In our convenience-driven, consumer-dominated society, patience is often in short supply. This is especially true when we are tested. The Bible tells us that we are to “count it all joy…when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2-3). Notice that these trials are not one’s that you seek out. In other words, don’t go looking for trouble and then decide that God is testing you for your spiritual development. Secondly, “meeting” a trial indicates an encounter, not an avoidance. Yet we often buy in to the lie that just because something is difficult, it must not be God’s will, or must not be worth the effort. When God appoints a trial to greet you, according to Scripture, it is with the intention that you will confront it, learn something from it, and the result will be steadfastness. To be steady is to be constant, solid, strong, and certain. Verse four says that when steadfastness has its “full effect,” you will be complete and lacking nothing. It is not speaking of material wealth, but intangibles that are beyond value. In fact, the next few verses speak directly about wisdom – an intangible that applies to every other area of your life. Who possesses it? God does. Is He stingy? Never. He “gives generously to all.” Notice that full steadfastness lacks nothing – that includes wisdom. The number one obstacle to becoming steadfast and managing trials is often a lack of wisdom. The one condition for receiving wisdom? Believe and do not doubt (verses 6-8). Keep your eyes focused on Jesus – the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Don’t get distracted. Remain steadfast and the ultimate reward is a crown of life. Is it a physical crown? No. The crown is not of gold or silver, but of “life.” What does it look like to be crowned with life? Doesn’t that sound awesome!? Rather than simply envisioning a fragrant garland of flowers, I imagine a legacy of bringing life to others, hope, compassion, and the love of Jesus. I picture Mother Teresa, Oskar Schindler, and more recently Gary Sinise. What an incredible legacy – to have so many lives touched in potent and eternal ways. That is the kind of crown that far exceeds anything created by precious metals and stones. So how do we sum up this loaded short passage of Scripture? Be joyful – content and at peace, with thankfulness – when you are tested. Ask the Lord for wisdom as you confront the challenge, and remember the lessons learned from it. Over time, you will become more steady, patient, confident and complete. This transformation is not going to happen overnight, but it will happen if you keep your eyes focused on Jesus.
Back in high school, I had the opportunity to go on a student ambassador trip to the United Kingdom and Ireland. While traveling through Wales, one of our excursions was a trek up the highest mountain in the country, Mount Snowdon. At 3,560 feet, it was the first time I had ever made an attempt to climb a mountain, but I made it to the top only slightly winded and the view was amazing! I even went after a mountain goat and caught a small tuft of wool from its backside! Several years later I attended a family reunion at Yosemite National Park, and had the opportunity to climb Mt. Yosemite with some of my cousins. For context, I should explain that I live in Texas. It’s mostly flat here, and much closer to sea level than the base of Mt. Yosemite, let alone it’s peak. My cousins, however, live in Washington state and spend a lot more time climbing than I do. My only previous experience was that of being in Wales, so I enthusiastically agreed to go. It wasn’t long before they had to leave me behind, but I was determined to finish what I’d started, so I continued on. Mount Yosemite is quite a bit steeper of a climb, and at 13,061 feet, I was in way over my head.
By the time I’m three-quarters of the way to the top, my whole body is shaking, and I begin to cry out of sheer exhaustion. I sit for a moment, wishing that there is some way a helicopter can retrieve me, because I really don’t believe myself capable of going any farther. A few other hikers begin to pass me coming down the mountain, and seeing my condition, they offer several words of encouragement. While it is nice of them to say so, “You can do it” just is not believable. What is the most encouraging is one woman who says, “You’re only 5 minutes away. It’s just over that ridge.” My problem is that I am focusing on my lack of physical strength, instead of the summit. True to her word, the peak is just over that ridge and I am able to rest my feet in a clear pool of water and lay on the sun-baked rocks to restore my energy.
At church this morning, we were singing about God’s ability to move mountains, and I started thinking back to these two previous experiences. Right now, reflecting on 2017 and looking forward to 2018, it feels somewhat like the Yosemite climb five minutes from the top, but there’s so much farther to go! So maybe this is more like the Everest base-camp? I looked that one up too, and base-camp sits at 17,600 feet! I wouldn’t even make it to base-camp on my own strength, but this metaphorical climb has a summit worth reaching for… I’m not referring to wealth or fame, but the face of Jesus himself! If I knew God were waiting at the top, I would do whatever necessary to make it because focusing on the knowledge of what is at the summit would be motivation enough. I’ve been far too short-sighted, making things too complicated, trying to just balance the needs of today and feeling like tomorrow’s goals are always beyond reach…
2018 will have its own challenges, maybe you are struggling with a Mount Snowdon, or maybe you share my sentiments that 2017 got you to the base-camp of Everest and you’re staring up at the summit but focusing on your own failures, weaknesses, or limitations. Let me share with you what God reminded me of this morning – one week in to the New Year – “But he said to me, ‘My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ So then, I will boast most gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may reside in me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). I haven’t reached the summit yet, so I can’t tell you that you only have five minutes to go or that rest is just beyond the next ridge. I can tell you that God has been with me, and often carried me, through an awful lot of very difficult times, and His strength is more than enough to carry you too. He is here – in the middle of our weaknesses – cheering us on to the summit. The climb is worth it. He is worth it. Don’t give up.
Mount Everest (near base-camp)
It was December 2010 and I had determined to cross “half-marathon” off of my bucket-list. With a house-full of kids, carving out time to train was exceptionally difficult, but I kept at it and trained up through about 7-8 miles. I felt pretty good about my progress since my previous record was only a 5K, so race day came and I joined the hundreds of other runners on that frigid morning with great expectations. The starting gun goes off and it takes another ten minutes to cross the starting line. The crowd opened up after a bit, and my pace increased. I passed my 5K record feeling great. Mile five and six were even enjoyable! Rounding out mile number seven, my left hip popped and soreness immediately threatened my course completion. By mile eight I was doing that funny looking limp-run-walk where you pull the arms up tighter to give yourself and others the impression that you are actually moving faster than you are. By mile nine, I was numb, but still walking. My mp3 player had recycled the same set of songs at least three times, so they were now far more annoying than motivating. All the blood in my body had migrated to my lower extremities, which were pulsating and heavy. By mile eleven, I was ready to call an ambulance. After all, my husband had stayed home with the kids and I had no one waiting to cheer me on at the finish line. No one would know if I gave up except for me. Could I handle giving up? How disappointed would I really be in myself? I was debating whether or not I would really follow through with making a “maybe sometime in the future” second attempt, when I noticed that even the sound of my labored breathing was like fingernails against a chalkboard, and there was no water station anywhere in sight. When I thought I couldn’t go another step, I hear a voice on my left, “Hangin’ in there?” “Barely,” I confessed. She admitted that it would be nice to have someone to talk to on the final stretch. Tired and sore we made it through the last two miles. When I looked up and saw the finish line, I nearly cried with joy. She turned to me and said, “Finish strong?” Neither of us was certain whether it was a question or a command, but I replied, “definitely!” We burned up the last ounces of energy we had picking up the pace, and to this day I don’t know what my time was when I crossed the finish line. I wouldn’t have been able to meet my goal that day had it not been for her. She could have done what every other runner did, and just pass me by. She could have passed judgment on my inadequate training or simply kept quiet. By speaking up and coming along side me, her encouragement made all the difference. I haven’t done any half marathons since then, but in considering life as a race, I strive to take her example into every relationship and to help others finish strong. So hang in there. God’s not done with you yet.
“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” or would it? Five Japanese people are suing their government over an 1896 law that requires them to take the same surname to legally register their marriage. One of them argues that, “By losing your surname…you’re being made light of, you’re not respected…It’s as if part of yourself vanishes.” A Japanese constitutional scholar contends that, “Names are the best way to bind families.”
I would like to offer that both perspectives fall short of convincing. While family heritage plays a large role in our identities, the surname itself is always borrowed from another relative. Sure, you can blend and hyphenate names, but how long does the name become in order to identify oneself fully? If marrying someone causes you to feel disrespected, then why are you getting married? If you are partnering, “becoming one,” with another person, but don’t want to share their name, is it not an indication that you are rejecting their family and heritage? On the flip side, simply suggesting that it is the “best” way is also a statement of opinion, along with fears of “destroying social stability, the maintenance of public order and the basis for social welfare.” How, exactly, are either positions to be quantified, or reconciled?
I know of only one way…When God created man and woman, He did not give them separate names. “So God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27). They were collectively named “Adam,” meaning mankind. It was the man who gave the woman a different name, “Eve,” and defined her as the “mother of all the living.” So the idea of individuality is coupled with separation – distance.
If people are wrapped up in the idea of being their own person and separated or distinguished at a distance from their spouse, then what is the point of being married? Is it not entirely, then, a self-serving enterprise? How well do those marriages generally turn out? When two people desire to come together, the goal is not individuality, but oneness. Each brings their own uniqueness and heritage to the table and creates a new entity, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and unites with his wife, and they become a new family” (Genesis 2:23-25).
Personally, I have dealt with divorce and remarriage, and the surname issue was a big deal for me. In my first marriage, I did not wish to entirely take on his name. I didn’t want it hyphenated, so I kept my maiden name as a second middle name, but made certain it was written on everything. It didn’t take me long to understand that my hesitation and uneasiness was because something inside me didn’t trust him or respect his leadership. After divorce and reconnecting with Jesus Christ, I set my focus on following Him, and He brought into my life the man who would become my second husband. This man also shared the same direction and desire to follow Jesus, and I trust him implicitly. He leads where I am weak, and is willing to be submissive to my strengths. I had no doubt that I wanted to take on his name. Though our relationship hasn’t always been easy, it has grown me and strengthened me more with each passing day. While it was his name from birth, I proudly claim it as my own, and I am closer now than I have ever been to being the woman that God made me to be – the woman I want to be.
Regardless of earthly names, titles, labels, roles or relative position – first and foremost, my husband and I are children of God and carry His name. We are His ambassadors, sent to share the love of Jesus and to testify to His kingdom. Our goal and desire is to be unified and of one mind with Him. My perspective will be different than those who choose to follow any other path, because we have a different filter and focus.
Marriage, for me, is not about a political or social movement, a whim, a flight of fancy, or romantic notions that any other human could “complete me.” As a follower of Jesus, I can call my marriage (oneness, unity, relationship, etc.) by any name and it will still be as sweet because it is defined by the One who created my identity.
Reference article: “Debate on separate spouse surnames heats up before Japan court ruling.” By Elaine Lies. Reuters, December 10, 2015. http://news.yahoo.com/debate-separate-spouse-surnames-heats-japan-court-ruling-002048548.html
Photograph courtesy of Rebecca L. Jordan, 2015.
I have often told my children, “Don’t expect people who don’t know the Lord to act as if they do.” People that know the Lord have a hard enough time acting appropriately as His ambassadors. It makes it far easier to be loving toward others when we’re not focused on their actions as being prerequisite to our willingness to extend grace. After all, “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). While it’s been relatively easy for me to teach this lesson to my children, and to live it out generally myself, God has found someone to test me in this. There is a member of my family that knows all the right things to say regarding faith and was brought up in church, yet has no understanding or interest in what it means to follow Jesus as Lord. I have never encountered an individual that is more self-centered, inconsiderate, and all-around toxic than this particular person. At Bible study, the question was asked, “What distinguishes a “good person’ from a Christian in the eyes of unbelievers? Is there any difference?” The difference is Jesus, but what does that look like? First of all, Christians are not perfect – let’s just address that myth right now. We are hypocrites, broken, disturbed, incomplete people in need of spiritual guidance, and love – the same as everyone else. The difference is that we follow Jesus because He knows how to take care of all those ailments. Not all hurts will disappear this side of heaven just because we begin following Him either – we still live with the consequences of sin, our own and others. But He shows us how to live and grow and love in the middle of the struggles. And today, He’s working on me.
I was self-centered, but He loved me selflessly.
I was concerned with personal gain, but He gave to me without restraint.
I was consumed with my busy schedule, but He pencils me in without appointment.
I made mess after mess, and He cleaned them up for me.
I was ignorant of His presence, but He knew right where I was.
I tried to ignore Him, to run, but He stayed right by my side.
I was harsh and irritable, but He is patient and gentle.
I asked Him why He’s so willing to deal with fools (temporarily forgetting my place), and
He reminded me, “I get the last word.”
“Lord, help me to love this unlovable person the same way that you’ve loved me. Help me to extend grace in the face of indignant arrogance. Teach me to give with no thought of return. Help me to forgive foolishness the same way you’ve forgiven mine. You willingly went to the cross, were beaten and bruised to carry a punishment that I deserved. Then you looked down from that cross as I sat there in judgment, and said, ‘Forgive her, Father. She doesn’t know what she’s doing.’ You paid a debt that was too mountainous for me to bear or repay. You stood before the Great Judge as my Advocate and offered to pay my bail. Help me to love like that. Help me to serve like that. Help me to extend mercy where it is anything but deserved, because You did that for me. I need Your strength, Lord – Your compassion.”
We’ve had a few brilliant moments of clarity this month as we’ve traversed through the seven year old being sick, and then myself, car problems, and extended family health issues. One of those perfect windows where everything seemed right with the world was Easter weekend. This year as my older boys ran around hiding sugar-filled eggs for my younger girls to find, and the picture-perfect weather between storms was calming my sinuses, my thoughts wandered back to the Old Testament Book of Nehemiah. It may sound like an odd connection, but bear with me as I chase this bunny rabbit. Nehemiah traveled 1,000 miles with permission and protection from the king of Babylon to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. These walls had been rubble for generations at that point. The people were seemingly lost in despair. Before something beautiful could be constructed, Nehemiah had to take a long, hard, honest look at the damage, and then set out to clear away the debris. So often I’ve thought about something that I’d like to accomplish, but there is too much rubble in the way – too many hurdles – too many inconveniences – and somehow I convince myself that must mean it’s not God’s will for me to complete that particular project. This is exactly what kept Jerusalem wallowing in shame and destruction for so long – it seemed too great a task and they were discouraged, brokenhearted, and overwhelmed by the magnitude of the damage. Our metaphorical damaged walls and lost-ness can have the same debilitating effect – leaving us feeling powerless and ineffective. The answer is not to wait until God sends a Nehemiah, but to follow Nehemiah’s example. He prayed for four months for the city, and then God prompted the king to ask Nehemiah what was on his mind, opening up the conversation and the possibility of healing. Which brings me to the second point: Nehemiah didn’t do it alone. He had others come along side him. God used the king to provide the resources and provisions. Nehemiah’s distant relatives, most of which he’d probably never met, all pitched in and had their section of the wall they were responsible to build and defend. Just fifty-two days later the walls were built – project complete? Not hardly. The clearing of the debris was necessary to build the wall. The building of the wall was necessary for the next step, getting the heart of the city right with God, and people right with each other. There are stages to healing. Where is the debris so thick in your life that you’ve determined to just ignore it? Are you trying to do it alone? The reason that people are supposed to be in a church community is not because it’s the right club to belong to, but because we need to be there for one another, loving each other and helping each other to clear away our rubble and rebuild. “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25 NIV).
Sin is simply anything that separates us from God – it is us deciding what is right and good instead of leaning on His perfect design and plan. If a builder decides to go solo on a whim and deviate from the architects plan, it could create a big ‘ol mess or at the least distrust between team members who thought they were all on the same team with the same goals and methods in mind. When parents aren’t on the same page regarding the training of a child, distrust and brokenness can result and a rift develops in the heart of the child, which continues to impact other areas of their life and relationships. Destruction begets more destruction. We all have some level of brokenness that we have to own up to. Looking in another direction will not make it go away. Ignoring it won’t make it better. Hiding it will only cause it to fester and rot. How do we begin to clear it away? Where do we start? Start with the one who understands every inch of our lives. He was the architect who fashioned an amazing floor plan for each of us, and it was all-good until we decided to confiscate the tools and change up the design. He is perfect, loving, forgiving, and He can make all things new. In the Russian language, the word for Sunday is pronounced Vos-kre-sen-ye. It literally means “Resurrection Day.” But before Christ could be resurrected, He had to die to clean up our mess. It is too big for one person, but not for God. He is the King who provides us protection in the midst of disaster, and whose limitless resources are available to us through Jesus. “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Ephesians 5:14 NIV). The light of Christ will expose all of the ugliness that we face, but it will allow us to see our way through it – one stone, one hurt, one apology at a time. No person, no Christian, no church is perfect. When Jesus was asked why He was hanging out with tax collectors and prostitutes, He responded, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick” (Matthew 9:12; Mark 2:17; Luke 5:31 NIV). Our souls can be healed – even though we were dead in sin, separated from God, sick, and alienated from the church because of imperfect people that treated us poorly. God has a lot of patience and a lot of patients. While this life will never be perfect, He can take all your imperfect parts and employ others to help you rebuild the walls of a structure that will shelter others during their storms. You may be the answer to a prayer just 52 days from now that someone else is seeking. Shine a light on it. Find others who are following the Architect to help you resurrect this life, and rise each day in the knowledge that He loves you. He invested His whole self in you. You were an investment worth dying for, and you too can be resurrected with Him.
A few reasonable definitions might be “to assign to a particular category or class, especially in a manner that is too rigid or exclusive,” or “an oversimplification of a group or individual that paints an inaccurate portrait of reality as it applies to that group or person.”
People who are pigeon-holed are classified consciously or unconsciously by another or group of others in an attempt to compartmentalize or understand something that is perhaps beyond their level of interest or comprehension. This allows them to put the matter aside and ignore it.
These neat little mental boxes effectively create barriers between the two parties and can cause open communication to disintegrate.
I find it to be particularly painful when the misperceptions, or lackadaisical approach to relationship building is perpetrated by those who should know better, those who claim to have a relationship with you, but clearly hale from a different planet.
Certainly, I’m venting a bit of personal frustration, but I’m truly writing in order that I might share what helps me to bear up under some fairly heavy annoyances:
1) I don’t have to bear them alone. I have a Savior who understands me for better and worse. He has said, “I will never leave you and I will never abandon you” (Hebrews 13:5).
2) He understands my frustration because He has felt it in far greater measure than I have. Those who should know Him the best often try to put Him in a neat little box and they miss the bigger, truer, more beautiful picture.
“The Lord looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God” (Psalm 14:2).
“…Those responsible for teaching my law did not really know me…(Jeremiah 2:8).
“…my people are foolish. They do not know me…They have no understanding…” (Jeremiah 4:22).
In John 7:27, Jesus is speaking in the temple and some want to believe, but they dismiss His teaching because of an inaccurate perception, “But we know where this man is from; when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from.”
The people had their own version of what the Messiah would be like — a mighty warrior-king after the more masculine fashion of David, a lion from a far-off place. But they forgot Isaiah 40:10-11, “See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power… He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.” King David was first a shepherd, before claiming the throne as king. The Lord Jesus also is our Shepherd and is exceedingly patient with us (2 Peter 3:9). One day He will return as our conquering King, but in the meantime, He endures the mislabeling, misunderstanding, and mistreatment of His name. One day all will see clearly.
3) There is a teachable element in all circumstances. Sin and fear blind us to the truth around us and within ourselves. I have to ask myself, “How often have I been guilty of trying to pigeon-hole or ignore God?” I can then ask His forgiveness and learn how to grow closer to Him. You can’t change others perceptions necessarily, but you can learn from the situation and alter the way that you approach The King. When you truly love someone, it pains you to have hurt or neglected them in some way, and by realizing the distance you’ve created, you’ll naturally wish to move closer to them in proximity and intimacy in order to repair the breach, thereby growing positively in your relationship.
If you don’t know Him yet, introduce yourself. If it’s been a while since you put Him on a shelf, revisit the box, and you’ll find that you never really had Him contained anyway.
This Easter I wanted to help my girls to understand that the holiday is more than just baby chicks, bunnies, and chocolate eggs. As I went looking for the items, the Scriptural significance of each one came to me. I gave each of my daughters a basket along with this note:
Your Easter Basket
A princess to remind you that you are daughter of the King.
A mirror to remind you who He created you to be.
Bath soap to remind you what truly washes your sins away and makes you clean.
Nail polish to remind you of the beautiful hands and feet that were pierced for you, And that now you represent His hands and feet too.
Cleaning wipes to remind you to serve others just as Jesus did by washing the feet of His disciples.
Lip gloss to remind you that every word out of your mouth should be sweetened with the Fruits of the Spirit.
A little lamb so that you remember to stay close to the Good Shepherd, Always.
They held each item, read the corresponding note and looked up the reference together. I must say, this little exercise will help me to think about things differently when I’m doing simple tasks like putting on nail polish or lip gloss, or even looking in the mirror and remembering that I am valued by the King of Kings and Lord of Lords so much that He would hang beaten and exhausted on a cross for me. I can see Him looking down at me and uttering the words, “Father, forgive her. She doesn’t know what she’s doing.” And then to include me in the power of His resurrection anyway, and given a seat at the great banquet table?! Choco-egg-birthing-bunnies have got nothing on my Risen Jesus! Resurrection Sunday is just the beginning…Easter isn’t over yet.
Significance is a noun indicating, “the quality of being important…having notable worth or influence.” Each human being is important, so says John 3:16, and whether they realize their worth or feel influential or not, each life impacts everything in its environment. I have often underestimated the significance of my own existence, preferring to remain comfortable in the shadow of my wonderful husband’s contagiously animated and outgoing nature. When given the option, I have settled for security more often than not. Security may be defined as, “the state of being protected or safe from harm.” Safety may be thought of in physical terms, but I would submit that it is more often related to emotional comfort that is coveted, whether that is borne from fear of being alienated, different, or simply being uncertain which direction is best. How many of us have determined at some point of decision, not to make a decision at all, simply because you know and understand where you are, and may be too afraid to take the “wrong” next step? So foolish are we who act as though our security can ever be found in the shadows, in keeping quiet, or in hiding behind excuses or other human beings! The Psalms are full of praises to God for His protection. Psalm 32:7, “You are my hiding place; you protect me from distress. You surround me with shouts of joy from those celebrating deliverance.” Psalm 73:28 says, “But as for me, God’s presence is all I need. I have made the sovereign Lord my shelter…” Psalm 119:57 tells us, “The Lord is my source of security…” I cannot hide from the world and be an effective, significant support to the Church.
Significant is an adjective, defined by Merriam-Webster as, “large enough to be noticed or have an effect.” When I look back at “significant” events in my own life, I think about the “light bulb” moments – times when a new truth became clear – times when overwhelming darkness gave way to peace – times when someone dared to risk their own emotional or physical security to reach out to me. “Large enough” doesn’t have to be huge. It could be that a simple note of encouragement, a hug, or time spent praying on behalf of another that makes all the difference in the world. No one lives in complete isolation, and attempting to isolate yourself isn’t “safe” – it’s lazy (speaking from experience). Baby steps are a fantastic start – but start you must if you ever wish to finish the race that God has uniquely marked out for you. Trust that His plan is not only the most significant of your life, but the only one that will also provide all the security you’ll ever need. It’s time to step out of the shadows and engage…