It’s Nothing Personal

People will hurt you. Sometimes the same person will hurt you repeatedly. What do you do?

Do you get angry? Depressed? Bitter? Resentful? Beaten down?

In my struggle to let any of those reactions happen again, God has reprogrammed my thinking. He’s taught me not to let emotions control me but to instead think and act based on his word.

Specifically, five verses have helped me better understand how to not take hurt personally and to instead allow healing and restoration happen.

Scripture Application

“Love is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” (1 Corinthians 13:15)

  • No matter what others say or do (or don’t say or don’t do), I am determined to love. This means, I avoid being rude or selfish, and I ask God for the patience and the ability to forgive.

“See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” (Hebrews 12:15)

  • God’s grace is abundant and far-reaching. It gives me new life, and it can do the same for anyone else. I must never forget this.

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm34:18)

  • No matter what happens, God is with me. He comforts me and keeps me from getting stuck in the muck and mire of the pit of despair.

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has appointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to build up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives, and to release from darkness the prisoners.” (Isaiah 61:1)

  • God takes my hurt and folds them into my testimony. The freedom he has brought me, he promises to everyone who calls on his name. How can I not share this truth?

“Give thanks to the God of heaven. His love endures forever.” (Psalm 136:26)

  • A thankful heart is a forgiving heart.

Application Through Reflection

I’m a sensitive person. That means that my emotions lead me to care and feel deeply. It also means I can get offended and take things personally all too easily. Add to that my active imagination, and there’s a recipe for discontent and depression.

God is teaching me to not take everything so personally. He’s helping me to instead give my emotions and deep feelings over to him and let him use them for his purposes. As a result, I am experiencing more joy in my relationships.

How might you apply these scriptures practically and personally?

Are you listening?

Listening As a Tool

In my continual study of communication skills, listening continues to reign as an essential one. Experts explain that how – with awareness, time, and practice – anyone can become a better listener. In fact, listening is a tool God has given us to change lives and deepen relationships.

“The Sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ears to listen like one being taught.” (Isaiah 50:4)

“The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.” (Proverbs 20:5)

Listening As a Bridge

This holds true not just in our relationships with others but in our relationship with God too. Consider how Dietrich Bonhoeffer actually bridges our ability to listen to others with our ability to listen to God.

“He who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God too… Anyone who thinks that his time is too valuable to spend keeping quiet will eventually have no time for God and his brother, but only for himself and for his own follies.” (The Ministry of Listening)

When we fail to listen to others, we’re likely failing to listen to God too. And, the less we listen to God, the more struggles we’ll have with our faith.

“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17)

Learning to listen to others directly impacts our ability to listen to God. The sustained attention required for listening is not something that is compartmentalized; it flows into every area of our lives because it becomes a part of who we are. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true.

“If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” (Proverbs 18:13)

“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding but only in expressing his opinion.” (Proverbs 18:2)

Reflect On Your Listening

Is listening your first response? Do you seek to understand others?

Surprised by Glory

While on vacation in Williamsburg, VA in December 2019, we went to Bush Gardens’ Christmas Towne. Rides. Food. Shows. Lights. And all at the “World’s Most Beautiful Theme Park.” (Look it up. They’ve gotten the award for 29 years in a row.) A fun, family event at a truly beautiful place.

The first show we saw was a 1940’s story with traditional Christmas carols. The second show was an abbreviated version of “A Christmas Carol,” one of my all-time favorite Christmas stories. Both of these were shows you’d expect to see at a very popular, very public venue.

The third show had great singing like the other two shows. It told a traditional Christmas story like the other two as well. Yet, it was a complete surprise. “Glory” told the Gospel message. It didn’t skirt around declaring Jesus as Savior in any way. The Gospel message was clear and obvious.

Oh, and there was also an atmosphere of praise absent in far too many churches. Afterwords, I felt inspired. I was inspired hearing the Gospel message in such a vibrant and unique way. I was doubly inspired because it was proclaimed in a very public, very popular venue.

I love unexpected surprises like this. Really, though, should I be at all surprised that God made this happen?

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)

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?

Choose Your Focus

“Focus determines reality.” (Qui Gon Jinn, The Phantom Menace)

I decided a long time ago to not let others determine what I believed and how much I believed. In other words, my faith in God is between me and God; there’s not third party.

Sticking to this is not easy, nor am I perfect at doing so. Why?

  • It’s easy to let hurt steal your focus and deflate your faith.
  • It’s easy to doubt because of what others do or fail to do.

Rather than simply deciding to stick to it, which I continually fail at doing, I am determining to continue returning to it. That determination is continually renewed, and I am able to go back to living this decision, only as much as I remember and follow what Scriptures says about it.

1.) Focus your thoughts.

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)

2.) Focus your faith.

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)

3.) Focus your spirit.

“For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the spirit.” (Romans 8:5)

My faith focus comes from a deliberate choice to focus on Jesus. Once that choice was made, my life then became one of progressively living out that focus through my attitudes, actions and words. I’m not perfect yet, but I’m making my way in that direction.

Join me?

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)

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.

Overcoming Discouragement

Discouragement happens for a variety of reasons. Maybe that’s why it’s addressed so frequently in the Bible.

  • Job was discouraged because of his family and friends. (Book of Job)
  • Elijah became discouraged after a huge victory. (1 Kings 19)
  • Jeremiah was discouraged with God. (Lamentations 3)
  • Jesus’s disciples were discouraged after his death. (Luke 24:20-21)
  • Peter was discouraged with himself. (Matthew 26)

The insight gained from these individuals along with other Scripture gives us valuable instruction for dealing with our own discouragement.

Honestly acknowledge feelings. This happens with all of the individuals listed above. Being honest with yourself is crucial for opening your mind and spirit to encouragement and hope. In fact, it may just be the first requirement for transitioning from being discouraged to being encouraged.

Take care of yourself physically. God sets the example for this with Elijah. Before addressing Elijah’s discouragement, God makes sure Elijah is nourished, hydrated, and rested. We simply cannot overcome discouragement without taking care of ourselves physically too.

Think about what you’re thinking about. Both Jeremiah and Elijah do this, and we are encouraged to do so as well both through their examples and through other Scripture that addresses our thought lives.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)

“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)

Retrain your brain. This is especially important if discouragement has become like a shadow. Retraining your brain essentially involves cleaning out unhelpful thought patterns and replacing them with ones that promote growth and open you up to encouragement.

A mindset that is able to ward off continued discouragement is one that acknowledges and accepts that life is hard and that focuses on knowing that God will create value and purpose out of what you’re going through.

“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-18)

“Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear. (Philippians 1:12-14)

Press in close to God. Life is hard. People disappoint. And, God’s ways aren’t always clear or make sense. Pressing close to God acknowledges your trust in him regardless of circumstances.

“The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him.” (Nahum 1:7)

Chase out negative feelings. Getting rid of negativity is important, but it only works long term if we replace it with thankfulness.

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

When I get discouraged, I revisit the stories in the Bible of others who also experienced discouragement as well as the many verses that speak to how to defeat a mindset of discouragement. Doing so reminds me of God’s activity as well as gives me specific ways to move away from a mindset of negativity and discouragement and toward one of hope and peace in Him.

Vast & Unfailing

Vast

What first comes to mind when you think of the word vast? My first thoughts are of the ocean, the sky, and space.

Vast (adj.) = of very great area or extent; of very great size or proportions; huge; enormous; very great in number, quantity, amount, degree, intensity, etc.

When something is vast, it’s immeasurable; it can’t be contained.

“Your unfailing love is vast.” (Psalm 36:5)

While the ocean, the sky and space are vast beyond my comprehension, it’s truly mind-blowing to realize that God’s love is even more vast.

Unfailing

Then there’s the word before love: unfailing. Not only is His love vast, it never fails either.

Though the meaning of word unfailing seems obvious, I looked it up anyway and found more to it than I expected.

Unfailing (adj.) = not failing; not giving way; not falling short of expectation; completely dependable; inexhaustible; endless.

When I think of all the things in life that are failing, which is pretty much everything at some point, realizing that God isn’t is truly awe-inspiring. He never falls short of our expectations. In fact, he usually exceeds them.

Another way to say something is unfailing is to say that it never changes. While the ocean, the sky and space are certainly vast, they aren’t unfailing. They do change. In fact, I cannot think of anything that is unfailing and vast. Only God’s love.

“Your unfailing love is higher than the heavens. Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.” (Psalm 108:4)