Thankful for Criticism

This month we’re talking about being thankful.  It’s a topic that is encouraging and brings hope when you think about it typically because it is all about looking for the good and choosing to focus on the good and not the challenges or the problems.  But today I want to take a different perspective and talk about Proverbs 15:31-32 which says:

“If you listen to constructive criticism, you will be at home among the wise. If you reject discipline, you only harm yourself; but if you listen to correction, you grow in understanding.”  

Some people are really quick to jump up and offer criticism, it’s always easier to see ways others can improve.  We also don’t really like thinking about our own failures so sometimes we look for the failures of others to hopefully find that they’ll eclipse what we’ve done wrong.  Can we learn from the mistakes of others? Absolutely.  It’s a great idea to learn from their mistakes so that we hopefully can improve on their decisions.  But the simple truth is that everyone screws up at one point in time or another (and most of us do it on a daily basis).

But the real challenge presented in these verses is that it’s really hard to ask for criticism or guidance about your failures.  It’s not easy to ask others to criticize you or something you’ve created and offer feedback, especially when you think you’ve done something really good and others don’t have as much excitement over it as you do.  And then if you do work up the courage to ask for the feedback and they come back with a laundry list of things you can improve on, it can be discouraging.

However, as these verses point out one of the best things you can do is to get constructive criticism (key word there is constructive), and look for ways you can improve yourself. God may have designed you as perfect but that’s not who we are right now, we’ve all got growing to do before we reach that point.  So this week I encourage you to reach out to trusted friends or even to a mentor or someone who doesn’t know you personally and ask them for feedback on how you can grow through the things that are challenging you most right now.  You don’t have to fix everything at once, but you should take at least one forward step each day.

Humbly Choosing Joy

This month we’re talking about enjoying life, along with the typical Halloween topics.  One of the best reasons to enjoy life and make it a point to do things you enjoy is because you don’t know what tomorrow will bring.  Tomorrow could be a better day than today (something those of us who have had a bad day certainly hope for), or it might bring serious challenges and require you to make changes in your life, or it might even be your last day.  I’m not the type of person who lives life to the absolute fullest like some people do, but I certainly make it a point to have at least a little fun and joy in each and every day, even if it’s something as simple as having a cup of tea.

But on the other hand I don’t make lightly of the gift that life is or criticize those who can’t find even a little joy in each day.  It’s not something everyone can instantly do, it’s a skill that has to be honed typically as adults because we’ve lost the gift that just about everyone has as a child of appreciating life and being able to see the gifts in each day, even if they don’t seem that remarkable to someone who has lived for several decades.

Yesterday, today and tomorrow are gifts, even if we don’t see them as such yet.  As we head into some of the busiest times of the year there will be a lot on your plate and in your life.  Sometimes all that busyness will drive you crazy and you’ll just want to be done with it.  But I would encourage you to step back and give in to the temptation to truly enjoy it.  Don’t get mad that the Hanukkah and Christmas stuff is out in stores, think about which carols you’re going to sing in your head while going trick-or-treating with your kids.  Don’t rant and rave at the bad driver in front of you, choose to be thankful you’re a better driver than them.  Don’t get mad at your kids when they don’t do well on a test, take it as a lesson and choose to work harder with them on understanding the subject for the next test and talk with them about what didn’t go right.  Don’t give up on a family member because they’ve chosen an addiction and can’t follow through with treatment, remember the good times and be there to support them when they do try treatment.

There’s always more than one way to approach a situation, will you join me in choosing joy?

“Don’t brag about tomorrow, since you don’t know what the day will bring.”  Proverbs 27:1

Reminders of Love

Sometimes what we need is to be reminded that we are loved.  Life can be one frustration and disappointment after another and that gets old pretty quick.  So today I have a few verses of love and encouragement to remind you that you’re not alone.  What’s your favorite verse that reminds you of this?

“The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”  Zephaniah 3:17

“Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.” 1 John 4:11-12

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7

“This is the message you have heard from the beginning: We should love one another.”  1 John 3:11

“A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need.”  Proverbs 17:17

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.”  Psalm 46:1-3

“If you look to him for help, he will put a smile on your face. You will have no need to be ashamed.” Psalm 34:5

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

“Whoever pursues righteousness and unfailing love will find life, righteousness, and honor.” Proverbs 21:21

“That is what the Scriptures mean when they say, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9

Love, Faithfulness, and Forgiveness

Today in the USA is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. As I was thinking about what to write I thought about the man that he was and the example that he set, one we can all learn from. He was a great leader for many reasons, one of the ones that stands out when I think of him is the kind of leader he was. You think about other leaders who were known for their military skills, or their destruction of others and then you find a guy like Dr. King who led with words, peaceful actions and love.

Dr. King set the kind of example that God would be proud of. No, he wasn’t perfect, none of us are, but he led with the goal of uniting people, of inspiring big dreams and of helping the people of the world to see each other in the way that God created us-all people of value and deserving of respect. Dr King never said it would be easy. In fact, he said “We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.”

I encourage you to start your week inspired by the words and work of Dr. King, words that reflect those of Jesus in the Bible. Choose to be someone people can look up to. Choose to be in your relationships with love, faithfulness, and forgiveness. Choose to lead with words of compassion and unity not hatred and division. Choose to make the world a better place.

“Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.”  Proverbs 3:3

Thoughts for a New Year

The book of Proverbs has lots of great little bites of insight for us, it’s kind of like Twitter from the Bible days.  One of those verses is Proverbs 4:23: “Above all, be careful what you think because your thoughts control your life.”  

This is a topic that I think about often and have written about before.  Why?  Do you know how valuable your thoughts are?  Your thoughts are your ability to think things through, your ability to process news, your ability to plan ahead, and your ability to your ability to make decisions on your own.  For most people their stupid or poor decisions are not a result of having mental challenges, but laziness, lack of interest, lack of effort or lack of willingness to ask for help.

Sometimes things happen that make us lose control of our thoughts, and that’s to be expected, for example when you get stuck in a repetitive thought pattern thinking about the ways you screwed up that day or ways you could have done things different.  When you end up in a situation like that it’s usually a good idea to get it out and either talk it through with yourself or a friend.  Once you’ve really worked out your frustrations (not spending more time than 15 minutes on it), you have to make the decision that your thoughts are better used for other purposes and let it go.  It may come back up in following days or weeks and if it does you can deal with it then.  But otherwise there’s no point to dragging yourself around in circles when you could use the power of your thoughts and mind for much better purposes.

This week I encourage you to pay attention to what you’re thinking and how long you’re spending thinking about it.  Are your thoughts serving you and helping you be your best version of you or helping you start this year off on the wrong foot?

Who’s on Your Team?

This month we’ve been talking about teamwork. Teamwork is something God has called us to; He asks us to be part of the team that is the Church as well as part of the team that is making a positive contribution to the world. Part of that is knowing who to trust, who you want on your team and who to look to for leadership and wisdom on Earth. One of the biggest ways you can screw up your life is by choosing the wrong people to be on your team: people who are dangerous, into not good things or don’t have the same motivations  and goals as you. No, everyone you are friends with should not be exactly the same as you, but they should all have similar values or beliefs.

Yes, it can be exciting to connect with those who live on the edge, thrill seekers are energetic individuals, those who live life with more passion and heart. But all too often they’re more focused on where their next thrill comes from than the plans God has for them.  And always looking for the next thrill has its risks not to mention inevitable downfalls.

We also can’t avoid those who are different than us or don’t have the same values, if we do we’ll be going against God’s Great Commission calling that we’re all part of. If we don’t spend time with those who aren’t people of faith we won’t be able to share God’s message with them, will we? That doesn’t mean spending all day every day with them or doing things you don’t agree with, but it does mean you can’t ignore them or exclude them from your life.

I believe everyone is on Earth for a reason; God created all of us for a reason. None of us are purposeless or without value. But if you want a life that fulfills you the most, lets you live your purpose most and gives you the ability to fill the call of God in your life, one of the most important steps you can take is to choose the people in your life wisely.

“He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed.” Proverbs 13:20

A Leader Worth Following

Sunday coming up is Father’s Day in the USA, a chance to remember the fathers in our lives, much like we remembered our mothers last month. I know that too many people have bad experiences when it comes to fathers. I’ve been blessed to have a great dad as well as great father-figures in my life who have supported me and helped me learn valuable lessons, and just been supportive in general.

This past weekend I was thinking about the role and responsibility we each have, as parents, as partners, as sons, as daughters, as brothers, as sisters, as relatives, as friends, as people even, to each other and to the world we live in. You may feel like someone small and insignificant, but each and every one of us contributes something special to our world, something that we forget about when we get too wrapped up in our own little worlds.

One of the biggest challenges we have is setting a good example and making contributions that are good for others and the world. You don’t have to look any further than the sports world to understand exactly how hard it is to be a good example 24/7, in fact it’s almost impossible because we’re all humans who are imperfect and make mistakes. I know it’s hard, I’ve failed in the past too, and I’ll fail again in the future. But the feeling you get when knowing that you’re doing the right thing, that you’re setting the right example for someone else to see, and that what you’re doing will sit well on your conscience is amazing.

I encourage you to take a look at your life this week and the example you’re creating in your words, actions and thoughts. Are you becoming the leader you should be? The leader God has created you to be? We all have work to be done, but again it’s the journey that matters, a journey that shows day in and out that you’re doing the best you can.

O my son, give me your heart. May your eyes take delight in following my ways. Proverbs 23:26