I am not the most observant person.

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I recently experienced a very busy day.  There were numerous things on the docket – meetings, emails, and phone calls.   I was scrambling to get as much done as possible.  I am the type of person that has specific expectations of what needs to get done in order for me to “mentally leave” the office.  Trying to wrap things up, I began to pack up.  I quickly called my wife on my mobile phone to inform her I would be home in a few minutes.  While chatting with her, I scanned the office for things to take home – wallet (got it), computer (in my bag), paperwork to do later that evening (in my hands), car keys (in my pocket).  Scanning around, I mentioned to Penny that for the life of me I couldn’t find my phone.  I continued to look around while my wife paused as sensing a joke before pointing out the obvious…

Ok, I am not the most observant person.  I am sure there are a few people out there that can resonate with me.  It is possible that my wife could change the furniture in our house and I would not notice it for a few days.  It is not uncommon for me to arrive home, walk right past something in the house, and not be aware that something is different.

My lack of observation applies to other areas of my life.  I am not always aware of the emotional rhythms in my life.  Why am I frustrated?  What is irking me?  Why am I so distracted?  Other times it focuses on the spiritual arena.  What is God doing in my life?  Why can’t I see God’s goodness?  Where are His blessings?

I am thankful for my wife because she is brilliant in pointing out things I don’t see about myself.  She can see things that I cannot see myself.  She notices the emotional causes and the spiritual movements in me.  It is not uncommon for her to make a statement and nail it on the head whereas two seconds before I didn’t know what was bothering me.  She has a different perspective.  I am framed by my emotions and experiences; therefore, I cannot always see clearly.  As someone who loves me, is close to me, and outside of me, she has a frame of reference that I do not have.  I need this perspective.  It helps me see my blind spots – those areas of which I am not aware or rather choose to ignore.  These observations are beneficial for me.  It is good for me to hear them.

God is the most observant person.  He sees us with complete clarity.  There is no place to hide.  We can dance around our motivations and squelch our inner desires.  We can rationalize particular behavior and escape from certain disappointments.  We can attempt to conceal.  Yet, God sees it all.  He notices all the movements and tendencies in our lives.  As someone who loves us, is close to us, and outside of us, God has a frame of reference that we do not have.  He has the most perfect frame of reference.  We absolutely need this perspective.  He lovingly desires to transform those blind spots – to pull up the carpet, see the dirt, and change them.  The beauty of God is that He not only observes them, He can change these areas. Oh, it is beneficial for us to listen to God.  Oh, it is good to respond to Him.

A lesson from the Hobbit

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The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings are two of my favorite book and movie series.  I enjoy the adventure and character development.  I could watch all six movies again and again.  One of the scenes from the Hobbit involves Bilbo Baggins and his troupe of dwarves trudging through the Milkwood Forest.  Gandalf warns them to remain on the path.  For a while they meander through the forest diligently following the trail through the dense and expansive woods.  At one point they veer off course.  As they look down they no longer find themselves on the path.  They are lost.

They are in the midst of a forest with no end in sight.  The path has disappeared.  They busily scurry around looking for it in the hopes that they can retrace their steps and continue on their journey without incident.  It is too late.  They lose all direction.  Without an awareness of their surroundings, their situation becomes desperate.  Gandalf’s warning takes on a dire fulfillment.  If a person remains on the path, the forest has no influence on a person.  However, once a person gets lost, the forest places a hazy spell on them.  The travelers are not only lost, they are disoriented without any hope of survival.  At this point, Thorin, the leader of the dwarves, tells Bilbo to climb a tree to see if he can determine their location and guide them out of the forest.  Biblo scampers up the tree.  Once at the top, he is free from the spell.  He looks out and sees the edge of the forest.  In the distance, he spots their destination, the Lonely Mountain.  In the movie, he hollers that he sees where they need to go.  Biblo sees the entire forest.  He has now gained perspective.

There is a lesson to be learned from this scene.

It is easy for us to get stuck in the forest.  The stress of life becomes overwhelming.  Numerous demands are tossed at us.  All you see are the responsibilities and tasks for the week.  You run from one activity to the next then fall into bed exhausted from another busy day.  You do not see any sign of it stopping.  You grow frustrated because you are tired of the crazy.  At this point, you become disoriented.  You cannot determine legitimate priorities from those that are not.  You are reacting to situations and people rather than having a clear direction for your life.  You have moments of hope which are quickly squelched by some disappointing news.

It is easy to get stuck in the forest.

In these disorienting moments, it is necessary to gain perspective.  We need to take a step back and breathe.  We need to see the big picture in life not simply this moment.  We need to take stock of what is important and focus on those things.  We need to be thankful for the blessings we do have rather than the ones we don’t have.  We need to see what God is doing in the midst of the forest so that we can follow Him.

The beautiful truth for believers is that we have immediate access to the One who has perfect perspective.  He sees not only the forest but the entire expanse.  Furthermore, He sees the correct path and destination and how long it will take us to get there.  He can warn us of the pitfalls and remind us of the breathtaking moments we need to cherish.  In Christ, we are never lost.  We might not always see the big picture.  There are moments where we wander and stumble.  However, we are always with the One who can guide us out of such times.  And for this we can have hope.

 

What is missing in discussions on terrorism?

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Terrorism continues to hit us at home.  The tragic events in Orlando remind us of the new reality facing our world.  The images are difficult to watch.  It is one thing to see bombings unfold in Syria or Iraq.  It is another thing to imagine yourself in the city that you visited recently.  Orlando is a family destination.  Every person can picture themselves in a restaurant or hotel in that city enjoying some much needed rest.

Our anxiety skyrockets when we see violence hitting us at home.  We start to wonder what place is safe anymore.  The shooter was an American citizen so we can’t rationalize that this is an immigration problem.  This only heightens our worries because it makes the problem more complex – terrorism can happen anywhere by anyone.

Solutions to counter future terror acts are quickly offered, especially since it is an election year.  Here are some samples of ideas posed by candidates and experts on tightening security.

  • Immigration should be tightened up.
  • Our borders should be sealed.
  • Gun control should be addressed.
  • Conceal and carry should be more widely allowed.
  • Military action should occur.
  • Islamic centers should be more vigilant.
  • Terror watch lists need to be updated and distributed.
  • Individuals who see suspicious behavior should quickly report concerns.

There is no shortage of recommendations for stemming terrorism.  These are valid offerings.  I personally agree with many of them.  It is necessary that we continue to be vigilant and proactive in keeping our nation safe and secure.

There is one recommendation that consistently seems to be neglected – prayer.

The natural response to such tragedies is the human realm.  What can we do to end the violence?  However, we have at our disposal the God of the universe.  We have available to us the One who is sovereign in every aspect.  We have an empathetic Savior who loves us and resides in our grief.  We have a God who can change the human heart.  We have a Lord who provides hope beyond death.

Should we discuss and implement policies and laws?  Yes.  But, our first course of action should be heartfelt, fervent prayer to the only One who can give us true peace and security.

Kindness: The Oft-Overlooked fruit of the Spirit

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I recently shared about the extraordinary kindness of a clerk at a local store.  She was exuberant.  She was friendly.  She was helpful.  She even gave me a high five after getting me a better discount due to some digital magic on her part.  It was refreshing to be treated with such grace and dignity.

Since that day I have chosen to return the favor by initiating kindness when I speak to any clerk.  Rather than wait for the person to say hi to me, I quickly say hello and ask them about their day.  When I leave I thank them for them service and wish them a good day.  I am amazed at their response.  It seems to me that this is atypical.  I recently called a customer service representative.  After asking me how my day was going I responded by asking her about her day.  There was a short silence then a shocked comment about how no one really asks about her day.

These responses led me to reflect…

  • When I see people in service roles, do I view them as persons or as objects to serve my needs?
  • Is my kindness reserved only for those people I know and like?
  • Is there the potential for a Christian witness in these short exchanges as I try to bless them with kindness? I should be different even in small ways, right?
  • How can I live out “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” even in these moments where I am purchasing a doughnut or cup of coffee?
  • What does it mean to be different than the world through small interactions with a stranger?

The adage states that our true character is how we act when we are alone.  I wonder if this can be extended to include those brief exchanges with strangers.  If we take a snapshot of these moments, what would it say of our character?

For me, it is convicting to think about.  How many times did I breeze through the line without even making a comment to the person ringing me up?  Or worse yet, how many moments did I have a cell phone in my hand while signing my signature to the credit card pad?  How often did I nonverbally communicate impatience because the line was taking too long?  Certainly, I can take a few moments to express human dignity and kindness.

Listed among the fruits of the spirit is kindness.  Oh, the oft-overlooked fruit.  It is more common to think about love, peace, and patience.  These are the big ones, the important ones.  But, kindness…  that is not one we really consider.  But, we should.  It is an expression of the spirit of God.  It is an expression of Christ.

I choose grace.

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I choose grace.

I am trying to resolve a situation.  Unfortunately, the person is choosing to avoid me.  It is quite frustrating as this has been going on for a month.  I have texted the person.  Phone calls have been made.  Yet, there is no response.  I am growing irritated over the lack of communication.  I am beginning to take it personally.  I have a decision to make.  I can grow embroiled in anger or I can choose to let it go.

I choose grace.

A person made a comment about me.  It was innocent.  However, it was bothersome.  I was not quite sure how to take it.  It was one of those quiet statements.  You hear it and laugh.  Then, later you begin to think about it.  What did the person mean by that?  That was not very nice.  I am a bit offended.  I am not sure what to do with it.  I have a decision to make.  I can allow the comment to fester resulting in a strained relationship or I can chalk it up to a human slip up.

I choose grace.

I approach the person at the store counter.  To say the person was in a bad mood would be an understatement.  She was edgy.  I asked a question about a particular product.  Clearly, she was not interested in helping me.  I was quickly on the receiving end of a sharp tone, irritated stares, and abrupt comments.  I am tempted to comment on customer satisfaction, the need for her to do her job, and a threat to share her attitude with a manger.  I have a decision to make.  I can seek out some vengeance over not receiving proper customer care by contacting her supervisor or I can conclude that everyone has a bad day.

I choose grace.

I am tired.  I have been running a mile a minute for a couple of weeks.  Sleep has been restless.  Down time has been minimal.  I have been up late making decisions about projects and vacation plans.  I wake up grumpy.  I am in no mood for pleasantries with those around me.  I need coffee and a ton of it.  I need some rest.  I have a decision to make.  I can allow my fatigue to spill over in shortness to those I encounter throughout the day or I can take a moment, breathe, and step into God’s grace.

I choose grace.

Grace is abundantly available to us.  It is not something we can bank for a future withdrawal or draw upon from the previous day.  It is available today.  Christ died to make grace accessible.  Sadly, we oftentimes choose to leave it on the table as we allow emotions and irritations to rule.  One of the most precious distinctions for believers – the glorious grace of Christ, is waiting for our use.  We only need to choose it.