“For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).
Dr. Paula Bloom has written, “How much time have you spent wondering, or even worrying, what others think of you? What else could you be doing with that mental energy and space? Focusing on your work. Playing with your kids. Cleaning up the spare bedroom. Writing that book you’ve been talking about for years?” I think her questions are brilliant, and definitely something we need to seriously consider (not only for ourselves, but also for our children). Because the truth is, we spend an incredible amount of time and energy worrying about the opinions that others have of us.
President Abraham Lincoln once stated, “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” Not only is this true of our nation, but also of our own lives as individuals. I remember a time in my ministry when I was so concerned about the kind of pastor I thought other people expected me to be. I had to dress a certain way. I had to wear my hair a certain way (these days it would be nice to have a little hair!). I had to say and do the things a good pastor was supposed to say and do. This mindset towards my life and calling became quite debilitating and truly made me numb. To be honest, it made me bitter and caused me to hate my vocation. Pastoring had become a job, and it was no job I wanted. The truth of the matter, however, was that no one else imposed these unrealistic expectations upon me – I did it to myself! Thank goodness I was able to move from that dark place into the light, and have since become the kind of pastor that only Steven Bell can be. What freedom! What joy! Pastoring is no longer a job for me, but something I wake up each morning excited and privileged to do. But how many of us try to fit into a mold that isn’t suited for us as moms, dads, daughters, sons, wives, husbands, friends, neighbors, workers, church-goers, etc.? I greatly appreciate the words Fracesca Battistelli includes in her song, “Free to Be Me”:
‘Cause I got a couple dents in my Fender
Got a couple rips in my jeans
Try to fit the pieces together
But perfection is my enemy
And on my own, I’m so clumsy
But on Your shoulders I can see
I’m free to be me
We all have a few dents in our fenders and some rips in our jeans, but we are all also unique. Although we must live responsibly, it behooves each of us to be true to our gifts, our callings, our talents, our personalities, and ourselves. We’re all different, and we need each other. That being the case, here are a few thoughts on how to stop worrying so much about what other people think of us:
- Picture a life without this burden. I think you’ll quickly see that it is a life of freedom.
- Believe that people are basically good.
- Believe also that, regardless of what you do or who you are, people will do/think whatever they want to do/think.
- Your imagination is too precious to waste, so stop creating imagined scenarios in your mind.
- Come to the understanding that you will never be able to please everyone. Dr. Seuss commented, “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”
- Focus on “what is” rather than “what might be.”
- Keep first things first.
- Surround yourself with loving people (not just people who will agree with you, but those who will love you whether they agree or disagree with you).
- Be you. There is only one of you in the entire world!
- Record your accomplishments.
- Establish boundaries, and just say “No.”
- Get grounded (hit the pause button if you need to and clear your mind).
- Never forget how valuable you are.
Perhaps you’ve heard the story of the colorless tiger. Once upon a time, there was a colorless tiger – he was completely black and white. His lack of color made him so famous that the world’s greatest painters came to the zoo to try and paint some color on him. But their paint would never stay on the colorless tiger. Then along came a quite eccentric painter. He was an odd fellow who traveled about, happily painting with his brush. To be more accurate – he moved his brush as though he was painting, but he never had any paint on his brush. He didn’t have a canvas or paper either – he simply painted the air! So everyone thought it was quite funny when the eccentric painter said that he would be the one to paint the colorless tiger. When entering the colorless tiger’s cage, the eccentric painter began whispering in the animal’s ear, and moving his dry brush up and down the colorless tiger’s fur. Quite shockingly, and to everyone’s surprise, the colorless tiger’s coat was not colorless anymore – every spot the eccentric painter touched with his dry paint brush became vivid with color. The (seemingly not-so-eccentric anymore) painter continued whispering to the tiger, and painting, until the animal had become a magnificently colorful tiger. Immediately, people began asking the painter about his secret painting technique. He shared with them that his brush could only be used for painting real life, and to do that he needed no paint. And while he painted the tiger, he kept whispering this phrase in the tiger’s ear: “In a few days you will be free again – just wait!” Seeing how sad the tiger had been in his captivity, and how joyful the tiger now seemed at the prospect of freedom, the zoo keepers transported him to the jungle and set him free, where he would never again lose his color. This is a picture of what true freedom does to us. It gives us back our color.
Rosa Parks, also known as “the mother of the freedom movement,” resisted bus segregation. She made a decisive choice to be proud of who God created her to be. She later stated, “I would like to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free… so other people would be also free.” So this July, after we’ve popped all our firecrackers, after we’ve eaten enough hotdogs to make Oscar Mayer consider retirement, and after we’ve swam so much our fingers look old and wrinkly; might we be grateful. As a person, I am grateful for men and women like Rosa Parks – people who remind me to be me. As an American, I am grateful for our men and women in uniform who serve at home and abroad for the sake of freedom (those living, and those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our liberties). Might we be mindful of Ronald Reagan’s words, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.” As a Christian and a pastor, I am grateful for the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross, and how he reminds us, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). The question has been asked, “How come there’re no Knock Knock jokes about America?” The answer is, “Because freedom rings.” I hope your life rings with freedom – not only during the month of July, but that each and every day of your life will be an Independence Day.
Dr. Steven Bell
There are some great things that come out of the backseat of my car. If you were to just glance inside my car you would think that nothing good is back there. But in the middle of the flip-flops, crumbs, old lunch boxes, dance shoes, books and trash, there are treasures. Real treasures. This week, while driving down the road, our 7-year-old (resident theologian) in the backseat of the car asked a question. (When I no longer have little people adding to the mess in my backseat, I will have to borrow some. Their presence is worth the mess.)
Resident Theologian: “Mom, did you know that the Holy Spirit has two expressions?”
Driver: “What did you say?”
Resident Theologian: “The Holy Spirit has TWO EXPRESSIONS!”
Driver: “Oh, Oh, what are they?”
Resident Theologian: “A dove because the Holy Spirit is gentle and fire because the Holy spirit is powerful. Isn’t that cool?”
Driver: “That is cool. How were the monkey bars today?”
Throughout the rest of my week, I reflected on this conversation. I remembered how the Holy Spirit is gentle. It reminds me of God’s presence through a revelation when reading a book or when the right song plays in the morning. The Holy Spirit is like a dove in the way it flies by to remind me of a person I need to call and then it flies away. And when it moves through a worship service at an unexpected moment, it feels like the comfort of a mother or grandmother. It knows exactly what you need when you need it. Yes, the Holy Spirit is gentle.
I also noticed the Holy Spirit that pushed me to make a change for one of my children. For months I could feel the Holy Spirit burning inside of me telling me to make the change. Three weeks ago, I finally carried through with it. Ever since, peace has surrounded the situation. Sometimes God tells us through the Holy Spirit exactly what needs to be done. The more we ignore it the stronger it seems to get. If you are facing a situation that you have been praying about, I imagine the Holy Spirit is telling you what steps to take.
This week, from our tent to yours, we think it is worth the time to think about the Holy Spirit. We talk about it as our Guide in our tent. Every journey needs a Guide. A person that knows what is up ahead on the trail and walks along beside us so that we can experience the journey ourselves. The Guide helps make our daily lives personal and meaningful. Sometimes the Guide may be powerful to help us make a change or keep us safe. Sometimes the Guide will be like a friend sitting around a campfire at the end of a good day. We hope you can feel the presence of the Guide in your tent and your life. If it is time to make a change, make it. If it is time to take a nap, take it. Your Guide knows what you need and it is best not to ignore it. Peace is waiting for you.
But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you. John 14:26
What is yours? What is God calling your family to do? So often in families, we become wrapped up in what each member is doing separately. We celebrate the achievements. We comfort the disappointments. We enjoy the simple days and survive the busy days. But what if we took a step back and explored the idea that God may be using our families for specific missions.
Last week, I received an email from Family Legacy. It is an organization in Irving, Texas that invites American families to sponsor children in Zambia. We began sponsoring two children almost two years ago. Monica is 7 and Edward is 11. They are the same age as our own children. Monica emailed us last week to let us know that she was the student of the week in her school. She was excited to be the line leader and the teacher’s helper for the week. Edward also emailed us to say thank you for helping him go to school. Their emails stopped me in the middle of my day. Halfway around the world, God is using our family to bless two young children. That is simply awesome.
It feels simple, but to the children on the receiving end it feels like God loves them. A family mission does not need to be complicated. Each member of your family does not need to move to another country and become a missionary. (In fact, Christianity in North America and Europe seems to be decreasing. Our mission field is our neighborhoods.) God is using you and can use you right where you are right now.
This week, in your tent, take a step back and call a family meeting. Have each member share what they think the family mission is or what they want the family mission to be. Keep one ear open to God’s voice. You will be excited to discover what you come up with together.
Take a look at these links to explore your mission opportunities more:
The Church Will End Extreme Poverty by Scott Todd
Serving Together As A Family by Heidi Dunkley
For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. Galatians 5:13
From our Happy Tent to yours,
This week my heart broke when I heard someone say that they do not have anything to look forward to when they wake up in the morning. It broke again when I visited with someone looking for a job and they just aren’t having any luck. And then again when I heard about a struggling friendship that has been hijacked by jealously and competition. These moments were personally difficult for me because I knew that my words would not “fix” the suffering. Since I could not “fix” things, I stayed frustrated. Then I went downhill from there…my frustration led to impatience to irritation to defeat. It wasn’t a very nice day.
Jesus said, “I have compassion for these people.” (Matthew 15:32) Compassion. That is another way to look at life’s struggles. Compassion is something that we can offer in the midst of difficult times to others. Compassion is full of mercy, understanding, presence and comfort. It is easy to communicate compassion through texts, calls, lunch dates, surprise visits, cards, and hugs. Compassion is how God draws people closer to him through us.
It is clear to me that Jesus did not come and live among us to train us to “fix” things. There are just some things that cannot be fixed. Maybe he knew that. Instead he came to show us how to live with compassion (among other things). He knew that there are days when circumstances cannot be “fixed”. On those days, he taught us to look beyond the surface and discover how to comfort the true pain a person feels. When we connect with another person on a deeper level (a spiritual level), we can unwrap the gift of compassion.
As you travel through your week, explore compassion in your life. When have you received the gift of compassion and who needs to receive the gift of compassion from you? Invite everyone in your tent to join you on this path. You will be blessed and be a blessing to others.
“They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” Carl W. Buechner
My grandmother hand painted Easter eggs. She began the process well before Easter. She would make a small hole in both ends of a raw egg and blow the yoke out. After the inside of the egg was empty, she would paint beautiful designs on the eggs. Flowers and patterns were painted with Easter colors and glittery paint. They were beautiful and delicate. She also loved a party and Easter was a wonderful party. While we enjoyed a delicious lunch after church, dyed, hardboiled eggs were magically hidden around her yard. (Sometimes these eggs were found months later in the back of my closet due to a smell!) Her Easter celebrations still remain with me.
It is no surprise that I remember her on Easter. I also remember many more who already live in eternity. Those who once sat with me around a table to celebrate our promise of a resurrection because of Christ. My grandfather who gave me a corsage to wear on Easter morning on my wrist. Another grandmother took a picture of my sisters and me in her Iris garden while wearing our Easter dresses.
For me, Easter is where two worlds collide. Those who live on earth and those who live in eternity come together at the foot of the cross. There we see a glimpse of eternal life. There we feel peace. There we lean into hope. There we remember that all our struggles on Earth will not last forever. There we see God’s plan unfold before us. At the foot of the cross we rest on Easter and then we go on living as resurrected people for our remaining days.
When my grandmother was dying, I remember sitting in the hospital hallway on the floor opposite her door. Some of my family were sitting along the wall with me. We were talking and remembering together. We were waiting for what we knew was coming. She was about to die. And then I had a strange thought…I looked across from me and imagined another family waiting on the other side of the hall. A family that was waiting to welcome my grandmother home. A family who had once sat around a table with her on Easter. A family who taught her to paint beautiful eggs. A family who had been patiently waiting to be with her after a long absence.
I found comfort in that image where two worlds collide. It was as if the promise of the cross was standing between us in the hallway. On one side we sat experiencing the mystery of death and on the other side they sat experiencing eternal life.
As you gather around your table this Easter, I imagine there will be others there with you that you can see and some you cannot see. Enjoy the promises of Easter.
He isn’t here, but has been raised. Remember what he told you. Luke 24:6
P.S. One of our favorite activities in our tent at Easter is to make Resurrection Cookies. They are simple, fun and full of meaning. Enjoy!
Welcome to Lent! (That phrase would be a cute door mat this time of year wouldn’t it??) On Tuesday, I hope you let the good times roll and enjoyed some King Cake. On Wednesday, I hope you closed your eyes as your pastor or priest imposed a cross made from ashes on your forehead. A beautiful symbol of the darkness of our sin made into a cross that represents hope. This Lent, let’s explore some silent habits that we may want to sweep out of our tents before Easter arrives.
Pride. It is a character trait that is either good or bad. It is good in the sense of taking care of your home or how you wear your clothes. It is bad when it leads to arrogance or the feeling of superiority. It is good if it leads you to successful achievements and bad if it leads you to achievements that control your treatment of others.
In 1 Chronicles 21:1-17, King David let his pride turn from good to bad. He stepped away from God, just to experience what it might feel like to be God. His request to know the strength of his kingdom could have been innocent if it wasn’t covered with his pride. He wanted to know simply because he wanted to feel the power he possessed. This request led him back to God who showed his power and mercy.
Carl Jung says, “Through pride we are ever deceiving ourselves. But deep down below the surface of the average conscience a still, small voice says to us, something is out of tune.” Lent is a season for us to find that something (or somethings) that are out of tune. It is a season where we feel God’s judgment and God’s mercy. It is a season that leads us to the cross to remind us of the power of repentance and forgiveness.
How has your pride led you away from God recently? How is pride effecting your relationships with those you love the most (those in your tent)? As you turn back to God, what changes do you feel need to be made?
It was Wednesday afternoon that I realized I had made a big mistake. HUGE! A professional mistake. I had put the wrong date on my calendar to lead a retreat and I was not available for the right date. Luckily I had just pulled into the driveway when I realized what I had done. I think my heart stopped and my stomach flipped. The worst was yet to come. I had to make a phone call and admit my mistake. Ugh!
As I dialed the number, I braced myself for what I was about to hear. Silence? Curse words? Click? I had no idea. There was silence. And then these words, “Welcome to the human race.” Then I was silent. I had been expecting anger and received a joke. I had been ready for harsh words and I received grace. I was ready to cry and found myself laughing. Welcome to the human race!! I am imperfect and make mistakes AND its okay.
Why do I forget that I am not God and I am human? Why do I feel that I am able to achieve perfection in this life? Where does that kind of life leave room for God? What does the other person do that makes him available to offer grace and forgiveness?
On Wednesday I was humbly reminded that only Christ was perfect. Only God is in control. If I submit to the plans God has for my days and my life, I am free to experience peace. One of my favorite scriptures is, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light,” Matthew 11:28-30. It always brings me back to reality and reveals how hard I have been trying to do things on my own.
The rest of the day I felt as though I was truly floating through air. While I visited with some friends over dinner I found myself really listening. When reading a book to my daughter at bedtime, I found that I still had energy to be playful. I discovered that when I stop trying to control everything, pretending to be perfect, there is more time to be just me. Truly present and peaceful.
I am thankful to be part of the human race and I’m thankful you are there with me. Let’s remind others to claim their true identity this week and welcome them back into the human race. I promise they will relax and be thankful they know you!
This time of year I do not have enough time to get everything done. It happens every year. Not enough time to cook, shop, do laundry, call friends back, sleep, finish projects, start projects or anything else the holidays demand of me. There is a bit of true chaos swirling around me lately. Instead of visions of sugar plums dancing in my mind as I sleep, I have visions of mistakes and forgotten tasks. Exhausting!! And then yesterday, I experienced a moment of total disbelief. I wish I could tell you that I could not believe something someone else did. But I can’t because, I did it.
Yesterday, while driving home after a wonderful lunch with friends and family, my car was making a funny sound. I listened to the sound all the way home. (Most people would have pulled over to find the source of the sound, but not me…not enough time.) The look on my sweet husband’s face when he pulled up beside me at home was impressive. His eyes were huge and his mouth was open. I hesitated before I rolled down the passenger window. When I did, he simply said, “What are you doing?” I was not sure how to answer because I thought I was simply getting out of my car. Then he said, “You are practically driving on your rim. You have a very flat tire.” To my surprise, I did have a flat. The source of the noise. My tire is completely flat.
At this point I wish I could tell you that I was truly surprised, but honestly I wasn’t. You see, seeing my flat tire made sense. Four whole days before this moment (96 hours exactly), my “low tire pressure indicator light” came on while I was driving down a highway. (Cars are so smart.) Every time I turned on my car, I had to turn off the warning telling me a tire was low. Did I check my tires? No. Instead I remembered a time before when the indicator light came on and it was a false alarm. Coming up with that thought took less time than walking around my car to check my tires.
After I saw the tire, I simply carried my 40-pound purse into the house. I put down my life-in-a-bag and sat down. I was shocked. I was amazed. I was impressed. I had ignored the warning lights, continued on with my ridiculous schedule and almost ruined a tire rim all in a matter of four days. Why? Because I was pretending that I did not have enough time.
Today, that flat tire continues to speak to me. I reminds me stop. Slow down. Breathe. Take care of the important things. Because if I keep pretending I do not have enough time, I will probably do more damage than I intended to do. This is true for relationships, jobs, friendships, children, self-care and of course tires. And if I keep pretending that time is the problem, I will always keep moving too fast. Time is not the problem, I am. Somethings need to be taken off my daily list and somethings need to be put back on that have fallen off lately.
I remember today that God made us human beings instead of human doings.
Here we go! The holidays are here. As I enter this weekend, I am fully aware of the future. Our “tent” agenda includes a birthday, Thanksgiving travel, a birthday, Advent, Christmas parties, candlelight services, presents, a birthday and more travel. Here we go!
For some of us this time of the year is the reason we are alive! We can’t wait to get started (or maybe we have already started). The celebrations, times with family and friends and twinkling lights fill us full of all the good things in life. We are ready to “dig in” to the season. For some of us, this time of year makes us feel tired even before it begins. The Christmas trees in stores cause us to roll our eyes. The magazines in our mailboxes full of Christmas cheer quickly make their way to the recycling bin. We too want to “dig in” and hide until the season passes.
I find myself wanting to “dig in” too. I want to “dig in” to God. I may try to walk or drive more slowly between meetings or events. I may try to be more intentional about meeting with people important to me and enjoying a rich conversation. Maybe I will “dig in” to blessing others with my gifts and my time. In our “tent”, I plan to “dig in” to our evenings together by making them cozy and filling them with extra love. I know that my efforts will be blessed. That is just how amazing God is. My frustrations will slip away and be replaced with anticipations. My hurried pace will be replaced with divine appointments. And I pray for joy and peace to flow from God and through me.
As we all “dig in” to our Thanksgiving meals this week, I hope we will remember to also “dig in” to all that is available to us through God this holiday season.
Come to me all who are struggling hard
or carrying a heavy load,
and I will give you rest.
Happy Thanksgiving from our tent to yours!
God created a big world and set it into motion. It is truly an amazing place and we have the privilege of living here each day of our lives. And just when I think God is far away somewhere working wonders in someone else’s life, my thoughts are corrected by a tiny miracle. Tiny miracles are like tiny houses, they don’t take up much room. If I am not careful, I miss them. Just this week I was shopping in a large store that sells everything from Christmas trees to cheerios. God and I visit a lot in these stores! I am either praying for patience while standing in a long line (with a dozen other registers vacant) or praying for guidance to turn down the right aisle to find the peanut butter. It’s simple prayer.
My one prayer this week was for God to bring 12 people to my new Bible study. Last week there were five, so I prayed that God would bring a few more. Plus 12 is a biblical number. Guess what? Mid-way through the Bible study, I counted…12! 12 people. A tiny miracle. Another moment this week turned into a tiny miracle. Since school has started, we have been running four different ways in our home. Busyness has taken up residence in our home and no one has taken the time to push back. But one night this week, our tiny miracle happened. We ate together. The four of us around the table enjoying red beans and rice. It was wonderful and it put busyness in its place. Outside.
I wonder what tiny miracles you witnessed this week? For me, tiny miracles remind me that I am living life in partnership with God. Tiny miracles give me courage and hope. They fill me up with just a little bit more faith so that I can be available to pour God’s love into someone else. What do tiny miracles mean to you?
Maybe tiny miracles are not really tiny…they are simply miracles. Either way, I’ll take them and be thankful for them.
Fellow Israelites, listen to these words! Jesus the Nazarene was a man whose credentials God proved to you through miracles, wonders, and signs, which God performed through him among you. You yourselves know this. Acts 2:22