With Graciousness and Kindness Toward All

Slowly, my mind is changing about judgement calls on people based on their looks, their words and actions, or their attitudes. For a long time I’ve believed it was okay to take notice and immediately place someone in a category. The categories were, of course, arbitrary, based on personal preferences, what I’d been taught was ‘correct,’ and a solid belief that I was probably always right.

What Changed? The Lord has shown me more of Himself. I see him interact with a variety of people in Bible stories and He never seems to judge the way I do. His judgements are true. Whether it’s a Samaritan woman sitting alone at a well, a group of Pharisees verbally abusing Him, a man sitting in a booth cheating his fellow Jews on their taxes, or a Centurion asking Jesus to heal his servant––the Lord sees what’s in their hearts.

I can’t see into hearts.

The best I can do, when I watch someone ‘acting out,’ as I usually describe it, is to pray for that person to find a better way of expressing themselves. Perhaps I will pray for them to find the Light of Jesus. Perhaps the person is already someone who claims to have a relationship with Him; yet they ‘act out.’

That could be me on any given day.

God’s word gives instructions for when we discover what we name as their wrongdoing.

“Don’t criticize, and then you won’t be criticized. For others will treat you as you treat them. And why worry about a speck in the eye of a brother when you have a board in your own?  Should you say, ‘Friend, let me help you get that speck out of your eye,’ when you can’t even see because of the board in your own?  Hypocrite! First get rid of the board. Then you can see to help your brother” (Matthew 7:1-5)

The Apostle Paul makes another distinction.

“What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside” (1 Corinthians 5:12).

In other words, how can we expect anyone who has not seen the Light, to behave as if they have.

Again…That could be me on any given day.

Nevertheless, as disciples of Jesus, we are given warnings and instructions about heeding the teachings and the fruit of those inside the Church.

“Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit” (Matthew 12:33).

Ultimately, I can never know the motives of one’s heart. Only Jesus knows that. Since life experiences, ill health, daily stress, and any number of things can make me ‘act out’ even when I know it’s inappropriate, I long for the grace of Jesus.

And with the help of the Holy Spirit, I could offer that grace to others as well. To extend graciousness and kindness toward all. To pray for them as I would hope they would pray for me.

“Zootopia” Wins and So Will You

A year ago this month, Disney Studios’ Zootopia was released in theaters. At the recent Academy Awards show, it won the Oscar for Best Animated Film. If you haven’t already seen it, go buy your own copy or head to the rental store.

Zootopia is smart, funny, and full of color. That’s typical of Disney movies. We can also expect endearing characters, a great plot, and a moral to the story. (One or two of those morals are relevant to what’s happening in our “neighborhoods” right now.)

Zootopia brings it home in all respects.

A cute little bunny, Judy Hopps, is determined “to make the world a better place” by becoming the first rabbit police officer. Her parents prefer she stay at home with her 275 brothers and sisters living a risk-free life. But carrot farming isn’t in the stars for Judy and she knows it.

She attends Zootopia Police Academy and, although she graduated at the top of her class, is assigned to ticketing cars at expired parking meters.

Zootopia police have been stymied by 14 cases of missing predators. When an otter goes missing, Judy convinces Chief Bogo she can solve the crime. Bogo gives her 48 hours.

Judy enlists the help of Nick Wilde, a fox who lives up to the stereotype. He’s clever and sassy. Judy uses Nick’s shady practices to trick him into assisting her and the story begins to unfold as a true detective tale.

Rabbit and fox are fortunate enough to discover a license plate number in the sketchy file Judy’s been given. That plate number leads them to the DMV where Nick’s friend, Flash, proves a big help. But Flash, like his co-workers, is a sloth.

Uh-oh.

For anyone who’s waited at the DMV, you’ll relate. Nick and Judy get to the counter immediately. But…er…you’ll love the sloths. Watch Judy be her usual upbeat self. Watch Nick bait Flash into a conversation. Watch Flash finish a sentence. Watch Judy lose her cool. Watch Nick’s smug expression.

The plate number results in an address which leads the duo to the naturalists. The naturalists give them enough information to take them to Mr. Big. He has enough information to lead them to a place where they hear about night howlers. Wolves?

In their search for the missing otter, Judy and Nick play the roles of detective with everything they have in them. Judy proves she’s not a “dumb bunny.” Nick’s foxiness comes in handy, but he also begins to soften. They form a bond that could only happen in Zootopia, where predator and prey can live in harmony. The line between them becomes blurred.

Zootopia includes the dense, color-rich scenes you expect of Disney Studios. The soundtrack is amazing. As usual, there’s visual humor and lines that kids probably won’t understand. (Think: Pixar’s Toy Story trilogy.) But that’s okay. Disney knows it’s the parents who bring the kids.

In the end, Zootopia shows us that we need friends who are loyal and always believe in us. We see that we can live in harmony with those who are different if all parties are willing to work together. Disney does it all so well. It’s a movie you’ll want to own so you can watch it whenever you need to see a great story told well. Or just for the laughs after a rough day.

One critic’s review named it “the best Disney movie in 20 years.” So go out and buy your own copy or get to the video store. Because you must see Zootopia now.

For parents: Zootopia is rated PG-13 for thematic material (animal violence), action scenes and some crude humor.

 

A Dangerous Place to Be

A friend of mine shared in a small group that she thought she probably would be safe from idols in an atmosphere alone with no distractions: no TV, no radio, all alone. She said people wouldn’t distract her from her spiritual life and worldly music or television programs wouldn’t do it either.

Listening to her, the concept sounded good. But at that time, my situation was pretty much what she described and I was still in danger of idolatry on a regular basis.

I have an active imagination. I have a good mind. And sometimes I believe they are sincerely out to get me.

Other people I know who are seriously trying to change from lifestyles of addiction to being “clean,” tell me it’s important to change playmates, playthings and playgrounds. To live the life of obedience to Christ, I pretty much need to do the same thing. That doesn’t mean I sequester myself away from the world. It doesn’t mean I don’t engage with people who don’t believe what I believe about God and Jesus. Doing that is hiding my lamp under a bowl. And Jesus says I’m to let my light shine before men.

However, scripture does tell me it’s dangerous for me to wander the playground of my mind without Jesus. I must “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.”

Not every thought I have is sinful, but some of them can lead to sin. My addictions are waiting in the sidelines if I fall prey to just one ugly thought. Or a twisted, selfish emotion. As a matter of fact, being alone can be a hindrance in my relationship with God if I let myself get lonely. I need my friends to help me, so I reach out.

A mind, they say, is a terrible thing to waste. Sometimes, it can be a dangerous place to be.

“Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin” (James 1:14,15).

Short Stories for Empowering Youth

“Ed’s Tohlet & Other Stories: The Teen’s Guide to Spiritual Growth; By Don Keele, Jr.; Teach Services, Inc. Publishing; 103 pages

Don Keele has spent his career pastoring teens and young adults and helping them engage in church ministry. This book, humorous and challenging even to adults, is a written vehicle for doing so.

Through the power of story, Keele examines areas of strength as well as weakness in himself. We get to know him as he was as a youngster, a teen, and an adult. He tells on himself and it’s an endearing thing to see. Too often, Christians fail to make connections with the unchurched (not to mention with one another) because of a desire to not seem vulnerable.

But the lessons we need to learn, implied in Keele’s parables, come when we admit how much we need our Savior.

In “Smells,” the first story in Ed’s Tohlet, he starts off right. Not only does he indicate how we can be unaware of our spiritual need, he offers the reader a chance to decide to be one with Christ. And isn’t that the starting point for us all?

Keele handles such topics as bullying, Christian service (this is where the ‘tohlet’ comes in), pain, faith in our prayers, accepting God’s “No,” obedience, and more. While directed at a teen audience, this Christ follower found wisdom to follow and even took some notes.

In “Secret Weapon,” Keele describes what it meant to finally be part of an athletic team when he knew he had absolutely no athletic ability. Someone else showed faith in his ability to help. With success, came this realization

“I had only done what Richard had taught me…

Allow (God) to do that work and simply do what He asks you to do.”

At times, Don gets a little off-topic (and sometimes he admits it). Sometimes he seems a might preachy. But his stories really are funny in places. They really do point us to our own experiences with peer pressure, temptation, and a need to belong. They’re not just the needs of teenagers.

God has challenged me in a specific area and take I it seriously. After reading “COPS,” the author’s story about being pulled over and witnessing an arrest, the challenge God extends is even more real. That would the challenge to bear witness of God’s love and goodness to the world. Not just to those whom we celebrate with on the Sabbath and in our Christian huddles.

The reviewer received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through the BookCrash.com book review program. The opinions expressed are those of the reviewer.

God Calling

reading-the-bibleWhenever I have questions about what it is God is trying to say to me (in any situation), God’s word is where I first turn for answers. However, the quote below from Michael Molinos often comes to mind. These words are simple and clear, like scripture.

They also seem to come from someone who’s believed God. Someone who has experienced His love. A love that is faithful and sweet no matter what the situation is at present.

In all Your Journey as a Believer,
You will have two kinds of Spiritual Experiences.
One is tender, delightful, and loving.
The Other can be quite obscure,
dry, dark and desolate.
God gives us the First one to Gain us;
He gives us the Second to Purify us.

          ~ Michael Molinos, 17th Century Writer

Upstaged by a Donkey

donkey

This picture is for a fellow blogger, The Donkey Whisperer, who trains donkeys and teaches others to train their own donkeys. The photos she posts are incredible and she educates us about donkeys while doing it. For instance, did you know a donkey brays for a variety of reasons and they can sound different depending on the bray’s purpose? Fascinating.

My particular ‘episode’ with a donkey happened when our pastor did a sermon series based on Bible stories which included a donkey. He didn’t talk about donkeys per se. He used the stories to show us how the Bible is relevant to our lives and how to put our faith into action.

Our youth group helped keep this little guy available at the atrium entrance so people could pet him, children could sit on his back, and he could just be an example of God’s endearing creations. The pastor’s wife, Sandy, stood by to take some photos.

I wish I knew the donkey’s name. He was calm and gentle and I went away full of glee at my experience with him.

A Foodie Produce Storage Guide

It won’t be long now and we’ll be on our way to the farmers’ markets to buy fresh produce. That goes for people in my neck of the woods, anyway. I’m from the Midwest USA and, even though it’s still officially winter, we’re having unusually warm weather.

We’re counting the days until the robins come back and the crocuses bloom. Those are signs spring is here and summer isn’t far behind.  farmers-markets-local-produce-benefits

Last year, I became a more frequent visitor to the farmers’ market downtown in My Fair City. My favorite choices for produce in season were apples, lettuce, beets, sweet potatoes, peppers and onions. I paid a lot of attention to The Cheese People of Grand Rapids too. Regular readers know I must have cheese.

Then there was this family who sold fresh pork. Chops, roasts, bacon, sausage. Imagine: pork with no junk in it. More than once I treated myself to homemade pork sausage for which the man could list the ingredients in one quick breath.

Yeah, buddy.

Today, we have for your perusal a produce storage guide from Real Simple Magazine. (It lists the foods in alphabetical order and you’ll click through from page to page.) I go to their web page sometimes for tips because, hey, they’ve already done the work for me. You’ll find them in the sidebar because they’re Stuff I Read. Knowing how to buy quality fruits and veggies is one thing, but we also need to store them so they’re at their peak when we get around to using them.

I hate rusty lettuce, don’t you?

peppersSomeone told me a good rule of thumb for storing produce from the market, farmers’ market or otherwise. They said if the store doesn’t have it refrigerated, it probably doesn’t need to be refrigerated when you get it home. I’m not so sure about that. I tend to store some things in the fridge because they last longer there. Some things I put in the fridge because I want to delay their ripening.

I learn from people like the folks at Real Simple Magazine or by just doing it and seeing what happens. I hate to waste food, so I’m certainly not averse to taking someone’s advice.

A couple of my friends who keep a garden were generous last summer with kale, banana peppers, beans, tomatoes, and cucumbers. As an apartment dweller, that’s a windfall I hope for again.

Whether or not you have access to good fresh produce in season right now, you might want to browse Real Simple’s site.

They really do keep things simple. Be a blessing and eat hardy!

 

 

 

 

Acting on Affirmations

next-life-chapter-cropRead this quote all day until you have it memorized. Repeat it to your friends any chance you get. Type “amen” in the comments because you believe it’s true. Print it out and post it on your fridge. Do all those things if you want. But…

I’ve discovered if we don’t first deal with whatever is in the former chapters of our lives and get over what’s hurting us (resentment, regrets, open wounds, and unforgiveness for example), real and meaningful progress in life doesn’t occur.

Affirmations are okay. But an affirmation is only something positive we tell ourselves which doesn’t become real in our lives until we’ve acted on it. Take for example one I found on a list for Christians:

“I see others as God’s gift to me.”

Sounds nice, doesn’t it? I believe this so-called affirmation is true. But if, in my daily walk-about, I don’t treat everyone as the gift I believe they are, my words are hollow.

God’s promises are the same. He offers so much to us that we don’t have to work for. However, even though many of those promises are a faith matter, even the most recognizable work in our lives may be accompanied by His “Now, go.”

Read about a man blind from birth in John 9:1-34. He wasn’t healed simply because Jesus put mud on his eyes. Jesus put the mud there; He did His part. Then Jesus told the man to go wash his eyes in a pool and he’d be healed. When the man acted on Jesus’s instructions, he went home with the gift of eyesight.

A friend of mine used to say, “God feeds the birds, but He doesn’t throw the worms into their nests.” Quite often, we mustn’t be content to sit and wait for God to simply come through with our need. On the contrary, we’ll discover that there’s work for us to do which coincides with the work He’s already doing for us.

Go ahead and read your “last chapter.” Then ask God how He’d like you to deal with it. I’m guessing that for you, as it was for me, He’s expecting you to do something. Listen with humility to what He’s saying to you.

Then, “Go.”

And be a blessing to someone today.

How Sweet It Is

twain-forgive-violet-quoteSometimes, for me at least, the idea of forgiving someone leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.

Over the years, with help from God, forgiving others isn’t the drawn-out, dreaded process it used to be. Matter of fact, I forgive fairly quickly now. Wait. Perhaps I should insert “sometimes” in that sentence as well.

One thing I do know is when I’m in a situation where I need to forgive, I find a good starting point is remembering “I’m that person too. If I haven’t done that thing they did or said, I’m guilty of doing or saying things as bad or worse.”

That reminder is the jumping-off point for extending mercy to others. Just as God extended mercy to me. And how sweet that is.

Hope, Anger, and Courage

augustine-on-hopes-daughters

The world is full of trouble. We shouldn’t be surprised by this. Jesus knew we’d experience trouble.

“In this world you will have trouble.” John 16:33

Jesus doesn’t leave us without hope, however, because in the same breath he says he’s giving us his peace. He says he’s already overcome the world. The Amplified Bible version adds the words “I have deprived it of power to harm you.”

Knowing his peace and the fact that troubles have no power over us doesn’t mean we hide our heads in the sand and not looking at the world’s troubles. That isn’t the message Jesus means to convey. He certainly said a lot about acting to help those in need. To be a good neighbor. Pray for our enemies. Forgive from our hearts.

Jesus got angry. But it wasn’t selfish anger; it was anger that was justified. The things that made him angry needed to be made right because innocent people were suffering. The call to be like Jesus means we follow his lead. Are you measuring your anger about a situation or against a person based on Jesus’s example?

Are you bold like Jesus? Do you take risks to make the world a better place, even if it’s just the little space of world where you live? What is he calling you to be courageous about today?

Pray for the ability to make change and bring justice to a situation as Jesus would. Then, you’re offering hope to the world that is full of trouble.