Misplaced Responsibility

shutterstock_670207864How many times have you found yourself overwhelmed and burned out?  If you are like me, it’s probably been more than once!  I say all the time that we get thrown into so many circumstances in life and even if there are a lot of good things (by our definition), the amount of activity just seems to keep increasing, and it totally wears us out.   That’s where I find myself now, and I’m sure many of you can relate.

So how do you know when the candle you’ve been burning at both ends is about to disappear?  Well, first there are the obvious clinical signs like:

  • Exhaustion – physical and/or emotional
  • Physical health issues – headaches, dizziness, chest pains, illness, etc.
  • Mental health issues – anxiety, depression, anger or hopelessness
  • Forgetfulness or having trouble concentrating
  • Apathy
  • Increased irritability
  • Lack of productivity, poor performance or feeling like you never accomplish anything
  • Pessimism or cynicism
  • Isolation

Although I have been here before, this time around has brought some enlightening revelations that I just had to share.

I will not go into all the many things that are wearing me out these days, but suffice it to say I am being hit from all sides in all kinds of different ways.  I have found myself in my car, heading to someplace I have responsibilities (work, church or home), sobbing and telling God, “I can’t do this anymore!”  It is simply overwhelming.  No one wants to live with a constant barrage of difficult circumstances, and yet when I look around me, it seems like so many of us are in that place most of the time.  So I started wondering what I am taking on that is not my responsibility, and this is where my thoughts had to unravel a little so that they could come back together more appropriately.

shutterstock_143745571I was raised with a sense of responsibility and accomplishment.  I have always tried to be the best at what I do, but more importantly I have tried to love and serve God and others in every way possible.  I’ve been active in church all my life, worked successfully at my job, and had all kinds of other interests and activities.  My point is that I am not one to sit on the sidelines, and it is important for me to feel like what I am doing makes a difference for others.  That all sounds great, until I began to realize my positive drive becomes warped when my sense of responsibility gets skewed.

Many of us take on far more responsibility than necessary for certain things in life.  I realize there are also a lot of people who take NO responsibility for anything which makes the rest of us feel as though it is our job to pick up the slack.  After all, if we don’t do it, who will?  There is some truth in that question, but we need to be careful that we aren’t falling in love with being the “doer” or getting our fulfillment from being superhuman (or thinking we are).  I admit fully I have been in that exact cycle at times in my own life.  It feels good to get all kinds of stuff done!  It feels good to help everyone.  It feels good to plan and execute events, etc., but lately there have been a few situations that have brought to my attention the fact I have started mistaking my desire for my responsibility.   That, my friends, is a dangerous mindset, because it means burnout is already upon us or barreling toward us at a high rate of speed!  I mentioned that I have been wondering what I’ve taken on that is not my responsibility.  What am I doing to myself that is adding to my own burnout these days?  The answer is that I have been taking on misplaced responsibilities.

We all have areas where we have to rely on a leader of some kind.   (I use the term “leader” loosely, as many so-called leaders do not actually lead.)  In our jobs, we have Supervisors/Owners.  In our churches we have Pastors.  In volunteer work we have Executive Directors.  You get where I’m going with this.  The problem is when leaders don’t actually LEAD, everything starts falling apart.  Even Proverbs 29:18 warns us, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”   There are countless examples of organizations, churches or companies that have died off because of a lack of leadership.  When that happens, people try to find all kinds of reasons for the failure of a company, church or even a family, when the truth is there was no leadership!  shutterstock_383113444When leaders become so engrossed in themselves, or so detached from the people they are supposedly serving, there is chaos.  That chaos may not always manifest in external ways, but internally it leaves people feeling alone and without support or direction.  That’s when you see informal leaders appear, and often those people are not always operating with the best intentions; sometimes they are seeking control.  I will add though, sometimes there are also very good people who are simply trying to step up and keep things going in the absence of appropriately placed leadership.  When leaders don’t lead, it begins a vicious cycle that only stops when the he or she takes a hard look in the mirror and changes, or you get a new leader.  Aside from one of those two things, “the people perish.”  Do you know whose responsibility it is to lead?  THE LEADER’S!

So back to the revelation about responsibility and burnout that struck me so hard it changed my thinking.  I realized that although the good I have been trying to do in certain areas of life has been sincere and from a heart of love, there was/is an extra element of compensating for what I perceive to be a lack of leadership.  I’ve been here before, but this time it was like God opened up the sky and shined a huge light right down on this perception.  You see, there are some areas in life where you can only do so much.  We should always do what God calls us to do and let Him handle the results, but when there is no life or passion in those around you, people are perishing.  There is no amount of effort you or I can put into an organization of any kind that will effectively substitute for a lack of leadership from the person who holds the official position of leader, regardless of the title by which it is called.  And if it IS possible for us to keep holding things together when a leader won’t lead, then we have much bigger problems than lifelessness or a lack of passion.

It is a hard thing to realize, no matter how much we love or care about our jobs, churches, volunteer work, etc., there is no amount of effort we can put in that will substitute for leadership.  I’m not saying we can’t step up and be leaders in some of these areas, but when THE leader won’t (or can’t) step up and fulfill their responsibilities, our efforts will so often result in a burnout that scorches us at the very core.  It not only burns us out, it changes what was intended for good into something that is unhealthy for us.  We can only keep pressing on when we realize that some things are not our responsibility.

For a person of faith, God is my ultimate leader and guide.  It is my responsibility to follow where He leads and do what He calls me to do.  The rest is up to Him.  What we do in life is important; there’s no question about that, but how we do it is even more important.  When I start feeling like everything rests on my shoulders, I have misplaced my focus and energy.  And when that happens, the fire within starts to suffocate and burnout is inevitable.  I have had the opportunity to lead others in many different endeavors and situations, and it is a responsibility I take very seriously.  I know what it is like to wither under a lack of leadership, and I know that God can do amazing things when we simply submit to Him and let Him do the heavy lifting.

So today I am struggling with the fact that I can’t fix some things that are broken.  I’m struggling with the possibility of what God might be doing or how/where He is moving because it is unknown to me, even though He sees what I cannot.  I am exhausted and discouraged by the path I have been walking and the lack of passion I see in others that I cannot ignite.   It is my responsibility and my honor to pray for the people in leadership that affect me.  It is my responsibility to love others and to forgive without judgment or condemnation.  It is my responsibility to follow, unashamedly, wherever God leads.  It is my responsibility to be and act as I am called to be and act.  I will continue to ignite passion wherever God calls me to be a light, but it is time to let go of the responsibilities that He has placed on someone else.shutterstock_82458775

It is my prayer that we will all take a deep breath and remember not everything is our responsibility.  It’s time to stop trying to make up for what is lacking in others and step back to refocus.  Without vision, the people perish.  A lack of leadership can be scary, discouraging, frustrating and depressing, but thank God He has promised to lead and guide us no matter our circumstances.   He is a God of passion not apathy, so if you are a leader, then lead!  And if your leaders are not leading, then seek God’s direction on the path ahead.  If we are seeking Him, He will make it clear.

Blessings!

The 11-Day Journey

Murmuring, grumbling, complaining.   We are all guilty of it, and we really don’t stop to think about what it costs us.   Not only does it turn us into people that others don’t want to be around, it can actually change the course of our journeys.  We say it’s just harmless venting, and yes, there are times that we need to vent a little bit, but spending our time complaining or murmuring about our situations, or about other people in our lives, is something we should not be doing.  Period.

shutterstock_614595179When God delivered Israel out of their bondage in Egypt, He intended for them to inhabit the Promised Land.  The journey from where they were to where they were going was an 11-day journey (Deuteronomy 1:2), and yet it took them FORTY years to make it (Numbers chpt. 14).  They wandered around in the desert for 40 years because they did nothing but murmur and complain at almost every turn.  In Numbers chapter 14, God even said, “How long will these people treat me with contempt?  How long will they refuse to believe in Me, in spite of all the signs I have performed among them?  How long will this wicked community grumble against me?”  God goes on to say He was going to destroy them, but Moses interceded and asked Him to spare them.  God agreed to spare them, but then said not one of those who murmured and complained against Him would see the Promised Land.  The consequences these people experienced as a result of their complaining cost them far more than they would have ever expected, and an 11-day journey became one of 40 years.  God still took care of them during their 40 years of wandering, but it could have all been over much sooner, if only for a change of perspective.

How many times have you or I extended the amount of time we had to spend in certain circumstances just because we refused to stop complaining, gossiping, or getting caught up in the opinions of those around us?  Sometimes we can be swayed by group complaining.  After all, negativity is far more contagious than anything positive.  We get into situations where we feel justified in talking bad about someone, because we feel they deserve it.  People who have mistreated us, or even made poor personal decisions that affect us, are easy targets of our complaining, but we better be careful.  The more we complain, the more we “wander” until we change our perspective.  Israel eventually stopped complaining and trusted God, but it was at such great expense.  A generation of people (and complainers) died in the wilderness and never actually got to enter the Promised Land.  They missed out on the most amazing blessings and stayed stuck in a difficult and discouraging situation, because they chose to complain about everything instead of being grateful and trusting God to work things out.  Again, I ask how many times do we extend our own challenges because we do the same thing?

shutterstock_1017742099God tells us over and over to be grateful, but He also tells us to stop complaining!  Philippians 2:14 says to do all things without grumbling or arguing.  Ephesians 4:29 says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”  There are many other verses that tell us to speak words that lift up and encourage, not tear down and destroy, and even with all of this knowledge of what God expects from us, we just don’t seem to be able to stop the grumbling.   We can’t seem to let go of criticizing others around us for not responding to things like we think they should.  We walk around thinking our way is the best way, and eventually it diminishes our ability to actually listen to the people around us.   You’ve probably heard the saying, “God gave you two ears and only one mouth, because you should listen twice as much as you speak.”  We are losing the ability to listen for the purpose of truly hearing, and it is harming us and our society.

When we listen to others, we are able to discern far better the reason for their reactions and even emotions at times.  We learn each other and can read between the lines to the deeper meaning (or problem) behind the words someone is speaking.  But listening this way requires humility.  You cannot truly listen to someone else while being full of yourself.  Being so convinced we are right takes up all the space inside us that is needed for seeing things from another point of view, one that may actually be better than our own.  We have to humble ourselves in order to listen, and we need to listen as though we are trying to learn something.  When we have an interest in something, we listen to information and instruction about it completely differently.  We WANT to know all we can about the subject.  The same is, or should be, true about listening to others.  We should love each other in such a way that we want to know all we can about each other – not for the purpose of judging, but for understanding how to help and encourage each other more effectively.  Based on the way we listen, it’s obvious we aren’t nearly as interested in each other as we claim to be.  I recently came across a verse that has become a prayer for me, even though Isaiah 50:4 is actually a statement of something God has already done.  Two of the phrases struck me and have become this prayer: “Lord, instruct my tongue with a word to sustain the weary, and waken my ear to listen like one being taught.”   I want to love and care for others in a way that causes me to humble my spirit and speak words of encouragement.  I want to set aside my expectations of who or what they should be and listen as they teach me who they are, because that kind of perspective can change the world one person at a time.

shutterstock_294695897We all have situations in life that are extremely difficult at times.  We deal with all kinds of problems and challenges, some that are gut-wrenching or heartbreaking, and it’s easy to see why we might fall into a perpetual state of complaining.  When we are hit with trouble from every side, it’s hard to keep pressing forward or even to hold to our faith while standing still.  Romans 4:8-9 reminds us, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.”  That sounds encouraging, but the truth is, in the heat of our troubles, we don’t believe those words are true.  Not only that, it feels good to complain!  It really is true that misery loves company.  We’ve elevated complaining to an art in our society.  We’ve become a people who actually tries to “one-up” each other in the difficulty of our circumstances.  It’s like we wear our troubles as a badge of honor!  We’ve all known people who seem to only have words of negativity about themselves or others around them.  They are the ones always looking to gossip or share negative things about someone else, often in an attempt to make themselves look better or seem more important.  We’ve known people who complain or grumble in order to look more like a martyr for doing something.  We’ve known people who also live like Eeyore with a “poor, pitiful me” mentality.  As people of faith, when are we going to wake up?!  When are we going to admit that our complaining comes not just from a place of feeling slighted by others, but by believing we have been slighted by God (though we probably wouldn’t admit that out loud)?

So how then do we set aside our tendency to grumble and complain?  We do it by changing our focus.  I realize that is easier said than done, but some of the best advice on what we should be doing is found in God’s word.  Philippians 4:8 tells us exactly what we should be thinking about.  “Finally, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good report, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”  This isn’t just advice for people of faith, but for all mankind.  How do we stop complaining?  By dwelling on THESE things!  I’m not saying it is easy to do, but we absolutely have the power to focus on whatever we choose.  We need to surround ourselves with friends and family who can listen to us vent for a bit, but then gently help us shift our focus.  Thinking on the things mentioned in Philippians 4:8 doesn’t mean we won’t feel the emotions that sometimes overwhelm us.  We will still get frustrated, sad or even angry, but we don’t have to continue ruminating on the difficulties we face day in and day out.  My great-grandma liked to say, “You can’t keep a bird from flying over your head, but you don’t have to let it build a nest.”  We can’t keep thoughts from popping into our head at times, but it doesn’t mean we have to let them take up residence!  And by the way, we also don’t need to let everything that pops into our heads pop out of our mouths!

shutterstock_228591001This world is in need of joy; WE are in need of joy.  That means we also need each other!  We need to focus on loving each other and helping each other, rather than “wallerin’ around in our troubles” (and yes, I just used the word “wallerin’”).  When we complain, we end up cutting off support we would otherwise have, because people don’t usually want to be around a complainer.  More importantly, it grieves God to hear us continually complaining about our lives.  He loves us and has promised He is working everything out for our good.  He just wants us to trust Him because He sees a much bigger picture than what you or I can see.  So often, we are just like the Israelites wandering in the desert, complaining about where or how God is leading us.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to risk wandering around in my own personal wilderness for 40 years, when I could have walked through it in 11 days by trusting God, focusing on the good, and simply biting my tongue.  Lord, instruct my tongue with a word to sustain the weary, and waken my ear to listen like one being taught!

Blessings!

 

Are You Parenting Your Gifts?

I wanted to write a post last week as we approached Mother’s Day, but life’s circumstances kept me from it.  Life isn’t what it used to be and it seems to be crowding out my passions more and more, but maybe the delay was there to give me time to think a little differently.  Maybe this post needed a “twist”

shutterstock_129320129Many of you who know me or have read my blog for the past few years know that I did not give birth to children of my own.  I used to say I was not “blessed” with children of my own, but I have tried to change the way I look at it.  Children are certainly a blessing from God, but so is every other gift with which God blesses us.  And just like it is the responsibility of a mother or father to nurture, grow and raise his/her child, it is our job to nurture, grow and raise our appointed gifts.  One gift from God is not greater than another and if we are living as we should, we will not treat them as such – in ourselves or in looking at those around us.  God entrusts all of us with specific gifts that require sacrifice, patience, responsibility, passion, love in order to raise them.  Those gifts also often bring us disappointment, frustration, and heartaches as we see them not turning out the way we planned, or when we make mistakes in how we raise them.

We need to start looking at our lives differently.  We need to open our eyes to the world around us and recognize where we are being called to serve.  It’s just so incredibly easy to get lazy and not walk out the path for which we are chosen.  It’s easier to become a lazy parent of our gifts.  It’s easy to feel those gifts tugging at us for attention but simply offer up something to keep them occupied so that we can go on living the lives WE want instead of realizing the importance of doing the hard work that comes with nurturing and growing that which God placed within us.  I admit, I have often found myself the lazy parent of my gifts.  This blog has many times reminded me of it.  The intentions are good but the execution is lacking.  I have made excuses in my mind for all the reasons that keep me from my writing, or working on my books, or doing something with my music, or reaching out to find opportunities to speak.  I’m not saying the distractions aren’t valid, because most of them are, but I am saying that it is easy to give up and stop trying whenever life gets too complicated or too busy.  Just like a parent with a child, sometimes I’m just too tired to put in the effort anymore.  In the long run, that not only makes me feel I’m failing as the parent/steward of my gifts, but it can also have lasting impacts on the effectiveness of those gifts or what they turn out to be.

shutterstock_782571799We really are all gifted in certain ways.  God has given to each of us the abilities and interests we need in order to fulfill what we are called to do.  He has equipped us to walk whatever paths are before us, and He has promised to go with us wherever we go, but there are times those paths (or those gifts) feel like a burden.  I don’t know a parent who hasn’t had times of feeling burdened by the responsibility of raising his/her children.  It doesn’t mean they don’t love their kids, but the reality of day-to-day living is far more challenging than anticipated.  There are discouragements and frustrations that come along that make them question if they are doing the right things or dealing with their kids in the best ways to ensure they grow up to be good people.  The same is true of our other gifts and talents.  We know what we are called to do, or we recognize the gifts within us, but it is a continual learning process as to how we need to nurture them.  We make decisions that involve our gifts and then second guess if that was really the best use of them.  Other times we make obvious mistakes in the direction we go and then beat ourselves up for it.

Living with purpose isn’t easy in the chaos of our busy lives.  Just like parents can become so distracted by everything that is continually pulling at them, we can get distracted by so many things the enemy devises to keep us from nurturing what God has given us.  We can become so overwhelmed by our lives that we no longer even see our gifts, let alone know how to use them.  We end up lost in a sea of fear, doubt, depression or anxiety and then feel like giving up.  Being overloaded with life makes us want to just zone out and not have to consider our never-ending responsibilities.

shutterstock_760829524There is another aspect of parenting that also applies greatly to our gifts: protection.  Parents must protect their children, and we must also protect our gifts.  Our talents, abilities and callings must be protected.  People can be so mean and so incredibly judgmental of what we do with our lives.  They can discourage us, or even try to forbid us from using our gifts when it doesn’t fit their ideas or beliefs about what we should be doing.  People may even belittle the gifts themselves, making them seem meaningless or trivial when compared to the gifts or talents of others.  For example, someone with the ability to be a great musician, speaker, athlete or business-man/woman are often lauded to have great gifts.  It is “respectable” or “honorable” to be a doctor, lawyer, singer, athlete, etc.   On the other hand, the man or woman who is gifted to understand people with disabilities, or to clean homes/buildings, drive a bus, or anything else that isn’t as “shiny,” are viewed as having lesser gifts.  What about people who have the gift of praying or service?  You know them, the ones who are quietly faithful to do whatever it is God has given to them to do, without accolades or applause.  Are their gifts any less valuable?  On the contrary, I’d say they have the greatest gifts of all!   My point is that we don’t know each other’s children as well as know our own, and the moment we start thinking our gifts are better than someone else’s just because they look different, we are treading on very thin ice.

Maybe we don’t think we received the gifts we should have, or the gifts we wanted, but they are chosen for us by the God who spoke the worlds into order and knows everything ahead in our journeys.  That’s a pretty impressive and special thing to consider.  God doesn’t expect us to all be able to do the same things because He didn’t equip us to do the same things.  We need to stop looking at other people’s “children” and comparing them to our own.  What matters is how you raise YOUR gifts!  If you are called to serve, then serve with all your heart.  If you are called to pray, then pray mightily without doubting (as James 1 tells us).  If you are called to encourage, then do it.  If you are called to be a doctor, then be the best doctor you can be!  Whatever it is that you do, it is important because God chose you to do it.  Your prayers, service, cleaning, listening, forgiving, helping are equally as important as the brain or heart surgeries, arguing court cases, landing planes, or anything else.

shutterstock_217599499So today, I hope we will all step back and consider the gravity of parenting our respective gifts.  It is a responsibility, and it can be difficult and disappointing at times, but it can also be a source of great joy!  You are not here by chance, and you are not here to just take up space.  We are here “for such a time as this,” and we need to turn our focus upward.  We need to live according to the love, grace, mercy and forgiveness that has been given to us by our Heavenly Father and extend those things to the world around us.  We need to encourage each other’s gifts, not envy them. We need to support each other, not tear each other down.  We need to recognize the specialness of our own gifts from God and feel honored to be entrusted with raising them.  There may not be a holiday here on earth to commemorate or honor us for the raising of our gifts, but if we do it humbly as we are called to do, there is coming day where we will be honored by our Heavenly Father when we hear the words, “Well done.”

Blessings!

Hope For The New Year

shutterstock_731389564Well, we’ve just come through the first week of 2018 and have heard the words “Happy New Year” over and over.  We rang in the New Year in all different kinds of ways, and now we are back to the day to day grind.  Some of us made promises to do something different this year, while others are just trying to not rock the boat and keep things the same.  So now what?  And why do so many of us focus on making changes at this time of year?  Is it because we are unhappy with the current state of our life or is it because we are discontent with decisions we’ve made in the past.  Change at the turn of the New Year is enticing because, after all, who doesn’t want a clean slate (or even a “do-over”)?

The New Year brings exciting, and often motivating, potential for change.  We are energized for new things, but what do we do with the changes that happen to us?  It’s easy to jump in to try and make ourselves or our lives better, but how often do we actually keep the promises we make on January 1st?  A study by the University of Scranton revealed that only 8% of people achieve their New Year goals.  That means a whopping 92% do not succeed, but why?  It’s my opinion the main reason we fail in keeping on track with our goals for changing is because we don’t change US!   We don’t change our perspective, so we instead look at our goals as nothing more than a task.  Tasks are something you do; resolutions are something you become.   We talk about “New Year’s resolutions,” but a resolution is not just an intent, or even commitment, to do something better.  It is defined by Webster as “the act of finding an answer or solution to a conflict, problem, etc.”  A true resolution is not the intent to get a result; it IS the result. It is change that brings the resolution, not the other way around.

shutterstock_627074813Change is a constant part of our lives.  It happens to us all the time, often against our wishes.  When things are going well, we don’t want change.  When things are going poorly, we want change, but only on our timetable and on our terms.  Real change often interrupts our intent to change.  We make promises to ourselves (or others) to do something different but then something outside out control happens, and we are derailed.  How many of you are dealing with unexpected changes right now?  Some of us are dealing with difficult changes in our jobs, families, health, etc.  Some of us suddenly find ourselves as patients while others have been thrust into the role of a caregiver.   It is difficult when the New Year brings change to you instead of you bringing change to the New Year.   There are also positive changes for some of us.  Some have become parents, homeowners, financially stable, and many other things.  It isn’t about whether or not change will happen, but how we deal with it.

We each decide what we are going to focus on when things change around us.  Sometimes all we can see is the loss or what seems to be the destruction of our hopes and dreams, but we do have a choice in our perspective.  We need to remember that ALL change brings loss.   It’s part of the natural process.  In order to have something different, whether good or bad, we have to let go of something else.  Sometimes that loss makes us say “good riddance,” but other times it makes us scratch and claw while screaming, “NOOOOO!”  But what if we started looking at change differently?  What if we could become better at rolling with it?

As a person of faith, I know God is working all things for my good (Romans 8:28).  We all know it, but we constantly scramble when things aren’t going the way we would like.  We seem to lose sight of the fact that life is full of seasons, ups and downs.  Solomon said it beautifully in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8:

  • There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: 
  • a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, 
  • a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, 
  • a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,
  • a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, 
  • a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, 
  • a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, 
  • a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.

shutterstock_568487266There is truly a time for everything, and our definitions of good and bad are usually based on limited information.  The question is: do we trust the One who actually knows everything or not?  Are we going to live through the changes in life like a wind-up toy, going along until it hits a wall and then bounces off and goes another direction until it hits another wall?   The reality is that we really do have a choice and the result of our choice will either bring peace or anxiety.  If we approach unexpected change as though it is totally up to us to figure out the problem and fix it, then we are going to live a life full of constant stress, because there will always be circumstances we cannot control.  On the other hand, if we could realize that what we see as “unexpected” is never a surprise to our Heavenly Father, and that He has promised He is working all things for our ultimate good, then we can live a life of confidence and peace in the midst of every storm.  It doesn’t mean it will always feel good, but we can trust that it will eventually all work out.

So back to the fact we have just started a brand new year, if you think this year will be different, you are correct.  If you think there will be changes this year, you are also correct.  If you think you will have total control over those changes, think again.  It is a beautiful thing to take the time to reflect on your life and make plans for positive changes or better decisions.  It is good to hope, but we need to make sure our hope is not inappropriately placed in ourselves or others.  As the old hymn says, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.  I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.  On Christ the solid rock I stand.  All other ground is sinking sand.”  He knows everything we are going through and what is to come.  He cares intimately about every aspect of our lives as His children.  He has the power to handle any and everything in our lives, and He will always work things out when it is for our ultimate good.

shutterstock_484456384So I wish you all an amazing 2018!  It is my prayer that all of us can learn to lean on what we know in our hearts instead of going it alone.  We can become better parents, children, employees, bosses, church members, pastors or whatever other role we may fill.  The best way to do that is to fall back into our Father’s arms and let Him show us the paths to walk.  And when the next January 1st rolls around, we will be able to share not only our hopes for another year, but our resolutions – our results – from the journey we are embarking on right now.  That, my friends, is what a resolution is all about.

Blessings!

Tangled Webs

“Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”  (Walter Scott)

shutterstock_217580560Sometimes it can get really discouraging when you are continually faced with people who are not honest.  We’ve all been there, those times when you are either lied about or lied to. Sometimes it is intentional, and sometimes it happens out of exaggeration without thinking.   Either way, it reveals something about a person’s true character when it happens, and if it is us doing the lying, it reveals the same about our character as well.  Recently, I have been lied about and lied to.  When it occurred, I was both discouraged and disturbed by it.  Although I forgave the people involved and tried to understand why it might have happened, I lost a great amount of (if not all) respect for them.  I was blessed to have had the lie revealed in these situations, but that doesn’t happen every time.  Sometimes we just have to continue walking in integrity and trust that God will take care of the situation(s) in His time and in His way, even if we never know it happens or get to see the result.

The battle against dishonesty is often difficult because lies are based in so many other negative things.  There are countless reasons why a person would lie about (or to) someone else.  Here are just a few examples:

  • Guilt or Fear – Being confronted with something done wrong can entice someone to lie in order to avoid the consequences of their actions. (“The dog ate my homework,” or if you’ve ever watched a real-life cops show, “These aren’t my pants.”)
  • Embarrassment – Making a mistake can often make a person feel embarrassed. Rather than just owning up to it, someone might lie to cover it up.  (“No one told me I needed to do that,” or “My phone must not have been working.”)
  • Insecurity – When someone feels insecure, it isn’t uncommon for them to lie or exaggerate about a situation in order to make themselves look better, or sometimes to even establish themselves as a victim. (“I have a degree in _____,” or “They never listen to me.”)
  • Anger – When anger flairs, for whatever reason, someone may exaggerate the circumstance in order to gain the support of others, or a person may outright lie in order to get back at someone who hurt them. (This one certainly speaks for itself.)
  • A desire for power, status or money – Sometimes people are so consumed with getting power and status (which usually comes with money), they will step on anyone in their way to attain it. They will say whatever they have to in order to gain favor with those currently with power and status, even if it is totally untrue.  This includes taking credit for things they haven’t done or not taking blame for things they have messed up.  (“You know, Sally thinks you aren’t very smart,” “That was my idea,” or “I told them not to do it that way.”)

My point in the few examples above is that a lie isn’t just about the untruth being told; it is rooted in much deeper issues within a person or situation.  In other words, telling the truth is simple; Lies are complicated.

shutterstock_656855419The only way to battle dishonesty is with truth.  If we try to battle against lies with reason or even anger, we will probably just end up frustrated with the results.  That’s because lies breed other lies!  When someone lies to or about you, and they are confronted, don’t be surprised if another lie is told to try and get out of the uncomfortable or awkward position in which that person finds themselves.  Depending on the reason for the untruth in the first place (as mentioned above), that same force will often drive a second or third lie in order to cover it up or keep the charade going.  The ONLY way to face dishonesty is to shine the light of truth on it.  But before you start cheering, “Yeah, expose it,” we probably need to consider something else.

Our natural response to a lie is to be hurt, upset, sad, or even downright angry!  We feel (and are) justified in those emotions, but if we react out of those emotions, we are in danger of committing our own exaggerations and untruths.  It is just as easy for us to fall prey to our emotions or insecurities and make decisions or say things that might be inappropriate because we feel so wronged.  We want to expose the person and their untruth to everyone else.  We want to clear our name or tarnish theirs, but before we address an untruth or misrepresentation, we need to step back, take a breath and ask God for wisdom and guidance in how to proceed.

Over the course of my life, there are times I have reacted with an instant indignation toward the person(s) involved in an untruth.  I barely take a breath before I react and let words came out of my mouth!  However, in other times, I didn’t react or say a word in that moment.  Instead, I walked away and prayed about what to do.  Those prayers were answered sometimes by delaying the ability to address it for a few days, but it has always been much more profitable to wait on God’s timing than to insist on my own.  By stepping back and asking Him for wisdom and guidance, it removed the anger and frustration, but it did not remove the hurt and disappointment associated with the situation.  Our relationship with God works that way sometimes; our tempers may calm, but the pain often remains.  Anger is fleeting, but wounds take time to heal.

shutterstock_102143122As people of faith, we know the guidelines of forgiveness.  We know we are to love our enemies and pray for those who mistreat us (Matt 5:43-48).  On one occasion, Peter asked Jesus how often he needed to forgive, thinking seven times was plenty.  Jesus responded with “seventy times seven” (Matt 18:21-22). That doesn’t mean 490 times and then stop, but rather that forgiveness is a process.  We are human, and forgiveness does NOT come easy to us.  It isn’t usually enough to forgive someone just once and walk away.  In our hearts, we tend to hold grudges and hang onto hurt, pain, and betrayal.  We may not outwardly give someone a cold shoulder or treat them poorly, but inside we often have to forgive them every time the hurt, anger or pain rears its head again.  We need to forgive so that we can let it go.  We need to sometimes forgive over and over internally until we reach that point.  We read in Matt 18:23-35 about a servant who was forgiven of a huge debt he had no way of ever paying back.  He begged for mercy and forgiveness and his master granted it and forgave his debt – lavishly!  Almost immediately, that same guy went out to someone who owed him a very small amount and when that man begged for mercy and forgiveness, the guy not only didn’t forgive the debt, but he threw the man into prison.  When the master found out, he went back to the servant and scolded him for his lack of mercy.  As a result, he also rescinded the debt forgiveness and put him into prison himself.  Jesus follows this parable with the statement, “This is how the Heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you  forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”  OUCH!

Before moving onto another thought, let me add what I believe is the most revealing aspect of how we are to forgive.  We often read or repeat what we call “the Lord’s prayer,” but the first thing we need to understand is that Matt 6 is not Jesus’ prayer for us, but rather Jesus giving us the way in which we should pray.  Most of us have said the words, “and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Matt 6:12). “As” does not mean “while;” it means “the same way.”    We say those words, but do we really understand what we are asking God in that prayer?  We are saying to God, Himself, “Forgive me the same way and in the same manner that I forgive others.”  Uh oh, that changes things doesn’t it?   The truth is we really love God’s mercy and the way He forgives us time and time again.  We love that He lavishly forgives us, but we don’t want Him to do that for the people who have wronged or hurt us.  We want Him to act out of justice, not mercy, in those cases, but Jesus tells us we should be asking God to forgive us in the exact same way we forgive others.  Now you can start to see why the illustration of “seventy times seven” is so important.  Yes, we are human.  Yes, we struggle to forgive and let it go, but when we find ourselves in that spot, we need to remember that having to internally forgive over and over again is not unusual.  Jesus knows it is a process and that we may have to walk through these truths again until we can forgive on the inside, no matter how many times that takes us.

shutterstock_82458775As I said earlier, “lies are complicated,” and spending our energy trying to figure out why someone is dishonest will rarely bring an answer we find satisfying.   Lies or misrepresentations can quickly become a web in which most of us do not want to be stuck – no matter if you are the spider or the fly.  Instead of focusing so much on the dishonesty we come across almost every day, wouldn’t it be better to focus on the truth?  Turning from anger to forgiveness frees us to live abundantly.  And if, perchance, you are struggling with a “justice gene” of your own, maybe it’s time to go back to that model prayer Jesus gave us.  Maybe it’s time to remember how lavishly we have been forgiven, with no strings attached, by the One who has every right to demand justice, but instead, chooses love.

“Forgive me of my own wrongdoing in the same way I forgive those who have hurt, wronged, or mistreated me.”  Be careful what you ask for from the One who sees and knows everything, but rejoice in the fact He will give you whatever you need in order to love and forgive as He does.  The choice is totally up to you.

Blessings!

24 To Life

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This may be a strange way to start this post, but recently I saw a television show that chronicled the last 24 hours of freedom for people who had been sentenced to years in prison.  It not only evoked several different emotions, but it also caused some discussions about what you would do if you knew you were going to prison tomorrow.   After the show was over, I didn’t think much more about it until a few days ago.

shutterstock_342646817Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the spiritual battles we face in this life.  At times, I really struggle to hang onto my faith when the enemy continually tries to get me to doubt what I know to be true about God and His nature toward us as His children.  I mean, I know the right things to say and even think, but it is so easy to get caught up in fear, frustration, sadness and a host of other emotions when we are faced with life’s difficulties.  Even the apostle Paul shared his struggle with the battle between our human nature and our spiritual one.  He said, “What I want to do, I don’t do, but what I hate, that’s what I do.  I don’t do the good I want to do, but I do the bad that I don’t want to do, and then keep on doing it.”  Man, he sounds a a lot like me.  Paul explains that it is his sin nature that causes such a problem because once we are saved, we know what we should do, but we often struggle to follow through with it.  Not only that, we struggle what to think, which then causes confusion in our emotions as well.  It’s easy to see why we are so often tangled up within ourselves, walking the line between fear and faith or doubt and trust.

I’ve come to realize that every battle in life is a “spiritual battle.”  Every difficult circumstance I’ve faced has always come back to my perspective on my circumstances.  Whether it was physical pain/illness, financial, professional or relationship issues, the true battle comes not in something I can see or touch, but in my mind where I struggle with confusion and doubt about what to do or how to feel.  Our battles are spiritual!  We have an enemy, and you can call him whatever you want, but God has assured us he is the enemy.  1 Peter 5:8 tell us “Be alert and of sober mind.  Your enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”  Ephesians 6:10-17 tells us about the armor we need to put on in order to fight and defeat the spiritual enemy.  Even Jesus, Himself, had to battle spiritually with Satan and his influence/temptations.  (Matt 4:1-11).  There are so many scriptures that talk about the battle between us and sin, or us and the enemy.  So yes, we are at war with the evil influences and tactics of our enemy in this world, but why is he so relentless?  Well, to answer that in a more contemporary terms, he is living in the stage of his existence that is 24 to life.

shutterstock_234987922Our enemy KNOWS his eventual fate.  The judgement and sentence has been declared and sealed!  Revelation chapter 20 describes exactly what awaits him.  He knows how it all ends, and yet he still has his last 24 hours of freedom before it all comes to pass.  He cannot run or hide from his fate, so he is determined to wreak as much havoc as he possibly can until that time.  He is continually trying to keep the unsaved from believing in Christ, but his greater successes come in trying to keep saved children of God from living the abundant life God has promised to us.  I will always believe that Satan’s greatest accomplishments come within churches full of believers.  God has promised to reveal himself to ALL men (Titus 2:11), so Satan can’t keep someone from the reach of God.  He has a much better chance at getting Christians to fall away from the truth than preventing someone from hearing, seeing, or knowing it.  Satan loves to blind people.  He loves to turn believers into unbelievers.  2 Corinthians tells us that he blinds the minds of the unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel.  I think we’ve done a huge disservice in taking this as referring to only those who have not accepted Christ as their Savior.  Yes, Satan can blind the unsaved so that it is harder for their hearts and minds to be opened, but he does NOT have the power to keep God from reaching them.  GOD IS ALL POWERFUL!  So then we have to look at that verse a little differently.

We, as people of faith, are often “unbelievers.”  We read the truth and know all the right words to say, but do we actually LIVE what we know is true?  Do we trust God in all circumstances or do we spend our time in worry and fear?  Do we forgive others, even if they don’t ask us, or do we hold grudges?  Do we let our ethical or moral standards fall in those times there is something we want?  Do we love others regardless of race, creed, religion, etc. or do we put conditions on our love?  Do we stand in the midst of life’s storms and get frustrated and angry, or do we put one foot in front of the other and follow wherever God wants us to walk, because HE knows what is best for us (Romans 8:28)?  This world is full of Christian Atheists who have accepted Christ as Savior, but then never live the abundant life He has promised because we let Satan blind US!  We become the “unbelievers!”  It doesn’t mean we are no longer saved or no longer God’s children, it simply means we have stopped believing what He says.

I have struggled with anxiety my entire life.  I have also struggled with physical issues since I was 18 months old that have been debilitating at times.  I worry.  I am afraid of something bad happening to people I love.  I struggle to hold onto peace in my heart during times of trouble, though most people wouldn’t know it.  Like many of you, I have learned to stand strong externally during difficult times but am often reduced to a fearful, frustrated heap that is full of doubt when no one is looking.  Thankfully, as I have studied and prayed more, God has continually revealed more of His character and how He interacts with us.  Being able to secure His word in my heart has changed me, not because someone preached it to me or even from simply reading it, but because I have sought to deepen my personal relationship with him as my “Abba Father.”  Abba is more than a pop group or musical!  “Abba” is the equivalent of our term “Daddy.”  shutterstock_419104021My relationship with God has shifted from a good relationship to an intimately personal one.  As a result, I have learned to relax IN HIM instead of relaxing because of Him.   There is a huge difference between knowing all the right verses and knowing Him.  There is a difference between seeing Him as a loving entity who can help you and recognizing Him as a Dad – as your “Abba Father.”

So back to the enemy for a moment…  He wants nothing more than for you, as a believer, to not believe.  He wants nothing more than to blind you so that you forget who you are and who your “Dad” is.  He is scrambling in this world because he knows he cannot win, and he cannot unseal his fate.  He is angry at God and wants to hurt him, but the only way he can hurt God is by distracting us and causing us to doubt the truth.  Satan’s fate is coming like a freight train. He knows it, but as long as he is still free and walking the earth, he is going to do everything in his power to destroy God’s reputation and steal our peace, joy and strength.  If he can keep us tied up in knots, then no one will ask us for the reason we have hope because we won’t look like we have hope!  When you realize that Satan is living HIS 24 to life right now, it can give you a whole new perspective on why he is so relentless.  His time is limited, and he has to mess up everything he can while he still has time.  He is DESPERATE!

Beginning to see the enemy as a powerful adversary, but also a desperate one, helps me understand why he refuses to give up the fight.  It explains why he keeps coming at me, trying to scare and frustrate me as I walk this journey of life.  He’s throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks, but I have the power IN CHRIST to stand strong and keep my peace and joy.  I have the ability to be content.  “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Phil 4:13)  Those “things” aren’t material.  All through Philippians chapter 4, Paul was talking about attitudes and perspectives.  I CAN think on the good things mentioned in verse 8.  I CAN rejoice in the Lord always – in ALL circumstances.  I CAN stop worrying and being anxious.  I CAN have peace.  These “things” are not easy.  These “things” take continual reminding and refreshing in our hearts or we fall back into the abyss of fear and doubt.  THESE are the “things” I can do through Christ who strengthens me!

shutterstock_542670394I’ll leave you with this last thought: We are also living in our own 24 to life period.  We all have a finite number of years on this earth.  Once those years are gone, we lose our opportunity to reflect the love and nature of our Father in Heaven to those here on this earth.  We lose the chance to make things right with the people in our lives.  We lose the chance to leave a positive mark on our own little corner of the world.  I don’t know about you, but I want the people who know me to look at me and say, “She is her Father’s daughter.”  I want people to see His nature in me because I love and forgive.  I want them to see someone who struggles with worry and fear but who also steps back and remembers the truth so that I have peace and contentment.  I am living 24 to life.  Though that “life” means eternity of peace and joy in Heaven, I want my “24” down here on Earth to not only be abundant for me in all ways, but to be an abundant encouragement and strength to everyone around me.  I pray that for myself, and I pray that for all of you too.

Blessings!

Time For A “Face” Lift

shutterstock_351834119Our society places a lot of value on beauty and outward appearance.  We think nothing of having work done (or of others having work done) to try and circumvent the effects of aging, and yet we are paying less and less attention to how we look on the inside.   We are losing our ability to be civil and courteous, and nowhere is this truth more apparent than on Facebook and other social media sites.  Over the past 6 months or so, I have been spending less time on Facebook and much of the time I’ve spent was, or is, hiding posts from people on ALL sides of varying issues (political or other).  My tolerance for the intolerance shown by so many people on so many subjects has really worn thin.  Before I go any further, let me just say that if you think I’m one of those people who just wants to stick their heads in the sand and not care, or are not willing to be engaged in thoughtful or even passionate discussion, I can assure you nothing is further from the truth.  I choose to be very engaged, just not online.

These days, there is turmoil all around us.  For one thing, the recent election cycle in our country has really taken a toll on most people and some people are very concerned – some for the same reasons and some for very different ones.  Then we look around us at other divides caused by different belief systems (whether religious or not), and it seems we are in a constant state of disruption and disagreement.  I have news for you: It has always been this way!   We think our debates are deeper or more enlightened.  We think the consequences are greater.  Guess what?  Every generation from the beginning of time has thought the same things.  And yes, people have always fought (and disagreed) passionately over what they believed.  From the beginning of time, there have always been people who were nasty and mean when trying to prove a point or argue a position, but it was different.  They didn’t have access to instant communication with the entire world!  We are bombarded with opinions and even mean-spirited lies about different positions or events.  We have instant information when something happens, and sometimes that information is not always accurate.  shutterstock_516722350That’s part of what is wrong with instant news.  Stories used to have time to develop before everyone heard something and reacted.  We’ve seen many stories that turned out not to be as they were originally portrayed, but it was too late to stop the reactions or public opinion – even when the facts finally come out.  On top of that, there is so much “fake” news that now exists for the sole purpose of stirring people up, or even worse, slandering or attacking them.

We live in a world where we can fire off our opinions immediately online, almost with impunity.  We no longer have to resort to picking up the phone and calling someone to discuss something.  We don’t have to wait until we are “around the water cooler” or face to face with someone before we throw out what we think.  There is something very valuable about waiting before we speak or give an opinion.  It gives us time to rethink HOW we want to give that opinion or state that comment.  We have lost our civility, and it has only escalated the meanness and fueled the fires of anger and hate.  Then we start choosing sides and refuse to listen to anyone who disagrees.  It’s true in our government as well as our own lives.  It needs to stop, but there are days when I fear we are too far gone.

Online we lose so much of what makes us human.  We lose tone, facial expression and body language. We lose accountability, and most of all we lose the trait of being courteous.  It’s easy to be rude when you don’t have to look people in the eye.  It’s easy to tear people down (including those we claim to love and care about) from behind a computer or phone screen.  There are no bounds to what people say or how far they will go to destroy someone who thinks, believes or lives differently.  As I mentioned earlier, even if we do not actively engage in the arguing, it is affecting us.  Even though we think we are ignoring it, we still feel its effects.  Think of it this way:  If you were in a room of people where the noise level and arguing (or fighting) was that loud, you would most likely leave even if you had an opinion that you wouldn’t mind discussing civilly.  Most of us would condemn the behavior we were witnessing and refuse to be part of it, but social media is different.  We’ve turned differing opinions into blood-sport.  We don’t care if a news story is real or fake; we use it as a weapon to go after people who disagree with us.  We’ve become more rude and intolerant as we hide behind our devices.  And that goes for ALL people of ALL beliefs and opinions.  shutterstock_74446510We don’t walk away from people who are rude or aggressive anymore, instead we devolve into them ourselves.  We forget that we are talking to human beings, and instead treat each other like animals.  We are bullies.  We are arrogant and insensitive asses.  We devolve into everything we say we aren’t or that we preach against.  We watch our friends tear each other down and just sit there.  We think, because we don’t read or react to the garbage that rolls through our feeds, that it isn’t affecting us.  But it is.  It wears on us until we finally crack.  I’ve fallen victim to it on several occasions myself.  “It” being that almost uncontrollable urge to fight back or snipe back at someone who is being unreasonable or, God forbid, wrong!  I’ve given into it on occasion, but it has almost always come with regret at some point.

The truth is, Facebook has become Face-less book.  We see photos but not each other.  We’ve become social voyeurs.  Voyeurs see others as objects and have no problem victimizing them as a result.  We, ourselves, have become less human and yet feel more entitled at the same time.  Everyone screams about intolerance, yet everyone IS intolerant.  Why?  Because it’s easy. Because even though we might love the people in our feeds, we feel faceless to them too.  The old saying that “character is what you do when no one is looking” is very true.  People sometimes ask, “What would you do if you knew you wouldn’t get caught?”  The answers are always interesting, but we are actually living in an age where we have created places where we think we can act like Neanderthals because we can’t be touched.  And then we wonder why our relationships (personally or professionally) are suffering.  We are so used to letting words fly out of our mouths without thought for others that we’ve started doing it in our real lives.  It was bound to happen, and yet we never saw it coming.  I see people who should be leaders acting like children, or even worse, teenagers whose only concern is being part of in the “in” club.  I see people snickering in corners about fellow workers, family members, church members or friends because their minds are being trained to think it’s normal to behave that way.  Just like we do on social media, we are watching it even if we aren’t actively participating.   And just like on Facebook, it is affecting us whether we want to admit it or not.

shutterstock_57395806So why does it matter? It matters because we are conditioning ourselves in ways that are harming us as individuals and as a society.  Our “real” lives are in turmoil.  We hear of tragedies almost daily where someone has attacked or even killed others.  We hear of relationships of all kinds falling apart and everyone is more concerned with blaming each other and making sure they are the one who  comes out “looking good.”  We watch kids bully and be mean to each other but then whine and cry when someone does the same to them.    We wring our hands and wonder why this selfish behavior has become so common, but we refuse to look in the mirror and admit we are part of the problem.  Whether we are actually fighting or being a voyeur, we are part of the problem.  We are more and more desensitized which makes us less and less self-aware.  In our “real” lives, we are becoming quicker to point out others who are being rude, offensive or a host of other negative traits while not seeing our own.

I said earlier there are days I fear we are too far gone, but there IS hope!  We actually can change, but we first have to want to change.   There is a passage of scripture (James chapter 4) that affected me very deeply the first time I read it when I was a teenager.  The entire chapter is great admonition as to how we should live, but it ends with this verse: “Therefore, to the one that knows to do good and doesn’t do it, to him it is sin.”  We forget that not doing the things that are right and good are just as sinful in God’s eyes as doing all the wrong things.  It’s time for us to stand up for what is good instead of defending our positions.  It’s time for us to “think on these things” that are “true, honest, just, pure, lovely and of good report.” (Phil 4:8) We must remember that our hearts and the hearts of others are not protected behind a wall of perceived immunity.   shutterstock_290171423We are ALL humans.  We are all imperfect and we all are tempted to get caught up in the drama with which we are constantly bombarded.  Instead, let us hold each other close in heart.  Let us truly love each other instead of tearing each other down.  Let’s purge our social media feeds AND our lives of the things that continually remind us of how we are different we are and start looking at how we are all the same.  Yes, it’s time for a “face”lift of a different kind, so I will leave you with this:  “Therefore, we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)

Blessings!