Reflective Practice

Connections, Culture & Choice

Sometime during a week-long visit to Williamsburg, VA and many of its historical offerings, a pattern emerged that connected not only the places we visited but also propelled my thinking in some interesting ways.

Connections

The area presents colonial, Revolutionary War, and Civil War history. As we moved from one to another, I realized the connections – and there are many, many threads – linking them to one another.

Various threads make up my own life, and understanding their connections helps understand my own perspectives much like understanding these historical connections helps me understand the various perspectives involved in the history of our country’s beginnings.

Culture

Visiting various historical sites and museums also showed the interaction of culture, both in good and bad ways. African Americans, English, and Native Americans were the major groups, though many others were involved too.

My own culture is unclear to me. Only in a very broad sense do I understand personally what culture means. In other words, I am not sure how to define my culture.

Choice

African Americans fighting for their freedom. English settlers choosing to be Loyalists or Rebels or to remain neutral. A country choosing to war with itself.

Considering how my own choices affect not just me but those around me is important. Further, how does this idea of connections and attempts to define culture impact my choices?

Valuing Reflection

The value of understanding history became clearer to me during this visit. So did the value of self-reflection based on the concepts that stood out to me that week.

As a Christian, I want to make connections to God’s truths as explained in his word. I want to understand what being a Christian means for me culturally. I also want to develop cultural sensitivity in a way that shows love toward all people. Threaded through all of this is the idea of filtering my choices through God’s will in each of these areas.

My Point?

I’ve recently been considering how I reflect on the experiences of my life and how they shape who I am as a person. I’ve begun wondering more about my own culture and the history surrounding it. The above is simply a foray into reflection in these specific areas.

Discussion: Have you ever considered implementing reflective practices in this or other ways? Why or why not?

Shift Your Gaze

Understanding Gaze

In critical theory, sociology, and psychoanalysis, the gaze refers to the act of seeing and, in the philosophical and physical sense, how an individual perceives other individuals, groups, or oneself.

Gaze theory describes how viewers engage with visual media. Originating in film theory and criticism in the 1970s, the gaze refers to how we look at visual representation.

In literary theory, gaze is a particular perspective taken to embody certain aspects of the relationship between observer and observed.

(These definitions were borrowed from Wikipedia)

In short, gaze is how we perceive what we see.

Shifting Your Gaze

In a recent visit to the Revolutionary War Museum in Williamsburg, VA, an exhibit focused viewers on the importance of “shifting your gaze” to see the often forgotten and overlooked role of African Americans in the war.

African American slaves had to choose the side – Patriots (colonists) or British – they felt gave them the best chance for freedom after the war. For most, it did not work out the way they hoped. While the slave trade was suspended during the Revolutionary War, it increased again after the war ended. Thus, many African Americans from both sides were thrust back into slavery after the war even though they fought in it with the promised reward of freedom afterward.

In this exhibit, shifting your gaze allowed you to see the war from their perspective. This perspective is one many forget to consider, especially since slavery is such a focus later in the American Civil War.

Christian Gaze

How can we apply this idea of “shifting your gaze” as Christians? Our goal as Christians is to see people as God sees them. We also want to see ourselves as God sees us.

Though there are more, consider the following two Bible verses as you consider how to shift your gaze to be able to see people and yourself the way God does.

“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

“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. For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” (Romans 8:28-29)

These verses tell us that God sees us as being in transformation. He also saw us long ago and chose us to become like Jesus.

Reflection Questions

How do these truths change how you see other people? Yourself?

What other verses might help you shift your gaze and see people and circumstances through God’s perspective rather than your own?

The Full Armor of God

Think of the Armor of God as more than a list of helpful tips. Consider it as a recipe for an impenetrable Defense against the schemes of Satan (liar, thief). Think of it as how we block Satan’s access and withstand his attacks.

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:10-17)

Paul gives this visual reminder to help us know what is essential to surviving and winning the battle with Satan. So, consider that if you feel like you’re losing, you might not be wearing your armor.

After describing the Armor of God and imploring Christians to put it on, Paul adds an emphasis on prayer.

“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.” (Ephesians 6:18-20)

Why would he emphasize prayer like this?

Because no matter how complete the armor, no matter how skilled the warrior, and no matter how much courage or bravery, battles are lost when communication with the commander is lost. In other words, in every battle, spiritual or physical, communication with the commander is essential!

This visual of the Amor of God helps me in the middle of the night when my thoughts keep me awake by helping me focus on God instead of the darkness. It also helps me during my daily prayer time to reaffirm my focus by helping me make a statement of faith. Finally, it helps me throughout the day too when I need to boldly proclaim the reality of God in my life.

Are you using the armor God gave you?

Shield of Faith

Large and slightly curved with a knob in the middle, the Roman shield allowed its bearer to deflect attacks and even knock an opponent backward. Soldiers would also soak their shields in water, so they could extinguish any flaming arrows shot at them by the enemy.

Spiritually, as most Christians know, the shield represents faith.

“Above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.” (Ephesian 6:16)

We likely all feel like we know exactly what faith is. Yet, it’s such a spiritualized concept that it’s easy to lose touch with exactly what it is and does for a Christian. This is especially true when looking at it as a piece of armor.

What is faith?

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)

The word “substance” here means confidence and indicates something solid and real. What is “hoped for” and have “evidence of,” even though we cannot see it, is the truth and fulfillment of what God says in his word.

How does faith protect like a shield?

Faith guards and protects our beliefs and values, which we get from God’s word. Our faith deflects Satan’s attacks (e.g., lies, deceit, distraction, etc.). In other words, it blocks Satan’s access to all that we are in Christ. While he can’t ever take those things away, he can make us believe that we can lose them.

There is one more aspect to note about the Romans and their shields relevant to how our shield of faith protects us. Romans used what is called the “turtle formation” to fight.

The Romans were very tough to beat because of this formation, and hopefully the correlation for Christians is clear. Maybe you’re struck anew as I was by the shield of faith when you saw this.

Imagine Christians with their shields up together like this. Imagine them defending against Satan’s attacks together. We’d be unstoppable too!

Transition in Change

Transition vs. Change

Though often used as synonyms, transition and change are not the same.

  • Change is situational.
  • Transition is psychological & requires “inner reorientation.”
  • Change is inevitable; transition is not.
  • We have to go through change.
  • We do not have to transition.

In other words, to quote William Bridges, author of Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes

“Without a transition, a change is just a rearrangement of the furniture.”

To further our understanding of the difference between change and transition, let’s look at a couple of examples from Scripture.

Example 1: The Israelites changed, but they didn’t transition. They wandered around the desert for 40 years because they refused to transition. They even expressed a desire to go back to captivity, to the way things were. (See Numbers 13 & 14)

What might this resistance to transition look like today?

  • Trying to control everyone and everything
  • Struggling with depression
  • Struggling with anxiety
  • Exhibiting self-destructive behavior
  • Hurting others
  • Feeling stuck

Example 2: The Apostle Paul changed AND transitioned. He also showed us that doing so is learned; it’s a process.

“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” (Philippians 4:11)

Paul went from being a persecutor of Christians to a promoter of the Gospel. Within his writings throughout the New Testament, we discover a man who not only changed because of an encounter with Christ but who also continually transitioned well from that point forward.

The process involves small steps taken over time that add up to make a big difference. In other words, it’s about living a life of making progress toward perfection. Transitioning within change is a required part of that process.

Refining & Pruning

God wants to both change & transition us. He is the author of this process.

“I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.'” (Zechariah 13:9)

“These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith-of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire-may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:7)

“He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” (John 15:2)

When something is refined, it becomes a purified precious metal. When something is pruned, it produces a more plentiful crop. For us, this is a painful process but one necessary for growth, which comes only through transition.

A Transitioning Mindset

If you think you’re ready for change, you may be right. The real question is, are you ready to transition? No matter how ready I thought I was (e.g., empty nest), I was always wrong about what it would mean to transition and how ready I thought I was to do so.

What I’ve realized, though, is that if we we’re always ready and perfectly prepared for change, how would we learn trust God? We wouldn’t need the refining and pruning process where we learn contentment regardless of circumstances if we could prepare ourselves for growth on our own. In other words, the painful process of transitioning in change is the process required for growth.

We can, however, establish a transitioning mindset that at least minimizes our resistance to the work of transition God wants us to do in our lives. It leads us to a place of least resistance. We create a transitioning mindset when we take on the perspective of Job.

“But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.” (Job 23:10)

Scripture expresses this same sentiment in other ways, the most well-known being Proverbs 16:9.

“A man’s mind plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps and makes them sure.” (Proverbs 16:9)

Healthy Change involves learning contentment and establishing our stability on Christ and all that he has done for us. This requires that we learn to transition (progress) as we are pruned and refined through all that life brings our way.

Change

Change

If you’ve ever watched the Big Bang Theory, you know that Sheldon, one of the main characters, hates change. In fact, he goes to extreme lengths to stop and/or undo any changes to his routine and to the people in his life. Over the course of the show’s many seasons, though, it becomes evident that even a genius cannot stop change.

Some people embrace change. Some resist it vehemently. Others just roll with it. Most of us are a mix of all these approaches.

As Christians, though, we have tools for coping with change that the rest of the world does not have.

Coping with Change

I find comfort in knowing that change is also Biblical, that it’s God’s idea.

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

“He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ (Rev. 21:5)

In addition, focusing on the fact that healthy change leads to dependence on God helps direct my mindset during change of any size and amount. This doesn’t come naturally or easily, though. It takes deliberate intent.

Elements of Healthy Change

Though there are many more, elements of healthy change consist of focusing on the following elements:

1. Contentment

“Godliness with contentment is great gain.” (1 Timothy 6:6)

Contentment doesn’t come naturally for most people. Instead, it’s something we learn. Even one of the greatest missionaries ever admits to having to develop contentment.

 “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:11-13)

The key to contentment, as evidenced by Paul’s testimony, is that it rests upon God, not upon our circumstances.

2. God’s Sovereignty

As believers, we can find peace in knowing that God is working for our good regardless of ourcircumstances.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” (Romans 8:28-29)

God knows the beginning from the end, and we can full trust him at all times for this reason.

3. Trust

One of my mottos is “Do what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it.” As hard as I try to live up to this, I sometimes fail. God, on the other hand, never fails to do what he says he’ll do. He is infinitely trustworthy. We can completely place our trust in him to care for us even with tumultuous change taking place.

 “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

4. The Future Kingdom

Placing my present circumstances, even when they feel like chaos, against eternity brings a sense of peace and stability within the emotional roller coast of change.

“I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14)

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18)

Our goal is upward. For this reason, we press on even when we feel like giving up.

Change is Inevitable

Change is sometimes good, sometimes bad. It’s often stressful, which is also both good and bad. We do need stress to grow, after all. Change is also often unexpected, but it’s also sometimes planned and expected with life usually consisting of a mix of both.

For sure, though, change is inevitable. Our aging bodies are evidence of this truth. So, as we continue to experience change physically, mentally, and spiritually, let us be sure to focus on the tools God gives us.

“Delight thyself also in the Lord: and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass. And he shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday.” (Psalm 37:4-6)

What should WE do?

Sometimes I read the Bible and struggle with knowing how to apply it to my life. That doesn’t happen with Luke 3:7-14.

John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

“What should we do then?” the crowd asked.

 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”

Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”

“Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.

Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”

He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

After John exhorts the people to basically live like they’ve been redeemed, the crowd wants to know what’s next. John then gives them very specific examples of how to produce the fruit of a repentant person, and he does so through three different groups of people.

  1. Be generous.
  2. Be honest
  3. Be content.

What’s especially interesting is that these three directives are the activity for us as Christians still today. In other words, any life dedicated to Christ will be on filled with generosity, honesty, and contentment.

Is yours?

IN Not OF the World

While not a direct quote, quite a few verses in the Bible focus on what it means to be IN the world but not OF the world.

“If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” (John 15:19)

“I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.” (John 17:14-16)

“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.” (1 John 2:15)

“I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-11)

IN the world but not OF the word means…

  • Being chosen by Christ
  • Being hated by the world
  • Being protected by God
  • Not being attached to the things of the world
  • Not associating with those who call themselves Christian but who live like the world

Essentially, IN not OF the world means pursuing God’s will and not conforming to the world’s patterns or ways of doing things.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)

Two definitions at this point are helpful.

  1. The world = the world system and philosophy headed by Satan.
  2. Conform = act in accordance or harmony; comply; act in agreement with the prevailing standards, attitudes, practices, etc.

These definitions help bring an even deeper understanding of what being IN not OF the world means for Christians.

Conforming to the world makes you an enemy of God.

“You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” (James 4:4)

Being transformed to God’s will, however, puts you in a place of victory over Satan and the world.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

Being transformed puts you in a place where you can receive that which the world cannot give.

“You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” (Psalm 16:11)

No Middle Ground

How do we open ourselves up to the transformation that involves mind renewal and being on the path to God’s will?

  1. Recognize the enemy. (Ephesians 6:12)
  2. Rely on God’s power. (Romans 8:37)
  3. Overcome by the blood. (Revelation 12:11)
  4. Choose to be separate. (2 Corinthians 6:17)

We must choose to step out of the “course of the world” (Ephesians 2:25). To not do so, to take no action either way, is to choose conformity to the world. There is no middle ground.

Metanoia

In psychology, metanoia involves experiencing a psychotic breakdown and then subsequent, positive rebuilding and healing. My journey through depression was a metanoia. In fact, this blog – Struggle to Victory – aptly describes that journey.

Do you have a metanoia that’s now a part of your testimony? If you’re a Christian, the answer is “Yes!”

The Bible talks a lot about metanoia.

Matthew 3:8 – “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.”

Matthew 3:11 – I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

Mark 1:4 – John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

Luke 5:32 – I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

2 Corinthians 7:9 – “As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us.”

Repentance is metanoia. It is a transformative change of heart that leads to life transformation.

The Fellowship of the Church

What is Fellowship?

All too often, it seems like “fellowship” means the same in practice as “visiting.” “Fellowship” is simply used as justification to visit without making commitment to the relationship.

But are they really the same? Or, is “fellowship” something more than merely “visiting”?

One of the best ways I can think of to understand fellowship comes from my favorite movie and book series, Lord of the Rings. More specifically, the first in the series: The Fellowship of the Ring.

Beyond Visiting

This first book/movie in the series involves individuals bound to one another because they were working toward the same goal. Because of that journey, though, they developed deep bonds of friendship.

This exemplifies what fellowship is really meant to be. Beyond visiting, fellowship is a process of developing deep and lasting relationships.

A Threefold Cord

The Bible offers a description that while not using the word “fellowship” certainly describes this idea of deeply-developed companionship and the role it can play in a person’s life.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)

Fellowship gets at eradicating loneliness. It solidifies encouragement. And, it provides stability and strength for persevering when life become difficult.

Going Beyond Visiting

This better understanding of fellowship motivates me to move beyond only visiting with my fellow Christians, especially the ones with which I interact regularly. Fellowship leads me to efforts toward developing depth and moving well beyond, “Hi. How are you?”

I’m looking forward to developing depth in relationships and moving beyond just visiting. I’m looking forward to more fellowship. Won’t you join me?