Posted in Faith

Joy Comes with the Morning

sunrise-sky-blue-sunlight-67832

Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning (Psalm 30:5).

My grandpa passed away earlier this month. Yesterday I attended a memorial service for a gentleman who was active and well respected in the community. I also learned that one of Life Choices’ long time monthly supporters lost his battle with cancer. In addition, people who are dear to me are struggling with serious trouble in their relationships. My heart has been heavy with loss, grief, and concern.

In the midst of difficulties, I have to remind myself that sorrow will not last forever. This verse in the Book of Psalms keeps me grounded and hopeful In Jesus. It is comforting to know that what is now will not always be forever. There are better days ahead, even when I don’t see them!

In her devotional book, Jesus Always: Embracing Joy, Sarah Young writes “Sadness tends to duplicate itself along the timeline—convincing you that you’ll always be unhappy. But this is a lie! The truth is, all My followers have infinite Joy ahead of them, guaranteed throughout eternity.”

When you think about night, what comes to mind? At night, the darkness is present and it is difficult to see without a source of light. In the Bible, night often represents a time of adversity, despair, and overwhelming confusion.

Thankfully, night is not a forever condition. In Alaska during the December winter solstice, there is as little as two hours of sunlight. That’s a lot of night! But, even there it isn’t dark forever, and families find ways to celebrate the shortest day of the year with lanterns.

As a little girl, I was an early riser. (I wish I were like that now.) My parents’ rule was that I had to stay in bed until the sun came up. I remember sitting at the edge of my bed and looking out the window waiting…waiting…waiting… impatient for the dawn. It was arduous to gaze into the dark. I thought the daylight would never come, but suddenly the sun rose slightly above the horizon. I was free from the restraints of night!

If you are currently in a dark season of life, take heart. It will come to an end. The dawn will arise, and scatter the night. Joy comes in the morning.

Because of that experience, we have even greater confidence in the message proclaimed by the prophets. You must pay close attention to what they wrote, for their words are like a lamp shining in a dark place—until the Day dawns, and Christ the Morning Star shines in your hearts (2 Peter 1:19, NLT, emphasis mine).

You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:8-9).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You that You are always near, even when I don’t sense Your presence. Help me during this dark season of life to keep hope alive. As I weep during the night, comfort me with the knowledge that joy comes in the morning. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Character, Faith

The Art of Acceptance

kitten

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

The Serenity Prayer written by Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971) is one of the most popular prayers today, and was adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous in the 1940s. It has been used as an inspirational saying for wall hangings, posters, and digital images around the world. People are familiar with the first part of the prayer, and may not realize there is a second part.

Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next.
Amen.

The Serenity Prayer communicates beautiful simplicity of faith. It offers hope of a life lived in peace and surrender despite difficulties. Simple truth, but not easy to practice.

One thing I have been learning about myself lately is how important it is for me to be in control. Since childhood, I have developed a pattern. No matter how overwhelmed I feel inside, I do not allow it to stand in the way. Sometimes the internal battle is intense and it requires God’s strength to help me do what needs to be done. This strategy has served me well (although there are also some unhealthy results that I’m working through).

Since experiencing the armed invasion of my home four months ago, I have struggled with anxiety attacks and flashbacks. It is lessening in frequency as time goes on, but when they appear there doesn’t seem to be any trigger, showing up from nowhere. My tendency is to fight. I get frustrated by the interruption, but my ability to push forward doesn’t work. It only makes things worse.

So I am learning the art of acceptance. Rather than resisting, as soon as I feel anxiety I acknowledge its presence. “Oh, here you are again. Something must have triggered you. It’s going to be okay.” I invite the presence of Jesus and practice relaxation techniques. Strangely, acceptance removes the power from anxiety. It removes the power from other hardships, as well.

Acceptance of the hardships we face does not mean we are being complacent, ambivalent, or resigned. It does not mean we ignore, minimize, or pretend. Rather, acceptance is the conscious choice to relinquish control and have faith in the Lord. It is the determination to surrender to His Will.

We do need wisdom to determine whether we should make changes or accept things that cannot be changed. Many situations require a combination of both.

With aging bodies, addiction, disability, chronic illness, and terminal illness, we do what we can to promote health, but we cannot heal ourselves.

In relationships that are strained or broken, we own our part for the hurt we have caused, change our unhealthy behaviors, and do what we can to promote reconciliation, but we cannot change the other person or make them participate in the reconciliation process.

In the realm of leadership, we must be diligent to prayerfully develop strategic plans, work hard to realize goals, and make adjustments as necessary, but we cannot control external factors that impact outcomes.

We trust the Lord for courage to change the things that can be changed. We trust Him for serenity to accept the things that cannot be changed. As we do that, He helps us enjoy the pathway of peace.

I look up to the mountains—
does my help come from there?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth!
~Psalm 121:1-2

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. ~Philippians 4:6-7

Prayer:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next.
Amen.

Posted in Personal Development, Vision & Goal Setting

Sometimes Less is More

simple

As a young woman, I didn’t need much sleep. I believed that sleep was a necessary evil that robbed me from living an exciting and productive life. I wanted to do great things for the Lord and I packed my schedule from early in the morning until late at night. I aspired to have an amazing marriage, raise fabulous kids, work full time in meaningful ministry, invest actively in my community, build close friendships, and pursue my education, all at the same time. In addition, I wanted to keep a spotless house, cook delicious dinners every evening, have a healthy body, and keep up with my hobbies. And of course, cultivating a growing relationship with Jesus was the top priority. I was definitely ambitious, and coffee was my constant companion.

At some point, though, my body began to rebel against the break-neck pace, and I became allergic to the caffeine in coffee. I can’t seem to remember which one happened first. What I do remember is the frustration and anger I felt at not being productive. Although I hadn’t successfully juggled everything in my life according to my excellent standards, that didn’t matter. Now there was no chance at blazing a big trail of glory for the Lord. After all, isn’t being busy the same as being productive?

You may be laughing or shaking your head at my belief system. The truth is, I didn’t really think about why I did what I did back then. All I knew is I wanted a life that really mattered. It wasn’t until I had to stop and take a step back at the situation I had created that I realized my crazy way of thinking.

It doesn’t seem that our culture has changed much in thirty years in regard to being busy. I know there are people that embrace the simple lifestyle. And, there are Christ-followers who adhere to practicing regular quiet time, Sabbath, and spiritual retreats. But still, what seems to be the most common compliant when you ask someone how they are doing?

“I’m so busy!” Although they lament the fact, they still wear it as a badge of honor.

I have learned and continue to learn that busy does not equal productive, and it certainly does not equal meaningful. Sometimes less is more. This applies to managing our time well.

A powerful strategic business plan will target three to five strategic initiatives on which to focus. Any more than five will dilute effectiveness. In a similar way, if we are going to live powerfully, we cannot spread ourselves too thin. Narrowing our focus to fewer things will increase our ability for real impact.

As I prepare to begin a doctoral program in January, I have been reminded that I cannot add 20 hours of study per week to an already full plate. I need to approach my education seriously and remove some good things off my plate. I haven’t figured out what that looks like yet. Thankfully (hopefully) I have some time.

There are some questions to ask ourselves as we consider how to spend our time.

  • Am I able to spend time on the things that are truly important to me rather than on just the things that are urgent?
  • If I could only spend time on five areas, what would they be? Remember to include relationships.
  • How much room is in my schedule to accommodate divine interruptions?
  • Does my pace of life center on tasks or people? What can be changed to allow more time to invest in others?
  • If my life were to end today, what regrets would I have?

It’s a constant temptation to pack our schedules with good things. It takes diligence to be prayerfully intentional about how we spend our days. Sometimes less is more. Saying yes to less will yield blessings and empower us to be more fruitful.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:19-21).

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (Matthew 6:33).

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is (Ephesians 5:15-17).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, teach me to number my days that I may gain a heart of wisdom. Help me to be mindful that each day is a gift from you. Help me to be intentional in how I spend each day. Show me Your ways and Your will, so that I may honor You above all things. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Character, Servant Leadership

My Guidelines for Gossip

Gossip

When I was 11 years old, I met a girl named Lisa. She was my age, and she lived in my neighborhood. At first we got along famously. After a few weeks though, I started getting annoyed at some of her mannerisms. She talked too loudly, and I became increasingly critical of my new friend. I never brought Lisa’s irritations up to her. I was too polite for that, and I really didn’t want to hurt her feelings.

A funny thing happened. Because I was Lisa’s friend, my friends became her friends. They showed interest in her. To my chagrin, they invited her to spend time with us. Surely my friends didn’t see Lisa for who she really was. Somehow they weren’t aware of her annoying habits. If they were, they wouldn’t want to hang around her quite so much. It was my duty to shed some light on the situation, so I told them some of Lisa’s secrets. Not all of them, of course. Just enough to paint an accurate picture.

Incredibly, rather than heeding my warning, my friends told Lisa what I had said. Two days later, Lisa’s mother pounded on my front door. When I saw her standing there, I’m not sure which was louder, the pounding of my heart or the fists of Lisa’s mother on the door. She loomed large in the doorway like a mama bear ready to defend her cub. I gasped for air and mustered a smile, as I opened the door.

“How dare you!” Lisa’s mother exploded. “How dare you gossip about my daughter! You’re supposed to be Lisa’s friend. She trusted you, but you broke her heart. You are not allowed to spend time with Lisa ever again, you two-faced little gossip!”

My entire body shook with fear as I shut the door. I wished that my mom was home. She was either at work or attending a class as was typical in those days. I longed for the comfort of having her near, but I would have also been ashamed for her to find out about my incorrigible behavior. Perhaps it was for the best that she was away. I could keep the incident to myself.

Lisa’s mother made a lasting impression. Eventually I apologized to Lisa and her mother. Lisa’s mother expressed appreciation for my gesture. Lisa and I were never friends again, but I became more aware of the powerful effect of my words.

I wish I could say I completely learned my lesson from that event. Unfortunately the tendency to gossip runs strong in human nature. We have a hunger to know about others which is hard to satisfy. Nevertheless, in order to thrive in our relationships we must guard our words when we talk about others.

For over 30 years, I have served in ministry that requires confidentiality. Throughout this time, I have developed a guideline for gossip. Here it is.

DO NOT GOSSIP!

All joking aside, we know that gossip is harmful. Many Scripture verses instruct us to avoid gossip.

A gossip betrays a confidence,
but a trustworthy person keeps a secret (Proverbs 11:13).

A perverse person stirs up conflict,
and a gossip separates close friends (Proverbs 16:28).

Whoever would foster love covers over an offense,
but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends (Proverbs 17:9).

They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy (Romans 1:29-32).

Gossip is serious and dangerous business.

For some reason we don’t really know what gossip is. Gossip is sharing about other people’s behavior or personal lives, often excluding information that is either known or unknown. It is tattling or idle talk about their private affairs.

Or if we do know what gossip is, it’s easy to start an innocent discussion about someone that quickly degenerates into gossip. Here are three questions I ask myself to identify gossip and then to stop gossip immediately.

  1. Would I say this directly to the person? This is a time to be brutally honest. Have I already spoken to the person? Would I say the same words with the same tone of voice and body language to the person’s face? If not, then I am gossiping.
  2. Does this build others up? (Ephesians 4:29) How does this benefit others hearing the information? What positive effect does this have on the person that is the subject of conversation? It is not a prayer request if I talk about a situation and give specific details, even if I end up praying for the person. Sorry, it is gossip.
  3. What is motivating me to talk about this person? Do I care 100% about him or her? If something else is at play, like elevating myself or subtly discrediting another, my motives are impure. I have fallen into gossip.

When I realize that I have been involved in gossip, I ask the Lord for forgiveness and apologize to others when appropriate. I determine to be more careful and loving with my words.

May the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing to the Lord. As leaders, we must safeguard the health of our families, friendships, and ministries by doing everything in our power to avoid gossip.

The tongue has the power of life and death,
and those who love it will eat its fruit (Proverbs 18:21).

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless (James 1:26).

Set a guard over my mouth, Lord;
keep watch over the door of my lips (Psalm 141:3).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, You created the heavens and the earth by speaking words of life. Help me to remember that the words I speak have the power to build up or tear down. Empower me to avoid gossip and follow Your example by speaking life into situations. May my words be a source of encouragement and healing. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Character, Servant Leadership

Integrity: It Really Matters

integration-2141187_1280

“Do as I say, not as I do.” Whenever I hear this phrase I cringe inside. Leading by example is one of the top qualities followers desire of their leaders world wide. Yet, it seems to be in short supply among the leaders most visible to us.

“Do as I say, not as I do.” This well known admonition has been used by parents and authority figures for generations. Surprisingly, the origin of this saying is quite noble. Preachers of old acknowledged their personal shortcomings. Despite their desire to follow Jesus in perfect holiness, they knew that as human beings they would never be perfect. Only Jesus Christ was and is perfect. Knowing that they would fail in their aim for perfection, they instructed their congregation to follow the Word of God they zealously preached (“Do as I say”) rather than their imperfect example (“not as I do”).

“Do as I say, not as I do.” Unfortunately the saying has morphed to mean something very different. “Follow my commands as the leader, and do not pay attention to my example.” It illustrates the sometimes wide gap between authority and integrity. In today’s world, though, integrity is the greatest need in leadership. With our families, in ministry, on the job, in public and in private, a leader’s example matters. In every setting, a leader must practice what he or she preaches (or values) every moment of every single day.

You may be thinking, “That sounds like a lot of pressure!” Thankfully the Lord is not only our example of integrity, He also empowers us through His Spirit to live with integrity. He guides us to take steps that honor Him. He asks us to pay attention and be obedient.

What is integrity, this quality that is so foundational to influence? It is doing the right thing at the right time for the right reasons in all circumstances whether or not anyone is watching. It involves honesty, trustworthiness, and steadfastness. However, it goes beyond disciplined and predictable behavior, and includes authenticity of the soul.

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17, NLT).

Integrity is a characteristic that anyone can learn. Nobody is born with it. Nobody is born without it. Integrity is developed over time. A person’s reputation for integrity takes years to establish, while it can be destroyed in a moment. Integrity really matters. It must be nurtured and protected.

Here are some tangible ways to practice and develop integrity.

Be true to your promises. Even if you don’t say “I promise,” be a person of your word. Don’t tell people what you think they want to hear. Matthew 5:37 in the Message version provides a great explanation.

“And don’t say anything you don’t mean. This counsel is embedded deep in our traditions. You only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk, saying, ‘I’ll pray for you,’ and never doing it, or saying, ‘God be with you,’ and not meaning it. You don’t make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true. Just say ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong.”

Tell others when you face delays. Communicate quickly and often with people who are relying on you. Let them know your intentions to follow through on your word, and give them the appropriate information. Even though it feels uncomfortable, don’t avoid, ignore, or hide from them.

Ask for forgiveness when you fall short. Humble people realize they will make mistakes in their pursuit of integrity, and readily acknowledge when it happens. Apologizing to a loved one for your bad attitude, or sharing with your staff about an error you made can help restore integrity.

Extend grace to others. “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you” (Luke 6:31 AMP). How do you want others to treat you when you admit your mistakes? Do you want them to be understanding and forgiving? Then practice being gracious to others.

Being an amazing spouse, parent, or leader goes beyond being able to look good and perform well when others are watching. Unwavering integrity is a key ingredient for powerful influence wherever God has set us.

“To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice” (Proverbs 21:3).

“The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity” (Proverbs 11:3, NIV).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for providing the perfect example of integrity. Your ways are always true and steadfast. I acknowledge that I often desire people to recognize me. I allow their opinions to affect my actions, instead of being directed by Your unconditional love for me. Help me to follow You with integrity whether or not others are watching. You always see me, and I want to live to please You alone. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Faith, Servant Leadership

Following the Way of Peace

amazing-beautiful-beauty-blue

The other day I overheard one of my volunteers talking about me. “Who wouldn’t get along with Joddi-Jay? Everyone likes her.” I smiled to myself with gratitude that I enjoy good relationships with my paid and volunteer staff members. I also smiled, because while I love people and work hard to foster positive connections, the reality is not everyone likes me. As hard as I try, there are still people who don’t get along with me, and it is deeply painful when my attempts for unity fall short. For some reason I believe that everyone should just get along and play together nicely.

We all know that’s not the way it works in the real world. People don’t always see eye to eye, whether it be with families, churches, or other organizations. So what are we supposed to do?

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).

“Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).

The Lord expects His followers to pursue the way of peace. We are to practice kindness and humility, encourage others, promote understanding, and work toward reconciliation. We are to take the high road, even when it feels self-sacrificial or lonely. We live to please the Lord by being peacemakers.

However, the bottom line is this: You can only control your own actions. You cannot control the actions of others.

Despite your best efforts to live at peace with everyone, not everyone will choose the way of peace. They may continue to be angry and divisive. They may be deceptive and try to sabotage your work. Or, it may not be quite so dramatic. They may decide to cut off the relationship with no further communication. And then what?

One of my friends leads a large pregnancy center ministry in another state. A meeting that was intended to build collaboration among various life-affirming organizations in the area quickly turned nasty. My friend became the target, as one by one the other leaders railed against her. I asked her what she did. Her reply: “I simply sat and listened to what they had to say. And I prayed. Within two years, every one of them was gone — either fired or moved on — and others who truly wanted to work together took their place.”

My friend followed the way of peace and trusted the Lord to work on her behalf.

When your best efforts to live peacefully are rejected by others, there are two things to do.

Keep your eyes on the Lord. As hard as it may be, don’t allow other’s responses to distract you from what He has called you to do. Don’t carry the weight of their choices. Focus on the mission He has placed before you. Trust Him to work mightily in spite of and in the midst of any opposition you face.

Keep an open heart. Forgive, and keep forgiving. This doesn’t mean minimizing or excusing their behaviors. Instead release all your hurts to the Lord. Don’t speak negatively about others, but rather pray for the Lord to work in their lives. Assume the best and not the worst. Believe that, no matter what it looks like, change is possible.

“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for being the God of Peace. Help me to follow Your example and be a peacemaker. When others oppose me, empower me to stand strong and continue serving You. By Your Spirit, may my responses be gracious, kind, and loving. May I thrive in the midst of difficult circumstances. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Faith

Finding God in our Midst

finding God

Good things happen to good people. Bad things happen to bad people. Obviously these statements aren’t true. But do you ever wish life’s situations could be neatly and simply categorized? What if, God only brings blessings to the righteous? What if, the devil only brings curses to those far from God? It would settle, at least in part, the age-old philosophical quest for why there is evil in the world. And living right would guarantee that we experience only good things. Unfortunately there are no such guarantees.

Thankfully it is possible to experience peace that surpasses understanding while in the midst of struggles. Unlike Eastern religion that seeks to eliminate the illusion of suffering, Jesus Christ not only acknowledges suffering, He addresses it head on by giving Himself. He promises to be with us in the midst of suffering, and He is faithful.

These days when friends ask me how I am doing, I no longer answer, “Fine.” My reply is generally, “Up and down with Jesus in the midst of it all.” It’s honest, and it expresses the truth. I don’t have to hide behind a smile. Whether the circumstances of my life are good, bad, or ugly, the presence of Jesus is with me.

The 23rd Psalm paints a beautiful picture of the Lord’s presence. He is with me when things are running smoothly and I enjoy great blessings.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.

My Shepherd is just as near when things take a turn for the worse.

Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

He is with me when facing the darkest valley of death or the hateful threats of enemies. His presence dispels all fear and surrounds me with comfort. He takes care of me, providing the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit.

Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.

No matter what I encounter, God’s goodness and love are present. He is always with me. Lest I forget, there is more than just this life. I look forward to being with Him forever in His house.

There is absolutely nothing that can thwart the love of Christ. His loving presence continually flows toward us. We forget. We erect barriers. But He is constant. He is with us.

Friend, no matter what difficulties you may encounter, keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and His precious love for you. He is Emmanuel, God with us. Right here. Right now. And always.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your faithfulness. Thank You for being near and walking with me every moment of every day. Strengthen me when I’m weak and can’t see You at work in my life. Help me to trust You and to sense Your presence even in the darkness, knowing that You have defeated the enemy of my soul. Let Your hope and peace arise in my heart, as I acknowledge Your faithfulness. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.