Changes in Vision

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

(Attributed to a variety of sources including Albert Einstein)

On March 25, 2021, I went to get in my car and noticed my irises had bloomed overnight. It’s always the first flower to bloom in that flowerbed, and it always takes me by surprise. Life can be the same way as many families discovered that day as tornado warning sirens filled the air all over the state. I am grateful that I woke up to see the same iris the next morning, still blooming despite all the storms. But, sometimes it takes a disturbance to help us see more clearly.

Seasons of Change

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.

Ecclesiastes 3:1, 11

My irises always let me know that spring is upon us. Unfortunately, it also brings turbulent weather and allergies. Anytime change comes upon us there is bound to be turbulence, but it is the shake ups that force us out of our ruts and makes us take a look around. Often we find things that need to be done. For instance, I already have a mental list of chores that need to be done around the yard now that I no longer have the winter weather as an excuse to stay indoors. Spiritually, both individually and corporately as a church, we need to take a look around as we come out of a turbulent season. What needs to be done? What needs to be done differently?

Assess the Landscape

Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.

Matthew 13:30

First of all, we need to assess the landscape to see where we are. For example, I have two stumps and laundry pole that are getting in my way of maintaining my yard. I have been throwing around ideas on how to work around or remove the obstacles, but I seem stuck with them for the moment. Sometimes God leaves the obstacles in our way because to remove them would hurt more than it helped. So, I have to figure out how to work around them by mitigating their influence as much as possible. Usually that means maintaining the area around it so that weeds don’t overrun and keep me from doing what needs to be done. We live in this world, but we are not of this world, so we have to learn to work around obstacles.

Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.

John 15:2

At other times I have to prune with a passion. I have some dead plants and limbs that need cutting out before they become serious problems later. There are also weeds that need cutting down and maintained all season. Spiritually speaking, God often prunes with a passion. We need to be willing to accept His pruning and weeding so that we can be used in His vision for our church and our communities. It may require a new approach, doing things in a new way.

Find a Landmark

Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.

Proverbs 28:18

When we lose our way, our first step should be to take a look around us and take stock of where we are. Once we assess the landscape, then we should look for a landmark to help guide us. For Christians, we need our moral compass set to true north: Jesus Christ. When we set our eyes on Christ, we gain a kingdom perspective. Instead of looking through rose-colored glasses, we are looking through Christ-centered glasses. A kingdom perspective will change everything.

If you always do what you’ve always done, you always get what you’ve always gotten.

(Attributed to Jessie Potter)

Adjust Your Course

When you know where you are and have identified where you want to go, you are ready to plot a course. Usually, this means adjusting your course. It means being willing to change. In the book Say Yes: How God-Sized Dreams Take Flight by Britt Mooney, the author talks about how this group of Christians said yes to God at every opportunity and how God blessed their ministry abundantly above what they imagined. But, they didn’t stop at saying yes to the vision; they took action and stepped out in faith. We have to be willing to let go of our limited perspective and get a God-sized vision. It won’t be easy, but the end results will be worth it.

What vision has God given you? What is the next step He wants you to take?

Daily Benefits

Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits, even the God of our salvation. Selah.

Psalm 68:19

Modern society frequently is obsessed with stuff, never content. We often complain about what we don’t have because we forget what we do have. For example, I had needed my house to be switched from a fuse box to a breaker box, partially because I couldn’t add a plug to move my refrigerator or add a dishwasher until it was replaced and reallocated. When it was finally completed and I could move my fridge, I was so excited because I could finally finish some projects and reattach the water line for filtered water dispenser. Every time I went in the kitchen and used the dispenser, I smiled. Soon, however, I noticed other things I “needed” in the house. My joy started to dissipate because I was focused on what I didn’t have instead of with the things God had already given me.

Psalm 68 says we are daily loaded with benefits from God. Loaded means stacked high, overflowing, more than we need. Every day God gives us benefits that we take for granted, starting with getting up in the morning to a new day. I’ve seen a lot of posts on social media about 2020 being such a horrible year, and I have been prone to agree with them, yet God gave us another year, which is not a gift everyone was given. Most of the people complaining still had what they needed for every day survival. Above that God gives us little blessings as well, but we can only see them if we look for them.

So, take a moment and look around at what you do have. If you can read this, then you probably have a roof over your head, electricity, and electronics. Think back over your day. Did anything good happen? Was there a kind word, a door held open, a chat with friends or neighbors, the love of a pet, or just a ray of sunshine on a drab day? We look at the news and social media and think about all the bad things out there, but do we look at the good things? If you dig a little deeper, you can find stories of neighbors helping neighbors, people trying to meet needs and giving of themselves. The good is still out there.

When you feel yourself overwhelmed by all the bad news and negativity, turn off the television or social media and take out a piece of paper and a pen. Make a list of things to be thankful for in your life. Start with where you are sitting and look around. What do you have here and now? Start with the four walls around you and then move further out into your neighborhood, your country, your world.

I bet you can come up with at least 5 things to be grateful for; actually, I bet your paper can’t hold all the benefits God has given you if you really think about it. Maybe start a gratitude journal. The enemy wants us to focus on perceived needs which are usually just wants in disguise, but God says meditate on His word (Joshua 1:8) because it will keep us focused and grounded on what is true.

What benefit are your grateful for today? I am grateful to have access to a dentist but even more grateful I don’t have to see him again until next year. I am grateful the rain gives me an excuse not to mow the yard. I am grateful for a little furball who snuggles close and purrs even if she emits warmth like a heating pad on a hot summer day. I am grateful for a car that keeps moving even though mechanics warned me years ago that I needed to replace it. I am thankful for a God who gives daily blessings even when we complain. How about you?

A few of my favorite things:

The Approach

Last week I was working on a couple of deadlines with a pressure headache, making it hard to think. I sent a draft of one article to the editor with the caveat that I knew it needed work, but I was having trouble getting it right, especially the tone. The editor sent me back notes saying that the tone was definitely negative and suggesting a more positive slant to the same topic of scripture. It was the same idea, but it came at the topic from a different angle that was more about pointing someone in the right direction versus reprimanding them.

Tone will get you every time. No matter how true your words are if the person feels singled out and chastised, they are unlikely to take heed to what you have to say. How many times have you been in an argument and the other party says, “It’s not what you said; it is how you said it”? That, my friend, is tone. It is a common problem, especially in today’s electronic society.

When I was teaching and tutoring online, there was an emphasis on pointing out both the good and bad in an assignment. The trainers suggested the equivalent of a compliment sandwich. You open with what the student had done well, give critiques, and then close with an overview of the paper as a whole focusing on good points and positive suggestions on how to proceed. This approach helped the student know what they were doing right while helping them to improve in weaker areas. The student then felt inspired to make the corrections in order to make their writing better.

So, before we decide to correct someone spiritually, or grammatically, let’s take a look at what advice we can glean from the Bible on the subject. Proverbs is known as a book of wisdom and instruction, and it has a lot to say about words and how we use them:

  • “A wholesome tongue is a tree of life: but perverseness therein is a breach in the spirit.” (Proverbs 15:4)
  • “Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones.” (Proverbs 16:24)
  • The words of a man’s mouth are as deep waters, and the wellspring of wisdom as a flowing brook.” (Proverbs 18:4)
  • “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.” (Proverbs 25:11)

All of these verses emphasize the idea of good words: wholesome tongue, pleasant words, deep waters, wellspring of wisdom, word fitly spoken. These phrases suggest words that are chosen thoughtfully and not just spouted off the top of our heads. Unfortunately, we are a society that speaks first and thinks later, me included at times; therefore, how should we approach correcting someone?

First, we need to make sure our tone is right, meaning humble and helpful not egotistical and condescending. Second, timing is as important as tone. The acronym HALT is a good one to remember: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired. If you, or the other party, are any one of those things, you should probably wait. Finally, and most importantly, we need to figure out our motivation. If we aren’t doing it out of love, humility, and the leading of the Holy Spirit, then we should probably keep our mouths shut.

Now, let’s recap: think before you speak. That pretty much sums it up. It’s simple, but it is not easy. Writers have a step up on other people because we can revise before we publish; however, the way my face looks when people say stupid things is another issue altogether. I should probably work on that and the think before you speak thing. I would say it might require duct tape, but that won’t help the eye rolling. Well, let’s just all try to do our best. We are all a work in progress, which we would all do well to remember.

Be Prepared

In a Bible study, we were talking about the old cartoons where the character has a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other. Someone pointed out that you never have to invite the devil to whisper in your ear, but you have to be more diligent to commune with the Holy Spirit. The more you try to do God’s will, the louder the devil will shout, but the Holy Spirit is a still, small voice.

When the children of Israel first came to the Promised Land, they focused on the giants and refused to move forward. They listened to the enemy shouting in their ear that it was impossible instead of the confident voices of Caleb and Joshua who proclaimed that the land was theirs for the taking. Because of this, the Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness until that generation had died before they tried again. This time they had Joshua as their leader.

“And Joshua said unto the people, Sanctify yourselves: for to morrow the Lord will do wonders among you.”

(Joshua 3:5)

Joshua told the people to prepare themselves mentally and spiritually for the battle ahead because God was about to do a miracle. Not only did they cross the Jordan on dry ground when it was at flood stage, but also they saw the walls of Jericho come crashing down a week later. They merely had to step out in faith to see God at work.

Whenever I try to intentionally persevere at writing, I am always bombarded with doubts, fears, and obstacles. In the past, I let those things get in the way, like the children of Israel staring at the giants. Now I am trying to move forward. The obstacles and the doubts are still there, but my perspective has shifted. I am focusing on God instead of the obstacles. I dipped my toe in the Jordan River, but I have to keep walking if I want to see walls of Jericho fall down.

10 And herein I give my advice: for this is expedient for you, who have begun before, not only to do, but also to be forward a year ago. 11 Now therefore perform the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to will, so there may be a performance also out of that which ye have.”

(2 Corinthians 8:10-11)

Now is the time to perform what I had willed to do before. In a sermon on James, a pastor pointed out that the biblical equation for success is as follows:

humility + hustle + Holy Spirit.

First, we have to realize that success will only come from God not ourselves, so we shouldn’t boast. We have nothing that was not given to us by God, and any success we might have also comes from Him. Second, we still need to do our part and do the work assigned to us. Waiting on the Lord does not mean sitting down. It means following His timing. Third, it is up to the Holy Spirit what the outcome will be. God decides what success means. What seems small to us may change someone else’s life.

So, let’s be prepared for God to do a miracle by doing the work assigned to us. Let God determine the increase. What we think of as success may not be what God has in mind, but what God has in mind is always better in the long run. Time to hustle.

Reset Button

Do you ever wish that life had a reset button? You know like when your computer starts not working right and you just turn it off and back on to reset it. There is usually a reset button on most electronics. It allows equipment to stop, recalibrate, and restore itself to working order again. Actually, we do have a reset button of sorts, but it doesn’t correct our situation; it corrects our perception of the situation.

Seattle SunriseI have a friend who is not a big fan of Christmas but loves New Year’s because it is the chance to start fresh. However, you don’t have to wait for New Year’s Day for a fresh start. Lamentations 3:21-23 says, “This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.” God’s mercies are new every morning, so we have the chance to start each day fresh. But, we don’t even have to wait for a new day. We can start new at any moment. All we have to do is stop and pray for God to refresh our spirits and renew our minds.

Romans 12:2 says, “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” When we renew our minds, we often gain a new perspective on the situation. It is often said that prayer doesn’t change God or the circumstances as much as it changes us. It is a change in perspective, the difference between seeing something as a crisis and seeing it as an opportunity.

In March of 2018, a line of storms hit my area, including a tornado that struck Jacksonville, Alabama and Jacksonville State University. The community could have wallowed in self-pity or hopelessness; instead they rallied around each other. My church, along with others, took it as an opportunity to share the love of God through feeding workers and those in our community without power. People from all over flooded the area, helping people clear the debris and meeting basic needs.

Reset ButtonWhen we are faced with challenges, we can sit and complain and wonder why me, or we can look to discover what God is trying to teach us in the moment. A slow car in front of us when we are running late could be keeping us from being involved in an accident or getting a speeding ticket. A power outage might give us a renewed sense of appreciation for what we do have. When we are having a bad day and nothing seems to be going right, we just have to take a moment and look for the blessings around us. It can reset our perspective and our attitude so that we can make the most of whatever situation we find ourselves. The reset button is always available; the trick is remembering to use it.

 

The Shepherd’s Voice

Sheep

In a recent Bible study on Psalms 23, Jennifer Rothschild pointed out some interesting facts she learned about sheep. She shared a video showing different people trying to call a herd of sheep but the sheep ignore them. However, when their shepherd calls them, they follow his commands. John 10:4 says, “And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice.” Whose voice do you listen to?

There are a lot of voices fighting for our attention. Social media and the nightly news are filled with loud, angry people battling for attention. They each have their own take on a situation and their own agenda. It can feel like we are being tugged in a million different directions. Each side begins to think they are in the right; therefore, everyone else must be in the wrong.

TrainHowever, the truth usually resides somewhere in the middle. Perspective has a lot to do with how we view situations. There is an illustration of this that I heard at a conference: There are three people standing together at the end of a tunnel. The pessimist only sees darkness. The optimist sees a light at the end of the tunnel. The realist sees an oncoming train. At the other end of the tunnel the train engineer sees three idiots standing on the tracks. While the three people may stand and argue forever about the situation, in the end they may miss the point entirely.

God, like the train engineer has a totally different perspective. He sees all of eternity, not just one brief moment. His purpose is to make us more like Christ. He sent Jesus, Our Shepherd, and The Holy Spirit to lead us through life. Sometimes this means leading us beside still waters and to green pastures, and sometimes it is walking with us through the valleys (Psalm 23). The key is sticking to the path and following the shepherd’s voice. The enemy will try to distract us with all manner of arguments and try to lead us down different paths that seem easier or more prestigious, but they are dead ends. The voice of the Shepherd is the only one that can be trusted, the still small voice in the midst of the storm.

We can know His voice because it is always in alignment with God’s Word. As believers, we have the Holy Spirit inside us to help us recognize His voice. John 14:26 says, “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” The Holy Spirit will remind us of the scripture so that we can discern what is truth and what is not.

So, when the voices of the world get too loud, spend time in the Word of God and prayer, and the voice of the Shepherd will show you the way to go. Like the songs say, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.”

Be Still

Dropped stitchI was working on a knitting project late one evening and found what looked like a dropped stitch. Past experience taught me that trying to fix things when I’m tired only leads to more problems, so I used a stitch marker to hold it in place and put it away. I was frustrated because I was almost done with the project and wouldn’t be back at the yarn shop until after the weekend. The next morning I pulled out the project to look at it in the light of day and realized there actually wasn’t a problem, just some pulled threads, and any “fixing” I might have done would have made a problem where there hadn’t been one. I was able to finish the project over the weekend and move on to something new.

What is your first response when you encounter an obstacle or problem? Do you go into Ostrich Head in Sandproblem-solving mode? Do you get stick your head in the sand? For most people, we either hide from the problem, pretending it doesn’t exist, or we try to jump in and solve the problem using our own abilities. While this is the human approach, it is not necessarily the best way.

 

Parting Red SeaWhen the children of Israel left Egypt, the Pharaoh’s army followed them, leaving them trapped between the army and the Red Sea. The people cried out in fear, “13 And Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will shew to you today: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen today, ye shall see them again no more forever. 14 The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace” (Exodus 14:14). God parted the Red Sea so that the Israelites could pass over on dry land, and then the water fell on their enemies and destroyed them without them lifting a finger.

When we face problems, it is tempting to try and take control of the situation; however, if we stand still, God will fight the battle for us. Our first instinct is to DO something, but God’s Word tells us to stand still and watch God work. We often want to jump in and straighten things out, but we often just make the situation worse.

Psalms 46:10 says, “10 Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.” The translation of “be still” has the added meaning of releasing your grip. Instead of holding tighter to the reins of control, release your grip and let God have His way in the situation. Then sit back in faith and watch Him do things you never dreamed of or thought possible. The Israelites certainly didn’t expect the water to part before them and their enemies to be drowned but God always had a plan. They just needed to have the faith to step forward in obedience.

So the next time you face a problem or an obstacle, instead of panicking or jumping in, take a moment to be still and let God take the lead. Then we can rest in the knowledge that, no matter what comes, God is in control and will work it out to our good (Jeremiah 29:11). The bright light of morning may reveal that the problem only existed in our perception of the situation and a little time allowed the stitches to fall into place so that we can move forward once again.

Sunrise

What a Difference a Day Makes

I was watching a television movie the other night and the main character talked about how life can change in a matter of minutes. We often think of it as something terrible happening, but it can also be a turn of circumstances for the better.

Some mornings start out on a negative note and we often dismiss the day as shot, something we must endure until it is over. Then, even a small event can turn it around. The sun can peek out after a torrential downpour followed by a rainbow. We suddenly feel lighter, even more so when we get a glimpse of sun after nearly a week of rain and storms from recent days.

I had high hopes of today being a good day, a productive day. Then a series of unfortunate events sent me into a downward spiral, fearing another day swallowed up in a cloud. I took a moment and tried to get a new perspective. The character from the movie was inspired by the concept of life changing in a moment to take a chance for something great. This is the key to joy. Looking for the opportunity to see God work in the moment and to take a chance on Him. But, with God, it is never really a chance because He was in complete control of the situation all along.

 

 

Postponed Pleasure

I received a book for Christmas titled A Book That Takes Its Time. In it there is an article on postponed pleasure which discusses the current need for instant gratification and its effects on people. Because of their need for instant gratification, people are missing out on a sense of anticipation, like waiting for Christmas morning to arrive. Not only that, but also people don’t appreciate what they have when they do get it. They are soon distracted by a new toy that they don’t have that someone told them they should have and the joy quickly evaporates.

People also aren’t willing to work at something. They want to be able to do it perfectly immediately, or they don’t want to do it at all. For example, when I started taking martial arts classes in high school in the 80’s, you had to work for 3 months before testing for your first belt, and then 6 months for the next belt and another 6 months for the next belt. Now schools are testing every few months to give students that sense of instant gratification because 6 months seems too far away and they lose interest. They need constant reinforcement in order to maintain interest in something. So, schools developed curriculum that required more belts over shorter periods of time so that students would want to go to the next level of the game, so to speak, and it gave the schools more income for more testing as well. Everybody wins! Except, they don’t really.

There is something to be said about working toward a goal and anticipating seeing it fulfilled that has been lost in a society of instant gratification. When we quickly get something, we just as quickly want to move on to a new thing. Our joy is short-lived and requires more and more to meet that ever-growing need. We are never happy. It is never enough. If we take the time to just enjoy the moment, like quietly watching the sunrise over the ocean (or even through your window at home), it gives the moment more…well just more. More joy and satisfaction for a goal achieved through time and dedication and sometimes through blood, sweat, and tears. The more we put into a goal, the more we will appreciate it when we reach that goal.

So, take the time to enjoy your life. Instant gratification is not all it’s cracked up to be. Take up a new hobby, like knitting, even if it means taking the time to learn new skills and practice. Your first project may look like a 5-year-old did it, but it is all about learning and enjoying the process. When you finally complete that project that made you pick up knitting as a goal, you will look back and laugh about the good times and the frustrating times and realize you enjoyed the ride. Life is the same. It’s not about the destination, but about the journey. Enjoy each day of the journey and each stop along the way; otherwise, who knows what you are missing out on.

Mindfulness

In yoga there is a discipline called mindfulness. It is being conscious of what you are doing, focusing. In yoga it is often a focus on your breathing and the movement of your body. It brings a sense of calm when you are able to let distractions go and take a moment to just be. Oswald Chambers in My Utmost for His Highest emphasizes the need for a private life with God instead of an emphasis on practical work and busyness. Worship should be a time of focus on God through prayer, Bible study, and praise.

Prayer should be a time when we focus on being in the presence of God, letting go of distractions, but it is easier said than done. Distractions are by nature hard to ignore, and the enemy has a world full of options to choose from to distract us. Schedules, family obligations, work, politics, natural disasters, and illnesses are just a few of the options. It was not a time to come to God with a wish list or set of demands. That doesn’t mean we can’t bring our problems and fears to the Father; it just means that shouldn’t be our only reason for prayer. It is a time to simply be in His presence and listen to what He has to say to us.

Time spent studying the Bible is another way we can worship God and build our relationship with Him because it is His directions to us on how to live. In Nehemiah, after the walls were completed, the people came together and listened to the Word of God read aloud for hours. Today most people can’t listen or even read the Bible for more than a few minutes of time without being distracted by something. Society tells us that we should multi-task if we want to be successful in life, but while that may be true in the work place, it is not true in our relationship with God. We need to focus on God’s Word and what it has to say to us so that we can apply it to our daily walk.

The Psalms of David are great models for worship. He usually started with a focus on who God was and what He had done. David would often recount all the mighty works God had done in his life and for the nation of Israel. Recalling victories reminds us that God is always faithful. When we focus on God as Lord, it changes our perspectives. Instead of problems, we see opportunities. Instead of fear, we are filled with courage. Instead of despair, we feel hope. Worship sets our focus on the important things in life, namely our relationship with Our Heavenly Father. Once that is in proper perspective, everything else will fall into place.

None of these things happen by accident. It requires mindfulness on our part. We must choose to pray, study the Bible and worship God. We must focus our minds on what is truly important. Mindfulness requires practice. If we practice every day, when the moments of trials and temptations come, we will be ready to stand firm in our relationship with God and waiting to see how God will work rather than living a life of fear and hopelessness. It is better to take time to be mindful than it is to be busy because it gives us the proper perspective and attitude for handling hard times in a manner befitting children of the King.