Posted in Character, Faith, Servant Leadership

Love…No Matter What

love-pexels-photo-195364

On my flight to Chicago last week, I sat next to a young woman and her boyfriend. We introduced ourselves and exchanged some social niceties. Then she turned toward her boyfriend and the two of them engaged in conversation, while I began to read a book. Within a few minutes the couple’s discussion became quite robust. The noise in the cabin drowned out their words, but their body language spoke loudly. I prayed under my breath for the Lord to help them, and wondered if I should intervened.

The young man’s arms made exaggerated gestured. The young woman wiped tears from her cheeks and her body quaked as she tried to stifle her cries. I could hold back no longer.

“Is everything okay?” I asked. “I can’t hear what you’re talking about, but you’re clearly involved in an intense discussion.”

They looked at me in surprise, sheepish expressions on their faces. The young man explained.

“We just spent the weekend with some really good friends. We’re from Chicago and are very liberal. Our friends are very conservative. We had some arguments with them. Now my girlfriend and I are talking about what happened. It’s really hard.”

Now it was my turn to be surprised. I had imagined several scenarios, but I hadn’t imagined this.

My heart went out to them. A dear friendship was threatened by differences in political ideology. Sadly in our nation, this is becoming increasingly common. Belief in a cause or the adherence to a particular faith takes precedence over decency, even when those closest to us are involved. This great divide can be excruciating.

Too many people are choosing their beliefs over kindness, respect, and love. This shouldn’t be, especially for Christ followers.

We can believe wholeheartedly in the teachings of Jesus and still treat unbelievers with kindness. Cruel and rude words must have no place in our lives.

We can adhere to moral standards and still respect those with whom we don’t see eye to eye. Caring for them does not equal moral compromise.

Followers of Jesus are called to love people. Period. In fact, Jesus instructed us to love our enemies, those who stand in opposition to our beliefs or wish for our demise. Lest we forget what love looks like, take a stroll through 1 Corinthians 13 or Matthew 5 where our Lord teaches us to turn the other cheek, give your shirt to someone demanding your coat, and bless those who curse you.

Think about the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). A man looked beyond religious and racial differences, and treated an injured human being with compassion. He tended to the victim’s wounds, brought him to an inn, paid for his room and board, and offered to provide for other expenses if needed. The Samaritan was a neighbor to one who was culturally an enemy. Shouldn’t we do the same? It may not be as dramatic as saving someone’s life but we can certainly treat others with decency and respect.

And what about those who are closest to us? If love transcends political affiliation and religious beliefs (and it does) and if every human being is priceless because they are created in God’s image (and they are), how much more should we love our family and friends without strings attached? Differences must not be divisive. We can take a stand for our beliefs and do what we know to be right without rejecting others for thinking differently. We can hold tightly to our faith and convictions, while still holding tightly to our loved ones.

I have recently adopted a phrase from my granddaughters’ story book:

“I love you, because I love you.”

I try to say and show that often.

As I got ready to exit the plane, I offered encouragement to the young woman and her boyfriend. “Don’t let go of your friendship. Listen to what your friends say. Try to understand where they are coming from. Make it a learning opportunity. And hopefully they will do the same.”

Will we do the same? Let’s approach our relationships with grace, committed to extend kindness, respect, and love no matter what. Let’s love them simply because we love them. After all, isn’t that what our Heavenly Father does with us?

God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other (1 John 4:9-11).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for loving me when I struggle and do not honor You with my choices. Thank You for walking with me, as I live imperfectly and try to figure things out. Help me to treat others with the same grace You give me. Teach me how to balance my zeal for You and Your ways with loving others who believe differently than myself. Empower me to love others unconditionally. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Advertisements
Posted in Faith

Living By Grace

grace

What was your life like when you surrendered to Jesus?

What would your life be like today if you had not trusted Him as Savior?

My husband posed these questions at church during a Sunday morning gathering.

I remembered my pain and desperation as a young teenage girl looking for unconditional love and meaning in life, and coming up empty. When I heard the message of Jesus, I opened my heart to Him, and was radically changed.

Then I imagined myself without Jesus. A woman who never found purpose and hope. A life marked by substance abuse, addiction, ravaged family relationships. Emptiness, despair, depression, attempted suicide, death.

These mental pictures remind me that I still desperately need Jesus, thirty-five years into this journey with Him.

I am an ordained ministered, and I direct a non-profit, Christ ministry. I have thirty years experience of mastering the ministry lifestyle, with the appropriate godly exterior and accompanying conversations. My struggles do not involve blatantly sinful behavior. I am not usually tempted to return to old habits or to leave my husband. Every so often though, pride subtly wraps itself around my soul, a silent weed slowly choking out spiritual life. I feel content by my condition, cloaked with smugness as I entertain the lie that, while not perfect, I have arrived. Apathy takes control until I can no longer ignore the nagging, gnawing dissatisfaction.

God, in His grace, reminds me of the truth. I realize that I stand today only because I am saved by grace, transformed by grace, and I live by grace. Christ in me makes me who I am and ignites my spiritual passion. Left to the devices of my old, sinful nature I am truly lost, selfish, without hope. Underneath my carefully decorated veneer, without Jesus I am a broken mess.

Thankfully I am not left alone. By the power of the Holy Spirit working in me, my new Christ-like self is in control. I am a child of God. I no longer live as a sinner. But I will always be a woman in need of my Savior. I will never arrive. I will always be in need of His grace.

My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless (Galatians 2:20-21a, NLT).
I simply cannot go through the so-called Christian motions. I cannot rely on my own human efforts to become transformed and live a God-honoring life. It is not enough to complete my checklist for Bible reading, prayer, fasting, giving, serving, and other important practices. These things are an extension of my love relationship with Jesus, an expression of His grace. I am absolutely dependent on walking closely with Jesus, abiding in His life-giving presence, being constantly aware that He lives in me.

Every moment Jesus extends His grace. Every moment I must live by His grace.

My life is demanding. There are times when being a leader feels overwhelming. The truth is I do not have what it takes to accomplish what God is asking of me. But He always does. Thriving happens when I stop striving and instead trust and rest in Him.

In the words of Ida Lewis, a courageous woman in the 1800s who spent her life as a lighthouse attendant and rescued dozens of people from the sea, “I am not that strong , but God  gives me the strength as I need it.”

Truly, there’s no greatness in what you see in me or in the things that I may achieve. Through it all, see the grace of Jesus. Amazing grace.

The Lord extends an invitation to you to live by grace. Will you accept it?

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all (2 Corinthians 13:14, NIV).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, I depend on You, but sometimes an independent spirit gets a hold of me. Open my eyes to see my need of You in every area of my life. Teach me to rely completely on You and Your grace. May I live and move and breathe by Your grace. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Faith, Servant Leadership

Wait for the Slow Work of God

WaitPatiently

We sat in a prayer circle, each of us sharing one request that was close to our heart. The elderly couple next to me took no pause to mention theirs.

“Our sons—all three of them—are not serving the Lord. We saw other family members come to Christ last year. We’re waiting and trusting the Lord for our sons.”

As we prayed together, my heart was moved with compassion for this couple. They had poured their lives into church ministry and had taught their children the ways of the Lord. Now in their mid-seventies, they continued to be faithful examples of Jesus. And they continued to trust Him to work in their sons’ lives. In that moment, I could sense His loving kindness toward them as they waited.

Ministry to people requires a great deal of patience and grace. It’s hard to wait. We do all that we can to point others to Jesus. We pray. We speak the truth in love. We encourage them to get back up when they stumble. We share the powerful promises of God’s Word. We pray more. We catch ourselves worrying, and then we turn it over to Jesus. With our entire being we yearn for people to experience the fullness of Christ. We just want it to happen quickly.

Gregory Boyle (the founder and Executive Director of Homeboy Industries, a gang intervention program in Los Angeles) refers to the slow work of God. Our Heavenly Father, who so loves His children, never stops His work of drawing them to Himself. Through people, circumstances, and inner promptings, He ceaselessly seeks their attention. He is eager for their fellowship and surrender, but He is patient.

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

Loving people is so much more than following a formula that leads to a specific outcome. Our human nature wants there to be a guarantee. We think, “If I pray and do and say the right things for the right amount of time, I should see people making the right choices.”

Sometimes I forget that only the Holy Spirit can change someone else’s life. He waits for permission, and it’s not my permission He needs. I find myself trusting in my own righteousness, which doesn’t change anything. I need to say “yes” to the Lord for change to happen in myself. Yet, I expect Him to operate differently with other people.

In the words of Boyle, “Ours is a God who waits. Who are we not to? It takes what it takes for the great turnaround. Wait for it.”1

As we wait, we are not doing nothing. We are still actively engaged. We shine the light of Jesus in the darkness. We love others, and speak to them with grace and truth. We trust God to use us to make a difference in this world, even when we may not see it. We don’t give up. We wait for the slow work of God.

“May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance” (2 Thessalonians 3:5).

Prayer:
Heavenly Father, You have given me a heart to serve people. Help me not to rely on my own strength and abilities, but rather trust You to work in their lives. May I cooperate with Your Holy Spirit and be Your representative in this world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

 
1 Gregory Boyle, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion (New York: Free Press, 2010), 109-128.

Posted in Character, Personal Development

Be Patient With Yourself

BePatient

Who are you more patient with—others or yourself? If you’re anything like me, I am harder on myself than on anyone else. I am a perfectionist. However, I can be flexible with other people, and brutal with myself.

Jesus has done so much in my life, and I desire to please Him. I want to reflect Him in every way. But sometimes I don’t change fast enough. I get impatient with my lack of progress and the times when I face a set back. Sometimes I can be my own worst enemy.

I need to remember that transformation is a process, a consistent renewal over time. It’s not about arriving. It’s about becoming.

It would be crazy to expect a newborn baby to immediately start walking. We understand that it takes time to learn to roll over, scoot, crawl, walk, and then run.

The process from child to adult takes at least 18 years. Brain development experts say the brain isn’t fully developed until age 25-30!

It takes 10,000 hours of practicing a skill—the right kind of practice—before a person reaches an expert level.

So, why do I forget when it comes to my own personal and spiritual growth? Maturity is a continual process. Servant leadership requires on-going diligence to cultivate. There may be a growth spurt. Sometimes it will be three steps forward, two steps back. But over time I’m making progress.

What about you? Do you relate? Are there areas in which you need to renew your trust in the step-by-step work of God in your life? You may not be where you would like, but look at how far you’ve come.

“And I am sure that God who began the good work within you will keep right on helping you grow in his grace until his task within you is finally finished on that day when Jesus Christ returns” (Philippians 1:6, TLB).

We have God’s promise that He is always at work in us. Sometimes visible. Sometimes unseen. His work of grace continues to mold and shape us throughout our life time or until the return of Jesus Christ.

We thrive in life and in God’s calling as leaders when we stop beating ourselves up. Moment by moment, walk in His grace. Be patient with yourself. God isn’t finished yet.

May God give you more and more grace and peace as you grow in your knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord (2 Peter 1:2, NLT).

Prayer
Heavenly Father, thank You that You see me as I am, imperfections and all. Thank You for not leaving me where You found me. You continue to work in me, transforming me into the image of Jesus Christ. Forgive me for my impatience and for the times I condemn myself. Help me to respond to Your conviction, to receive Your grace, and to allow the Holy Spirit to work in me. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Posted in Communication Skills, Faith

A Lesson on Marriage and Oysters

Image result for oysters and pearls

This October marks my 30th wedding anniversary. I love my husband dearly, but it’s not an exaggeration to say that it’s a miracle we’re still together. We have defied the odds, breaking many likely-to-divorce statistics. Thirty years since we said our original vows (we renewed our vows five years ago), we are lovers and friends, committed to making our relationship work.

In preparation for our 30th celebration, I wondered what gift was appropriate for the occasion. The gift for the 25th anniversary is silver; the 50th anniversary’s gift is gold. But what about the 30th? I found the answer quickly on Google—it’s our pearl anniversary.

Pearls are beautiful and evoke fond memories for me.

One summer vacation when I was a young girl, my family and I went to a tourist attraction featuring Japanese pearl divers. It was thrilling to watch as the diver dove into the water,  selected a special oyster from the bed, and brought it back to the surface. My heart pounded as they presented my prize and opened it to reveal my treasure containing not one, not two, but three precious pearls.

I learned that pearls are created by an irritation such as a grain of sand or piece of food that enters the shell of an oyster. In an attempt to protect itself from the irritation, the oyster secretes a substance, layer upon layer until the pearl is formed. The irritation is transformed into a valuable treasure.

As I reflect on my marriage, the pearl is meaningful to me. It symbolizes an important lesson I have learned about making my marriage work.

Irritations abound in marriage. Like the oyster, we try to protect ourselves from the irritations. We can react in many ways.

Nag
Become defensive
Argue
Become critical
Justify
Blame
Resist
Withdraw

Or we can apply grace. Layer upon layer of grace transforms our irritations into treasures.

As a Biblical term, “grace” is God’s unmerited favor. Our Lord pours out His kindness on us that we do not deserve and can never earn. Because of God’s grace, we receive the blessing of a relationship with our heavenly Father and the promise of heaven. He offers it freely.

As Christ-followers in marriage, we extend grace when we choose to emulate God’s character and extend undeserved kindness to our spouse. We bless them, not because they have earned our favor, but because we are aware of God’s great love for them. Like Jesus we offer grace freely.

In 1913, Webster’s Dictionary defined grace as “the exercise of love, kindness, mercy, favor; disposition to benefit or serve another; favor bestowed or privilege conferred.”

The more modern WordNet version gives the definition as “a disposition to kindness and compassion; benign good will.”

Both definitions can be aptly applied. Grace has my partner’s best interests in mind, even when I’ve been inconvenienced. Grace seeks to benefit and serve, responding with compassion and goodwill.

It is all too easy to allow irritations and hurts to fester into uglier issues. Hearts are infected by unforgiveness and resentment. Instead of grace, we live by the law of “eye for an eye; tooth for a tooth.” We strive to be heard and understood, and demand our own rights.

There is no simple way to take two people with different personalities, backgrounds, and interests, and merge them as one. Toes get stepped on; expectations are unmet. Grace is a necessary ingredient to counteract our own selfishness and pride.

In my marriage, grace empowers us to laugh at issues that once seemed like major mountains. We flow together rather than put on our brakes of resistance. We offer understanding when the other one is having a bad day rather than rushing in to correct or fix. Through grace, we glimpse in ourselves the love Christ has for His Church.

I am excited to continue to grow in grace. I look forward to gleaning more pearls from the irritations in marriage and life.

How is grace expressed in your marriage? In what areas do you need to allow for more grace?

As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband (Ephesians 5:31-33, NLT).

We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19, NIV).

Prayer
Heavenly Father, help me to appreciate and value the spouse you have given me. I acknowledge that I often take him/her for granted and react poorly to the irritations common in marriage. I desire to be gracious. As you have extended grace to me, may I extend grace to my partner. I trust you to transform our irritations into precious pearls. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Important Note: This post refers to irritations and differences in opinion. It does not include abusive behavior. If you are in a relationship that is abusive, please find a safe place and reach out to others for help.

Posted in Servant Leadership, Vision & Goal Setting

A Different Approach to Goals

It’s that time of year again! Every January we’re reminded to take advantage of the new year and to make better choices than we did last year. Now is the time to lose weight, start exercising, conquer that bad habit, heal those broken relationships, dream big, set goals…

I have nothing against getting fired up for a better life. I’m a believer in making positive changes, and an even stronger believer that it takes strategic planning to get there. However, reaching my goals is not really a problem for me. God has blessed me. I’ve been able to set many significant goals in my personal life and as a leader, and through God’s grace I have achieved them.

I emphasize through God’s grace, because I am often my own worst enemy when it comes to achievement. I am driven. I don’t relax when there is unfinished business. My mind is constantly on the move, and I am given to anxiety. I act as if I am in control and the success of everything I am a part of depends on me.

Yes, I need to be responsible. No, the world doesn’t rest on my shoulders.

This approach to goals sabotages my energy and health. Years of living this way have taken a toll. Now when the stress is too great for too long, my body shuts down, I cannot function, and I have no choice but to stay in bed. I wish for a different approach for you, before you reach this point. And I wish for a different approach for me, to truly place Jesus in the driver’s seat of my life.

As I have prayed and pondered about this, I have sensed the Lord showing me what this different approach looks like.

Live fully in this day. Didn’t Jesus say not to worry about tomorrow, because today has enough worries of its own? (Matthew 6:34) Stress builds when we add tomorrow’s projects and next week’s deadlines to today’s plate. It also distracts us from the things at hand. When we approach this day (with its interruptions and unseen twists and turns) as a blessed adventure, we are in the flow of God’s grace, and not working against it.

Love the person in front of me. Loving our neighbor as ourselves means we pay attention to the person in front of us. They are not here to make our lives better and simply a means to achieve our own agendas. That person is more important than any goal looming over us. That person is someone whom Jesus loves deeply. We must care about their needs, and look for ways to be a blessing. After all, it is more blessed to give than to receive. (Acts 20:35).

Look for Jesus in this moment. There is a story in which a young man asks Jesus why He doesn’t do great miracles anymore, like He did in the Bible. During their conversation, the young man is blessed with a bottle of water when he is thirsty and a reward for finding and returning a wallet. However, he overlooks these blessings, thinking they just happened or are coincidences. Jesus then tells him, “How do you expect to see me in the big things, if you miss me in the little things?” Jesus is actively working in our lives. Let’s keep our eyes open to the little things with hearts of thanksgiving.

In this month of new beginnings, I invite you to join me in discovering a different approach to goals. May we be directed by the Holy Spirit and walk in God’s grace each day.

Posted in Character, Faith, Servant Leadership

Change Takes Time

I try hard not to make “honey-do” lists for my husband, Jonathan. I really want to tackle projects by myself, and I don’t want to add more to his already full-plate, but there are times I can’t do it by myself. Sometimes I need extra muscle or another pair of hands, and I call Jonathan to the rescue.

“Honey, will you please help me with something? It shouldn’t take very long.”

After 29 years of marriage, Jonathan realizes that “not very long” to me translates to “much, much too long” for him. He has quite a history with me and has recently started telling me, “I’m happy to help you, but your project will take much longer than you think.”

His gracious yet matter-of-fact statement continues to surprise me, because it seems like my job should be accomplished fairly quickly. After all, I can see all the steps in my mind, along with the beautiful finished results. Inevitably though, my fast projects become much longer and drawn out than I had imagined, because the “doing” of the steps takes so much longer than the “seeing.”

I find this concept to be true of the personal transformation process, as well. We know that we want to be more like Jesus, to reflect His image in our thoughts, words, and actions. We may even imagine what we will look like when we arrive at this beautiful place of sanctification. Nevertheless, sometimes we get so frustrated and disheartened by how long it’s taking. We need to remember that change takes time. It’s important to be patient with the process.

Be patient with yourself. God is at work in your life. You are saved because of His grace, His unearned blessing extended to you. You keep your right standing with God through Jesus Christ, again by His grace. You’re not who you want to be, but you’re not who you were. God is not a harsh taskmaster, but rather has graciously invited you to partake of His nature and life.

Ephesians 2:7-8 in the Message translation says this:

Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish!

God continues to shower us with grace and kindness. In the midst of the sometimes messy, three-steps-forward-two-steps-back transformation process, His grace covers us. Yes, our progress might be disappointing. Don’t despair. Ask for forgiveness, get back up, and keep moving forward in God’s grace.

Be patient with others. Sometimes it’s easier to see the faults of others. Their mistakes and shortcomings glare more brightly than yours. As Jesus said, you notice the speck in their eye and miss the log in your own. It’s hard when people show great promise of change. You hope for the best, and then they let you down again. They fail yet another time. Or you pray and pray and pray for someone, only to glimpse the slightest improvement. Will they ever get it right?

Don’t forget the grace of God when it comes to others. You are a recipient of God’s generous grace. He has extended many chances to you, multiple opportunities to “get it right.” God is love. He “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Corinthians 13:7, NIV). Extend His generous grace to others whether or not they “deserve” it.

Change takes time. Bring God’s grace along for the journey. Be patient with yourself and others.

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns (Philippians 1:6 NLT).