Dr. Beverly Smallwood

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New Morning Devotionals promotes deeper spiritual understanding, meaningful living, and practical Christianity at work and home

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LET FREEDOM RING THROUGH TRUTH!

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Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8: 32) 

In this post-July 4 message, I want to focus on a Biblical truth about freedom.  We’ve just celebrated the independence of the U.S., and we’ve paused to recognize the contributions of the giants on whose shoulders we stand.  Yes, a worthy celebration.

However, I’m thinking this morning about another aspect of freedom, critical at both a personal and a national level. My main focus here will be on the former. Without this key ingredient, real freedom is not possible.  I’m talking about TRUTH.

Without the facts, you cannot genuinely solve a problem.  Minus the understanding of a person’s true thoughts and needs, it’s difficult to build a deep relationship. Unless you have a foundation of truth, it’s next to impossible to build a life worth living.

However, you have an enemy who does all he can to keep you from truth, for he would love nothing more than to enslave you.  (Most of all, he wants to keep you from Jesus,Who is The Truth.)  Satan is an expert cunning deceiver.  He is a liar and the father of lies.  He skillfully whispers just enough “facts” mixed with lies to be believable. Anyone knows that the best propaganda techniques have enough truth to sound credible.  But truth mixed with a lie is a lie. And a lie is shifting sand on which to build anything.

Even aside from the national and global chaos, are the situations in your life strangely chaotic?  Do you find yourself doing the same things over and over with disappointing results?  Have you chased goals and maybe even achieved many of them, but you still feel little satisfaction?

Then maybe it’s time to dig a little. Do you have the courage to question your assumptions? Are you willing to take the time to ask the people with whom you are in relationshp and listen openly to the answers? Can you open your heart to the perceptions of others about you? Do you have the guts to ask yourself piercing questions about even the life priorities that you should be pursuing?

The good news is, you don’t have to do this alone.  The Holy Spirit is ever-so-present and willing to help you and to comfort you when you are first digesting the possibly painful answers.  You’ll also need a supernatural power to ACT on the truths that you discover, and the Spirit of God is on your job for that, too!

Wouldn’t it be great to be on track with what is really right for you and for those you love?  Well, that involves first identifying the tracks via the facts.

One little caution.  Jesus was correct when He said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”  However, first it could make you a little miserable.

But it is so worth it to build on a foundation of truth!

Lord, teach me Your Truth from Your Word.  I know that no matter what it looks like or feels like, Your principles prevail as truth. Give me the courage to seek the truth aboout myself so that You can grow me up and equip me to be more effective in serving You and serving others.  Thank You, Lord, for the freedom of truth.

WHEN PLANS DERAIL

train derailed
My days are past, my plans are torn apart, Even the wishes of my heart.(Job 17:11)
Commit your works to the Lord, and your plans will be established.(Proverbs16:3)
The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps. (Proverbs16:9)
Many plans are in a man’s heart, but the counsel of the Lord will stand. (Proverbs 19:21)
Has life ever ripped your plans right out of your Day Planner?  You laid them out          carefully, maybe in collaboration with others at home or work. A famous John Lennon quote appears in the lyrics of “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy):” “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” (For accuracy, a 1957 Reader’s Digest article attributes the quote to Allen Saunders.”) Whoever said it first, I’ll bet you can personally testify that it’s true!
When your plans derail, God is not taken by surprise.  His purpose and His plans for you and your good are not sabotaged.  He already knew everything that would happen to you long before You came to know Him.  He was already completely aware of every dumb mistake you would make.  He feels with you, but He never experiences shock or even disappointment.  To be disappointed is to expect one thing and get another, and He already knows it all.  There’s not a gap between His expectations and reality.  All of that, taken together, serves as a potent reminder that God is right on track with His plans for you – even though life throws you some curve balls, or other people make choices that take away some of yours.
When your plans derail, you don’t have to.  When you don’t have the answers, ask!
But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. (James 1: 5)
Grieving because of what has happened?  Be comforted!
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted And saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34: 18)
Feeling lost because your props have been knocked out from under you? Take the step right in front of you with the light you have.  Then He will give you more for the next step.
Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path (Psalm 119: 105)
Lord, help me to hold all my plans lightly, knowing that You have the best way for me.

DO YOU HAVE THE COURAGE TO TALK ABOUT IT?

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Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. (Matthew 18: 15)

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. (Ephesians 4: 15)

A few years ago, a fascinating story became headline news.  Like the movie by the same title, a young woman named Jennifer Wilbanks became a Runaway Bride.  She went jogging near her home in Duluth, Georgia, took a taxi, boarded a Greyhound bus, and went to Las Vegas. After a few days she took another bus to Albuquerque. She finally called her distraught family and fiance and talked to police, claiming that she had been abducted. In a few short hours, her story unraveled. The bride, who had been scheduled to marry John Mason in a swank ceremony with 14 bridesmaids and 14 groomsmen, had left on her own. She said that she had “concerns” and that she “needed time alone.” When she made her public apology, she did not say what those concerns were.

My question is, why wasn’t she addressing those concerns with her fiance´and family rather than involving the police, her community, and people across the country who prayed, searched, and hoped against hope? How much trouble and money would a “courageous conversation” have saved?

When you look at your life, do you see examples of the same principle? Do you carry fears and resentments inside because you just don’t have the courage to address your concerns? Maybe you hint or act them out, but they don’t get resolved.

When you don’t talk about real issues, they tend to get worse. Maybe you’ve gotten caught in one of three avoidance traps:  1) you don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings; 2)  you’re a person who hates conflict; or, 3) you may be nervous about the outcome of such a conversation.

You don’t have to stay stuck. Take these five steps out of avoidance and into courageous action.

1. Identify what needs to be addressed, with whom. What are the feelings you’ve been concealing from someone with whom you’re in a significant personal or work relationship?

2. Confront your fears. What’s holding you back?

3. Practice. Write out what you plan to say. Read it, tell it to the mirror, say it to a trusted friend.

4. Choose your time. Don’t pick a time when the other person is busy, cranky, or exhausted. Don’t hit the individual with it unexpectedly, as he or she is almost sure to get defensive. Make an appointment, naming the topic. Set a courteous, collaborative tone when you ask for the discussion.

5. Just do it. Do it with kindness and respect, but do it.

It’s tough to do, but it’s the thing to do.

God, give me courage to obey you about talking about things that are uncomfortable.  Help me always to be an active peacemaker.  

 

AND ABOUT THAT PLANK…

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“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7: 1-5)

Oh, yeah, about that.

The metaphors in the Bible can be funny, and this image is one of the most humorous to me.  You’re trying to get a speck of dirt out of your neighbor’s eye. Think about what a meticulous operation that is when you’re trying to find something in a person’s eye to remove it.  Now imagine that you’re doing that while struggling with a 2 x 4 protruding out of your own eye.  Well, maybe it would be funnier if it were not so true!

A person is often blind to his or her own attitudes and faults.  Why’s it so hard to maintain a clear understanding of, “What’s it like to be on the other side of me?” Maybe because we judge others by their actions, but we judge ourselves by our intentions.

In addition to being unaware of unhelpful or destructive tendencies within yourself, you can also be blinded by them. Every negative belief you come to hold, erroneously or not, becomes a distorter of your future perceptions.  It’s not seeing is believing, it’s believing is seeing. You will tend to keep noticing those things that support your current belief, while ignoring any and all evidence to the contrary.  That’s one reason why people get so set in their ways and are unable to learn and grow.

So the clarion call is to sweep off your own doorstep before you start criticizing the dust on your neighbor’s.  Jesus said, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”  I don’t know about you, but I have way too many problems to qualify as a judge of someone else’s struggles.  When dealing with the one for whom I am completely responsible, I promise you, I have my hands full.  You?

Lord, I look at all the things You’re helping me work on about me, and I recognize that’s a full-time job.  Keep me focused on whatever You want to change in me, Holy Spirit.  I know You will take care of any conviction in other people about their problems.  That’s not my job.  

 

 

3 SNEAKY MENTAL HABITS OF JUDGMENT

suspicious people

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7: 1-5)

When I read this scripture and then look at my own life, I find every reason not to be judgmental of others!  I’ve experienced plenty of wisdom lapses and outright dumb moves.  And. in essence, the scripture says, ‘You’re creating your own standards for your personal report card by the ones you lay on others.”

With the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Maybe you, like me, get motivated pretty quickly by that principle, and you want to learn how not to judge.  Well, treatment before diagnosis is malpractice.  So let’s explore three mental habits that can create a judgmental spirit to see what fits.  We’ll also take a look at the remedies.

1. Mind-reading or reading motives. It’s one thing to observe behavior or to listen to what someone seems to be saying. When in this mode, you listen for nuances as clues to your conclusions. It’s quite another thing to assume you know what’s in that person’s heart, what they really meant, or what malevolent motives drive them.  As my friend Ron Gray commented yesterday, often the mode today is, “I am right, and you are evil.”  Take it a step further and let your mind-reading become “fact” with which you compartmentalize that individual and vow to distance from him or her.  This, then, becomes the frame in which you judge all your future interactions with that person.

2. All-or-nothing thinking. This thinking error is often discussed in cognitive-behavioral psychology.  When applied to self, two results of this form of judgment are depression and poor self-image.  When you apply it to others, no one can please you without being perfect. In spiritual terms, the result of all-or-nothing thinking is condemnation, for no one can do it right all the time.  (Also, no one does it wrong all the time.)  Paul wrote to the Romans, “There is therefore no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.”  (Romans 8: 1)  If you or I mentally implement a practice that runs contrary to God’s way, how smart is that?

3.  Looking down on others. Do you secretly consider others “less smart” because they “can’t see the truth that’s so obvious to you?” Or, what’s your reaction when you hear juicy gossip about someone – especially someone you didn’t particularly like anyway?  According to the scripture, the answer to that question says more about your spiritual maturity than about the other person.

Paul instructed the Galatian Christians like this:

Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. (Galatians 6:1)

I’ve heard it said that we judge those who sin differently than we do.  Let that sink in.

What is the Lord saying to you so far about “judge not?”  Maybe all of us are being called to  some mental “clean-up on aisle 3.”

We’ll wrap up this 3-part series tomorrow.

Lord, You are the Judge.  I’m not.  You’ve purely and simply called me to Love.  That’s what You did as You walked in a human body on this earth.  Use me in this divided world as an ambassador of Your Kingdom and of Your Love.

 

 

 

 

 

ON BEING JUDGMENTAL

judgmental looks

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7: 1-5)

I have believed that I’m not a judgmental person, and I’m not in many ways.  I genuinely receive and accept people where they are, and I sincerely value them as they struggle to get better.

But the Lord has recently stopped my little self-back-pat in mid-air to reveal two things to me about judging in my own life.  One, I am judgmental about people who are judgmental.  Two, with the divisiveness so rampant in our country, I have drifted into some secret assumptions about people who believe differently than I do, and in the process I’ve placed some mental labels on them.  That’s called judging. Yikes! I don’t like this at all.

Judgment is not just believing that a certain behavior or belief is wrong. If the scripture says it is, then I believe it is.  Jesus never condoned a sinful behavior or attitude, for He Loved too much to want the person to continue in something that would ultimately destroy.  The question is, how did He deal with people who had problems because they had chosen sin?

What He did not do was push them away, identifying them as their mistakes.  He received those judged by cultural and religious society as bad, very bad.  He got to know them as people, and He Loved on them.  He listened to them, shared with them, and ate with them.  Polite society viewed Him as scandalous, judging Him for not being judgmental!

Have you drifted into a habit of judgment of those who think and believe differently from you – in politics, in health practices, or in approaches to racial and social justice?  Have you categorized people into those who are right (those who agree with you) and those who are wrong (those who don’t)? What barriers does that way of thinking erect?  What impact does it have on your ability to influence and to minister? Are you finding yourself more and more resentful when a person who was a friend spews rhetoric that contradicts the rhetoric in your own head?

Then, to paraphrase Jeff Foxworthy, “You might be – judgmental.”

I don’t think we’re through with this topic.  More tomorrow.

God, I need mercy, so I definitely need to be willing to give it.  Teach me that individuals are so much more than their views on any subject.  You”ve commanded me to Love as You Love.  I’m in violation of that when I stand in judgement of another person.  Teach me to “judge not!”

 

 

LOOKING BACKWARD TO MOVE FORWARD

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Won’t even one of you apply these lessons from the past? (Isaiah 42: 23, TLB)

He tells us everything over and over again, a line at a time and in such simple words!(Isaiah 28:10, TLB)

Often I encourage you to refuse to look backward, for you have no way to control or undo the past.  But today I want to encourage you to milk your past for gems of wisdom for your future.  Develop a wise and working understanding of  where you’ve been and where you’re going.  That view begins and ends with God.  He is steadily and faithfully at work within you. In Him, you are in process.

With that perspective front and center, review your past year or few years in practical terms.  What areas of your life are most important to you? In what ways have you improved your approach in these areas?  What specific actions have you taken?  How are your attitudes more positive or your thoughts more constructive?

Now review what you’ve learned over the past few highly unusual months. Have you gained new perspectives on what matters most? As you move carefully back into some life activities, how will you structure your life differently, based on what you’ve learned? How will you refuse to waste the valuable insights you’ve learned.

OK, now the wider shot again.  Without self-condemnation, answer the question, what do you wish you’d done more effectively or differently in the past years? Don’t judge yourself as a colosssal failure because you weren’t able to pull off that revolution you intended.  Look for ways you inched forward.  Congratulate yourself in the Lord for every time you got back up when you slipped and fell.  Remind yourself once more of how the Hand of the Lord was upon you and how He has not given up on you.

Gain an understanding of where you are right now on the goals that matter by applying two C’s – courage and compassion.  Muster the courage to get honest with yourself about the times you chose to ponder too long without action (procrastinate), to make excuses and blame others rather than doing what you could do, or to allow yourself to be controlled by negative habits.  As you courageously look at what you want to do differently in your future, do so with a heart of compassion for yourself. Compassion doesn’t mean that you shirk the responsibility for change.  It just means that you don’t beat yourself black and blue.  You recognize that you are a struggling human being, that God’s not through with you, and that you can begin again from here – more wisely this time.

God, I thank You that You don’t give up on me or throw me away.  I’m grateful that You have been right there with me, even when I’ve failed to live up to my own self-expectations and Your best for me. Help me, Lord, to courageously and compassionately take a look in the rearview mirror, and equip me to build a clear understanding of what You want to do in my life in the future You’ve designed for me.

SORRY, I OVERSLEPT!

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It happens sometimes when I’ve been pushing really hard.  So I hope that you’ll give me the grace that God gives me – and that (sigh!) I’m choosing to give myself.  We’ll close out the week’s messages together tomorrow.

Go and create a purposeful day!

Love,

Dr. Bev Smallwood

WHAT’S THE GOOD WORD TODAY?

encouraging word

Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs it down,
But a good word makes it glad. (Proverbs 12: 25)

We are living in a season of anxiety.  Even those with bravado probably have to admit to greater-than-normal fatigue at the end of a day. Each of us could use an energy boost. I know I could.

This wise proverb states that a “good word” lifts the anxiety in the recipient’s heart and replaces it with gladness.  And good words cost nothing!

So what exactly is a good word? And how can you be sure that what comes out your mouth builds and energizes rather than tearing down and demoralizing?

Well, that begins with parts of the body other than the tongue.

  1. The mind:  what kinds of thoughts do you entertain? What you’re thinking comes out – in words, tone, or body language.
  2. The eyes:  do you look for what’s right or what’s wrong? Where your attention habitually goes, your mind and eventually your words go.
  3. The heart:  what do you allow to take up residence deep in your heart? It’s one thing to have a fleeting throught, and it’s quite another to give it permission to move in.

The scripture say, “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” (Matthew 12: 34.)  Luke elaborates on this principle.

A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh. (Luke 6: 45)

From the heart that the waters of your words flow. Good heart, good words!

Become a natural encourager today!

Lord, I want to be a channel for Your encouragement to everyone I meet today.  Train me to look for the good and to point it out.  May the people I touch leave me feeling their burdens are lighter and their spirits are more hopeful.  Lord, make me a speaker of Your good words!

 

 

NOW!

procrastination circles

One day I was riding home from the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and a magnetic sign in front of a church caught my eye. SURELY I didn’t read what I thought I read. I pondered it as I drove on down the road. I wish I had gone back to check to see if I missed something. I’m still hoping that maybe I read it wrong. Here’s what this unbelievable sign said: “Pray that those who think they can turn to God at the 11th hour die at 10:30.” What??? What kind of prayer and spiritual attitude is that?? Any believer should pray fervently in agreement with God’s desire that all should come to repentance before it’s too late! My heavens!!

Despite the disturbing nature of that sign, it is also true that so, so many people procrastinate on coming to God, on yielding to the Lordship of Christ, on turning around from some destructive habit, on ridding themselves of personal poison by forgiving others, on saying yes to God’s call on their lives, and…the list goes on.

“I’ll do it when…”

“As soon as things settle down a little…” (When would that be?)

“I have plenty of time…”

The problem is, you have no idea how much time is left. It may, in fact, be 10:30 or even 10:59. The fantasy that there will be a better and more convenient time is just that. The time for decision is always now.

I remember the sad story recorded in Acts about Felix, the Governor with whom Paul shared the gospel message. Felix did not want to face his need for Jesus and told the Apostle Paul:

That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you. (Acts 24:25)

We have no record that the “convenient time” ever came for Felix.

You can know you need it, talk about it, have good intentions about it. However, until you take action on it, it’s all in the world of imagination.

What are you procrastinating on today? Is it some aspect of your relationship with God? Is it His call to step out in faith on a dream in your heart? Is it letting go of something that you know is harming you, but you fear being without it?

Now is the accepted time. Today is the day of salvation. (II Corinthians 6: 2, KJV)

Or, as The Message Bible puts it:

Well, now is the right time to listen, the day to be helped. Don’t put it off; don’t frustrate God’s work by showing up late.

One of these days turns into none of these days.

And then…it’s too late.

Whether it’s turning to God for the first time, returning to fellowship with Him, or turning to that assignment He’s calling you to – don’t wait!

Lord, I say yes to you NOW, and I act.  Today is the only day I have.  

 

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