That or This!

Have you ever made a change in your life, just for the sake of change? How did that work out for you? I know that every time I have done that, the results are never good. We need to identify aspects of our lives that we want to change, develop a purpose for that change, develop a plan for that change, seek out the resources to help us with that change, and have a goal for that change. I often fall short in one or more of these “that’s” when I seek a change.

I am training for a marathon in 7 weeks and my training, for various reasons, was not getting me the results of improvement that I was expecting. This week I decided to make a change. I felt that I had little or no control over some of the factors that were preventing me from advancing in my training. I had to realize that and realize I cannot change “that”, but I can overcome “that”. The big “that” that I finally realized is that “that” were my excuses.

Do you have a “that” in any aspect of your life—I will admit I have had many! “That” person, “that” rule, “that” situation, “that” bad luck, “that” boss, “that” memory, “that” injury, “that” law, “that” that…I think you get the point.

We tend to point the finger to “that”, and by “that” I mean external forces, when things are not going so well for us, when times are tough, when we feel pain. Don’t get me wrong, there certainly external forces that affect our lives and quite honestly, some of those we cannot change. What we can always change is us and how we deal with the “that” in our lives.

I wonder if Paul was thinking along the same lines when he wrote in Romans 7:19 “I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.” I don’t think our struggles with “that” is anything new.

Won’t speak for you but I am tired of living in the “that”. I am vowed, in all aspects of my life to go for the “this”. In my mind “this” gives me promise, it gives me direction. I am not longer chained to the “that” which is the past and other things I have no control over. “This” faces me forward, through the power of God, to face and overcome “that” and leaves it behind.

I apologize if the “that” grammar of this writing got confusing. But here is the bottom line….

“That” entraps me and gives me reasons for excuses—“This” frees and empowers me to move on and trust in the blessings that God has for all of us.

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11

New Beginnings

This past Wednesday was the start of a new school year in the district I live and work. I was in several unique positions to observe the emotions of that significant day. In the morning I went out for a run and the course takes me by an elementary school in our neighborhood. It so happened on my return trip the students were showing up for their first day. Since I am not the fastest runner in the world, I had opportunity to observe some of the parents who brought their children to school. I could easily tell the parents of kindergartners because they were walking slowing away from the school and a few tears were shed. I could also easily tell the parents of the older students who had been through this before. They were almost skipping through the parking lot with smiles on their faces, high-fiving each other and making plans to celebrate the first day of school. There were new beginnings going on everywhere!

When I went to work that afternoon the shock waves of the beginning of a new school year were even more evident. There were students (and even a few new teachers) who were lost and needed directions to get to where they wanted to be. The younger students were smiling and enjoying their new beginning (although I could tell some were missing their Mommy), but some of the more veteran students were already counting the days until Christmas break. I believe this held true with some of the staff also. One only had to witness the chaos of the first day of school dismissal time to realize that this is a new beginning!

I don’t know about you, but I face new beginnings constantly. I either attempt to stop doing something I want out of my life or start something I want in my life. Often it is just an attitude adjustment and a life-style change. The one consistency I have found is that new beginnings are not easy. As humans we are creatures of habit. We get comfortable with the status quo. And when we change something fundamentally that is part of us, we take risks. “What will my family and friends think?”, “This is going to be tough!”, “It’s what I have always known.” Believe me, from personal experience, there are plenty of excuses to go around!

One of the most beautiful things when a person gives their life to Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior is that while yes, it is a new beginning, we have the promise recorded in 2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” This is not a “hall pass” that everything will be perfect in our lives, but rather it is a comfort that we do have a new beginning and our past failures have been erased.

I daily look for the “new things that have come” through the blessing and power of God.  My new beginnings, while still a challenge, are obtainable but I have to have my skin in the game. I am unfinished but press forward with confidence with new beginnings because I know I am not doing it alone.

Power of Presence

Earlier this week I reported for jury duty. And yes, I know the joke, “I wouldn’t want anyone on my jury, who didn’t know how to get out of jury duty.” But despite being somewhat of an inconvenience I was happy to fulfill my civic duty and vowed to do the very best I could, should I be selected to sit on a jury.

I was not selected to sit on a jury. They do a computerized random selection process and my number did not come up to even be interviewed. As the other non-selectees were leaving, I overheard several say how it had been a waste of a day.

Admittedly, when I received my summons and prepared to report I was basically in that mindset. However, a judge addressed us earlier in the morning and somethings he said had a profound impact on me. He said just the presence of the 240 of us showing up and coming through that door had already made a huge impact on the judicial system. He explained that the attorneys and involved parties were aware of just our presence and they had no idea what each of us potential jurors were bringing through that door. He stated that about 90 percent of all cases are settled out of trial the morning the jurors walk through the door—that is impact! Incidentally, there were three cases on the docket when we walked through the door—only one went to trial…the other two were settled.

This experience reminded me how powerful of an impact presence can be—both positively and negatively. Each of us possess the powerful impact of presence on others and I contend in today’s world that extends to our presence on social media. I will never be the fastest man in a marathon, nor the smartest person in the room, or the wisest on a Facebook discussion, but one thing I do have is my presence. My attitude, behavior, and treatment of others determines if my presence is a good thing or bad. I am good with that!

One of the reasons I love to read the Bible is that from cover to cover I get to experience God’s presence in my life! He reveals himself to me through the accounts of others and how His presence impacted their lives. He assures me He is with me even when I feel like I am “walking through the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23). He reminds to “not fear” (Isaiah 41:10) because He will strengthen me because of His presence.

I remember times in my life when I when I was not walking closely with the Lord when I felt lonely, felt I was facing unbeatable forces, and when I was living in fear. While I still face those challenges of life (as we all do) the power of the presence of God has made the difference in my attitude and behavior in facing those challenges and I can assure you it brings me great peace and comfort and confidence. I often think of Jacob and the promise God made to him and to you and me:

Genesis 28:15 “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

That is the Power of Presence!

SILNET

For all you crossworders or Scrabble players this might make more sense. But did you realize the words “silent” and “listen” share the exact same letters, the exact same number of times? Just for protection I searched “SILNET” on the Internet and the only hit was for a silicone sealer—so I do not believe I am in danger of a trademark violation with this blog.

I have adopted the made-up acronym “SILNET” as a reminder to myself that I cannot really listen to someone if I am not silent. I have evidence of this being true in that I have been guilty of talking when someone else really just wanted me to listen to them. I have also realized I am not really silently listening to someone when my thoughts are not focused on them; this is the old “Squirrel” syndrome. Even if I am silent but my brain is focused on what to have for lunch, I am not really listening.

Not sure about any of you, but I cannot watch the cable TV news shows where there is a panel of “experts”. It seems without fail that all the panelists do is talk over each other and never take the time to be silent and listen to the others. By they way, I am not advocating that listening means condoning or agreeing with the other person; I am advocating that it is good communication and quite frankly good manners.

Working at an elementary school the number one problem I hear from teachers and others who work directly with the students is that they will not appropriately be silent and listen. I wonder where they learn this from at such a young age?

In conducting pre-marital and marital counseling over the years, I have concluded that most often the conflict is not about finances, it is not about intimacy, it is not about differing goals. No, it is because one or both will not be silent and listen to their partner.

Even in this age of social media the concept is displayed. Just read a thread on Twitter or Facebook concerning a controversial issue and you will easily see that many people are not being silent, and they are not listening before inputting their opinion. It is a silent argument often accompanied by the protection of anonymity.

I believe Paul gives us sage advice in James 1:19 “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” Paul gives us a progression here in that listening is the number one priority, then when (and if) the proper opportunity presents itself we can speak and if we do those two things we will not often become angry. I can almost paraphrase him to use the cliché “let’s agree to disagree”. But, go back to the beginning of the verse where Paul says “My dear brothers and sisters” I take that to be a phrase of endearment, and phrase of love. So, we are to listen, speak, even disagree in love.

Here is an invitation: As I interact with you, be it in person or through social media, I invite you when I am not silent and listening to directly tell me SILNET!