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.

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Posted in Faith, Personal Development

What If Today Were Your Last Day?

calendar-82578Six months ago two masked men invaded my home and I was held at gunpoint. Through the Lord’s gracious work of healing and help from a wonderful counselor, anxiety and flashbacks have gradually lessened in intensity and frequency. One thing that hasn’t faded over time, though, is my awareness that life is precious.

I am incredibly grateful for each day, knowing that it is a gift. Life is short. None of us knows when we will take our last breath, and yet it is all too easy to live as if we are guaranteed tomorrow. Because of my encounter, the realization of life’s temporary nature here on this earth has been engraved in my awareness. Throughout each day I ponder the effects of my actions. Do they honor God? Will they lead, even in some small way, to make someone’s life better? I am mindful that I am here on purpose and I desire to make a difference.

My commitment to make each day count for God’s Kingdom powerfully influences the way I live.

As I imagine that today could be my last day (or that my next breath could be my last breath), it motivates me to…

Deal with difficult situations courageously.
I don’t like conflict, and talking about offenses is uncomfortable. However, life is too short to allow hard feeling to simmer under the surface. It is also too short to avoid asking someone hard questions, because it seems awkward or painful. I rely on the Lord for bravery and, as much as it depends on me, try not to leave issues unresolved.

Choose my words carefully.
I want to be remembered for speaking words of kindness and encouragement. I want my words to build others up. It doesn’t matter if it’s a stranger, co-worker, friend, loved one, or my husband, I want the words I speak (and write) to help make their day better. Life is too short to tear others down and unleash pain. At any given moment, may my words be life-giving, because they could be my last words.

Focus on what really matters.
I have often heard it said that when people are on their deathbed, they don’t wish that they had made more money or had become famous. Their greatest regrets relate to their most significant relationships, not spending enough time together, not sharing how much they loved them, not reaching out to mend the hurts inflicted. When the barrel of a gun was held inches from my head, my only thought as I prepared myself to meet Jesus was, “Lord, please take care of my family.” Thankfully my husband rescued me, and I have had one more day 182 times to love my family and influence others in positive ways.

Friends, life is too short to avoid difficult situations, to be careless with our words, and to waste time on trivial concerns. What if today were your last day, how would you live differently?

This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” ~Joshua 1:9

Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. ~Ephesians 4:29-32, NLT

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for the gift of today. Help me to use the time wisely and to honor You in all I do. Empower me to live by faith and not by fear, trusting You for the courage to step out and make a difference in this world. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Faith, Personal Development

Watch Out for the Weeds

WatchOutForWeeds

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

windmill-water-church-agriculture-161123

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

FullSizeRender 21

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.