Monday Morning Moment – Strengthening Decision-making with Collaborative Conversations

Blog - Collaborative ConversationsPhoto Credit: AJCarlisle.files.wordpress.com

[Adapted from the Archives]

Change is normal, and resisting change is normal as well. You may be part of an organization or company where sweeping changes are being implemented, even this week. Or maybe you are not on the inside loop of these decisions, so you are not privy to the change coming. Whether you are part of that process or not, consider how you might have a role in making change work, in your sphere of influence, among your colleagues.

You may already have read and profited from the book Crucial Conversations. Now consider collaborative conversations. Collaboration, simply defined, is “working together towards shared goals”. Collaborative conversations bring a collective intelligence to bear on the problem to be solved, vision to be defined, or direction to be changed.Blog - Collaborative ConversationsPhoto Credit: ThoughtFarmer.com

David Perkins, a Harvard professor, wrote about collaborative conversations in the workplace, using the metaphor of King Arthur’s round table. He described the beneficial nature of bringing several principal players (or stakeholders) to the table and treating each one with an equal or autonomous voice.

Perkins’ book King Arthur’s Round Table: How Collaborative Conversations Create Smart Organizations is a tremendous resource in developing this kind of decision-making work environment. An Executive Book Summary* can help you get started.

“A round table makes it a little easier to pool mental effort. A round table makes a group a little more intelligent…For a group to display intelligence in a sustained way, the members have to value their exchanges and stick together to keep making them. This depends on positive symbolic conduct [side messages sent by our words and behavior]…and collaboration… It’s not ideas, but people with ideas that make things happen.”David Perkins

“One of the simplest ways to immunize a culture against broken trust, corruption, and animosity is to build a common vision.”David Perkins

I personally thrive in such a setting and intuitively understand the value-adding nature of collaborative conversations. In researching this workplace topic, and choosing the links below, I came across a fascinating paper** by Heather Davis, a professor of RMIT University Australia.

Davis presented her paper at the 14th International Conference on Thinking (2009, Malaysia). She discussed how workplace leaders often choose “languages of war” in making and communicating decisions and creating change. Her paper is heady stuff but if you read her thoughts below you will want to read the whole paper. It gives huge support to the role of collaborative conversations.

“In [leadership’s] ‘language of zealous allegiance’, there are expectations of allegiance [in the workplace] that lay a path for uncritical acceptance and passivity. This manifests in an expectation that followers be conscripted wholly to the cause. There is little room for questioning. ‘Conscription means one important thing: there is no questioning of orders, one only executes them; “either you’re with us or you’re against us”.’ “

“Rhetoric plays out in the workplace too and can be tested by how well leaders:

  • hear and acknowledge the ‘other’ point of view,
  • see the ‘other’ as people rather than pawns or simply abstractions,
  • manage the distance, materially and metaphorically, between themselves and the people and sites affected by their decisions.”

“In the corporate world there are many examples of executives living and working in gated communities or otherwise removed by dint of corporate hierarchy or geography from the people and conditions affected by their decisions. Often, these leaders are also surrounded by people who can only agree, leading to little opportunity for double loop learning or deeply reasoned decision making processes. Whether our leaders live in gated communities is their business, but if they think, work and take refuge within a ‘gated’ mindset then we all need to be concerned. These conditions lead to hubris and have been the undoing of many leaders and corporations.”

The role of the organisation is ‘to know its purpose and not be diverted from it’ (Drucker, 1993). This is a timely reminder here – easier said than done in times of flux, complexity and discontinuous change.”

“The main difference between Perkins’ languages of war and peace are that the war metaphor is founded on exclusivity and a preference for limiting discourse to its [leadership’s] own narrowly defined boundaries. Perkins’s peace metaphor is founded on inclusivity and opening up the space for conversations and conflicting views [i.e., collaborative conversations].”

“Oppositional language and the pitting of one deeply held worldview against another will not lead to resolving the underlying problems of the workplace. Rather, space for conversations to surface underlying assumptions is required. Perkins’ language of peace metaphor confirms that that there are always other lenses to view the world through, not just the one that [leadership] prefers.”Heather Davis

Provocative reading from this Australian educator.

Bottom line: Those of us in leadership carry a great burden of responsibility. We at times must make difficult and sometimes painful decisions. Adding voices to that decision-making can generate even more challenging processes to negotiate. However, we will make more sustainable decisions for “better futures” if we bring those most affected (or most experienced or insightful) to the table. Whenever possible. That’s the gain of collaborative conversations – working together toward shared vision and shared ownership.

Stay engaged in your workplace. Don’t entertain indifference. Stay in the conversation. You can make a difference.

*King Arthur’s Round TableHow Collaborative Conversations Create Smart Organizations by David Perkins – an Executive Book Summary

**Troubling Invisible Barriers to Better Futures: Surfacing the “Five Languages of War” in the Workplace – a scholarly paper by Heather Davis, presented at the 14th International Conference on Thinking

Leadership Lessons from King Arthur – a Review of Harvard Professor David Perkins’ book King Arthur’s Round Table

The Five Literacies of Global Leadership – What Authentic Leaders Know and You Need to Find Out – by David Hames – Business Book Summary

The Perils of Indifference – a Speech by Elie Wiesel

How to Lead When Change is the New Normal – Emer Coleman

The Art of Collaboration (Collaborative Behaviors) – by Steve Dale (includes a SlideShare)

Collaboration: What Does It Really Mean? – Carlos Dominguez

What Is a Coaching Conversation? from Opening the Door to Coaching Conversations by Linda Gross Cheliotes and Marceta Fleming Reilly 

Cutting Through the Hype – What “Collaboration” Really Means – ThoughtFarmer.com

5 Choices You’ll Regret Forever – Travis Bradberry

Worship Wednesday – God With us – MercyMe

Photo Credit: ASU Now

Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof.Psalm 96:11

“If I say, ‘I will not mention Him or speak any more in His name,’ His message becomes a fire burning in my heart, shut up in my bones, and I become weary of holding it in, and I cannot prevail.” – the prophet Jeremiah, Jeremiah 20:9

“Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” But some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples!” “I tell you,” He answered, “If they remain silent, the very stones will cry out.”Luke 19:38-40

But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than God. For we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heart.”Acts 4:20

The Scripture speaks over and over again about how God is always present with us. Always present. How do we respond to such a phenomenal truth? The accounts in the Bible resonate our own experiences – we are moved to worship this amazing ever-present God and we are loosed in speaking of His greatness. We can’t but speak.

“He is here. Right now. Fully, completely. He is in you, around you, with you, over you, about you, for you, on time, in the middle of, surrounding you and the ones you love, in complete power, communicating as clearly as any time in history, doing perfectly to you, for you, by you, thinking about you every moment, walking directly into the middle of your worst day, your worst moment, your worst fear, your pain, your loneliness, your doubts, your insecurity, your sickness, your tragedy, your fragileness, your hope, your joy, your peace, your dreams, your relationships, your love, your longing to have your life count. He is here. He is champion and author of every beauty you find yourself longing for. He is the one who stands over you in the darkest hour. He is lifting you up, when you are too exhausted, too devastated, too hopeless, too failed, too compromised, too far gone. He is in this season.” – John Lynch

Immanuel by John Lynch – Mundane Faithfulness

In Genesis 37-50, we marvel at the story of Jacob’s son, Joseph – sold into slavery by his own brothers, wrongly imprisoned, and then… forgotten? No. Not forgotten. Not by God.

Joseph lived as a slave and a prisoner for a total of 13 years. Always faithful to a very present God. Then in a providential, “for such a time as this” moment, the Lord brought him out and he was placed in the highest position of authority under Pharoah. It would be another 9 years before he would see his brothers again, but when he did, he would be able to come to their aid, and that of all the peoples of that day.

We are moved by the God who is always present with us. We are riveted by what we find in the Scriptures about how He works in the smallest details to bring about our good and His glory (Genesis 50:20; Romans 8:28). Then we are taken to our knees when we see Him do the same in our lives today.

“God glorifies himself towards the creatures also [in] two ways: (1) by appearing to them, being manifested to their understanding; (2) in communicating himself to their hearts, and in their rejoicing and delighting in, and enjoying the manifestations which he makes of himself. . . . God is glorified not only by his glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in. . . . [W]hen those that see it delight in it: God is more glorified than if they only see it; his glory is then received by the whole soul, both by the understanding and by the heart.”Jonathan Edwards

We can do nothing less than worship. It is our complete joy to do so. Out of that worship, we understand God and His purposes more, and we rejoice. It becomes a joy to walk with Him wherever He takes us…right?Photo Credit: Media Shout

[We all have times when we feel alone…that no one cares; that we are invisible. Truth is…that is not true no matter how real it feels. Hold on to the “each others” that God brings to you…hold onto Him.]

MercyMe with lead singer/songwriter Bart Millard has delivered two of my favorite contemporary worship songs: I Can Only Imagine and Even If. This song God With Us reminds us of His loving constancy in our lives. It also reveals how it is that we can’t help but lift our voices about Him and raise our hands because of Him. He is with us!

Worship with me.

Who are we
That You would be mindful of us
What do You see
That’s worth looking our way

We are free
In ways that we never should be
Sweet release
From the grip of these chains

Like hinges straining from the weight
My heart no longer can keep from singing

CHORUS
All that is within me cries
For You alone be glorified
Emmanuel . God with us

My heart sings a brand new song
The debt is paid these chains are gone
Emmanuel . God with us

Lord . You know
Our hearts don’t deserve Your glory
Still You show
A love we cannot afford

Like hinges straining from the weight
My heart no longer can keep from singing

CHORUS

Such a tiny offering
Compared to Calvary
But nevertheless
We lay it at your feet

Such a tiny offering
Compared to Calvary
But nevertheless
We lay this at your feet

CHORUS

O my soul, bless God.
    From head to toe, I’ll bless his holy name!
O my soul, bless God,
    don’t forget a single blessing!

     He forgives your sins—every one.
    He heals your diseases—every one.
    He redeems you from hell—saves your life!
    He crowns you with love and mercy—a paradise crown.
    He wraps you in goodness—beauty eternal.
    He renews your youth—you’re always young in his presence.                      –   Psalm 103:1-5, The Message

*Lyrics to God With Us – Songwriters: James Philip Bryson, Nathan Fay Cochran, Barry Earn Graul, Bart Marshall Millard, Michael John Scheuchzer, Robin Troy Shaffer

Story Behind the Song God With Us – Kevin Davis

The Place of Preaching in Worship – John Piper

Monday Morning Moment – Ian Bremmer – on Global Politics and Replacing Rage with Hope

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

How do American politics affect our ability and capacity to be a force for good on the world stage?  What elements align to make any of global nations consequential or inconsequential? What natural or geopolitical events will lead to migrations of people to who knows where? What are the top political risks facing our country and our world today?

Political scientist and thought leader Ian Bremmer was just an unknown name on our Richmond Forum subscription for this year’s season. Then we heard him speak. Wow! My ignorance was what was showing.

Ian Bremmer is a brilliant, funny, courageous, optimistic analyst of all things global. He has conversations with world political and economic leaders and their staff, and I’m sure he asks excellent questions. His analysis is intriguing because he clearly knows what he’s talking about and he kindly brought it down to a fifth grader’s understanding.Photo Credit: Richmond Forum

Ian Bremmer Engages with Geopolitics, Honesty, and Humor at The Richmond Forum – Thomas Breeden

The best part of the whole evening was his unflappable honesty. He clearly had his biases regarding world leaders, including our own country’s leaders. Yet, he takes the larger and longer view. I so appreciated that. It’s part of why he’s not “crazy”, as he encouraged us not to be as well when we read and watch the news each day.

Bremmer told the audience his goal for the evening was to make us all “10% less crazy.” What makes us crazy regarding our country’s politics? He summed it up memorably:

A lot of us feel like our system is rigged. A lot of us feel like our representatives are not representing us. A lot of us feel like the American dream no longer applies to us. And they feel like when the political leaders or the CEOs or the bankers or the journalists or the public intellectuals—God forbid—are talking to us, that they’re lying.”Ian Bremmer

If we daily wonder if we’re being lied to by our politicians and not truly represented by our elected officials, then we do become a little crazy…distrusting our government and divided and polarized in our thinking, depending on our particular brand of politics.

Adding to this, Bremmer gives four other factors that fuel the divide:

  • Immigration – So much talk and very little done on either side of the aisle to improve the system – with the hope of making it fair for all who would like a chance to immigrate as well as humane and just for those foregoing lawful entry to the country.
  • Economic Inequality – This continues to increase, and it heightens the political divide between peoples as well. It adds to the “us vs. them” scenario.
  • Wars – When we seem always on the brink of a war (either threatened by a nuclear power or compelled to enter because of an oppressed ally, we struggle again with trusting our leadership, especially as our spouses and children lay their lives on the line for these wars. For what purpose?
  • Social Media – The rage of the average citizen who feels unheard or discounted by his government is stoked through the comments of others on social media. Where are the conversations being had by reasonable people with a stake in the outcome?

Ian Bremmer addressed these stressors and then he calmly proceeded with a survey of global and national threats and trends. I won’t go into them here but you can follow his generous, insightful commentary on all the latest news via his website, broadcasts, books, and Twitter/Facebook feeds. He will educate you and encourage how to engage rather than isolate.

[Forgive me for staying general on this, regarding geo-political risks.]

Bremmer gave two excellent challenges to us. The first is to find a person who we disagree with politically but who we respect (I have a short list of those valuable friends and family members). Then engage in conversation, with the goal to listen, learn, and better understand. Our default is to be enraged but not engage…we just read their social media posts and don’t comment, or worse, do…when we could actually create face-to-face dialogue. Neither of us may change but we have the opportunity to grow closer in coming to viable solutions to the problems we face.

His second challenge was to encourage our young people to study abroad…even in high school, even just for a semester. To put themselves in the minority. To learn from others who have similar problems as well as quite different ones. To learn how to draw down conflict and create understanding. To learn how to problem-solve with less monetary resources. These young people of ours will be the ones who will have to figure out how to flourish in the world we are leaving them.

Ian Bremmer talks reality but with hope and a healthy sense of humor. We would do well to follow his example in this…whether we agree with him on all points or not.

From a secular point of view, he came as close to answering my life-long question “Why can’t we all get along?” Bremmer’s talk also reminded me of Dr. Seuss’ book Oh, the Places You’ll Go. In the midst of a forum on global politics, economic upheaval, war and poverty, he posed the possibility of hope…if we show up and engage with one another.

YouTube Video – Ian Bremmer on the Failure of Globalism – some of the content we enjoyed at the Richmond Forum.

YouTube Video – Ian Bremmer – How the US Should Use Its Superpower Status

Global Warming: Severe Consequences for Africa – Dan Shepard [Ian Bremmer got me to consider global warming more seriously when he talked about how the peoples of equatorial Africa will one day have to leave their countries and immigrate north.]

5 Friday Faves – The Godfather Theme, Roaring Lambs, a Very Different Jesus, Core Values, and Finally Spring

Here’s to your weekend! 5 favorite finds from this week:

1) The Godfather Theme – One of the most iconic films of all time was The Godfather adapted from the 1969 novel of the same name. The story focused on the fictional New York crime family, the Corleone’s. So engrossing was the narrative that two later films of the same name followed. Composer Nino Rota‘s theme from The Godfather is beautiful and memorable. Whether or not you’ve ever seen the film(s), you know this melody. Nathan Mills has again taken this giant of a song and arranged a gorgeous piece for a single classical guitar.

[Sidebar: One of Nathan’s guitar students is doing a semester abroad in Dublin, Ireland. He heard a local guitarist playing and it reminded him of Nathan’s style of playing -at Beyond the Guitar. He engaged the guitarist in conversation and found out that he knows Nathan’s work and follows his music. Small guitar world. Sweet little story for you who follow and support Nathan’s music as well.]

2) Roaring Lambs – Many years ago, I read TV producer Bob Briner‘s book Roaring Lambs. Says Briner: “In my circles, Christians are thought of as people who are against things. I want us to be known as people who are for things good, wholesome, creative, wonderful, and fulfilling. That’s the message of the Gospel and it ought to be the message in all that we do.” His audience was Christians but there is wisdom for anyone who wants to make a difference rather than just a reputation or wants to make a change rather than just noise. We don’t think of lambs roaring, but Briner challenged the reader to take their work to the next level but not only aiming for excellence but for a depth and breadth that touches the lives of those around them.Photo Credit: Mountain Pleasant Granary

A woman I only know by what her “roaring lamb” reputation retired recently. Her job was made redundant by a new software program that was adopted in her workplace. What everyone will miss, as much as they will miss her diligence to task, is the beauty she brought to her department. Her generous gift of hospitality in both decorating common areas and serving food to her colleagues made it a joy just to leave the elevator and enter that office suite. She will be so missed.

Another “roaring lamb” work can be environmental services in a hospital. The tasks that make for a safe place to heal often go unseen and unrewarded. However, we all know personally or have heard stories of what can happen when either care or diligence aren’t exercised in this vital work group.

Finally, award-winning cartoonist Johnny Hart, after coming to Christianity later in life, made an intentional decision to incorporate his faith into some of his work. Some newspapers dropped his comic strips (B. C. and Wizard of Id) because of this, but most continued to publish them. His work was much-loved and his intent was just to use the medium of cartoons to inform on faith issues (as some use comics to do the same with political issues).

He died at his drawing table on Easter Eve 2007 after finishing his strip for the next day. It was fitting for this “roaring lamb”. [I wish I could post it but you can find it here.]

Roaring Lambs:  A Gentle Plan to Radically Change Your World – Bob Briner

How to Be a ‘Roaring Lamb’ – Warren Cole Smith

I Did It His Way: a Collection of B. C. Religious Comic Strips – Johnny Hart

3) A Very Different Jesus – I am always baffled when Jesus is treated as inconsequential…some sort of weak made-up messiah of even weaker people who call themselves Christians. Maybe, the reason is because of how we Christians have represented Him in the world. This historical profoundly world-changing Jesus is so much more than is captured in the Charles Wesley song “Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild”.Photo Credit: Slideplayer

The Scriptures say that Jesus is “the same, yesterday, today, forever” (Hebrews 13:8). If this is true then we can search out who He is and what He is like.

British scholar C. S. Lewis, in his Chronicles of Narnia, described Aslan, the Christ-figure, very differently:

“Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh”, said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he…quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”…”Safe?”, said Mr. Beaver…”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”Photo Credit: Mark Meynell, Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

The night before the crucifixion of Christ, a large mob of both religious authorities and Roman soldiers came for him in the dark of night (John 18:1-14). If he had resisted, by the might of His power seen previously, they would need large numbers to insure his arrest. Jesus did not resist arrest. He went of his own accord, knowing his journey to the Cross was at hand. For our sake, He laid down His own power…His own life (Philippians 2:5-8 and John 10:17-18).

We admire first responders – those who run into danger for the sake of those who can’t save themselves. Everything we know, when we read both the Gospel and other religious (and secular) texts, is that Jesus was this kind of different.

The question for all of us is “what will you do with this Jesus?”

The Rebellious Privacy of God: Rowan Williams on Narnia in “The Lion’s World” – Mark Meynell

4) Core Values – A friend of mine this week raised the question of what were my family’s core values. I hadn’t thought of that…in a long while. Not even sure I’ve wrestled with my own core values lately.

We hear of the core values of organizations.

Photo Credit: Multi Works Ltd.

The military publicizes and trains its personnel with core values in mind…differing somewhat depending on what branch of the military.

Photo Credit: Asia J. Sorenson

Corporate strategist and author Ben Sands has written a super helpful piece on discovering your core values. He talks about how our core values are those few we lead out with in our lives.

How to Discover Your Personal Core Values (and Why You Must!) – Ben Sands

So I went through this article and his list of values. He also gives a 4-step process for narrowing down to our core values. I’m still working through it, but below are my list of values (that I need to fine-tune to a Top 5, and then determine guiding principles, per his prescription):

  • Belonging/Inclusion
  • Collaboration/Teamwork
  • Community
  • Compassion/Kindness
  • Dependability
  • Faith
  • Family
  • Gratitude
  • Honesty/Transparency

How about you? Sands calls our core values our “safety net”. Otherwise, we don’t really have a mooring to dock our lives. I’m thinking he is right. What do you think?

5) Finally Spring – While this week marked the coming of Fall in the Southern Hemisphere, we in the North finally have Spring. Yes. Just a few pics of the glorious flowering around us right now.

Photo Credit: The Colorful Cottage, Facebook; An Extraordinary Day

Bonuses:

The Long Goodbye is finally available for purchase and rental. We watched it last night. Wow! Just wow!

From Sunrise House to forever home: teen finds adoptive family

Photo Credit: Homegrown Learners, Facebook

One of my favorite bloggers (a “roaring lamb” herself) on dealing with criticism from readers:

[This has been a week of hard and hard-to-understand events. They drive us to think and pray and reach out to serve.]

In the wake of the terrorist attack in New Zealand, your community needs you.

Wherever you happen to live, your community needs you to show up and say words out loud, because white silence is violence.

Your people need you to acknowledge that Muslims are people who Jesus loves, and that whether we agree or disagree with their beliefs, nobody deserves this.

They need you to pray against terrorism, violence, and white supremacy, but also to do something about it.

They need you to shut down jokes and little comments that make targets out of people of color or other faiths. Don’t let them slide. Make supremacists uncomfortable.

Your community needs you because only when white people, a LOT of white people, actively stand up and stand with those who experience oppression, terrorism, and loss of life because of the color of their skin and their place of worship, will the terrorists understand that they have lost. That their sickening philosophies are not welcome, even among other white people.

POC cannot do this for us. It is up to us to fill our lives and words and deeds and spaces with so much love and inclusivity that white supremacy cannot fit. That it is squeezed out. We do this by how we react to jokes and comments, what we say or do not say, what we do, how we speak about and treat Muslims and other folks in the margins. Again, we don’t have to agree with their theology, but are we kind? Are we gentle? Are we protective of the oppressed? Do we shut down casual racism and xenophobism when we see and hear it?

It’s up to us.

It’s up to you. Cattie Price, Facebook (with permission)

Agencies In Race Against Time After Cyclone – Mozambique

280 Christians Killed in Attacks in Nigeria

Thoughts on How to Be the Church in an Age of Terror and Tragedy – Carey Nieuwhof

Worship Wednesday – It Is Not Good To Be Alone – I Am Not Alone – Kari Jobe

Blog - I am Not Alone - Kari Jobe FacebookPhoto Credit: Kari Jobe, Facebook

[Adapted from the Archives]

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper corresponding to him.”Genesis 2:18

But now, thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine!” When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you. “For I am the LORD your God.” Isaiah 43:1-3

In all the good that God had accomplished in creating this world (Genesis 1), He Himself points out the one “not good” thing. “It is not good for the man to be alone.

Pastor Cliff is preaching a series on Genesis, and this was where we landed this past Sunday. He talked about that aloneness as being something we experience apart from intimacy with God and His human provision for us. Not just marriage, but family, close friendships, and genuine community.

What Does Genesis 2:18 Mean?

Our hardest battles are the private ones…the ones in which we feel alone. We could be surrounded by coworkers, family members, friends, yet we can’t really bring to words the terror in our hearts…the questions…the sense of isolation, of aloneness. We are not usually overcome by such things; it’s not who we are. Yet, there are days when it seems, seems, that we are alone. Everyone else is rocking with the latest turn in life…but me. It seems I am somehow alone in this.

First…if we could speak it out loud, we would find others with questions and wondering. We are not alone. Especially in the deepest places. Then, remembering again: we have great and many promises that God is with us through all of where He takes us. Most importantly, He sometimes orchestrates these places of weakness for us to remember His strength. It is for us to learn afresh to trust Him. His desire is for us to see and manifest His glory meant for our good and for those around us. This sometimes comes through those dark, desperate times of seeming aloneness. We. Are. Not. Alone.

Several years ago, I heard a seminary professor, Chuck Lawless, teach on spiritual warfare. He reminded us, through passage after passage from God’s Word, that our battles belong to God. He will fight for us. We are not alone.

“We turn to Job when our own life hits the wall. Job 1:20 – Job worshipped. I hope if I lost everything, I would still worship God. In all this, Job did not sin or charge God with wrong. Spiritual warfare – It’s not escaping from the battle; it’s worshipping God in the battle.  Job is in a battle he can’t win. He trusts the Lord anyway. And we must as well.

It is in our weakness that we find victory. When the noose is around our neck. When we can come to a place where we’re content with the worst…then Satan can’t affect us. We lean on God in our weakness – we lean on God. We can say, “I’m o.k. with this.” We don’t like spiritual warfare because we want to hang on to our stuff – our dreams, our idea of ourselves, our position – whatever it is. Hang on to God. Alone.”

When our job is on the line or we are facing an uphill battle in our work, when we face a devastating diagnosis or diminishing health in our elder years, when our marriage is in a hard place or there seems no hope for marriage for us…whatever our situation. We are not alone.

As I listened to Dr. Lawless back then and to Pastor Cliff on Sunday, I looked around the room and my heart filled with love for those people God had placed in our lives. We may be unaware of the struggle…but we know a God who knows and joins us together with Himself and each other…in our struggles.

We have this amazing spiritual privilege, a divine work: to take each other to God in prayer…preemptively. Proactively not just reactively. The more we do this, the more quickly we will remember that the battle belongs to the Lord. [2 Chronicles 20:14-18] Satan would have us divided against each other, feeling on the outside of whatever is the preferred inside, stuck in thinking we are missing whatever is the better part. Not true! God loves us and He fights for each of us. Remember the Truth; cling to Him. We can pray confidently, knowing that we are not alone. Ever.

“The dark of night will not overtake me
I am pressing into You.”Kari Jobe

Worship with me to Kari Jobe‘s beautiful, full-of-truth song I Am Not Alone:

When I walk through deep waters
I know that You will be with me
When I’m standing in the fire
I will not be overcome
Through the valley of the shadow
I will not fear

I am not alone
I am not alone
You will go before me
You will never leave me

In the midst of deep sorrow
I see Your light is breaking through
The dark of night will not overtake me
I am pressing into You
Lord, You fight my every battle
And I will not fear

You amaze me
Redeem me
You call me as Your own

You’re my strength
You’re my defender
You’re my refuge in the storm
Through these trials
You’ve always been faithful
You bring healing to my soul.*

13 Truths About Spiritual Warfare for Leaders [or any of us] – Chuck Lawless

Chuck Lawless on Spiritual Warfare – Website

God is Always with Us

Kari Jobe Explains Story Behind ‘I Am Not Alone’; ‘God Fights for You…You Need Only to be Still’

YouTube Video – Kari Jobe – I Am Not Alone (Live)

YouTube Video – Kari Jobe – I Am Not Alone (Lyric Video/Live)  – walk through a forest

YouTube Video – I Am Not Alone – Kari Jobe – Worship Video with Lyrics

YouTube Video – Psalm 23 (I Am Not Alone) [Live at Linger Conference] People & Songs ft Josh Sherman

*Lyrics to I Am Not Alone – KLove – Songwriters: Kari Jobe, Marty Sampson, Mia Fieldes, Ben Davis, Grant Pittman, Dustin Sauder, and Austin Davis

Monday Morning Moment – The Tyranny of Sensitiveness – C. S. Lewis

Photo Credit: QuickMeme

Years ago, my best friend and I went on a cross-country sight-seeing trip. Our plan was to camp out a couple of nights and then stay in a hotel for the third, and continue in that rhythm for the two weeks we were on our adventure. It didn’t always go well. I loved camping; she preferred the hotel. Our food preferences were more different than we realized. We did, fortunately, agree on the “not to be missed” aspects of our journey across America.

Along with all the great memories made, we had some humdinger disagreements through the course of our time away and returned home even better friends as an outcome. However, it didn’t come easily for either of us.

It turns out I could majorly stomp on her feelings without even knowing that was happening. We have both matured greatly since then so this can encourage you…it has for me in the times in recent years when I find myself in similar situations.

First, you must know I never intended to plow through her preferences to race toward my own. She was my dearest friend. It gave me joy to see her happy. Still…somewhere I crossed a line. In our responses to one another, as friends, family, colleagues, (even strangers on social media) we can discover things both about ourselves and about the other.

Emotions are different from feelings. I’m not going into the physiological pathways or mental habit formation of all this, but the quote below by Debbie Hampton is very helpful:

“Feelings and emotions are two sides of the same coin and highly interconnected but are two very different things…Emotions originally helped our species survive by producing quick reactions to threat, reward, and everything in between in their environments. Emotional reactions are coded in our genes. Emotions precede feelings, are physical, and instinctual. Feelings are sparked by emotions and colored by the thoughts, memories, and images that have become subconsciously linked with that particular emotion for you. But it works the other way around too. For example, just thinking about something threatening can trigger an emotional fear response. While individual emotions are temporary, the feelings they evoke may persist and grow over a lifetime…In the gaps between emotion, feeling, and acting, we all have the power to change and direct our lives for the better. “Debbie Hampton

In the milliseconds between any stimulus and our response to it, we can choose how we will respond emotionally. However, because we have set a course “over a lifetime” of responding certain ways, emotional patterns (feelings) are formed and put into practice. We can change these, if we find them detrimental to our physical, emotional, and relational lives.

That happened between my friend and me. In close proximity, for two weeks, our daily experience very dependent on the other, we found we could irritate each other. The statements “That hurt my feelings” or “You hurt my feelings” became her lament…this from an accomplished teacher and successful manager of a classroom of tiny children. Somehow, on this trip, I had the capacity, regularly, of stealing her joy.

For me…inconceivable. I loved her and had no desire to hurt her, ever. Still, it happened.

[By the way, this expression of sensitiveness using the word “feelings” may be more encountered in women, but men have some similar experience – you know you do – but call it different things. “Offended”, maybe? “Annoyed”? Is that where sarcasm or cynicism is birthed?]

Back to the story: In some way, my behavior set off for my friend emotions that were tagged by past feelings of being discounted, not considered, not favored. It wasn’t pretty…for either of us.

Fast forward, decades later.

We live in a culture of lofty sensitiveness. The measure for political correctness in our speech continues to get moved upward. We are a nation so easily offended that we can’t even discern what is truly intentionally offensive from what is just true.

Have you ever been in a season with a friend or colleague that feels emotionally murky? You don’t really know what’s going on, but you sense something is. Then…you step on the landmine – and you say something or do something or your face shows something – that explodes all kinds of feelings in the other person, from what seems a life-time of storing up.

This is what has now been popularized as weaponizing feelings or emotions. The outcome? Guilt, shame, wounding, and (for some) returning fire.

It will make me sad if this post “hurts feelings”, especially of those friends of mine who read my stuff. The thing is, just like my friend and me, we can go deeper in our relationships when we refuse to let feelings define our friendships. When we refuse to think ill of others we grow a spiritual maturity and neuroplasticity that impacts our emotional responses and our relational resilience.

What got me thinking about all this, this week was actually a Lenten reading from British scholar C. S. LewisPreparing For Easter: Fifty Devotional Readings from C. S. Lewis.

He talks about the danger of weaponizing sensitiveness long before it became the cultural phenomenon it is today:

“‘Did you fight fair?’ Or did we not quite unknowingly falsify the whole issue? Did we pretend to be angry about one thing when we knew, or could have known, that our anger had a different and much less presentable cause? Did we pretend to be ‘hurt’ in our sensitive and tender feelings…when envy, ungratified vanity, or thwarted self-will was our real trouble? Such tactics often succeed. The other parties give in. They give in not because they don’t know what is really wrong with us but because they have long known it only too well, and that sleeping dog can be roused, that skeleton brought out of its cupboard, only at the cost of imperilling their whole relationship with us. It needs surgery which they know we will never face. And so we win; by cheating. But the unfairness is very deeply felt. Indeed what is commonly called ‘sensitiveness’ is the most powerful engine of domestic tyranny sometimes a lifelong tyranny. How we should deal with it in others I am not sure; but we should be merciless to its first appearances in ourselves.C. S. Lewis

After being an atheist, Lewis did not come to faith in Christ until his mid-thirties. His intense study of the Bible, relationship with God, and deep, gut-honest conversations with a circle of intimate friends moved him to such understanding of people and life…and our responses to both. Any thoughts on this? Please comment below.Photo Credit: Flickr

Preparing For Easter: Fifty Devotional Readings from C. S. Lewis

What Is the Difference Between Feelings and Emotions? – Debbie Hampton

The “Weaponizing” of Emotions Wade Trimmer

The A-Z Guide to Feelings and Emotions – Sebastian Gendry

Monday Morning Moment – Neuroplasticity – Resetting Your Brain for Success at Work and Life – Deb Mills

Inner Circles – the Mad Pursuit of Position, Power, Prominence, and Plenty – Deb Mills

Invisible Wounds of the Sensitive, Empathic and Emotionally Intense Child – Imi Lo – this is a sobering, emotionally charged article. I resonated with it in preparing for the blog above and include it because it might be helpful for some to read. Just a warning that it is hard to read because it honestly did not give much place for hope. [If I missed it, please illuminate me in the Comments below.] Maybe the hope comes in recognizing what we as parents might be doing that’s hurtful to an emotionally intense child and correct course.

Worship Wednesday – Kara Tippetts – Suffering as an Instrument of Love and Worship

Photo Credit: Mundane Faithfulness

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.2 Timothy 4:6-7

Kara Tippetts is one of the loveliest women I’ve never met. She died of cancer four years ago this month. Although cancer sharpened her experience of life, it did not define her life. She was a Christ-follower, pastor’s wife, mom of 4, writer, and amazing sister and friend. How I know her is through the cancer she battled, through her faith, and through her writing…this is how I know her and how I love her (from my earlier blog on her life).

On March 22, the documentary The Long Goodbye is released. Directed by Jay Lyons, it is an intimate story of Kara’s last months of life here on earth. It is a story of deep love, crazy humor, hard yet sweet moments, and forever faith. [See trailer here.]Photo Credit: Hallels

Some of my friends here in Richmond are joining with me for a premier party to watch the documentary together. I am excited to introduce them to Kara. It will be sad but also funny and supremely victorious.

Premiere THE LONG GOODBYE with your Friends! — Limited Time Offer

Over the course of Kara’s cancer, she wrote three books (with the help of friend Jill Lynn Buteyn). I remember the blog she wrote about signing contracts for the two last books just weeks before she died. Her determination to leave this legacy was buoyed by a husband, family, and friends who helped her keep living the life she loved until the end. These books are so beautiful. I spent a couple of decades doing cancer nursing and those experiences forged an understanding of the rare and beautiful gifts found in suffering. Walking through it with God. Kara has captured so much of that and shares it with us in these sweet, sometimes hard stories.

The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life’s Hard – Kara Tippetts

Just Show Up: the Dance of Walking Through Suffering Together – Kara Tippetts & Jill Lynn Buteyn

And It Was Beautiful: Celebrating Life in the Midst of the Long Good-bye – Kara Tippetts

By the way, there is way more joy than sorrow in her story. Her love for her family and friends. Her joy in the beauty that surrounded her. Her confidence in the God who loved her. It’s all there.

In her last book, And It Was Beautiful: Celebrating Life in the Midst of the Long Good-bye, she writes a brief letter to the cancer:

“…So here we are. The truth is that now you are in my bones, my bone marrow, my blood-making place. I did not want you there. I asked you not to go there. But you did it anyway. But here’s something. You will never separate me from the Holy Spirit. He’s watching you, every single cell of you. He’s the One giving me all this peace that confounds you. You won’t take my joy, cancer. You won’t keep me from living as close as I can to my people. And I know you think you are killing me with all your fast-growing cell business, but you are not the boss. The day I breathe my last is exactly numbered. You don’t have a say in that, sorry. And when that day comes, and it will come, my people will be kept safe in God’s beautiful arms…I do hate you, and I’m still here.”Kara

Photo Credit: Deb Mills Writer from Mundane Faithfulness

This year during Lent, I’m reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer‘s 40-Day Journey. He writes beautifully about what it is to be a true disciple of Jesus. Here is one excerpt:

Luther translates the Greek word for what is blessed with “to bear suffering.” The important part is the bearing. The community of disciples does not shake off suffering, as if they had nothing to do with it. Instead they bear it. In doing so, they give witness to their connection with the people around them. At the same time this indicates that they do not arbitrarily seek suffering, that they do not withdraw into willful contempt for the world. Instead, they bear what is laid upon them and what happens to them in discipleship for the sake of Jesus Christ. Finally, disciples will not be weakened by suffering, worn down, and embittered until they are broken. Instead, they bear suffering, by the power of him who supports them. The disciples bear the suffering laid on them only by the power of him who bears all suffering on the cross. As bearers of suffering, they stand in communion with the Crucified. They stand as strangers in the power of him who was so alien to the world that it crucified him. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

You have turned my mourning into dancing;
you have taken off my sackcloth
and clothed me with joy,
so that my soul may praise You and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever. Psalm 30:11-12

Kara, in your living and your dying, you taught me so much about being a disciple of Jesus. You knew/know Him so well. Thank you. Photo Credit: Life News

My Other Blogs on Kara – Here, Here, Here & Here

**Memorial – Mundane Faithfulness – read Kara’s blog – her story and her God will change your life.

Monday Morning Moment – Grumpy Begets Grumpy – Understanding It, Not Reacting, and Turning It Around

Photo Credit: Grant Wood, Wikipedia

My poor husband. The last month has been fairly brutal. His father had a massive stroke and died a week later. Between travel to be with his dad in his last days and travel for the funeral, Dave had a packed work schedule. In the midst of that, a friend died. After PopPop’s funeral and our friend’s funeral, we settled back into another busy work week. Interrupted for me by a vicious stomach bug. Interrupted for Dave by a vigilant attempt to avoid said stomach bug. We saw little of each other as he slept in the guest room and tried to stay clear of my germs, except for kindly offering me provisions. The day that I was for sure well, he got the same bug, even harder hit than I was.

So sick, he was forced to miss the majority of a week of meetings he had helped plan and was looking forward to. Such is life when sick.

At some point in all this, I began to get grumpy.

Don’t get me wrong…there was grace upon grace for all we experienced this month. Grace upon grace.

Still, in strain, stress, and suffering we can discover a measure of what’s going on inside our hearts by what comes out of our mouths (Matthew 12:34, Proverbs 8:13 ).

Standing Up Under Pressure – Tom Macartney

My grumpiness was a product of assumptions about how life should go and arrogance that it should always go well for me. Right?

I was frustrated that Dave had to get sick after all our safeguards against it. Also frustrated that he had to miss meetings he should have been able to attend.

With both of us recovering from heart grief and grumbling tummies, grumpiness came as a default reaction. Sadly, toward each other. [I have asked his forgiveness already, by the way., and he mine].

This happens with grumpiness. Whether we are prone to it in our closest relationships or in more casual work or friend situations, grumpy begets grumpy.

As a teenager, our middle child, Nathan, had waves of grumpiness easily turned around with some cheese or a sandwich. The quicker I assessed he was hungry (“hangry” before that became a word), the faster he returned to his usual, more fun self…once his blood sugar was on the rise.

Health Check: the Science of ‘Hangry’  or Why Some People Get Grumpy When They’re Hungry – Amanda Salis

When we have chronically grumpy coworkers, they can bring a whole team down, unless we are proactive in responding to them.

Writer and entrepreneur Will Jeakle gives us a humorous and insightful read on Three Tips for Dealing with a Grumpy Employee:

1. Recognize analysis paralysis.

2. Change the subject.

3. Put Eeyore in charge of a project. – Will Jeakle

Photo Credit: pngimg

[Click on the link above for Jeakle’s fascinating commentary on the subject. Helpful also if you are the grumpy coworker.]

One author actually talked about how being grumpy and bad-tempered can have a positive impact on your career – but I’m not sure it’s worth the risk. [So, Nathan, keep popping that protein when your grumpiness comes on.]

Why It Pays to Be Grumpy and Bad-Tempered – Zaria Gorvett

Grumpy begets grumpy if it goes unchecked. When we are grumpy to others, over and over, it is almost impossible not to react in kind. And I don’t mean kindly.

Habits can develop that lead to us isolate ourselves…especially as we age.Photo Credit: QuoteFancy

Canadian writer Ian Fortey wrote  a somewhat coarse and humorous (unless you’re its subject) piece on getting older. When he covered the general grumpiness of today’s older people, he made this observation:

“It doesn’t help that today’s old-folks were raised at a time when it wasn’t considered cool to talk about your problems in any kind of constructive way. You sucked it up and lived with it….Well, if you “suck it up” for 80 years it eventually just overflows onto everyone who walks past your house.”

Realtor and writer Gary Woltal also speaks with understanding on this same topic: The negativity [in old age] comes from regrets they harbor about missteps in their judgment, hard feelings about words inflicted upon them along the way, omissions of things they should have said and done, and just life’s disappointments…Unfortunately, I think they also believe they will have no good legacy. The fact is starting TODAY we ALL can have a great legacy if we work at it. We all should not go through life with hard hearts.

Check yourself in the mirror today and use a few role models I have used on how you want to exit stage left someday. Women or men, think of these great celebrities who left us with nary a discouraging word said about them. Lou Gehrig, Jimmy Stewart, Fred Rogers, Red Skelton, Mother Teresa. Gary Woltal

Some Day You Won’t Have Me to Kick Around Anymore – Gary Woltal

Previously I wrote on negativism and its cost and cure which you might also find helpful if you missed it first time around.

Dave and I are off to a new week…all forgiven…and hopefully not too wounded or wary from the brushes with grumpiness of the weeks prior. If you’re finding yourself in a season of grumpiness, my hope is that you can turn that ship around before grumpy begins to define you.

We all don’t have to be saints, but we can leave behind people feeling like this about us: “When you were born, you were crying and everyone around you was smiling. Live your life so that when you die, you’re the one smiling, and everyone around you is crying.”Gary Woltal

Three Tips for Dealing with a Grumpy EmployeeWill Jeakle

Health Check: the Science of ‘Hangry’  or Why Some People Get Grumpy When They’re Hungry – Amanda Salis

Monday Morning Moment – Negativism – Its Cost and Cure – Deb Mills Writer

How to Raise Happy Teenagers – Michael Odell

5 Friday Faves – International Women’s Day, “Sunflower” on Classical Guitar, Recycling in Peril, Understanding Whiteness, and Great Teachers

Welcome to your Friday and my favorite finds of this week:

1) International Women’s Day – When there is an international day of celebration, it’s worth a pause. Especially International Women’s Day. I had an amazing mom – who grew up poor during the Great Depression and then raised four kids pretty much on her own. She lived during an era where work situations did not favor women at all but she bore up under it with dignity and grace. Just glad to have a job. I love her so much. She was and is my hero.

My mom-in-law, Julia, is that same kind of strong, faithful, loving woman.

There are so many other women in my life who deserve celebrating, although none of them look for such a thing. They just live and love fully, doing what they can for others…I am better for knowing them.

So on this International Women’s Day, I salute you older ones and younger ones…you women out there, mothers, daughters, sisters and friends.

On International Women’s Day, Rise Like a Deborah – Cassia Glass

2) “Sunflower” on Classical Guitar – Rappers Post Malone and Swae Lee perform this amazing song “Sunflower” on the movie Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse. Written by Post Malone, the song is just plain fun. Nathan Mills arranged it for classical guitar and brings all the happy over from the original. Check out the Beyond the Guitar version below:

3) Recycling in Peril – We generate an enormous amount of solid waste in this country. So much packaging, so many disposables. I remember as a child when we carried garbage to a burn-dump. Recycling as a solution to some of the solid waste burden was very new. This week I read a sobering article on how our current recycling solutions won’t be able to keep up. Please take the time to read Alana Semuels‘ piece Is This the End of Recycling?

We recycle as much as we can in our household. I am guilty at times of still using plastic grocery bags when I forget to bring my own – even though those bags are banned in some countries. As they should be. When we lived in Egypt and had the occasion of snorkeling in the beautiful Red Sea, we could not imagine the problem of garbage sullying those waters. It happened.Photo Credit: UN Environment

In Semuels’ article she talked about the familiar adage: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Except that she added a fourth imperative: Refuse. Consider how we can use less…refuse to buy products with over-packaging; stay away from disposables or single-use items if possible. It’s something to think about.

We are All Accumulating Mountains of Things – Alana Semuels

YouTube Video – America’s Dopamine-Fueled Shopping Addiction

San Francisco’s Race to Zero Waste Has One Last Major Hurdle – Anne Poirot

A Brief History of Solid Waste Management in the US, 1950-2000 – Part 5a – H. Lanier Hickman Jr.

4) Understanding Whiteness – OK, so I’m white. It’s not something I have thought much about in the past. Even in filling out questionnaires or applications that ask for race, I check “Caucasian or white” because it is what I am…but the implications of being white haven’t really driven much thought for me…until lately. Now, when we lived in North Africa, it was my first experience of being a minority. Even in the most awkward situations, when I was the only “white person” in the room, it wasn’t “white” that I felt so much as being “American”. The privilege came from that identity.

Writer, thought leader Jackie Hill Perry tweeted the following this week and it really got me thinking. In fact, if you click on her tweet, it will take you to a long thread of opinions about the issue of “whiteness” with a diverse crowd of folks giving their take on it.

To be honest, I was a tench offended by the tweet at first. Because I don’t see myself as “being shaped by being [white]. However, it is important to me not to be ignorant about things that shape culture and especially the stuff that divides people. So…I’m thinking about it now.

Writer Kesiena Boom posted an article last year on 100 Ways White People Can Make Life Less Frustrating for People of Color. Again, at first, I was put off by it momentarily, and then decided to read those 100 ways. It was illuminating. Not as instructional as I had hoped but illuminating.

“Remember: Being an ally is a verb, not a noun. You can’t just magically be an ally to people of color because you say you’re one, it’s something that you must continually work on.” – Kesiena Boom

I do want to be an ally of others…including persons of color. Very definitely. So Jackie Hill Perry and Kesiena Boom have both given me a window to see through this week.

Also Darrell B. Harrison, a politically conservative reformed theologian who is also a black man, gives much food for thought as well…from a different stance…

I don’t want my whiteness to be a barrier…nor do I want to be blind to any privilege it gives me. There is just so much bias in our culture today, it’s difficult to know how to maneuver. Any thoughts?

100 Ways White People Can Make Life Less Frustrating for People of Color – Kesiena Boom

The Glorious Love of God as Our GPS – Trevin Wax

5) Great Teachers – If you’re like me, you remember all your teachers through elementary and high school. If there are gaps in our memory, there’s probably a good reason. I’ve had some teachers that were just to be endured, but for the most part, they were good teachers. Some were even great.

A friend of ours, Jeff Maxey, has been named the  2019 Teacher of the Year in South Carolina.

Now, we have another friend Jamie Sherwood who is also among those being considered for Teacher of the Year in our county. This week he is the #HeartofHenrico.

So proud to know these and other great teachers who are not only content experts but also genuinely care for their students and their futures.

That was my favorite finds for the week. Any you would be willing to share with us in Comments below? Have a great weekend. Thanks for stopping by.

Bonuses:

The Long Goodbye – Think about having a launch party March 22:

Premiere THE LONG GOODBYE with your Friends! — Limited Time Offer

Photo Credit: Hallels

Daylight Savings Time Is Actually a Good Thing – Dan Nosowitz

Photo Credit: The Colorful Cottage, Facebook

Alex Trebek Announces He Has Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer – Alex Trebek, host of TV show Jeopardy, is determined to beat the statistics on this disease. If anyone can, I believe it can be this much-loved celebrity.

 

Worship Wednesday – Ash Wednesday – the 40-day Lenten Road to Easter

Blog - Lent - Ash Wednesday - from article by Jim DenisonPhoto Credit: Jennifer Balaska via en.wikipedia.org

[Adapted from the Archives]

“How often have I lived through these weeks without paying much attention to penance, fasting, and prayer? How often have I missed the spiritual fruits of the season without even being aware of it? But how can I ever really celebrate Easter without observing Lent? How can I rejoice fully in your Resurrection when I have avoided participating in your death? Yes, Lord, I have to die—with you, through you, and in you—and thus become ready to recognize you when you appear to me in your Resurrection. There is so much in me that needs to die: false attachments, greed and anger, impatience and stinginess…. I see clearly now how little I have died with you, really gone your way and been faithful to it. O Lord, make this Lenten season different from the other ones. Let me find you again. Amen.”Henri Nouwen  (From A Cry for Mercy: Prayers from the Genesee, Orbis)

It wasn’t until I was six years old that church even came on my radar as a thing. My mom worked all the time in those days, and finally, after a last-resort divorce, she settled us into a different life of meager means and lavish love. It was in those days that we responded to an invitation to church from neighbors. A weary single mom and four eager children met the welcome care of a loving church. Our experience was small town Bible-Belt Baptist, and that set the foundation for my understanding of God. In fact, years later, when I signed up for a World Religions course as a college freshman, I thought it would be a survey course on Christianity.

[Even within the context of Christianity, I knew very little of its practice outside the realm of Southern evangelicalism.]

My first experience with Lent, for instance, was through a college friendship. One Wednesday long ago, I caught up with my best friend after she had disappeared from our usual daily routine. We met for lunch and she had this mysterious, ashen cross smudged on her forehead. I resisted the urge of just lovingly wiping it off for her, thinking she was unaware of it. Pointing it out instead, she taught me my first lessons on Lent – on repentance, fasting (sacrifice), the Cross and the Resurrection of Christ. All of that was gloriously real for me already, except for setting aside 40 days of resolve prior to the celebration of Easter.

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust – Preparing for Ash Wednesday – Pastor Kirk Thorson

For years, I still didn’t take Lent very seriously and still don’t know quite how to (or if I should) incorporate it into my life…except that my thinking has changed. In this world gone mad, I am more convinced than ever that we as the Church need to stand together for the sake of the nations and for the glory of God. If in Lent, I can find elements that help me see God, and our corporate and personal need for Him, more clearly, then I want to integrate some measure of Lenten practice into my life.

Month-long fasting (one part of Lent) has never been a draw for me, as I was always completely sure it would be a fail. While we lived in North Africa, and especially in Egypt, fasting was very much a part of our Muslim and Christian neighbors’ lives. Even those Christians who were evangelical (from Coptic backgrounds) saw the importance of fasting. Their awareness of the evil of sin in the world and the need for drastic measures lined up solidly with Jesus’ own life and teaching on this.

As I write this, my penitent friend with the ash smeared on her forehead comes to mind again. Decades later, on this day, I’m sure, wherever she is, she has a new ashen cross applied. Reminding her of the sin in her own life that Christ paid for Himself with His death on the Cross.

[We like our foreheads clean, don’t we? Being reminded of the dark and dirty smudge of sin in our lives is not something we want to carry around with us publicly. Especially in this post-Christian world of ours. Even with the message of the Cross as the only response to that sin…it’s just too public, too culturally “in your face” so to speak.]

Many may see Lent as extra-Biblical and therefore unnecessary to add to our countdown to commemorating the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For me, at least, it gives a bit narrower road to walk for forty days – examining our own frailty, our sin, and the brevity of life alongside the magnificent perfection of the life and love of a wholly surrendered Christ.

Ash Wednesday and Lent as Means of Grace – Ryan J. Pelton

Bible Gateway extends a free invitation to receive devotionals daily until Lent from A 40 Day Journey with Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I’ll be going through that as part of my reading these 40 days until Easter.

Also for the past several years, during Lent, I have read Adrian Plass’ book The Unlocking – God’s Escape Plan for Frightened People. It was a gift from a good friend during our years living overseas. There’s a lot in this world that’s frightening these days. Yet God is still God and is at work in the midst of so much crazy. I believe Him at His word. Full stop. We have a role in dealing with what we see in the world. As Jesus told His disciples (Matthew 17:21), there is evil that we can only battle with prayer and fasting. This is a power unleashed in a true observance of Lent.Blog - Lent - Easter (3)

As we grieve so much death around us in these days, and as we look to Easter, I would like to close with a prayer from Adrian Plass’ book:

“Loving heavenly Father, I want to try to tackle this business of loving enemies. First of all I’m going to sit quietly here and go through a mental list of the folk who I would call my enemies. Help me to be really honest…I don’t want to leave anyone out….I’ve done it, Lord. There are rather a lot, and some of them I really hate. But You made it quite clear that You can’t forgive me if I don’t forgive them, so I’ll start the process, even if it takes a long time to mean it. Love them for me, Lord, and please accept my prayers for their welfare and safety. Soften my hard heart as the days go by, until I begin to see them through Your eyes. Thank You for forgiving me. Amen.”

For these forty-plus days before Easter, I will be reading A 40 Day Journey with Dietrich Bonhoeffer; referring back to the book-marked portions of The Unlocking; reflecting on God and the goodness and wisdom He displays through Jesus’ life and teachingresisting (fasting from) those money- and time-stealers that distract me from larger issues; repenting of the sins of neglect and indifference; and remembering to pray and reach out to God and those around me as His vessel for His purposes among the nations.

May the days of Lent roll on naturally into the rest of our days…

Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day Forever Marred by School Shooting – One Mom Reaches Out to Comfort – Deb Mills Writer

Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day Forever Marred by School Shooting – One Mom Reaches Out to Comfort

Lent Resource Guide – Calvin Institute for Christian Worship

Evangelicals Embracing (and Rejecting) Lent by Trevin Wax