The Trust that Gets God’s Attention

His name was Jonathan. We were in the same first grade class. One day I made him angry by winning a race in PE, dethroning him as the fastest runner in first grade. Jonathan threatened to beat me up after school. Every day as soon as the dismissal bell rang, I shot out of the classroom. Jonathan and his cohort were close behind me, shouting threats of what they would do when they caught me. After a couple weeks of arriving home breathless and quaking with fear, my mom asked me what was going on. When I told her, she became quite indignant. She spoke with Jonathan’s dad, a pastor of a local church. He was apologetic and assured my mom that I would never be bullied by his son again. I never found out what unpleasant consequences Jonathan faced, but that was the end of our adversarial relationship. By the end of the school year, we had become recess buddies.

My experience with bullying pales in comparison with King Hezekiah’s encounter with an enemy of his kingdom. Hezekiah is one of my Old Testament heroes. Although he was far from perfect, in Second Kings 18 and 19, Hezekiah’s response to devastating threats was exemplary.

In 722 B.C.E, Assyria conquered Israel. Centuries earlier Israel split into the northern and southern kingdoms. The northern kingdom was defeated and taken into captivity. The southern kingdom of Judah was spared. Twenty years later, Assyria decided to expand their conquest. Tiny Judah would be no match for their might.

At first, Hezekiah tried to appease Sennacherib, the Assyrian king, by paying tribute. Sennacherib accepted the tribute and proceeded to attack Jerusalem, the capital of Judah, anyway. Then the threats and taunting started.

What are you trusting in that makes you so confident? Do you think that mere words can substitute for military skill and strength? Who are you counting on, that you have rebelled against me?

With your tiny army, how can you think of challenging even the weakest contingent of my master’s troops, even with the help of Egypt’s chariots and charioteers? What’s more, do you think we have invaded your land without the Lord’s direction? The Lord himself told us, ‘Attack this land and destroy it!’” (2 Kings 18:21, 22, 24, 25 NLT).

Sennacherib and his army tried to strike fear into the hearts of Judah. Not only did he boast of his superior strength, but he also cast doubt on their faith. After all, “God Himself” had instructed Assyria to destroy them.

Hezekiah had done everything he could do. Still, he faced a formidable foe with impossible odds. Clearly, there was no winning this battle.

Look at Hezekiah’s response. After he received the letter from the enemy and read it, “he went up to the Lord’s Temple and spread it out before the Lord” (2 Kings 19:14). First, Hezekiah declared the greatness and power of God, as the ruler of every kingdom and the creator of the heavens and the earth. Then, he acknowledged the threatening situation for the people of Judah. Finally, he cried out for deliverance. “Now, O Lord our God, rescue us from his power; then all the kingdoms of the earth will know that you alone, O Lord, are God” (v. 19).

Hezekiah’s response was a demonstration of trust. He could have thrown up his hands in despair and surrendered to Sennacherib. He could have formulated an escape plan. Instead, he trusted the Lord and got His attention.

The prophet Isaiah encouraged Hezekiah with a remarkable message from God. The Lord had heard Hezekiah’s prayer. He promised a good future for Judah with bountiful crops. Not only that, the Lord would cause the king to “return to his own country by the same road on which he came. He [would] not enter [the] city” (v. 33). God assured Hezekiah, “For my own honor and for the sake of my servant David, I will defend this city and protect it” (v. 34).

God did exactly that.

The angel of the Lord went out to the Assyrian camp and killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers. When the surviving Assyrians woke up the next morning, they found corpses everywhere. Then King Sennacherib of Assyria broke camp and returned to his own land. He went home to his capital of Nineveh and stayed there (v. 35-36).

What a miraculous victory! God promised to deliver Judah, and Hezekiah didn’t even lift a finger. God took care of Judah’s bullies and the Assyrians never returned.

How will we respond when we encounter overwhelming obstacles in our lives? Will we panic or despair because the situation is so much bigger than ourselves? Or will we go to the Lord, spread out the problem before Him, and declare our trust in Him?

Let’s choose to trust. As New Testament believers, we can have confidence in God’s care for us.

Romans 8:28 promises:

“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”

We may not know how. We may not know when. But we can have one hundred percent certainty that God will work everything together for our good. Trust the Lord and get His attention.

The Beauty of Diversity

For the last few weeks, I have been listening to a fabulous sermon series on diversity. It has expressed what I have experienced throughout my lifetime. Yes, diversity is important, but it is deeper than making sure that we are politically and socially correct. This goes beyond hiring different ethnicities and genders to ensure there is equal representation in the workplace. It is much more than being satisfied that your church, small group, or service club has a few people who are different skin color than the majority. As God’s dearly loved children, we are to embrace diversity, realizing that true love of others can be messy, confusing, and sometimes just plain hard work. But it is God’s will for His Church, and unity among diversity greatly pleases Him.

Photo by fauxels on pexels.com

I was born in the 1960s to a Caucasian-American mother and a Chinese-Canadian father. Being half Caucasian and half Chinese set me in a rare category back then. I felt that there was no place I belonged. The Asians rejected me because I wasn’t “pure.” Caucasian people didn’t accept me either because I was obviously “something other than White.” When my family moved to a multi-cultural neighborhood, I developed friendships with a diverse group of students—Black, Indian (from India), Pakistani, Jewish, and Caucasian. For the first time I felt whole, and my heart was full. Sadly, we moved a couple years later to a predominantly Caucasian city where a person of color would turn heads.

Because of my childhood experiences, I am compelled to speak and act in such a way that demonstrates the beauty of diversity and that every single life matters. From the moment of conception until death, all life is sacred and worthy of respect. Nothing can diminish that. Not legal status, ethnicity, skin color, worldview, sexual attraction, gender identity, political affiliation, lack of education, poverty, addiction, physical and mental health problems, or homelessness. Nothing can take away a person’s intrinsic value.

Today people often inquire about my kids’ background. One son, in particular, is frequently asked if he is Mexican (which makes sense because we live in an area that is 50 percent Hispanic). When he mentions that he is actually part Chinese, the person laughs, thinking it is a joke. Why is that so funny? Then they find out it is not a joke and things feel awkward for a bit.

My kids are grown, and I have seven amazing grandkids. Some of them are half Mexican-American. All of them are one-eighth Chinese. Each of them is delightful and has captivated my heart! I am also blessed to be unofficially adopted as “Nana” to a sixth-month-old boy of a Congolese couple. His smile is my undoing. There is beauty in diversity that delights the Lord, the One who creates such variety in the first place.

Racism is the belief that one’s own ethnicity, heritage, culture, or group is superior to others. Racism is ever-present and affects the way we look at the world. Left unchecked it leads to prejudice and discrimination. We judge others based on our own culture as the ideal standard. “My way is the right way.” Subtler forms of racism show up as comments about “those people” that elevate us. It divides people into the categories of “us” and “them.” It interferes with experiencing the beauty of diversity. As servant leaders, we must avoid racism and love all the people following our lead.

In the Book of Revelation, John had a vision of a great crowd surrounding the Lord in worship. “After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a great roar,

‘Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne
and from the Lamb!’”
~Revelation 7:9-10

Every nation, tribe, people, and language worship the Lord! They all put their faith in their Savior. No believer was excluded, regardless of their background. Will we be people that love others and include them? Will we be leaders that speak in terms of “us” and “we”? People don’t have to look, believe, think, or live the same way as us to be included and genuinely cared about. When we appreciate the beauty of diversity, we no longer say with an air of superiority, “those people.” Instead, we humbly accept others as ones deeply loved and adored by Jesus. We take time to hear their life stories and experiences. We learn about other countries, cultures, and traditions. As we open our hearts, we will genuinely embrace them as “we.”

All the nations you made will come and bow before you, Lord; they will praise your holy name. ~Psalm 86:9

Mental Health & Jesus

The month of May has been designated for Mental Health Awareness since 1949. I am grateful that the subject of mental health is increasingly part of the public conversation. According to the National Association of Mental Illness (NAMI), one in five adults and one in six youth (ages six to seventeen) experience mental illness. These are pre-pandemic numbers, and experts assert that they have skyrocketed in the last two years.

My beautiful offspring, JoJo, modeling their newest statement shirt. I need to order one, too!

The topic of mental health in a generic sense is considered less hush-hush than in days gone by. But people who step forward and identify their struggle with mental illness are often met with an awkward silence or attempts to change the subject. Much more work needs to be done because only one-third of the people suffering from mental illness seek professional help.

I have been hesitant to talk about my own mental health journey. In my early days of ministry, I was well aware of the stigma for Christians (and even worse, ministers) who needed medication for depression. There were unspoken judgments of having a lack of faith, not trusting Jesus enough to live in the joy He provides. Who wants to be a target of criticism when already feeling incredibly vulnerable?

However, I feel challenged to break my own silence and contribute to finding solutions.

Today I approach you simply as one who has walked the road of depression, anxiety, and PTSD. I was six years old when I had my first encounter with suicidal ideation. I suffered from serious post-partum depression following the birth of each of my five babies. After my fourth child was born, I cried every day for six months until a friend insisted that I make a doctor’s appointment. I encountered several traumatic events throughout my life that took a serious toll on my well-being. I also have had the privilege of ministering to wonderful people seeking answers for their mental health.

The field of mental health is vast. Mental illness comes in many shapes and sizes. One blog post can barely scratch the surface.

The one thing I do know is that Jesus loves you. In whatever mess you may find yourself, Jesus is there. Not with shame or condemnation, but with grace and wholeness.

The route to wholeness looks different for each one of us; yet wholeness is ours through Jesus.

For me, this has looked like…

  • Prayer and worship focused on Jesus as my Healer.
  • Taking different medications during different seasons of life.
  • Many hours of counseling sessions to unlock trauma from the past.
  • Memorizing God’s Word to counteract the negative messages in my mind with God’s truth.
  • Working with a psychiatrist to discover how to properly balance my brain chemistry.
  • Heartfelt conversations with loved ones about my mental health.
  • Dozens of once-full-now-empty tissue boxes.

As you can see, it has been a process involving faith and community. I continue to become who God has designed me to be.

In 2 Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul recounts his story about a thorn in the flesh. He asked the Lord three times to remove it. God’s answer to Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (v. 12a).

What was Paul’s thorn in the flesh? There are a variety of thoughts depending on the Biblical scholar you ask. Some say it was a physical condition, perhaps an eye disease. Others identify it as bouts of depression. Still, others claim it was a spiritual attack. Regardless of what the thorn was, we can be encouraged that Paul didn’t define it.

For whatever reason, Paul felt weak and God assured him that His grace was sufficient. Indeed, His grace was all, everything Paul needed. In the midst of weakness that threatened to hinder Paul’s ministry effectiveness, God’s power was at work.

We can take heart. The same God who was with Paul is with us. Jesus promised that He would always be with us. We are never alone.

Knowing this to be true, you can be honest with the Lord. (Um…He already knows anyway.)

You can be honest with others who have shown themselves trustworthy and supportive.

You can reach out to mental health professionals for help.

Mental illness does not disqualify you from God’s call. But, please, don’t leave it untreated.

You can thrive in life and leadership.

Because there is abundant grace and hope in Jesus!

(Re)acquaint yourself with God’s grace

Resurrection Sunday is here! We put to rest the Lenten season of preparation and focus on the culmination of God’s plan to redeem humanity. The long-awaited and hoped for deliverance, the final blow in the battle against sin, they have been ushered in by the New Covenant of grace and faith in the risen Jesus.

picture by David Dibert, Pexels.com

Lent is observed during the forty days before Easter. It symbolizes the forty days Jesus spent in the desert, being tempted by the devil. Afterward, He emerged and began His public ministry. The season of Lent is dedicated to reflecting on our lives and opening our hearts to the sacred work of the Holy Spirit. We respond to God’s invitation to prayer, fasting, and giving.

I was drawn to observe Lent twelve years ago. Previously I hadn’t been aware of the church calendar. Through the influences of friends and authors, I learned about the life-giving practices of Lent that draw us closer to Jesus. Since then, I have established a rhythm of renewal each year during the Lenten season.

I’ll be honest with you. This year, Lent was difficult. It felt much more laborious than other years, like walking through the wilderness without any shade or water. I read my Lenten devotional and engaged in prayerful introspection, but fasting was brutal. Self-discipline, which is usually my faithful companion, was nowhere to be found. I related to Paul who described our battle with sin in Romans 7:15.

I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.

The harder I fought, the weaker I felt. The more restrictions I put on myself, the more I food I ate. The vicious cycle spiraled steadily downward. Discouragement took root and feelings of failure settled in. What was happening to me?

It took almost thirty days before I could hear what the Holy Spirit was speaking to my heart. (What can I say? I’m a slow learner.)

I needed to get reacquainted with God’s grace.

Sometimes we can become masters at outward, godly behavior. We do and say the right things so well that they become automatic. We know how to play the Christian leader role with excellence. We are so good on the outside that we lose sight that the one and only reason we are good is because of Jesus.

God extends His grace to save us. We need His grace to change us. We survive by His grace as He renews us from the inside out. His transforming grace empowers us to honor Him with our lives.

I say “we,” but I really should say “I.” I had allowed self-sufficiency to infect my thinking. It showed up in my failure to fast. I couldn’t pat myself on the back for maintaining a routine with reading and prayer either, because I wasn’t relying on Jesus.

I was including Jesus in my life, but I wasn’t completely relying on Him.

I decided that the remaining days of Lent would be spent embracing His grace. I realized that the end game isn’t to be perfect at reading the Bible, praying, and fasting. It took off the pressure to perform and freed me to joyfully surrender to Jesus.

God’s grace is offered to you and me for every area of our lives every single day. We are blessed when we receive it.

In which area(s) do you need to get reacquainted with God’s grace? Ask Jesus to give you a fresh start.

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence (1 Peter 1:3 NLT).

Six Important Questions about Your Goals

We’re already three weeks into the new year. How are you doing on the goals you set on January 1? Are you keeping up the momentum or is your motivation starting to fizzle? Before you go any further, take time to pause and reflect on your progress. Gain clarity and impetus for achieving your goals by interacting with six important questions.

Question One: Are my goals written?
If your answer is “no,” for heaven’s sake write them down. Writing down your goals does a number of things.

  • It helps you remember them.
  • It reinforces your commitment to them.
  • It makes you accountable.
  • It gives you focus.

Question Two: How often will I revisit my goals?
Having a written plan is important, but the power lies in keeping the plan continually before you. Some people begin each day by reviewing their goals. Others review their goals once a week. Decide the frequency that works best for you.

Only a small percentage of businesses that invest in the strategic planning process actually accomplish their goals. By far, the biggest reason is that once created, the plan simply sits on the shelf. They continue doing business as usual without referring to their well-designed plan.

Next, take a look at each of your goals and re-evaluate them with these questions.

Side Note: Select no more than five goals to really focus on. The fewer your goals, the greater the likelihood of achieving them.

Question Three: Is this a goal I believe God wants me to pursue?
This really is the bottom line. Does the goal honor the Lord? Does the goal align with the teachings in God’s Word? Would this goal be approved by trusted, mature believers? If you can’t answer yes, you have a goal that is not worth pursuing. If the Lord has indeed put the goal in your heart, He will help you accomplish it.

Question Four: Is this a goal I am committed to?
Be honest with yourself. Goals are successfully accomplished through commitment. If you aren’t willing to persevere during challenges, your commitment level is low. In this case, you should change the status from a goal to a good idea. Focus on a different goal that you will commit to.

Question Five: What obstacles am I facing in achieving my goal?
You’re committed to the goal, but you’re still having difficulty. Step back and objectively look at the situation. Identify the obstacles and problems. You may need to enlist support from a mentor or a friend.

Question Six: What adjustments do I need to make?
In light of the obstacles, you may need to tweak your plan. You may need to change your timeline. You may need to change your approach or take a detour. Ask the Lord for His wisdom.

If you can’t fly, then run.

If you can’t run, they walk.

If you can’t walk, then crawl.

But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Every choice you make is either bringing you closer to or farther away from achieving your goals. Choose wisely, and keep moving forward.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take” (Proverbs 3:5-6, NLT).

Blessed are the Peacemakers

Photo by Martin Damboldt from Pexels

For most of my life, I believed that conflict was negative. I dreaded the tension that filled the room when two people I cared about disagreed. I longed to run away, to find a place to breathe. The message came through loud and clear: Conflict is dangerous, disagreements are harmful, and differences ruin relationships.

I carried the message into my parenting. One of my roles was to keep the peace, to ensure that nobody rocked the boat. I wanted one big happy family where nobody would ever get hurt. Can you say, “Unrealistic expectations”?

I also carried the message into early ministry. I spent a lot of effort to avoid offending anyone. I had a fear of stepping on anyone’s toes. When I was eight years old, I literally stepped on my uncle’s little toe and broke it. Even though it was an accident, I was devastated. My uncle was gracious, but the memory impaired my perspective for decades.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught the crowds. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9, NIV). There is a blessing when we prioritize peace. However, merely avoiding strife or stilling opposition falls short of the mark. During the pax Romana, the mighty Roman military kept the peace. The powerful quelled all hostilities and conflicts, and the Roman Empire maintained the exterior of peace, while animosity boiled beneath the surface. We are not called to be peace keepers.

The New Living Translation phrases Matthew 5:9 as, “God blesses those who work for peace.” It requires consistent, courageous work to pursue peace in its fullness. Shalom is the ancient Hebrew concept of peace, meaning “wholeness, completeness, health, safety, and prosperity.” Shalom involves our relationships with others and replacing systems in which shalom is broken. Shalom originates from and is sustained by God.

As followers of Jesus, we must seek peace, working to maintain and strengthen it (Psalm 34:14). We reflect the LORD’s heart for humanity as we actively engage with others in pursuit of shalom. We should view conflict as a natural part of existing with human beings, rather than as a threat. As servant leaders, we create a safe place to lovingly address conflict, disagreements, and differences. We build bridges by seeking to truly understand, and emphasizing empathy, listening, and respect (even if we don’t agree). Beyond our relationships, we advocate for true justice and systems that restore shalom to others living in the margins.

Let’s be peacemakers—not peace keepers—and walk in the ways of Jesus, our Prince of Peace.

Where Has All the Integrity Gone?

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“What is truth?” Pontius Pilate asked Jesus the question in a dismissive manner during their encounter (John 18:38, NIV). Jesus had appeared before Pilate for sentencing. During their brief conversation, Jesus declared, “The reason I was born and came into the word is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” (John 18:37). In Pilate’s world, truth was subjective, determined by the person considering it. Much like the society in which we live today.

The fact that Jesus mentioned “the side of truth” reveals that truth does indeed exist. Truth isn’t what we decide it will be. Truth isn’t like a chameleon changing color to blend into its environment.

In our current political environment, truth is difficult to discover. I have family members and friends who identify with a wide variety of political viewpoints. They are all good people. Some of them stand strongly on one side of the political aisle; others stand just as convinced on the other side. Political viewpoints come with particular beliefs. As a result, truth is reported by news media, social media, and other sources (on both sides) with subjectivity. It is often tricky to sort through so much information for the facts.   

As one who is passionate about the truth, my spirit is grieved by the partial truths and spin that surround us on every side. Where can we go to find out what is really going on and get the whole picture? Our country suffers from a lack of integrity, which prompts me to inquire, “Where has all the integrity gone?”

Now more than ever, we need leaders of integrity.  

Charisma can only carry leaders so far. Healing of our nation requires more than promises and new policies. Integrity is the quality that is essential to restoring trust. We need strong leaders to navigate the chaos and confusion of the times and model integrity before crowds and behind closed doors in top-secret meetings.  

Leaders of integrity tell the truth. They make sure that their words and actions match. Always. They are also genuine in every setting and have nothing to hide.

As Christian leaders, we must rely on the LORD to empower us to lead with integrity in our sphere of influence. We stand on the truth as revealed by the Word of God, and we live the truth without compromise. We may not be able to change the whole world, but we can make a difference where God has placed us.

Let’s pray for the restoration of our nation, and let’s be leaders who honor the LORD and those we lead by leading with integrity.

“May integrity and honesty protect me, for I put my hope in you” (Psalm 25:21, NLT).