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Reflective Practice

February 11, 2020

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?

New Year’s Resolutions

January 7, 2020

Approaches to Making Resolutions

Every year I debate whether or not I should make New Year’s resolutions. This debate involves considering various approaches such as:

It also includes asking those closest to me if they’re making any resolutions. If they are, I ask them to share their goals with me and to tell me what they think of mine.

My debate also involves considering the reasons why many people choose to NOT MAKE resolutions. I don’t mean those who are just too lazy to set goals; I’m referring to people who deliberately choose not to set them and to either abstain altogether or take a non-traditional approach.

One approach is advocated by Pocket Mindfulness who explains Why You Should Not Set New Year’s Resolutions and What to Do Instead. It advocates:

“Rather than rushing forward in a panic to set resolutions or a list of goals you can start on New Year’s Day, forget all that and enter the New Year in a mode of being absolutely present, and absolutely positive, about how great [the coming year] is going to be.”

Another example comes from Tim Ferriss who recommends that we Forget New Year’s Resolutions and Conduct a ‘Past Year Review’ Instead. There’s also the approach of Georgia Bloomberg, professional equestrian and philanthropist, who says:

“I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions. I think if you want to change something, change it today and don’t wait until the New Year.”

I don’t disagree with Bloomberg, though I do think there’s value in including New Year’s resolutions in the process of change if only as a review as Ferriss recommends. Finally, simply determining to be “absolutely present, and absolutely positive” just doesn’t have enough substance for me.

Why I Make Resolutions

For the last 10 years or so, I’ve decided to make resolutions of some sort for the coming year. Ultimately, I make this decision because I can’t get past the success doing so has brought me. Not a perfect record. Not even close. Yet, far more progress with resolutions than without them.

I also make them because they have brought me closer to God and increasingly into His will. Plus, the Bible encourages the sort of self-reflection and examination that come with the process of making resolutions.

“Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord.” (Lamentations 3:40)

“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24)

Simply put, making resolutions at the end/beginning of each year just reminds me to:

  1. Regularly go through this process of examination and renewal.
  2. Keep making progress toward perfection.
  3. Remember that I cannot make that progress on my own.

2020 Resolutions

In my yearly conversation over whether or not to make resolutions, I decided to make them for 2020. Doing so this year involves combining the approaches I’ve mentioned above with what has worked well for me in past years. That includes doing the following:

  • I am reflecting and looking for areas of weaknesses as well as strengths to improve upon.
  • My reflections are extending beyond 2019 and into the entire past decade.
  • Each resolution involves focusing on being absolutely present and more positive.
  • The “One-Word 365” approach can be expanded with multiple words that collaborate toward a resolution philosophy for the year.

Perhaps you’ve also noted that this reflection about New Year’s resolutions comes after the new year has already begun. My resolutions are not fully developed yet. This brings in a significant lesson I’ve learned over my many years of making resolutions: Don’t force them. Instead, pray about them. Reflect on them. Let the Holy Spirit lead you down the path of God’s will.

Overcoming Discouragement

September 3, 2019

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.

Never Done

Housework. Healthy living. Good relationships. Learning. Parenting. Ministry. Faith.

None of these are ever really completed. Any completion is really only a step toward what’s next. In fact, if we get to the point where we are finished, we begin to die in that area.

Never being done frustrates me sometimes. Knowing my feelings of satisfaction over completing something are only temporary sometimes discourages me. There’s always more to be done. Always more to know. Always a “next” to move on to.

With one exception.

Tetelestai

“It is finished!” (John 19:30)

Jesus’s last word’s on the cross.

Tetelestai = It is finished. Bring to a close, complete, fulfill. It’s an accounting term that means something is “paid in full.”

The debt of sin owed God was gone. All of the Old Testament prophecies about Jesus were fulfilled. Done. Complete. No more “next.”

Peace in Completion

Jesus’s finished work has tremendous implications for us.

  1. We have a message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:18-19)
  2. Sin and Satan have no power. (Ephesians 6:16)
  3. We can live as new creations in Christ. (Ephesians 2:1,5)

Instead of being frustrated by the constant “more” and “not done” of life, I can find peace in what Jesus completed. I can choose to focus on what’s done and let it motivate what’s “next.”

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?

Onward & Forward

February 26, 2019

“The righteous will move onward and forward, and those with pure hearts will become stronger and stronger.” (Job 17:9)

Job’s friends were pretty tough on him. They were wrong in their accusations too. Yet, Job kept focusing on God. Job knew that God’s ways were the only sure steps he could take.

So, Job moved “onward and forward” and became “stronger and stronger,” knowing God was faithful. Even amidst devastation, Job sought God.

Sometimes, one step onward and forward is all we can take. We can trust that God will strengthen us as we keep our focus on Him.

“The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.” (Psalm 34:10)

Battling Discouragement

December 11, 2018

Life can be discouraging. One area of persistent discouragement for me involves lack of apparent progress. That lack can be in myself or in those closest to me, but it also can be in general with how I see people living as a whole.

The only way I’ve found to keep discouragement from turning into depression is by replacing my thoughts, which focus on my feelings, with God’s thinking, which focuses me on him and all he’s done for me.

Reading the Bible is the best way I know to make this switch. During a recent struggle with discouragement, this verse served to refocus me.

“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

Breaking it down helped to defeat my discouraging thinking and to replace it with hope.

Therefore…

What initially stands out is the “therefore.” Whenever I see “therefore,” I know that the author is basically telling me, “Because of what I just told you about… here’s what should happen/what you should do.”

In this case, the “therefore” refers back to the two verses immediately before it:

“The stink of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

In other words, because Jesus conquered death — because of His resurrection from the grave — here’s how we now should live. See how the focus is on Christ? That’s a key with overcoming discouragement. Get the focus off yourself and on Christ.

Steadfast. Immovable. Abounding.

Now that my focus is on Christ, I can now see my way through discouragement.

  1. Be Steadfast = be fixed and firm in purpose; changeless, dedicated, dependable and faithful.
  2. Be Immoveable = steadfast in purpose; not influenced by feelings
  3. Always Abound = let it exist in great quantities; let it be well-supplied.

No matter how I feel, no matter my circumstances, no matter whether or not I see progress … if I focus on Christ, I can keep doing the work He directs me to do because I know none of it is without significance.

Significance

“…knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

For something to be in “vain,” it is ineffectual, unsuccessful, futile, baseless and worthless. All very discouraging states. But because of Christ, I find motivation to be steadfast, immovable and abounding. Any work I do for him has significance.

A Go-To Verse

This is a great verse to go to when you feel like you’re spinning your wheels. It’s great encouragement for those times when progress feels absent. It reminds us to keep our focus on Christ and to keep doing the work he calls us to do.

For me, I am reminded that discouragement is often just a distraction to slow me down or stop my work. Focusing on Christ allows me to push through those feelings and to know I there is progress even if I don’t always see it or feel it.

Living Intentionally

October 9, 2018

Most of us want to live a well thought out life. We want to be deliberate about our choices and how we respond to life. Unfortunately, life gets so busy and overwhelming sometimes that we end up living far from intentionally.

No matter how busy we get, we can choose to incorporate certain activities that help us live more intentionally than not. Let me say it another way. If your life seems reactionary and out of control rather than intentional, there are some habits that can help flip that.

Intentional Habits

While the specific actions may look different from on person to the next, living intentionally does have some foundational aspects that every Christian can incorporate.

  1. Rest. Take time to be still at least every morning and evening.
  2. Listen. Pay attention to the people in your life, the face-to-face not electronic life.
  3. Experience God’s presence. Get outside and go for a walk or just sit and listen to nature. Let Him fill your thoughts.
  4. Partner with Jesus. Our effort alone won’t get us there; don’t be too proud to ask for help.

If you’re busy and overwhelmed right now, your first response/reaction is probably something like, “How? I just don’t have the time.” For now, let me offer the following Scripture by way of encouragement for making the time, for making these activities non-negotiable.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

“The Lord replied, ‘My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’” (Exodus 33:14)

“Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, [Jesus] said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’” (Mark 6:31)

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.” (Psalm 37:7a)

“This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.’” (Isaiah 30:15)

“He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted on the earth.’” (Psalm 46:10)

Busyness and overload continually draws us into reactionary mode. Learning to respond instead of react is important, but we can only do that if we deliberately decide to incorporate these habits no matter how busy we are. It’s sort of like telling the chaos it’s not in control of your life even if you feel like it is.

Ready to move back into intentionality?

Start with these Biblical principles. Be stubborn about consistently incorporating them, and you’ll find God’s peace, power and presence dominating your life more than busyness and overload.

Want more? The following posts can help you develop a more intentional life.

 

Respond or React

October 2, 2018

In an article on Psychology Today, Dr. Matt James differentiates between responding and reacting. Below is a summary of what he says.

Reacting and responding may look the same at times, but they certainly feel very different from one another. In review of my most memorable times of reacting and responding, I definitely find this to be true.

When I think of those times when I’ve responded instead of reacted versus those when I’ve reacted instead of responded, some patterns emerge. Before delving into those patterns, understand that everyone has reacted when they should have responded. To do so is part of what it means to be human.

It’s those times, seasons really, when we seem to live in reactionary mode that are cause for concern. During these seasons, the following are usually true for me and need dealt with in order for me to move back into respond mode.

Busy and Overwhelmed

When I have too much to deal with mentally or physically, my overall quality goes down in pretty much every area of life. Often, this happens because of Decision Fatigue when there’s just too much stress for me to process life with any clarity and focus.

Off Track

Being off track is basically a loss of focus. It means I’ve stalled and am no longer moving forward. It means I need to get back on track before I’ll be able to be consistently healthy and productive again. Essentially, since focus determines reality, this is a time to Reset Your Focus.

Reacting instead of responding has become a sign that something is off in my life. I now use it as an opportunity to take stock and see where I need to adjust or even reset in some way.

Sometimes, it means I need to simplify again. Others, it means I’m letting my feelings instead of the facts dominate my thinking. Whatever the root cause, a time of evaluation — usually accompanied by resting — helps me see what needs adjusted.

Always, this process includes lots of prayer. At the source of this prayer during these assessment times in my life are a few key Scripture that I’d like to end with and to encourage for meditation.

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

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” (Psalm 139:23-24)

Truth. Wisdom. Discipline. Discernment. (Proverbs 23:23)

Praying Proverbs 23:23

September 25, 2018

 

“Get the truth and never sell it; also get wisdom, discipline, and good judgment.” (Proverbs 23:23)

This is my prayer for my two boys right now. They’re learning to live on their own, one in college and the other getting ready to head into the Navy, and I’m learning to let them. Prayer is a major part of this process.

They have their own faith and are now learning to live with less parental oversight. I’m learning to trust God and put that trust into action by praying more than preaching or interfering in their lives.

The four elements listed in Proverbs 23:23 will help them live their faith successfully. It will also grow their faith and bring them closer to God. As much as I want to be a part of their lives, I want that more.

Truth.

I pray my boys know why they believe what they believe. I pray they base their morality on God’s absolute truth expressed through Scripture and not on any relative truth the world tries to sell them.

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” Timothy 2:15)

Wisdom.

Wisdom from God will shape my boys’ lives in ways nothing else can. Having God’s wisdom gives them guiding principles that will keep them walking in the Truth. It will also protect them and move them into success the world cannot give.

“Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you. The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and though it cost you all you have get understanding.” (Proverbs 4:6-7)

Discipline.

The habits my boys establish now are crucial as they transition to adult lives. The earlier a life of discipline is established, the stronger their faith will be when times get tough.

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.” (Titus 2:11-12)

Good Judgment.

Also known as “discernment,” good judgment is the mark of maturity. Having discernment means my boys are making efforts toward progress in their faith walks. It also means that truth, wisdom and discipline are active.

“But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” (Hebrews 5:14)

Praying Proverbs 23:23 for my boys also serves as a personal reminder. These elements need to be active in my own life too. Partly, this is to set the example for them, one adult to another. Largely, it is because I want to make progress in my faith too and to continually grow closer to God.