Do You Want A New Coat?

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“…you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him…”

Colossians 3:9-10

When I read these words I always picture someone taking off an old coat and replacing it with a bright and clean new one. I’m sure that is what Paul wanted us to imagine. It sounds like a great trade, and an easy task. So why do I still walk around wearing my worn-out coat?

  • It’s comfortable. Notice I didn’t say warm, or pretty, or right for me. But that’s how it is with our old ways, isn’t it? I’ll speak for myself and say that my bad habits are deeply ingrained. My stinky attitudes have become familiar friends.

I know it’s time to get rid of that old coat. If I’m honest it doesn’t really fit quite right anymore, and I feel kind of drab in it. But what’s left of my worldly thinking wonders if I could just get the thing dry cleaned instead of trading it in for a whole new model.

  • I’m sentimental. My closet has clothes in it that I don’t intend to wear again. They are outdated, or tired-looking or not my style these days. Keeping them is silly, really, but the idea of throwing them out or passing them on leaves me feeling unsettled.

Change can be scary, but it’s usually for the better, at least in the end. But my old self wants to cling to the past, to hold onto what I already understand rather than step into the unknown that lies ahead.

Sorry to carry the metaphor so far, but it really speaks to me.

How about you – have you taken off your old coat yet and handed it over? Or are you choosing to keep the familiar garment even it’s not the best choice for you?

On Contentment

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Well, we’re in what my relatives used to call the dog days of summer. I think they were referring to the heat. I know my dog is pretty uncomfortable about now, and so am I. We both sit around a lot when the temps and the humidity climb.

I caught myself starting to complain about the weather the other afternoon as I stood sweating in our back yard. But then a funny kind of time travel happened, where I was transported for a moment back to this past February. I stood in the same spot, shivering despite being wrapped in about five layers of clothes. And guess what? I was complaining about the weather.

Never happy, are you? I thought, amused. Just for fun, I tried to imagine where I could live where the temperature would be perfect for me all the time. But all the places that came to mind had some flaw – if it was warm all year it was also humid, or the insect problems, or how it would be in the middle of nowhere with no wifi, etc. There was no ideal place, even in my fantasies.

In the past that realization would have left me discontent. I guess I’ll have to stick it out here (Can’t you just hear the sigh in my voice?!). But I was really causing my own misery. Because instead of simply indulging in a little wistful daydreaming, I believed I ought to be living in a perfect spot right now. Having to make due with less was unfairly difficult and tiresome.

What prideful thoughts! But even after I knew better, I struggled with letting go of that mindset. I read the Apostle Paul’s testimony in Philippians 4:12 – “I have learned the secret of being content…” – and my spirit would rebel. To me, “content” meant forcing myself to be happy settling for less.

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Now, ‘contentment’ means a sense of peace about where I am. How did I have such a big turnaround? It sure didn’t happen overnight, and it didn’t come from me. Paul also wrote that we are to be transformed, and the tense he uses indicates that it happens to us rather than by us.

God revealed more and more to me about His love and provision, and drew me into a closer relationship. Over time, my focus began to shift from me-centered to Him-centered. And as I began to fix my gaze on God, earthly circumstances didn’t matter quite so much. I felt more secure even without everything on my list of wants.

Paul went through that shift, too. The secret of being content is something we can all know and use daily – loving and trusting God. It’s that simple and that challenging. Weather conditions are just a small aspect of life. But if I can embrace contenment during both dog days and cold spells, I’ll be on the right track!

 

 

Working At Unity

 

 

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lor, one faith…”  Ephesians 4:3-5

I heard about an article today that caught my attention. The author’s premise was that America is quickly becoming a country of separate tribes rather than the unified nation it was designed to be. Whether the tribes are labeled according to race, gender or even region, all of them are motivated by frustrations and grievances.

It is as if people want to focus these days on differences and deficiencies rather than common threads we all share as U.S. citizens. The idea saddened and scared me, because it rang so true. With a quick look at the news I can see it playing out around me every day – you probably can too.

And what’s true of the world at large can unfortunately be said of the church. The Body of Christ has become divided. In fact, whole denominations have come about when agreement couldn’t be reached on certain issues. I can take this to an even more personal level. In my church of only about 150, we have opposing factions that have faced off about worship music styles, dress code and how to run the Sunday coffee hour.

These are all things worth talking about, but should they be the cause of strife? Is there a way to agree to disagree while nurturing connections between people? I believe there is – but we have to be willing to shift our focus.

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The scripture from Ephesians 4 is all about rediscovering what we have in common. Paul uses the word ‘one’ several times to emphasize his point. And notice that it’s not an accidental thing – it’s a decision on our part. “Make every effort,” Paul writes, as if he knows we need reminders. Well, we do!

As humans, tribal thinking is a natural reaction to living in a challenging world. We can find a sense of comfort and security in the familiar. But taken to the extreme, we can become so enclosed in our own circle that we grow suspicious of those who don’t do things exactly the way we do.

There are certainly core issues that all believers must hold, and the Bible is the only Authority for them. But there are so many other, smaller issues that are not fully spelled out in Scripture. And paying too much attention to those distracts us from becoming the true family of God that we could be.

How do we foster Paul’s approach to each other? With an attitude of:

  • Curiosity – we truly want to know about each other
  • Humility – we realize that we don’t know everything
  • Thankfulness – we feel grateful that God created all of us uniquely in His image

The Body of Christ united by the bond of faith, blessed with peace and power – how great does that sound? It’s possible, if we’re willing to work at it.

A Zig-Zag Day

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Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.”                                                                                                   Ephesians 5:15-17

 

I’ve had a zig-zag day today – do you ever have those? I started out with a plan – a good one, I thought. Not too busy, with just right amount of to-do’s on my list. But, it was not meant to be. From the get-go, things and people conspired to distract me: a husband on vacation, computer and car troubles, phone calls…

(Ironically, just after I finished typing that first paragraph, I got up and made myself a snack. Yummy, but not helpful to my cause!)

Now it is nearly 3 pm and I’m taking a quick inventory of what’s been accomplished. The short answer is, NOT MUCH. That’s kind of discouraging. But is the short answer totally accurate?

No, I didn’t get my blog done by 9 am, but I was able to give my husband a ride home from the mechanic’s. No, I didn’t make the big batch of lentil soup for lunch like I planned, but I did some shopping so my daughter could make a special dinner that she’s been craving. And no, I didn’t put time into working on my new website, but I got to connect wtih a couple of people and offer them some support.

I guess whether I see my day as a success or not depends on what I use as a measuring stick. If I rely soley on my original plan, then yes, my day was a distracted mish-mash. My verdict would be: “Oh well, I’ll just try again tomorrow.”

But after starting down that road, the scripture from Ephesians came to mind.  And that phrase, “making the most of every opportunity” especially caught my attention. What kind of opportunity was Paul talking about? The context was a teaching on how to walk in love, so the oppotunity had to do with modelling Christian behavior wherever and whenever we can.

What does that have to do with my zig-zag day? Well, I think Paul’s overarching theme here was to aim  be as Christlike as possible, and to use whatever the day brings as a way to show God’s love to others. If I look at what I actually did today in those terms, it paints a more positive picture.

I had opportunites to help, to support, to equip, to pray, and to encourage other people. And though I could have just stuck to my own plan, I chose to take advantage of the opportunities the day offered me.Did I align myself with the will of the Lord in doing those? I think so, at least for the most part. And that makes for a successful day, doesn’t it?

I still hope I can get more of my stuff done tomorrow. But in the meantime, I can thank God for providing so many chances for me to show that love to others – that doesn’t happen every day!

 

A Different Kind of Christmas

 

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As my husband and I shared a little time at the breakfast table this morning, I asked him for prayer. What began as a quick request turned into an emotional moment as I poured out some of what was stored up in my heart. I’m grateful he was willing to not only listen, but respond with grace.

My starting point was asking if he would be okay with me buying cookies for Christmas Eve this year instead of baking them. Boy, was that question hard for me to say out loud! Baking is one of my favorite ways to usher in the holiday season. But my joints just can’t handle stirring and all the other movements involved. Being stubborn and independent, I’ve tried several times and paid dearly for it.

My husband’s honest answer was that he’d prefer no cookies to store bought. I totally understood his view, and was kind of relieved to hear it. But even so, I felt a twinge of sadness – a feeling that’s become all too familiar over the last year or so.

I realized that cookies were not the only Christmas tradition that was shaping up differently this season. Stockings will be smaller, as will our tree. We’ve been to busy to pull out the box of decorations yet. And since the kids are older, there’s less excitement in the air. All those are part of a natural progression, I guess. But each one feels like a loss to me.

I came across a great article this morning by Lisabeth Saunders Medlock, PHD, that talks about accepting change. In it, she shares her own extremely challenging experience. Here’s one point she made: “It’s natural to have feelings of sadness, to grieve over the loss of something, to feel angry about your situation, or to place blame. You have permission to feel that way, but only for moments.”

Those words really resonated with me, because I can easily get stuck. Grieving is definitely part of the process of accepting change, but it’s only one the first steps. I have to move on to look at the present realistically, and the future hopefully. I can’t do that on my own, though – my mind and will are too weak.

Thankfully, I have a God who knows each change I face, and who wants to help me navigate them. The Apostle Paul called Him “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort…” From his early years as a Pharisee to his missionary trips, Paul experienced change on a daily basis, and not always for the good. But God was always faithful to pick Paul up and lead him forward.

I take great encouragement from Paul’s story, because it reminds me that change can lead to really positive things. So while my family’s Christmas traditions are shifting away from the expected, I’ll try to concentrate less on what I’m losing, and more on anticipating what new blessings will come. ‘Cause God is always good!

Testimonies Part 2

Earlier this week, I wrote about the power of testimonies. I thought it would be helpful to look at someone in Scripture who wasn’t afraid to tell others about how Jesus changed his life.

The Apostle Paul had quite a story to share – reading through the Book of Acts gives us a great overview of it. For now, let’s zero in on Chapter 22, one of the first times he relates the details of his dramatic conversion.

Remember when I mentioned three qualities that make a testimony compelling for me? Well, I found all of them in abundance in this passage.  Check out these excerpts:

Paul’s story was honest

He wasn’t afraid to confess his mistakes, his faults, his sin, which helps me relate to him.

“I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, as also the high priest and all the Council can testify. I even obtained letters from them to their brothers in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished.” (v. 4-5)

Paul’s story was specific  

The descriptions he included help me feel like I’m there – I can almost experience the events with him as he remembers them.

“About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, ‘Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?’  ‘Who are you, Lord?’ I asked. ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied.”  (v.6-8)

Paul’s story was God-centered

A thread of praise runs through his whole tale, challenging me to acknowledge God’s authority and His Will for me.

“Then he said: ‘The God of our fathers has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. You will be his witness to all men of what you have seen and heard.”          (v. 14-15)

 

I hope Paul’s story can inspire you as you write your own!