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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walking with God

But I say, walk habitually in the [Holy] Spirit [seek Him and be responsive to His guidance], and then you will certainly not carry out the desire of the sinful nature [which responds impulsively without regard for God and His precepts]. (Galatians 5: 16, The Amplified Bible)

Where you walk, how you walk, and with whom you walk matters.  It matters a lot.

I think back to times I’ve gotten myself in way over my head and not in a good way. It didn’t happen suddenly.  It hardly ever does.  There’s a little drift here, a small rationalization there, an impulsive but “well-justified” choice to top it all off. First thing you know, you’re where you never intended.

It’s hard to say which comes first in the cycle when walking in the flesh. Do you gradually spend less time with the Lord, allowing other things to crowd Him out?  Than it becomes easier to say yes when you should say no?  Or do you make a foolish choice to follow your emotions and “just do it” without much consideration? Then you wander further in to a “self” paradigm, and you avoid the Lord because you know you’re out of synch?  The answers to the puzzle embedded in this destructive cycle?  Yes and yes to that circular process.  However the drifting begins, you inch farther away from the only One Who can anchor you.  .

Paul admonished the Christians at Galatia and the Christian you see in the mirror, “Walk in the Spirit!” Walking in the Lord is your greatest protection against foolish decisions.  God’s Spirit is  also the Source of life’s greatest joys, of wisdom in the moment, and of strength when you’re exhausted.  You can take steps victoriously even through the valley of the shadow of death when you’re walking with Him.

Walking involves moving, but not just heading anywhere! The scripture says that God has prepared a unique path for each of us, and He wants to empower us to do those works He’s already laid out.

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2: 10)

You have a long to-do list just like I do.  We feel good when we check something off.  But an important question a Spirit-led person asks is, “Are the right things on this list?”

My God, I don’t trust myself, and please forgive me when I’ve believed that I could.  I live in this earthly body, and I have a creative mind.  I can go chasing shiny objects and, worse, can operate in the prideful belief that I can make it all happen.  Holy Spirit, please speak loudly to me when I’m getting off track.  Please nudge me when a divine appointment is happening to me.  Lord, I want to be so attuned to You within me that I don’t miss an opportunity You have for me.  It’s You in me, God.  You in me.

 

THE LOVE THAT OFTEN IS NEGLECTED

woman-looking-mirror

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

 Jesus replied: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.‘” (Matthew 22: 34-39)e

When Jesus was asked the question about the greatest commandment, he answered in a word, “LOVE.”  However, sometimes we forget one part of it.  In the same way He wants us to love our neighbor, He instructs us to love ourselves.  That word “as” means “like.” Love your neighbor like yourself.

May I preface these thoughts with a disclaimer? No one is more tired of narcissism and selfishness than I am.  The airwaves and social media and , unfortunately, some of our homes are full of them.  Some folks seem to be in the perpetual mode of tuning up their voices for a solo:  “Me, me, me, me, me!”  Every social media post is a new pose or self-brag. That’s NOT what I am talking about, nor was Jesus.  Jesus clearly was against a selfish way of living that consistently puts self first.

However, it’s very possible to go too far in the other direction and demean God’s cherished creation – YOU. You can do that in a myriad of ways;

~being so attuned to the wants and needs of others that you fail to rest and to take care of yourself;

~carrying on a self-critical lecture in your head, calling yourself names like “stupid,” words you would not dare say to anyone else;

~believing that your opinions, rights, and feelings don’t count; not speaking up (though you’re hurting) in order to “keep the peace;”

~buying into the enemy’s accusatory lies about your past, your worth, and your future.

Every individual is precious to Him and deserves to be taken care of and respected.  You are His child.

Sure, others have needs, and those can demand much from you.  Jesus understands that first hand.  However, I tell you it was a freeing insight the day the Holy Spirit pointed out to me several places in the gospels where Jesus left the multitudes with needs unmet to go away and replenish and renew Himself.  If you wait until everyone is happy, satisfied, and healed to pull away and take care of yourself, you never will.  If Jesus found the need to do that, am I any better or stronger than He? Are you?

LOVE God with all your heart, mind, and soul  – and LOVE your neighbor as yourself!

Dear Lord, thank You for loving me.  Teach me balance as I take care of others, knowing that You want to preserve me for continued service.  Nudge me when I am running myself ragged and not resting and playing enough.  Put Your thoughts about me into my mind when I am tempted to listen to the accusing thoughts of the devil.  Lord, please teach me to have a healthy love of myself.

DON’T KEEP CIRCLING!

airplane-clouds

If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.  (Matthew 18: 15)

Some years ago, I had an experience on a Chicago-Atlanta fight that I’ve never forgotten.  I’ve been reminded of it in the past weeks in my clinical office as there seems to have been a rash of “explosions” that had been simmering for a while within conflict avoiders.  Sometimes those explosions involve projectile vomiting of everything rthat’s been “stored” but not discussed.  Other times the quiet, simmering resentments manifest in some kind of acting out, like an affair.  Still others just put up walls until those barriers become so thick, they are impenetrable.  At that point, the relationship is pretty much doomed.  None of this has to happen, and it’s a crying shame when it does.

Back to my lesson on the Delta flight.  I was sitting by the window like I always do as we neared our destination.  I could see dark clouds down below.  About that time, the Captain came on the intercom and announced, “We have some bad weather in the Atlanta area that is going to prevent a landing right now.  We are going to be circling for a bit.”

“O.K., fine,” I thought, “I had a layover anyway.  No problem.”

But we circled – and we circled – and we circled.  Still no clearance to land.  I was starting to get a little nervous, not necessarily because of my connection schedule but because I was realizing, “At some point we’re just going to have to take a deep breath and endure some turbulence if we are going to be able to land.”  Then the catastrophizing side of my brain whispered, “Or else we will crash.”

Then it happened, as it has happened to me too many times to count.  God nudged me and said, “This is like…”

On this day that still, small Voice said, “This is like when a person is in a relationship and avoids confronting issues, circling and circling around them in hopes that those ‘clouds’ will just go away.  But as the circling continues, the fuel in the relationship is getting lower and lower.  At some point you just have to get up the courage to take the risk and go through the turbulence if you ever hope to get the issues resolved and save the relationship from crashing.”  And then I heard the punch line, and I knew what I had to do in a situation I was facing.  That Voice said, “And that person is you.

Jesus Himself instructed that if there is a problem between anyone and another person, the way to handle it is to go to the individual and talk about it.  In Joshua 1:9 we read,

Be strong and of good courage, for the Lord your God is with you.

I wonder if I was reminded of this experience in order to share it with someone who needs it today.  By any chance, is that someone you?

God, relationships are hard. But I know that You’ve ordained that we do the work to be in healthy relationships with others. Give us the courage to push past “comfort” that is no comfort and to confront respectfully

COMPASSION IS A STRENGTH – OR IS IT?

Enabling-helping
Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes; and immediately they regained their sight and followed Him. (Matthew 20: 34)
Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, and *said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.” (Mark 1: 41)
For if you rescue him, you will only have to do it again.  (Proverbs 19:19)
All of us are called to reflect the heart of God in our interactions with the hurting.  Jesus’ stated mission on this earth included healing the brokenhearted.  As He went about doing good, the gospels tell us often that He was “moved with compassion.”  Looking at the original language, the words indicate “a yearning of the bowels.”  Jesus felt deep empathy for those He was assigned to help.  If He is “being Himself” within us, we will mirror His caring attitudes and His helping behaviors.
Some people are especially gifted by God with a sensitive “feeler” that allows them to tune in to the emotions of others and urges them to do something to alleviate discomfort.  They are loaded with mercy.  When used wisely, this ability is a tool in God’s Hands to help others heal.
However, sometimes “helping” gets out of balance.  When it does, that strength of compassion can actually manifests as a weakness.  Consider these 3 examples.
1.  Rescuing. How do folks learn from mistakes?  By feeling the pain of consequences.  Rescuers who want to keep their loved one from “hurting” deprive them of the kind of awareness that motivates change, and they become destined for cumulative hurt.  As the wise writer in Proverbs warns, “If you rescue a person, you’ll have to do it again.”
2.  Enabling. The first cousin of rescuing is enabling.  When you “help” by providing practical support to a person who is in a destructive pattern, however unintentional the negative outcome, you are hurting him or her.  People in unhealthy habits change when they perceive that they need to, and as long as they “have it good” right where they are, they stay the same or likely get worse.  Coddling, bribing, and providing for such people delay the decisions they desperately need to make.
3.  Crippling. Do you ever assume for an individual a responsibility that is legitimately theirs and that is within his/her capability of meeting with effort?  If so, you inadvertently contribute to the stunting of that person’s growth as a functional human being.  Well-meaning parents can be guilty of this one.  Really, it’s O.K. for the little darlin’ to be inconvenienced and temporarily unhappy while learning the responsibility of contributing to all that has to be done. No matter who you are, show others how, encourage them to try, celebrate small progress steps – and don’t do it for them.
So is compassion a strength?  You bet it is, and it’s beautiful when used as the Lord intended.  But don’t allow the enemy of your soul and your “bleeding heart” to rob compassion of its positive impact.
Is there any way that your compassion needs a little re-calibration?
Lord, it is my desire to help people and to comfort the hurting.  Please help me to exercise wisdom, God, so that my mercy does not get out of balance and actually become hurtful.  Wisdom, Lord, and discernment and the courage to say no.  I need them!

HOPE: ANCHOR FOR THE SOUL

anchor of hope

But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear Him, on those whose hope is in His unfailing Love, to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine.  We wait in hope for the Lord.  He is our help and our shield.  In Him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in His holy Name.  May Your unfailing Love rest upon us, O Lord, even as we put our hope in You.  (Psalm 33: 18-22)

Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of His purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, He confirmed it with an oath.  God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged.  We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.  (Hebrews 6: 17-19)

The scripture talks about “waiting in hope.”  Comforting words, those, but sometimes that task of waiting in hope is hard to firmly grasp and difficult to consistently accomplish. It’s pretty much impossible to maintain when the basis of the hope is solely our own human ability to hang on and endure. Without a more firm foundation than that, we are doomed to tormenting frustration, “self-protective” detachment from all emotions (even good ones), or simply running out of patience and just giving up. No, we need more than our own human strength.  This type of hope is definitely a supernatural job.

Many modern Christians do not understand some of the “code words” that every Jewish person understood, recorded often in the Old and New Testaments .  One of those is “unfailing love,” sometimes translated “loving-kindness.” Whenever you see these words in scripture, know that they are references to God’s irrevocable covenant with His people.  For those who love Him and belong to Him, He has provided all that He is to meet every need that we have.  That’s what covenant is all about – total giving of self to each other.  As Christian believers, we have been grafted in to that covenant, and even a “better covenant, ” with all of the provisions of the Old Covenant and so much more!

So the basis of hope is God’s giving of Himself in a legal agreement to all who choose to become a part of that crazy-amazing deal.  We enter into that covenant by receiving Jesus, Who completed all the necessary work and “sat down” because the work was finished.

I repeat, God doesn’t just give us what we need.  He IS all we need.  In Him are all the provisions, the solutions, and the encouragement that we crave.  Indeed, Christ in you IS the hope. (Colossians 1: 27)

You don’t have to depend on your own strength, your own will power, or your own smarts.  You reach the end of those pretty quickly!  No, hope that sees you through the most difficult times in your life comes from God.

The divinely-inspired writer of Hebrews (whether Paul, Barnabas, or Apollos – we’re not sure) reminded readers of God’s covenant with Abraham.  Then the writer  left them with the powerful perspective I want to pass on to you today.  When you really get this one, it will change your life.

Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of His purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, He confirmed it with an oath.  God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged.  We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.  (Hebrews 6: 17-19)

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Father, I’m so glad that my hope is not dependent on my strength or my resources, but on You.  How can I ever thank You enough for being willing to give Yourself to me in covenant?  Because of what You have done, I rest securely in the knowledge that You will see us through this, and we will come out stronger on the other side.  Jesus, because of You, I have hope.  No, more accurately, You ARE my Hope! Thank You!

HOW TO GET YOUR HEART’S DESIRES

psalm-37-4

Trust in the Lord and do good;
Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the Lord;
And He will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord,
Trust also in Him, and He will do it.  (Psalm 37: 3-5)

If I asked you to list your heart’s deepest desires, what would they be?  I talk to God about mine every day.  They go beyond any wish for something material or a business goal.  My heart’s desires are deep in my core, and so are yours.

Under the inspiration of God’s Spirit, David wrote about how to have your deepest hopes come true.  There’s a little twist to it, which you will discover shortly.  You can’t just send out your long wish list to the Genie of the Universe and expect Him to deliver anything and everything you can imagine, pronto. (That would be disastrous, and God Loves you too much for that.) David outlined some prerequisites to the fulfillment of your heart’s desires.

  1. Trust in the Lord. Trust and faith are cousins, but they’re not twins.  Faith, for one thing, involves seeing something in God’s Word in advance, then taking steps in that direction while believing in your heart that it will come true.  Trust is a little tougher.  When nothing appears to make sense; when you’ve done all you know to do, and it’s still not working; and when everything seems to be falling apart – you trust HIM.  Believe me, coming to that place of trust is a process.
  2. Do good. This goes beyond just doing something nice for someone every day so that you can earn brownie points with God and with people.  Do good, the kind of good that comes from the heart of God.  This good is birthed from hearing God’s Spirit’s instructions and obeying.
  3. Live under His Shepherding and in His pasture. The metaphor of sheep and Shepherd is used throughout the Bible to illustrate our relationship with God.  Sheep are not smart, and they tend to follow their own urges to wander off into danger.  The Shepherd watches over them, tends to their every need, and knows each sheep personally by name.  When one goes missing, that Shepherd goes wherever the sheep is, rescues the animal, and brings him or her back by carrying the beloved around His neck – whispering sweet nothings to that sheep as he/she is brought back into the safety of the fold.  David is saying here, practice staying in the safety of that pasture under the loving, watchful eye of the Shepherd.
  4. Take delight in the Lord. To delight in someone means to take great pleasure and joy in that person’s presence.  This occurs when you know that person well.  The more intimately you come to know this great, Loving God, the more you will crave to be with Him. Who would not be delighted when living in the Presence of overwhelming Love!?!
  5. Commit your way to the Lord.  To commit to the Lord is to completely entrust everything to Him – your life, your family, your work, your material possessions, everything.You willingly surrender to His control and guidance.
  6. Be still. This one’s hard! I’m a doer,  and it’s not that easy for me to settle down my wiggling, my worrying, and my working.  Be still, and know that He is God.
  7. Wait patiently for His timing. My clock and His clock are not the same.  (In fact, there’s a sense in which God doesn’t have a clock; He is timeless.)  However, God does know just when all things are in place so that it is time for something to show up to our natural eyes. Like the seed that is invisible beneath the ground while plenty of development is taking place, God is at work behind the scenes – even when we don’t see the fulfillment of our God-given desires – yet.  Be patient, and trust Him.

So here’s the twist.  As you reflect on these, notice that each of them are ingredients in the process of changing  you so that your heart’s desires are good ones! Well, actually, they are God ones!  As you develop habits and spiritual practices like trust, service, commitment, and patient stillness before God, your thoughts become more like His thoughts.  His ways become your default methods.  His desires become your desires.  Now we’re getting somewhere! God has no hesitation to act on His own desires and His will – His principles according to His Word.

As your heart comes to align with His, you get to participate in the excitement of His magnificent plans for your life and those you love and serve. I live in the hope and belief that I will see those come to pass.

Lord, as I study Your Word, I recognize that I still have a long way to go to grow up in You.  I truly want my desires to be rooted in Your desires, my heart to be a reflection of Your heart, my mind to be filled with Your thoughts.  Continue to work that out in me, O God.  Align my deepest desires with Your desires, and may I live to see their fulfillment.

IN THE STORM

hurricane

These things I have spoken unto you that in Me you might have peace. In this world, you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world. (The words of Jesus, John 16:33)

I am praying this morning for people in the Bahamas hit by the monster Dorian. I am also burdened and praying for all the people along the U.S. East coast potentially in harm’s way.  Weather disasters are completely outside our control.  We can only turn to the Lord to help us through them.  Let’s join together in intercession by those directly affected.

This morning I believe God is leading me to share with you the article I wrote in the moments and hours post-Katrina. (She lingered in place way too long.) Contained in these insights are some of the secrets for weathering all the storms of life. The article is much longer than a usual post, but I believe that it will be worth the read for those for whom it is divinely intended today.

WHAT I LEARNED IN THE MIDDLE OF HURRICANE KATRINA ABOUT WEATHERING THE STORMS OF LIFE

One of the ways I kept myself reasonably calm today as I rode out Hurricane Katrina was to become a careful observer of the process, not just a participant, in the extremely stressful experience of a major hurricane. Thank God, we made it out on the other side with no more than uprooted, snapped, and twisted trees all around our house and across our driveway. Thousands were not so fortunate. I’m sitting by a window so that I can see to write this while it’s fresh. We have no power for who knows how long. Minor inconveniences! We’re safe.

As I rode out this storm, I realized that I was living a metaphor for how life goes sometimes. Monstrous unwelcome events can hit you out of the blue, sending you running for shelter and reeling from the damage. We’ve all had those times; I certainly have had my share. Today, I’ve been reminded of a few principles for dealing with life’s storms while Katrina flexed her mighty muscles.

1. SOMETIMES MEGA-STORMS COME, AND THERE’S NOT A DARN THING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT.

You can watch the weather channel, educate yourself about storms, run to Wal-Mart and buy batteries, and board up your windows. But you cannot do anything to change the course of the storm.

That’s how it often is in the rest of life. Things happen that just were not in your plan–disappointing, disillusioning, and disastrous things. Even when you have some warning, you still are unable to stop the event from occurring.

You feel powerless–and that’s not a feeling anyone relishes!

2. STAYING BUSY DOING WHAT YOU CAN DO GIVES YOU A SENSE OF CONTROL (THOUGH NOT CONTROL), WHICH RELIEVES ANXIETY.

Though the window boarding, canned food and water shopping, and battery buying don’t change the course of the storm, it’s good to do this for three reasons. First, of course, these are practical steps in the preparation for the energy crisis ahead. It’s what you can do. Second, the simple act of staying busy makes you less anxious. You feel a little more in control because you’re not just sitting still, you’re doing something. Third, when your mind is occupied, there is less time for obsessive worry about all the things that could happen.

When you are going through adversity, it’s easy to focus on all the negative possibilities. Instead, turn your attention to the action steps, even small ones, that you can do and get busy doing them.

3. FEAR CAN MORPH INTO ANGER AND BLAME.

This happens so easily. In fact, it happened to me. We had been busy yesterday gathering up supplies and putting wood over the windows and doors, securing the glass in the house. This morning as the storm began to make landfall some 80-90 miles south of us, we began to double check on flashlights and radios. The person who was staying with me at the time had assured me that I shouldn’t worry—a new weather radio had been purchased. It was playing so well until the power went off! It apparently didn’t occur to her that it might be good to check the batteries. (I know, you can probably still hear my irritation.) Fortunately, I had bought an array of batteries just in case.

When you’re feeling threatened and frightened, you easily make the step into blaming. Somebody should have done something differently to make this situation better.

When the storm was at its worst, I was holed up in the dark in the innermost room. My friend was in the next room using up our precious batteries reading. I felt both irritated and sorry for myself. After all, I was “wise enough” to know that we should conserve our resources.

OK, I’m not proud of any of these feelings, but I had them. As I lay in the dark alone, (well–never alone, thanks to God), I sorted through these emotions and realized that I was simply riding the emotional roller coaster that is quite normal in times of threat. I was projecting my feelings of fear, and they got translated into anger and self pity.

4. YOU HAVE AN INSATIABLE HUNGER FOR INFORMATION.

After I finally found my Walkman (following the failed weather radio fiasco), I tried desperately to tune in to find out the latest on the storm’s progress, as well as to learn of any new tornado warnings. A tornado warning had been coming every few minutes before the television went off. I’d twist and turn the Walkman to find just the best position, only to have that station go dead and to be unable to find another.

When you’re going through adversity and afterward, obsessive questions can wreck your peace of mind. What is happening? Why did this happen? When you have a need to protect yourself, of course, you need to gather as many relevant facts as possible. Unfortunately, the questions often linger so long that they block your doing what you can today.

5. THERE IS A TIME TO BE QUIET, LISTEN TO THE WIND, AND BREATHE.

The furious winds are howling. Loud “cracks” probably signal the snapping like toothpicks of the tall pines that surround our house. Wham! An unknown missile slams into the boarded glass windows. Thank God they’re boarded! What can I do? Absolutely nothing.

It’s time to be still, listen, breathe deeply–and know that He is God. I’ve been praying–but now it’s simply time to rest, fully conscious of the One who is neither surprised nor frightened by the storm. Be still, listen, breathe…be still, listen, breathe…

This place is like the eye of the storm, strangely calm while surrounded by miles of hurricane force winds and swirling debris. Peace in the midst of the storm.

6. THE STORM FINALLY PASSES, AND THE REAL WORK BEGINS.

Finally, Katrina moves on north. The winds die down except for occasional gusts. We lift by hand the garage door–the one exit that is not covered with plywood. Oh, my goodness! No way to get the vehicles out the driveway. It is covered with trees, as is the street at the end of it. Pines snapped, oaks uprooted all around. Inches from the house, but not on it. Thank you, Lord!

Some neighbors and friends were not so fortunate. Before the phone lines went down, I had a call from my long-time housekeeper. A tree had just crashed all the way through the roof of their kitchen as they huddled in another part of the house. Pine trees lay on top of my next door neighbor’s home. The entire neighborhood looks like a war zone. Since I now have no communication in or out, I have no idea how many of my friends living on the Gulf Coast and in New Orleans have fared. I pray that they are all right.

The real work of trauma is in its aftermath. In our case, we just have to roll up our sleeves and clean up a physical mess. However, when we go through life’s trials that take much more significant toils, the emotional work in the aftermath can be much more grueling than physical toil.

I’m finishing this article on “the morning after.” The sun is shining–but everything looks different. That’s how it is after “life hits.” People walk by–you feel detached; they look strange. You walk into your house–same rooms, same furniture–somehow it’s just not the same.

When you encounter any kind of tragic event, your task is the same as ours is this morning:

1. Assess the damage.
2. Survey what you have left to work with. (Don’t tell yourself, “All is lost.”)
3. Be thankful for what you have.
4. Get to work on cleanup and restoration!

***************

My God, I pray for those currently in harm’s way.  I thank You that You are my Peace in the middle of all my life storms. Help us to trust You, God!

 

 

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