Posted in Character, Faith

Growing in Gratitude

Thank You

Sometimes things don’t go according to plan. I had several activities in mind for this Thanksgiving weekend. My daughter and I figured out a cooking schedule for all our dishes. Family from the Seattle area arrived Wednesday night. We were ready for a fun, food-filled celebration. Then, later that night, one of the granddaughters got sick. My daughter was up with her every hour. Some time during the night, my grandson also got sick. There was lots of laundry on Thanksgiving Day for the soiled bedding and towels. We still managed to prepare and enjoy our meal. Everyone was in good spirits, and it seemed like the worst was over. However, on Friday afternoon some of us started to feel sick. My son, daughter-in-law, and grandson went home for their second Thanksgiving celebration. By the evening both our households were miserable.

This isn’t the first time illness has visited a holiday celebration, and it probably won’t be the last. There have been many Christmases, Easters, and Mother’s Days when one or more family members got sick, requiring adjustments to my expectations. Each time I am faced with a decision—Will I practice gratitude? Or will I practice self-pity?

I have lots of experience practicing self-pity. During my child-rearing years, feeling sorry for myself came easily. “Why is this happening to me?” “Bad things always happen on special days.” “It’s so unfair!” My mopey attitude would take an unfavorable situation and make it worse.

Many years ago I felt convicted by a passage of Scripture.

Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people (Philippians 2:14-15, NLT).

I have never liked arguing, but I can be really good at complaining. If I don’t guard my thoughts and attitudes, complaining can flow like water. Complaining spreads negativity and affects the people around me. Additionally, complaining damages my example as a Christ-follower. The light of Christ in me does not shine as brightly. I certainly don’t want that!

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done (Philippians 4:6).

Giving thanks is the opposite of complaining. (It is also a remedy to worrying.) I want to grow in gratitude. This Thanksgiving was a perfect opportunity to practice it. I was concerned that my family members felt terrible, and I did my best to help care for them. But, I wasn’t discouraged. I was out of commission for two and a half days. In the midst of my discomfort, I thanked the Lord for His continual presence with me and I prayed for healing of my family. I felt thankful that we had a long weekend to recover. I appreciated the kindness of a friend who went to the store to buy Gatorade when none of the adult in our home were able.

Every time we encounter circumstances that are less than what we would like, it is an opportunity to practice gratitude. When are you tempted to complain? How can you turn complaints into words of thanksgiving? Take the challenge to avoid complaining and practice gratitude.

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, You are good and perfect, always loving and faithful. When times are tough at home, in the workplace, or other places in my life, help me to focus on your blessings and develop an attitude of gratitude. Help me to shine as a bright light of Christ through my attitude, words, and actions. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

 

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Posted in Character, Faith

Living in The Middle Lands

Desert Land

The other day my granddaughters were dawdling at breakfast. As incentive I set the timer for ten minutes to see if they could finish eating before the time was up. They both finished with five minutes to spare, and the three of us watched the remaining seconds count down. It seemed like the longest five minutes ever!

I’m not a very patient person, especially when it comes to reaching goals. If I can see the steps needed to head in a direction, I want to speed through (with excellence) all the steps to the end and enjoy the fruits of my labor. We all know that life isn’t neat and tidy like that, but I like the idea. And, waiting doesn’t come easily for me.

We live in an awkward time in God’s kingdom. Jesus Christ has already finished the work of redemption. He won the victory against the enemy, defeating sin and death. The kingdom of God has already come. However, it will not be perfected until the coming of the new heavens and earth. It’s the age of Already But Not Yet. I call it The Middle Lands.

We live in The Middle Lands. Not just as we wait for the fulfillment of God’s kingdom, but also as we wait for the fulfillment of our own goals and desires. Most of our lives are spent in various regions of The Middle Lands.

~Waiting for a loved one to trust Christ as Savior.
~Waiting to find that special someone with whom to spend the rest of your life.
~Waiting for the Lord to provide His healing touch for you or someone close to you, preferably this side of heaven.
~Waiting for strained relationships to be restored.
~Waiting for your organization’s strategic plan to gain momentum and succeed.
~Waiting to get well established in a meaningful career.
~Waiting to see the promises the Lord has spoken to your heart come to pass.
~Waiting for the prayers that you have sown with tears to be answered.

How can we thrive as we wait in The Middle Lands, during a tension-filled time between times?

Be real about where you are. I love the honesty of the Psalms, especially the ones penned by David. He didn’t pretend that his circumstances were great when they were not. He stated that he was fleeing from his enemies. He admitted that he felt downcast. But he didn’t stay in a mopey, negative state. He acknowledged the Lord’s faithful presence in the midst of his difficulties.

Cultivate an attitude of hope. Our trust must not be in our own abilities to perform or achieve. We place our trust in the Lord who is the Source of hope. We build a solid foundation of hope, as we humbly yield our own wills to God and meditate on His lovingkindness toward us. We remember the promises He has fulfilled in our own lives and throughout history, and believe that His timing is best.

Keep an eternal perspective. We choose to believe that what God says about Himself is true. We allow His truth to be expressed through our lives. Though our suffering and troubles may be long lasting, they are momentary in light of eternity. Our existence on this earth is temporary, designed to develop immovable trust in the Lord. One day we will be with Him forever, and there will be no more pain, sickness, sorrow, and death.

As Christ followers filled with His Spirit, we can experience joy, peace, comfort, and the wonder of God’s presence while waiting in The Middle Lands.

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. ~Romans 15:13

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. ~2 Corinthians 4:17

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, help me to trust You in the good times and the bad. I want to keep my eyes on You every day and in every situation. Remind me that the best is yet to come at the culmination of Your Kingdom. I hold onto hope, believing in Your lovingkindness. Empower me to thrive as I wait in The Middle Lands. 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 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 Character, Faith

Be a Victor Not a Victim

winner

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.

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.