Posted in Faith, Personal Development

Watch Out for the Weeds

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In first grade my teacher gave my class a science project. Each student planted a sunflower seed in soil in a Dixie cup. It was our task to water our seed every day until it sprouted. Then came the exciting part. Each of us took our fledgling sunflower and planted it at our own home. Each week we were to report on the progress of our plant’s growth in class. Before releasing our plant into our care, my teacher issued us a warning: “Watch out for the weeds.”

My mom helped me plant my sunflower in our garden, and for days I lovingly tended it. But the novelty slowly wore off. I would water my plant but only after being reminded. One day my mom pulled me aside. “How’s your sunflower doing?”

“Fine.” I looked down at my feet feeling a twinge of guilt.

“Have you been watching out for the weeds?”

“Yes, there are none. And my plant is getting really big.”

“Okay, that’s good.” my mom said. “But pay attention to choker weeds.”

“What’s that?” I asked, my curiosity piqued.

My mom explained that a choker weed slowly grows around a plant, often undetected for awhile, and eventually chokes the life out of it.

I promised I would pay attention.

My six year old self was much more interested in reading books than playing outside. I kept telling myself that I needed to take care of my sunflower. I really liked it and was proud of it. I thought about it a lot. It was growing tall, and the flower was going to bloom soon. I knew that eventually I would get sunflower seeds, and I loved sunflower seeds.

One day I ran home after school to check on my plant. It was dead, and I was devastated. My beautiful sunflower lay on the ground, shriveled and beyond help. A choker weed had been the culprit. My mom pointed it out to me. In my haste, I had not seen it before. In my neglect, I had not nurtured my sunflower properly.

Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.
~Proverbs 4:23

Like plants in a garden, our hearts need to be nurtured. Everything we do flows from it. We need to live in the Light. We need the water of God’s Word. We must also watch out for the weeds, especially choker weeds. Bitterness, resentment, and unforgiveness are subtle at first and can remain undetected for awhile, but if allowed to grow, they will choke life from us. We may even notice them, but decide to ignore them. After all, others have hurt us and deserve to be treated poorly. In reality though, we only hurt ourselves by allowing their presence.

We thrive in life and leadership when we consistently invite the Lord to examine our hearts, and trust Him to remove the weeds. Living a life of love requires vigilant care of our hearts.

Today I am still not much of a gardener, and I do very little yard work. I am thankful my husband takes care of the mowing and watering. It’s my self-appointed job to take care of the weeds. As I pull weeds, I ask the Lord to reveal any weeds that need to be removed from my heart. I want to remain free from the destruction of choker weeds.

See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many (Hebrews 12:15).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for the gift of life and love. Help me to be diligent with the weeds of bitterness, resentment, and unforgiveness, so that they do not affect my heart. By Your Spirit, equip me to recognize their presence and take action to remove them. I want to be an example of Christ to the world with a heart free to serve others. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Character, Servant Leadership

Do What You Believe to Be True

Reflection

What do you believe about God? What do you believe about yourself?

Now before you answer, I’m not asking about the mental beliefs you hold, those automatic responses that you learned in Sunday School or Bible study and can rattle off from memory. I’m asking about the beliefs that you act upon, the ones that guide your life experiences.

That’s a little trickier, isn’t it? It would be nice if our thoughts and behaviors always matched our theology and Biblical identity of ourselves. But we’re not perfect. That’s why we need a Savior. And we need the Savior’s instruction to lovingly point out the inconsistencies in our lives.

For example, we call God our Heavenly Father and sing songs with lyrics like, “You’re a good, good Father. That’s who You are.” However, we may actually view our Heavenly Father like an earthly father who was absent or let us down or even worse. We may fear God or think that He is punishing us when bad things happen. We “know” He is our loving Heavenly Father, yet we find it hard to really trust Him. That’s an inconsistency.

Here’s another example. We believe that we are loved by God as His children. After all, 1 John 3:1 says, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” Nevertheless, we may feel unworthy of His love. We see our shortcomings and wonder how God could love us. We “know” we are loved, and yet we constantly feel unlovable. That’s an inconsistency.

And another example…As God’s dearly loved children, we believe that we should honor others above ourselves (Romans 12:10). Yet, it may be a struggle to lift others up, because we’re afraid that we’ll be overlooked or forgotten. After all, how will be get ahead if we don’t look out for number one? That, too, is an inconsistency.

I’m so thankful that the Lord doesn’t just reveal these inconsistency in our lives. He helps us fix them. He want us to thrive in life. We thrive when we do what we believe to be true.

When we are double-minded, we get tossed around by the feelings of the moment. Our perceptions become distorted, and we follow them any way.

“Search me, God, and know my heart… “ (Psalm 139:23a). This has been my prayer throughout my life. The Lord has been faithful to gently reveal my inconsistencies. In recent days I have had to deal with the inconsistency of “knowing” that He is my strength in times of weakness, and allowing my feelings of weakness to hold me back. I find myself feeling too weak and powerless to move forward. I am not brave enough, and I want to hide. Surely, God should find someone else for the job! Then, His sweet Spirit reminds me that I can move forward, because He is strong and powerful. By faith I walk it out.

I declare the truth of who He is, I meditate on that truth, and then I practice that truth.

Take a look in the mirror and ask the Lord to show you what He sees. It takes courage to face our inconsistencies one at a time. It takes even greater courage to change and grow. Thankfully, you are never alone in the task. God’s Spirit is there in the midst of transformation, empowering you to deeply believe the truth and then live accordingly.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do (James 1:22-25).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, You search me and You know me. You see my heart and my struggles. Thank You for leading me in the way of truth. Help me to not just know what Your Word says, but to deeply believe it, and to live by it. May I reveal Jesus to this world by being authentic in faith and action. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Faith, Servant Leadership

Following the Wind

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Ever since I was a little girl, I have loved windmills. My heart would soar at the sight of a scene from Holland with a charming windmill surrounded by tulips. Today I am still delighted by windmills, including the looming white giants that dot hillsides and other landscapes where wind is present. Regardless of the type, when I’m around windmills I have feelings of awe, wonder, and peace.

Windmills come in many shapes and sizes, but the purpose is the same: To be moved by the wind to generate power in order to accomplish a task. The task may be to produce electricity, saw wood, pump water, or, as in the case of my beloved Dutch windmills, grind grain. The common factor, though, is wind.

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I want to be a windmill. I want my life to be powered and moved by the wind. Before you raise an eyebrow at my statement, it’s important to know that wind is a symbol of the Holy Spirit.

At the time of creation, the Holy Spirit hovered like wind over the face of the waters (Genesis 1:2). On the Day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit came as “a rushing, mighty wind,” breathing life into the Church (Acts 2:2). In an earlier scene, Nicodemus asked Jesus what He meant by being born again, and Jesus explained.

The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit (John 3:8).

There are two important characteristics of wind—direction and speed. The windmill is affected by both. The windmill sets neither the direction or speed of the wind, but rather is responsive to it.

My heart longs to be responsive to the wind of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is life-giving and produces spiritual growth. He seals our relationship with the Father through Jesus Christ. He can be grieved by wrong choices. He is unstoppable and dynamic like a hurricane, yet gentle and refreshing like a cool summer’s breeze.

I want to follow the Holy Spirit’s lead for my life. May I never set my own course and make decisions based on my human intellect alone. I want also to follow His timing. May I never rush ahead because of eagerness or impatience. And ultimately what tasks will be accomplished? To glorify the Lord on this earth and to do His will.

Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives (Galatians 5:25, NLT).

Following in every part of our lives is a lofty but wonderful pursuit. We thrive as we allow ourselves to be carried along by the Holy Spirit. It certainly isn’t easy or natural. It takes mindfulness to say “yes” to the Lord and reject the tendency of our human nature. We must evaluate ourselves often by asking, “Am I surrendered to the flow of the Spirit or am I fighting against Him?”

I want to be a windmill yielded fully to the Wind. What about you?

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for sending the Holy Spirit to guide my life. Help me remember that He dwells in me and empowers me to live for You. Let me be aware of the Spirit’s presence. May I have a willing heart to follow His direction and timing for my life. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Character, Servant Leadership

Always Leave a Place Better Than You Found It

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My grandpa, Fred Stiverson, peacefully passed away June 6, 2017. Last Friday (July 21st) our family gathered together to celebrate his life. Throughout my childhood I affectionately called my grandpa “Gong Gong,” a Cantonese term for grandfather. My Chinese grandfather had passed away when my father was a boy, and “Gong Gong” accepted my name for him as a badge of honor.

I loved my grandpa dearly. He was like a father to me, especially during my tumultuous teen years, providing security and stability that were greatly needed. A man of integrity, his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, loved ones, and friends knew Fred Stiverson as “a lover, a peacemaker, a problem solver, always looking for the higher ground which would bring the greater peace and good to all involved” (quote from Joyce Berry, my mom). He lived a long, meaningful life of 97 years, and he finished well.

One of the big lessons my grandpa taught his family was to always leave a place better than they found it. I value this principle which was also passed on to me, because it is a hallmark of servant leadership.

Always leave a place better than you found it.

As leaders we must do more than climb up the corporate ladder. We do what we can to make our sphere of influence a better place. We invest in those around us to encourage their personal and professional growth. We share the love of Jesus through actions everywhere we go.

Mother Teresa extended my grandpa’s principle even further by saying, “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better.”

Like my grandpa before me, I want to leave a lasting legacy to my children and grandchildren (and hopefully beyond). I want to be remembered as a person of faith and integrity. At the end of my life, I want to leave this world better than I found it.

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10).

Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did (1 John 2:6).

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for sacrificing Your Son on my behalf. Help me to get the focus off myself and to live sacrificially for others, sharing Your love and kindness, and following Your example. Empower me by Your Spirit to leave every place I go better than I found it. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Faith, Servant Leadership

Loving and Leading with Grace

the-21-rules-of-this-housesource: choosinghomeschoolcurriculum.com

This is a picture of the rules posted on our fridge during my child raising years. “The 21 Rules of this House” was the centerpiece of our home. I added a few extra rules for good measure, along with a consequence chart for offenses.

I was a stickler for rules when my kids were young. I had an intense desire for order, believing that there should be a place for everything and everything should be in its place. Schedules were created to follow strictly without exception. Someone could drop by our home at any time of the day or night and find a clean and well organized house with angelic children (in my dreams). If I had my way our home would have resembled a private boarding school rather than a loving safe haven.

Through the school of hard knocks (a nice way of saying that I often felt like I was going crazy), I have come to the understanding that, while rules and high expectations are important, loving and leading others well require continual grace.

For some reason, the Babcock kids had difficulties with Rules 12, 14, and 18; however, Rules 13 and 20 rarely were problems. Looking back, I wish I had given more grace.

The Ten Commandments are the cornerstone to a godly society. Why are they so difficult to follow? Adultery and murder are not tempting to me, but keeping the Lord at the highest place in my consciousness and actions, as well as guarding against envy are constant struggles.

The Apostle Paul described the human conflict in the book of Romans.

For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing (Romans 7:18-19).

We wrestle with knowing that God’s law is holy and good, and actually following it. The only remedy for our inability to perfectly master the law is grace.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Grace is undeserved favor. Even though we cannot possibly be good enough to achieve perfection, the Lord extends kindness to us. He desires His best for our lives. Love for us is His motivation.

As recipients of God’s abundant grace, we are instructed to practice grace with others.

In preparation for my granddaughters’ visit this summer, I decided to post a new list of rules on the fridge. You will notice that 21 rules have been pared down to six, and the rules are more general. There is no consequence chart, either. Time out is the only consequence, followed by hugs and affirming conversation.Our Family Rules

For me, our new list of rules represents life lived with grace.

What does practicing grace look like to you at home? With those you lead? In your circle of friends?

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for the grace You have poured out on me. As the Shepherd of my Soul, You gently lead me in Your ways and re-direct me when I go astray. Teach me to love and be kind to all people in every circumstance. May my life honor You and be a blessing to others. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Character, Faith

Be a Victor Not a Victim

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Take a look at these words: victim and victor. They are similar in spelling, but so very different in meaning. The word victim originates from the Latin word victima, meaning “sacrificial animal.” It was first recorded in 1490-1500. The word victor also originates from Latin, but from an earlier time in the 1300s. It is derived from vincere, meaning “to conquer” (dictionary.com). The two words represent a difference as vast as night and day.

A victim is pictured as helpless, like a lamb led to slaughter. A victor is pictured as a seasoned warrior who wins after fiercely fighting a battle. Which one do you relate to more?

I am not a victim. Yes, terrible things have happened to me. Yes, traumatic events have affected me. However, they do not define me. By the grace of God, I refuse to allow them to rule the way I live. I am a victor!

You do not have to be a victim either. Your parents may not have been there for you growing up. People may have abused and harmed you in the past. You may have experienced hurt and disappointment that you should never have faced. But don’t get stuck there. Don’t look back at others and blame them for where you are today. Even if your offenders aren’t ready to acknowledge the pain they caused you or to participate in the work of reconciliation, don’t allow them to keep you from moving forward.

You do not have to be like an injured animal, constantly licking your wounds of regret. Neither should you be an ostrich, avoiding and ignoring the difficult areas of life. Nor should you be like a hyena, laughing and pretending that all is well. (I know…I’m taking these analogies way too far!) Instead take an honest look at the things that should not have been and invite the Lord to heal you. Accept responsibility for the unhealthy choices you have made as a result of brokenness and trust the Lord to restore you. Surrender yourself to the Lord, relying on His Spirit to empower you to thrive.

Your identity is based on what the Lord says about you as His dearly loved child, not what others say. You can live and lead with confidence, knowing that the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead lives in you (Romans 8:11). He gives you the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:55).

Our early Church leaders faced great persecution, and yet they lived as victors rather than victims. Their faith-filled perspective inspires us today.

Our great power is from God, not ourselves. We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked does, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies (2 Corinthians 4:7b-10).

…In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 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).

Don’t settle for living as a victim. Stand firm in the victory that is yours through Jesus Christ. You are a victor!

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You that You take the ashes of my life and make them beautiful. I praise You that no matter what I have faced in the past or face right now, You work all things together for my good, because I love You and am called according to Your purposes. Help me to have faith in You above my circumstances. Help me to live as a victor instead of a victim. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

 

Posted in Character, Faith

A Portrait of Perseverance

Uncle Al

I didn’t get to spend much time with my dad growing up. When I was little, he was busy pursuing his educational and career goals. My parents’ marriage ended when I was nine years old. Divorce was never an option my dad considered, and the break up devastated him. For reasons unbeknownst to me, my parents lived 3,000 miles apart. I got to visit my dad during the summer and every other Christmas.

Before I go on, you need to know that I’m not pointing a finger of blame. As a parent of grown children myself, I know what it’s like to do the best I could with the skills I had. Nevertheless, I made mistakes and those mistakes caused them pain. However, causing pain was never my intent, because I deeply love my kids. I also understand we are all broken people trying to make sense of a broken world. Jesus is the One who heals the damaged places of my life and gives me purpose. When I tell aspects of my story, it is not to wallow in the past as a victim, but rather to pass on insights I have gained along the way.

As a child and teenager, I missed my dad a lot. I looked up to him and longed for him to know me. Even though I didn’t get the time with him my heart desired, my dad imparted some important lessons that influence me today. Perhaps his greatest example was in the area of perseverance. In fact, when I think about the quality of perseverance, my dad is the first to come to mind.

The youngest of 14 children, my dad was the son of Chinese immigrant parents who settled in a small town in Ontario, Canada. Grandpa Chin died when my dad was a boy, and the family struggled to make ends meet. Education was seen as the key to social and financial success. My dad faced discrimination, and was subjected to more stringent requirements than other students. He had to worked twice as hard as everyone else, but he didn’t give up, and he reached his goals.

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In the midst of my dad’s graduate program at the University of Oregon, he and my mom found out that I was on the way. My dad took responsibility, married my mom, and welcomed me into his life. He continued his academic pursuits, spending long hours in the lab conducting research. He would come home in the wee hours of the morning and leave again after a few hours of sleep. Dr. Alan Chin earned his Ph.D in Physiology in 1970. My brother was born the next year.

My dad rapidly climbed the ladder of success. He became internationally known for his research and was involved in early studies on the physiological effects of stress. We eventually moved to Southern California, where my parents invested in real estate. After buying and selling condominiums by the beach, we moved into one of the first houses in an area where movie stars and other famous people soon resided. Tragically it all ended when my parents divorced. Within a few years, my dad had lost everything important to him—his family, wealth, and health.

While my dad’s hard work and achievements are remarkable, I respect even more his ability to persevere in rebuilding his life after all was lost. He trusted Christ as his Savior, and surrendered his will to the Lord. My dad recovered from the brink of death and personal devastation with a stubborn determination to honor God.

My dad re-established his career, married a godly woman, and raised a family together. They had four biological children and adopted four children from the Canadian foster care system. At the age of 76, my dad still has teenagers at home. The path of obedience to the Lord has not been easy, but my dad continues to persevere. He will be able to say along with the Apostle Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).

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As God’s people we are called to grow in faith through perseverance. We know we will encounter challenges, problems, obstacles, trials, and tribulation. Perseverance is more than not giving up. It also involves persistence in doing well, bearing fruit, and running the race set before us. As we rely on Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit, we are empowered with hope and thrive in the midst of adversity. We are able to hang in there, because we know that nothing can separate us from God’s love. We keep on keeping on, because we are always triumphant through Jesus Christ.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything…Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him (James 1:2-4, 12).

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up (Galatians 6:9).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for being my steadfast Rock. I confess that when life gets hard, sometimes I feel like giving up. Help me to fix my eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of my faith. Because of the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now He is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. In the same way, help me to persevere knowing that I will have victory through Jesus Christ. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.