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Are You A Lightener?

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You may wonder what I mean by that question.

 

If you are a “lightener,” people who spend time with you will feel refreshed and lighter because you have been with them.

 

In a Children’s Literature course in my college days, I completed a poetry project and loved Rachel Fields simple little poem entitled “Some People.”  The poem describes well what a lightener is.

Isn’t it strange some people make
You feel so tired inside,
Your thoughts begin to shrivel up
Like leaves all brown and dried!

But when you’re with some other ones,
It’s stranger still to find
Your thoughts as thick as fireflies
All shiny in your mind!

 

Lighteners encourage and come alongside us and we feel better for knowing them. They cue in on others around them instead of having a self-focus. They move on what they observe rather than not notice or simply observe. They usually see what they do for you as nothing special and yet those seemingly small things lift the burden we may be feeling.

 

Small acts of kindness appear to be the specialty of lighteners. The Holy Spirit seems to prompt them to come alongside us when we thought no one else had noticed what we Day-22-31Days-Be-a-Secret-Encourager-DL-Moody-Quote-on-doing-good.-AnExtraordinaryDay.net-were feeling or going through. They move into action without being asked oftentimes. They really respond with an empathy that shines the light of Jesus brightly. That brightness stands out because it is not common.

 

Our lives and schedules, our jobs and ministries, our own issues and concerns can cause us to miss those around us beginning with those with whom we live. It isn’t our intent, but it happens. Sometimes it happens because no one has noticed us and it has left us discouraged and turned our eyes inward. Sometimes it happens because we have given out so long that we are depleted.

 

As sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, we have difficulty with a balance between doing and being, serving and resting, encouraging and getting encouragement. We need to be recalibrated often by the Holy Spirit within us to balance these divergent needs and responsibilities.

 

I have learned one thing as I have observed myself with this struggle. If I see a lot of misalignment, it’s because I have set aside time first thing in the morning to sit in my favorite red chair and take some time in the Word with a pen and journal in hand. It can be easy to be too tired, too busy, or too scheduled to feel I can add that to my day. But that exposes the issue. It isn’t about adding it to my day. It’s about how I start my day and add everything else into it.

 

Even so, each of us needs to have a lightener who touches us, a day, or a circumstance in such a specific way that we are better and lighter for his or her presence.

 

It can be so easy to be critical. We are immersed in a culture where we are bombarded by critical words and attitudes that can seep into us and leak out of us.

 

Too often that happens within the context of Christian relationships and circles as well. Sometimes we set a standard for others that fits with biblical teaching absent the mercy and grace Jesus brought us. Satan loves it. He sets it in motion and we go along with his program without sometimes hearing what we have said or how we have said it.

 

Martin Luther King, Jr. exhorted us all well when he said these words:

 

“We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools.”

 

To be a lightener we must break the habit of attaching so much importance to what people say and focus more on what the Lord has said and demonstrated through the life of Christ.

 

I love how the writer of Hebrews says in Hebrews 10:24 (TPT):

 

“Discover creative ways to encourage others and to motivate them toward acts of compassion, doing beautiful works as expressions of love.”

 

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Let’s Do Coffee Together

 

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Earlier this week a dear friend of mine made a date to get together for coffee at our favorite coffee shop. Actually, we may have other favorite shops, but this one has become the one that we always choose. Part of it is the location between our two homes. Part of it is the comfy faux leather chairs in the corner that we try to snag. We love coffee, but the coffee is really the opening act because getting together to talk is really the main event for us.

 

We have talked about many things back in “our corner” from marriage to parenting, our latest book choices, our spiritual lives, the latest ministry challenges, our hopes and dreams, our uncertainties, and foundational beliefs.

 

attractive-bar-barista-296888 (1)We take several hours to catch up and sip our favorite drinks and even though we spend two hours together, the conversation never stalls or winds down and we talk all the way to our cars. The coffee always runs out before the conversation. The finale of the conversation focuses on when we will be able to meet again for coffee.

 

What is it that draws so many of us to meet at a coffee shop for coffee to connect?

 

I looked around our coffee shop this week and noted how many of the chairs were filled. There were the usual folks on laptops alone and seemingly hard at work, but there were so many spots where two people were doing the same thing as I was, enjoying the conversation and company of a friend. I have seen men connecting over a Bible study, college students meeting around a group project, and of course, girlfriends like us meeting together for the sheer joy of the time together.

 

Perhaps we choose the coffee shop because we have bought into the ads for Starbucks, Peets, Caribou or other companies. Perhaps we simply love coffee. Perhaps it is because beverage-blur-breakfast-851555 (1)the coffee shop is an oasis from everything else in our day. Perhaps holding a cup in our hand provides some comfort or reassurance as we sometimes share the deepest parts of our heart.  Perhaps it provides the context for the real reason, that we enjoy connecting with one another in a relaxed environment and since we do so by appointment we actually set aside time to nourish relationship in the midst of our busy lives. We commit to it even if we need to keep circling the building for a parking spot or need to wait for two chairs to open up.

 

Getting together for coffee is actually code for, “I want to spend time with you” or “I want to share something with you”. The commitment and the appointment certainly also says something we also need to hear – “You matter to me and I value you”. It adds to a sense of community. That is key to our emotional, mental, relational, and spiritual selves.

 

Whatever way we may choose to connect or experience community with one another, architecture-building-chairs-1045199the vital key is to make time to do it and let the mysterious process of nourishing our souls happen.

 

Jesus was the expert on this.

 

As we read in the gospels we see the teaching to crowds, the healing of all sorts of maladies, the time alone with His Father, but do we also look at those connection times. They are tucked in before ministry and after time with the Father in Luke 6. They happen with his disciples, with his friends, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus as well as others.

 

I wonder.

 

Would Jesus hang out at our favorite coffee shop sipping an espresso or latte if He walked the earth now?

 

What a wondrous time that would be!

 

But maybe we can still experience a small taste of that if we find a favorite spot, get our favorite coffee drink, and spend one-on-one time sharing ourselves with Him, catching up, finding out what is on His mind and not simply handing Him our prayer requests.

 

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He Chooses the Unlikely

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We live in an era where those who are chosen for honor and accolades are the most skilled and gifted, the most talented and attractive, the most popular and charismatic, and the most attractive and appealing. But it’s true that mankind has tended toward such criteria for choosing leaders or those destined for some special position down through history.

 

The covers of our magazines choose the rich and the famous, the beautiful and successful. TV and movies choose men and women whose figures and hairlines are often flawless. Only the very best minds receive academic scholarships and only the athletes with the strongest and most consistent performance are drafted for college and professional teams.

 

With God it’s a different story…

 

He consistently chooses the unlikely one.  img_3435

 

Rebekah carries within her twin sons, Esau and Jacob, and at every turn Jacob connives and cheats Esau out of his birthright and father’s blessing. He deceives his father and yet it is Jacob who is chosen to be in the line from Abraham who shows up in the lineage of Christ.

 

The children of Jacob (now Israel) are enslaved in Egypt and God chooses Moses whom He spared in the bulrushes to lead His people to the Promised Land. Yet Moses has a hard time speaking and needs to ask his brother Aaron to do the talking for him.

 

When Joshua sends the spies into the Promised Land to scout out the city of Jericho, the spies are at risk to be caught and killed, but God chooses a prostitute, Rahab, to hide them. Her choice results in her salvation when God gives Jericho into the hands of Joshua and puts her in a marriage that adds her name to the lineage of Christ.

 

When Israel wanted a king, Saul was chosen. He towered among many of the day and seemed a likely choice; but when He disobeyed God and chose his own way, the Lord rejected him. Whom did He choose next? He sent Samuel to the house of Jesse who was blessed with many sons who were skilled and experienced, but when He made His choice it was the youngest and least likely…David…who would be made king of Israel.

 

When Jesus came to earth and was starting His ministry, He called ordinary fishermen to be his disciples rather than the religious leaders of the day. He even chose a tax collector.

 

God honored a small man named Zacchaeus to have dinner at his house even though he was hiding up in a tree.

 

chopsticks-cuisine-delicious-884596In the midst of preaching on a hillside to thousands of people, Jesus became concerned that people there were hungry and needed to be fed. He asked the disciples to get food. They had no food with them, but a small boy with a sack lunch provided the meal Jesus blessed and everyone was fed.

 

After Jesus ascended into heaven and His disciples were gathering together to follow His commission, Saul, a learned Pharisee did all he could to stop them. Then God stopped Saul on his way to persecute more new believers in Damascus and changed his life and name forever. Saul (now Paul) became the great missionary to spread the gospel to the Gentiles.

 

And it didn’t stop there.

 

From the beginning until now, God has chosen the least likely, the ordinary, the broken and the flawed, the misunderstood and maligned.

 

No matter who you are or what your status, no matter how you have failed Him, His love pursues you and if His love pursues you, He has chosen you.

 

You may well wonder at that. I certainly do, but it is Paul whom no one expected to become a believer that points to God’s reason in 2 Corinthians 4:7 (TPT):

 

“We are like common clay jars that carry this glorious treasure within, so that the extraordinary overflow of power will be seen as God’s, not ours.”

 

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Looking for God Winks

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When I was in college studying to become a teacher, a children’s literature class was a requirement. The class demanded a lot as I recall, but what fun to read so many stories and poems that I could put in my toolbox when I started teaching.

 

One project involved making a poetry collection that needed to be typed up (Yes, no computers back then!), categorized into sections, and collated into a notebook. My dad got involved by suggesting he make a notebook that would be sturdy for use in a classroom. The wooden laminate covered project has stood the test of time and sets on a bookshelf in my home today.

 

I still recall many of the poems it contains. One of these is by Charles Kingsley who was an English poet from the 1800’s. The short lines made an impact on me that I still periodically recall.  The words are these:

 

         “If you want to be miserable think of yourself, about

         what you want, what you like, what respect people

         ought to pay you and what people think of you.”

 

I recalled it again today and reflected on what powerful truth it contains. When my focus IMG_3936is solely on myself, I cannot see anyone else accurately nor can I see the Lord. Focusing on myself to the extent implied by Kingsley can lead to depression, self-pity, victimization, blaming, resentment, bitterness, and so much more.

 

I was often tempted to move to the opposite extreme of never thinking of myself or counting myself worthy of attention or love as I was growing up and the result was still the same because it still focused on what I didn’t have or didn’t get. It still was out of balance with the focus on “I”.

 

Thankfully, the Lord brought people into my life that helped me see there was a better way, a balance, which could only come when I allowed the Lord to adjust my perspective and my line of sight. I began to recognize how many other people around me dealt with similar feelings no matter what their age or how much bravado appeared to be present when I interacted with them. When I had a better lens to see others more clearly, I listened carefully to what was said as well as what I did not hear. It helped me to stop comparing myself to others and showed me that we all struggle with some level of self-doubt and uncertainty. We all lose people or things we love. None of us experience the fulfillment of all our hopes and dreams. We don’t live in Eden before the fall.

 

IMG_2586I began to realize that I had spent too long wanting what was taken instead of looking at what was given. That truth opened my heart to overflowing gratitude so that even on my worst days I could discover things granted to me, how much had blessed me. It also freed me to love others better because I had gotten out of the way so it was the Lord’s love that shone versus my own selfish version. I could better give others what I wished for myself without expecting to receive it in return.

 

Today as I sat with my cup of tea I saw so many evidences of the Lord’s love, grace, and mercy despite the discouraging news all around me. It reminded me of a favorite phrase a precious young woman used to describe them. She called them “God winks”, little reminders of His goodness. These are the antidotes to the problem Kingsley describes.

 

Look for “God winks” in your day today!

 

So keep your thoughts continually fixed on all that is authentic and real, honorable and admirable, beautiful and respectful, pure and holy, merciful and kind. And fasten your thoughts on every glorious work of God, praising him always. Follow the example of all that we have imparted to you and the God of peace will be with you in all things.

Philippians 4:8-9 (TPT)

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Choose What Leads to Life

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Old habits die hard they say.

 

One of those is what we understand about guilt. Before we come to know the Lord, unless our conscience is seared we experience what we call guilt and its lingering shadows. Those shadows touch more parts of us than we often recognize.

 

What we understand about guilt after we invite Jesus into our lives depends on what we are taught to think and feel about guilt. Sadly, sometimes when we are growing up we hear messages suggesting we should feel guilty when we have made a mistake. As a result, even after we are believers we can still label what we feel as guilt when we make a mistake or fall prey to sin.

 

Sometimes the problem of guilt seems less common today than it once was perhaps. The new independent individualism typical of our current culture tends to result in PPP 013justification for mistakes or sinful choices. It is commonplace to hear statements like “that’s just the way I am” or “that’s the way God made me”. We easily deflect responsibility and blame. We also tend to shift blame to others.

 

It is rare to hear someone accept personal responsibility for his or her choices and decisions.

 

I see that as I look at my own life and how little I understood about this issue of guilt as a result of a lack of discipleship when I first came to know Jesus.

 

I also saw and heard it for many years in my counseling practice. People were locked up by guilt for things past and present. I still hear it now as I overhear conversations.

 

The effects of unhealthy guilt in our lives have tentacles that wrap around several areas of our life. The first and easiest to spot is hostility and defensive reactions in which someone else is blamed for the issue or problem.

 

A second group of effects include self-condemnation reactions such as insecurity, anxiety, an inability to relax, the refusal to receive compliments, a pessimistic outlook, and a feeling of inferiority.

 

These first two can lead to social reactions that can cause us to isolate and alienate ourselves from others. Ultimately all of these can produce physical symptoms as a result IMG_1705of the stress we experience from the unrelieved habit of guilt.

 

Guilt leads to death within us.

 

Here is the good news!

 

If we learn to differentiate between unhealthy guilt and godly conviction, we can be set free from the confusion these can cause.

 

What does unhealthy guilt look like?

 

  • It causes confession about how bad we are and usually the confession is compulsive, impulsive and repeated.

 

  • It deals with laws and rules, the should and should not’s.

 

  • It refuses to yield to forgiveness.

 

  • The primary focus is on self and the past.

 

  • The motivation for change is to avoid feeling bad.

 

  • Our attitude toward ourselves is frustration.

 

By contrast, let me give examples of godly conviction:

 

  • Confession that is concerned with the act itself of sin or mistake rather than how rotten I am.

 

  • Godly conviction deals with relationships (God, self, and others).

 

  • Godly conviction always yields to forgiveness.

 

  • The primary focus is God or others and damage to others and a desire to correct future deeds.

 

  • The motivation for change is to help others, to do God’s will and experience feelings of love.

 

  • Our attitude toward ourselves includes love, respect, and concern.

 

Godly conviction leads to life!

 

The good news, the gospel, tells us in Luke 4 in the words of Jesus quoting out of Isaiah 61 that He came to set the captives free, to bring pardon, to bring life.

 

When you are tempted to get mired in guilt, remember that guilt leads to death. Because Jesus came to bring life and IS life, guilt would not be coming from Him. His enemy who condemns us and brings death still likes to masquerade and confuse us on this topic.

 

When Jesus sees us caught in a sin or ensnared in a habit that can destroy us, He brings godly conviction (not condemnation). That brings life. It isn’t any wonder, is it?

 

Jesus is life. He came to bring us life and life more abundantly.

 

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