Do You Need to Change Your Direction?

faith necklaceSometimes when God gives us instructions we think that we know what should logically be the next step but God is in control. Earlier this year I was obedient in resigning from my job to follow what I thought was a full time writing career. I had no idea what that phrase meant or understood how I would accomplish that goal. I left a job with a regular paycheck for no paycheck. I must have had faith like Abram when he left his home without knowing the next steps.

People who understood what I was doing on an intellectual level commented on my level of faith because they knew that I had bills. Truthfully, if it weren’t for the fact that I understood that I had to be obedient; I would have run back to that job. It’s been more than six months since I left and I still have not received a paycheck. I have had offers to write for free but didn’t see the value of simple exposure.

Admittedly, I wondered for a brief moment if God had told me to write but when I reread some of my favorite posts it reminded me that writing is a part of His plan for me. During this waiting period I considered helping God just like Sarah and Abraham did with their promised child. I wrote things that were outside of my comfort zone for the purpose of getting “noticed.” I considered writing a gossip blog or a soap box blog that focused on anything other than why my readers enjoy my work.

Although the pieces that I wrote may have gotten views, it is not the reason that my faithful readers join me on my journey. It is not why I choose to share my gift free or for desired pay. I want my readers to feel empowered, moved to action, or changed in some way when they finish reading whatever I have shared. That is exactly what inspired my post from two weeks ago. Just because I can write about certain topics does not mean that God intended for me to use my gift for that purpose. That is not me.

My pastor said to the congregation at the end of the service on Sunday that some of you may need to take a different perspective on what you are doing.  He used the illustration of one of the disciples who was fishing on one side of the boat that caught nothing. Jesus told him to change sides of the boat. He was reluctant at first but in the end was obedient. It was not until he changed direction on the boat did he catch a net full of fish. Do you need to change direction? I know that I do.

Out of everything that I heard that day, that message stuck with me. I haven’t caught any fish since I left my job but I also didn’t change my perspective about how to catch them either. I was stuck doing things the way I thought that I should to achieve my goal. My expectations along with my perspective had to change.

I decided last week, before I heard those words from my pastor that I needed to do something different if I wanted different results. My pastor’s words were confirmation of the actions that I took. I cannot explain why God chose this path for me any more than I can explain Sarah and Abraham’s long path to parenthood, David’s volatile path to kingship, or Jesus’ tumultuous path to promise and fulfilled prophecy. The only thing that I know for sure is that it is for His glory.

I don’t know what my next steps are but I know that I must trust God with all of my heart and not lean on my understanding.  I understand that I have to acknowledge Him in all my ways and He shall direct my path. (ref. Proverbs 3:5-6)

Do you need to change your direction in your journey?

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Why Are You Waiting?

waterThere was a man who went to a restaurant with his friends after work. He and his friends asked for water for the table and then each ordered their individual drinks. The man asked for his beverage to come out with his meal. The server finished taking the other orders and disappeared into the kitchen.

When the server reemerged he placed all the drinks on the table except for the man’s. He apologized and said it will be right out. The server came back again with the meals but still no drink. Once again the server apologized and said he would bring his drink out. Silence came over the table as the men ate and drank. The man’s drink never came. Even though his meal was spicy he did not drink the water because he chose to wait for the promised drink. One of his friends looked up from his plate and said, “Man! Drink the water!”  He told his friend that he was waiting for his drink that he had ordered. His friend told him, “Man, either you are going to drink the water or go thirsty!”

The man in the story was so busy waiting on the promised drink that he forgot about the water. How often do you want to do something different but you tell yourself that I have to wait until something else happens first? I have to wait until the kids are older, buy a house, or meet the right people.  All he wanted was to quench his thirst but he would not. He had access to something but would not take it because it was not what he really wanted.

Some of us live our lives like this. We are waiting for some special event to happen in our lives before we live, before we change, before we take the next step, before we take a risk on our dream but we are discounting the things that we have access to in the mean time. When will we stop overlooking the thing that we have access to before we begin to live the life that was meant for us?

Don’t overlook what you have now while you are waiting for your promise. Work while you are waiting. Your promise might be wrapped in a package in which you did not order.

What are you missing while you are waiting?

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Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean That You Should

2 Samuel 12:7-8 Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your keeping, and gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if that had been too little, I also would have given you much more!

We live in a society where we do or say whatever we feel without considering the larger picture. We don’t thoughtfully consider how what we say or do could affect our neighbor because we feel our rights are more important than theirs. We sit behind keyboards and computer screens and do whatever we feel is right in the moment but just because we can doesn’t mean that we should.

David was king of Israel and had access to anything that he needed and wanted. He could change laws to suit his own personal desires. People would go out of their way to assure his happiness. Some would say that—that type of power is dangerous in the hands of one man. David abused his power not once but twice. Fortunately he had someone close to him that was wise enough to help him see his actions were wrong.

Nathan reminded David of his anointing, his deliverance, and blessings. He reminded him that he had a direct line to God to ask for whatever he desired. He even shared that he would make an honest attempt to fulfill his requests, too. In short he was telling him not to forget his purpose.

Much like David I needed a reminder, too. As a blogger and writer it is a serious balancing act of knowing what to write and what needs to stay a kitchen table discussion. When I see things in the news, on someone’s timeline, or have personal conversations I want to respond in writing. I want to abuse my gift for a purpose in which God has not given me permission.

I saw something on someone’s timeline that offended me beyond my normal frustration and disappointment. I wanted to set them straight but my wonderful husband reminded me, like Nathan that just because I can doesn’t mean that I should.

He reminded me that the people that I wanted to respond to didn’t care about the bigger picture. They only cared about having a one way conversation in which only their point was heard. He told me that my pure intentions would not be received and would only add fuel to the fire. I reluctantly conceded.

After that conversation I realized that God had been telling me this message for a while now but I ignored it. Yesterday’s experience and conversation with my husband helped me to understand that I have a responsibility that is bigger than just my own personal desire. It helped me to refocus on what is most important.

My gift is not to be abused or misused to make a point about something that is not a part of my journey. Just because I can doesn’t mean that I should.

Have you had an experience like mine or David’s on your job, at church, at home, …? Leave a comment.

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Think About It: How Should Christians Respond in Tough Situations Like Ferguson, MO

 

peacemaker

As I sat and thought about the images that have been shared in the media over the last week in Ferguson, Missouri, I wondered what I could say to encourage someone to effect a positive change. What could I say to challenge someone to think differently about what their role is to effect a positive change? What could I say to motivate someone to move others into position to effect a positive change?

I wrestled with sharing one of the beatitudes from Matthew 5:9 to encourage people to remember that blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called Sons of God. The truth is that many of us that see these images can become too angry, frustrated, and disappointed to hear this scripture. I then thought about Ecclesiastes 3 where it talks about seasons. I was careful to look past the scripture that talks about the season to kill to encourage, challenge or motivate others until I read it in context.

Ecclesiastes 3:3 says that there is “A time to kill and a time to heal; a time to tear down and time to build up;” The killing and the tearing down has happened. Now it is time for us to figure out how do we heal after what seems to be a personal attack on the human spirit? How do we pick up the pieces and rebuild after all the turmoil in our lives have hit the clichéd “fan?”

It begins with the choice to forgive. Yes I know that forgiving the one who took the life of someone else seems unthinkable but stay with me.

The scripture above talks about a time to do four different things — A time to kill, heal, tear, and build. These things are complete opposites and cannot be done by one person at the same time. Picture a surgeon with a kitchen knife in an operating room. Can that surgeon perform surgery to save a life? The surgeon would have to put the knife down so that she could perform the surgery. Picture a carpenter with a sledge-hammer attempting to build new cabinets. Can the carpenter build with the sledge-hammer? The carpenter would have to put the sledge-hammer down so that he could build the cabinets.

Lack of forgiveness in any area of our lives causes us to bring up anything that resembles it when someone hurts us. Just like the surgeon and carpenter, the true job could not be completed until they had the proper tools. The process to forgive has to occur before anyone can think about healing past hurts that may run deep. The process to forgive has to begin before anyone can think about building in a community that is hurt by more than just the recent incident. Peacemakers have to be willing to step in or step up to facilitate that.

It is natural to be angry about injustice but how we respond as Christians should be supernatural. We have to stand as peacemakers in the midst of the chaos and not add fuel to the fire. We have to facilitate healing through peaceful demonstrations and education for next steps. We have to gather others to stand and choose to build a bridge for all those that are affected physically, spiritually, and emotionally.

When the news media is gone who will stand? Who will help their neighbor heal? Who will help this community rebuild? Who will convince the merchants that had investments in the community to stay and rebuild? Who will facilitate forgiveness so that the community can experience peace?

Will you choose to be a peacemaker?

Just another day’s journey of trying to figure out my response as a Christian in situations like Ferguson, MO. Peace.

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Breaking Through: Why You Should Color Outside the Lines

Coloring is therapeutic for me. I enjoy the idea of putting colors together and making a picture seem to come alive by adding my own special touches. As a kindergartener I colored outside of the lines because my hands would not cooperate with the vision that my teacher had for a “great” paper. I cut and colored outside of the lines until my hands finally cooperated with my teacher’s vision.

Today, I color as I was taught but decided to intentionally go outside the lines. I also intentionally decided to use colors that would not normally be used for my picture. I almost colored Scooby Doo ® a different color but liked the idea of him being the color that the cartoonist chose for him. As for the rest of the picture– I broke all the rules.

Coloring outside the linesLife dictates rules for almost everything that we do including how we should follow our dreams. It tells us that we should follow certain steps to obtain the “greatness” that the world has to offer. The only problem is that sometimes those steps don’t cooperate with the vision we have for great success in our own life. We do not understand why we feel so empty and uninspired. We don’t understand why the world’s version of success does not feel that way to us.

I am not advocating for anyone to stop following rules that will keep you and others safe, however I am challenging you who are creative, innovative and visionaries to stop allowing the rules to hinder your ability to follow your goals and dreams. Don’t throw away your potential because the picture that you have does not cooperate with the vision that someone else dictates. Do not allow yourself to become stuck because your picture looks different from the majority.

Older parents do go to college to follow the dream that was delayed for a time. Teenage parents do finish school and obtain degrees that seemed impossible to achieve. College drop-outs find their life’s purpose and create companies that can compete with those who did finish college. Ex-Felons find purpose outside of the life that they lived in the past. A person who has seemingly lost it all can regain all that they lost and more by not following the rules that says that homelessness is their place. People who grew up with little to no parenting can become the best parent to their children.

The possibilities are endless just as the combination of colors in my picture. I choose to not lose hope in a situation because my vision does not cooperate with the rules. I respect the rules as they are but accept that it is fine for me to challenge the rules, too. I accept that coloring outside the lines are necessary for some people to discover a passion inside of them that helps the rule change for the better.

Almost anything that you enjoy today is because someone decided that coloring outside the lines was beautiful to them. Electricity, blood plasma, civil rights, personal computers, charities, and grassroots organizations all began because someone decided that coloring outside the lines was necessary.

How do you or will you color outside of your lines?

Just another day’s journey of challenging myself to color outside the lines. Peace.

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Think About It: Why the Real Conversation About Charter School Does Not Happen

charter school changeTalking about charter schools in my house or anywhere in my city can become a heated debate. These conversations always gives me new insight into why people are so opposed to charter schools but rarely do I feel as if my voice was heard. I understand that my husband as an employee of our city’s public school system and a former union delegate has a personal understanding of the effects of charter schools to the traditional public school system. While he has insight into the politics of the problem it does not change my opinion so we choose to “agree to disagree.”

I try to listen quietly to the conversations of others when they talk about charter schools versus public schools but they are usually just an attack on charter schools. If you mention charter school in a crowd of public school educators, you may get the politics of the problem that I do in my house or you may hear attacks on charter schools. You hear how it is affecting neighborhoods, causing schools to close, and their colleagues are losing their jobs. You hear about everything that is wrong with charter schools from the opposing view. You hear things like charter schools are big business, they don’t have to teach the “trouble kids,” and (my favorite) parents choose charter schools because they think that they are better schools.

When I try to find out if anyone has solutions they begin to talk about the business of schools and whose fault it is that the system is broken. They talk about what should be done and what needs to be done but I have heard this since I was still in school almost 30 years ago. Nothing has changed in the system to help improve the parents’ outlook on public schools. Things have only gotten worse with the excuse that the government is strapped for cash. (side note: shouldn’t the government want to invest in the education of our future)

I understand that change is a challenge for many people especially when things have been done a certain way for as long as they can remember. That does not make it right. Yes the public school system is broken and parents have made a choice to not wait for a system that keeps telling them that they are going to fix it. They have children in schools now and want to see change now. Charter schools seem to answer some of those concerns for parents with immediate satisfaction. They appear to be willing to make change now without waiting for studies to confirm or contradict the research before implementing a new program.

Ironically “Public Schools” have to wait on the politics and business of education to make change while the public continues to cry out for it. Parents don’t want to wait any more. We have an entire generation of people who have waited while the “bean counters” have made changes to public schools without regard for the public that it serves.

If public school educators and administrators want to restore parents’ trust in the school system they would:

  1. Consider the budget as a guide and not the rule for making decisions
  2. Have a mixture of educators represented on the board
  3. Invite charter school educators into the conversation for change
  4. Implement reasonable changes now

Not that this situation is entirely racial but this debate almost makes me wonder if this is the reason that many historically black colleges/universities were created. They were educated people who were tired of waiting for change and decided to do something while change caught up to them. They knew that waiting for change may have negatively impacted those who were unable to fight in an academic/political setting that told them that they were unwelcome. They chose to create a space for those who had the talent, tenacity, and motivation to go as far as an education would take them. Think about it. If they waited, we may not even have had an opportunity to have this conversation.

Just another day’s journey of thinking about why the real conversation about charter schools doesn’t happen. Peace.

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Think About It: Taking A Stand for Religious Freedom – Hobby Lobby

faith necklaceThe Supreme Court decided seemingly one of the largest religious freedom cases since prayer was taken out of schools. Contrary to the belief of those who disagree with the historical decision it was about a belief system that is always under fire for being both hypocritical and meddlesome. The owners of Hobby Lobby made a choice to not be hypocritical in their stance on when life begins and what their role would be in payment for those services.

The reports on blogs and some news outlets have distorted the truth about this case and what it means. The truth is that before ACA (Affordable healthCare Act) went into effect in January, Hobby Lobby never covered 4 out of the 20 various types of birth control that was the center of this landmark case. They like many other companies that were not mentioned in the news today do not want to be forced to change their plans based on the new law. Aside from their religious belief it would also put an undue financial hardship on their organization.

The law was clear– until yesterday. Either cover it all or nothing at all. They essentially had to decide if they would cut coverage for all of their employees like some non-faith based corporations have done due to the fines that they would incur or maintain coverage. I would name names but I cannot afford to get sued.

There are people in this country who will throw “my right as a citizen” around like a professional juggler when they disagree with something especially if it has anything to do with religion. Ironically some of them don’t believe those same words apply to those who have religious beliefs. We ALL have rights as citizens according to the constitution.

Unfortunately in this era of spiritual/intellectual awakening, religious beliefs get trampled on. Citizens, corporations, organizations and politicians are frowned upon for taking a stand for what they believe. If it has something to do with their religious beliefs people shame them for not only taking a stand but also for having a religion. Ironically if someone takes a stand because of their intellectual beliefs the IDEA is attacked and not the person. The right to religious freedom applies on both sides.

FULL DISCLOSURE: Until I did my research this morning, I did not know or understand why my method of choice would not be covered if I were an employee of Hobby Lobby. I wonder if they would make some concessions if they understood the reason for my personal choice to use one of the four. There are always exceptions to the rule but since I am not an employee I will never have that conversation. BTW there are other medications and procedures that some companies do not cover that have nothing to do with birth control but have everything to do with cost. That’s a “Think About It” for another day.

Whether I agree or disagree with Hobby Lobby’s choice to not pay for the other 4 out 20 methods of birth control for their employees does not matter. They made a choice to continue to offer the same birth control coverage that they did prior to ACA going into effect. They took a stand to not get penalized for their religious beliefs as owners of a family owned corporation. Religious freedom is important to those who agree and disagree. That’s the essence of the law and reflects in the comments in the ruling.

Just another day’s journey of thinking about how to stand for religious freedom. Peace.

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Think About It: Burnout Happens in Ministry, Too

faith pendantBurnout is a special topic to me because I experienced it early in my work history. I had signs and symptoms for months but ignored them because I thought that I just needed to refocus. I just needed to reorganize and find new ways to re-energize myself about the work that I did. I thought maybe I needed a new challenge and changed jobs. It turns out that none of those things were true.

Instead of doing more I needed to take a step back and take a real vacation where work was not thought about. I needed to find ways to connect with people outside of my job who respected that once we punched the clock, talking about clients and programming was over. Unfortunately, I had not learned how to turn that part of me off because I cared so much about the population that I served. I also was surrounded by them in every area of my life which made it more challenging to turn off. I couldn’t help…or didn’t know how to NOT share tips and strategies that I had learned about at various meetings with the people that I knew and loved. I did not have an off switch.

It’s the same in ministry. Being a Christian is a part of who you are but servanthood is not a 24 hour thing just like my former job. Learning balance and boundaries are key to having a long healthy relationship with service to others in any arena.

There is a certain level of guilt that arises when ministry workers can’t serve their ministry or congregants that seem to make taking a break seem worse but it’s normal. The same steps that employees take on their jobs are the some of the same steps that ministry workers should take to create balance. Here’s a few.

  1. Schedule non-ministry related breaks. Retreats do not count if you are serving in any way. Depending on your lifestyle schedule breaks quarterly or semi-annually.
  2. Do something fun with people outside of your ministry. This lessens an opportunity for ministry/church related topics to be discussed while you are out having fun.
  3. Deal with stress that is not ministry related. Using ministry as your getaway is just as dangerous as not having balance in ministry. One or both can boil over at any time. It is acceptable to talk to a professional about both challenges.
  4. Accept that as a servant that you need to be served, too.  If you are empty, how can you fill someone else?
  5. Make saying “No” your new friend. You do not have to say yes to every request to serve. Do not minimize your level of commitment and ability to become imbalanced because of the amount of time that you serve in ministry. You may have to reevaluate your commitments if you are serving in other capacities at home, work, or ministry.
  6. Meditate on God’s Word. Scriptures can comfort, encourage, or correct. Allow God to correct your perspective, encourage your heart, and comfort your spirit as you learn how to have balance in ministry.
  7. Pray. Pray for wisdom on how to find balance in your own life so that you can be used effectively for service.

This list is just a jump start on what you or someone you know can do to find balance as a ministry worker. You may even apply some of these same tips on your job. Burnout is serious and claims valuable ministry workers seemingly without notice. If you or someone you know is experiencing burnout please consider professional support.

If you serve in ministry, share how you maintain or restore balance in your life to avoid burnout.

Just another day’s journey of sharing the truth about burnout in ministry. Peace.

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Real Talk: Are You Hiding From Purpose by Helping Others?

Have you ever met someone who gives the best advice to others but rarely uses the wisdom that they share for themselves? They are the most helpful people who you will ever meet but they seem to lack the ability to accept or ask for the same help. They are usually the people who will help you mold your million dollar idea and cheer you on to victory while doing nothing with their own. They are usually the first to offer support and encourage you on good and bad days but their day seems to go unnoticed.

No one knows that they have goals and dreams because they are too busy pushing others in front of them. I wonder what are they really afraid of and do they realize what they are avoiding?

The truth is that a watchful eye sees the gifts in them but do not want to appear pushy or presumptuous about their intention…unless of course they are like Jesus in the story about the man at the side of the pool in John 5.

I can imagine this man who had been paralyzed for 38 years who finally decided to go the pool at Bethesda encouraging people to go and get what they needed. I can almost hear him sharing wisdom with the people who carried him up the five porches on how to best execute their plans for their future. I can see him in line with the other sick people who may have lost hope encouraging them to take another step towards the pool but when it was his turn…he seemed to have more questions than answers.

Giving advice and encouragement was easier than living it. He was only a few feet away from his desired destination but he let his own negative thoughts defeat him. He could only see obstacles where as if he was talking to someone else they were only challenges that could be overcome. Even though he laid there in line with others seeking the same thing he felt all alone and helpless.

I imagine this once talkative man has no words as he is faced with real change in his life. He would no longer be paralyzed and needing the services of others.  The conversations that he once had about others activating their hopes and dreams would now have to be about his own.

Fear and doubt gripped him as he laid there thinking about all the possibilities. He was no longer just physically paralyzed but now mentally paralyzed, too. What was he to do? Should he just make his way back home without trying and unchanged? Should he go all in—taking the risk to get what he went to Bethesda (which means house of mercy) to receive?

His mind was in overload and it seemed that nothing could bring him back to the present moment –until Jesus spoke. Jesus asked the man a simple yet complex question. “Do you want to be well?” That question was loaded with so much yet so little. Jesus was asking him if he really wanted what he went to the pool to receive. He wanted him to know that he was at the edge of change minus his decision to act.

The man still paralyzed by his past and unable to make a positive connection answered with excuses. He told Jesus about the obstacles that seemed to prevent him from getting what he wanted. I guess he must have forgotten that he was not born at the pool so he must have had help to get there.  He must have asked someone, right?

Jesus sees through his sincere fear and encourages him just as I imagine that he had done for others. He tells the man to, “Rise up and walk.” Two simple instructions move this man to the action that he desired. He heard the words that he needed to hear to get him out of his mental and physical paralyzed state.change

What are you sitting on the sidelines thinking about doing that you need to rise up and begin walking towards? What action do you need to take towards purpose in your life? Encouraging others and cheering them on is noble but God has so much more for you. I challenge you to Rise up and Begin Walking!

Just another day’s journey of reminding myself to not hide behind helping others. Peace.

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Pushing Beyond Your Achieved Goals

I briefly visited with my former late pastor’s wife and as usual she was sharing some of the same stories that I have heard for years about the accomplishments of her family. The stories have changed over the years to fit the accomplishments but she makes sure to share each one with great pride and enthusiasm as if they were just accomplished today. Admittedly, I used to “half listen” to her stories because they seemed a little boastful but in recent years I have learned to appreciate them.

If you knew this woman you would have had one of two opinions about her because of her delivery but I think that I understand her even more today. I believe that she shared those stories as an encouragement of what can be accomplished despite the challenges in a person’s life. Most of the people that she bragged about hit brick walls, fell down, and/or had a rough start in life. They all in her words “came from nothing and made something out of themselves.”

The delivery of her message was rough sometimes because she was trying to get through to our hearts. She was trying to get us to see our true value and worth beyond the moment that we were living. She was trying to help us see our lives as launching pads for our futures and not a cork to hold us in from all the possibilities that life had to offer.

Unfortunately most people who heard those stories over the years including me missed the point of her message. Although I have achieved a few of my goals I haven’t done much else. I realized that the message from her was not just to achieve success but to do something with it.

We are charged to think about others within our success. Once we meet our goal it is our duty to reach back and pull someone up like she did. Her success was her family. She reached back and attempted to pull up as many that were willing to take her direction.

Today I accept the charge from her to fully live the life that I am meant to live and to help pull someone else up once I get there. Will you do the same?

Just another day’s journey of pushing beyond my achieved goals. Peace.

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