ask such questions (Ecclesiastes 7:10).” I get it now. Longing for the past is an indication that you don’t trust God with your future. It also demonstrates your resilience to learn and grow from your downtime. Trust the process of trials because they serve a purpose. 

In my stagnant position, I envied the events going on in my peers’ lives. I was no different from the lame man at the side of the pool. He had been there for 38 years all the while watching others like him get into the water (stirred by an angel from time to time) and become healed from their disabilities.

When Jesus learned that he had been in the same position for such a long time, He asked the man, “Do you want to get well?” If you carefully read the text in John 5:1-9, you will notice that Jesus was not asking the man if he needed help getting into the pool. That’s because Jesus was trying to show him another way to the blessing. Sometimes, what works for others, may not work for you. You have to be open to taking an alternative route, especially if God is leading. Otherwise, you will become stuck in doing the same things over and over, and expecting a different result.

There’s a lesson to be learned in the Israelite’s history. Struggle and Success are one in the same because they can either make you or break you. In the former, you should be humbled by God’s grace. In the latter, you should be humbled by God’s favor. In either case, you should never forget His goodness.

Emotions have a way of robbing us of our memory and leading us astray. They are indeed a bad life compass. In 2015, I am determined to draw near to God when it rains and when the sun shines.

In the final analysis, I will always be in need of His covering; I need shelter from the storm and shade from the heat so that I may always be mindful of His sovereignty. But most importantly, I will always need Him to be my compass and companion on this journey called life.

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Courage to Start Over

          starting-over-road

Starting all over, either by force or by choice, is tough for anyone, young and old.

I remember when I had to attend a new elementary school at the age of eight. I was very upset about leaving all of my friends and relatives at Dillard Elementary School where I was a student for three years. I really felt like I belonged because the student body was very diverse and the faculty and staff were culturally conscious. We explored the world around us through lively and interactive presentations in our special classes and at our school assemblies. I didn’t want to leave all of that behind (this affected me a lot emotionally), but I eventually found the courage to adapt to the new faces and curriculum at my new school.

Many years later, when I left home for college at the age of 19, I quickly learned that my past experiences could not prepare me to adjust to my new environment in Tallahassee. Aside from now having to live in a slow-paced (and sometimes too friendly and scary) city, I had to pay my own rent, buy groceries and prepare my meals, nurse myself back to health when I was sick and deal with other issues without the help of my family. When the hurricanes blew through during that period, that was especially hard for me because my dad was not there to make me feel safe.

Reading the Bible, which appears to have a ‘starting over” theme weaved through all of the stories, helped a lot reminding me that I was never alone in life transitions.

After the Jews were taken captive by King Nebuchadnezzar II, they spent 70 years as prisoners in Babylon. Prior to their exile, the Jews had already experienced slavery and deliverance in Egypt and made a life for themselves in Jerusalem.Yet, they were distressed because they lost their city, homes, pride, Temple (a symbol of their faith) and most importantly, the Ark of the Covenant. It was hard for them to get comfortable in the homeland of idolatry where the Babylonians bowed down to anyone but God.

When they had served their time – their captivity was the result of their sins and God’s subsequent judgment – King Cyrus of Persia sent a decree allowing the Jews to return to their land with the blessings of the Persian Empire. However, not many of them were willing to leave Babylon because they had already settled. The few that did return to Palestine had to start all over because all they found was rubble in the place they once called home. After many years of opposition, they were able to successfully rebuild the Temple and the walls of Jerusalem. A revival was held in celebration of this feat in which the prophets read books of the Old Testament and gave the Jews a renewed sense of hope.

Babylon represented chaos, but the Jews turned to God, who encouraged them to keep calm: “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. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity” (Jeremiah 29:11-14). Zion, the land of Judah, to which the Jews returned represented God’s spiritual kingdom. In retrospect, when the Jews went back home, they also returned to God’s unmerited favor.

In life, we will all experience change (both good and bad) and each one will feel like the first time — like we have been taken out of God’s goodness and held captive in a strange and chaotic environment. If we are not careful, we will settle in our broken places and miss out on our breakthrough. Instead of returning to God and rebuilding our shattered dreams, we will revel in pain, anger and bitterness and become sluggish.

That is not the purpose of God’s judgment or grace. He wants us to grow in the hard places in preparation for a fresh start. And if that seems like a daunting task, we only need to remember His promises to Israel through the prophet Isaiah: “But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31).

 

References: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

“Then times of refreshment will come from the presence of the Lord.” Acts 3:20

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Faith in Action

“You have stayed long enough at this mountain.” Deuteronomy 1:6

Have you ever felt stuck? Paralyzed? How many times have you talked yourself into doing something, and even envisioned yourself going after a dream only to find yourself in a standstill?

The inability to do something that you are fully capable of doing is the worst feeling in the world. It’s a feeling I know too well.

I can recall days when I literally felt bound. When I was in high school I was sitting in my geometry class feeling groggy from a cold I was just getting over. I folded my arms on my desk and put my head down. Before I knew it, I dozed off. The sound of the bell awakened me, and I opened my eyes, ready to grab my bags and dash out of the classroom. I was so embarrassed I slept through the entire period.

But when I tried to move, my limbs would not budge. I felt lethargic and frozen in place. I tried again, but I could not lift up my head. I panicked because from my peripheral vision, something dark and evil was looming over my shoulder. I could not even scream.

I could see my teacher looking at me. She had one arm on her hip and the other one in the air with a board eraser in her hand. “Well, aren’t you going to leave? I know you don’t love my class that much,” she said. She turned her back to wipe the blackboard. I could not reply.

I said a silent, desperate prayer to God. Please forgive me for not paying attention during lecture. I am sorry. Help me!

Finally, I was able to wiggle my fingers, then I sneezed. My head jerked and I lifted it up and all of sudden felt life throughout my body. I grabbed my stuff and left the room as fast as I could.

I don’t know what happened to me that day. But years later, after a couple of more episodes, I discovered through an online medical article that I may have had sleep paralysis. According to research, this phenomenon is the result of sleep deprivation or irregular sleep habits and affects half of the population. In some countries, people refer to it as “spiritual oppression.”

Thankfully it’s not uncommon and usually does not persist or cause bodily harm. Neither should fear of failure.

While sleep paralysis can evoke fear, fear alone is debilitating. It can cause you to not move forward when necessary, even if there is nothing physically stopping you and every single body part is functioning properly.

When the Israelites reached their window of opportunity at the Red Sea, they were filled with terror. How were they supposed to cross over? There weren’t any boats in sight. And it did not help when they noticed that the Egyptians were pursuing them. At that point, all they could do was cry out to God. Moses tried to calm them down, saying “Fear not.” But God’s children were not convinced. Moses himself felt uncertain.

The Lord said to him, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward” (Exodus 14:15). If you read the whole passage, you will find that God never once entertained their fears. You would think, with Him being powerful that He would have stretched out His mighty arm, gather them in His hand and carry them over. But instead He gave them instructions to follow. He made them put their faith to work so that they might be delivered from stagnation.

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So in a sense He did carry them over! Hearing from God restored the Israelites’ motivation and destroyed the power of fear over them. What looked impossible became effortless and they were able to overcome their obstacles. Why? Because they stopped standing and did something. They prayed and followed directions.

The Israelites’ journey is no different from our own. Just like them, we are all trying to get ahead in life, and sometimes that means breaking out of our comfort zones (dead ends) and trusting God all the way. We don’t only need faith (Matthew 17:20) to believe it can happen; we need clear instructions from God (Psalm 32:8) and a solid work ethic to make it happen (James 2:17).

Scripture to meditate on:

Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you. Matthew 17:20

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you. Psalm 32:8

In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. James 2:17