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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2014 Resolutions: Navigate Your U-Turns Effectively

It is hard to believe that we just ended 2013! This has been a remarkable year of blessing for the ministries I’ve worked in. There has been a lot of new growth opportunities and even though I had to go through the pain of experiencing some losses-- I’ve been healthy and financially secure. And I praise God for that, because I know that could all change in a blink of an eye. How would you describe your past year?

For those of us that aren’t facing any major life crises we’re probably finding ourselves looking optimistically to the New Year. Oprah said New Years is another chance for us to get it right. Lots of people look forward to the New Year for a new start on old habits. It's a time to reflect on the changes we want (or need) to make, and a time to resolve to follow through on those changes. Eric Zorn said, “Making resolutions is a cleansing ritual of self-assessment and repentance that demands personal honesty and, ultimately, reinforces humility. Breaking them is part of the cycle.” I’d venture to say that more than half of you listening are resolved to make some big changes or resolutions.

What New Year’s resolutions did you make? Would you say it’s time to turn your life around?

It’s been said that New Year’s resolutions are like babies: They’re fun to make but extremely difficult to maintain. Each January, roughly 1 in 3 Americans resolve to better themselves in some way. A much smaller percentage of people actually make good on those resolutions. You can probably guess what the top resolutions tend to be: to lose weight & get fit. That's the #1 resolution. So get ready to be hit with tons of ads for diet products! The other top commitments are to save money & pay off my credit cards, not worry so much, quit drinking & smoking, spend more time with family & friends; help others, and read more. And millions of people will resolve stop some kind of addicted behavior.

But sadly, according to the Journal of Clinical Psychology, it is also a time when these people set themselves up for failure and disappointment. The publication cited a study in which 60% of resolvers admitted they’d failed to make a change last for six months. But that means that 40% were successful—or either liars!

What about you? Are you a fan of resolutions because you too feel the pressure to change something about you? If you're anything like me, you probably feel overwhelmed by all the changes you'd like to see in your life. In looking back, it seems like the more I resolved to change, the more dissatisfied I was with my results. Therefore, I usually didn’t follow through.

Let’s talk about why don’t New Year’s resolutions don’t work. My answer is: For the same reason willpower doesn’t usually work. We may stick to our resolutions short term, but our human nature is to return to our vices. The temptations are just too great. The assumption is that by exerting willpower and trying hard in our own strength, we can change. I used to think I could quit my bad habits with mere willpower, but I was wrong. Perhaps you’ve promised yourself you’ll lose 10 pounds & exercise more, or read the Bible more, or relax & talk to your kids when you get home from work, or quit spending so many hours on Facebook, or stop obsessing about food and exercise.

The problem is even though willpower can produce short-term change, it also creates constant internal stress because the root cause hasn’t been dealt with. And when you do fall, those nasty feelings of shame rise back to the surface again. The change doesn’t feel natural, so eventually you give up and quickly revert back to old patterns. Sound familiar? But I still say—give yourself credit for making an effort to make a U-turn. Regardless of how successful or unsuccessful you were in making changes, you deserve an A for trying.

So we’ve just established that willpower will probably not work. What will work then? God, the Creator of all things, reveals this great secret in the Bible: "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will." (Rom. 12:2) If you want to change your actions, you have to start by changing your mind, by renewing your mind. We do that through bible study. Goal setting begins first in the mind and then leads to action. If you can control the focus of your mind, you can control your actions—that applies to everything in life.

To listen to this message in its entirety, you may download the podcast on 1/1/14 at Every Body Matters on BlogTalkRadio

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Christmas: God Had the Last Laugh

Every year Christmas comes. It strikes both the Christians and non-Christians. Suddenly nativity scenes of baby Jesus are everywhere. Do you think if we were to have stopped people at random at the mall yesterday and asked them what they wanted most for Christmas, how many do you think would have said, ‘All I need is Jesus.’” I mean, after all, Christmas is about celebrating the birth of THE Son of God, Jesus Christ!

On that wintry night in some obscure cave the humble baby Jesus was born. He was naked and helpless; yet he was God—and he allowed US to get close to him –to get to know him intimately. He chose to enter our broken world and limp through life with us. The world was changed by Christ. When he entered human history God shattered all previous conceptions of who God is and also what man is supposed to be like. The Jews envision that the messiah would a great king and leader. He’d fit into the culture and reign in majesty. While, the Greeks envisioned that the messiah would be a great philosopher—greater than Plato! He would lead mean to contemplate order and harmony of the universe.

God had a different plan for Christians. The plan was counter-cultural. God’s plan for Christians is to live a life much like the one Jesus lived. He chose to be born into poverty. In doing so he ignored conventional expectations. Jesus was a stumbling block to many of his contemporaries. The Jews rejected Jesus Christ and the Greeks considered him a fool and laughed at him. They thought that no way could he be the king of the Jews—after all, he dressed in rags and hung out with sinners. That was an insult to the intellectual and law-abiding.

The apostle Paul preached the craziness of the cross—the message of the crucified Christ who is the power and wisdom of God. He said, 1 Corinthians 1:21, the message version: Since the world in all its fancy wisdom never had a clue when it came to knowing God, God in his wisdom took delight in using what the world considered dumb—preaching, of all things!—to bring those who trust him into the way of salvation. And guess what happened? Countless Jews and Greeks laid aside their prejudices in order to be swept up into the power and wisdom of the cross.

When Jesus was born over 2000 years ago—HOPE was his gift to the world and everything else—the meaningless--would fade. Jesus brought light to the world. Jesus brought into the world the Kingdom of Freedom. His love would set millions of people free. I was one of them.

You may or may not be familiar with the biblical story of Isaac’s birth in the OT. Let me recap. Abraham and his wife Sarah had always wanted a baby but had given up because they were well up there in years. Scripture says that God said to Abraham: “I will give Sarah my blessing. You can be sure that I will give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations. Kings of nations will come from her.” Abraham fell with his face to the ground. He laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man who is 100 years old? Will Sarah have a child at the age of 90?” (Gen. 17:15) Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. So Sarah laughed to herself (Gen 18:11-16)

Well I think God had the last laugh… she had a son whom they named Isaac which means laughter in Hebrew. He was born at the exact time God had promised. This was Sarah’s first baby—so can you imagine the emotions—especially at her age! Not only did her despair turn into laughter, but God promised that her son would the father of nations! So why do I bring this story up on Christmas Day?

Isaac was a prophetic foreshadowing of Jesus Christ. Jesus is God’s last laugh. I don’t say that to be disrespectful. Laughter it is an expression of a number of positive emotional states, such as joy, humor, happiness, relief. It is medicine for our bodies and souls. Laughter is also a reaction to absurdity. Nothing could be more absurd in the Hebrew tradition, as it is in our tradition too, than for a virgin to have a baby. Can you even begin to imagine what it must have been like for Mary? Seeing an angel up close and personal is one thing, but to have that angel tell you you’re going to have a baby when you’ve never been with a man. Boy that would be unsettling. A virgin having a baby . . . and not just your average baby either. The angel told Mary she would be pregnant with a miracle. She would give birth to THE Son of God! Did she laugh like Abraham and Sarah, or did she quake in her sandals?

The question is still asked among us today . . . is this possible? We’ve come to believe that if there isn’t a scientific data to support such an absurdity, then it can’t be true. Despite that fact God’s angel said that nothing is impossible with God! I love Mary’s heart . . . and her example. Though she didn’t understand it . . . she accepted it. Though her future was unsure . . . she chose to believe. When the angel reminded her that with God nothing is impossible, he encouraged her faith. Mary responded, “Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). And so, this precious virgin girl gave birth to a son, and they named him Immanuel, which means “God with us.” And remember, God didn’t choose Mary because she was special. Mary was special because God chose her.

Maybe you need a Christmas miracle. Maybe you want to conceive a baby so badly that you cry yourself to sleep at night? Maybe you need a job desperately. Or are praying for relationships to be restored? To have your dreams restored. Or Hurts healed. Or Hearts comforted. To see God in a real way—you want the hope of the impossible. Mary too contemplated these things in her heart. Never forget that to God you are very special. He is truly with you and wants to birth a miracle in your life. He birthed a couple in my life. I can almost hear Mary saying to us, “blessed is she who has believed!”

A song by Christina Rossetti: 'Love came down at Christmas; Love all lovely, love divine; Love was born at Christmas, Stars and angels gave the sign.'

God entered human history when he came down to us. Jesus’s mission was to save us—yet we can only be saved through faith—to an unwavering connection to the person of Jesus Christ. Think about all the things you do every day by faith. You have faith your car will get you to work and home. You have faith the airline pilot will get the plane to your destination safely. You have faith your child will get to school and back home every day. You have faith your bank is protecting your money. Why do we find it so hard to have faith in the message of Christmas?

Christmas is a faith experience that enables us to see beyond the darkness or tragedy in our lives. It is a reminder that we need the laughter of God to prevent us from taking this world too seriously. When Jesus Christ is born IN ME—hope begins to burn brightly—everything else that seemed so important, starts to fade. A dramatic winter storm may hold us hostage for a few days, our car may get rear-ended, we may not get that anticipated Christmas bonus, maybe our fair weathered friends have decided we’ve gone off the deep end with Jesus and have rejected us—maybe…BUT even so, despite the difficulties and disappointment--the beauty of Christ remains glowing within us.

How we view and experience Christmas is a billboard for how much passion we have for Jesus. The insensitive and superficial will eat, drink, overindulge and drool over all the latest gadgets they receive as gifts. Then there will be the defeated—who will be haunted once again by ghost from Christmas past. We already have everything, but many of us don’ t know it—therefore we don’t experience it.

Everything we NEED has been given to us by God the Father in Jesus Christ. Maybe not everything we DESIRE—but he meets every one of our God-given needs. The best gift we can open this Christmas is to let ourselves be loved by Jesus! When we let him reside in our hearts and minds—like I said before—beauty himself comes to live inside of us. Our attitudes about ourselves—our choices—all begin to change positively—Jesus shines out through our faces and bodies. That’s the definition of beauty!

Jesus represents the gift of hope—it’s an undeserved gift of peace…but it calls us to make a decision—in faith—to trust the giver. Hope says I no longer need to feel defeated, or caught up in the superficialness of the culture. The questions change from: Can I do this? Am I pretty enough? Will I be accepted? TO Is Jesus able? Can my savior revive my sinking spirit and transform me just as he transformed the world through his birth in Bethlehem?

If you want to hear "the rest of the story" or don't want to read this, you can listen to this show: Every Body Matters on BlogTalkRadio, and download the on-demand episode [scroll down the page]. Be blessed!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Image Matters

Psychiatrist Dr. Gerald May said, “How we view ourselves at any given moment may have little to do with who we really are.” Think about that? So this begs the question: Do you know who you really are?

About 2 years ago, one morning I was sitting quietly alone, studying, when I heard this loud BOOM. The pets were startled and I thought it came from outside. I live in the country so we’re always hearing loud booms and guns going off, so I ignored it. Then I decided to go upstairs and as I approached the bathroom I saw pieces of a shattered mirror all over the floor—in the hallway and covering the entire bathroom. Yep—the mirror came loose and fell off the wall. As I began to sweep up the broken pieces I saw a splintered image of myself in those pieces.

This made me think. We try to get a good view, an accurate image of ourselves, but because the mirror of our lives is lying in pieces what we get is a shattered image. It’s no use trying to put the mirror back together. Even if you could, the mirror would produce a disjointed and disturbing image.

Let’s talk about our image. Think about the last time you introduced yourself to someone. Did you say something like, “Hi, my name is Sally. I’m a nurse.” Or have you noticed that when someone meets you for the first time they say, “What do you do?” You answer, “I’m a so and so.” I noticed that in the church the first thing women would ask me was how many children I had. That was always awkward for me because I don’t have any natural born children.

Our society tells us that our identities are wrapped up in our jobs, more specifically our roles, even in our appearances. Essentially, we are what we do or what we look like. There are dangers in this thinking: 1) At some point you’re going to fail at what you do—then who are you? And…You’re going to get older and lose your youthfulness; and 2) At some point who you truly are (God’s child) is going to conflict with what you do—and then what do you do?

Another term for our shattered image is the “false self.” The false self is the constructed, patchwork image we’ve created to deal with the world. I say, that we’ve become pros at wearing what I call our Cover Girl Masks. We’ve bought into cultural messages in order to give us a personal source of meaning—of identity. Is it possible the reason we pursue money, glamour, sexiness, the perfect body, recognition and status, that it may all be in an attempt to enhance our self-importance? I believe so. I think we’ve become a culture of people who have a distorted view of entitlement. We’re encouraged to be narcissists. Not everyone is-- but many have a high level of self-love. This is a false self-- because below the layer of superiority lies a deeply rooted sense of worthlessness, fear and hidden shame. The false self fears having her weaknesses and inadequacies exposed.

Sadly, what our culture creates is ONLY AN illusion of success. I know. I speak out of experience—not condemnation. For decades this is what I did. Even after I committed to follow God, for 14 years my life continued to be all about me. I continued to wear my carefully crafted Cover Girl Mask. We all experience tension between the false self and our real, true self. The false self is our fleshly, human nature. It tends to be defensive, self-protective and selfish, which makes intimacy with God and others difficult.

On the other hand, the real self is the image of God within us. Genesis 1:26-27 says God made you and me in HIS image and in His likeness. That is the CORE of our true identity. God’s image makes human beings capable of interacting with other people, of thinking and reflecting, and of willing and choosing freely. This is our real self—which has the ability to think abstractly, reason, to direct ourselves towards that which we know is good and right and authentic and truly beautiful.

When God our Creator gave us the remarkable title of “the image of God” he was in essence saying every body matters--every body has dignity and value. This is why God forbids the taking of a human life. Genesis 9:6: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.”

Dr. Maxwell Maltz said, “Accept yourself as you are. Otherwise you will never see opportunity. You will not feel free to move toward it; you will feel you are not deserving.” Think about this: when you receive a beautifully wrapped gift, what do you do? You may sit and gaze at the pretty packaging, but it’s only for a moment. If you are like most people, you unveil the gift inside by taking off the wrapper. Our outside wrapper is not representative of the real person we are, the one God created.

If you want to hear more on this subject, join me on Wednesday the 18th for the Every Body Matters show on BlogTalkRadio; live at 11:30 pst. If you can't login for the live show you can always download the on-demand episode [scroll down the page]. Be blessed!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Why Do I Eat This Way?

Yesterday on facebook I saw an image that said: "Dear Santa: this year I want a fat bank account and a tiny body. Please don’t mix them up like you did last year." Obviously a female created this because this is how so many of us think!

How many of your recent conversations in your mind have been about food, dieting, body size, or exercise? Too many to count? From movies and television to magazines and online advertisements, it’s impossible not to be bombarded by messages and images glorifying the unattainable skinny bikini body. It’s very hard to NOT think about what we see & compare these images to ourselves.

When these messages tell you repeatedly that you’re not good enough unless you lose 20 pounds, you start to believe it—because your thinking begins to conform to these subtle messages. It did sure with me. In this culture, the pressure to shed fat—at any cost, and the compulsion to compare our bodies to models and celebrities is great. That’s when the negative thoughts start snowballing for many of us.

I spent 2 decades of my life in and out of obsessive dieting and disordered eating. I stole food, snuck food, I worshipped it, I binged on it & then threw it up, and I hated food. Food, which was created by God for good— it was the enemy. Funky dieting was my only defense—because it was what I could control. Does that sound familiar? Welcome to the party! I found a better way to live, and you can too.

Eating can be a highly emotional event. The act of eating requires making food choices which comes out of our thinking. The types of diets we choose actually reflect the state of our minds and the function of our bodily organs. Therefore, if we make a habit of thinking in a new way, our diet choices will change, and so will our lives.

Join me on Wednesday the 11th for the Every Body Matters show on BlogTalkRadio; live at 10 pst, to get the scoop on this very interesting discussion! If you can't login for the live show you can always download the on-demand episode [scroll down the page]. Be blessed!