Author Archives: Joni

Mixed Moments

I am a communicator and a pastor. Those roles don’t always intertwine in poignant ways. But today they did.

For reasons that will remain in confidence, I was in court today to watch proceedings. I needed some information for my day job — and that was the only reason I thought I was there. As someone eloquently had prayed earlier, it was my prayer that “justice be served and the innocent be protected.” There I was to witness the outcome.

There was quite a dynamic between the defendant and the reporting party who attended court to plead with the judge to throw out the charges. It was the dynamic of a relationship of love that had been broken and the sorrow in recognition of that fact. The outcome was mostly what they desired, but I left with a heavy burden of sadness for them.

As I left, the attendant at the information desk beckoned me over and then asked: “You’re an associate pastor, right?” Not quite what I was expecting at that moment. It turns out that she attends my church.

So why would I bring this up? Because I think in that moment God reminded me that my calling is more than service on Sunday and service within the context of the place I call church. My service to him is to everyday people in everyday situations.

The two parties in this situation are broken and in need of healing. Before me is an opportunity to extend grace and redemption. This is a burden on my heart and the only response I can imagine is one of faithfulness. So for good or for bad, I have some work cut out for me.

How often are such burdens placed upon us? And how many do we choose to overlook?

For those of us who know God’s message of unconditional love, grace and redemption, we have a never-ending task to share that with others. When God specifically puts such a burden on our hearts, it is disobedience to ignore it. It is my hope that we will do more to make a difference to those around us, even when it seems out of place. Someone needs to hear that they are loved no matter what. That there is healing. There is restoration.

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18)

A New Path Forward

Four months ago, I experienced devastation: my team was laid off from work and I was very suddenly out of a job. For about seven weeks, I experienced great ups and downs as I completed my time at UW (remotely), said goodbye to a few cherished co-workers, applied for jobs, went to interviews and more interviews, and didn’t get hired.

I applied for unemployment, went to mandatory unemployment trainings, and tried to make the best of the situation. I think this is what most people would do when faced with my situation. But this isn’t the whole story.

As my blog followers and friends should know, I am a Christian and very sure of my faith. So with the gift of time, I spent hours reading and studying my Bible, and in prayer on my knees asking God for his will and his way. I shared my heart deeply with him, and asked him to show me the path forward.

Why is it that when we ask God to do this — to guide us or our loved ones — that we think we know what is best? Why do we dictate what we think that answer should be? Why (and I struggle with this one a lot!) are we disappointed when things we desire don’t work out when we’re asking God to point us in the right direction?

I think this is the first time in my life where I truly let go and let God show me what His will is for my life. It’s amazing what happens when we let go of our own will and yield to God. He came through.

My husband uncharacteristically took some steps without consulting me, and provided strong leadership in a way that I truly think saved our lives. In a flurry of events spanning Oct. 30-Nov. 1, blessings unfolded before us in an amazingly timely fashion and we made the decision to move back to Snohomish. This wasn’t easy; it was financially costly (but better than if we had stayed), created chaos for our kids and their schooling as we transferred them in the middle of a semester, and required a very fast packing, moving, and unpacking of our lives.

Now, I know this sounds like us telling God what the path forward is, but don’t jump to that conclusion.

I’m still unemployed. And guess what? I’M GREAT WITH THIS! Why? Because I believe God has a new path forward and that His timing is perfect. Sometimes we need to be shaken out of complacency (and I mean truly up-ended, because when we are comfortable, we are stuck in our comfort!) in order to begin something new. That was the case with me.

Here are some blessings that have come as I have trusted God on this new path:

1. I have the opportunity to be at home with my children. It’s been challenging for them as they navigate new schools (even though it’s in the same school district), and I’ve needed to provide more oversight and help. I’ve also spent a great deal of time shuffling kids who don’t drive between activities, which wouldn’t have been possible for us if I was working.

2. I am able to handle the domestic side of life during the day that allows us to not have to worry about such things when my husband and kids are home. I was able to pack and move my household in 11 days. It was insane, but it worked. I take care of grocery shopping, laundry, chores and errands during the day — activities that normally would take place for two working parents during the evening or weekend hours, in addition to our church service and need for recuperation.

3. I am able to be more active in my church during day-time hours. Beyond the Sunday and Wednesday gatherings and music help I provided before, I am now able to assist with cleaning the church, help with maintenance (such as repainting the church kitchen), visit folks, arrange meals for new parents, attend a weekly day-time gathering with other from our church, and so on.

A community garden4. Finally, God has given me the vision for a community garden that can be started at our church to bring our community together, provide skills and education to people, and grow healthy produce for healthy lives. This is not just an idea — it’s officially off and running. We have our first contributions to the garden, I’m attending workshops for community networking and grants, I’m researching other community gardens, and I’m developing the plan for what this should be. This work uses the master’s degree I worked so hard to obtain several years back.

But what about my bachelor’s degree and nearly two decades of work in public relations? Are these for naught? Right now, after much prayer and reflection, I feel that this is not the focus for my life. I haven’t shut that door completely, but I believe God has a new direction for me, and one that mixes my passions for His service, gardening, and growing community.

So back to that question that I seem to receive constantly — how’s the job situation? I have a gentle request: stop asking. We are financially fine. I am on unemployment at this time, and I am still applying for jobs as part of the requirement for eligibility. But my heart and my focus are not external to this place God has brought us; God brought us to this place for a reason and He has changed my heart for His purpose. If at some point the vision or direction changes, I certainly will communicate that.

So join me in celebrating that God is doing something amazing, and encourage me to continue trusting in Him and following His plan.

 

A Time to be Sad

prayingYesterday morning, I found myself just sad. It’s been a tough six weeks, and for whatever reason yesterday was when the dam broke and my tears flowed. In the midst of my sadness, as I was kneeling and praying, it was as if I had laid my head in God’s lap and he was just comforting me as a father loves his children.

As the day led to more sadness — I received two “thank you, but we’re not selecting you” emails from companies with which I’d been interviewing — I found myself questioning sadness. Does being a Christian and trusting God mean that we can’t be sad? Is it wrong to be overcome by this emotion?

I think of many examples in the Bible where prophets and others cite the need to turn and repent, to be righteous, to trust, to allow God to heal and breathe new life into us. For a suffering person, no matter the reason, this is not comfort. This is smacking one on the head in the midst of pain and anguish.

Then, we look at Jesus. He cried over the loss of Lazarus. He went away by himself to mourn the death of John the Baptist (before showing compassion on the crowds that didn’t allow him that time to mourn). He poured out his anguish to God before the cross. Yes, despite knowing first-hand that God would prevail and the outcome, Jesus had his moments of sadness and a need for personal healing.

We also see how others expressed their sorrows, no matter the reason. Job poured out his heart. David used the psalms to express his anguish. The prophets cried over the situations facing their beloved country and people. Martha mourned her brother’s death. The apostles shared tears for a number of reasons. Did God ever say, “just get over it and trust that I have the victory”? No.

It is natural to have times of sorrow, sadness and mourning. (Note: Mourning is not solely for death; it means to feel or express sorrow or grief.) It’s okay to pour out that sorrow before God. We know that God allows us time for sadness, and he also will comfort us — it’s stated repeatedly in scripture.  Jesus even taught it in the sermon on the mount: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4).

Think of it this way. If you break a bone and need to have it fixed, sometimes the surgeon has to break it again to enable healing. In the same way, we sometimes need to reach that point of deep sadness so that healing can commence. God will help us pick up the pieces and make us whole again.

Sometimes sadness lasts for a day and is gone when a new day breaks. Sometimes it lasts for years. The key for moving forward is hope in our loving God to carry our burdens and move us from the place we’re in. Our dear loved ones can remind us of that hope.

While God is working on my heart and self-worth, I also am surrounded by those who love me and are helping me through this healing process. People who let me know they’re praying for me. People who ask how I’m doing (even though sometimes it hurts to respond, I at least know you care). People who are amazing encouragers and can lift the spirit with kind words. A hug full of warmth that allows a person to just be held. Oh, how I encourage you to do what you do best to serve as someone’s #2 (see Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).

Just as I started yesterday in God’s embrace, I ended the day with another someone who held me in his embrace (my #2!). At one point early on in this life adventure, I told my husband that what I really needed was for him just to hold me when I was sad. And last night, in the midst of my sadness, he did just that. He held me tight, even as we slept. Through that quiet, strong support, he — following the example of God our tender, loving father — breathed his love into me. I knew I was held, loved, and not alone.

And today is a new day.

No Shame

Yesterday was a devastating day for me. I was laid off from a job I love and from a project that I have been part of from the ground up.

I was told this was not due to my performance, but rather due to a reorganization. Let’s summarize it this way: there is a political game very much at play in the university, and I was a pawn that was played in someone’s game. Two others of my team met the same fate yesterday.

We were asked to pack up and leave quickly so as not to make things awkward for the big head honcho who was coming to let others know about our departure. We have until Oct. 12 to finish our work at home. We were removed from mailing lists, locked out of files (which, oddly, we still need to access to finalize tasks), and cutoff from people we have spent 8+ hours a day with for the last couple of years. No chance to say goodbye, except for the few people who happened by my desk as I was packing up.

Devastated. Shamed. Lonely. Lost. Cutoff. Scared. Shocked. Angry.

The list of descriptors are those that I have felt in the last 36 hours. Plainly, this sucks. This was not supposed to happen. No one likes to be thrust out of a workplace, especially when one’s performance is above par (as, ironically, was pointed out to me with the raise I got today — informed about via email — which will cover my last couple pay periods at the university).

And yet, here I am balancing this cruelty with another side of life — my faith. Strangely, my meditations this week have been focused on trust in God, his love for us, his care and protection of us. The fact that those who are his will have no shame. I feel outcast, yet HE loves me. I feel heartbroken, yet HE will bring healing. I am really freaked out about putting a roof over my children’s heads and providing for them, yet HE tells me that if he cares about and provides birds and flowers, surely he will care about and provide for me. I wonder what I’m going to do now, yet HE tells me that he has a plan for me.

I walked out of my room this morning and saw this sign in my living room window that says:

Faith

Isn’t that truth? I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. None of us do. We may lose life or limb. We may be cut off from all we know. But my hope is secure in Jesus Christ as my Lord, and I know I’m going to be okay. My job is to trust and know that he will bring me through this. Thanks be to God!

 

 

 

Facade Stripped Off

Imagine being sent to your dream location. You arrive and have a lot of work to do in order to live in that location. Fast forward some 20 years. What if someone came through the area and pointed out  to you that you’ve really not done anything. In fact, what little you have done is actually being “blocked” by God, who is angry at you. What would you do?

Well, the Bible book of Haggai is such a story. And while it’s easy to point our fingers at the  Jews who had been released from captivity, this book is not just about them. In fact, reading through this two-chapter book left such an impression on it that I’ve been mulling it over for a while.

Yes, the people had returned to Jerusalem. But instead of rebuilding God’s house, they were focused on themselves, their homes, their land and prosperity, and their futures. (This sounds a lot like the American dream, right? You can have it all!) But in the midst of this beautiful dream, they’d forgotten the most important thing of all — to make things right with and for the Lord. (Remember, being sent into captivity was  result of the endless times the people had turned their backs on their faithful God for idols and things that took their focus off Him and became their obsession.) Haggai shares God’s rebuke:

“These people say, ‘The time is not yet come that the Lord’s house should be rebuilt.

Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses while this house [of the Lord] lies in ruins?

Consider your ways…! (Haggai 1:4-5)

How often are we like this stubborn people that God spent millennia in a cycle of wooing, loving, blessing, and punishing because of disobedience? God pours out so much on us, but our focus is on us. Great — God gave us a house. Let’s spend every waking hour taking care of this house. Yay — God gave us money, so let’s go do lots of things and spend weekends (every weekend) doing so many things that make our lives full. An hour or two at church each week? We don’t have time for that, and certainly not time for daily reading of God’s word or prayer. Instead of accepting God’s blessings and returning the praise and glory to Him by living lives focused on Him building disciples for Him and spreading His Gospel, we become self-absorbed.

A church literally falling apart

I think of our churches, which are literally falling apart while congregants focus on their own blessings. God’s church — the people — are falling apart and falling away because we are consumed with our own activities.  We are comfortable in our own lives while God’s work goes undone. We plead for God to fix our country and our world. We know things aren’t right, and that only God can rectify the situation, but we refuse to put Him first and we absolutely refuse to take action. What a pathetic church we are. How dare we?

Let me say this as gently as possible: “Doing church” is not building God’s house. It’s easy to “do church” and think that we are right with God. We go to Sunday School and the weekly service. We participate in music. We attend events. But all of this is worthless if the thing we are called to do — to build His house — goes undone. Are we going to church to see our friends instead of worshiping God? Are we ignoring the broken and hopeless because it’s out of our comfort zone? Are we neglecting our own spiritual well-being because we are focused on “all those other people”? If all our “work” for God is fruitless, perhaps there is a reason.

“You have sown much, but you have reaped little; you eat, but do not have enough; you drink, but you do not have your fill; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and he who earns wages has earned them to put them in a bag with holes in it.

You looked for much [harvest], and behold, it came to little; and even when you brought that home, I blew it away. Why? Because of MY HOUSE, which lies waste while you yourselves run each man to his own house [eager to build and adorn it].” (Haggai 1:6, 9)

God isn’t pleased with our self-centered behavior. He needs to be our priority. We need to build His house, which is falling into decay because we’ve lost our first love. Yes, we literally need to repair our church buildings. But more so, we need to build His church — the people of this world who so badly need His saving grace. Until we put our focus in this right place, we will continue to experience God’s wrath poured out on us. He has blessed us with much, but without Him, it is nothing. Consider this, people of God, and change your ways.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Clear the Stage (Jimmy Needham)

Clear the stage and set the sound and lights ablaze
If that’s the measure you must take to crush the idols
Jerk the pews and all the decorations, too
Until the congregation’s few, then have revival
Tell your friends that this is where the party ends
Until you’re broken for your sins, you can’t be social
Then seek the Lord and wait for what he has in store
And know that great is your reward so just be hopeful

Take a break from all the plans that you have made
And sit at home alone and wait for God to whisper
Beg him please to open up his mouth and speak
And pray for real upon your knees until they blister
Shine the light on every corner of your life
Until the pride and lust and lies are in the open
Then read the word and put to test the things you’ve heard
Until your heart and soul are stirred and rocked and broken

We must not worship something that’s not even worth it
Clear the stage, make some space for the one who deserves it

Anything I put before my God is an idol
Anything I want with all my heart is an idol
Anything I can’t stop thinking of is an idol
Anything that I give all my all my love is an idol

We can sing all we want to
And still get it wrong
Worship is more than a song

 

 

 

Lent: Not Just the Denial of Things

I knew it was Ash Wednesday when my Facebook feed filled up with things people were giving up for Lent: chocolate, coffee, elevators, meat, and so on. But I noticed something missing in the announcements that made me chew on the purpose of Lent.

lent-spiritual-preparationLent is the 40-day period that culminates with the Saturday of Holy Week and is a time of preparation for Easter Sunday. (The Sundays during Lent are excluded, otherwise it’d be 46 days.) Lent is a period recognized by millions of Protestant Christians, in addition to Catholic and Orthodox believers.

The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer through prayer, repentance of sins, giving to the needy, atonement and self-denial. Tradition has held that three practices occur with renewed vigor during Lent: prayer (justice toward God), fasting (justice toward self), and almsgiving (justice toward neighbors). Now, in modern times, observers give up an action of theirs considered to be a vice and in its place add something that is considered to be able to bring them closer to God.

When you look at what I’ve just shared, can you identify what I’ve noticed has been missing in people’s Lenten posts? It’s a really easy three-letter word: God. It’s replacing the vice with a spiritual discipline to once again align a person’s focus on God.

I am given pause as to why Believers are even announcing their self-denial during Lent. Consider Matthew 6:16-18: When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

The things given up for Lent may not be for fasting purposes, but the concept is the same. If we are giving something up to be replaced by a renewed focus on God, why are we highlighting this self-denial? Without mentioning the trade-off, perhaps our focus should be on highlighting that reconnection with God. Our Facebook posts could be: “Today in my Bible reading I learned…” or “In our small group, we’re going to collectively look at _____.” We should be removing the focus from self and placing that focus squarely on God.

I recognize that giving up anything you like for 40 days is difficult, and I applaud those who do so. However, when it is associated with Lent, don’t lose focus on what matters. The point of Lent is not to give up chocolate; it’s to give up sin! May this season of Lent draw you closer to our Creator as we remember the journey that took Christ to the cross as the blood offering for our salvation.

 

Long-term Consequences

The first time I colored my hair, I was 16. A junior in high school, and across the country serving as a Congressional page, I was swayed to turn my dirty blonde locks a strawberry-blonde shade of red. That lasted for a couple months, and then I began to worry about what would happen when my mom would see my hair — so I dyed my hair a shade of light brown. I managed to escape notice.

I was content for a few months, until one day in my senior year of high school, I dyed it red again. It took a couple days for my mom to notice. But one night I was in the kitchen, and she realized under the glare of those lights that I had indeed done something to my hair. The anguish she expressed that I’d colored my hair remains with me to this day.

However, that wasn’t the end. Fast forward decades, and color has been applied to my hair often. Blondes, reds, browns, even black once. Often I enjoy the color for a bit, but over time decide that I want to get back to my original color (which has changed in itself over the years from a very light blonde to a medium brown). Sometimes I’d have professionals help me return to my “original” color, only to have a familiar line appear in my hair about four weeks later indicating that the match wasn’t as accurate as projected. Ian once asked me to promise never to dye my hair again — a promise I flatly refused to make.

Which brings me to this year. In May, I decided I was done with color. I asked a professional one last time for help to get my hair back as close as possible to what it should be. Then, for three months, I grew it out (and yes, the familiar line was there, though very subdued). Then yesterday, I took a final drastic step: I cut my hair off. Yes, it’s short. Short as in Ian says he needs to cut his hair so my hair is longer than his hair. Short as in my daughter says I “look like a dude.” Short as in my randomly curly hair wants to stick straight up because the curl is all cut off.

Short brown hair

Short brown hair

Yes, it’s short. But it will grow back. And I’m finally rid of the color problem that has plagued me for so long.

This experience made me contemplate the long-term impacts of sin in our lives. For purposes of definition, sin is “any reprehensible or regrettable action, behavior, lapse, etc.; great fault or offense.” (Dictionary.com) It may start in the form of an experiment — trying something out when you know you really shouldn’t be doing something. We might try to cover it up or do it in secret. But our sin will always be found out. We may spend years — even decades — trying to fix the consequences from a “little” sin. We may hold onto sin because it’s comfortable, even when people we love try to intervene and gently share with us that there are implications. We may seek out professional help to try to address surrounding circumstances and issues. But to resolve sin, we need to take drastic action.

Like chopping off our hair, we may have to exercise some painful steps to rid ourselves of the things that get in the way of our relationship with God. Repentance is “sincere penitence or remorse”; with repentance, we should be doing a 180 on sin — moving in the complete opposite direction. Sometimes we can’t do this alone. I’d venture to say most of the time! We need God to carefully take his surgeon’s knife and cut out the things that are not of him. He is faithful; when asked to cleanse us, God will surely do that.

Does that mean the consequences of our sin won’t exist? No. We may feel pain for a lifetime for the choices we’ve made. What Christians should realize is that sin’s consequences are not eternal — we already know the outcome of God’s grace on our sinful selves. While we will need to be chastened, we can trust that God’s mercy and grace mean that our consequences have been lessened (really, death is the price for sin).

So I encourage you to not delay. There’s no time like the present to start chopping that sin out of your life today!

Patience Beyond Patience

Three weeks. That’s how long it took my daughter to clean her room.

At first, it was just a task she had to complete. Then it became a very clear directive with a time frame. Sometimes life throws curve balls into our schedules, so the time frame behind the directive grew fuzzy. Then the threats began: you’ll be grounded; you’ll lose you computer; you’ll lose your phone; you’ll lose your toys. Every possible technique that would have worked on me was applied in my daughter’s situation. Yet, the room remained filthy. My husband and I stopped going in to kiss her goodnight because we literally couldn’t open the door wide enough to get in and we certainly didn’t want to take our chances wading through knee-high stuff on the floor. She had to come to the door for her end-of-day time with mom and dad.

The demands for cleanliness continued. She begged for delays to complete projects for school or to have friends over before church on Wednesday night. She even promised me once that her room was “nearly clean” as a way to have me relent so a friend could come over. I declined that one, and was grateful — there was stuff all over the floor! Her definition of clean and my definition of clean are pretty much polar opposites.

A messy room that looked similar to my daughters

A messy room that is similar to how my daughter’s room looked

Finally, this weekend she was given the ultimatum — it would be done or mom would clean it. When I clean the kids’ rooms — always due to their lack of caring and acting — they don’t get a say in the cleanup process. I bring in garbage bags and bins to collect what should go to Goodwill. They are not allowed in the room when I’m cleaning it, and they have no say on what goes or stays. It’s not very fun for me or for them. So Zoe knew she’d better take care of it. She worked all day Saturday (we’re talking at least eight hours). I still couldn’t see her floor or her bed, and I didn’t dare open the closet. Sunday following church, she was told to have it done by 4 p.m. I went outside to weed a garden and let her be. My husband caught her just sitting there. I had to take away her phone twice. Four o’clock came and she was making progress, so we let her keep at it. At 6:30 p.m., she vacuumed the floor and had me come check it.

As always, there were some small things, such as the trash behind her door or tucked under her dresser. Then, I opened the closet. Everything that had been on the floor was now in a pile in her closet. I quickly left the room and told her to get to work. But, as I tried not to get mad, I considered the situation and how many times we had told her to take care of it. I remembered the promised consequences for not completing this task. So I had my husband take her out of the house, develop a clean room contract with her, and not bring her home until I called him.

For the next hour or so, I cleaned that room. The list of items I found was astounding: my missing silverware; the brown sugar container (top off, with spoon buried inside) deep in her closet; food stuffed behind things and in things; dirty socks, pants, tops, and skirts mixed into the drawers and tubs she has just “cleaned”; her overdue library books; many pairs of clean, folded socks she never can find; and lots of junk. I removed her doll collection and all the accessories (the punishment is she has to earn them back — they’re currently in our off-site storage unit), got rid of trash, piled up the laundry basket, moved her furniture and cleaned up the newly found trash, and vacuumed the room all within that short amount of time. When she and Ian came home, I added more to the contract based on what I’d experienced in her room, then we all signed it. We will strictly enforce it. Then I gently tucked her into bed, this time able to walk to her bed, and let her know I loved her.

I was so frustrated by this experience. I was tired of the swirling emotion spent by several of us on trying to get the room clean over this period of time. I was disgusted by her behavior (I can’t fathom how a person can do that!). And then I realized that someone else shares these feelings with me.

The Bible recounts the story of the Jews from the creation of the world. Many folks I know wonder why we still read the old testament, which contains “the law” portion of the Bible, since Jesus came to take the penalty for our sin. But the fascinating story of the old testament is about God’s love for his people. They are given rules to provide structure. Consequences are laid out in advance for breaking the law. Yet, the Jewish people again and again test God’s patience by straying and doing their own thing. At times, God takes drastic measures to get them back on track. He destroys the earth with a flood. He punishes his people to 40 years of wandering in a desert. He opens holes in the ground to swallow families and their possessions. He allows kingdoms to be destroyed and his people to be taken captive.

Yet, over and over again, God displays his patience and love for his people, gives them redemption, and restores the relationship. Read the story of Hosea. I’m in love with this story, as heartbreaking as it is. I’m especially drawn to this quote:

“I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them.” Hosea 14:4

Being a parent helps me understand God more. I understand (in my limited human way) his great love despite all the icky things that get between us and him. When my daughter and I battle over her room, there is conflict until the room is resolved. How we get to resolution varies. I don’t love her more or less because of the conflict or the consequences that have to be applied. It doesn’t mean I like how the situation unfolds. Rather, like God, I love her and seek wholeness in the relationship.

However, the lesson in this situation is not just for my daughter. I need to learn patience beyond patience — to keep dishing it out over and over again. Do I want my daughter to remember her epic battles with mom over her room, or do I want her to remember how much I love her? The answer is clear. I am so grateful for a Savior who has been there and done that, so I can have an example to guide me over and over again as I stumble through parenthood. Phew! One day at a time!

Changing Perspectives (Part 3 of 3)

Our perspectives can change when we’re put in a new situation. They can also change when we think about how others see us. The final part in this series is about how God views us, and how that certainly should influence (perhaps even change!) our perspectives of ourselves and the way we interact with others.

God doesn’t look at us the way others do. He really doesn’t care how our hair looks today, if the various pieces of our outfit worked with the others, what year/make/model of vehicles we drive, or how much money we make. Those are all things that may seem great right now, but in the grand scheme of things really don’t mean squat. Instead, God looks at the heart. What pleases God about our lives?

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)

Do we have differing ways for how we treat others? Act justly. Do we take revenge, wish that karma bites someone, or revel in the punishment of others for even minor things? Love mercy. (Mercy is an entirely different topic, but the gist of it is that is means deliverance from judgment or not being punished as we deserve.) Do we view ourselves as better than others? Do we assume more significance than others in our relationships with God because we grew up in the church, are in ministry, serve our communities, go to a Christian school, etc.? Walk humbly with your God. To be humble means not being proud or arrogant, instead having a feeling of insignificance, inferiority, or subservience.

The passage above sounds really easy to do, but it’s not. The most important part to me is to “walk humbly with your God.” If we do that, the other two should naturally occur. It’s so hard to let go of self — to let go of how we allow people to influence our ego. If we give up all of that, what is our purpose? I think each person wants to have significance and to matter. The question is to whom we are significant and to whom we matter. The answer is simply and solely: God.

If we are trying to be significant for any other person (and this includes our spouse, our children, our boss, our friends, our church) in addition to God, we will fall short. If we focus solely on God and being enough for him, is there any doubt that he will take care of all those other details (the way others view us)? There are many instances in the Bible where it cites that if we humble ourselves before God, he will lift us up. This isn’t just lifting our spirits. He promises to:

How much more do we need? This new year, I encourage you to turn your perspective to center fully on God. Make him first in your life, and all else will fall into place. Not sure how to do that? Start with God’s road map — his word, the Bible. Read it, read it again. Pray. Seek counsel from fellow Christians. Be part of the body of Christ (be an active participant in church). Then read your Bible some more.

Focus on God

 

 

Changing Perspectives (Part 2 of 3)

A move to a new office building at work made me see things differently. While I have spent a great deal of time over the last several months observing the new environment through which I navigate, I have also begun to think about how others see me. A couple situations really added to my thoughts.

First, there is a young many who stands on nearby sidewalks shaking a cup with change and always asking for spare change. His location changes, but his approach doesn’t. He simply wants my spare change. I usually don’t have cash of any sort — not even a penny, so I have nothing to give him. Generally, I’ve ignored him. One day, I was walking back to my office with some coworkers. I guess he was doing his normal thing, but I was engrossed in conversation and didn’t see him. My lack of acknowledgment must have been quite obvious, because as I passed him, he loudly got in my face and shouted, “HI!” To say the least, I was startled. I have chewed on this interaction for quite some time, wondering what this person must think as he sees me walking the same streets he calls home and not even acknowledging him. The next time I saw him, I went out of my way to smile, nod, and say something positive.

The second situation was with a couple of young women at church. They were having a discussion of who of Ian or me must be the most scary when upset. While I’m not sure what led to this conversation, it was interesting to hear their reactions. It’s been a while, and I recall that the feelings were split between the two of us. However, it’s made me ponder how people see me; further, when they see me, what impression do I leave on them in that moment. How often to we have a first impression of someone that forever shapes our thoughts about them?

The third situation was with another person in the U-District. He was waits for his bus each morning; As I walk to my building, I see him and others lounging around waiting. One morning, as I was just trudging to my office, this young man looked directly at me and gave me a huge, warm smile. It startled me, but I was able to return his smile knowing that for one moment we had a shared greeting.

These are just a few of the many interactions I’ve had in the last several months, but these three in particular have given me great pause. How do people see us, and do we give them a reason for them to see us a particular way? Do they see us a joyful, loving, pleasant, admirable? Or do they see us as grouchy, impatient, ill-tempered, judgmental, or haughty? I’d venture to say that many of us simply do not know how others see us. Therein lies a problem. We should be purposeful in how we live.

For those of us who are Christians, the Bible is clear that our actions should not cast a shadow on God or cause our brothers/sisters to stumble.

“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” I Timothy 4:12

“Even small children are known by their actions,so is their conduct really pure and upright?” Proverbs 20:11

“Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.” Leviticus 19:2

Check out Ephesians 5:1-20, which prescribes how our behavior should be. There is another great passage in Romans 14, which articulates that though our behavior may be acceptable, it should cease if it causes another to stumble.

Let me ease your burden a bit. We all struggle to be imitators of Christ. Therefore, even the best of us have “off” days. We may react in the moment. I know I often do, and there are many times I regret not having waiting to respond or react. That is definitely something I’m working on.

My challenge for you is to do a self-assessment. Identify how folks seek you, and start the fine-tuning.

Two strange people

Two strange people