Posted in Faith, Servant Leadership

What’s the Point?

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We sat in shocked silence. As a ministry team, we have witnessed plenty of brokenness among the people we serve. But on this day, destruction and heartbreak hit home. Each of us grappled with the weight of the ugly news we had just heard. And then someone dared to voice the question.

What’s the point?

It’s an honest question to ask, especially in the midst of despair.

We care about people, and reach out to the hurting.

We share the message of forgiveness and new life through Christ to all. No matter how far a person has fallen to addiction, violence, or other harmful choices, they are never too far from God’s love and a fresh start.

We live as examples of on-going transformation, mentoring and encouraging others toward the beautiful possibilities available to them.

We give generously to meet tangible needs without strings attached.

And, yet what good does our sacrificial lifestyle produce? How many people actually devote their lives to Jesus and break free from the darkness?

Too often the visible results are overwhelmingly disheartening. And our souls cry out, “What’s the point?”

As a Christ-follower, I have devoted myself to pointing others to Jesus. I deeply believe that as long as there is life, there is hope. No matter how terrible it may look in the moment, there is always hope.

My daughter, Jordanne Babcock, penned this response during a moment of sorrow.

“Today I witnessed the destruction and heartbreak that darkness brings to people. And, if I’m being honest, it’s breaking me. I hope to God that I never become apathetic when I encounter darkness. I pray that I always hate the shadows with this same passion. I hope the Light inside me continues to scream NO.”

I scream “NO” as I continue to hope for the Lord to work in people’s hopeless situations.

I scream “NO” as I extend love to people who are considered unlovable.

I scream “NO” as I chose to forgive people who do not deserve it.

And what is the point?

For me, the point is to shine Christ’s light in the darkness no matter what. His light is always greater than the darkness, and darkness will never extinguish it. I will not stop sharing His unfailing love with others, and the enemy will not be victorious.

In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it (John 1:1-5, NLT).

“You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father (Matthew 5:14-16).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, take my broken heart and surround me with Your healing. Take my discouragement and pour out Your hope. Take my weariness and infuse me with faith. Fill me with Your sustaining love, so that I can faithfully shine Your Light for all to see. Help me remember that my life has purpose as I live for You and point others to You. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

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Posted in Faith, Personal Development

Turning 50!

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The year 1967 is a very special year to me. It is the year of my birth, and last weekend I celebrated my 50th birthday. I always enjoy my birthday, because it is a chance to reflect on my life and see God’s faithfulness interwoven throughout my days.

This year was especially meaningful. My husband organized a party at a local pizza place, and we invited our family and friends to join us. We were blessed with more people than we anticipated, along with some surprise arrivals. It was thrilling to be surrounded by such a loving and supportive group. Some people have known me for many years, other people are more recent friends, but each one has a special place in my heart.

I soaked in the sweet camaraderie of the evening, and pondered the gift of life. The fabulous evening punctuated my resolve: I don’t want to waste this precious gift on meaningless pursuits or to secure my own comfort. Instead, I desire to focus my attention on a few things that really matter.

Jesus. My Savior and Lord is absolutely everything to me. I dedicated my life to Him at the age of 13 (which was a long time ago). It is easy to settle into a spiritual comfort zone, but I don’t want that. I want to love and serve and know Him with all that I am. I want to passionately follow Jesus Christ in joyful obedience, and live as a bright light for Him. I want to be in the habit of saying “yes” to Him, and step out in faith to do whatever He asks of me.

Relationships. I dearly love my family and friends. I am also wired to be task oriented and goal oriented. I like structure and organization. I like to check off my to-do list, preferably in order. Tasks and achievements bring peace to my mind. Unfortunately they can interfere with relationships. However, connecting with loved ones nourishes my soul. I want to engage in the sacred, messy work of building and restoring my relationships.

Growth. The older I get, the less I know. I won’t presume that I have ever arrived. Rather, I submit to the process of life-long learning. I want to become more like Jesus, allowing the Holy Spirit to transform me into His likeness. I want to continue to heal from the effects of childhood and more recent traumas. I want to develop the skills of being a better servant leader in myself and others.

Service. I don’t want to be guilty of being enraged by all the injustices in the world and not doing something about it. I can’t sit on the sidelines while people are hurting. I must invest in improving the lives of those who are disadvantaged or marginalized, the “least of these” who are so important to Jesus.

I just had the privilege of celebrating 50 years of life. Tomorrow is not guaranteed. But I can live each day I am given with intention.

Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31)

Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy (Ephesians 4:21-24).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for the gift of life. May I not take it for granted. Help me to identify what really matters, and then live with intention. I know I cannot do this by my own strength and abilities. May I thrive through Your Spirit, as You empower me to make each day count. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

 

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 Character, Servant Leadership

My Guidelines for Gossip

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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.

Posted in Character, Faith, Servant Leadership

Love…No Matter What

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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.

Posted in Character, Faith

My Valentine’s Day Tribute

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Love is in the air. Stores and restaurants are displaying symbols of love. Don’t forget a card, chocolates, and the heart shaped pizza for that special someone. My own home-based pie company sells special 3” QT (QuiteTiny) pies topped with adorable heart crust cut outs this time of year. (By the time you read this, it will be too late to order some, so I’m not ashamed to advertise.)

I don’t wish to diminish these gifts of affection. Who doesn’t feel good when they give or receive them? I like to be told that I am loved. On the other hand, I believe Valentine’s Day reflects mistaken ideas about true love that pervade our culture. It grieves my sensitive side to see how we have settled for less than love. I have been deeply impacted by love that has been thrown away, by relationships severed by differences of opinion, and by choices motivated by selfishness. I long that others experience more and better than this.

I have this sign posted in my bedroom, so I can see it every day when I rise.

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Forever, for always, and no matter what.

It sums up God’s love for me and my desire for the relationships with my husband, family, and dear friends.

These words express more than warm-fuzzy sentiments. They convey a commitment of true grit, the determination to keep fighting for a relationship, with the highest good of the other person in mind.

Easier to say. Much harder to live.

And yet, there are faithful people all around us who demonstrate true love and seldom receive recognition. I am so grateful for their examples.

~Those who hold a high standard for their marriage, believing that it is possible to reflect Christ’s love for the Church, and work hard together to achieve that goal.

~Those who realize they have nothing in common as a couple now that the kids are gone and determine to start over again with each other.

~Those who care for their loved one struggling with cancer or other debilitating disease, providing the strength of being there day after day.

~Those who face financial hardships and other crises, and support each other with encouragement and kindness instead of accusation and blame.

~Those who set boundaries for unacceptable behaviors but keep the possibility for relationship alive.

~Those who are not threatened by a different way of looking at things, and seek first to understand before being understood.

~Those who place a higher priority on their relationships than on being “right.”

~Those who extend grace to loved ones rather than judgment as they walk in the imperfections of being human.

~To the One who willingly laid down His life to pay the penalty for our sins, in order to restore our broken relationship with our Heavenly Father.

I celebrate you today on this Valentine’s Day.

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

Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:13).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for loving me with perfect love. Teach me to love You and to love others with Your kind of love. May I not be controlled by my emotions moment by moment. Help me focus on the best interests of others in every situation. Empower me to keep going when it is difficult, and to walk in love. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Character, Servant Leadership

Living by the Platinum Rule

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The Golden Rule—Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

I was not raised in a Christian home, but it was one of the first lessons I remember. It was reinforced almost everywhere I went, a maxim to not be selfish and to think about others. The Golden Rule was taught by Jesus Christ (Matthew 7:12). It is taught in various forms around the world and by different faiths. It is a universal truth that if you want to get along with people, you need to be mindful of how you treat them.

It is a beautiful spiritual principle. Nevertheless, I have found myself frustrated by the results especially in my close relationships. In marriage, treating my husband the way I would like to be treated is not often appreciated. Cleaning the kitchen even though I am exhausted or asking a philosophical question to spark conversation does not connect with him. Over the years I have learned that our images of the ideal partner pretty much live in different universes.

The same goes for my children. Doing something for them that I enjoy does not guarantee that it is meaningful for them. The Golden Rule does not produce the desired results in my other relationships and on the job either. Of course, it does promote kindness and courtesy which are important in every setting. However, just because I love something doesn’t mean they will love it too.

The Golden Rule is a great foundation. There is another rule that goes beyond and focuses on the uniqueness of each person with whom we are in relationship.

The Platinum Rule—Do unto others as they want you to do unto them.

About 20 years ago I felt confused about my marriage. I was pouring myself into our relationship, being the best wife I could possibly be, but it didn’t seem to do any good. After a time of seeking the Lord for wisdom, I felt prompted to read Genesis 2:18.

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

I immediately defended myself. What do you mean, Lord? You know how hard I’m trying!

As soon as the words left my mouth, I could see it. Yes, I was trying hard. But I was being a helper suitable for myself. Ouch!

I began to ask questions about what my husband thought was meaningful. (What a novel idea!) Together we learned about different love languages, learning styles, and personality types. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to relationships.

Later I discovered this principle of honoring others actually had a name.

I love the Platinum Rule. It opened up a new way of relating with others at home and in the workplace. Rather than doing something nice because I think it’s nice, I take the time to learn how to really connect. It is the basis of servant leadership. If I want to invest well in the development of others, I need to understand how to best instruct, correct, and express appreciation for them. Instead of seeing others with my own limited lens, I get to explore and discover. As a result, relationships become more enriched and significant.

Do some of your relationships seem stagnant? Do you sense a lack of connection with others? Perhaps practicing the Platinum Rule will give you the boost you need.

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work (1 Corinthians 12:4-6).

Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people(I) so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, help me to love others the way You love. Rather than expect others to fit into my mold, help me to value their differences. Teach me to connect in ways that are meaningful to them. Empower me to first do to others as I would have them do to me, and then go beyond to do to others as they want me to do to them. In all these things may I honor You. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.