Posted in Faith, Servant Leadership

It’s Okay to Be Weak

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I don’t like feeling weak. It’s discouraging to know that I don’t have the skills, strength, confidence, or health needed to get the job done. I’m the lady who, when nine months pregnant, insisted on rearranging my living room furniture by myself. Don’t tell me that I can’t do something, because it will make me work even harder to prove you wrong. At least that’s the way it was when I was younger. However, for the last ten years or so, around the time I turned 40, I have started taking a more gentle and realistic approach, as the paradoxes of God’s Kingdom make more sense to me.

God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs (Matthew 5:3).

The greatest among you must be a servant. But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted (Matthew 23:11-12).

The poor are blessed; the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to them. The greatest are servants. The humble are exalted.

Jesus’ teaching are contrary to the way things run in the world.

The Apostle Paul makes a statement that also seems contradictory.

Each time [the Lord] said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

Throughout the Bible we see that the Lord called people who doubted their own abilities to accomplish His plans. He used them in miraculous ways. We’re in good company.

There is a saying that describes this principle, “God doesn’t call the equipped. He equips the called.”

This doesn’t mean that the Lord will only use people who are unqualified for a position. Rather He uses those who rely on Him to go beyond their own natural skills. As the Creator of the universe, He can take what we have, no matter how small, and turn it into so much more. He is not limited when we are weak. Instead the power of Christ works through our weaknesses. His presence and anointing make us strong. He can provide unseen opportunities by making a way where there seems to be no way.

Two times Jesus fed the multitudes. He took the few fish and loaves of bread offered to Him, and provided for the masses.

If you’re like me, the tendency is to resist when encountering weakness and obstacles. I get frustrated with my perceived lack of resources or ability. However, such a response is counter productive. The Lord delights when we respond by surrendering to His will and trusting Him to accomplish it. It may not seem possible. It may not make sense. Yet, we rely on Him to do amazing things.

It’s okay to be weak. Really. It’s then that the Lord reveals His mighty strength through us.

Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power (Ephesians 6:10).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, You are strong and mighty. Nothing is impossible with You. Help me to trust in Your faithfulness, believing that You use foolish and weak things to confound the wise and mighty. I surrender to Your will, and ask that You take my life and use it for Your glory. I offer You my weaknesses. Flow through me with the strength of Your Spirit. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

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Posted in Faith, Servant Leadership

Seeing God in our Midst

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I wake up with a start. I had wanted to get some extra much-needed sleep after an intense week but something has roused me from slumber. Not something, but someone. Actually someones. I slowly focus on two precious faces, their large brown eyes framed by long lashes, their smiles lighting their up their countenances with eagerness. In that moment I am aware of a choice. I can respond to the inconvenience of being awakened too early on my only day to sleep in. Or I can see God in my midst. What will I do?

I adjust my mind and enjoy the blessing of my five-year-old granddaughters. They crawl in bed and cuddle with me, chatting freely about the things that concern them. Almost as suddenly as it began, I am alone in bed again and the sweet girls are off and running. The sacredness of the moment lingers and gratitude fills my heart.

How often have I missed these opportunities, because I didn’t see God in my midst. Too much of my life has been spent in pursuit of a well-structured, tidy, productive, comfortable life. Anything else has escaped my attention.

It’s all too easy to keep God confined to my mental box. I often allow divine appointments to pass me by. However, I am learning to pause, to look with different eyes in hopes of seeing Him.

I can see God in the face of my grandchildren. That isn’t much of a stretch. I also believe that every person I come across is a divine appointment, whether rich or poor, whether their lives are neatly put together or they are struggling, broken, in chaos. I love seeing God in our midst as I share the Gospel in actions and words. However, there are also times when I am ministering to someone in need, and they say something in conversation that catches my attention. They are unaware, but the Lord uses their words to impart His wisdom or encouragement to me.

Seeing God in the midst of disappointment, traumatic events, and natural disasters is more challenging. But it is possible. There is no situation that we face where He is not present.

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
~Psalm 46:1-3, NIV

Several years ago I had a vivid dream. My family and I were climbing on some rock formations near the turbulent ocean. A storm began to rage, and we tried to reach safety in the fortress at the top of the rocks. The rest of my family was secure, but I lagged behind carrying my youngest daughter and knew I wouldn’t make it. A tidal wave formed in front of me, and I cried out in desperation, “Jesus!” Instantly Jesus appeared towering in the wave. He stepped forward and placed us in the fortress, as the wave crashed directly below us. As the scene closed, a large choir declared these words in the background.

Lift up your heads, you gates;
be lifted up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The Lord strong and mighty,
the Lord mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, you gates;
lift them up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is he, this King of glory?
The Lord Almighty—
he is the King of glory.
~Psalm 24:7–10

The Lord’s presence remained with me for many hours, and the memory of this dream continues to strengthen me in the midst of life’s turbulence.

Our God is the most awesome and all powerful King. He is ever-present in every situation. He is perfect love and delights when we recognize Him. There is nothing more sustaining to our minds and souls than seeing God in our midst.

The Lord is close to all who call on him, yes, to all who call on him in truth (Psalm 145:18).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You that You are always present in my life. Sometimes You are mighty and powerful. Sometimes You speak in a still, small voice. Please help me to see You in the midst of the every day, ordinary situations, and in the midst of circumstances that threaten my well-being. Strengthen me to be still and know that You are God. 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.

windmills

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, 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.