Glasses

20/20 vision is something I’ve always been proud to have. I’ve never questioned whether or not I was seeing something accurately and when other people were struggling to read a sign up ahead, I could always see it perfectly.

It wasn’t until I got married that I realized how much I took my clear vision for granted. It was so hard for me to understand that my husband needed his glasses on in order to see things! I remember trying them on and being shocked at how different our eyes saw the world.

In his letter to the Colossian church, Paul addressed some issues they were facing as a body of believers. One of those issues was confusion and debate about what ceremonies and traditions Christians should follow. Along with that debate came a whole lot of judgment, which Paul knew would only cause division and pain.

So, after presenting a clear explanation of the thing that brought them together in the first place – the gospel message of salvation through Christ alone – he reminded them to “let no one pass judgment on you” (2:16) or “disqualify you” (2:18) based on “things that are on earth” (3:2).

In the following verses, Paul points out that instead of focusing the how of church it’s the relationships within the church that need the attention! He tells them to put away the “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk” (3:8) of the “old self” (3:9) and instead put on the “new self” (3:10). As recipients of completely undeserved peace with God, they could also “let the peace of Christ rule in [their] hearts” and live as “one body” (3:15).

Unfortunately, you and I both know this is easier said than done. The “earthly things” are all to easy to focus on, which means we disagree often and just can’t figure out how others could possibly see things so differently than us! It’s amazing how quick those “old self” ways rear their ugly heads, resulting in division and pain.

In verses 12-14, Paul lists those attributes of the “new self” we can actively “put on” in order to prevent this. Love, when chosen, (even in the midst of disagreement), “binds everything together in perfect harmony” (3:14). Because even though we’ll never be able to clearly see life through another person’s eyes, we can try to put on their glasses.

In any disagreement or difference of opinion, instead of throwing a blanket judgment on someone, we can choose kindness by asking questions and learning about that person’s life. We can choose humility by trying to see things through the lenses of their past experiences and preferences. And in that, we might even find it easier to have compassion and find forgiveness. “Bearing with one another” might not be so difficult if we took simple steps to see things from the other person’s perspective.

Recently, I again became aware of how much I took my perfect eyesight for granted when I ended up at the eye doctor myself. Over the past year or so I’ve noticed a decline in my ability to read road signs and things like digital clocks from across the room. I am almost 40, so I assumed this might be a normal – but my doctor informed me otherwise. It turns out I’ve developed a slight astigmatism and will need to start wearing glasses when I’m driving at night. Yikes!

But I remember the moment I put them on for the first time. I called Tim right away to tell him that the whole world had just gone HD! I had no idea that I wasn’t seeing clearly until I put those glasses on – and saw clearly.

When Jesus prayed for us in John 17, He didn’t pray “that they would do church this specific way” or even “that they would all agree on everything” but “that they may all be one” (17:21). Being one doesn’t mean we see everything the same way, but instead that we simply make the effort to step into each other’s shoes and look at things from another perspective. And you never know – putting on the “new self” glasses of “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” may just give you clarity you never saw coming!

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Rocky

Running is my escape. When I throw on my sneakers and set out, it’s just me and the path ahead. All I’m responsible for over the next half-hour (or so) is putting one foot in front of the other. It’s my introvert “me-time” and even though it’s a struggle to get out the door on these cold winter days – I love every minute of it!

Over the past year, I’ve gone back to my Vermont high school cross-country roots and started to do more trail running. I’m so over the suburban sidewalks and even the wonderful wide, paved paths we have so many of in our area. I want a narrow, rocky, root-covered trail winding through a forest I can get lost in.

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Trail running is so much less monotonous than pavement, track, or treadmill running because it demands that you to pay attention. The rocks, roots, and holes in the path force you to constantly evaluate the position of your body and the regular ups, downs, twists, and turns force you to think strategically about the placement of your foot with every single step – you can’t just coast.

Of course, trail running also brings with it a greater risk of injury, but for me the adventure is a worthwhile trade-off!

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When we choose to do life as a disciple of Christ, we’re choosing a path that is anything but easy. In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus says: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” A narrow path presses in on you, is often filled with unexpected twists and turns, and forces you to think about every step.

There have been so many times recently where I’ve looked around at the world and thought about how much easier it would be to just be “normal” – to just be a mom or just work a job and go home to my family and not have to think about how my decisions are impacting the eternity of others. It’s not just because I’m in ministry – it’s that following Jesus every day is a rocky, narrow path.

Sometimes it’s the roots of my own sin or the hole I seemed to dig for myself by the choices I made that trip me up. Sometimes the rocks seem to come flying at me in the form of criticism or judgment. There are twists and turns of pain that I never saw coming and those uphills can be killer when I feel like I’m trying so hard but making such little progress. And there are times when things just get downright muddy!

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But when I really think about it, I wouldn’t trade this path for anything! The wide, paved road may look safer and easier, but the last thing I want to do is coast through this life.

It may be challenging, but the rocky, narrow path forces me to constantly pay attention to my position. No matter what obstacles lay ahead, I know that because of Christ I am a dearly loved child of God and the power of His Spirit resides within me. And every rock or root I stumble over gives me the opportunity to take a good, hard look at myself and see where I need to grow and change to be more like Him.

It also forces me to think strategically about the placement of every step – which means keeping my focus in the right place. The bumps in the road force me to keep my mind constantly open to how Holy Spirit is leading me in any and every situation. I can’t just coast – I can’t even look away for even for a second because I can’t guarantee what’s in front of me!

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This morning I ran the Mt. Joy trail (my current favorite) at Valley Forge Park. I was trying out a new app to keep track of my distance and about a mile into the trail, it had already announced to me three times how far I had gone and what my pace was (which I did not want to be reminded about since most of that mile had been uphill!)

I was getting increasingly frustrated, so I pulled out my phone to try to turn off the app. But as soon as I looked away from the trail – you guessed it – OUCH! I stepped on a rock and rolled my ankle. When I shifted my focus from what was in front of me over to the thing that was bothering me, I ended up in a whole lot of pain!

When you choose the rocky path the bumps are never a surprise. You can expect that on the narrow road of making your life all about loving God and loving others the way Jesus did, things are rarely going to be easy. So keep your focus on Him and whatever those next steps are that He’s leading you to take today!

If you want some help, just listen to this amazing song and get these words stuck in your head: (#proudyouthworkermoment)

“Guide my every thought
Guide my every step
Oh, let me walk in Your footprints
Teach my eyes to trust what I can’t see
Knowing that Your footprints are guiding me”

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Difference 

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My eyes scan across the table, back and forth, back and forth, looking for that piece. It’s green with some blue on one side and has a little bit of an odd-shaped ‘arm’. It’s out there somewhere and I’m gonna be the one to… Oh! There it is! Ugh, never mind.

I have a strange addiction to jigsaw puzzles. You can ask Tim – whenever we’re on vacation in North Carolina or visiting my Grandma’s house in Vermont, he has to physically drag me away from finding “Just one more!” I love all the designs, colors, and, of course, the feeling of accomplishment when you place that final piece!

Last summer, the puzzle on the table at Grandma’s house was a tough one. It had been started in February, but was so difficult that in July it was still less than halfway complete! I took this as a challenge and vowed I would get that last piece in before heading back to Pennsylvania.

The thing with this puzzle was that the pieces were all very similar in shape and the colors were nearly impossible to differentiate from one section to another. There were times where we sat for 15-20 minutes and and enjoyed only one tiny piece-fitting victory!

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Human relationships can be just as puzzling. Though similar in our basic structure, functions, senses, and abilities – there are drastic shades of difference in our experiences, cultures, personalities, and opinions. Even those of us who are born into the same families often find it hard to fit in together!

Our incredible uniqueness is God’s masterpiece. Unfortunately, instead of allowing His artwork to amaze us, we tend to let it frustrate us. In theory, we like that we’re not all the same, but in reality, not so much.

Part of the problem is that we love the completed puzzle. We love scanning through the crowds to find “our people” who match up and agree with us – and then securing them right to our side. We love it when all the pieces are present, easy to find, and fit together to make that perfect rectangle.

But rather than that completed picture, an incomplete array of various mismatched pieces is what we’re often faced with. In a world where we are allowed to have opinions and are given the freedom to express them, disagreements are inevitable. And not just the ones about where to get the best pizza in town or what Netflix show you should waste your time watching this weekend – the ones that reach to our depths of our values and convictions of our souls.

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When we do puzzles in our family, there are several reactions to the difficulty. Some of us try a few pieces unsuccessfully and then give up. Some of us try to jam the pieces into places they don’t fit because, “It looks like it goes there!” And some of us get angry and tear apart what everyone else has worked so hard to put together! (I won’t tell you who’s who!)

When our differences are revealed, the feelings are strong. We SO want everyone to agree with us and can’t imagine how they could possibly believe any different than we do! The patterns of our world give us some clear strategies for dealing with this difficulty: Give up and walk away from the relationship, argue and try to force the other person to change their mind, or get angry and find any and every way to tear them down.

In the first 11 chapters of his letter to the Romans, Paul sums up for the believers what God has done for them in Christ. He reminds them that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (3:23-24), that because of this great act of love, “we have peace with God” (5:1) and “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (8:1), that God is “for us” (8:31) and that His Spirit “helps us in our weakness” (8:26).

Then, beginning in chapter 12, he shows the believers how their lives should be different now because of what God has done. In verse 2 he says: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind”. The presence of Christ in our hearts and minds results in transformation – specifically, as Paul points out in the rest of the chapter, in how we treat people who are different from us.

Verses 3-8 deal with differences in our gifts. Because, “just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function…We have different gifts” (v. 4-6) and should think of ourselves “with sober judgment” (v. 3). All of our varying passions, abilities, and interests are necessary to the health of the church!

But verses 9-21 extend to the bigger picture of all relationships – especially the difficult ones. Paul was convinced that it was possible to “Hate what is evil” and “cling to what is good” while still loving people sincerely (v. 9). He believed, and showed by his life, that a “transformed” mind could genuinely “Bless those who persecute you” rather than curse them (v. 14). And He concluded that because we trust in a God who “in all things…works for the good of those who love him” (8:28), there was never a need to “repay anyone evil for evil” (v. 17).

Our differences can be difficult, but as ‘renewed’ followers of Jesus, we have the ability to lead the charge of embracing differences the way He did. We can “honor one another” (v. 10) by engaging in mature conversation instead of following the world’s patterns of avoidance, gossip, and lashing out on social media. Even if we believe with our whole heart that someone is wrong, we can put aside our pride and “live in harmony” (v. 16) – agreeing to disagree and trusting in the work of the Holy Spirit in the other person’s (or our own) life.

As you may have guessed from the picture above, we did finally complete the puzzle – well, except for that missing piece, of course (Aaarghh!!) Putting those final pieces in was exhilarating and my Grandma was so happy to finally regain her table space!

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Our victory was sweet, but as long as human beings are human, putting together a perfect puzzle in our relationships is going to elude us. Because even when we do the right thing, that doesn’t guarantee us a happy ending. All God is asking, though, is that, “if it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (v. 18) and then trust Him with the rest.

What does that look like for you today?

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Timing

Now that the holidays are over, it’s time to think about one thing: Summer! It’s almost here, people – warm weather and outdoor adventure are right around the corner! Or at least we can dream about it, right?

Every July our family has the huge privilege of being able to spend several weeks in southern Vermont. We love being able to escape the Pennsylvania humidity and experience the beauty of those Green Mountains!

Last summer, my mom introduced us to a rope swing she had discovered on a creek near her town. Far from the old-piece-of-knotted-string-tied-to-a-questionably-stable-branch you may be picturing, this swing was the real deal – complete with a wooden handle and attached securely to the bridge above. The kids had a blast swinging off the rocks, letting go, and plunging into the water!

But no matter how much fun it was, it was also an accident waiting to happen. An adult needed to be in the water directly below the swing – not only to catch the handle and get it to the next kid – but also to stop any kids who didn’t let go from careening back into the rocks!

If you’ve ever been on a rope swing before, you know that timing is everything. There is a very small window at the peak of your upward swing where you must let go if you want that optimal high-flying-plunge experience. Letting go too early just leaves you with a lame slip into the water and holding on for too long can be outright dangerous!

Another thing we’re all thinking about at this time of year is change. There’s something about the start of a new year that gives us hope that things will be different – or at least that we’ll be different. We’re ready to grab that handle and step off the rock, hoping that this will be the year we take that perfect high-flying-plunge into life.

But timing is everything.

If you’re human like me, you have regular moments of crisis – moments where you’ve done something you regret or where the Holy Spirit has revealed to you a pattern of sin or selfishness in your life. Man, it hurts to feel like you’ve betrayed yourself and those “I want to be a better person” and “I don’t ever want that to happen again” thoughts can seem to overwhelm for hours – or even days.

But no matter how badly we want to change, if we don’t take a proactive and practical step toward change within those hours or days, the ‘crisis’ will fade and we will default right back to the way we were before.

In preparation for our high school small group study this January, I’ve been reading through the book of Mark. One of the unique features of this book is the sense of urgency portrayed in the text. The words “immediately” and “at once” are used over and over, emphasizing the movement of Jesus as He traveled, taught, healed, and led.

But it wasn’t just about His action. Mark 1:16-18 shows His followers acting with similar urgency:

Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him.

The window of opportunity for this change in their lives was very small – there were no days or even hours to weigh the options, pray about it, or just hope for the best. A decision needed to be made right away and if they had held onto their nets for even a few moments longer, they would have missed out!

Anyone who’s been on a rope swing before will tell you that that hardest thing to do (if you’re even able to hold on in the first place 😉) is to get yourself to let go at that critical point. It always feels safer to hold on for just a little bit longer!

In order for change in our lives to be real and lasting, a proactive and practical step must be taken at that critical point. But like Simon and Andrew – taking that step can’t happen while we’re holding on to our nets. Our lives only have so much room, so adding that new habit or taking a step toward changing that pattern is always going to require letting go of something else.

For me, I’ve noticed several instances over the past month where instead of being “quick to listen and slow to speak” with my family, I did the exact opposite – most of the time because I was distracted by the device in my hand. So starting today, after school time is no-phone time because something’s gotta go!

As we jump into this new year, have you sensed the Holy Spirit leading you to make a change? What’s one practical step you could take today to make that change a reality? What’s one thing might you have to let go of in order to take that step?

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