Friday, February 22, 2013

Setting the standard -- being the thermostat

thermostat not thermometer

In the past few months, I've repeatedly heard the phrase, "being the thermostat, not the thermometer." When it came up again this past week, I was like OK God what are you trying to tell me?
· Thermostat - a device for regulating or controlling the temperature

· Thermometer - an instrument for measuring the temperature surrounding it
I began to understand that so often in our lives we are operating as thermometers, influenced by the environment around us. In this state, we are constantly reacting -- fluctuating according to circumstances and situations. In one day, even one hour, we may go from one end of the spectrum to the other, rising and falling according to what is happening around us.

But a thermostat sets the temperature. It is an instrument that determines what the environment will be.  The thermometer is the influencer.  It is proactive. It creates the standard.

Now, we've all had our moments of weakness when we’ve allowed relationships and situations to impact our feelings and thoughts. In fact, many of us try to resist those "bad" feelings in an effort to maintain control. The downside is that in trying to control everything, we often block ourselves from the opportunity to fully enjoy and experience this life's journey. We are never able to attain true peace, because peace only comes when we fully surrender to whatever God is doing in our lives. Thankfully, it is in our weakness that God's strength is revealed as He empowers us by His grace to overcome whatever we are facing. So this is not about beating myself up over my weaknesses because I know that God's strength is always more than enough for me to overcome whatever is in my way (even if its myself!).

But what if we responded to God when He shows up to set the thermostat? During my own times of challenge, I've learned that all God requires is a little bit of faith. All He needs is our willingness. One small move. To see another side to something. To raise one cry for help. To reach out to one person. To take a time out to breathe and reconnect with who you are when the world is swirling around you. To smile. To ask someone how he or she is doing. To say thank you. To say I'm sorry. One small gift of kindness, one act of love can totally transform the environment.

This is not about getting in folks' faces and telling them what they need to do to change. This is about YOU. We are called to be influencers by setting the example. We don't match evil with evil - we overcome evil with good. In speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity we set the standard for those around us. We seek daily to exhibit who we are as masterpieces of God, the light of the world, salt of the earth.

I've seen how being proactive in maintaining an environment of peace  rather than reacting can totally change relationships. Late last year, I started the simple act of meditating at work. In the middle of the day, I turn off the sound on my computer, shut my door, sit and close my eyes. I have an inside office so my window faces into the hall for all that want to look in. That does not stop me from taking twenty minutes to reconnect with myself, to send thoughts of love, kindness, forgiveness to others, to talk to God, and to just clear my mind. Many work dynamics that previously had me fluctuating all over the place are no longer a factor. I have made a decision that when the environment is shifting around me, I will work to raise the temperature.

Rest assured that as the thermostat, we have the power to sustain the temperature at the highest levels of love, joy and peace. When the atmosphere is not there, we can ask God for his strength to go higher. We can be secure that these are the fruits already promised to us and we are fully equipped to set the standard. It might be difficult but it’s not impossible. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. Lord, I pray that we will be a thermostat that works!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Fasting with your heart

As the season of Lent begins, many of us around the world will also be entering a time of fasting for the next 40+ days until Easter. We will give up our favorite foods, decide not to engage in certain behaviors, make new commitments to pray and study. I know because I do this too! Every Lent I give up certain things in my diet, using this period as a time of physical cleansing. There's something about fasting during alongside millions across the globe that gives me the spiritual strength to sustain my commitments.

But like anything we do for God, we must be careful not to let the act and ritual supersede the opportunity for transformation.  Fasting is not about gratifying yourself with how holy you are but rather an opportunity to position yourself to unleash the power of the Spirit and walk in love.

What do I mean by this?

1) Fasting enables you to draw nearer to God. To realize the power He has gifted you to overcome any vice that you may have allowed to take control. After Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights in the wilderness, He was greatly tempted. Yet, he was able to overcome these temptations because He knew His own power. He knew who He was and who knew who God was. Likewise, when we're in the wilderness, the opportunity is available for us to realize our own power to make decisions about the direction of our lives and what we will let master us. We can remember that we are co-creating with God.

2) Fasting is an opportunity to connect more deeply with others in service.  When we  strip away all the outer things that we don't need and get back to the core of who we are, which is love, we realize how deeply connected we are with others. In Isaiah 58:6-11, the Lord asks, "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I." When we fast and connect more closely to God and ourselves we are able to see each other with more compassion.

3) Ultimately, fasting is an opportunity to go within and to really open your heart. Whatever you are giving up, use that as a triggering mechanism to remind you to keep an open heart, to forgive, to receive love. It's not about who sees what you are doing or showing God your ability to sacrifice. Ask yourself, what is the nature of my heart in this season?  For I desire mercy, not sacrifice,and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.


It's not my intention to try to convince anyone to fast or participate in Lent. I don't get caught up in such matters. But as we continue on our path, I just use this as an example to remind us to always be conscious of actions and for what purpose we are engaging in them. Our spiritual practices and rituals can be beautiful opportunities for us to go deeper in our relationship with God, ourselves and others. That is my prayer.

Friday, February 8, 2013

God's strength in our weakness

I woke up in a complete funk.

The very idea of getting up, showering, dressing, eating breakfast, opening my front door and getting to the train for work made me want to get back in the bed and hide under the covers.

It was one of those mornings when no good thought would enter my head.

Mind you, I'd woken up at 6 a.m. to have quiet time to meditate, journal, and exercise.  The morning is my space to nurture myself and have some intimacy with God as I begin the day.  But this morning, I simply could not do it.

So as I felt the tiredness in my body and the oppression of my spirit, I started beating myself up - why are you feeling this way?  What is wrong with you? 

I started then blaming God.  Why do you allow this God?  Why do you want to see me unhappy?  After everything I've been through!  I deserve...

It was a downward spiral.

I thought of all the things I could do to change my energy, to even just get myself off the couch.

But I couldn't.

What I could do and what I did was to send a text to a few friends along the lines of help!, pray! and encourage!

One friend sent me a screenshot of a quote that starts with: "Life is too short to wake up in the morning with regrets."
I jumped up.  Life is too short, and I'd just spent 2.5 hours fighting with God and myself...yet, for all that negative energy I wallowed in, I still had to go out and face the day.  I still had to go to work.

And you know what happened?  When I moved, God moved too.

I reached the office late but in time to prepare for the meetings on my calendar.  Right above my computer, a prayer reads: 
Precious Creator of All There is: I know that in every moment, of every day, no matter what the circumstance or situation may appear to be, the fullness of all that God is - IS present in me and as me.  God is present all around me at all times.  God IS all there is.  God is All I am.  God IS right where I am.
I turned on my computer. In my inbox, it was as if the whole universe was responding to that request sent to my friends for encouragement.  Words of love and peace were sent to me all throughout the day.  Words like:
  • God is an ever-present help in times of trouble (Psalm 46:1)
  • He is close to the broken-hearted (Psalm 34:18)
  • He will sustain you in times of trouble (Psalm 55:22)

I received all of it.  It was like God hit the restart button.

Three times that day I also received the scripture 2 Corinthians 12:9-10: His grace is sufficient . . . His power is made perfect in weakness . . . When I am weak, I am strong. 

I didn't understand it. I was like what does my grace is sufficient mean, how can His power be made perfect in my weakness, how can I be weak and then strong?

I looked at the amplified version:  But He said to me, My grace (My favor and loving-kindness and mercy) is enough for you [sufficient against any danger and enables you to bear the trouble manfully]; for My strength and power are made perfect (fulfilled and completed) and show themselves most effective in [your] weakness.  Therefore, I will all the more gladly glory in my weaknesses and infirmities, that the strength and power of Christ (the Messiah) may rest (yes, may pitch a tent over and dwell) upon me!  So for the sake of Christ, I am well pleased and take pleasure in infirmities, insults, hardships, persecutions, perplexities and distresses; for when I am weak [in human strength], then am I [truly] strong (able, powerful in divine strength).

As I meditated on this, I realized that whatever we think we are going through, God's grace is the vehicle for guiding us through it.  It is never dependent on what we do, and it is always enough.  And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

Furthermore, we don't have to be so resistant to our challenges -- those difficult times, the fighting with God and ourselves, or blaming others and situations for how we feel -- because we can be secure that when our weaknesses are revealed so is God's strength.  When difficulty is present, so is His power.  And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.  When I am weak, then I am strong because in my weakness, God shows up to empower me.

That morning, it was the strength to reach out to loved ones, to get up off the couch, to make it out the front door.  Sometimes it’s just the strength to see something differently, to drop just even one thought that’s hurting you, to believe in even just the possibility that God is more powerful than whatever-it-is.  

One thing we can be certain of is that no matter what, God is with us.  Whatever we need, He has it.  He has plans for us.  He has written the very pages of our lives.  He knows us in intimate detail.  Even the hairs on our heads have been numbered.  You are His great masterpiece - everything and all that you are. He loves you, completely and fully.  Amen!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Finding God in the wilderness

A friend mentioned to me, almost offhandedly, something about entering his wilderness years.  At the time, I didn't really understand what he was talking about.  But hours after that, the word wilderness kept penetrating my spirit.  As I started to meditate more on what it means to be in the wilderness...the searching, the testing, the fear, the courage, the immense faith required, the understanding of one's smallness as well as one's connection to something greater...I realized how powerful and rich this experience can be if we open ourselves to it.

The wilderness period is not uncommon.  We find this stage in our sacred and cultural texts as well as in our everyday lives.  At first, the wilderness can be very frightening.  How did I get here?  What am I supposed to do?  Can I survive?  Where is everyone?  Where is God? 

But, what if, we could get past the fear and see this as the opportunity to deepen our understanding of who God is, and thus, who We are.  What if we used the wilderness as an opportunity to learn what it means to surrender control and trust God? 

spiritual wilderness
I flash-backed to an experience when I was literally in the wilderness.  My best friend and I, both of us searching and trying to understand what God was doing in our lives, decided to take a day off and go to this open land in the woods that a small church owned and maintained specifically for others to find quiet time with God.  My friend and I fasted for the day, in expectancy of what we might learn.  In silence, we walked the grounds of this place.  I found myself drawn to a small lake, and as I departed from my friend to go there, he passed me his bible.  I sat by the lake, waiting for something.  This was the year that I first began questioning what it is that my life is about.  The first time I started to feel that something wasn't quite right.  That I was still somehow in the dark.  That there was something more  I wasn't embodying.  I wanted to be free. 

It began to rain.  I opened my bible to Psalm 29, which reads: ". . . The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders . . . The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is majestic.  The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars . . . The voice of the Lord strikes with flashes of lightning.  The voice of the Lord shakes the desert [the wilderness] . . . The voice of the Lord twists the oaks and strips the forests bare.  And in his temple all cry, 'Glory!' The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord is enthroned as King forever.  The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace."

God reminded me then and now of both His wondrous power and His love for me.  He let me know that He is ruler over all things; and that, no matter what I may experience, He will forever give me His strength and peace.

Paul writes "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  This one sentence lets us know that 1) God is working on our behalf, 2) whatever he is doing is for our good, 3) we are all called, and 4) we all have purpose.  

What if we really believed that?

Recently, I found myself thinking, I wonder what God is going to do about . . . Not in the usual, oh my God! What are you going to do?!?!?!?!?!  (while pulling my hair out :)).  But, almost laughing to myself, with wonderment and expectation.  Wow, God, I wonder. 

You see, when you change your perspective, you change your experience.   

We all know the story of Moses bringing the Israelites out of Egypt. They were to enter the Promised Land.  On their way to the promises, they experienced God performing wondrous signs and miracles. Yet, still they feared; still they lacked faith.  After years of enslavement, they did not believe they were worthy enough to ever be free.  They wanted to go back to the way things used to be.  That pain and suffering was what they were accustomed to.  They couldn’t fully believe in the future that was theirs, even when it was right in front of them for the taking. 

But the discomfort they experienced in the wilderness, this discomfort of transition, was a temporary passage on the grand journey of their lives.   

When an assembly of men went to explore the Promised Land, they reported that in fact it was the land God was sending to them.  But rather than seeing their destiny, the very promises of God, they saw only the challenges that needed to be overcome to get there.

Yet, the Word of God declares the we are overcomers.  By faith, we overcome anything that comes our way, knowing that anything obstacle, any block in our path has already been overcome by the One who has power over all.

Later, I will  talk more about how we begin to change our perception, to change our stories.  For now, I pray that we begin to believe in our very souls that God is our watchman.  Lord, we thank you that our help comes from you; that at all times and in all places, you provide a shade of protection around us and keep our foot from slipping on the path.