Easy Going

“Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:2, ESV)

A common lie that I have caught myself falling for is this:

“The only thing of value is something I have to work hard for.” Continue reading “Easy Going”

The Real Gift We Have to Offer

“…we tend to forget that our real gift is not so much what we can do, but who we are.” (Henri Nouwen)
One lie that we often believe is that we need to do more. “Do less bad!, do more good!”, we are told. For some of us, we feel and are told that what we do is never enough. Perhaps that is not our problem. What if we don’t know or have forgotten who we are? What if we are more than what we do? As Nouwen puts it, maybe the real gift that we have to offer the world is being who God created us to be. To offer the best of what we have, we must be able to see ourselves the way God sees us. In Christ, we are loved, we are blessed, we are forgiven, we are secure, we have purpose, we are unconditional accepted, and we are everything God wants us to be. With that kind of perspective and understanding of ourselves, we can offer others an awesome gift anytime we interact with them: us.
-Neil
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We Are Being Lied To

I look in the mirror, and I do not like what I see. The labels of failure, loser, outcast, and idiot all whirl around inside my head. Do you ever have days like that? I’m talking about those days when we do not feel like we measure up. We find ourselves comparing ourselves to those around us. We don’t feel as well put together as the people we see and know. Continue reading “We Are Being Lied To”

Priceless

When something goes wrong with the HVAC unit at my home, I have someone I call for help. He has all the knowledge and ability to repair and perform maintenance on the unit, but that’s not the main reason I call him. Of course, those things are important, but there’s something much more important to me. I trust this guy. He does what he says he is going to do. He is dependable. He is honest as well. One time, he made a minor mistake, but he owned up to it immediately. I would have no problem leaving him a key to my house for him to go in while I wasn’t there in order to complete a job. Continue reading “Priceless”

Daddy is Pleased

As I watched my son graduate from college recently, I was beaming with pride. A quick google search provides this definition for the word “proud”: feeling deep pleasure or satisfaction as a result of one’s own achievements, qualities, or possessions or those of someone with whom one is closely associated. That about sums it up. I know the hard work he put into his education. I know how he put great effort into learning things he wanted to learn, along with things that he did not necessarily care much about. I know how he was met with great professors who walked along beside him and encouraged him over the course of his college years. I also know there were likely professors that were not so easy to get along with. He persisted and prevailed through it all, good and bad.

Although I am thrilled to see him accomplish such a task, I am even more pleased with the young man I know that he is. It’s not all about what he does or doesn’t do. Whether he succeeds or fails at any given task, I have seen first-hand what is inside of him. He is loving, caring, passionate, driven, and discerning. Those qualities are always there (and others as well), despite what circumstances come his way. I have thoroughly enjoyed watching him grow, and I look forward to seeing the impact he will have in the world as he moves forward from this point in his life.

While the emotions of this milestone continue to swirl around within me, I am reminded of something. THIS is how God views us, his beloved children. He is so proud of us. He is pleased when he gazes upon us. He loves watching us be who He created us to be. Yeah, He likes to see us achieve goals and cross finish lines, but whether we do or don’t, he loves us the same. He knows what is inside of us because He created us. We are free from any condemnation (Romans 8:1,2). We are beautiful, forgiven, and complete in His eyes (Colossians 1:14 and 2:10). We are never separated from His unconditional love for us (Romans 8:35-39). He has chosen each of us to bear fruit that He has prepared for us to bear long, long ago…even before we were born (John 15:16).

For those of us who are parents (either biologically or those who have chosen to be one in the life of a child who doesn’t necessarily share the same genes), as we look at them with loving eyes may we remember that we have a Heavenly Parent who looks at us in a very similar way.

-Neil

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Too Risky to Trust?

I am not one who trusts easy. Throughout my life, I have leaned more towards waiting for others to prove their trustworthiness before letting down my guard. I have erred on the side of caution, assuming the worst in others. Self-protection often seems much more important than anything “trust” could offer. Hurt, rejection, betrayal, and a dose of what seems like an inborn tendency to mistrust have all led to this perspective. If those were not enough, my own failures in being trustworthy have added to the belief that trust should be regarded as something dangerous and bound to wind up in disappointment.

Trust is worth the risk.

Wow, what a ridiculous bolded sentence. For those of us who struggle with trust, those five words might strike us as annoying, at the very least. They likely have garnished a quick roll of the eyes. I will admit, I often do not believe that sentence, either. At any given point in my life, only a handful of people experience me turning off my self-security system and allowing myself to trust. So, why would someone who seems to fear trust so greatly bother writing about the “benefits of trust”? Despite my trust being violated many times, the times that it has been honored and treasured by others have been worth telling about. Those moments have been worth the risk to press forward in the realm of trust. I want to try to give you some ideas of why this is…for me, anyway.

Trust lets me be loved.

When I do not trust, I put on a mask. I hide myself from others. The most they get is what I want them to see, and I do not want them to see the real me. Therefore, when I do not trust, there is no way I receive any true love from anyone. This does not mean others do not love me. They may love me deeply. However, my mask and other methods of self-protection block any love offered to me. I do not get to experience it. The best I get is for others to like my performance (my mask). Many times it winds up with me pushing others away (rejecting them before the perceived rejection I think they will offer me if I let them see the real me).

Trust helps me grow and mature.

As I let others into my life, they get to see me. They get to see my true struggles. They get to share in that with me. They get to walk alongside me. As they love me in those ways, they also get permission to speak to me about those things. These moments help me to see things I cannot see myself. Everyone needs a mirror to see what’s really going on with themselves. Trusting others does something very similar.

Trust protects me.

Self-protection cannot be relied upon for lasting security. It may feel good, especially when we are fearful of being hurt. However, it is a lie that we can protect ourselves in this life. We need others. We are built for relationships, and part of that is needing the protection we can offer each other. As I mentioned before, we need mirrors to see what’s going on with ourselves. We may have something deadly going on that, without someone lovingly pointing it out, would go unnoticed to the point that it really hurts us and others around us. It may be the way we speak to those who work under us, how we handle our child’s discipline, or the way we neglect our spouse’s needs. Trust opens up the door for us to be enlightened to how we are affecting others around us and ourselves.

Trust is one of the most important things in our lives.

God has been very clear about trust. Above all else, He wants us to trust Him. He wants us to believe Him. He has demonstrated his love for us in such magnificent ways in order to win our trust. When we don’t trust Him, we lack the truth and we lack the ability to be loved and to love others. Without trust, we are lost. Faith (trust) is a gateway to experiencing His grace. When we fail in trusting Him, we will fail in trusting others, and vice versa. Our trusting of people and God go hand-in-hand. We cannot even trust who we really are outside of trusting who He says He is. Did you get that? Add that to the list of what trust does. Trust allows us to see and experience who we really are. That is something self-protection and mask-wearing can never do.

-Neil

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Be Kind and Ask Questions

Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. (Acts 17:11, ESV)

In this passage of Scripture, Paul and Silas are fresh off of being rejected by a group of people in a place called Thessalonica. There was some jealousy behind much of the rebellion, according to Acts 17:5. It got kind of ugly, actually. If you want to read through Acts 17:1-9, you will see what I mean.

Paul and Silas left Thessalonica at night, to protect themselves by the cover of darkness from the angry mob that wanted to make false accusations against them. They moved on to a place called Berea.

As Paul and Silas shared Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Bereans were kind enough to sit and listen. They did this, even though they were skeptical. They weren’t sure that what they were hearing was actually true. Instead of berating Paul and Silas because they were teaching something different, they chose to spend time with Paul and Silas daily. They read and examined to see if their words agreed with what Scripture said. Many of the Bereans discovered that Paul and Silas were telling the truth, and they became believers.

A segment of the group in Thessalonica rejected Paul and Silas without truly listening to them with an open mind and heart. They jumped to accusations and did everything they could to discredit them and shut them up. The majority of Bereans were “more noble”, showing fine personal qualities such as a listening ear and putting forth the effort and time to get to know Paul and Silas while working together through Scriptures to find the truth. If they had not listened, they would not have discovered the truth.

Be kind and listen in order to remove our blinders, connect with others, and discover truth.

We are often approached by others (in person, through commercials on TV, while listening to sermons, etc.) who are telling us something they believe to be true (or at least they claim to believe it). Some are speaking truth like Paul and Silas, while others are not. Either way, it is good for us to listen and examine what is being said in order to discern whether it is true or not.

First of all, it is good to be kind to others rather than jump to conclusions that are likely to be influenced by our own personal prejudices and other issues (like the Thessalonians who allowed their jealousy to drive their actions). We are often blind to our own biases that cause us to see things and people incorrectly. To take the blinders off, we must acknowledge to ourselves that this is true of us. We DO have biases that God is working to correct in our hearts.

Second, it is good to listen in order to get to know people. Even if we find that we disagree on some things, we might be able to find a new friend that we enjoy spending time with. We don’t have to agree with each other in order to be kind to, learn from, and enjoy each other.

Telling others they are wrong is not the best way to identify truth for us or them.

The Thessalonians were pretty quick to paint Paul and Silas as liars and troublemakers. When we encounter others that we disagree with, the quickest way to end any chance of real dialogue is to put up our defenses and tell them they are wrong. We must care for, listen to, and connect with others, not just to share truth with them.

Despite what we might think, we are not always right. To find truth, we need relationships with others that produce authentic conversations. I believe this is what happened with the Bereans, Paul, and Silas. They spent time together, and allowed the truth to shine through their conversations over Scriptures. I believe there were likely more questions asked than authoritative statements condemning what the others were saying. Questions are good and they open up dialogue.

Humility leads to kindness and questions.

Humility produces kindness and spurs us towards asking others questions when they present something in opposition to what we believe to be right. Believing we are always right is a self-righteous trait that produces condemning words and actions towards each other. When we are quick to point out how wrong we think others are, we remain stuck where we are. We fail to embrace and share grace (which is the very core of the Gospel).

We grow when we say let down our guard and have a willingness to learn. We may reaffirm what we already know, or we might find we need to reject something we thought was right and replace it with a newfound truth. More importantly, we may wind up with a connection with someone who we truly enjoy being around. God is relational. When we find ourselves forsaking those things that build relationships, we have lost sight of what’s truly important.

-Neil

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An Error in Judgment

I had it all planned out.  The appraiser was to be at this particular apartment unit at a certain time on a certain day.  That apartment’s maintenance technician was aware, and he would be there to meet the appraiser and carry out the plan.  As far as I knew, everything was happening as scheduled.  The phone rang and I soon found out otherwise.  The technician had been waiting all day, but the other party never arrived.  I quickly became irritated.  This was unacceptable!  Why set up an appointment time if you are not going to adhere to it!  I let my opinion be made known to the maintenance tech and apologized that he was made to waste his time waiting on someone that did not show up.  His response was totally different than mine.  He said something to the effect of, “Well, maybe he had something come up….a heart attack, or stroke, or some other emergency.  You never know.”  You see, this maintenance tech knew from his own personal episode of having a medical emergency that things happen that we may be unaware of.

I suffer from “Fundamental Attribution Error”, and some of you reading this do, too.

There have been studies done that were directed at identifying many of the biases that we have that affect how we view ourselves and others. One of these is known as “Fundamental Attribution Error”. It’s a view in which we judge others on their character, but ourselves on the situation. For instance, if I do not sleep well, and this lack of sleep caused me to be slow the following day, I would know why I was slow. I might even give myself a break by saying, “Oh well, I didn’t sleep well last night, it makes sense for me to be a little slow today”. However, when I witness someone else moving slowly, with this bias I would judge them much more harshly, not taking into account that there might be a good reason for that person’s lethargy.

It is good for us to be willing to consider unknown circumstances that affect others.

Just like it is important not to be too hard on ourselves, while still taking personal responsibility for things in our lives that we need to, it is also important to offer this grace to others. We may have no idea what is causing another person to be on edge, spaced out, or snippy, but we may very well be falsely judging them when we label them as incompetent, procrastinators, stupid, lazy, or jerks. In many cases, only God knows why they are behaving the way they do.

We will wind up hating everyone, or loving others well, depending on which path we take.

There are two paths in front of us when we encounter someone who is behaving in a way that does not sit well with us. We can assume they have no reason or excuse for their actions, and offer them no grace whatsoever. On this path, we wind up judging them based solely on what we can see and hear while ignoring our own issues that cause us to behave badly at times. The other choice is to look at them knowing that there is a whole life of circumstances that we simply do not know or begin to understand, and be willing to offer them the same grace that we need ourselves when we are going through a hard time and maybe even taking it out on the wrong people around us. The first path has us put blinders on, falsely believing that we have it together better than the person in front of us. It leads to a life of being disgusted with people by an ever-increasing number as we find more and more people to put on our “naughty list”. The second path leads to a life of enjoying others despite their imperfections. Sure, we will need boundaries with many people we encounter, once we know more about them. However, that path ultimately allows us to build healthy relationships rather than destroy them before they have a chance to start.

Healthy relationships offer healing for ourselves and others as we learn how to share love and grace with each other.

God freely offers grace to us and loves to see us share it with each another. Without grace, we are lost in sin and circumstances, as well as all the negative effects that comes with both. Grace offers a chance to see what is causing our issues. It offers a safe place to work through those issues. It offers friendships that sustain us through really hard times. It gives us what we need when we need it. Grace doesn’t ask us to be perfect or to strive hard to earn our way out of our pits (even if we dug them ourselves). Grace offers us a hand, puts an arm around us, squeezes us tight, and says, “I love you no matter what. Let’s take a look at what’s going on here. I’m not going to leave you in this mess. We will get through this.”

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5, ESV)

-Neil

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I Don’t Really Have Anything To Say

The title says it all. There is no set rule, but Melissa and I typically take turns writing blog posts each week to share with those of you who join in and read what we have to say. Today, you may be disappointed. Or not. I’m not sure. But one thing IS for sure, I am speaking from my heart because I am beginning this with no plans of making a preconceived point today.

Sometimes we are just full.

A couple of weeks ago, Melissa and I were eating with some very good friends of ours. In conversation, the topic of reading books came up. I expressed how I used to love reading. I read all the time. I looked forward to my next book. However, recently, I have not been reading at all. I’ve avoided it. This noticeable shift in behavior was disconcerting for me. However, one of our insightful friends was not at all concerned. She said, “Maybe you are just full, Neil”. Wow, she was right.

I spent a great deal of time for years engaged in learning all I could. I didn’t read fiction books. I was focused on books that helped me shape my ever-expanding perspective of things that were important to me. I didn’t leave any room for what one might call “pleasure reading”. I would have argued that what I was doing WAS pleasurable. However, it was also draining and gave little room for relaxation.

Even when we are full, there is always room for dessert.

I have thought a great deal about our friend’s simple, but profound assessment of my situation. One thing that has come to mind is this: even when I have eaten enough to be full, there’s always room for a little bit more. That “little bit more” doesn’t need to be something major. It doesn’t need to be taxing. It just needs to be something I can sit back and enjoy. Many people like a slice of cake, a brownie, a cookie, or something else sweet. It’s not about getting in the nutrients at that point. It’s simply about enjoying something. I think that’s where I am. I have filled myself with a lot of information. It’s a lot of work to sort it all out. I’ve put in a lot of work already, and it can overwhelming at times thinking about everything I’ve filled my head with. I need to allow myself to enjoy taking in some things in life that are not necessary, but enjoyable. I need some activities, or time spent with certain fun people, that simply makes me smile. I need to apply the idea of “taking a Sabbath”, and I’m not just talking about one day a week. Instead, I’m referring to a moment here, and moment there. An hour here, an hour there. God presents plenty of opportunities to rest in His Grace and Love and to experience it all with others. But, in order to notice these opportunities, I must look for them and embrace them.

When we’ve filled our bellies, it is time to digest what’s in there.

Of course, I cannot “eat, drink, and be merry” all the time. Well, I could, but that’s not the best avenue to take. With all that I’ve taken in over the last several years, it is high time that I allow myself to engage that material and work through it. How does it all fit into my life? How might it shape my perspective on myself, others, and God? Who might I have conversations with about these things that would allow me space to digest it all? Those are some important questions that might help me digest what I’ve filled myself up with so that I can move forward. Sitting around with a bloated stomach doesn’t exactly drive me to do anything, let alone move forward. It certainly does not bode well for writing blog posts! Yes, I’m full, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Instead, it might mean that I have a lot to talk about, think about, and to celebrate over some chocolate chip pancakes for dessert.

-Neil

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Rocket

This past weekend, I was riding around with my wife, listening to music. The song “Rocket” by The Smashing Pumpkins came on. I have probably heard this song no less than 10,000 times (I am a huge Pumpkins’ fan), but for some reason on this particular day, the meaning of this song really jumped out at me like never before. Here are the lyrics that caught me initially:

I torch my soul to show
The world that I am pure
Deep inside my heart
No more lies

Keep in mind, this is my interpretation of the song, but I hear the songwriter, Billy Corgan, struggling with the fact that he has been trying so hard to earn other people’s approval that he has lost himself in the process. If you listen to the whole song, not just the lyrics above, Corgan goes further to state that he misses himself, the REAL man behind all the masks he wears to try to convince others he is something he is not. He has had glimpses of who he really is, but it has faded to only a dream now. He buys into the lie that there is something inherently wrong with him, so he needs to hide himself and be what he thinks others want him to be. Apparently others have made comments confirming the lie, and he has bought into them wholeheartedly. However, he has grown weary of living a lie and wants to be free…free to be himself and not just an actor (hypocrite) for those around him. He desires to “bleed in his own light” and actually live the life he has been dreaming about: being who he was created to be, whatever that may look like…free from the critical voices of all the people around him.

We lose ourselves in the endless, exhausting goal of trying to please others.

I know everyone is not like me. Some are huge people pleasers, some are not. I see myself looking to a few voices in my life at a time, never too many, but just enough to get me off track at times (it doesn’t take much of looking to what others think to make one stumble). The Enemy loves to heap condemnation on me through not only my struggle with failures, but what others might think of those failures. I begin to think, at times, that maybe God looks at me the same way…disappointed with me, shaking His head at my performance that’s never quite good enough.

Paul talked about being a people pleaser:

“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10, ESV)

When I catch myself trying to please others, worrying myself over getting their approval, I am not serving Christ. People, or at least their opinion of me, becomes not only my focus, but my idol. In those moments when their approval is my priority, I am giving them the power to tell me who I am. My identity rests in the hands of those that I look to for acceptance. If they disapprove of me, I believe I am worthless. If they approve of me, I feel great temporarily, but then I have to work hard to keep the approval coming, losing any sense of who God really created me to be in the process. Like Corgan masterfully said in the song, “I torch my soul” trying to prove myself.

Walking by Grace through Faith is so tough. The fear of what others think is a sinister weapon of the Enemy that I need to make myself aware of on a daily basis. Surrendering to God and holding onto His Truth concerning my identity in my Savior Jesus Christ is the only thing that will set me free…free from the drive to please others, free from the condemnation felt in the criticism others dish out, and free to be the man God created me to be. No matter how I feel or what others say, I am who God says I am, and He is pleased with me.

God’s Truth and Love sends us soaring away from the voices that drag us down and into what He has planned for us.

The song title, again, is “Rocket”. I believe Corgan intended this to illustrate his freedom as he rockets away in the sky, away from all the phony masks he has created in attempts to gain the approval of others. At the risk of sounding a bit cheesy here, I guess the real rocket for us is made up of God’s Truth and Love. Without truth, we would remain slaves to what others think of us, or some other worthless idol that only keeps us meandering around on the ground instead of soaring off into the sky to experience what God has planned for us. Without His unconditional love, we would feel hopelessly lost and rejected. We would be stranded in the dirt, held down by our insufficient efforts to garner some sense of acceptance and love.

-Neil

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