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Tag: perspective

The Stain of Skepticism

Something has been growing in my mind and soul, festering and spreading like black ink. It’s not a new thing: it’s been there for many years, but over the past year it’s been multiplying and growing. Left unchecked, this something has the power to destroy my faith and trust: in relationships, in authority, in Scripture, even in my walk with God. This ugly thing that’s been growing inside of me has a name: it’s skepticism.

skepticism: a skeptical attitude; doubt as to the truth of something

To be clear, I’m not talking about critical thinking. As Christians, I believe we should be wise and filter all information through the truth of God’s word, using discernment and clear judgment. No, skepticism carries a different connotation. It’s laced with cynicism, with distrust, and with judgment. These three characteristics can lead us down dark paths.

My skepticism started early last year when I learned that two of my favorite “internetainers”, Rhett and Link, had left the faith. They both “deconstructed” their faith and found there was nothing left. Hearing their stories made me feel sad and disappointed, especially as I realized how many people their story influenced. Over the course of the last year, I’ve watched many Christian influencers fall: either through sin or their own public renouncing of their faith.

Then came the pandemic. Social distancing, loneliness, and isolation led to many of us spending more time connecting online rather than face to face. Over the past few months three important issues have risen to the forefront of our collective consciousness: a global pandemic, racial injustice, and a major election. On all three fronts, I watched people I know and love argue online. Differences of opinions compounded through hurtful memes and unfiltered judgments about the “other.” All the while, most of these conversations that could have been resolved in person, were depersonalized as words on a screen.

I felt myself growing angry, bitter, and resentful. I grew judgmental of those who had different opinions than myself. I grew more and more frustrated as I watched many in authority add fuel to the fire rather than speaking words of peace to resolve conflict. On Facebook, unkind memes and conspiracy theories flew faster than facts could be checked. On Twitter, witty remarks spoke truth but with no mercy or kindness, only judgment. Even the podcasters I was listening to laced their words with skepticism as they talked about the issues.

I could keep adding to my list of what has caused my skepticism this year, but I think you get the general idea. I have grown disappointed in people that I have previously respected. Thankfully, the election is now over and many of the hurtful memes have abated. Still, the damage of words cannot be taken back.

As I began to judge people and their motives, I found myself becoming harder to the things of God as well. It’s hard to love God and not love people. To love, we must be open, not closed. We must be ready and willing to see the good in others and the good of God. We must be able to give and receive mercy, not judgment. We must be open to see the log in our own eyes, before we find the stick in another’s eye. I have found that when skepticism reigns in me, my heart is hard and unrepentant.

Why am I sharing this now? Well, because the Lord has been making me more and more aware of this pattern in my life, and I have the feeling I’m not alone. I’ve confessed it before Him, and I’m asking Him for a heart of flesh, rather than a heart of stone. In order to see His Kingdom at work and be part of what He’s doing, I’ve got to have my vision restored. Honestly, repentance may not be a one-time process. Change means creating new pathways in the brain and that takes time. However, that’s the beauty of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. He makes all things new.

Pause: Take a moment to still your body and your mind and meditate on the verse above.

Renew: What about you? Are there places in your mind and heart that skepticism has been growing? What are the effects of this in your thought life, your relationships, and your spiritual life?

Next: Along with me, I invite you to confess where judgment is trumping mercy and love. As you notice skepticism and judgment creeping into your thought life this week, confess it and ask that the Lord would give you faith, love, and a heart of flesh rather than a heart of stone.

As believers in a cynical world, may we be wise as serpents, but still innocent as doves.

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Bird on a Wire

Sometimes, it seems the Lord has to speak to me in multiple ways and at multiple times for a message to sink in. That has been my experience this fall. Certainly, I am a believer in reading the Bible daily to hear from the Lord. Still, in my life, the Lord often speaks in many ways, not just through Scripture. One of those ways is through nature. I believe as we seek His face, He will speak to us: through His Word and through His still, small voice. The key is to listen. To be honest, I am often distracted and not usually paying attention. Thus, in His great mercy, He reminds me on multiple occasions. Here is my latest example.

A few months ago, my mother-in-law was thinning out her garden and blessed me with strawberry plants. Her advice was to cut off the excess leaves and shoots of the plants, leaving the main root to be replanted. If all goes according to plan, this spring I will have an abundance of healthy strawberry plants in my garden.

As I sat, cutting off the excess leaves and shoots, I was meditating on the spiritual significance of “paring down.” It takes a lot of energy to be replanted and thrive. All of the leaves and extra shoots would sap energy from the strawberry root that needs to be established. Being pared down focuses the energy of the plant into fundamental growth. I felt the Lord impress on me that I too could use some paring down in my life. What did I need to focus my energy on, and what was “sapping” energy away from fundamental places of growth in my life?

Well, I wish I could tell you that I took that word and meditated on it, journaled about it, and prayed about it, but that would be false. I made a mental note and then practically forgot about it as my evening of parenting and everyday life continued.

Fast forward a few weeks to a day that I was feeling emotionally drained and physically exhausted. After a long week, it seemed I had a to-do list a mile long, and we were having guests over that evening. By mid-afternoon, I just wanted to escape. I didn’t feel like I could clean one more thing, break up one more argument among my children, or be around people, period. I asked my husband if I could go for a short drive by myself. Perplexed, but supportive, he responded, “Sure.”

I got in my van and turned on a podcast. Soon, I felt the strong tug in my spirit to turn off the noise and pray. So, I did. I poured out my frustrations, my feelings of being overwhelmed, and, like a good Father, the Lord listened. I drove down farm roads, taking in the scenery, and talking out loud in the safety and anonymity of my vehicle. I have found over the years, that praying and crying are best done on walks or drives.

Suddenly, I saw a beautiful hawk perched on an electric wire, high above me. He was looking out over a farm field, staring intently. Again, I felt the Lord impress on my spirit a similar word to before.

It seemed He was whispering, “See that hawk? He’s up high, because from there he has a full view and the best perspective. If he were in the field, he would be jumping around aimlessly, using up his energy, trying to catch his meal, but from up above, he can focus his energy and get the best result.”

Okay, Lord, I get it. I need to pare down and focus my energy. It seemed so clear. I felt so impressed by this, that I came home and told my husband all about it.

From above, perspective changes

Again, I wish I could tell you that my life immediately changed: that I came home and reorganized my whole life and all of my priorities, but that would again be inaccurate.

No, although I have been reminded now multiple times, I still only think about it in spurts. What does paring down mean? What needs to be eliminated and what should remain? How can I focus my energy? I have some ideas, and I see areas where the Lord is directing me, but it is an ongoing process of discovery.

Actually, I had a whole different blog post planned for today, but when I sat down to write, it just wasn’t going anywhere. Then, I looked out the window, and from my vantage point I could see a large black bird, sitting atop a tall and barren tree. From there, he had a clear and unobstructed view of the yard and pasture, and I was reminded again. So, with the Lord’s prompting, I took this blog for a turn. Perhaps this is a reminder for not just me, but for you as well.

Pause, Renew, Next: What about you? Where are the places that you find yourself using energy that you don’t have to give? Is the Lord calling you to pare down and refocus? How does your vantage point and your priorities change when you see your life from a “bird’s eye view?” I encourage you (and myself) to pray, journal, and meditate about this as we are reflecting on our year and preparing for the next.

May you have the peace and focus of a bird on a wire.

Pause, Renew, Next!

What’s In a Number?

There was a time that I was a slave to the number on the scale. That number dictated my mood, my motivation, and my self-worth. Numbers of calories took up way too much mental and emotional space. Those numbers related to how much food I could eat, how much food I wouldn’t eat, or how much I needed to exercise. I knew the number of calories in various foods and could add or subtract them in my sleep. I was a slave to the numbers.

There was a time that I was a slave to the number on a scale.

Thankfully, those numbers hold less power over me at this stage in my life. In fact, rarely do I pay much attention to those numbers anymore. Still, I have found other numbers can quickly take precedence in my mind. The number in my bank account. The number of an upcoming bill. The number of days left until vacation. The number of friends who RSVP’d to my party. Numbers seem to take up a lot of my mental space.

In this season of life, however, the numbers I seem to focus on most are the number of friends, followers, and likes I have on social media. I’m not proud to admit it, but it’s the truth. I have a love/hate relationship with social media for all of the reasons that most people do. On the positive side, it means instant access to my friends, even those I don’t get to see in everyday life. Also, from a ministry aspect, it means I have an instant platform from which to advertise and reach an audience I may never see in real life.

Numbers of likes and follows can also become a source of bondage in the desire for approval.

On the other hand, social media stirs in me a constant desire for likes and approval. There is an addictive quality of needing to check and recheck, and, before I know it, my time has been wasted. Minutes and hours lost on social media are also numbers.

Numbers are not inherently bad. They are in fact just measurements. It’s what I am measuring, and the significance I place on the numbers that can turn them into a form of idolatry. An ideal number can quickly become bondage. God knows that our hearts are idol factories, and Jesus kindly warns us in the Sermon on the Mount:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal;  for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matthew 6: 19-21 NASB

How then, can we break the habit of getting caught up in the number cycle? We can begin by recognizing when we’re allowing ourselves to be controlled by them. For instance, when I find myself discouraged by numbers of followers or listeners, I tell myself that God can change the world with one individual, and if even one individual is encouraged or inspired, then all of the hard work was worth it. I can tell myself that my worth is not defined by likes on social media. When I’m worried about my bank account, I can remember all of the times the Lord has provided for me before and how He promises He will take care of all of my needs according to His riches in glory. My worth and security cannot be tied to how much money I have, my weight, or my number of followers.

It’s all about a perspective shift. Numbers are only numbers after all. They’re only measurements. They are not the treasure, and they will always disappoint. The treasure is Christ, and He means for us to enjoy the gifts we have been given, including our bodies, our friends, and our resources. Let’s not let the numbers take away our joy.

Pause: Breathe in and breathe out. Focus on the exhale. Read the above Scripture passage from Matthew and meditate on it for a few minutes.

Renew: Is there a place in your life where you are placing too much focus on numbers? What do those numbers represent for you? How have they become an idol or a kind of bondage for you?

Next: If you find that there is an area in your life that numbers have become too important to you, pray this week about how the Lord can change your perspective. Seek out a source of accountability for yourself so you don’t have to carry it alone.

May we store up treasure in heaven and enjoy the gifts we’ve been given!

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Seen and Unseen

One evening, while wandering the perimeter of our property, my husband and I enjoyed a few moments of quiet conversation together. With four boys, moments of relative quiet are to be savored, and I was doing just that. Suddenly, my husband pulled out his phone and pointed it at the sky. “What are you doing?,” I asked, surprised that in the midst of a conversation he could be so easily distracted. “I’m checking for planets with this app on my phone,” he replied. “Look, it will show you the planets and stars in orbit.” He passed me the phone, and I looked for myself. Sure enough, with the help of the app, we found Mars and Jupiter in the night sky.

Seen and Unseen: visions in the night sky

As often happens, my mind takes everyday occurrences and turns them into spiritual or relational metaphors. This instance was no different. It occurred to me that those planets and stars had been present throughout the day, but had remained unseen. Why? Because the Sun, our planet’s favorite star, shines so brightly, it blinds us to the presence of the others. It’s only when the Sun sets, and we can peer into the dark corridors of space, that we are able to see far-off stars and planets.

In II Corinthians 4, Paul writes about the perspective of what is seen and what is unseen in relation to suffering. He encourages his readers to look not at what is seen, but at what is unseen. He does not deny that suffering exists, or wish it away with platitudes of faith. What he does do, is put it into perspective declaring that these “light and momentary trials are working for us an eternal weight of glory.” He closes the chapter challenging his readers to “fix their eyes” on what is unseen, because what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

I relate to this analogy personally. In this season of my life, I am struggling to make sense of and hold onto truth while coming to terms with physical conditions that are worsening over time. Will I choose to hold onto what is “seen” or what is “unseen” about the situation? Certainly, both are real factors. I cannot wish away the facts. I have to learn to live with and manage what is “seen” about the situation.

Still, in Christ, I know that behind the scenes, much more is at work. Even if I never know the entirety of the story this side of heaven, I can remind myself that these days of discomfort are just “light and momentary.” What is unseen by the eye, but perceived by the Spirit is an “eternal weight of glory” at the end of the race.

Just as the Sun shines brightly through the day lighting up all that we see, we can know with the same surety that at night, through darkness, stars will shine. Darkness, or the “unseen,” is where we grow in faith most, learning the art of hope, and clinging more closely to the promises of Scripture.

II Corinthians 4:18

Pause: Breathe in. Breathe out. Read II Corinthians 4 and meditate on any verses that resonate with you in this chapter.

Renew: As you think about your own life, is there a trial or struggle that you can relate to in reading this chapter? What about the situation or trial is seen and temporary? What might be unseen and eternal?

Next: Pray this week that the Lord would give you renewed perspective about this situation. Ask Him to help you fix your eyes on what is unseen and eternal.

May we be renewed day by day, and have eyes to see with eternal perspective!

Pause, Renew, Next!

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