This has been the summer I fully embraced the community of my church family. The one where I attend services and the one that has connected me with some life-long friends and acquaintances. It has been a summer of gathering together socially and spiritually. Mostly, it has been the best time I have had in years and I am beyond grateful.
Change is hard. Change brings unfamiliarity. Change can be external to us while processed internally. Change can bring up feelings we never knew we had. Change can send us into a dark place or it can open the door to new opportunities. Change can make us angry or it can bring a sense of relief. Yes, change can be hard.
I’ve been reading a lot more during this time home alone. Mostly I have been reading about the way God can completely change who we are, if we are willing to open that door. I know he has changed my heart, my thinking, and my desires in many unexpected ways. I know God has forgiven me in ways people never have. I know I have found peace in that forgiveness and a greater willingness to offer that same mercy and grace to others. It all started with God moving in my life when I opened myself to his ways over my ways.
Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. (Ephesians 5 New Living Translation)
Over the past few days I have been disheartened by the way I have seen some Christians treating other Christians. I know that none of us are perfect, however, when we make it known to others that we are Christians,we must recognize that we are examples to everyone around us of what that means. I believe Jesus died for my sins and I believe I am forgiven. I also believe that to be forgiven means to be transformed. It means I live differently. It means I love differently. It means I give differently. If I am to be an example of Christ’s love in my life then I must treat everyone in my life with the same forgiveness, love, and compassion that Jesus has shown me.
If my life as a Christian isn’t transformed and lived differently because of Jesus’ love for me, than why bother to believe in him and follow him?
My daily reading from the Life Application Study Bible says “there is more to Christian living than loving other Christians. We must be responsible in all areas of our life.” It is a reminder that we do need to treat our fellow followers with love, as well as all those who cross our paths. If we can’t start in our own families and with the people closest to us, how can we share Jesus with those who don’t yet know him? How can we model grace and mercy for others if we aren’t willing to show these principles to the ones sitting in church with us? How do we build Christian leaders in secular jobs if the examples we have in Christian organizations are no better than those outside?
I am far from perfect and I do look to Christians around me to see how they live out their lives. I want to see how they are motivated to live transformed lives and what they do in uncomfortable or tough situations. I look to our leaders in the Christian community to be examples of love, mercy, and respect for others in lower stations of life or in need of healing and forgiveness. I find hope for change in the Bible I read and I pray that I will be a better leader; but I need good examples. I am thankful that while I have seen some pretty bad examples lately, I have seen some pretty great ones too.
I am thankful for dear friends who know I am a work in progress and who forgive me when I screw up or disappoint them when I make a bad choice. I am thankful when they call me on my behavior and inspire me to do better. I am thankful that there are leaders in my community that I can learn from as I grow in my leadership role. I am thankful for preachers in my church who share the truth of the Gospel and make me squirm a little in my seat. They motivate me to grow. I am thankful that Jesus still loves me and still forgives me when I mess up and then gently guides me back on the right path. I am thankful for grace and mercy and hope I pass that on.
My prayer is that in my comings and goings today I be an example of the love and forgiveness of Jesus and that those I come in contact with see I am transformed because of him. May you too be transformed by his forgiveness and may you too be an example.
Are you a different person with your friends, your colleagues at work, and the people at church? How do does your personality change as you shift from environment to environment? Do you put on facades with friends so you fit in, doing things you wouldn’t do say if you were around church folk? Do you use language with them that you would never use in front of a pastor? Do you treat people at church nicer than you treat the people you encounter in the grocery store? Is the person at work a reflection of the person God wants you to be and whom you want to be?
When we are inspired to transform our lives we need to look at all aspects of our life. People will be watching to see if we really are who we say we are. The change in our character and our behaviors might not happen overnight; however, if we are committed to change, each day should bring us closer to who we desire to be. This journey of change is just that—a lifelong journey that hopefully draws us closer to the image of God in which we were created. It’s a committed journey of transformation inspired by the Holy Spirit.
What behaviors or personality traits are you hanging on to? For me it is my language. I grew up in a house where swearing, in multiple languages, was part of the vernacular. Those tapes of swear words are engrained in the recesses of my brain and try as I might, they still bubble out. Additionally, those words have become part of everyday American language, which reinforces my use of them. They are, however, not the same words I would use at church or around ministers, or people whom I respect.
As part of my acting out from the sexual abuse, I was an unashamed flirt. It got me in trouble. It was the way I had learned to communicate and often it was how I got my way. It was also how I ended up in damaging relationships and with a huge lack of self-respect. It took a while to realize what was happening and when I did, I sought help to change who I was and what I did. The Meadows turned my life around. It taught me to set boundaries and to respect those boundaries. Over the years I have found how to carry myself as a professional, capable, and respected woman. It has changed everything about who I am today. Transformation is a good thing!!
I want to be the same person on Sunday that I am the rest of the week. I need to commit this desire for change to prayer. I need to pay attention to what I say and work harder not to say the words my brain pops in my mouth. I have been working on this for many many months—ok let’s be honest—my friends would say years! I keep trying. I want this change. I want people to see I am a Christian by my actions and behavior.
There, I said it aloud. I am motivated to change this character flaw and I need your prayers to do it.
What areas in your life are you clinging to and refusing to let God change? What steps can you take to begin the transformation journey? What does the Bible say and how could that become your verse of inspiration? Find it, pray it, do it!
“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” (Romans 12:1 The Message)
This walk of faith is not always an easy one. I am inspired every day to make changes in my attitude and in the way I live my life. Years ago there was a bracelet that many people wore: “WWJD,” a reminder to ask ourselves “What would Jesus do?” in any given circumstance. For me, a bracelet is not enough. I have to feed my heart and soul regularly to know what God would have me do, especially when no one is watching.
What are you doing and saying when no one from church is watching you? What activities are you involved in that you hope no one finds outs about? What words are you using that you would never use in front of your pastor? How are you feeding your spirit when you aren’t sitting in the pew on Sunday morning? What behavior is living inside you that takes you away from being that person of faith you wish you were?
In his letters to the church in Rome (Romans 7:14 – 25), Paul asks himself these very same questions about his behavior and his heart. He knows what the right thing to do is; but still he finds himself drawn away from that. He struggles, like most of us; to do what his heart tells him is the right thing to do. He thinks he is forever trapped by his sinful nature. But he does have an answer for us.
How are you speaking today? Are you speaking with patience to the person waiting on you in the store that might be working their second job for the day and is doing the best they can? Are you smiling and letting them take their time and thanking them for being there for you? Are you holding your tongue when you feel words like “idiot,” “stupid,” or “reject” enter your mind and replacing them with “child of God,” “and “fellow human?” Can you not cuss out the driver that cut you off, especially since he can’t hear you anyway? Can you instead ask God to make you a better driver and an example—even if no one is paying attention? Can you let someone in when they need to merge and pass on that behavior not what you just experienced?
What are you watching on TV? What images are you filling your mind with? Are you watching porn when no one sees you? Did you sneak a movie in while you were on travel because no one will know? Are you watching shows that make fun of other people? Are you filling your brain with negative responses and examples or are you looking for positive reinforcement for good behavior? Can you change the channel and find something else to do? Can you ask for help—go to Celebrate Recovery—to break the bonds that porn or other negative images have on your thinking?
How are you spending your money today? Did you go buy something new instead of paying a bill? Did you hear about a friend in need and think “wow, they are really messed up,” or did you think: “how can I help?” Did you borrow money from someone and really need to start paying them back because you are doing better now? Can you help someone else out without judging them? Are you not giving at church or to charity because you are afraid you won’t have money to buy that thing you don’t really need anyway? Can you find a way to start giving a little today and commit to giving regularly? Can you volunteer somewhere to make meals or reach the homeless?
Are you standing so firm on being right that you have lost compassion for those in need? Have you buried your healing from brokenness so deep that your redeemed life is hidden from others? Is there someone suffering from their bad choices that you feel better than and can’t be bothered with? Are you feeling self-satisfied because you don’t have “that” sin in your life and forget you have others? Are you willing to step down from your pedestal and reach a hand out to help the wounded and hurting that they too might know God’s grace? Did you ask someone if you could pray for them? Did you invite them to your home—to your church?
These things I struggle with. There are things I wish I did differently today and I am taking Paul’s example and I am asking Jesus to free me from these negative behaviors. I am praying to act better today. I am asking that he change my nature. I am asking what to do when no one is watching and that what I do is positive and honors his example. I will fall short. I will fail. And I will keep moving forward, closer to who he wants me to be and how he wants me to behave—when no one is watching.
If this is helpful to you, please feel free to share my posting and blog with others. Together we can grow stronger and live better examples of Jesus in our lives.
Walking in the zoo the other day, I saw this tree that was beginning to turn into autumn colors. Way at the top, just a hint of red was showing through. It was surrounded by other tress that were already fully converted to fall and full of red and bright orange leaves. And there were trees around it that remained a stubborn green. And I thought; “isn’t that like us—some just starting to transform, some well on our way, and some who are holding back?”
My transformation journey took me to a few key passages in the Bible which I cling to as my inspiration to change. One is Psalm 25 and the other influential passage on my life is Romans 12:2. I heard it at a youth conference and was so moved that it became my mantra and one I often share with others to encourage them. “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will know what God wants you to do, and you will know how good and pleasing and perfect his will really is.” (NLT)
Every time I read this passage I am reminded that God wants me to be and do more with my life than what I was and am doing. Every day he wants me to move forward and a little closer to his image. I learned here that God could change me in ways I could never change myself. He could break the bonds to hurtful times in my life and set me on a new path unlike any I was living. He could fulfil my “if only” dreams of a better life. But it had to begin by changing the way I think, or maybe enriching the way I think.
Yesterday I began a list of things I wish I did differently. I wish I gossiped less and complained about people less. I wish I was fully doing what I believe God has called me to do. I wish I could forgive quicker and show mercy faster. I wish I was doing a better job with managing my finances. I wish I gave more time and money to others. I wish I could lose these 50 extra pounds of unhealthy living. I wish I was fully living out God’s purpose for my life.
And then I looked at the things I am good at and the things I have accomplished. I feel loved when I never trusted love. I am better at seeing people as God sees them and not judging them. I am not hiding relationships that I should not be a part of. I have time I never had to change the things above and to answer God’s call. I am being honest about my financial situation and have a plan forward. I am eating healthier and losing a little weight at a time. I have a strong rich spiritual life and an unshakeable faith. I know what God wants from me and I have put one foot forward to get where I’m going. I am happy. I am content. I have real joy.
These things came slowly. Just like the slowly changing tree, I am making progress on my wish list. And some of the things I started to change a few years ago are now full blown and bright spots in my life. And yes, I am still probably digging my heels in on some things—but God will get me on them when he is ready for me to get on them.
Transformation—a process forward. What inspires you to change? What motivates you to take the first step? Where are you heading and how are you getting there? I would love to hear your story and weave it into my God-story. Please share your ideas below.
It took me a long time to accept that this Jesus whom I claimed to believe in would actually forgive me for the things I had done, and would do, in my life. Yet Jesus gave us the prayer in which he directs us to ask for forgiveness—and to forgive others (Matthew 6:9-15). He tells the paralyzed man that he, “the Son of Man have the authority on earth to forgive sins” (Matthew 9:6). He even forgave those that crucified him, and yet, I couldn’t believe that he would forgive me and my sins or acts of bad behavior.
I didn’t know about “unfailing love” or “compassion” growing up. There were expectations and measurements for good and bad behavior and I believed I usually fell far below any set standards. I was usually told that I didn’t measure up and would never measure up at the rate I was going. Even after committing my life to Christ in my 30’s, I still felt judged in my churches and less than worthy to be there. I may have been judged by some, but mostly I was judging myself and comparing myself against other people—who were most likely hiding their own shortcomings and failures behind a mask of service and pasted on smiles. I constructed my own roadblock to accepting the love that I read about and believed was only given to the really good people surrounding me on Sunday. I heard stories of change and mercy given but I didn’t think that was meant for me.
And then, sitting in the chairs at a prayer service one night, I finally gave in. I laid down on the floor facing the cross and I said “I’m sorry for what I did.” I cried and began to let go of the things I was holding on to. I began to walk through my youth and my brokenness and to ask God to forgive me for those things. One-by-one, he brought to mind those times I hurt others or hurt myself by my behavior. And one-by-one I felt the burden of carrying that shame lifted from my life. Little by little, I came to believe that God loved me, ME personally, just as much as the nice person sitting next to me on Sunday. Little by little I came to know his mercy and layer by layer he changed my life. I started to laugh again. I could hold my head up. I could smile at someone and reach a hand out and tell them God was there, I was there, and we would make it out of the dark together. Just as I learned to see how God sees me, I am learning to see others as he does, with “unfailing love and compassion.” May you too come to know that peace—it is a prayer away.
“Remember, O Lord, your unfailing love and compassion, which you have shown from long ages past. Forgive the rebellious sins of my youth; look instead through the eyes of your unfailing love, for you are merciful, O Lord.”
Psalm 25:6-7 New Living Translations
I grew up in an era of sweeping things under the carpet and hiding our real lives from our neighbors and friends. It didn’t matter if the whole neighborhood heard the fights and saw the bruises—we did not discuss it. And many of us thus were taught to be hiders of truth as well. We even learned how to hide the good things like promotions and awards that we should have let our friends celebrate with us. Today I still hide the truth to protect those I love; except those stories will soon come to light on these pages as the God who saved me from shame and healed my brokenness prompts me to share more. My desire today is to be taught and to share what I have learned that others may learn too.
Things are different for people in today’s society with social media peeking into our lives every day. We post pictures of our trips and adventures. We post cryptic messages when we are angry or sad. We blast at people who have hurt us. We take self-portraits of our moods so everyone knows if we are happy, sad, or drunk! What we don’t do is talk about how we were abused as children or spouses. We don’t talk about addiction in our family. We don’t talk about abortion or the child we gave up for adoption. We hide our divorces in our new marriages. We hide if we are living with someone or in a sexual relationship outside of marriage. We hide if we want or have a relationship with someone of the same sex. We don’t talk about the missed suicide or the suicide that we deny occurred. We hide that our family is struggling with financial burdens or is crying every night because they don’t know how to help their ADD, autistic, or mentally ill child. Those things we still hide from one another.
I have a new truth today. My truth is that God loves me. He sent his son Jesus to save me from my sins and to give me hope in a new life. This God has inspired me to openly share with you the many many sins of my life, and his redemption of that life. Those things above—he let me walk through most of them. God didn’t heap burdens on me that I might fail in life or feel worthless. He taught me to give him my burdens and to let the Holy Spirit help carry them. He gave me you to lift me up when I thought I should die. I want to learn more from him so I spend time in the Word of the Bible. I spend time listening to your stories and I am motivated because I see the potential for change and growth in our lives.
It starts with speaking the truth. Share your burden with someone today. Ask for prayers. Send me a request—it would be an honor to pray with you. Pray for me too. This journey I am entering is not easy. It has painful moments. But I have hope today, hope for you and hope for me. God bless you and bring you truth and hope.
“Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me. All day long I put my hope in you.” Psalm 25:5
Every now and then, even the happiest, most optimistic person can slip into a little pity party or period of sad. Yesterday was my day. It was a day spent with a good friend but also a day missed with another, that I should not have missed. I have found that the best way to combat the negative thinking and self-flagellation is to reach out to others. I reach out first to see how they are and what their needs are or I reach out and tell someone I am having one of those days and need some friend time. Everything changes when I get out of myself.
Jesus spoke to the disciples, as recorded in Mark 10:42-45, about the role of leaders. It is to put others first and to serve others first. There is something to be said about getting out of our own way and into the needs of others. Somehow it lifts our pain. It is not always easy to see the needs of others when we want someone to see our needs. If we are drowning in emotion, it will take effort to put someone else first. It may take tremendous effort to come when called by a friend in need when we think we have nothing to give. Do it any way!
I find I may actually be more willing to expend effort for the benefit of another person than I am for myself. Rather than sit in my robe all day watching mindless TV, I force myself to dress and meet someone. Now I have energy. Now I am motivated to move. Now I have changed from looking at my problems to the joy of spending time listening to someone else. My mood will change, even if just for those few hours away. My alone picture is erased. I have hope. I have peace. I have a warm sense of belonging. All because I let God take me to another place.
Try it. I promise your pity party will change to a have blessing party instead!!
“Whoever wants to be a leader among you first must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all. For even I, the Son of Man, came here not to be served but to serve others, and to give my life as a ransom for many.”
Mark 11: 43-45