Moved by the Music

I am not a music person. 

 I have probably mentioned that before. Music does not move me to tears or speak to me in such a way that I am able to identify with what is being sung. I do not thirst for music or need it in my life. My husband is a music man and he needs it to work, to relax, to function. Music more or less is background noise to me. I enjoy it but I do not require it. I like it but I do not need it.

It is said that when I was little I would cry when my parents listened to country music. When Hank would sing I would wail. I have no recollection of this and while I can not confirm or deny it, I do find it ironic, though perhaps it is just a rumor. 

Rumor also has it I was named for a song of the seventies by my name, spelled differently, sounds the same I am told. I am not convinced either way but I do find that to be irony at its finest. 

My musical indifference can be frustrating to those in my life who are not like me. There are several musical folks in my world. It is not uncommon for me to receive a message containing song lyrics and I am asked to “just listen” and be moved. I added that last part. I usually just smile or behave in a cordial manner, but I am left clueless. Like a bad punchline I simply do not make the connection they want me to make. 

close-up-photo-of-a-woman-listening-to-music-813940Recently, I was driving down the road and I was moved to tears over a song on the radio.

I will admit I have been tender lately. I have learned over time, when emotions are raw, tears just beneath the surface, I seem to be tender, not as thick-skinned, and the slightest jostle leaves me exposed and tearful. 

It began with a declaration… I love You, Lord… I do. I do love you Lord. I do not always act like it, but I do.

For Your mercy never failed me All my days, I’ve been held in Your hands And all my life You have been faithful And all my life You have been so, so good… Not One. Single. Time. You have never once failed me. None, not one time have You failed to be faithful to me. I have been in the palm of your hand for as long as I can remember. Even when I thought otherwise, you have been so good, so very good to me. 

I love Your voice You have led me through the fire And in darkest night You are close like no other…Your voice, your words, the very Word becoming Flesh, evidence of your goodness. When I have walked through trials by fire and darkness by day, You are there leading me, whispering in my ear “This way Child, Walk in it.” 

I got it. I finally got it. The gut-wrenching, stop me in my tracks, leave me a blubbering mess feeling. That resonating feeling into my marrow. I understood for the first time in my over four decades of life what it is that my musical people experience every time they are moved by the music. 

Listen: Goodness of God ~ Bethel Music

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20/20 Vision

For the remainder of the 2020 year Priceless will produce a series of articles entitled 20/20 Vision which challenge us with how we view the world. Are we seeing clearly? Are we seeing from God’s perspective?

3D_eye_anatomy_02_MED_ILL_ENThe eye is an amazing organ. Light enters through the pupil. Then the lens focuses the light onto the retina, a lining of light-sensitive cells on the back of the interior of the eye. The retina converts light into electrical impulses that are sent to the optic nerve which carries these impulses to the brain. Rather a straight-forward process, but definitely an intricate design produced by a one-of-a-kind creator. A design that many scientists say is indicative of creative design which refutes evolutionary theory. The eye is an organ so important that to loose function of it is life-altering. Keeping it healthy and functioning properly is important and any problem with the quality of vision warrants an immediate  investigation into the problem. We all want to have 20/20 vision.

What exactly is 20/20 Vision? The website of the American Academy of Ophthalmology defines it this way: A person with 20/20 vision can see what an average individual can see on an eye chart when they are standing 20 feet away.” It is a measure of your visual eye-chart-24489_1280acuity, that is, how clear or sharp your vision is. The numbers represent how many feet you are from the chart and the distance at which an average person could stand to read that line. Twenty-twenty vision is not perfect vision it is average, and 20/30 is declining, while 20/15 is sharper than most. So in reality, a visual diagnosis compares your vision to that of others around the world.

But what about spiritually? What would spiritual 20/20 vision be? What is average? Do we want to be “just average” in our relationship with the Lord? Maybe we should have another way of designating spiritual sight. Where is our spiritual sight focused? What is it based on? What does the way we look at the world reveal about us spiritually?

The Bible has some important observations on eyes and seeing (as one would expect!)

  • Our Spiritual vision should be focused on God’s words to us.

Proverbs 7:2 – Keep my commands and you will live; guard my teachings as the apple of your eye.

  • Our human vision is not as accurate and wise as we think it is; spiritual vision must be based on a reverence for the Lord.

Proverbs 3:7 – Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil.

  • Spiritual vision looks at what God has put before us, not at our doubts or our past or our worries or obstacles or what other people say.

Proverbs 4:25 – Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you.

  • Spiritual vision will allow us to be full of light. Worldly sight is like walking around in darkness.

Matthew 6:22 – The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

Spiritual eyes allows God’s light to come in through the pupil and be focused through the lens of God’s word onto the retina of our souls so that the God-sensitive cells of our heart send impulses to our brain to see things clearly. When we have healthy spiritual eyes and are sensitive to this input, we walk in light and Spirit-directed wisdom. We won’t stumble around with human, fallible ideas, but will focus on His Word and react to what we see through spiritual eyes.

Our paths in life can them be directed by what we see. Proverbs 4:26-27 says, “Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.” If we want a smoother path in life, if we desire a steadfast life built on substance, we must look with spiritual eyes. Then we must trust our vision and make choices to go in the direction our spiritual vision deems best. Spiritual sight will steer us away from evil paths. But we must choose to believe our eyes.

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Mining the Truth

“You headed to work?” His voice was gruff yet gentle. 

“Yessir.” I was late, and was disgruntled that I had to stop and fill my husband’s vehicle with gas prior to work. I was already late and small talk would not get me to work any sooner. 

“You look like you’re going to work. You a nurse.” 

woman-in-blue-scrub-suit-holding-a-machine-3985300It was more of a statement than a question. I am old school and I wear old school nurse scrubs. The young crowd gravitates towards t-shirts and scrub pants, clog shoes and trendy things of nurse fashion. The scrub top I was wearing as he spoke, my Mama made me some two decades ago. I received it in the Spring after I had been working a mere two months.  It is one of my favorites, besides the obvious comfort that accompanies a two decades old shirt, it has donkeys wearing hospital gowns on it and that makes me smile. I love donkeys, mostly because I act like one.

I acknowledged that I was a nurse and he chattered on. He pumped his gasoline opposite me.  

“I’m headed to work too. To dig some coal outta the ground.” 

I listened as he acknowledged that without his coal procurement we would not have electricity. I agreed and I told him I was glad we had electricity because without it I most definitely could not do my job.  I began to take a closer look at my gas pump companion, he was dressed neatly in jeans, with an orange t-shirt tucked in. He was neat and clean and apart from his white beard I would not have guessed him old. We hung up our gas pump nozzles about the same time. He was smiling as he told me to have a good day, a blessed one to be exact, and to “stay safe out there.” 

He pulled away in his old Ford Ranger just about the time I pulled away from my side of the pump. 

God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various expressions of power aIn the short amount of time we had together he left me pondering. He was right, a truth teller. He had acknowledged a fact in a roundabout sort of way that I know to be true but have a hard time living out. I want to be what I was not, or who I was not rather, designed to be. I hear phenomenal Christian Speakers and I find myself wanting to emulate them, to adopt their mannerisms and ways of teaching and speaking. I read Christian Authors and I do the same thing. I’ll read a paragraph that sounds like it was sent straight down from the Heavenlies and think, “Man I wish I could write like that!” I understand and I recognize I am not supposed to live my life as if I am carrying around a measuring stick to see just how I measure up to others. I know that, but I’ve yet to abandon my virtual yard stick and will readily whip that sucker out and begin an “anti-me” monologue with myself. The Coal Digging Truth Teller made me realize that morning that we have all been created for a purpose, to do a good work specific to each of our own giftings. I couldn’t have gone to dig coal that morning any better that he could have done what I do everyday at the big hospital with the red circle atop it. 

Like the body of Christ we each have different roles and, metaphorically speaking, if the King had wanted me to be a coal miner for the Kingdom he would have made me one. Yet he did make coal miners so that the nurse folk of the kingdom can be complimented. We are all different and that is not a bad thing. Some of us are coal miners and some of us are nurses. Some of us are writers and some are speakers. Some of us are teachers and some of us are cooks. We are all one body with one purpose, and that is to love fiercely, hate evil, cling to good, and consider others better than yourselves. 

Father’s Day Thoughts…

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Creator God embraced equality between the sexes long before we humans did. The secular world somehow feels that to lift up one group of people (women), another must be brought down (men). That is not Father God’s view of the world. “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27) Both sexes are made in the image of God. Both have value. Both are cherished by God. Both are needed in His plan.

Because of the fight for equal pay and opportunities for women that has been going on here in the U.S. for years, the environment has changed in America; the status of women has been elevated and opportunities abound for the “fairer sex.” I am thrilled to honor female friends who have become leaders in business, in science, in medicine, in politics, and in our community. While as a woman I am delighted to see women celebrated for their achievements, as with all things, this coin has 2 sides.

There is an attitude of disdain for men in our society. The secular world today often frowns upon men as greedy, power-hungry patriarchs. Prejudging of men is common, as we’ve seen in the sweeping statements of groups that paint all men with a black brush, making stereotypical assumptions about males that would infuriate the populace if the same type statements were made about women. We see it bleed over into our entertainment and even into children’s literature, where the bumbling, inept dad is the butt of the joke and is constantly needing to be rescued by the mom or the children.

As Christian women we must uphold and respect and honor men as our equals in God’s plan. We are called upon to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” – family-557108_1280“others” means men as well as women. We don’t overlook the sin of either sex, but we also don’t condemn them as a whole group. Each person is accountable for his (or her) own sin and will bear the punishment.

As a woman who lost her father at age 11, I want to challenge you to value you dads and honor them while you still have them with you. Honor you children’s daddy, even if that may be a real challenge for you. It will be worth it. Philippians 2:3-5 tells us to “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.”

~ I challenge you, sisters in Christ, to look upon the men in your life today with the eyes of Christ, not the eyes of the world. See the best in them. Seek out the good. Forgive those gaffs and minor failings. Allow them to be human. Look upon them the way you would look upon another woman, as imperfect sinners, fellow strugglers on this journey of life.

~ I challenge you to speak life into the men and boys in your life today. Congratulate them on small steps in the right direction. Greet them with tones of love and tenderness. Let your tongue and the “To Do” list rest for a day. Accept them just as Christ accepts us, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

~ I challenge you not buy into the agenda of the wounded who speak ill of men out of pain. Not to listen to media that group all men into the mold of antagonists of women and misogynists. God has redeemed many men and women, and men deserve the grace of God and grace-filled treatment from us just as much as women do.

Let us use this day to lift up and honor the men in our lives – especially the fathers! Let us love and cherish them. Let us build up and not tear down. Let us love them with the love of The Father – unconditionally.

 

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

Awakening

black-and-brown-desk-globe-3994840When the world is shaken, your soul awakens.

For the last few months, the world has had a “closed” sign hanging on the front door. We’ve gone from traversing the globe to traversing only to the local grocery store. Forced togetherness means the relationships with the people under our roof are equal parts sanctifying and supportive. Relationships outside the home require even more intentional intentionality. The virtual reality of Zoom Bible studies and Facetime coffee dates with dear friends become necessities as we learn how to love and serve during an isolated season. A season of unknown and unexpected.

It’s a strange new world for sure. One that, at the time I’m writing, is beginning to cautiously find its way to something resembling (sort of) normal. These different days are not what we wanted, not what we anticipated. It feels as if someone hit the pause button. And here we are sitting somewhere between pause and play. In the waiting place. In a holding pattern. So many things put on hold or cancelled altogether. In our family alone, we’re waiting to formally celebrate a college graduation, the marriage of a dear cousin, and the arrival of a long-awaited niece.

close-up-photography-of-santa-claus-snow-globe-1684131In many ways, it feels like God picked up the earth like a snow globe and gave it a good shake. Here we are rumbling around in the fallout trying to adjust to a world that feels not quite right. It is the reality of life in a broken, fallen world. But what if it’s also a gift? A gift of grace from a loving Father who will not let us continue in conformity and comfort when He is a God of SO MUCH MORE.

For a follower of Christ, the trials we face are always purposeful, always for our good and His glory. When God shakes our world, if we let Him, He will mature us, grow us in ways we could not apart from a crisis. Difficulties allow God to open the eyes of our heart, to deepen our faith, to awaken our souls to how much we need Him and how much He loves us. During this still season, I’ve noticed four ways He is awakening my soul.

  • woman-holding-mirror-2460534I see myself more clearly. Just as Jesus turned the tables on the manipulative money changers in the temple (Matthew 21:12-14) He will often turn the tables of our lives over to remind us of who we are and who He is. Life behind cloistered walls causes an introspection. The lack of an expressway of pressing activities is causing sin I kept under the covering of busy-ness to come floating to the surface. I’m no longer able to escape from myself into the shallow waters of the “stuff” of life. My idols are quickly rearing their ugly heads and I have to look in the mirror and face the truth. And when I face the reality of my sinfulness, well, let’s just say the hardest person to live with during quarantine isn’t my husband, or my kids. It’s me.
  • woman-holding-her-head-2128817I see the brokenness of the world more vividly. Fairly soon after the quarantine started, I began taking regular breaks from social media and news media. I didn’t want to ignore the state and struggles of the world, but I found the fear that seemed the grip the world was overwhelming. It was heartbreaking to see that fear turn to anger and violence. But as I took time to pay attention, I recognized the enemy’s tactics to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10). But I also know what the enemy meant to harm us, God can mean for God for the saving of many lives (Genesis 50:20). I knew before, but now I know to my bones, how deeply and desperately the world needs to know Christ, and how great the love of Christ is for us. He died for this broken, selfish world. He came to rescue us from ourselves. What kind of God would leave heaven to come to this fractured place? A God who loves us beyond description and beyond my feeble understanding. I need to let others know. The love of God COMPELS believers to go and make disciples (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). Without the world being shaken, the fierce reality of a broken world and our desperate need for Jesus, wouldn’t have invaded my mind and heart, and my heart may have continued to grow more complacent and even cold.
  • I see the small moments more gratefully. I don’t know that I understood God’s gifts of grace to the extent that I do after walking through this time of stillness. I’ve been overwhelmed by God’s goodness. Overcome by His love. I’m taking time to sit and enjoy the simple moments. A long overdue video call with a dear friend. An gardenia-2633393_1280unhurried morning sitting on my front porch on a beautiful, breezy, balmy day. The smell of gardenias wafting through the air, the sunlight streaming across the yard, the sound of my neighbors working in their garden or playing in their pool. The sounds of my boys singing, long walks with my daughter, restaurant pick up car dates with my hubby. No rushing to events. No schedules filled to the brim with obligations. Time to be bored. Time to just sit and pray and read and worship and just “be” with my Abba. Recognizing the miraculous and mundane moments are both a gift of His loving hand.
  • I keep my hands open more willingly. As the talk of quarantine began, my youngest daughter was in the middle of her freshmen year of college at a school four hours away. She was enjoying every moment of college life when she came home for Spring Break and never went back. After a few weeks and the initial shock wore off, she said one of the biggest lessons she is learning is Proverbs 16:9 “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” She is learning hands-1044882_1280at a young age to hold all things loosely before the Lord. When I hold things loosely, whether it’s plans, relationships, achievements, when my world gets shaken, those “things” will fall from my hands into the hands of the One who is holding me. And I can be fully confident that the One who is holding me is able to keep me from stumbling and present me blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy (Jude 24). That is a peace-filled place of surrender, and in that surrender my soul finds rest.

So when your world is shaken, let your soul be awakened to His goodness and His glory. Your heart will be stirred to His good purposes in a way they could not be if life went on as normal. That is grace. That is love. That is a rare and precious gift. That is an awakening.

What has the King been awakening in your soul during this shaking season?

My heart, O God, is steadfast, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make music. Awake, my soul! Psalm 57:7-8

 

Atomic Moments

There are 2 types of people in the world of computing, those who keep their inbox emptied out and orderly at least weekly, if not daily. That’s my husband. And those who let their email pile up for months and then spend days cleaning it out. That’s me. I started that process this morning by accident, as I usually do.

When I logged in to check my mail this Monday morning, I stumbled upon an email that came from a political organization that has been filling up my inbox this election year. I thought to myself, I’ve gotten a lot of those lately. Let me do a search, and delete them all. There were 32 of them. Select all. Delete. Easy.

But then… I need to get rid of some of these other emails that come in a couple of times a week. Which led me to where I am currently, 310 emails deleted with 2,707 remaining in my inbox. The email purging takes forever because I treasure info. Therefore, I must examine any email with a subject line indicating it may contain an important nugget I’ve forgotten about. And thus, this blog.

The searching and purging was going along fairly quickly until I came upon a personal message from a friend which indicated it had some of her favorite recent blog articles. (“Recent” meaning from 2016!) Each of the articles were about evangelism – a weakness of mine. I allow Southern hyper-politeness, insecurity, and people-pleasing tendencies to ramp up the fear in me about sharing the gospel. I know it is the enemy and that I am in a spiritual battle, so I’ve committed this year to embrace “Who’s Your One?” and to obediently share Jesus even when the fear churns in my gut.

As I read the email, one paragraph from Lori McDaniel jumped off the screen and grabbed me.

Learn to extract gospel moments from everyday life. Moments are as small as an atom. They are so small they can be overlooked yet so powerful that if split they create an energy that explosively rearranges the landscape of anything nearby. Take hold of small moments you have with people. “Paul reasoned in the marketplace everyday with whoever happened to be there.” (Acts 17:17) You may not lead someone to Christ everyday. Yet, you can weave in threads of gospel truth into so many conversations.

Wow!

The atomic bomb basically ended WWII. It revolutionized warfare. The atom, the smallest of particles, unable to be seen with the naked eye, contains world-changing potential! And so do the moments of our days!

people-in-couch-1024248Do I see my moments as having such powerful potential? Do I use my moments with family or friends for heavenly purposes? In the grocery check-out line, at the gas pump, or in a doctor’s waiting room for instance, do I think about sharing Christ? Do I wait impatiently cruising my phone, treading water, wasting time? Or do I pray and listen to the Holy Spirit’s promptings and make the most of my moments “Redeeming the time, because the days are evil” as Ephesians 5:16 tells us in the King James Version? Am I spirituality aware that the Father may have put me in that place at that time to speak the Gospel to a soul that desperately needs to hear it?

The New International Version of Ephesians 5:15-17 tells us to “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.”

Wow!

I kept having those little “Wow!” bomb drops in my thoughts as I contemplated Lori’s quote.

Can you even imagine the impact of a full-out atomic war? I grew up in the 60’s where bomb shelters and fear of nuclear war prevailed. My childhood dreams were full of those nightmarish images. I can imagine. City flattening, nature annihilating, radiation poisoning, life changing, world landscape altering atomic bombs shook my little kid body with fear. An atom bomb dropped a hundred miles from my house could alter my life!

white-clock-reading-at-2-12-1537268Now as an adult I am confronted with the thought that my discarded moments could be atoms in God’s hands if I give them to Him. The potential of my moments could metaphorically flatten a city for God! That moment given to Him could radiate, not poison, but the Gospel for a hundred – or more –  miles around! That tidbit of my life could be life changing for that 1 person I share the Gospel with, and not just them but for the family they are in – their spouse, children, parents, mothers & fathers, brothers & sisters, and aunts & uncles! That atomic moment has the potential to alter the landscape of the world!

Our country is in crisis mode right now. Problems abound. Sin is the root problem for every issue the news or the politician tells us about. What is the answer? Jesus is the only answer. Strengthening laws, abolishing old ways, government handouts cannot rescue us. Without Jesus Christ our world is decaying, dying, and hopeless. There is a Redeemer for sin that the hopeless souls in our world need to hear about, need to know. Are we telling them? Am I? Are you? Am I willing to embrace every stray moment and speak the truths of the Gospel into the sin and decay? Am I willing to love the world as much as God the Father did, so that I lay down my life and my will to do His will? Am I willing to get past my fear and use my atomic moments to share Jesus?

atomic-bomb-1011738_1280Resource to download: Gospel Threads by David Platt

Silent Carpathia

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort. 2 Corinthians 1:3-7

After the Titanic survivors were picked up by the Carpathia it is said that it was a rather quiet place.

No laughing and jeering.

No joy and excitement, as she pulled into New York Harbor laden with survivors who were still experiencing the shock of what had happened just over 48 hours before. There was no ticker tape parade waiting.

Instead there were lines of ambulances waiting and crowds who had come to see the survivors of the Unsinkable sinking.

I never really gave that element much thought until the time silence pervaded our home after its own metaphorical sinking.

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. Psalm 42_5We had experienced a particularly bad day, resulting in Martins of all manner sleeping in different places. It continues to be the single most gut-wrenching family event of 2019. When I awoke that ominous day to realize it was real, not a bad dream at all, my attempt at normal was immediately a failure.

Routine, the normal things of life, doomed from the start. I sat down at the table for my time in the King’s Word. My time to study, to reflect, to pray, and to ponder. I couldn’t do it. I attempted to eat my usual cereal breakfast and I couldn’t do it. I gagged on my squares of rice and pushed my books aside. I couldn’t do it.

Silence was all I could hear.

The shock had not worn off yet and I just couldn’t. That particular day is cemented in my mind as a doozy, an attempt at not even normal but survival. Sub-par living at its finest.

Sleep would be elusive in the days to come, but I would find, sleepless nights like the previous one would be reduced in frequency. It would be a long while before I would awaken refreshed. But the following day I didn’t wake up silenced by shock and I didn’t gag in my cereal. Two small victories so I opted to try again with my study and while I didn’t knock it out of the park and may not be comfortable sharing some of my answers out loud, I took a baby step of faith and completed my homework from my Bible study. In doing so I took steps to press in and press on and to trust that tomorrow just might be a bit better than the previous day.

Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. Galatians 6:9 NASB

The Wisdom of Listening Well

“Know this, my beloved brothers; let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” James 1:19-20

“But the wisdom that comes from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” James 3:17

I am a journalist by trade. I made my living as a professional writer for many years. As a writer I understand the beauty and impact of words. As a follower of Christ, I recognize the weight and life-giving, and life-depleting, power of words. Words are essential to communicate, to encourage, to speak truth, to understand. Lately, I’ve become weary of words. In this strange season there are so.many.words. So many people sharing their opinions or observations on what’s happening in the broken world around us. Some words are beneficial. Some are just noisy gongs and clanging cymbals.

I was scrolling through social media recently and my heart was so overcome by all the words. The long posts with mostly well-intentioned stories or encouragement or honest expressions of shock or fear, or sometimes verbal tirades of anger and vengeance and ignorance. It’s a lot. I should’ve just immediately hopped off the Facebook and read a good book, and I did, for a time. I prayed. Talking to the King much about the state of the world. I don’t want to be like the overly optimistic Count Rostov in War and Peace who pretends all is well as his house slowly falls apart. I kept asking God what to do. How can I be a peacemaker? How can I be an accurate ambassador of the love of God? How can I point people to Jesus, the one who rescues and redeems this broken world?

These words from James kept coming back up in my Spirit. James lived in an incredibly volatile world. We think our world is violent and depraved and irrational and deplorable. The Roman world, and in particular the world of the early Jewish believers most Biblical historians believe James is writing to, is exponentially more violent and depraved and overwhelmed with persecution and misunderstanding. Historically, most experts agree James was written to encourage Jewish believers who had just experienced the first church diaspora after the stoning of Stephen. They endured the violent, murderous persecution of the Jewish religious officials under the leadership of the Sanhedrin. After Stephen’s stoning in Acts 8 we read about the church scattering from Jerusalem throughout Judea and Samaria.

James knew the violence and hatred these Jewish believers were going to face. He was giving them clear direction on how to behave as followers of Christ in a difficult circumstance where they were likely to be criticized and condemned. Thus, his first mandate to “count it all joy whenever you face trials of many kinds.” The joy is not in the circumstance itself, but in the growing and maturing that will come because of the difficulty. James doesn’t just leave us with exhortation to watch what God is doing in our souls and spirits during hard times, he also gives us, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, practical counsel in handling opposition. This counsel, wrapped up in the love of Christ, is invaluable in diffusing hatred and bringing life and peace.

listening-3079065_1280Be quick to listen. When I was so frustrated with all the words on social media and stepped away for a bit, I kept asking the Lord if those words were beneficial. Was I missing something? Most of the time it seems as if all those words hurt rather than heal. He kept whispering to me, “Michele, people need to be heard.”

And they do. I do. I want to be heard. One of my biggest pet peeves is for someone to continually lose eye contact while I’m speaking to them. They aren’t listening to a word I’m saying because they are constantly distracted by something in the room, their phone, a noise from outside. My husband is the world’s worst at distractions. I often have to gently remind him how much it genuinely hurts when he doesn’t pay attention when I’m talking.

Listening is one of the most beautiful and profound ways you can show someone you love them. Not only listening to their words, but to their nonverbal communication. Because not being heard has always been such a frustration for me, the Lord, through His Holy Spirit, has turned that inside out in my life. I work extra hard to make sure I really listen to people around me. Admittedly, I’m not always very good at it. Listening intentionally should be hard work if you do it well. But I’ve found that listening well is loving well, and love covers a multitude of sins. Misunderstandings, presumptions, and assumptions are often at the root of conflict, and, the vast majority of the time it’s because we didn’t take time to listen without bias, without judgment.

photo-of-women-talking-while-sitting-3182808Slow to speak. As much as I love words, I have found as I get older, that I weigh my words very, very carefully. I’m not as flippant as I once was. I’m more cautious. Which makes me guilty of sometimes not addressing a situation in a timely manner. But I’m learning I’d rather be guilty of too much quietness, than speak rashly. And that’s where James’s words from chapter 3 are so essential and so often overlooked.

Even though we should be slow to speak, there will come a time when you need to speak. When that time comes, be sure you seek to speak with the wisdom that comes from above. James tells us in James 1:5 to ask God for wisdom. Then he tells us in chapter 3 what godly wisdom looks like. I’m slowly learning that before I speak on any subject, as a wife, mom, friend, teacher, I need to go back to James 3 and check myself.

Are my motives pure?

Will my words bring peace or spark conflict?

Am I presenting my words with gentleness and compassion?

Have I heard all sides of the issues? Am I listening with my mind, heart, and soul and sifting those through the Holy Spirit and the Word? Am I being reasonable?

Am I remembering to be merciful? Am I listening with grace-filled ears?

Am I asking the Lord to clear out any bias that might distract me from being impartial?

Am I sincerely looking for an opportunity to love like Jesus through this conflict? Am I being honest with God, honest with myself, and honest with those around me?

James does a beautiful job connecting wisdom and listening. Not just listening to others, but listening to the Holy Spirit. If we want to speak truth that will be heard and make an eternal impact in a troubling, divisive, potentially destructive circumstance, we need to start by listening. Truly listening. When it comes to controversial issues, the ultimate goal is not to continue sharing our words, but to point others to the Word. The Word that became flesh and dwelt among us. The Word that changes everything. The love that changes everything. Only He is the One who can bring peace and restore hope. If we want others to listen as we speak about our eternal hope, we must first seek to listen. Listening well is loving well.

Love Takes Action

If I had the gift of being able to speak in other languages without learning them and could speak in every language there is in all of heaven and earth, but didn’t love others, I would only be making noise.

If I had the gift of prophecy and knew all about what is going to happen in the future, knew everything about everything, but didn’t love others, what good would it do?

Even if I had the gift of faith so that I could speak to a mountain and make it move, I would still be worth nothing at all without love.

If I gave everything I have to poor people, and if I were burned alive for preaching the Gospel but didn’t love others, it would be of no value whatever.

alex-boyd-lPt2QZHjuE4-unsplashLove is very patient and kind,

never jealous or envious,

never boastful or proud,

never haughty or selfish or rude.

Love does not demand its own way.

It is not irritable or touchy.

sebastian-leon-prado-dBiIcdxMWfE-unsplashIt does not hold grudges

and will hardly even notice when others do it wrong.

It is never glad about injustice,

but rejoices whenever truth wins out.

If you love someone, you will be loyal to him no matter what the cost.

You will always believe in him,

always expect the best of him,

and always stand your ground in defending him.

All the special gifts and powers from God will someday come to an end, but love goes on forever.

Someday prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge—these gifts will disappear.  

Now we know so little, even with our special gifts, and the preaching of those most gifted is still so poor.

But when we have been made perfect and complete, then the need for these inadequate special gifts will come to an end, and they will disappear.

It’s like this: when I was a child I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child does. But when I became a man my thoughts grew far beyond those of my childhood, and now I have put away the childish things.

In the same way, we can see and understand only a little about God now, as if we were peering at his reflection in a poor mirror; but someday we are going to see him in his completeness, face-to-face. Now all that I know is hazy and blurred, but then I will see everything clearly, just as clearly as God sees into my heart right now.

There are three things that remain—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.

How does your love measure up to this checklist from 1 Corinthians 13 (TLB)? If you have been embracing love as a feeling rather than a doing, now is the time to take action. Show the love of Christ in you to ALL those around you – the ones you see as undeserving as well as the deserving!

Dear friends, let us practice loving each other, for love comes from God and those who are loving and kind show that they are the children of God, and that they are getting to know him better. But if a person isn’t loving and kind, it shows that he doesn’t know God—for God is love. 1 John 4:7-8 TLB

Mirror, Mirror

Glass is useful for windows and vases and TV screens and such. Glass allows light to pass through and it keeps other things out. Often glass even gives a vague reflection of whatever is around it, but nothing clear enough to be truly helpful. For a clear, detailed reflection, a mirror is needed. Although made of glass, mirrors have an added dimension.

photo-of-woman-sitting-by-the-pool-4450347In early times, only blurry images were seen, images reflected in water or a polished stone. During the time the Israelites journeyed through the wilderness polished bronze was used for mirrors. We are told in Exodus 38:8, “They made the bronze basin and its bronze stand from the mirrors of the women who served at the entrance to the tent of meeting.” Since about 1600, mirrors have been made through a process called “silvering.” This process coats a piece of glass with with a highly reflective material, nowadays usually silver or aluminum. This process has been refined to produce the distinct, useful, present-day mirror which allows us to see clear images of ourselves.

We believe we see a perfect reflection of ourselves in our bathroom mirror each morning, but scripture tells us otherwise.

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. 1 Corinthians 13:12 NASB

What we think is clear, and a perfect representation of self here on earth, is really a dim reflection of how we will see when we are face to face with Jesus in Heaven. We really have no idea just how distorted we view things due to sin and worldliness. I think we will be surprised to learn the truth in Heaven. We view ourselves incorrectly. We view the world incorrectly. We view other people incorrectly.

If our fleshly vision is so skewed, how can we see ourselves clearly down here on earth?

Well, we need to hear from someone not human…

Someone far greater than we are who can point out the reality we miss…

Maybe if they wrote something down for us to go by that tells us the truth about ourselves…

Ta-da! An answer! James 1:22-25 tells us

Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. 

selective-focus-photography-of-woman-in-front-of-mirror-1476291To see ourself clearly it’s a two-step process. We need to first listen to the Word – read it, hear it, take it in. Second, we need to continue in it, to DO it. Do the Word – even when it doesn’t make sense. Do the Word – even when it is uncomfortable. Do the Word – even when it is inconvenient. Do the Word – even when it stretches our faith. Do the Word – even when it makes us appear to be the oddball. Just Do It – as the slogan goes.

Hearing and doing the Word is how we come to see this human life with clarity. Through God’s Word we will get a clear, correct view of ourselves, the world, and other people. Then we can live our lives in the truth, perceive the world with a true understanding, and and interact with people understanding their true motives, needs, hurts, and potential. We “will be blessed in what [we] do” James says. That will allow us to be a blessing to the world and be a blessing to the individual people we meet. We will more and more become God’s instrument in our world to bring about His Kingdom here on earth.

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18

We will become mirrors to the world of God’s glory, reflecting Him to all we meet. We will reflect truth, love, grace, and mercy to the world around us. We’ll reflect clear images back to people in our lives – people who desperately need to see with truth and clarity. God’s glory does not reflect harsh, judgmental images; nor mushy, condoning images; but images that speak truth, acceptance, forgiveness, and reality from God’s eternal perspective.

woman-leaning-on-glass-window-1101726Are we like glass? Do we have a bit of reflectivity, but people can see right through us? Do others see in us a dark, murky, indistinct, tainted “truth?” Or are we like a mirror, backed with substance. A substance refined and pure that gives a clear image to the one staring into it? Are we backed with God Himself, His Word, and His principles that give us substance? When someone looks at us, our words, and actions, do those things reflect back to people the picture as God their Creator sees them? Or are we thin and breakable and less reflective of God’s views of humanity, instead reflecting a half-worldly view to those we meet? Let’s not bet one more human-based piece of glass reflecting back a dim image to those around us. Let us be the hand mirror of the Lord, reflecting His beauty, glory, and truth to the world.