Monday, July 28, 2014

Give Me Eyes To See Beauty

I recently returned from a week-long mission trip in New York City. On our first day at the church we were partnering with, a minister named Ezze, shared with us her heart for the week. She stated, “I pray that God will give you eyes to see beauty in the Bronx.” That thought stuck in my head and became my prayer for myself and for my students for the remainder of the week. It’s a wonderful thought that is powerfully true.

Beauty is not only in the eye of the beholder, it’s the responsibility of the beholder. Fortunately, it’s a responsibility that God desires to help us with. What our world desperately needs are people who are committed to finding beauty in the most unusual and dark places. Most of us turn up our nose at the injustice and corruption in our world. We seek to insulate ourselves from it, and to protect ourselves from the pain it causes. The proper response as followers of Jesus, however, would be to engage the broken places instead of avoiding them, even though it can be costly. Rather than criticizing the mistakes and sins we see in people around us, we would be much more effective if we chose to call out the beauty that is hidden underneath. If the Bible is to be believed, then everyone was created in the image of God. It’s our job to look past the violence and hatred and find the beauty in the people that God loves so much (that’s everyone).

Christians at our best are seekers of beauty, we are to be people who love God so much, that we recognize his fingerprints even in the most heart-breaking places. Perhaps the most difficult challenge of all is to find beauty in ourselves. After all, we know all of the horrible things we have done, and even more troubling, all of the really messed-up things we think on any given day. We have been conditioned to look for and find the bad inside ourselves. Any hopes to grow in those things (and we all need to grow) can only happen after we have found the beauty that God has placed in each of us. In other words, to have the courage to turn from the damage that we daily do, we must hear God’s voice reminding us of His great love for us, and of our great purpose in the world (to love others well).  

So I offer the prayer I have been praying for myself  to you today as well, that God would give you eyes to see the beauty inside of you, and the courage and vision to find that beauty in the world around you as well. 

Photo Courtesy of Death To Stock Photo

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Essential Art of Saying "No" and How You Can Get Better At It

To live a healthy life we need the ability to say both “yes” and “no”. A healthy life doesn’t say yes to everything it is asked and it doesn’t say “no” all of the time either. To feel truly satisfied and fulfilled in life, you have to be in charge of your yes’s and no’s.  In other words, the more often you are able to say “yes” to something simply because you want to, and feel it’s the best course of action for you, the happier you will be. The same goes for saying “no”.  If you don’t feel free to say “no” at times in your relationships, then those relationships are not healthy.

This seems simple enough, but life is rarely simply. The complication comes with the fact that the people in your life don’t like to hear the word “no”. Some may get angry, some may give you the silent treatment, others may cry (usually those under age 5), and they all want you to give in and change your answer. Saying “no” and then sticking to our boundaries is a critical skill to have at work, church, and home. Are you having trouble saying “no” and sticking to it? Here are some possible reasons why….

You Are Saying No, But Explaining….

Your job isn’t to convince people in your life that you correct and justified when you decide to say no, it’s to simply communicate, “no”. If you need people to understand and buy into your decisions all of the time, then you are in trouble! A lot of times people won’t understand (everyone has blind spots), and many times they just won’t care!  You don’t have to explain yourself every time you make a decision. It’s your life, your time, and your energy, and you get to spend it however you choose.  Also, if someone is wanting to manipulate you into doing what they want, they will love your long explanations, because it gives them the time and opportunitiy to wear you down to get you to give in. It’s not rude to just say “no” and go about your business.

You Are Saying No, But Apologizing For It….

It’s not bad to say “no”. You don’t have to feel guilty when you can’t or won't give what someone is asking of you. It’s ok to disagree with what others may be saying or asking, and go your own way. If you apologize every time you say “no”, people will begin to assume that you are wrong, and will press you even more forcefully. The only healthy time to apologize is when you have done something wrong! Throwing out apologies all of the time is dishonest. If you are like me, you will mess up plenty in life, save your apologies for those times when you have actually done or said something wrong!

You Are Not Saying No At All….

Every skilled manipulator is looking for someone to run over. Don’t be that person for them! Your opinion matters, and your personal boundaries matter.  Standing up for yourself sometimes and saying “no” reminds people that you are a person worthy of respect. You matter and your thoughts matter, so don’t just go along with everyone else all of the time!

Saying “no” isn’t easy, but it’s a crucial part of a healthy life. I hope you will find the courage to practice your “no”, and that in doing so, you will be reminded of your value in the relationships in your life!

Photo Courtesy of Death To The Stock Photo

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

How Hurry Can Wreck Your Life

I move quickly.

If I am not careful, I live my waking hours at a frantic pace. I’m not sure when I started living like this, I just know that I tend to do everything in fast forward. I get out of my car quickly when I park, I walk quickly, I eat quickly, and if I can multi-task another activity during those things, I do it. I know it’s not good when I live life this way. It’s like I’m fighting against the day rather than just living in it. If you could watch a video of my day, you would swear that the most important thing in my life is efficiency, and while I really do prize being efficient, I don’t want to look back on my life and marvel at the number of things I could accomplish in a day. I would rather take time to enjoy carefully chosen things in my life.

Maybe you spend your life in a hurry too. Dallas Willard once said, “Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day. You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” When I hurry, I am secretly saying to myself that what I have now is not enough. I need to achieve more. I have to see more. I’ve got to get one more thing done before bed, and I can get one more thing on the list crossed off if I just wake up 20 minutes earlier in the morning. We spend our lives conquering the world only to realize that we have not enjoyed or even noticed a single second of it.

Hurry is the state of being in which we want to accomplish more and have more than we currently do. It’s what happens when we feel the need to be more than we currently are. Hurry feeds off of discontent, and discontent makes life unbearable. Of course we all want to grow and move forward in our lives, there's nothing wrong with that, but the only way to grow is to stop slamming myself for where I am right now.  If we are able to slow down enough to be fully present in our current moment, we will be able to see the value in the people and activities around us. Hurry erodes when we embrace our present moments for all they are worth, rather than rushing through them to whatever might be next. When we are able to slow down, we can see that God has given us our present moments as a gift to be enjoyed and embraced, even when they are difficult or unexpected. 

I hope you find time to slow down today, and that in those moments, you will feel God's great love for you.

Photo courtesy of Death To Stock Photo
Dallas Willard's quote is from John Ortberg's newest: Soul Keeping 

Friday, July 4, 2014

Inspiration Part XIV (July 4th edition)

Thanks to everyone who takes time to read my blog, and for those of you who refer others to it as well!

I hope you and yours have a wonderful 4th!

Here's a quick blast of inspiration for your Independence Day from the great Abraham Lincoln....

"I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives. I like to see a man live so that his place will be proud of him."

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Forgiveness Wins - A Tribute to Louis Zamperini

Louis Zamperini died Wednesday at the age of 97. Zamperini competed in the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin as a distance runner. A budding star in the track community, Zamperini retired from track to serve his country during World War II. During the war,  he and his fellow soldier’s plane was shot down over the Pacific Ocean. He and one other crewmate survived for 47 days on a lifeboat before being found by the Japanese. He was then detained in a POW camp for over two years, enduring horrific physical and mental torture. After he returned home, Zamperini began having nightmares. What would later become known as post-traumatic stress disorder, was tearing his life apart. He became a Christian in 1949 after attending a crusade meeting led by Billy Graham. It was at that point that this extraordinary American made one of the most difficult decisions of his incredible life. He chose to forgive the Japanese soldiers who had tortured him. Zamperini found peace and his nightmares subsided. He travelled back to Japan later and personally forgave many of the soldiers he had encountered during the war. He was even willing to meet with the one soldier who had singled him out for severe, unrelenting torture, but Mutsuhiro Watanabe refused to meet with him. Zamperini’s life is brilliantly and beautifully presented in Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken. A movie by the same title is set to hit movie theatres in December of this year.

Peace is rarely attained through power. Louis Zamperini was forced to live a nightmarish existence for over 2 years during which he was dominated, insulted, and abused. Any attempt to fight back only led to heightened abuse. Yet, when given the opportunity years later to overcome, expose, and get revenge on his captors, he chose instead to forgive, and thereby found a deep and lasting peace. On the other hand, Watanabe had imprisoned and abused countless soldiers during World War II, he enjoyed limitless power in the POW camp,  but found later that his power led to nothing but shame. He spend the remainder of his life imprisoned by his past, unable to ever face those he had wronged. It takes incredible strength to forgive, but forgiveness is the weapon God has given us with which to change the world. Forgiveness changes everything.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the Zamperini family, and I thank God for a man who has shown us all that forgiveness wins. I pray for you today as well that if you have been wronged, you will be able to lay down your hurt and pick up forgiveness in its place. You deserve the peace that it brings!