Living Your Vision

Does this sound familiar: “There’s really no point to making new year’s resolutions – my dreams for myself are most likely unrealistic and when I inevitably fail to achieve them I’ll only feel worse about myself!” Sounds pretty bleak, but when every new year rolls around this is the prevalent mindset.

We get inspired to draft new year’s resolutions for ourselves, but all too many of us like the idea of making resolutions more than actually taking the time to do it. Maybe it’s due to laziness for some. But for many of us, I think the reason we never create resolutions is because deep down we know we will fail to complete it.

Success

But, as I said before, we never just become who we want to be in a day. We get there through small steps, every single day.

That’s why it’s crucial to write out goals for ourselves. Our goals are those series of small steps, they are our game plan for reaching our destination.

That’s why every month I’m going to share my goals with you. At the end of the month I’ll let you see how well I was able to follow through with them. Hopefully together we can mutually inspire each other to keep pressing on and taking those steps to greatness.

If you missed out on making new year’s resolutions this year (or if you did happen to make some new year’s resolutions but have already failed), don’t beat yourself up! I have already failed at a few of my goals for this year. But every day is a new day and a new chance to press on towards where we want to be. There is no need to wait for the new year, the choice take forward steps starts now!

If you want to write some goals but aren’t sure where to start, the first thing you should do is think about who you want to be at the end of the year: where do you want to be in your spiritual life, how do you want to treat friends and family, where do you want to be with your finances, what personal weaknesses do you want to improve, what do want your health to look like, etc.

When you think about the person you want to be, it can be overwhelming. It can easily discourage us, as we begin to believe it’s impossible to ever reach such lofty ideals. But don’t let this vision-casting get you down! With intentional efforts, we can all make improvements every day – no matter how small!

So now, once you know who you want to be, next you should ask yourself, how will I make that happen, what are some small steps I can take now that over time will get me where I want to be? For example, if you want to be a more positive person at the end of the year, perhaps you could do things like write out things you are thankful for everyday, compliment someone at least 3 times a week, choose to point out a strength instead of criticize, etc. Think of the small steps you can take every day, every week, or every month to reach your target.

And, voila, you have goals! These small steps are your goals. Of course, you may need to tailor them to make them more specific and measurable. Also, it’s a good idea to make them time-bound – give yourself a “due date” or a “check-in date,” so you can re-evaluate how well you are keeping to this goal and make necessary changes.

Now, the only thing left is to DO them! This is the hard part. It takes a lot of intention to make our dreams a reality! But I hope that as we both work at our goals together, you’ll come to find that goals aren’t burdens bogging you down, but keys to unlocking great potential in your life, if you are just willing to put in a little hard work.

Path

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What About When the Bad Guys Win?

Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? Psalm 10:1

I love to watch the show “Once Upon a Time.” If you’ve never seen it, it’s essentially about fairy-tale characters who have been magically thrown into a town in the “real world,” and the adventures and conflicts they have trying to find their own, respective happy endings. Every single episode, there is a conflict and resolution, and you think maybe there could be a happy ending finally, but of course that never happens: a new conflict starts and you’re left hanging til the next episode.

Even though I know this will happen every episode, a part of me always hopes the characters will have their happy ending. Deep down we all know that the good guy is supposed to win and the bad guy is supposed to lose. It’s what makes a great story!

Of course, it’s one thing when TV characters never get their happy ending – we understand that necessary evil of television – but what about when this is the story of reality? Sometimes real-life villains are the winners. Genocides, false imprisonment, rape, wrongful accusations, stolen property, bullying…every day “good guys” all around the world become victims to these crimes, without any means of receiving justice.

victim

What does the Bible have to say about this? Actually, this is the setting of Psalm 10 – the cry of the “good guy.” Psalm 10  teaches us 4 lessons about injustice in the world.

1. It’s ok to cry out to God.

Sometimes it feels like God is far away, high up on his holy hill without a care. We can keep praying and praying for something but we receive no answer, and we wonder, “Where are you, God?”. Do you feel this way? Bring it to God.

One of the coolest things about the Bible is that it portrays raw human emotion: it doesn’t hide people’s frustration with God or anger with God. The very Word of God has verses like our devotion passage: “Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?!”. The Bible often shows humans who are confused or hurt, who are questioning God.

You know why? Because God is big enough to handle your hurts and your frustrations. So bring them to him! Cry out to God, tell him your pain. God doesn’t want perfect plastic prayer, he wants the real you, with all your raw emotion. And I promise you, he’s listening (you’ll see in point 3…)

2. Unfortunately, sometimes the bad guys come out on top.

Verses 2-11 of this Psalm depict the godless villain who is triumphing over the good guys. This bad guy even mocks the victim and says, “God has forgotten you!”. Unfortunately in our world, things like this happen all the time. The real question is, why? Why is there such evil in the world?

Well, here is the abbreviated answer (from the Bible, not from my own words): When God created Adam and Eve, he gave them freewill to choose to love, trust, and obey him, or to take matters in their own hands. When they decided to take matters into their own hands, sin entered this world. We live with the consequences of that action. We live in a world full of sin and pain. The good news is that this isn’t how the story ends.

God loves us too much to leave us in the mess we created. He sent his son to live the sinless life we were meant to live, and then die the death a sinner deserves, to pay the price of sin. We aren’t just left here to try to pick up the pieces of a broken world, God entered this world himself to direct us.

Jesus overcame the power of sin through his death and resurrection, which we can either choose to accept or reject. When we accept his offer through belief in him, we overcome sin in our own life: sin doesn’t control us anymore!

God desires that EVERYONE believe in Jesus’ payment for the sin that separates us from God! He wants every person in every country in every language to know! Which is why God still allows the world to exist as is, so that the news of Jesus can be heard everywhere. But be assured, one day Jesus will return again and God will cast out sin once and for all.

So this is the real ending: Jesus has made a way for us to triumph over sin in our own lives, he has already proven his power over the sin in the world, and he will one day bring ultimate justice by ridding our world of evil. While the “bad guys” may have their heyday now, the truth is the Good Guy has already won and will ultimately win in the end. God is the supreme author of the Happy Ending.

3. But in the meantime, God sees our pain.

So, while we continue to live in this time where God has already won, but hasn’t yet eradicated sin from the world, let’s continue to follow lesson 1: cry out to God. Because Psalm 10 tells us, “You, O God, do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in hand. The victim commits himself to you; you are the helper of the fatherless.”

In response to the cry of verse 1 (where are you, God?!), we learn that God is saying, “I’m right here! I see you!” The Bible gives us assurance that God, in fact, is not far from us and that he is our helper in times of trouble. He may not take you out of the troubling situation you are in (because as mentioned in point 2, unfortunately we will still face evils and troubles in this world), but he will most definitely comfort you, strengthen you, and guide you through it.

4. It’s ok to yearn for justice.

Lastly, Psalm 10 shows us that it’s not wrong to long for justice. In verses 15-16 the Psalm writer states the justice he wish would be served. Jesus taught us to pray, “Your Kingdom come.” Deep down we all have a desire for justice. That justice will never fully come until God rids our world of sin. So the best thing for us to do? Pray Jesus’ prayer, that God’s kingdom would come – not only that Jesus would return soon, but that in the meantime, sinful “bad guys” will come to believe in Jesus so that little by little evil will be overcome.

How will you live out these lessons from Psalm 10 this week?

1. Cry out to God with all your unfiltered emotion, maybe for the first time ever. Be your real self with him and tell him your hurts and confusion. God can handle the real you. Be encouraged by Psalm 10:17 “You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry.”

2. Pray for justice in the world. First, pray for Jesus’ return and for the eradication of all sin. But even more, pray for those who do evil. Why pray for them? Because if they were to come to know and believe in Jesus, there would be a little less evil in the world and in one small way, God’s kingdom would come here on earth.

3. Pray for an opportunity for you to bring justice to the world right now. That could mean you start supporting an organization that does justice work (such as freeing & counseling kids caught in sex trafficking), that you advocate for a bully-free school program, or something else.

4. Seek God’s encouragement and guidance as you are facing the trials that come from a sinful world. Rest in the assurance that he sees your pain and soak up the strength he gives you to face each day.

Related Reading:

Pertaining to Point 2: Genesis 2-3; Romans 5:12; Romans 3:21-26; Colossians 2:13-15; 1 Timothy 2:3-4; Acts 17:31

My Tribute to Your Life

I don’t know about you, but something I can often forget amid the busy-ness of life and my endless to-do lists is that life is precious. The time we have on earth is precious. The lives of those around us are precious.

It’s good to be reminded of this, to take a step back and see the big picture of life (at least, as much as we can from our limited perspective). Unfortunately, oftentimes we are only reminded of this when tragedy strikes and that precious life is now gone.

Sad

This week was one of those times: my grandpa, who has had kidney problems for a while now, rapidly took a turn for the worse. His kidneys are failing and mixed with his other health issues, his condition is not looking promising. He was introduced to hospice this week.

As it turned out there was some good news: he and his primary doctor have decided to do a few more tests and try some other solutions before settling for hospice. They both want to keep fighting. We’ll see if they are able to improve his condition.

No matter if he takes a turn for the better or for the worse, this whole situation still forces me to the reality that one day I will lose my grandpa…one day I will lose all who are dear to me. Unfortunately, the price of living in a sinful world is that all of us must die one day. The hope that Jesus Christ offers us is that life doesn’t just end here: there is an eternity that God has prepared for us. Though we can’t work hard enough or live a good enough life to “get” there (because we are still sinful, no matter how hard we try!), Jesus Christ died to pay for our sins, and our belief in that sacrifice is the hope we have!

This hope is great and it definitely helps us as we grieve tragedy, but that still doesn’t null the fact that the time we have now is precious or that losing a loved one hurts.

So my thoughts today are simple: it is important to be intentional in our relationships and savor every moment we have with those we love. It is important to slow down, so as to not miss out on an opportunity you may never have again.

This challenge is two-fold. First, take time to spend quality time with your loved ones. I know that our lives get so hectic and our schedules get so full that visiting your friend, parents, or grandparents doesn’t always seem like the top priority. But I challenge you to think of one activity you could remove from your schedule this month and use it to visit someone you haven’t seen in a long time. And most importantly, savor the time you are together. Be fully present. Don’t think about your next task or keep looking at the clock. Relish in this beautiful moment that will soon be a memory. Make it a memory worth having: one full of laughter and meaningful conversation.

For some, this may not be possible. I live 1,500 miles from my family, so I totally get this! And it’s super hard to not be able to spend time with loved ones! But for those of us who fall into this category, especially consider my next challenge…

The second part of the challenge is to be overflowing in our love and gratitude for others. At many funerals, someone will come up to speak about the deceased person – they will share fond memories and express what made that person so great. Why is it that we only express how much we value someone after they’re gone?

Tell those who are dear to you (and, everyone!) just how special they are: show appreciation for an action they did, compliment a feature you truly value about their character, or reminisce a fond memory you have of them. Let’s choose to speak words that go beyond the surface level! You could do this in person or through a thoughtful card or letter (a great option for those who live far away).

Card

I don’t know about you, but I want to look back on my life with as few regrets as possible, knowing I made the most of my time with those I love. That kind of regret-free life starts now in our intentional decisions to make time for friends and family and to openly express our love.

“Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

How the Golden Rule Can Hurt our Relationships

“Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Luke 6:31

Golden Rule

The Golden Rule. Everyone knows this! And I think everyone generally agrees that it’s a great philosophy for life. Treat others how you would want to be treated. What could be wrong with that?

What we don’t realize is that somewhere deep down, we inadvertently translated the Rule to mean this: “If you do unto others as you would have them do to you, then you should expect them to do the same.”

Without knowing this, we proceed through our daily lives, trying to treat others in a kind, fair, and loving manner. But then it happens: someone breaks the Rule. Someone doesn’t treat you the way you ought to be treated. They don’t play fair and you feel like they owe you something.

I mean, it makes sense that we feel jipped! If this Golden Rule is so universally agreed-upon, we have a right to judge fairness by it, and a right to expect fairness! Or do we?

Somewhere along the way, the Golden Rule becomes our reasoning behind a keeping-score mentality in our relationships. “If I do this, then you should do this.” But this way of thinking has no place in a healthy relationship, especially in the life of a Christian.

Did you know that this keeping-score translation of the Golden Rule is actually the complete opposite of what Jesus intended? We see this when we read the Golden Rule in its context in the Bible:

“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.” Luke 6:27-35

To Jesus, the Golden Rule means that we are to love those who don’t deserve it and give without expecting anything in return, in fact likely expecting that the other person can never pay us back.

Huh? How is that fair?! To truly love others as Jesus loves us means that we don’t always get what’s “fair.” Was it “fair” that Jesus died on the cross for sins he never committed? True love means that we put others before ourselves. True love means we are willing to die to ourselves and our needs. It’s that kind of love that the Golden Rule calls us to have in all our relationships. There’s no keeping score, there’s no “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.” There is only true love, modeled by God, himself.

This kind of love is tough! It’s so much easier to live by the non-biblical Golden Rule!!! I know that a keeping-score mentality is something that I fall into very easily. In my marriage, I can be quick to think that I’m the one who has done more housework or that I deserve to be the one to get to relax. Or with my friends, I can feel like I’m the only one who is putting effort in the relationship. When I start to feel that way, the resentment starts boiling over and I feel cheated. Do you ever feel this way?

So what does God’s version of the Golden Rule look like in our relationships?

It means we mentally commit to living by his standard, not by our own standard. And then, we follow through! We give, give, give. We love, love, love. And we don’t expect anything in return. I once read about a married couple that purposely tried to “out-nice” each other.  They would seek any way they could show kindness to each other: even little things like putting toothpaste on their partner’s toothbrush before the spouse got out of bed. THAT’S the kind of love we should be seeking after in our marriages, our families, and our friendships.

For some, the first step to tangibly live out God’s Golden Rule may need to be forgiveness. Someone once told me that holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. If you have felt cheated or unfairly treated for a while now, you may have developed a grudge against the other person. But the grudge you hold is hurting you more than anyone else. Forgiving that person will actually free you. Forgiving them doesn’t make what the person did right, and it doesn’t downplay the hurt you feel. But it does mean you aren’t holding it against them anymore. We must choose to forgive the slights of others in order to be able to live out the Golden Rule as God calls us to. Remember the verses we read: “bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you”. Maybe the reason why that person hurt you is because love is what they need most.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean we have to keep allowing ourselves to be hurt in the same way, however. If your friend or spouse is the one who makes you feel unfairly treated, there is nothing wrong with having some open communication about it. In love, have an honest conversation with your spouse or friend and tell them what things trigger your feelings of unfairness – you may find that they weren’t even aware of how they were hurting you!

BUT you have to commit to listening to their side of the story, too, which means trusting their intentions and being willing see ways that maybe you have accidentally treated them unfairly. Depending on the state of your communication, this may need to take place with a pastor or counselor to mediate. As you discuss, don’t attack them, just explain how their action makes you feel. Use “I” messages instead of “You” messages. Say “I feel this way when you…” instead of “You always do this and this”. For example, tell them that it makes you feel cheated when you are the one vacuuming while they are playing games in their iPhone. Remember, this isn’t about keeping score, it’s about treating each other in a Christ-like way. Once there is transparency in your relationship, you will feel even greater freedom and desire to love each other as Christ loved us.

And just as a quick caution: what does God’s version of the Golden Rule NOT look like? It doesn’t mean we allow ourselves to be in an abusive relationship. We don’t allow others degrade or demean us in the name of love.

When we misconstrue the Golden Rule, we can certainly destroy our relationships with a skewed mindset of “fairness.” Only when we commit to the Golden Rule challenge to love like Christ – self-sacrificially, without expecting anything in return – will we do unto others as God says we should.

How will you live out the Golden Rule this week?

  1. Choose to “out-kind” your friend, spouse, or family member this week.
  2. Choose to forgive and let go of a long-held grudge. We can forgive because Christ first forgave us. Embrace the freedom you get from forgiveness – the freedom to love others in the same way that Christ does!
  3. Pursue honest communication with your partner about your feelings, solely for the purpose of reconciliation. It’s ok if you need the help of a trusted counselor to do this. Discuss with them (in “I” messages) actions that seem unfair, and purposely ask them if there are any behaviors of yours that seem unfair to them. Commit to see each other’s point of view and ask for forgiveness. Remember, this isn’t about “winning,” this is about resolving a conflict in order to love each other better.
  4. Purposely give to someone you know can never pay you back. This could mean anonymously donating money to a person or a cause. Or giving a hot meal to a homeless person. Use your imagination! Take time to reflect on how it feels to love others with no pay-back.
  5. Every time you feel cheated or jipped (maybe someone cut in front of you in line at the grocery store), purposely stop and remember this verse: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” Before lashing out in anger, think of one way you can show great love to this person. Now DO IT! And then, let it go – choose to keep no record of wrongs.

Related reading:

Romans 12:17 (Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.)

Philippians 2:3-4 (Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.)

The Accidental Way to End Up in New York and Become a Wilted Branch

Life is a journey. Like a long walk on a winding path. And as with any journey, if you want to end up where you actually want to end up, every step has to have intention. You’ll never make it to Phoenix if you follow directions to New York!

If you ever want to be the person you dream to be, or have the finances you want to have, or live the life you wish to live, you have to intentionally take steps, little by little to get there. You don’t magically become someone new in a day. Every day, every action, every moment now is creating what will be.

For example, do you want to be a more joyful person? Then how are you daily choosing to have joy instead of complaining? Do you want to have more money in your savings account? What non-essentials are you cutting out of your life now to save money for later? The examples could go on forever – every daily choice we make paves the way for the future.

That applies to the Christian life, too. Growing in your faith and living out your beliefs doesn’t just happen on its own: it takes intention to walk with God and keep on the path that he has for you. If we aren’t intentional in seeking God’s ways, we often end up choosing our own ways automatically.

Jesus warned his followers of this very thing: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener…Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:1-5

Being a Christian requires intentional abiding in Christ. Because let’s be honest, if we don’t daily make Christ the boss of our lives, we naturally act as our own boss. And that often means we’ll make choices that lead us down paths we never meant to travel. Somehow, in all those small steps and daily minutia, we get turned in a different direction, headed for the wrong destination. Somehow, we end up in New York when we meant to go to Phoenix!

So that is why I hope you will walk with me on this journey of life and strive with me to be intentional in our steps. I have dreams of the person I want to be, the strong faith I want to have, and the impact I want to make for God. I want to share my journey with you and hopefully inspire you to live with intention, just as I seek to live intentionally, too. Let’s move forward, in small steps of faith, together!

Light steps