Month: November 2015 (page 1 of 3)

Comparison

A friend provided a powerful observation. He said, “I realized I was not (Insert the name of a famous leader).” On the surface, a comment like that can sound disappointing. If you heard him say it, you could sense his freedom. That comment relieves unrealistic expectations.

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Comparison defeats us before we start. It causes us to procrastinate because we never add up to others. It can cause us to wallow in our self-critique. Consider these statements we say to ourselves:
I’ll never change the world like that person.
That mom has it all together, and I can barely keep up with my kids.
Their marriage is so in sync while my spouse and I nitpick.
They influence way more people than I ever could.
It comes so easy to them.
I’ll never be as talented or skilled as that person.

Worst of all, comparison blinds us to the grace of Christ. God created you with gifts. The Greek word for gifts in the New Testament is charismata (I Peter 4:7), literally meaning “grace-gift.” Why does that matter? Every ability, talent, and resource we have results from Christ’s work in us.

The Gospel frees us from the lies of comparison. Our worth shifts with our evaluation with others. When we recognize Christ’s grace, we can begin to realize His unconditional love for us and others. No longer do we have to feel the trap of adding up. We can accept who Christ has made us to be. This acceptance allows see the opportunities in front of us to serve and love others.

How do we being to move past comparison? I think it starts with the statement my friend made. Fill in this blank:

I realize I am not (Insert Person’s Name You Compare Yourself).

That awareness brings us to ask God, “What have You called me to do?” We can then begin to identify how Christ has gifted us. In using those gifts, others around us can experience God’s grace. What would change in our lives if we accepted the gifts God has given us and the place He has called us? I think we would recognize His presence and the opportunities He has put in front of us.

A freedom from comparison leads us to collaborate rather than isolate. We no longer have to look others as competitors. Rather we can recognize God’s gifting in them. In understanding how God has created us, we can even ask them for assistance in our weak areas. A community marked by grace empowers others.

What would change in your life if you didn’t compare yourself with others? How has God gifted you? What opportunities has He given you today to experience His grace?

Photo credit by Matthew Weibe.

Reads of the Week | 11/28/2015

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I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. This installment of Reads of the Week feature the five guest bloggers. Each one of these posts provided a remarkable insight into gratitude, perspective, and relationships. If you missed any of them, click the links below to check them out.

The Tin Man Drops His Axe by Janna Moss

Your Life Will Never be the Same by Elaine Englert

What Do You Say? by John Iamaio

A Thanksgiving Reflection by Michael Keys

I’m Thankful for Dental Floss…Really! by Robyn Englert

What were your reads of the week? Share the link below in the comment section.

Photo credit by Aleksi Tappura.

I’m Thankful for Dental Floss…Really!

During the week of Thanksgiving, you will have the opportunity to hear from five guest bloggers. They will be sharing about reflections related to the holiday season. Today’s guest post comes from my wife Robyn Englert. She practices as a mental health therapist and loves spending time with her nieces and nephews. Additionally, she loves to walk and hike.

I have become increasingly thankful for dental floss over the years. The relief that follows the floss removing unwanted food particles is not always instant – at times there is more pressure, bleeding, or it takes more than a mere attempt for relief – but it comes. Additionally, the benefits of regular care have helped to prevent further damage and significant pain in my mouth. It is daily maintenance that seems tedious at times yet yields greater oral health.

Dental floss also serves as a metaphor for relationships in my life over the last ten plus years. The transitions from lifelong student to full-time employee, the journey from single woman to meeting the love of my life and not getting too freaked out, and many more that have passed and will come, are supported by trusted loved ones to help navigate.

These relationships help me to remove the particles that threatened complications, long-term pain, and distance. At times, I didn’t want to hear what these loved ones were saying but I knew they might have a point. The most challenging step for me was to begin to be vulnerable with safe people. To be known, I had to take healthy risks of sharing myself and moving beyond the image I wanted them to see.

Over this last year, I have participated in a book group with nine courageous women that highlights the value and significance of authentic relationships in my life. One of the books we just finished is Scary Close by Donald Miller (I highly recommend).

As we ventured into the materials I was challenged to be real, face the “grit” I have held on to and have been getting stuck on, and was encouraged to move through the gunk in my life by being authentic with these women.

One concept from this book is that we project an image of ourselves and who we want people to see based on our experiences. When there is a lack of authenticity, we are playing a part. After working through the book and life with these women, I have come to 100% agree with Donald Miller. He said:

Sometimes the story we’re telling the world isn’t half as endearing as the one that lives inside us (pg. 22)

While this is an ongoing process of developing and maintaining relationships, I am very thankful for these women and this opportunity to floss through life.

Photo credit by Maria Kaloudi.

A Thanksgiving Reflection | Guest Post by Mike Keys

During the week of Thanksgiving, you will have the opportunity to hear from five guest bloggers. They will be sharing about reflections related to the holiday season. Today’s guest post comes from Mike Keys. He’s married and a father of three. You can find him mentoring young leaders at Browncroft Community Church and cheering on the Buffalo Bills.

What an incredible year. Our sons will finish college. Our daughter got married to a remarkable young man, and my son Jeremy will get married this spring! So much to be thankful for, so much to look back on and so much ahead. I often reflect on the past and see the twists and turns my family and myself have experienced.

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The hand of God is everywhere once we start looking. Many decisions along the way have shaped, prepared, and changed me through the twists and turns of life. What college to attend, who to date, who to marry, drugs or no drugs, what career path.

What is most amazing is how at each turn there were significant people in my life to guide me and influence me and help me find the right path. To think all these individuals were coincidental is just fantasy. God providentially placed them in my path at each critical juncture to move me along.

It is for these individuals that I am most grateful. Their support, their honesty, the way they lived their lives.
At 12 it was a man named Bill who told me never to feel sorry for myself.
At 15 it was Herb, my biology teacher, friend and mentor. He took the time to know me and included me in his family. His influence kept me out of trouble when trouble was everywhere around me.
At 18 it was Mr. LaPre, another teacher. He believed I would do great things and told me so. He had more faith in me than I did at the time.
At 21 it was my two closest friends Andy and Andy, yes both my best friends are named Andy. They encouraged me to take chances with my career and gave me the confidence to follow my dreams instead of what I always knew.
At 25 it was my bride, supporting me as a young father to get more involved with our children. 

I could go on and on and on. These people and many others have significantly impacted my life. Someday I will write a book about My Great Friends.

Yes, it is people at the end of the day that I am most grateful. It is people that motivate me to be better but more important they motivate me to invest in others. I am at my best when I am pursuing relationships and encouraging others.

My hope for each of us today is that we begin to see all the gifts God has bestowed upon us through others. God Bless you. Happy Thanksgiving, Mike.

Photo credit by Abigail Keenan.

What Do You Say? | Guest Post by John Iamaio

During the week of Thanksgiving, you will have the opportunity to hear from five guest bloggers. They will be sharing about reflections related to the holiday season. Today’s guest post comes from John Iamaio. He’s married with two kids living in the Rochester area. Besides avidly following the Buffalo Bills, he serves as an Area Director for Cru Rochester. Follow him on his blog at https://johniamaio.wordpress.com/.

Since becoming a parent ten years ago, I have realized there are certain phrases locked into my subconscious that could only understand once I became a father. Who knew I would be the guy saying “If all your friends jumped off a bridge…” or the classic “because I said so, that’s why!”

One of the first times I could tell this part of I unlocked this part of my brain is when I started asking the question “What do you say?”

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There are two occasions when I utter these words. The first is after an egregious error on the part of a child (i.e., they hit another youngster with a blunt object). I want my kids to realize the pain they have caused. Their appropriate response in this scenario is “I’m sorry”.

The second time these words leave my lips is when someone has been gracious to my child. Perhaps their aunt has just crocheted them a brand new Snoopy sweater. Regardless of what the child is feeling inside, I instantly find myself asking, “What do you say?” In this case, the goal is to create a spirit of gratitude.

Does forcing your kid to say “Thank you” actually inspire inner thankfulness? Ummm… I have no idea! I’m not thinking when I say the words, remember?! The real question is “Why do we need a reminder to be thankful at all?”

Upon casual observation, it would seem that we are not naturally grateful people. Thankfulness is learned. It is something cultivated in our lives.

As we mature, many of us become accustomed to expressing thanks for gifts we have received or acts of service performed for us. This is a good thing. Having someone over your shoulder repeating the phrase “What do you say?” could get annoying.

Over the last few years, I have realized there is another level to thankfulness. It goes beyond being thankful for the “good” things in my life. It’s an ability to ask myself the question “What do you say?” even in difficult times. Every weakness, every trial, every failure is an opportunity to express a grateful heart. In the end, those experiences have shaped me as much as all the blessings and any success.

Dealing with a seizure disorder when I was young, made me keenly aware that life can be out of control. Working for uncaring bosses developed a sense of what it is like to feel unappreciated. Experiencing broken relationships, taught me that loneliness hurts. The list goes on and on.

In each of those cases (and many more), the negative circumstances I experienced gave me a slight appreciation of the deep hurts and wounds that people carry around in their lives. They have also shaped me into the person I am today.

Maybe our parents were right. Perhaps our lives would be happier if we learned to ask the question “What do you say?” a little bit more.

Photo credit by Arthur Rutkowski.

Your Life Will Never be the Same | Guest Post by Elaine Englert

During the week of Thanksgiving, you will have the opportunity to hear from five guest bloggers. They will be sharing about reflections related to the holiday season. Today’s guest post comes from Elaine Englert, my Mom. She and my Dad reside in Endicott, NY. You can find her teaching water aerobics at the YMCA and blogging for them at http://ymcabroome.org/blog/.  She’s the Mother of my brother, sister, and myself along with our spouses, most importantly the Grandma of my niece.

“Your life will never be the same!” Those words still ring as clearly in my ears as when I heard them in 1988. My six-year-old daughter’s oncologist’s eyes filled with compassion, as he described the pineapple-size tumor on her kidney, the treatment plan, and her future.
A few days later, I stood facing the hospital window to shield my daughter from the tears chasing down my cheeks. Way down on the sidewalk below, I saw people bustling about the ordinary events of their ordinary day on a sunny late April day.

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My ordinary days ended on Monday, a week and a half earlier in the pediatrician’s office. It was just a fever in a little girl who only once needed antibiotics. The doctor examined her and slipped out the room. He returned holding a stack of orders for the hospital across the street. When he pressed them in my hand, I saw “STAT” written on top and deep concern etched in his kind face. I held tight to Susan and took the last steps in the safety of the familiar. I tried to swallow dread as hard as a rock as we walked through the hospital doors. After hours of tests, someone told me they were admitting her. My husband rushed back from a trip and arrived soon after. Thursday evening I viewed the scans that gave the cancer a name, Wilms Tumor. The doctor sent Susan home the next morning and instructed us to have her at a hospital an hour away on Sunday afternoon to prepare for surgery on Monday.

Susan endured countless pokes and needle sticks during her 11-day stay. On the 10th day, Susan had her first round of chemotherapy. My confident little girl grew withdrawn and rarely spoke. Nothing in my 30 years prepared me to watch my child suffer so intensely and feel so helpless to help. When we got home, we returned to a daily routine, but 60 weeks of chemo cycles stole the ordinary. I was a wreck.

During this time, the Lord and I had many tear-filled conversations. I entrusted Susan and my fears into His care only to grab them back in the next crisis. Though I directed most of my anger at myself for missing a 4-pound tumor and for my spiritual shortcomings, one night I called God out as my daughter writhed in pain that could not be soothed, “I am her parent; as her parent how can You allow your little girl to suffer?”

The Lord waited for my honesty and brokenness to reveal His Father-heart for me. He called me to journal one gratitude daily, no matter how many difficulties filled those 24 hours. On the days I struggled to find anything, I often found the blessing in the ordinary. I scribbled down a word that my 23-month-old added to his vocabulary. I celebrated all five members of our family sitting around the dinner table. Other days, I journaled about His mercies when the doctor discovered Susan’s cancer. In only 10% of Wilms cases do patients run a fever like the one prompting me to make a doctor’s appointment. Susan’s surgery was delayed a few days because the surgeon was attending a conference on Wilms. We had people praying literally around the world for Susan. Friends, neighbors and church family, stepped in and met needs for food, rides, child-care. Our pastor called a day of fasting and prayer for Susan shortly after that sleepless night. From that day on, things improved for Susan.

The most enduring entries included verses others shared to encourage me or verses the Lord pointed out to me in my daily times with Him. They anchored my soul in the storm and revealed His desire for a relationship with me, his daughter. My life was never the same when I finally found rest in his “chesed,” the Hebrew word, often translated, as his steadfast love.
Psalm 107:28-29, 31 (ESV) best expresses my thanksgiving to Him:
“Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He made the storm be still….
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love….”

On an extraordinary day, this past March, nearly 27 years later, Susan married her beloved, Ben. Tears of joy chased down the cheeks of many…mine mixed with tears of gratitude to my Father.

Photo credit by Alex Jones

The Tin Man Drops His Axe | Guest Post by Janna Moss

During the week of Thanksgiving, you will have the opportunity to hear from five guest bloggers. They will be sharing about reflections related to the holiday season. Today’s guest post comes from Janna Moss. At four years old, Janna wanted to be a cowgirl. She is now a corporate communications consultant, but she owns two pairs (and counting) of cowboy boots. Janna attends Browncroft Community Church, where she has found friends who will read, talk, and write with her about things that matter.

When Dorothy meets the Tin Man on her quest through Oz, he is frozen where he stands, his axe is raised in the air, and he is unable to express himself with more than a moan. It doesn’t take long for Dorothy to learn he is desperate for a heart. But it is clear that the Tin Man’s problem is not that he has no feelings. He is not indifferent; rather he is incapable of being moved. He has lost his connection to the essential part of himself that responds with passion to the world around him.

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It’s scary to remain sensitive in our world that is defined by shades of chaos. But when we don’t take the time to exercise our sensitivity, we lose touch with who we are. The hinges between our experience and our ability to act with passion and meaning become stiff and rusty. In time, we become stuck with our axes raised, and in our effort to defend against feeling everything, we end up feeling nothing at all.

As humans, our hearts are designed to bend, to move and be moved, but this takes practice. Only constant, purposeful effort can keep our hearts from freezing up. The Tin Man learns to reconnect with his passion by traveling well – being available, present, and vulnerable – with his companions. Together, they sing to each other, cry with each other, fight for each other, encourage each other. They never stop moving or being moved by one another.

The coming weeks will be a whirlwind of lights, sounds, and demands. We will be surrounded by people who seem terribly complicated because we are all terribly complicated. The challenge I’d issue this season is to put down your axe. Before reacting in defense of your heart – by controlling, manipulating, or becoming more stubborn – take the time to practice being moved.

It’s not as difficult as it may seem. Ask instead of tell. Listen instead of talk. Accept instead of critique.

This will be uncomfortable. It may hurt, especially for those who are just beginning to exercise rusty joints. But yielding to each other without defensiveness greases the places where we can be moved in meaningful ways – ways we were designed to be moved. (And when someone comes along whose heart yields to yours, by all means, act in kind. We cannot underestimate how very easily we might damage each other when we defend without cause.)

We’re all looking for the same thing on our journey: a place where we may be confident that who we are matters. This road is too unfamiliar, unpredictable, and unsafe to walk on our own, but there is no other route. And so we must commit to travelling well with our companions. This requires us to be purposeful and sensitive, to move and be moved. And, above all, it means we must remember that although we may struggle together, it is only in our togetherness that we may ultimately find our way home.

Photo credit by Pixabay.

You’re Invited, You’re Included

Fifth graders have a few awkward moments. Remember in gym class the agony of picking teams. We hoped we make the cut before the last pick. Another moment came at the end of the day. The whirlwind of leaving school wreaked havoc. You could see one of your classmates with a stack of sealed envelopes. He or she would subtly pass them out. You and I would play it cool by taking extra time zipping our backpack while anxiously waiting to get our card.

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Part of our childhood experience does not change. Even with a calm demeanor on the outside, we wait, anticipate, and hope for the invite. The verbal gesture or the sealed envelope says to us, “You’re included.”

One of the most powerful scenes of the Gospels comes from Matthew 9:9-13. The writer of the book recounts the moment Jesus called him. An unsuspecting and looked down upon tax collector leaves his both to follow Jesus. Not only that, but Jesus eats at his house. Someone who the religious leaders would deem non-invited and non-included, Jesus welcomes.

In this moment in scripture, consider what Matthew says to all his readers. The grace of Jesus invited and included me in my brokenness, so to Christ invites and includes you. When we experience the Gospel, we not only recognize how Christ has invited but how He has called us to include others.

Brennan Manning in the Ragamuffin Gospel titled a chapter “Grazie, Signore,” Italian for “Thank You.” He makes this connection of our thankfulness for Christ’s grace and our relationship with others:

Each encounter with a brother or sister is a mysterious encounter with Jesus Himself. In the upper room, the Man like us but ungratefulness spelled out the game plan of gratitude: “Love one another as I have loved you.” To Peter on the beach along the Sea of Tiberias, He said, “If you love me, Simon Son of John, tend my sheep.” Quite simply, our deep gratitude to Jesus Christ is manifested neither in being chaste, honest, sober, and respectable, nor in churchgoing, Bible-toting, and Psalm-singing, but in our deep and delicate respect for one another (pg. 123)

Gratitude for the grace of God moves us far beyond answering the question at the table, “What are you thankful for?” Our response of gratefulness to the Gospel calls us to invite and include others. When we encounter people, grace reminds us of what Jesus has done for us which leads us to see what Christ has done for the people He brings into our lives.

In this season of Thanksgiving, who has God brought to you to say, “You’re invited. You’re included”? The momentous invitation from Christ has brought us into His grace, and He calls us to extend this to others.

Photo credit by Kaboompics.

Hidden Wounds

It began the first semester of college. I walked the campus coming face to face with deep seeded pain. My mind could recall hurtful words and the times I felt left out. Later after college, I had not reconciled the pain. Rather than dealing with truth, I began to believe the lies about myself. The lies of insecurity remind me that I will never add up. They caused me to overcompensate by trying to have all the answers and constantly defending myself.

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What are your hidden wounds? These wounds may drive you to impress others. At other points, they may cause you to stay in the background. You might still hurt from a broken relationship. You have experienced a major disappointment. The shame of regret seems to haunt you each day. You keep replaying the one failure.

I’ll never forget the day I came face to face with my wound. It rattled me and shattered me. At the same time, Christ’s grace met me in a marvelous way. He brought people into my life who loved me and pointed me towards God’s work in my heart. They walked with me in my journey towards healing, which continues today.

In dealing with hidden wounds, we have to stop believing the lie of isolation; Jesus never intended us to walk through life alone.

Ian Morgan Cron depicts a conversation in Chasing Francis. Chase Falson, a burnt out minister, filled with doubt, has a conversation with a merciful monk named Thomas. In a pivotal scene of Chase’s pain, Thomas says this:

Everywhere I go, I meet people, old and young, from all over the world, and they tell me about their lives, their relationships, their broken families, their addictions, shame, guilt, failures. You’ll never be able to speak into their souls unless you speak the truth about your wounds. You need to tell them what Jesus has come to mean to you in the midst of your disappointments and losses. All ministry begins at the ragged edges of our own pain…(pg. 70)

Recognizing Christ’s grace in our lives invites us to discover the truth of wounds. Not to shatter or demean us. Rather, we find a Savior, who shared in our pain and betrayal. The Great Physician can heal our broken hearts. He brings people into our lives who extend His love and acceptance towards us.

In the process of healing, we become more human. Hiding our wounds leads us to project a version of ourselves. Allowing our wounds to the surface for healing invites others to experience the grace of God. It’s in these moments that we can point out Christ’s work in each other.

What wounds need to experience the truth and healing of God’s grace? Who can walk with you through this process? Who has God called you to minister in the midst of their pain?

Photo credit by Nitish Meena.

Making Good Interpretations: A Mindset Towards Contentment

Contentment seems unnatural. You might point to every message that calls us to more money, success, and stuff. Comparison seems natural. The competitive bent of humanity sizes up each person rating ourselves against each other. Also, some of us have lean into over criticalness of ourselves and each other. At times, we ratchet up the flaws in practicing feedback without ever reflecting on the positives.

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November marks an occasional pause for us. Though the zenith of consumerism in Christmas comes right around the corner, Thanksgiving calls us to gratitude. And gratitude invites towards contentment; the realization we have more than we can ever imagine. You and I know when we experience a sliver of contentment. The moment we can step back with peace and thankfulness to look at what God has given us.

What blocks us from experiencing contentment? We interpret every event, situation, and interaction with people in our lives. Our interpretations, assigning meaning to our lives, feed our mindsets. Thank of these messages we tell ourselves:
That should have been better.
I should have gotten more out of that.
They could have done more in this area.
I deserve more recognition.
Why do I have to be here or experience this?

Those interpretations creep into our souls without adequately process them. Ultimately, they end up tainting our view of God’s grace in our lives. Without even realizing it, when we suffer from discontentment we can fall into the mindset of blaming God. Rather than viewing God at work in us, we murmur and complain.

Experiencing contentment invites us to evaluate the interpretations of our lives; to look deeper at God’s work within us. The Puritan writer Jeremiah Burroughs encourages us in The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment:

If any good interpretation can be made of God’s ways towards you, make it. You think it much if you have a friend who always makes bad interpretations of your ways towards him; you would take that badly. If you should converse with people with whom you cannot speak a word, but they are ready to make a bad interpretation of it, and to take it in an ill sense, you would think their company very tedious to you. (pg. 223)

Many of us know the experience of those who make negative interpretations of us. It seems we can do no right. So this affects us in experiencing contentment. Bad interpretations can misinterpret the way God is working in our lives and can tire our relationships because of our assumptions about others.

The mindset of contentment starts with good interpretations. Attempting to recognize how Christ might work in our hearts. Where He might call us to mature. Seeing people made in His image and looking to offer them grace. Even more so, looking at all that He has given to us as a gift.

What interpretations have you made of your life? How are they leading you to see God’s grace in experiencing contentment?

Photo credit by Aaron Burden.

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