Those who want the best

In a conversation while watching TV, my husband and I reflected over the death of the TV sitcom. Streaming has killed mainstream TV, and the idea of sitting down with kids to just watch a family TV show seems dead. Gone are the days of shows like Who’s the Boss, Family Matters, and Growing Pains.

Growing Pains…not just physical, but those emotional ills we go through when anything in life or relationships change. That’s what the show was all about.

It’s what life is all about. And throughout mine, I’ve had my fair share. Even well into my late 30’s and even as recently as a couple years ago. As just like the sitcom, Carol, Mike, and the others had the Seaver parents; and I had people who helped me, guided me, and truly wanted the best for me as I was growing through them. 

One is a colleague I look up to. I admire her and her professionalism. In a conversation this week, we were discussing some of the challenges for the new school year with staff changes; one of them being the previous week’s meeting that I had been asked to lead. The one that had not gone as planned. I told her how a few years ago I probably would have left that room crying, and cried about it for days; but these days I no longer take things that are not about me personally. Her response was unexpected. One I was not needing to hear for validation (though in the same years I would have needed that, too), but confirming in a way. 

“January, you are exactly right. You have grown so much. It’s been so awesome to watch you develop into such a great therapist, and a really strong leader.”

I was humbled. Coming from someone who five years ago, scared me to death…yes I was humbled.

And I said as much-that she used to scare me-because five years prior I had sat in her office as a resident in counseling with 2 years of overdue paperwork needing signatures. Having not attended any groups in the last three months, because I was meeting the requirements of everyone else around me, and not the path of the career I said I was passionate about. Her promise to never sign another overdue quarterly report after that date stuck with me, and I vowed to myself I would never turn in another one late. And I didn’t. I also never missed another group supervision. I made sure my placements knew those were monthly commitments I had to meet as part of my residency. She was right-I could have sat there and made excuses. I could have given up. But I didn’t. I owned it. Fixed it. And didn’t do it again.

Now…I’d like to say I never made another mistake I had to be held accountable for, but then I would also have to tell you I am superhuman, and I am not. I have had to own my junk. Fix it. And suffer some growing pains. And each time someone has been there who has truly wanted the best for me. Someone has had to show me the crack, the area needing growth, and push me to fix it.

And we hear that a lot: “I am telling you this because I want the best for you,” or “I wish you the best.” But does everyone? And how do you know the difference? Because there is a difference.

Here’s an illustration to help you: 

 After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these? “Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.” “Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him. Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.” “Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said. A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep. John 21:15-17

Jesus gave Peter instructions and asked Him to serve Him, as He had been instructed to do previously. If you love me, you will go on serving as you have before; but you will change your behavior. 

Leaders, friends, loved ones who want the best for you-don’t hold your past missteps against you. Jesus didn’t do that to Peter. That colleague had not even remembered those reports-I had. She had just silently been watching me grow. 

Those who want the best may have to call out a fault. A blemish. May have to ask you to correct a mistake, or an area of growth, but they do so in gentleness, in love, and with the understanding that you have the opportunity to make it right, and even get better. It’s not to hold these wrongs over your head for later. They don’t yell at you, or shame you. Or keep them in their back pockets as ammunition to keep you from moving forward later.

Those who want the best SEE the best. Potential. And not just the products of your mistakes. They can’t wait for you to bloom into what you will become. They even want to help you do it.

Now, those who really don’t want what is best for you…but maybe for them? 

At first, they tell you the mistake is no big deal. You are forgiven. You have some time to make this right, and may even encourage you with a plan. But then it shifts.

They keep a record of your wrongs. Like receipts. Adding them up to list them each time you mess up. They remember that meeting 5 years ago, and won’t let you forget it. They even remember why you were there. 

They see a crack. And instead of gently talking to you about it; they expose it. With maneuvering of others in front of you and your gifts, desires, talents. They may even poke at it to expose the weakness more. 

Those who want what is best for them? They want competition. If you do happen to fix the crack? To move forward? Bloom? Grow? Despite the adversity? Don’t expect an ally. Expect the silent treatment. And an all out lack of support. These people may even just ghost you. 

These are the people who would have never went to Peter and asked him to feed their sheep, but would instead be talking to the sheep about Peter. Or would have already replaced Peter with a new first mate. 

You get it now? 

Those who want the best for you, sometimes don’t get to have the best conversations; because they are the ones willing to have the tough ones.

The ones that may cause pain, but instill growth.

The ones that may hurt a bit, but are necessary for change.

The ones that reveal cracks, but are crucial for repair.

These are the best. 

Don’t be afraid of those who challenge you. Because they are the ones who just may be conduits of your strongest growth. Those are the ones who want the best. 

Get Focused on the New

This means that the anyone who belongs to Christ is a new person. The old life is gone, a new life has begun! 2 Corinthians 5:17

The mere fact that I began writing this today, and failed to notice I am repeating a daily verse, is most likely evidence that I have been distracted. Distracted by a number of issues. Tasks. Pressing matters. Some of these tasks have been good things. Even “God” things. Some due to illness. Some of these are courtesy of the tools the devil uses to keep us focused on him instead of God.

Whether good, God, or other-they are distractions, nonetheless. When the old habit of picking up your phone first thing in the morning overpowers picking up your Bible. When the work deadlines become greater, and the finish line to get there takes precedence over your usual study routine. Your old patterns of sleeping an hour later instead of getting up to pray with Him get in. And then some of those other old patterns creep back in-some you gave up when you put on your new Christ nature.

You are now distracted.

Though, yes, Satan most definitely uses temptation. The sin kind. The obvious one to keep us distracted from seeking time with God, he can also use less obvious tools, as well. Some may even come in the form of “good” things. Things that can be useful in the kingdom, but if we do them in the spirit of our old selves, the selves from which God redeemed us-then these things are no longer “good.”

For us anyway.

They are now distractions. From OUR greater purpose. They may be good for someone else. They may have been good at another time. But for who we are now-not so much.

Writing is this “good” thing for me. Yet, why had it become my distraction?

See…this new thing God had done in me? It had inspired a desire to tell others about this new thing. To write all these thoughts I had about Him as I spent time with Him. And to not keep those to myself. It bred in me a desire to stop being liked by the world, and to embrace the person God liked. Loved, even. Writing sparked joy. It lived inside me, and I loved this person who God had created, and it took a long time to get there. A long time to make sense of who she was, and how He was using her.

But distraction made this “new” thing “old” again. Something to check off a list. How I deemed myself worthy. Someone to be approved and liked by the masses. Decided I had anything of worth to say based on whether anyone read it, viewed it, or liked it.

Distracted.

It is time to remember who God made “new.” It is time to focus on the woman God turned me into when He made me that way. Not distracted by a duty to read His Word, but captured by the pure desire to learn more about Him, to spend time with Him, to listen for Him, and to write about those experiences because it brings me joy. And in doing so, I am no longer distracted. In fact, I in turn irritate Satan.

It is time to focus on this joy so I can be fueled again by His purpose, not by the old desire to be approved by people, but only by the One who has given me a desire to do something with the gifts He has given me. Those things I can only do when I am focused on Him, and less distracted.

So…for a time, I am writing solely for me (well, for Him). Solely in my quiet time, without screens. No laptop. No agenda. No laid-out plan. No checklist. Letting Him lead. Letting Him guide. Sharing as He directs.

Undistracted. Completely focused on Him.

It’s Time to Break-up…

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Philippians 4:8

Yesterday, I mentioned a group of 3 girls. That group and their negative comments that had sucked the life out of me. Even in the midst of correction for their poor choices in words, there was an additional lesson in my encouragment to speak kindness to each other: Would you tolerate this negativity in a romantic relationship? If the boy you liked, or you were dating called you “fat, ugly, stupid, or crazy…” and then proceeded to tell you he was “just joking,” would you allow it? Or would you break-up with him?

Of course, their response? Kick him to the curb.

So, question for you: Why do we allow these terms to define us? Why do we allow Satan to creep in and tell us lies? Badger us with his emotional assault, and endless abuse? Isn’t it time to break-up with him, too?

Fear, you don’t own me
There ain’t no room in this story
And I ain’t got time for you
Telling me what I’m not
Like you know me, well guess what?
I know who I am
I know I’m strong
And I am free
Got my own identity
So fear, you will never be welcome here. (The Break-up
Song, Francesca Battistelli).

Fear. Lies. The devil’s tactic to keep you in a state of defeat. But the truth is…you can defeat the enemy. Paul mentions a strategy for battle in Ephesians 6, even mentioning who this enemy is.

We are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:12-17, NLT

We have an enemy who feeds us nothing but lies about our worth and our purpose, our calling. And we know exactly how to break up with him. We CAN defeat him. With the belt of truth, and the sword of the Spirit, those things that God says are “true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable” about us in His Word. Remebering that God offers protection from the evil one simply because we are His. We just need to call on Him to help us fight the battle.

So we can finally break-up with that no good scroundrel…once and for all!

If you are ready to break-up with the devil, and conquer the lies he throws your way, join me for a 30 day exploration of the lies we believe, and the truth God reveals. The printable Bible reading plan includes daily Scripture, as well as a song you can add to your playlist, or sing along with in the car in praise for the truth God provides to you and about you. Truth that is able to conquer any lie.

You can also subscribe to the entire playlist on Spotify.

Don’t Believe the Lies

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Romans 12:2

I have been vocal in past posts about my thoughts on, and my desire for boundaries when it comes to social media. In my last social media fast, I came to the realizaton that some of my thoughts may have even been extreme. Maybe even unhealthy. My use of social media is personal, and not everyone will go on the same journey, and it is through this perspective that I have developed some different views, and healthier personal usage.

One thing, however, has not changed-my views on that comment section.

We all wanna know we matter
We all wanna know we’re loved
More the same than we are different
Desperate just to be enough

But it’s like we’ve all forgotten
How much we’re all connected
When I read the comment section. -Sidewalk Prophets

This song, “The Comment Section,” is about the hurtful comments posted in the comment section by individuals behind a screen, and the descriptions throughout it are pretty accurate. What is even more discouraging, is that at times this type of commentary flows into our personal, and face-to-face conversations.

Case in point: I lead a monthly girls group. 3 girls. Supposedly friends working through a self-esteem exercise; but in this past week’s group, spending most of the time poking fun at each other, and spewing hurtful comments about each other’s features, bodies, and minds. “Fat, ugly, dumb.” After more than an hour of this, the life had been sucked out of me. The hurtful back and forth banter disguised as “joking,” wrecked my spirit, and I carried it with me into the weekend. Why is this language among each other acceptable? Why do we poke fun to have fun? Why do we desire to hurt each other? Over time, whether read or heard-these comments leave scars no one can see. Doubts that carry on long after words have been spoken.

With each comment and verbal slur of judgment, we begin to believe all the lies said about us. That interaction in group was only a part of the onslaught of lies Satan threw at me throughout that week. All due to triggers that were reminders of my past. A reminder of an older name that had me believing divorced women truly were not fit to pastor. An email that was a reminder of all the past events that made me feel unworthy and unqualified. The consistent “uglies, fats” and everything else I heard on that day was the last straw.

I refuse to let Satan continue to throw lies at me. I refuse to let the own comment section I allow to scroll in my head define me.

I struggled with what topic to focus on this month. With whether to even do a monthly reading plan. With May holding space for Mother’s Day, themes of parenting or being a mother seemed to fit; however, not everyone fits this description. Yet, this very moment in life-motherhood; it can fill us with so many inadequcies. We have so many doubts about our abilities, and we tend to compare ourselves with so many others. Thinking they have it all right, and we have it all wrong.

But, it’s all lies. We tend to believe so many lies.

This month, we will be defeating those lies. The lies we believe about ourselves (and even others) because of the world’s vision that we all comform to one ideal. The lies that tell us we need to be a certain way, parent a certain way, or anything else a certain way to be approved. Through Scripture and song, we will discover the truth the world often shuts out, if you only read the comment section.

Because here is the truth: God has made us good, pleasing, and perfect, among so many other things. It is time we believe this, instead of all the lies the devil may feed us.

Be sure to visit tomorrow for a copy of the newest 30 day Bible reading plan, with a link to the playlist of each song, so you can also listen to truth all month long!

Love and Marriage…

Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. Colossians 3:14

Love and marriage, love and marriage…that’s the theme song to one of my husband’s sitcom guilty pleasures, and it doesn’t have much to do with this post, except that today’s verse from Colossians 3:14 is a reminder from Paul to “clothe yourselves with love.” It’s also our anniversary. The 16th. And in many of those 16 years, he has been known to wear many a shirt in reference to many movies and sitcoms. Al Bundy references are just one.

16 years of wedded bliss. I sincerely hope no one believes that statement. I sincerely hope anyone embarking on marriage, or any long-term relationship doesn’t assume that any marriage is filled with only bliss.

It may seem that marriage and this verse above would be appropriate at first glance. Perhaps as a stand alone verse. Yes, certainly…because love is the language of those who follow Christ. But this isn’t all Paul is instructing us to do. This verse can’t stand alone. 

And while Paul is writing to the church in Colosse, a church that had become saturated with many false beliefs and thoughts about Christ, warning them to remember who was their true connection to the Father and to His love, these principles don’t just apply to the people we encounter in the church pews. They are paramount to any relationship. Especially the intimacy within a marriage. The love from Christ we receive is to be displayed to others, and definitely towards our spouse.

Is it easy? No. 

And it encompasses so much more than lovey-dovey words and phrases, or romantic overtures. 

In the verses proceeding number 14, Paul mentions the following: 

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. (v. 12-13).

Now…how does this apply to our spouses? To the day to day grind of living with another being day in and day out? Especially those who have a propensity to quote Al Bundy?

First, tenderheart mercy. We display tenderhearted mercy when we choose to not lament and bring up the fact that our spouse did not load the dishwasher again. Or that they threw the socks on the floor, right next to the hamper. We don’t scream, kick, and shove when they snore too loud. We offer them mercy, even though we want to offer them a peace of our mind. We do the dishes, we lean over to pick up the socks, and we reach for the ear plugs, as we gently tap them to roll over. And then we gently remind them we love them.

Next, kindness. Let’s talk about this making fun of each other stuff. You know, if you like to joke…cool. However, have you ever watched the look on your spouse’s face, or listened to the hurt in their voice when you know or felt when it went too far? Saying cruel things about someone’s appearance, intellect, mental health, character, or ability; and then following it up with, “I was only joking,” is still cruel and unkind. The Bible is clear about the ways in which we are to speak to others, in such a way that the words we use should “encourage and build up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). Over time these “jokes” hurt more than provide humor. Speak words of kindness, and encouragment. If you wouldn’t want the words spoken to you, or to the children you may have together-don’t say them to your spouse. Speak words you would want to hear.

What about humility? This one be can hard to understand for some, so I am going to simplify it. You are not better than your spouse, and your spouse is not better than you. One supports the other. One helps the other. Selfishness has no place in marriage. Are we, as humans, are prone to it? Of course, we crave our independence. We don’t want to be dependent on another person, or feel we are constantly having too much asked of us, but we were created-man and woman to help each other, encourage each other, and support each other. This requires at times we put our needs to the side to serve our spouse-in sickness and in health…and all that jazz.

Gentleness. Now, let’s go back to tenderhearted mercy for this one. Think back to those dishes, socks, and that snoring. We did the dishes. We picked up the socks. And well, at this point…there is really nothing we can do about the snoring, but get better ear plugs. We really can’t let the chores go. At some point, accountability is OK to address. However, with kind words, and with gentleness. Our natural bend is to stuff all the months of dishwashing and sock grabbing up, and then blow-up with harsh, and mean words. We say a lot of things we do not mean (or maybe we do mean them), and then we have to double down with an apology later. We can address the lack of help with chores, with a gentle conversation about our need for help. Speaking the truth with love is a biblical response that can go a long way in saving two people a ton of hurt in many conversations over a number of years. Trust the one who has slammed many a cabinet and dish in the sink just to get my point across in the past. The slamming rarely does it. The gentleness usually will.

Last, yet certainly not least-forgiveness. Yes, I know. It is hard. It is a long road that is bumpy and filled with potholes. Forgiveness in the institution of mariage is something no one wants to talk about because it sounds a lot like failure. The question someone wants to ask when you talk about forgiveness is: What did you do to need that? Perhaps the question should be: What didn’t we do? There will be SO many things that will occur within this intimate of a relationship that will require little and large acts of forgiveness. Some of the forgiveness journeys will be easy, and some will be much harder. Some will require small acts of patience; and others will requre large acts of compassion and large doses of mercy. Yet, we must remember there are times we have needed the same. Even slights we forgave and forgot. Things we thought we would never forget.

However, because of the capacity that God has given us to love, we were given the ability to endure through those pains we thought we could not get through. Annoying movie-quotes. Long nights in hospitals. Stupid arguments over goodness knows what.

Bound together in perfect harmony through Christ.

For 16 years and beyond.

Do What You Ought

Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it. James 4:17

We read a lot about sin when we read our Bibles. We may not even have to be church-going folks to know a lot about sin. Case in point: I didn’t grow up in a church. We went a handful of times. The Christmas candle-lighting church-going kind. I think those regular attenders would have called us “the Christmas and Easter crowd.” Yes, people like us got names. I did, however, know about God. I knew about sin. It was probably one of the most talked about things growing up. All the things we couldn’t and shouldn’t do. Adam and Eve, and that original sin that came through them. I knew of personal sin, the sins we chose, our willful acts against God. I knew that a life of sin sent you to hell.

I now attend church regularly. I pastor in a church. Because, well…it is just like God to take someone from the “Christmas and Sunday crowd,” and use them to minister to others. I also am still tempted by Satan to sin. I may at times know what to do, and be tempted to not do it.

And just like myself, you are not immune.

I know what you may be thinking: I don’t sin. I read my Bible. I attend Bible study. I go to church every Sunday and I serve. So that isn’t me.

But you do struggle with the “what I know to do, but what I do anyways.” We all do. Even the Bible reading, Bible studying, Sunday going, preacher type. Because we are human. And we all have a propensity and a bend towards sin.

Look at Paul. Paul for goodness sake. He speaks to what we all encounter in our daily walk in holy living:

What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary. But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. Romans 7:15-20, MSG

We sometimes decide to act in one way, but lack the self-control to simply do it. We don’t want to do that thing we said we were trying not to do, but we slip and do it again.

So yes…you have sinned. Maybe unintentionally. But you have done one thing when you should have done something else. Need some examples? Here’s some relatable ones for you in case you are stuck on robbery, murder or adultery. 

How about pure lack of self-control when it comes to maybe your speech? The Bible is clear about unwholesome talk, and it doesn’t just mean a few choice curse words. It means ill words about a believer, or anyone that God would desire that we speak of in love. We sin each time we choose to use words to tear down, instead of words to encourage or build up. We sin each time we go to our neighbor to speak ill words about a person, instead of words that are positive, edifying, and meant to glorify. We sin each time we gossip and repeat stories that we didn’t hear directly from the person about whom we are speaking. The Bible tells we ought not speak these hurtful things, and what we should do instead.

How about how we deal with our conflicts? The word is clear we should not sin in our anger (Ephesians 4:26), however, in conflict is anger our go to response? If it is, how is our behavior? Riddled with sharp words, and flailing arms. Or perhaps we never even have a conversation with the person at all, maybe we have it with everyone but. Conflict that is handled without sin at the center is handled like Jesus indicated in Matthew 18:15-20. Yet, we often do the opposite of what we know we ought.

Even yesterday…on Easter, my gracious. I had to pray through most of the service that God would rid me of the focus on anything else besides Him. Because I was just distracted. And maybe others didn’t see it, but I did…the screen turning off, the movement of people. My mind wandered to the number of things all around me that were overwhelming, and likely a tactic to take focus away from the purpose-Jesus’ victory over death.

And those simple, worldly things keep us focused on the world. Which is where Satan wants us.

And I know when I am distracted and the focus is taken off Him, other things set in. Anxiety breeds thoughts that lead directly where the devil wants me. In my own head. In my pride. On my self. Exactly where self-control flees, and sin can creep in. And if I don’t have a handle on it, I can forget what I ought, and do what I know I shouldn’t.

We all can get here. No matter how many Bible verses you read. Bible study or Sunday morning serves you attend. The devil is ready for you to shift focus, so he can grab your self-control and move you right into some sin.

Stand on guard. Keep your focus on Him, and what you ought to do. And if you shift, turn off course; no matter how small the curve-repent. And do what you ought again. And again. And again.

Be Honest with Little

“If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities.  And if you are untrustworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven? And if you are not faithful with other people’s things, why should you be trusted with things of your own? No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money.” Luke 16:10-12

Do you know a shrewd manager? Kind of like the one Jesus was talking about in Luke 16? Someone who is dishonest and lacks integrity at work, and then doesn’t seem to understand the dire consequences when they finally get caught? Maybe they even appear successful way up there at the top, but their success is only appealing by the standards of the world, and was won through dishonest means.

What exactly does it look like to be dishonest and untrustworthy with worldly wealth?

Maybe it is climbing to the top of that company ladder, and stepping on anyone you can on the way up. Or owning a business, skimming money off the top, or using it to exploit others for your personal agenda. Anything God deems sinful that we may do to gain funds. Gambling. Sexual exploitation. All to acquire that material possession. That house. That car. That girl. That guy. That love. All the things we think money can buy.

Earlier this week in our kitchen, our youngest was “joshing” his sister about something that happened at school. It’s what middle school brothers do to their high school siblings. It’s a fact of life. To her, this was considered a lie. Though to us-it was simply a joke. To which she began to debate how she had NEVER, EVER told us a lie. Which, in fact…is true. She had…actually not. Aside from pranks and jokes, neither really had.

We had been clear that lying was not tolerated. Lying created a number of problems. For the person lying, and for many others involved. If it involved an action in addition, those actions often had potential consequences. Many that could lead to moral and spiritual dilemma. Integrity may come into question, and trust among others can become broken, taking a long time to repair. One small lie, often leads to bigger lies-as our need to make up for the smaller one we told becomes greater. We see no way out of the huge hole we dig from the first untruth.

We had trusted them when they had told us things, because they had been truthful with even the smallest of things. When they had something to share whether big or small, we were certain whatever came from their mouth would be the truth. Because it had been spoken so frequently prior. If the opposite had been true, we may have had doubts.

Though lying may be a small example, it plays a part in how others will deem us trustworthy and honest in relationships. Regardless of how we handle money, the ways in which we handle our words and our responsbilities to people; whether we honor our word, and keep our promises will also go a long way in whether others will find us a person of integrity and honesty or not. Do we make promises we cannot keep? Do we borrow something and never return it? Do we take something without permission, or steal and pass something off as ours? We may not be dealing with money, essentially, but we are certainly not dealing in a manner that is trustworthy.

God’s character is genuine, true, and honest. This is the character he desires we have as well, as he made us in his image, and desires we be good. If we are to be holy as he is holy, our aim should be to walk in the way that is honest and faithful to truth, and not deceitful in our dealings with others. Not lying to others, and not crooked in the way we handle our finances in an effort to come out on top. We must be people of our word, and most importantly-people of His Word. Honest, faithful, true, and trustworthy.

Think On and Do These Things

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:8-9

Thoughts. Our thoughts become our voice, and often our patterns of behavior. What we think about ourself and even others, can be outwardly reflected in the way we respond with or without love.

The verses above are often referenced at times as a prescription for anxiety, as they can be; they are also a prescription for the stance we must take against those things that we may encounter or consume that are not trustworthy, honorable or worthy of praise.

Garbage in, garbage out.

First, let’s talk about our thoughts. Let’s simplify this as it applies to Paul’s instructions and our character. Our thoughts and perspectives about particular situations, especially as they apply to others. Because this verse can certainly apply here. When we encounter a person with whom we share a difference of opinion, or even someone with whom we don’t connect, don’t understand, or maybe we even have some sort of conflict with them personally, or with something they may be doing-we do a couple things. We form thoughts and opinions about their character, their actions, and their intentions. We often believe based on our thoughts, our own perspectives, our own version of events that said person may be driven by malice. May be aloof. Not like us. We have our own thoughts about their intended motives because we don’t truly support their mission. For whatever reason we have decided they should not be successful, and we look for anything but admirable qualities to prove it. And if you look for those qualities you will find them, even in the smallest, most ridiculous of things.

What would happen if we did what Paul asked us to do? If we changed those negative, fault-seeking thoughts and began to look for good? Intentionally? In people? And in situations that made us feel frustration? What if we looked for the truth about a person instead of believing whatever so and so told us about them? If we focused on the admirable accomplishments of others, and applauding them instead of sitting in our envy and jealousy tearing down those who dare to brave and step out into boldness for God? What if we talked more about things that were worthy of praise, and less about things that tear others down? Would our thoughts be fixed on Christ, and less on the flaws of others?

Next, Paul is not only speaking of our speech or the way we see people here-he tells us to put what he says into practice. Remember, I mentioned garbage in, garbage out. So that means whatever you take in, your output will be the same. So if you take in good, your actions will be good. If you practice kindness, your actions will be kind; and if you practice deception, then your actions will be the same-deceitful.

If we are filling our minds with junk. If we are consistently surrounding by the influences of evil desires, and things that turn us away from a pure and holy God, eventually our actions will begin to look like the thing that is filling our minds. This is why Paul warned us where to fix our thoughts-on what honors Him. Those things that are going to reflect Christ within you and keep you focused on Him.

The One that provides peace and can be a light to someone who will see it shining in you.

In Your Anger

I love to read the Psalms. Yes, they are poetic. Beautiful. Full of emotion. But I also love to read them, because I find that David was all up in his feelings at times as much as I find myself most of the time.

Case in point:

Arise, O Lord!
    Rescue me, my God!
Slap all my enemies in the face!
    Shatter the teeth of the wicked! Psalm 3:7

Why do I resonate with this? Because I realize many of you may not operate this way. Your natural response may be to freeze and do nothing, and run away from people. My reaction to injustice or hurt is to fight. It always has been.

I was always sassy. Have been since a little girl. I spoke up. I was loud. If something was sideways or not right…I pointed it out. And if I wasn’t heard, I may have likely punched things. I tried not to punch people, so I was the girl who kicked and punched holes in walls. Nothing was off limits. Brick walls, car windows.

I know what it feels like to feel so stinking mad, like things were so unfair… you want to punch something. I’m a bit tamer now. Still sassy, but I don’t punch holes in things. No. I hold onto anger. Until it eats me up inside.

Like David, who yes…wrote some beautiful Psalms, I can get blazing mad. And let’s just be real-when we are mad, or someone has hurt us, what do we often want? Revenge. And maybe a good punch in the teeth may feel like that to us. May feel like a bit of justice, but it isn’t what God has in mind.

Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. James 1:19, NLT

He has something more like that in mind. Less like punching people in the teeth. Less like punching out hurtful words on an email, social media post, or text.

Sure, we may all want to do these things, but they don’t show Christ in our moments of anger. We may all want to give someone a piece of our mind. Put them in their place. Have the last word, and tell them all about themselves, but it does nothing but tell them about ourselves when we start doing anything that reflects the opposite character of Christ in these heated moments.

If I really did punch someone in the teeth, who would see Christ in me? Even if they did deserve it? If I tapped out what I really wanted to say back in a text; what I really thought of their character in that moment, would they see Christ in those crafted out messages? Probably not. Surely their friends would get the screen shot, though, So my response must be one to reflect the Savior I profess to follow.

Yes, I want to in the moment say what I really feel. I want to speak my angry words. And tell people what I think of them in the moment when they have hurt me.

What I am called to as a child of God is stop. Think about what I am about to say. Let the other person finish speaking. Because let’s be honest, we don’t really listen. We listen to speak. We listen to answer. We don’t fully listen before we jump in with a response. And decide if what they said even needs to be responded to right away, or at all.

And if it does needs to be responded to, do so when you are not angry. Because anger can cause you to respond in ways you normally would not if you are calm. Remember our opener and David? Let’s respond after you have sorted through all your punching in the teeth feelings.

Scripture is clear that anger is OK. Anger is an emotion that God has given us to spur us to action. To help us to recognize and take action against injustice, but it can cross the line towards sin if we use it as a way to justify our words and hurtful actions towards others in conflict and daily interactions. In fact, Ephesians 4:26 warns “not to sin in your anger.” So, it’s likely we will come across things that will make us angry, but how will we deal with them? Like Christ, or like the world?

It’s time to listen more than we speak. To start holding our tongue a bit, or tapping it on the back of our teeth, if we feel like desire to punch someone in their’s. It’s time to decide if we need to respond and be a part of every debate. Are there some conflicts we can sit out? It may even be time to stop texting and simply picking up the phone and calling. Or if we have been hurt, maybe tap out the response you would really like to give, the one that would make you feel good, the one with ALL the things you want to say-then delete that whole paragraph, and send a Christ-like response instead, and then simply move on.

Because this is what God would want-more listening, less speaking, and whole lot less sinful anger.

April Bible Reading Plan: How is Your Character?

Jesus.

I wanted this month’s plan to be about Jesus, because that’s what Easter is really all about. Not candy. Not baskets. Not bunnies. Jesus. And his sacrifice for our salvation. 

And all things do point back to him. As they have in so many discussions I have had about character recently, and the way we choose to live. The choices we make. Both the wise and unwise. 

I have thought about how to appropriately study Jesus this month. Most will study his miracles. His death. His resurrection. And those are all so important, as they pave the way for someone to seek salvation. Yet, with that salvation comes something. A new way of life. A new way of life that many may not quite understand. Know how to walk, or to be ready for. 

Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him,  throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. Ephesians 4:21-24, NLT

The making new means a change occurs instantly. Yes. Sin is wiped clean. But new habits begin to form. Those old desires are beginning to shed because of the presence of the Holy Spirit. A shift in character should develop. And we start to look different, have a desire to make different choices. Our journey with Jesus begins as he develops our Christ-like character. 

Some of the development takes a little longer. It’s harder to shed. But it’s necessary if we want to reflect his light. 

If our intended goal is to be like him, we develop a different character. A character that reflects his. We “walk it like we talk it,” as they say. So this month’s reading plan is focused on just that-walking in that character-Christian character.

Let’s start.

Because this is where many believe the journey begins. With the way you look. And that belief goes WAY back to Jesse and his boys. 

This was on display as my husband and I were preparing for my second ordination meeting a week or so ago. As we sat waiting, a couple came out ahead of us. He had this idea to play “guess who is the pastor” between the two. The man or woman of the couple. It was clearly the man. He looked like he had been through the ringer, and I knew that look. I knew exactly what that “look” felt like. The look of defeat. Then came this question: “Which one of us do you think they think is the ordination candidate?” My response was easy. He had on a tie. I was not under dressed. But my tattoos were showing, and come on…I am a woman. “You. They think it is you. You are a well dressed man. I am a woman.”

Appearances mean something. And we ALL judge them. We judge clothing. We judge whether someone is good or bad based on the markings they have on their skin. We judge another’s abilities based on their appearance. Stature. Build. Looks. We are fortunate that God does not do this.

I was reminded of this again recently when the story of David’s anointing was mentioned. in 1 Samuel 16. God sends Samuel to the house of Jesse, father of 8 sons, to anoint the next King. God warns Samuel not to be deceived by stature, build, or outward appearance: Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. 1 Samuel 16:7, NLT

Samuel arrives and Jesse’s seven sons are parading around the house, trying to impress Samuel; doing all they can to prove they are most certainly the chosen. There is one missing. The runt. Out serving in the fields. The one chosen by God to be anointed king.

God chose the smallest of the litter to be the one. The one who was forgotten, who Jesse didn’t even mention, but who had a heart after God, and was serving. He chose that one.

And that is what He sees. He does not see your size, and goodness knows there are many times I have felt like nothing but a runt of a woman, with a twang of a voice, misunderstood, and unworthy because of it. Seen for the markings on my skin, and not for my abilities, but knowing without a shadow of a doubt that God sees beyond any of these things to the gifts I use to serve Him.

That is what we look for in others as well. Beyond the clothes. Beyond the pitch or tone we don’t quite like. Beyond the tattoos we just don’t quite get, or we would never get. Not your thing? Ok. But is Jesus? Does he have your heart? Does he have theirs? Then that is what matters. The only that matters to God, and what should matter to us, too.