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Empty Well

It is so important for us to read the bible in context.  So often, we memorize key verses and phrases, and neglect to see the bigger picture.  This morning, as I thought about this blog on empty wells, Galatians 6:2 came to mind: “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ,” (NIV).  But as I meditated on the verse, I realized that it was the second verse of the chapter.  What did the previous verse say?  In fact, the previous verse served as a cautionary statement.  It said: “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted,” (NIV).  The New Life Version reads, “You who are stronger Christians should lead that one back into the right way. Do not be proud as you do it. Watch yourself, because you may be tempted also.”  Firstly, the verse calls for the “stronger Christians” to lead his brother/sister back into the right way.  Secondly, it cautions the “leading” individuals to refrain from becoming proud and to be careful of falling into the same trap.  The truth is, we all have areas where we are strong and areas where we falter.  Moreover, these areas may vary by season and/or circumstances.  It is important for us to understand that while God has called us to bear one another’s burdens, there is only one Savior.  We were not designed to save everyone.  In fact, if we do not continue to replenish our wells, then we run the risk of running emotionally and spiritually dry.

If you are consistently playing the role of the go-to person in your relationships, there will come a point where your well will run dry.  If you incessantly pour out and do not replenish your reserve, you will bottom out.  This could have multiple physical, mental and spiritual ramifications.  Below are a few things that I have found helpful during some of my darkest moments.

  1. Be kind to yourself
    1. Know that some days you will fly, and some days you will fall. Some people will think you are the greatest, and some will think that you are the worse.  However, neither one of these things define who you are.  Only God defines you.  He made you, and He knows who He has called you to be.  No one else has that authority, including you!
  1. Keep inventory of your “well” reserve
    1. Most credit counselors advise against credit card use. Why?  With credit card usage, there is a tendency to spend more than we have.  Debit card are just as bad.  I would venture to say that most people are not balancing their account ledger after each swipe of their card.  It’s no wonder the banking industry makes so much money on overdraft fees.  The same is true of our emotional bank account.  If we are not keeping an accurate account of our balance, there will be a tendency to over extend and/or over commit.  If we don’t keep accurate accounting, we will spend more than we have to give.  This brings me to Item #3.
  1. Learn to say “No!”
    1. Saying “no” is way more than simply refusing a request. Sometimes saying “no” could mean declining to answer an email, a text or a missed called.  For some, this is the biggest step towards establishing healthy boundaries in relationships.
  1. Keep inventory of those who are making deposits and withdrawal into and away from your wells
    1. Relationships are seldom equal. However, our relationships must be mutually beneficial.  In other words, we will have relationships where one person brings more to the table than the other.  The important thing for us to remember is that we should maintain a healthy balance of the different types of relationships in our lives.  Again, if we are always giving more than we are receiving, then our relationships are out of sync, which will eventually lead to a dry well.
  1. Take note during your hour of darkness.
    1. Who are the ones calling solely to check on you—not to gossip, not to vent, but simply to check on your well being?  Oftentimes, when you tend to be the strong one in your relationships, people erroneously think that you don’t have problems or that your problems are secondary to theirs.  Please understand that is an unfair and unrealistic expectation.  The people in your life must be able to acknowledge that you too are human, and as such, you too have your cross to bear.
  1. Know that you cannot be everything to anyone person.
    1. I recently had a conversation with a friend who said to me that in relationships, we meet our needs by drawing from the many wells in our lives. Whenever, we start to draw predominantly from one well, we put that other person in an unfair position, which is too much pressure to place on any one person.

Now, after having said all that, I will say this:  When we are weak, God will make us strong.  There are times when God will push us beyond what we thought we could do or where we thought we could go.  However, the problem in many of our lives is that we fail to ask Him for His counsel, and we busy ourselves with things, people and tasks that He never commissioned us to take on.  Sometimes, God is doing a work in our lives and He is doing work in others’ lives as well.  My final parting note is that we should seek God in all that we do, and He will give us the guidance that we so desire.

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Guarded Heart

Today’s message is to guard your heart.

Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it,” (NIV). As we step into God’s presence over these next few days, I challenge you to guard your heart. According to dictionary.com, to guard means to keep safe from harm or danger. Therefore, to guard our hearts means to keep it safe from harm or danger.

Why on earth would we need to keep our hearts safe?

The devil comes to steal, kill and destroy, (John 10:10). The devil isn’t trying to destroy us per se. He is trying to destroy the thing that God loves most, which is us. To the devil, we are simply a causality of war. Fortunately, we serve a God that so values His creations that He ensures that we are always heavily guarded and heavily protected by the impenetrable forces of heaven’s army. The devil can never launch a secret attack while we are encamped on heaven’s base. The only way that the devil can attack us is by luring us from under God’s artillery.  The only way he can do so is by separating us from the word of God. Now, I feel the need to make this disclaimer. The Bible says that the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike (Matthew 5:45). We live in a fallen world, and bad things happen to good people and vice versa. The presence of atrocities in our lives is not always directly correlated with our deeds. I digress.

Again, I ask the question: Why should we guard our hearts? Simple! It’s where God hid His Word, and I could not think of a better hiding place.

33 “’But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel after those days,’ says the Lord. ‘I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people,’” (Jeremiah 31:33, NLT).

Think about this. Ephesians 3:17 says, “Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong,” (NLT). So, if God has written the word on our hearts, and Christ will make a home in our hearts if we let Him, then as long as we let Christ in, the Word is guarded, and it will begin to grow roots into our heart. Unfortunately, the devil is constantly trying to separate us from God by trying to steal and corrupt the Word in our hearts.

Guarding our hearts sometimes means not entertaining “debates” about religion. “Don’t answer the foolish arguments of fools, or you will become as foolish as they are,” (Proverbs 26:4, NLT). Entertaining misguided religious philosophies could corrupt our thinking, and subsequently derail our relationship with Christ. Before we began our walk with Christ, God met us where we were. Sometimes, we just have to allow God to meet others where they are. We don’t have to convict everyone. The same way God convicted us, He will convict others as well.

Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend,” (NLT). As we progress towards our God-given destinies, it is important that we surround ourselves with people who bring out the best in us as they challenges us to grow. God has planted His seed in each of our hearts, and we have to be careful how we allow it to be stolen or how we give it away.   If there are relationships that are hindrances to our growth, we might need to sever them to best guard our hearts. “If your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away,” (Matthew 5:30, NIV). Sometimes, in our misguided attempt to help others, we end up repeating lessons that we should have already received!

Today’s Prayer: Lord, help us to guard our hearts as we focus on you. Soften our hearts so that the seeds that you have planted will always remain on fertile ground! Help us to love you, ourselves and your people as you have commanded. Keep us free from temptation. Help us to forgive other so that you can forgive us. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen!

Martha Picture

When I think about the adult life of Jesus, I often wonder what life was like for Him. Besides His disciples, did He have a lot of friends?  I imagine that most people who befriended him were more interested in His miracles than His friendship. But what about His disciples? Where they His friends?  I believe He loved them all dearly, even though, He might have been a bit partial to Peter, James and John.  I also believe that Jesus had a genuine friendship with Mary, Martha and Lazarus. He loved them dearly, so much so, that He wept when Lazarus died.

Jesus, if you would have been there, my brother would not have died. Jesus, if you would have been there, my father would not have gotten cancer.  Jesus, if you would have been there, we wouldn’t have lost our child. Jesus, if you would have been there, I would have been delivered from the clutches of drugs and alcohol. Jesus, if you would have been there, I wouldn’t have been molested. Jesus, if you would have been there, I wouldn’t have gone to jail. Jesus if you wouldn’t have been there, I wouldn’t have (fill in the blank).  Do any of the above scenarios strike a chord? How many times has Jesus wept in our lives? Instead of giving him the benefit of the doubt, we scold him. We curse him. We abandon him.

I believe the reason Jesus cried was probably deeper than what we see on the surface. I don’t believe that Jesus cried because Lazarus died. Why would he? He was the Son of God, and he knew that he was about to raise him from the dead. In fact, in John 11:4, Jesus said, ““Lazarus’ sickness will not end in death. No, it happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this.” Jesus had promised that Lazarus would not die in that moment. However, the caveat was that God would receive the glory.

When it came down to it, Mary and Martha, whom he loved dearly, did not trust him. They called themselves His friend, yet they didn’t even give him the benefit of the doubt.  The body was already buried.  The wailers were already mourning.  They had fully embraced death.  I believe in that moment Jesus’ humanity took over. And he was deeply saddened.  To make matters worse, Martha had the nerve to give Jesus a piece of her mind.  Now, it’s easy for me to sit on this side of time and judge her through the lens of retrospect.  However, Martha is no different from me.  How many times have I “reprimanded” God for not delivering a promise on my timetable?  How many times have I buried living promises because their slow movement mimicked rigor mortis?  How many times have you?  Thankfully, God is faithful, even when we are not (2 Timothy 2:13).

40 Jesus responded, ‘Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?’ 41 So they rolled the stone aside. Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, ‘Father, thank you for hearing me. 42 You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.’ 43 Then Jesus shouted, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ 44 And the dead man came out, (John 11:40-43, NLT).

Here is one of the pivotal things that Jesus did when He was surrounded by unbelief. He praised God. Psalms 100:4 says, “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name,” (NIV). Before Jesus attempted to access the promise, He ignited His praise. So often, so many of us cannot wait to get in God’s court, not so that we can praise Him, but so that we can wag our finger at Him and give Him a piece of our minds.

The Bible says that we should enter His court with thanksgiving. Doing so, reminds us of our rightful position before the throne. We serve God, not the other way around. God encourages us to be authentic–to share our hearts with Him and surrender our pain. However, we need to acknowledge that He is God.

Today, as we embark on our second day of our challenge, I challenge you to enter His gates with thanksgiving. For the next 20 days, start your morning by thanking and praising God. Before you open your eyes in the morning, enter His court with thanksgiving. It doesn’t have to be a long sermon, just thank Him. Also, throughout the day, thank Him for your “Lazaruses.” Thank Him for those promises that are not dead, but are sleeping and waiting on the right time to bring glory to God.

Today’s Prayer: Lord, we step into your court with thanksgiving. We thank you for being God. We thank you for making all things new. “Father, thank you for hearing me. You always hear me,” (v.41). Lord, on the authority of Jesus, I pray, “Lazarus come out!” Lord, you know us individually, and you know what our “Lazaruses” are. Lord, we speak to those promises that appear to be dead, but are only sleeping. Come out! Come out! Come out. In Jesus’ name. Amen!

A few years ago, a network television station featured a woman who was living with HIV.  The HIV-related story had piqued my interest for several reasons.  As a graduate student, I had the opportunity to work as a graduate assistant to one of the frontier epidemiologists who studied the trends of HIV when it first emerged in the US in the early 80s and whose role in the discovery of HIV was documented by Randy Shilts’ 1987 best-selling book, And the Band Played On.  However, as much as I was interested in the topic itself, it was the underlying tale of that feature presentation that, even until this day, has held my interest.  My memories of the details of the story have faded over the years, but the take-home message still resonates in my mind.

The purpose of the story was to document one woman’s daily regime of living with HIV.  The story began with the tale of young love that fizzled out, only to be rekindled later on.

The woman featured in the documentary was in love with the man of her dreams.  Like with most young women, she wanted more than simple romance.  She wanted commitment.  She wanted to be married.  Unfortunately, her beau disagreed.  They eventually broke up.  She met another man, and they engaged in a sexually encounter.  As I remember the story, he was her first.  So it was no wonder when the woman was contacted by the health department to inform her of her exposure to the HIV virus, she knew where she acquired it.  She was tested.  The results were positive. One single decision had changed her life.

One of the few details that I remembered about the story was how this woman made herself vulnerable on camera so that other women could learn from her experience.  She explained to the interviewer that the disease had committed her to diapers because of her incontinence.  I am assuming that her incontinence was a result of the drugs, but I can’t exactly remember.  The story continued in the kitchen.  The camera panned her drug cocktail.   The woman described how taking the medley of pills often made her nauseous and would sometimes cause her to regurgitate them. Whenever she vomited, she would have to retake the cocktail.  Both the disease and the treatment had made her very weak.  It was almost an entirely sad tale.  Almost!!

Remember our prince charming from the beginning of the story.  He resurfaced.  Not only did he return, He married her.  Yes, you read right.  He, fully aware of her condition, chose to marry her.  Not only did he marry her, he cared for her, and he loved her.

This is where I pick up with my second point.  This man married this woman with a disease, which at that time, many people feared and believed to be a death sentence.  Wow.  It made me wonder.

I believe that life is predestined to a certain extent.  Sure, we have free will, and there is a direct correlation between our choices and where we end up.  Even so, I still believe that there are some things in our lives that are just meant to be, and regardless of which path we take, we will end up at the same destination.  That is my belief.  So with that belief in mind, I started to wonder.  What would have happen had she been patient?

(Disclaimer: There might be some people reading this story who are attempting to pervert the discussing by making the assertion that I am somehow suggesting that this woman acquired HIV as some form of punishment.  Such thinking is—well—WRONG!)

I digress.   What would have happened had she been patient?  Would he have still returned?  Could she have been married to the man of her dreams without the baggage?  There is no way to know for sure, but it does make you wonder, even in our own lives.  Could our attempts to preempt God cause us unnecessary misery?  I wonder how many of our bumps and bruises that we receive on our way to victory are a result of our own doing—our pursuit of the infamous free will.  Could our lack of patience take us through tumultuous journeys?  The answer is, there is no way to tell for sure, at least on this side of time.  Fortunately, regardless of what decisions we make, God is faithful, and He will do whatever He has promised.  The Bible says that His Words will not return to Him void (Isaiah 55:11).

One of the greatest gift that God has given us is the gift of grace.  Regardless of whatever decisions we choose, His grace will ALWAYS be sufficient.  He will always give us more than what we deserve.  This woman’s one poor decision did not render her to a life of despair.  God gave her a life partner who would love and care for her despite her past mistake.  This story is one of the most beautiful manifestation of God’s love.  Sometimes it is impossible to live a pain-FREE life, but we can attempt to make it pain-LESS.

Lord,

Please grant us patience in everything that we do.  Give us the courage to trust that your Word will NEVER return to you void.

Isaiah 55:10-11

New International Version (©2011)
As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent.