Saturday, December 27, 2008


The 2008 Christmas season is now behind us. Gifts have been purchased, given, received, and in some cases returned or exchanged. Many of us have remembered the less fortunate during the season. Somehow we can always count on a warm-fuzzy feeling when we give our support to campaigns such as Salvation Army, Rescue Missions, Domestic Abuse shelters, Toys for Tots, and the like. Giving is a way that some of us express our compassion.

Compassion can be defined as deep awareness of the suffering of another, coupled with the wish to relieve it. It runs deeper than donating an unwrapped toy or a can of yams to a struggling family. Compassion drives us to want to do something that will make a difference in someone's life, to somehow contribute to changing their circumstances for the better.

One way that the church I attend shows compassion is in adopting a local domestic violence shelter. Adopting a family at a shelter is not unusual, especially during the holidays, and doing so does make a difference. In fact, last year the mother of one of the adopted families commented that the gift that she received from the "adopting" family was the first Christmas gift that she received in seventeen years!

However, December is only one month out of the year. These individuals and families are escaping months and sometimes years of living in fear, and are in a transitional process to break the cycle of allowing abuse to continue. And the change can be stressful. So our church goes a step beyond gifts at Christmas time to relieve the suffering of these families. Once every three months we host a special event where the families can just hang out together. For these events our church does all the work -- set-up, cooking, clean-up -- and teh only expectation that we have of the families is that they have a good time. During the fall we had a pizza party where we played group games such as Pictionary and Mad-Libs. Last August we hosted a picnic at a local park, with all thetypical family picnic games -- three-legged race, balloon toss, face painting, and the like. At the picnic one boy, about four years old, was reluctant to eat -- he didn't believe that all of this was for him. Another girl, about nine years old, told me that this was the first time she had ever been on a picnic.

I suppose my point is this: Compassion doesn't originate in our bleeding hearts or moral sweat, but in God's mercy (Romans 9:14, Message). Just as God's love and compassion for us knows no season, our compassion for others ought not to be seasonal. Suffering and social injustice in all its forms is present throughout the year. Shouldn't we be moved to action on a regular basis, and not just when we are buying the fixin's for our holiday dinners?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Love one another

I’ve heard it said that, for a "belief system" that teaches "Love one another," Christianity is the most narrow-minded religion there is. Many nonChristians see people who wear the Christian label as being exclusionary. Unless you enjoy their entertainment, agree with their politics, shop where they shop, read their books, have sex only with your spouse, you can’t in good conscious call yourself a Christian. After all, you don’t want to do anything that could be misconstrued as consorting with the enemy.


If someone listens to Madonna, is a registered Democrat, buys their kids’ school clothes at Wal-Mart, read “Harry Potter”, or “lived together in sin”, they’re “of the enemy” and should be shunned from our congregations. If you’re not “for” Jesus, you’re “against” him. There can’t be any grey area, right?

Thank God most Christians I know do not believe that way. If all Christians did, then yes, Christianity would be the narrow-minded religion that some repute it to be, and the love of Jesus would be only for those who obeyed his commandments.

“Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” That is the command that Jesus gave his disciples at the Last Supper (John 13:34).

Jesus was not choosy in whom he loved. Rich and poor. Healthy and sick. The good, the bad, and the ugly. Being human means we are not perfect people. Not everything we do is the right thing, and love does not mean we accept what is wrong. Not everyone was lovable, yet he loved them anyway. He comforted the challenged, and challenged the comfortable, hoping to leave those he encountered more blessed than they were before.

Perhaps we should do the same. This is how everyone will recognize that we are Jesus’ disciples—when they see the love we have for each other.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

What Gives?

The Holidays. 'Tis the season to be jolly, or so the song goes. People everywhere are actively engaging in discussions about what they want to receive under the Christmas tree. People are bringing their kids to the malls to sit on Santa's lap to whisper to the red-suited-guy what their most desired toy is. The dreaded ChiaPets start appearing on drug-store end-caps. And judging from the commercials, more people buy electric razors this time of year more than any other. (Perhaps it's to shave the ChiaPet?)

When people think of the term "materialism" it is though of in terms of someone wanting something for himself, someone who is not content unless he receives "things." But it appears there is quite a bit of materialism on the giving end as well. In fact, according to Americans spend $450,000,000,000 (that's $450 Billion) on Christmas! I don't know how the bean-counters came up with that dollar amount, but that's a lot of ChiaPets and electric razors!

There's a lot of talk around the office fax machine and water cooler about what people are giving kids and loved ones for Christmas. What's sad is when the discussion includes the lament, "I don't know what I'm getting for my (insert close family member) for Christmas this year." Or the growing cop-out, "I just give gift cards. Everyone can use a gift card."

Hold on a minute! If you're a close relative you should know something about their tastes, their likes and dislikes, their passions and pet-peeves, right? It would make sense that you might be able to think of something meaningful without much prompting, especially from someone who doesn't even know the recipient. Having to even ask a question like that indicates that there's more you need to know about these people in your life.

Here's an idea - Rather than think of the perfect "thing" to get for someone, consider what you can give that will show that you are interested in knowing your loved ones more deeply over the coming year. For example, if you know someone who keeps a journal, give a comfortable pen (or refills for his - or her - favorite pen) and a blank journal (in his - or her - preferred style - leather? hardcover? spiral-bound?), with the first entry from YOU, saying how much he or she means to you and how you hope he - or she - grows from the journaling experience. If you want to give more, a gift card to Starbuck's - or It's A Grind - would be a nice touch.

Or, here's an other one - Let's say you already succumbed to buying a ChiaPet for your daughter. Add a note to it with a written commitment to go to the local SoupPlantation (salad bar) for lunch once a month - just the two of you - with the purpose of getting to know each other better.

And ladies, if the Norelco Electric Shaver is already under the tree for your man, add a note telling him that you would like to spend more time face-to-face, to know him better, during the coming year. (Guys, if you even THINK of doing this for any female in your life make sure your funeral plans are taken car of!)

There are as many ways to get to know each other as there are cheesy, useless gifts out there. What gifts will you give this Christmas to get to know your loved ones better?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Fun during the holidays

What makes Christmas time fun?

Is it decorating the tree? Gatherings with family and friends? Singing Christmas carols? Dressing in the sweatshirts and sweaters with pictures of snow scenes that you only wear in December? Showing kindness toward others? Counting down the days before Santa arrives? Exchanging gifts?

All of these things can be fun. In fact, I have participated in all of the above at one time or another. The activities themselves are not necessarily what makes for a fun holiday. In fact, if you look at these things as mere “activities” they can become just another to-do for the already stretched to-do list.

If you look in the dictionary for what “fun” is, two words appear: enjoyment and playfulness. Fun combines the act of play and the feeling of joy. So what makes something “fun” is to approach it with a sense of play and a feeling of joy.

You know why kids look forward to the Christmas season so much? They know how to have fun. They have an inherent sense of joy, and play like nobody’s business! But who makes the rule that after a certain age boys and girls, who have grown to men and women, can no longer have fun? I don’t remember seeing that in the contract…..

So be a kid. Decorate the place. Make popcorn garland for the tree, and eat a few pieces from the string, even if someone is watching. Sing loud, and sing proud. Wear your Santa hat to the grocery store, to the doctor’s office, to work, to Sunday school. Play till your heart’s content, and play some more.

Express your joy. Stop and pause at the manger scene. Kneel down and bow your head and honor the Savior. Yes, kneel, even if it’s in public. Don’t worry – God will send an angel to help you back to your feet. Share with someone how Jesus changed your life. And after you do, do it do it again and again.

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. – Isaiah 9:6 (NLT)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


About six months ago I made a commitment to post something on my blog at least once a week. Well folks, judging from the date of my previous post it seems I haven't been that committed. Sure, not a day went by that I didn't think about what I should post. I'm even part of a group of bloggers that take turns choosing topics every week. Blogging is something I enjoy doing. So why the lapse?

Here's an answer: busyness.

Over the past couple of weeks I had some things come up that were out of the ordinary, requiring time to be devoted to making sure they got done.

Turns out that "busyness" is really a nice way of saying that I failed to be disciplined in my time. Don't get me wrong - the things that came up had to be taken care of and were more important than blogging. However, when it comes down to it, my schedule is really not so tight where I couldn't sit down and write something. Writing is something that I enjoy doing and I would like to devote more time to it than I have been.

In all of this, I was reminded of a valuable lesson: There is a difference between being busy and being productive. In a nutshell, "busy" is the getting ready to do something, and "productive" is getting the same something done. For example, when I sit down to write my blog, "busy" is often looking for a suitable picture; "productive" is putting words together to actually say something that is (hopefully) of value (or perhaps something of silliness - who knows?).

So what are some steps I can take to get over the "busyness" and become more productive with my time? Here are a few:

  • Pray. Seems to me that when I pray for focus on the task I want to complete, I have fewer distractions. God answers even these kinds of prayers.
  • Make a "to-do" list. Don't overload it with thirty hour-long projects - Just the major things. And prioritize the items. Do the most important things first.
  • Partner up with someone. Whether it's a study group, an exercise buddy, or (as in my case) a blogging group, having a partner keeps you accountable and strengthens your resolve to follow through to completion.
  • Don't fall into procrastination and excuses.

So don't just sit there - Stop being busy, and do something productive!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Counting Your Blessings

The Irving Berlin song "Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep)" (made famous by Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney in the movie "White Christmas") tells us,

When I'm worried and I can't sleep
I count my blessings instead of sheep
And I fall asleep counting my blessings
When my bankroll is getting small
I think of when I had none at all
And I fall asleep counting my blessings.

There must be something to this "count your blessings" thing. I've heard the advice given more times than I can remember, and I've even put it into practice in my own life. When you feel discouraged or let down, make a list of things that you are thankful for. Next thing you know, you're spirits are lifted. Maybe not in a "now I can take on the world" way, but you at least feel better about yourself and your situation. There's a word for this phenomenon, and that word is

G R A T I T U D E.

Gratitude. Thankfulness. When we think of these feelings we often associate them with events and situations where we have received a gift or a favor from someone else. Most of us can think of several awesome things we have received over our the course of our lives -- birthday and Christmas gifts, being taken to lunch when we didn't expect it, someone helping you financially when you really needed it. And when we express our gratitude it is right to express it to the person who gave the gift in the first place, whether it is a friend, family member, the waiter who kept our water glass full, and especially to God, who gives us everything to begin with.

The Bible tells us, "it is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35). With that in mind, perhaps we should see gratitude not as a by-product of receiving something, but an opportunity to give to others. Our gratitude should compel us to extend that feeling to someone else, to "pay it forward," if you will. Taking advantage of "grateful giving" opportunities often involves a desire to do good for others financially. But for you whose "bankroll is getting small" it does not necessarily mean having to give something tangible (see my post on "Being Useful"). It simply has to be from the heart. Often a word of encouragement or a gentle touch can be worth far more than any "thing" bought in any store, and the feeling of gratitude felt by the recipient can last a lifetime.

The typical question in a post about gratitude is "What are you grateful for?" I'll close with a twist on that typical question and ask,

"Outside of your normal circle of influence, who has shown gratitude to you this week, and why?"

Comment me, and let me know

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Dealing With Discouragement

Discouragement is nothing new to mankind. In fact it is something we all wish we didn't have to deal with. It happens when our plans don't turn out as well as we expected, and we get frustrated that we don't see a way to fix the problem. Sometimes we want to just walk away and quit.

But more often than not, quitting is not an option to discouragement, especially when it comes to raising kids or making it to another day. So how do we keep on going when we want to abandon our plans?

One suggestion might be to re-examine the plan. Whose plan is it anyway?

In Jeremiah 29:11, God tells us "For I know the plans
I have for you."

It is important to plan our lives with God's will in mind. We ask God to be part of our plans. We may even petition Him with something like, "God, help me to gt this job so I can afford to take my family on a vacation next summer." Now, there's nothing wrong with wanting to take your family on a nice summer vacation. But let's take a closer look. The prayer that was lifted up amounts to this: "God, this is what I want (the vacation), this is the way I want it to happen (make money on this job), and I want You to arrange it." No wonder we're discouraged when it doesn't happen -- we just put ourselves in charge of God!

Perhaps a better approach would be for us to present our requests to God, laying them at the foot of the cross. We should surrender our plans to Him, and thankfully and humbly receive our place in His divine plan for us.

Will that mean that we will never experience discouragement? The apostle Paul went through some pretty discouraging times in his ministry (see 2Corinthians 11:23-29). Jesus himself must have felt discouragement when his own followers didn't understand (John 6:60-67 comes to mind). So, yes, we will have periods when we are doing the work that God has called us to do and not see it bear fruit. But we can take encouragement from the words that Paul wrote to the church at Philippi:

"Be confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."

Thursday, October 09, 2008

The masks we wear

Halloween will be here in just a couple of weeks. Most kids I know will be dressing up, hide behind a mask and pretend to be something that they're not, if only for a little while.

I think all of us hide behind a mask in our daily lives in one way or another. How many times has someone asked you how you are, or how your day has gone, and you answer "Fine," when really you're drowning in job and family obligations, wondering if you'll have what it takes to make it another week. What's so "fine" about that?

This week I taught a lesson for the Jr/Sr high school youth at my church on the topic of prayer. In part of the lesson, we studied The Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:1-13) in the
NIV and Message translations. The passage talks about how the Pharisees would be very public and showy with their prayers, but God is turned off by that kind of arrogance. Sometimes you can get a clarification of what is being said by reading more than one translation. I know that I did when I gave the lesson.

Matthew 6:6 in
The Message, tells us to remove our mask and be honest before God in our prayers:

"Here's what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won't be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace."

God doesn't want us to come to him, pretending to have it all together when we're really coming undone at the seams. He wants us to come to him honestly repentant, taking off the mask of sin that hides us, and be real before him. God clothed Adam and Eve after they came out from hiding in the garden, and he will do the same for us. For if we confess our sins and stand with our heart and soul naked before God, he can always be trusted to forgive us and take our sins away, and clothe us in his righteousness.

Jesus calls us his friends. Removing the mask you wear and being real with Jesus is one way you can deepen your relationship with him. Try it ... you'll like it!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Experiencing God's Love - part deux

Earlier this week I was thinking of how God shows His love for us, in the big ways and the small ways. Sunrises. The fact that we wake another day, that our bodies even sustain life. That God in His holiness and perfection would actually want to be in a relationship with us.

Then I thought, Why do we stop with what we receive when we talk about experiencing God's love? God loves us so much that He keeps giving. Shouldn't part of our experience of God's love be in our own giving, in paying His love forward?

A few years ago I had the privilege of being a counselor for a crisis telephone hotline affiliated with a large church in California. How it happened was one of those things where I felt the prompting of the Holy Spirit, met with some close friends in prayer, God opened doors, and next thing I know, I'm in training to be a counselor. (The timing and process was almost that simple. Really.)

As a counselor I spoke with callers with problems ranging from the lonely, people grieving the loss of a loved one, to recovering addicts, people being treated for mental illness, even people on the edge of wanting to hurt themselves (thankfully, the really intense calls were far-between). Many callers were simply calling for prayer, just to know that God still loves them, and that someone cares.

Among the calls that stand out most for me are the ones where I prayed with the caller at the end, and I'd say something that could only have been from God. I'm not talking about praying in tongues. These were times that I prayed words and phrases that were not part of my normal vocabulary. If you asked me today what the caller's situation was, or what I prayed, I couldn't tell you. I simply don't remember. But I do remember this: by the time the call ended, the caller had a sense that he or she was still significant and loved in the eyes of God.

God's love is not meant to just be kept in a storehouse for when our hearts are feeling empty. It is meant to be given away, freely, unconditionally, with no expectation of return. I am humbled that God used me in that ministry so that others could know and experience His love.

Now it's your turn to share your stories.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Life's Challenges

A few days ago I was typing out some thoughts for my weekly post. But today when I went back to put the thoughts into some coherent format, the notes were not where I thought they were. Which means that the beginnings of what could have been a work of literary genius (yeah, right) are now *poof* gone.

Don't you hate when that happens? Something you hoped would work one way suddenly changes its course, without first asking your input. There's a word for that ...

" C H A L L E N G E "

Yes, I am now challenged with starting my post over, from scratch.

If only all of life's challenges were of that caliber. But, alas, they are often somewhat more complex. For example, your boss asks you to forgo a pay increase so the company can stay afloat, and the following week your spouse loses his job, leaving you with the challenge of seriously renegotiating financial priorities.

Or, here's another one. Your 19 year old college student son totals his car, leaving your family unit, which goes four different directions in the morning, with only one vehicle. Now what?

And I'll give you one more. Dad's got cancer. Chemo is not an option because it has a high risk of causing a stroke. Medications aren't working. All that can be done is to make him as comfortable as a cancer patient can be as he waits to die. Mom's a wreck. How can you get through this and still be strong for your own daughter?

These are real life challenges, happening to people who are very close to me. In every single case, the people involved can either let the challenges overcome them, or can somehow find a way to not only survive, but to thrive.

Thrive?? You mean actually enjoy the trials that unexpectedly come our way?

Well, not exactly the trial itself, but what unexpectedly comes out as a result of going through it. If we look for the lessons learned and their benefits, our lives become more alive as a result. If we do not, we risk irreparable damage to the relationships that are most important to us.

We don't come to these results overnight. And we can't get there on our own. It takes perseverance and strength to get there. It takes friends and family and God to lean on and see us through, to help us to carry our loads when we feel we can bear no more.

The first couple learns that "things" are not as important as they creatively learn how to appreciate each other. The second family has more of an opportunity to spend time together and have more meaningful conversation. The third 40-something discovers that her parents do deeply love her, and she learns how to show that love to her daughter.

(And this post turned out far better than the notes I originally had.)

The life we gain from enduring life's challenges far outweighs the life we lose by giving up.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


A few days ago I spent a little more time than usual catching up on reading blogs online and ended up running behind in my morning routine. Even though I knew I had enough time to get to work, I felt the need to make up for my lollygagging. Now, normally I drive close to the speed limit on my route to work since there are a few places where motorcycle officers like to rest on their Hondas (or whatever they ride), but that particular morning I felt the need to drive a little faster than usual. And I thought, if character is who you are when no one is looking, then what does this morning say about me?

I asked a couple of people what traits a person of "good character" would have. Some of the responses were
Honesty---Integrity---Loyalty---Good morals---Decency---Modesty---Reliability

Of course, this is not an all-inclusive list. One of the people that answered went on to say that someone of good character is someone who strives to be Christ-like.

That's an honorable ambition, to be Christ-like. But you know what? We all fail at that. So does that make us bad people? No, not if we do our best every day.

But do we? Can we honestly say with the utmost integrity that we are 100% loyal in practicing good morals, decency and modesty, with 100% reliability? Do we
really try our best in every action to be Christ-like? I don't think I've met another human being who can say that he or she does. I know that I can't. Otherwise I wouldn't have felt the need for speed earlier this week, and drivers wouldn't need the warning sign that is shown in the picture (and the officer would be at It's A Grind sipping coffee instead of sitting on his motorcycle).

It's been said, "Sow behavior, reap habit. Sow a habit, reap a character. Sow a character, reap a destiny." For those that believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, our destiny is eternal life in heaven. But our behaviors, habits, and character do not meet God's standard of holiness and would taint the purity of His glory. That is why Jesus took on our sins when he died on the cross. For, as Watchman Nee once said, "The Spirit can't anoint what the cross hasn't crucified." When we surrender our character, flaws and all, to Christ and accept His forgiveness, we will be able to partake in the glory of heaven.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Being Useful

A mother and her young daughter were walking in a downtown shopping district on a January afternoon. In the urban hustle and bustle, the little girl noticed a homeless man shivering against the bitter cold. As her mother tried to pull her closer, the girl walked over to the man. She pulled her fuzzy scarf from around her neck and placed it around his. The mother's heart welled up, that her daughter had more compassion than any of the hundreds of people who walked by that same man that day.

As they started to walk away, the homeless man called to them, motioning them back. He held out his hand, holding a dime -- probably all the money he had -- and said to the girl, "This is for you."

The mother politely refused, saying that payment is not necessary. "But I want to give this to her," he replied, holding the dime out further, tears of gratitude forming in his eyes.

It was then that the young mother realized that this man, who by the world's standards had less than nothing, still felt that he had something to give. And that by refusing his gratitude she was robbing him of his sense of usefulness.

In the gospel of Mark, Jesus is in the temple and watches people as they throw their offerings into the collection box. Here's the story, as told in Mark 12:41-44 :

Sitting across from the offering box, he was observing how the crowd tossed money in for the collection. Many of the rich were making large contributions. One poor widow came up and put in two small coins—a measly two cents. Jesus called his disciples over and said, "The truth is that this poor widow gave more to the collection than all the others put together. All the others gave what they'll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn't afford—she gave her all."

Everyone has a life story that tells how they came to where they are today. Certainly the man in this one had never planned to be homeless on a cold day in January. The widow probably never planned to live in poverty, and surely never expected to be noticed -- in a positive way -- by the Messiah of all people!

We've all had times when we felt down and out, like we had little or no worth in the eyes of the world. We don't ever have as a our life-goals to see ourselves as being utterly useless. We got there from our disposition to sin, to letting others down. Even though we might not have lived in the financial poverty of the homeless man or the widow, our sins have placed us in spiritual poverty. I'd venture to say that if God gave out "heavenly credit reports" on our souls, most of us would have "spiritual bankruptcy" on there at one time or another.

Even in the worst of our moments, Jesus sees each and every one of us as a person of extravagant value, someone worth dying for. In fact, He paid for our debt to get us eternally out of our spiritual bankruptcy. If we accept His gift, we can live a life of worth and usefulness.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

And now for a word from Our Father ...


You know that I've been watching you as you go about your daily business. I hear your morning prayers asking me for help, and I hear your evening prayers thanking me for seeing you through another day, and giving your burdens over to me. I've been there the whole time in between, answering your prayers.

I knew that you needed companionship. I gave you a best friend for a season. Even though you have grown apart I used the relationship and the things you shared to influence a major decision on your job today.

You pray for my blessing on your meals, and pray that I keep you healthy. It's no coincidence that you haven't used any sick days this year.

Each morning you thank me for the beautiful day, but I see you spend your time inside, hardly looking at my Creativity du jour. The sky, the trees, the air temperature, the cloud formations -- I did this for you.

I hear your prayers for Aunt Fannie, asking me to heal her. I really do hear. But, child, my will for Aunt Fannie is to heal her hardened heart, more so than healing her body. Look closely -- you will see a change in her spirit.

Last night you gave me your burden of youth who compromise because parents don't seem to be involved. This morning you asked me to use you for my purposes today, and I answered you. Remember the woman who cut in front of you at the grocery store, and you held your tongue? I allowed her to do that. I chose your line to cut in front of. Why? Why would I do that to you, you ask? Because the moment wasn't about you. It wasn't even about her. It was about her son. You see, if she waited for you to go ahead of her, she would have arrived home from work too late to prevent her son from compromising his values and having sex with his girlfriend -- and becoming teenage father.

I answer all of your prayers. You just don't see it because you are looking for different answers. In some cases you even lose interest in your prayer because you've gone on to other desires to ask me for. I'm not slow to answer. I answer according to my timeline, not yours.

Will you do something today? Right now? Take a few minutes to celebrate. It doesn't have to be on large scale like a birthday party or anything like that (although I give you birthdays too). Celebrate the many ways I answer your prayers. Smile a beaming smile. Sing a happy song of praise. Tell someone that I love them. Tell someone who is sad that I can make things OK. Take a deep breath of fresh air. Savor your food (yes, even the burnt food). Show kindness to someone. Rejoice! Be glad Take delight in what I have done for you.

I say it again, Rejoice!

I'll be rejoicing right along with you.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Making Big Decisions

I have a nephew who just completed his first week of college. Just thinking of that takes me back to when I was his age, with the world and its endless opportunities before me. What did I want to do with my life? Would I go to school, or go directly to the job market? Would I get married and have a family? What town would I live in, and in what kind of house?

These are all big decisions that just about everyone has faced at one time or another. For some, the decisions seem to be based on circumstances. Some are made in haste or on impulse. Then there’s the flip of a coin, or the “rock-paper-scissors” method. But the most sensible decisions are the ones that have deliberate thought behind them.

So how does somebody make a deliberately thought-out decision?

To begin with, it is helpful to have a solid grasp of your personal values. These values will be a useful filter in making major decisions. Take the time to identify what you value in life – the things that are important to you that are non-negotiable (family, financial security, peace of mind, honesty, integrity, and the like). Any major decision in life should be compatible with these values. For example, let's suppose you are facing a decision as to whether or not to take a job promotion with more money and responsibility, longer hours, and a longer commute. And let's suppose that you value investing time with your family. Since the new position is not compatible with your non-negotiable value of family time, then taking the job might not be the best decision for you at this time.

Know your options, and write a list of pro's and con's for each one. Make a chart listing your options, and then listing the good and bad things about each option. You may even give each item a “plus” or “minus” value, and whichever column has the higher value would go into the decision process.

It is always highly recommended to consult with trusted friends who have your best interest at heart. Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed (Proverbs 15:22). However, when you do ask for their input, go with an open mind. You are asking their opinion as part of the decision process, and not their permission or approval of what you have already decided. Take their feedback, and use it in the “pro's and con's” chart.

Get the facts from reliable sources for each of your options. Again, you are looking for information, not permission. More data for the “pro's and con's” chart.

Take time to pray about your decision. God may have a viable option in His plan that you don't see on your own. Find a quiet place where you can do this. Take time to read the Bible. Sometimes when facing a big decision, the verses that draw your attention will be the ones that can lead you to making the right decision.

Watch for circumstances in your life that seem to open or close doors for you. If you are looking to purchase a sporty little two-seat convertible for yourself and your wife announces that you're going to be a new daddy, then the practical four-door sedan might be the better choice, no matter how much fun the two-seater might be.

Wait. Once you have made your choice, give it what I call the “three-day rule.” (It's said that for major purchases, wait one day for every hundred dollars to be spent, up to six months.) . After that, if it's no longer an issue don't worry about it. The change you wanted to make isn't all that important to you. If it is still an issue, then take another look at your pro's and con's, and consider the counsel of those you've talked to.

When you feel comfortable (or perhaps scared beyond your wit's end) that you have made the right choice, then take action to make your decision a reality. Commit your ways to the Lord and He will make your path straight (Proverbs 3:5).

Is this method the best way to make decisions? Is it foolproof, or guaranteed? No. Nothing in life is. You still may misinterpret something along the way and later think you could have done better. Don't be afraid of failure. Often times mistakes and failures are part of the process.

When we trust in God and commit our ways to Him, He will continue to show us where we went wrong, and where we need to go next, and will then work it out for good. Our plans may not turn out the way we originally envisioned them, but with God's hand in completing them they will turn out for His glory.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

"Just" Imagination

One of my favorite films in recent years is “Finding Neverland,” which tells the story behind the story of Peter Pan. Early in the movie is a scene in which playwright J. M. Barrie is walking with his large dog in the park and has just met the four boys and their mother. The oldest boy asks what Barrie does for a living, and he answers by saying, playfully: "Well, currently, I make my living entertaining princes and their courts with my trained bear, Porthos. If you command your brother Peter to join us, I am willing to give you just such a performance." (Peter has not been playing with his brothers because he is still unable to process their father's death.)

The other boys agree. Barrie sets himself up with his dog in front of the seated family. He faces his dog and says: "I want you to pay particular attention to the teeth. Some unscrupulous trainers will show you a bear whose teeth have all been pulled, while other cowards will force the brute into a muzzle. Only the true master would attempt these tricks without either measure of safety."

Five-year-old Peter is not in the mood to play. Leaning toward his mother, he defiantly says: "Why did you bring me over here for? This is absurd. It's just a dog."

Barrie, who was walking back to Porthos, suddenly turns around. "Just a dog?" he asks. "Just? Porthos dreams of being a bear, and you want to dash those dreams by saying he's 'just a dog'? What a horrible, candle-snuffing word. That's like saying, 'He can't climb that mountain; he's just a man.' Or, 'That's not a diamond; it's just a rock.'" Before turning back to the dog, Barrie gives the boy an appraising look and mutters, "Just."

Peter retorts, skeptically: "Fine then. Turn him into a bear, if you can."

Unfazed, Barrie replies: "With those eyes, my bonny lad, I'm afraid you'd never see it."

The first time I saw the movie, I cried at that scene.

Why would a scene about a dog imagined to be a dancing bear make me cry? Because like young Peter, I had lost the wonder of being young. I was at a place in my life where I had taken on many adult responsibilities. I had allowed my grown-up challenges and relationships crowd out my sense of adventure. My ability to see the unseen was limited to the outcome of what I could only see before me, and many times I found myself visualizing disastrous results.

I had forgotten what it was like to think as a child thinks, to be brave enough to imagine that I could interact in a world where Pirates and Indians were more than baseball teams, and a young hero named Peter Pan could defend me from all threats, foreign and domestic.

And I wondered, who put a limit on our imaginations? At what age are we to someone dash our dreams, or use a “candle-snuffing word”? Who gives anyone the right to do that to us? And what gives us the right to do that to others?

God used His imagination in creation of the world. For example, look at Italy, shaped like a boot about to kick a football. Or at the way God created the giraffe. No other animal walking the earth today looks anything like it (at least not that I’m aware of). And when God created man in His image, He also gave man creative ability, what we call “imagination.”

We can see how the use of imagination honors God all around us, in the words of the Psalms, the response of music and artwork, even in the way we play. Gifts that are used responsibly bring honor to the giver. “God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.” (Romans 11:29) To snuff out someone’s imagination and dreams is to snuff out the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Love your nieghbor

What does it mean to "love your neighbor as yourself”?

The statement implies a comparison. We love our neighbor the same way or to the same degree that we love ourselves.

What does it mean to love ourselves?

If we truly love ourselves, we would do what is in our best interest, all the time. We’d eat the right foods, get enough exercise to maintain optimal health, get the proper amount of rest. Our careers would have us doing what we love to do even if the pay isn’t that great. We’d be wise in how we handle our money. Our friendships would be healthy for us, and we would know when to say “no.” We wouldn’t hold grudges, and we wouldn’t play favorites. Our driving habits would make allowances for other drivers to make mistakes without our becoming upset with them, and we would take our time and enjoy the scenery.

If we truly love ourselves, we would recognize that we can’t do it all on our own. We’d ask for help from others, and ask for help from God. We’d allow the One who has known us since the beginning of time to continue to work in our lives. And we’d be lavish in our thanksgiving and praise to God for all He does for us.

If we truly love ourselves, we would know how to love others. We would do for them what is in their best interest. We’d encourage them to maintain optimal health, and not complain when their careers are something they love to do, even though it might not pay as well as we would like. We would respect their choice to refuse us, and not be concerned if they held a grudge or were tempted to play favorites. And we’d realize that the mistake the other driver made was because they were likely enjoying the scenery.

We’d tell others that it’s ok that they can’t do it all by themselves, and offer help when we see they need it. We would allow them to allow God to change them, and join them in lavishing God with thanksgiving and praise.

But since we fall short in loving ourselves, we fall short in loving our neighbor. God is the only one who can perfectly love us. Let us follow Jesus, God’s perfect example of perfect love, so that we can love ourselves more, and in turn love our neighbors better.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

God for a Day

About a month or so ago, I asked the question “If I were God for a day/week/whatever, what changes would I make in my life (the life of Heyyoulady)?” I did not post my answer at that time because I didn’t want to influence anyone else’s answer by what I said. In all honesty, I had forgotten that I still had not posted my answer until I ran across this entry when I was looking for something else. (Thanks to chrislogan, ajforward007, quiet_strength, justthisonce_2 and legendairy for sharing your answers.)

So, if I were God for a day, what changes would I make in the life of Heyyoulady?

When this question first came to mind, my initial thought was that God has already changed so much in my life.
I know that I’m still not fully the person that God intends for me to be.

Since no one can know the mind of God but the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:11), and I have the Spirit of God dwelling within me, then, by inference, I can know an inkling of the mind of God. But then again, God says to us in Isaiah 55:8, "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways." I have no idea if this change is what God would truly want to make.

But since I have (for the purpose of this post) taken on the role of God, here is what my answer would be:

Boldness. I would give Heyyoulady more boldness to speak up when she sees things wrong. More boldness to freely give praise to others for when they do well. To share her dreams, expectations, her trials and triumphs to others. To speak what’s on her heart, with assertiveness and authority, and not be so concerned about how others receive it. She will speak the truth with love, tempered with gentleness.

OK, I’m done being God.

Many people want to be bold spokespersons for God, sharing the Gospel and leading others to Christ. That’s what many people think of when “boldness” is spoken of. The boldness that I'm talking about is in just every day relating with people. Recognizing people for the little things they do. Giving encouragement where it’s needed. Giving correction where people are straying. Sharing my own stories of how I’ve known and experienced God’s love with others, and encouraging other people to share theirs.

This kind of change is something I cannot do on my own. In fact, from my limited human viewpoint, it is changing a part of how God “wired” me. In most situations, I am not necessarily the one to speak first to people. I am more of someone who observes and listens to what is being said. When I am asked to respond to a question, if I don’t give an off-the-cuff, trying to be funny answer, I may take a few moments to put the right words together. In group situations, those few extra seconds are sometimes taken by the bubbly, more expressive types, and what I intended to say is lost.

All that I have to offer to God for Him to work with is my flaws, my shortcomings, my missed opportunities, my pride, my brokenness, my sinfulness. But isn’t that what God wants us to surrender to Him in the first place?

"If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; the old is gone, the new is come!" But God does not want me (or anyone else for that matter) to be a new creation while still holding on to old ways. Before I can be that new creation I must confess my sins before God and receive His total forgiveness, and, once I am in right standing with the Creator again allow, Him to "re-wire" me to be the changed person that He wills for me to be.

Friday, July 25, 2008

life is a series of accumulations.

you attend school to gain knowledge, you gain wisdom, go to work to become gainfully employed, gain weight, gain wisdom, gain strength, lose the weight you gained only to gain it back again.

we get a life, get the credit, get involved, get high, get lost, get married, get divorced, get hired, get fired, get around, get around to it, and some of us just get it.

we get our fill. We are full of secrets, full of bottled-up emotions, full of things left unsaid, full of love that we are afraid to give.

a kind of fullness that is really ...


Sunday, July 13, 2008

Breach of contract???

I recently read an article titled "How Responding to People's Needs Hurts the Church" by Elizabeth I. Steele. The article talks about how in a consumer culture, talking about a church's ministry in terms of responding to people's needs, "puts the church in the position of being defined not by its faith or history but by people's wants." People come to church because the church feels a perceived need that is not fulfilled elsewhere. Some of the needs/wants that people expect to be fulfilled by a church are things such as unity, non-judgmental acceptance, fellowship, Biblical principles, and accountability with other Christians to strengthen each other to live holy lives. Some look for specific programs to meet the needs of their family, such as youth or children's groups, social outlets, or ways to use their gifts to serve the community.

But what happens when the church fails to meet these needs? Often, a person may see this lack of fulfillment as a "breach of contract" on the part of the church. After all, they see the church as a place that fills the needs of people. In response to this "breach," they may leave, or they may challenge what is (or is not) happening and who is in charge until the "promised" care-taking and attention are provided.

Wait ... I didn't realize that a church had a "contract" with its members to provide for such things. So I asked a few people on a Christian chat service for their input.

Most of the "wants and needs" the chatters mentioned are stated in the opening paragraph. One of the people that I talked with said that she and her family recently moved to their area and were presently attending a mega-church. She commented that in a church that size it was difficult to connect with other members who are like her. She also admitted that there are many opportunities to connect, and it was up to her to put forth the effort to start building relationships.

After a brief discussion, the general consensus was that if people want music and aesthetics and a message that gives them a warm-fuzzy feeling, then they're going to church for the wrong things. God's needs should be met first -- the need for us to be in a relationship with Him. Then our own needs will be met by God, starting with our need for reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 20:28, "The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." He also tells us, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." (Matthew 14:24). If we are followers of Jesus we should not have the mindset of the church exists to fill our needs. As Ms. Steele puts it, "Lost is the idea of people being and becoming the church. Lost is the understanding of the church as a community of faith whose members struggle together to draw closer to God and to express that closeness in how they live and interact with the world."
As disciples of Christ, we should actively participate in partnering with God to use the gifts and resources He has given us to reach out to those who are lost, and point them to a place where they can encounter the saving grace found through Jesus Christ.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Reading the entire Bible

I recently read a post on Revelife by mr pine, where he talked about recently being given a copy of the book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. At the end of the post he posed the question "Do think it's important for Christians to read the entire Bible?"

Here my thoughts:

Bear with me for a bit, and let's step outside of the Christian bubble for a second, and take a look at an analogy. My intent is not to offend or diminish the transforming power of the Bible, but to put the question into perspective.

Let's take the word "Christian" and put "soldier" in its place. And let's take "Bible" and put the word "Comprehensive Operational and Battle Strategy Manual" in its place.

Do think it's important for soldiers to read the entire Comprehensive Operational and Battle Strategy Manual?

It depends on the role and goal of the soldier. Yes, there are some parts that are essential for basic survival in the life he has chosen. Without those basics ingrained into him, he may face serious, life-threatening danger. There are other parts that can give insight into various situations that he may encounter, or help to process a past experience to better understand it.

But does the soldier have to read the entire manual?

What's his goal? To remain a soldier? Or to be better equipped? If he feels that he does not want to advance in his soldiering career, then he is free to not pursue reading the manual further. If he is not satisfied with where he is, then digging deeper into what's contained between the covers is a good place to start.

Personally, I'm not satisfied that I have gone as far as I have in my Christian walk. I don't think that I ever will be. Have I read the essentials and understand the basics? Yes. I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God, came to earth, died for my sins, and rose from the dead. I believe that I have eternal life through Jesus. Have I read the entire Bible? No, there are still pages in my Bible that have not seen light. Will I ever read every word of the Bible? That's hard to say.

Will my salvation be lost if I never read the entire Bible? Absolutely not! And that point is more important than whether or not I read every chapter and verse from Genesis to Revelation.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Listening to God ... (or not ...)

God speaks to us in many ways. But, being the independent-thinking human beings that we are, we sometimes use our "selective hearing" when receiving input from the Almighty. The following is a conversation between God and a fictional character called "ME". Any resemblance between ME and any person, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

GOD: I've created you in my image, right down to the ability to decide things for yourself. I'll help you get started. Here are ten commandments for you, along with this book that will help you to fill in the blanks.

ME: Where's the rule book that
you follow?

GOD: I wrote the rule book, based on my characteristics.

ME: So then why can't I let my character guide my decisions?

GOD: (thinking, "what, is she kidding me?") It's your choice ... but you really should read the book and refer to it as you go. Also, I want you to know that I am always available to help you if you get stuck or need anything. All you have to do is ask.

ME: So, you mean I can do this life thing however I want?

GOD: I've given you free will ...

ME: Cool!

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see where this will take ME ...
  • Poor family relationships
  • Divorce
  • The kids don't respect ME
  • Coworkers don't trust ME with much anything told to ME in confidence
  • A mountain of bills from wanting to keep up with ME's best friend's lifestyle (a lifestyle that ME really couldn't afford to begin with)
  • Loneliness
  • ME's therapist won't even take his/her calls

ME: God, how did my life become such a mess?

GOD (ears perking up): ME? Is that you? Did you just call out to me?

ME: I thought you told me you'd always be here to help me. Where were you while my life was spiraling down the toilet?

GOD: Let's look back at our earlier conversation, shall we, ME? I did say I would be available to help. But you had to ask. I wanted you to acknowledge your need for my help. It was your choice to do things according to your own will, guided by your own imperfect human character.

ME: But you also said that I was created in your image. Shouldn't my character have been like yours?

GOD: You would have been a lot closer if you fol.lowed the commandments and referred to the book I gave to you.

ME: Oh, you were actually serious about that?

GOD: Mmm-hmmm ...

ME: God, I made such a mess of things. How can I even begin to make it right?

GOD: You can't. Not on you own.

ME: So you're telling me I'm stuck here.

GOD: (silence)

ME: But I don't want the life I have. It's not even living, really. I want something better. I want what you intended for me to have. Can't you help me?

GOD: You're starting to get it. I can help you.

ME: God, I don't even know where to start. To be completely honest, I've hurt so many people and in the process ended up hurting myself. I don't think anyone would ever be able to forgive me. I so much want to start over. I want a new life, like being made new.

GOD: I can do that. In fact, my son Jesus specializes in helping you with forgiveness and being made new.

ME: Why would Jesus want to help someone as wretched as me? I'd think he'd be too perfect to want to be around someone who lived my life. Someone who wouldn't listen to you.

GOD: Believe it or not, I knew from the start that if I left you to your own devices you'd end up where you are now. But in my holiness I could not allow your "wretched" self live in my glory. You see, my standard is absolute -- perfection. And the consequences for not meeting that standard is absolute as well -- death. Spiritual death. You'd be separated from me.

ME: Like where I am now.

GOD: Exactly. But I love you too much to spend eternity apart from you. So, in order to fulfill that absolute consequence of death, I sent Jesus -- my only son -- to take your consequences upon himself.

ME: I've been dealing with the consequences of my screw-ups here on earth, from people all around me. I didn't realize there was a punishment from you that was so severe.

ME: Let me see if I get this -- Your punishment is separation from you. Yet we're able to have this conversation right now because Jesus took that separation so I wouldn't have to?

GOD: You're getting it!

ME: No one ever loved me like that ...

ME: But wait ... your son is dead. You must be heartbroken.

GOD: Not at all. He came back from the dead!

ME: Really?

GOD: I don't lie. It's all here in this book.

ME (remorseful): You mean the one I should have been reading all along ...

ME: I'm so sorry I made a mess of the life you gave me. And I'm grateful to you that you would send Jesus to take my consequences upon himself. I couldn't have met your perfect standard on my own. I never can ... Can you forgive me?

GOD: I don't only forgive you, but I also give you a clean start. I don't even remember your past. In my sight, you're a new creation!

ME: You're giving me a do-over?


ME: Well, since I'm starting over, can I have a look at that book?

GOD: I thought you'd never ask.