Cookie Cutter Faith

cookie cutter

As a child, I remember marveling at the explanation for the term, “one size fits all.” A sweatshirt that can fit anyone of any size? What sort of enchanted fabric is this and where can I get it?

Of course, when I matured, I realized that the term is terribly specious. It can indeed fit all but it may be very baggy on one person or too tight on another. 100% perfect fits are the aberration, not the norm.

I was reminded of this during a Bible study session recently. During one particular section, my pastor imparted that there is no unanimous method for spiritual growth. Author Gary Thomas says it this way: “[There are] four elements essential to worship: adoration, communication with God, Scripture reading and service….But here’s the key: How we pray, how we worship and how we study God’s Word will differ.”

The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. God did not use cookie cutters to create us.  We were created using a medley of varying gifts, desires, personalities, and idiosyncrasies.  And we were all made to fulfill a different purpose for Him.  So if no one person is exactly the same, why would we relate to God and Him to us in the exact same way?

The diversity of worship and relationships with God is present throughout Scripture. David wrote psalm after psalm filled with praise and exaltation for the Lord. Martha provided care and served the Lord. Elijah routinely and vocally opposed all work against the Lord and His purpose.  And though He loved them both, in John 20, Jesus deals with Mary and Thomas’s contact with Him in different ways.  In verses 16-17, Mary’s motion toward Him was gently denied. According to commentaries, Mary’s joy would have caused her to cling too long. She needed to understand that Jesus was not ascending immediately.  In verses 24-27, Thomas was urged to touch the scars in His flesh. Thomas’s doubt needed to be irrevocably destroyed. He needed to see and feel proof that Jesus is alive. Different people with different relationships with the same God.

When you take time to pray and study the word of God​ ​this week, I encourage​ you​ to also take this spiritual temperament quiz.  Discover in what ways you relate to God and how it can help pave your path to spiritual maturity.

Which spiritual temperament are you? How do you see it influencing your relationship with God and how you worship Him?

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September Finish – Managing Conflict

conflict

Conflict is an inevitable part of life. When someone hurts us, anger is a common response. Yet anger is like a wildfire. If not properly handled, it will quickly barrel out of control and cause immense harm.  In James 1:19-20 we are taught an important lesson on anger: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” Anger does not produce the righteousness that we are called to.

What are the most common responses to anger? Some of us rehearse in our minds exactly what we want to say to the person who made us angry, and even how we would deliver the message so it gets across how we intend. Other people take the rehearsal a step further and actually deliver the message, and perhaps physical blows. Both of these methods of coping can be harmful. While anger is identified as one of the “7 deadly sins,” it is also not good for your physical health. Anger has even been linked to heart disease and high blood pressure. Clearly, anger can be a very dangerous thing.

So, what is the answer to conflict and to anger? The reality is we can’t go through life without conflict. There are even times when anger can be justified. Even Jesus got angry at the moneychangers in the temple, as they made it a marketplace instead of a sacred place. But it is our response to our emotions that we must be careful about.

  1. It is important to not respond right away–rarely has a response made from anger been healing or productive. Find a constructive way to deal.
  2. Seek people concerned about the same issues. If your anger is caused by injustice, find a path to fight for justice.
  3. When someone hurts you, find a way to take care of yourself so that you don’t spiral into negativity and cause further harm to yourself. This could be going for a run, deep breathing, taking a boxing class, or talking to a counselor.
  4. Tell the Lord how you are feeling. He can take it. Ask Him how you are to respond, both internally and to the person who made you angry in the first place. With any conflict, the Holy Spirit can help us find a way where there seems to be no way.

Conflict is something I dread. Yet I’ve learned that conflict can be an opportunity. Instead of wallowing in anger and falling further from righteousness, our response to conflict can be a way to grow in character.

By seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit in times of conflict, we can also grow closer to the heart God has for us and the person who hurt us. Instead of letting anger dictate our responses, let’s work on Spirit-filled healthy responses and watch how we grow in virtue.

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lianna-headshot Lianna

Hello! My name is Lianna. I am 28 years old and live in Cleveland, Ohio.  I am a Master’s student studying to become a counselor.  My favorite things are traveling, learning other languages, singing, and journeying with others. I blog and hope to inspire others at sunflowersojourn.wordpress.com.

 

Managing Conflict Through WhatsApp?

smartphone

Recently I had to visit the U.S. Embassy here in Kuala Lumpur and scheduled an early 7.30AM Wednesday morning interview as part of my U.S. Visa application. As such, I had to arrive very early at about 6.30AM to park my car at the office precinct where the office building is to catch an Uber to the Embassy.

Prior to all these practical arrangements i.e. a day before my interview, I texted someone from the workplace (let’s call her Jane) who has the parking attendant’s contact number in order that I may arrange to pass my car key to a trusted colleague to re-park my car into the office building as the entrance to the car park only opens at 7AM.

So the day came, I still have not received a reply. Fortunately, I met one of the many security guards of the building whom I am familiar with, and knew I could trust that he would pass my car keys to the intended person.

The whole day went by; I still have not received any response from Jane. While I know that Jane is of a senior citizen age, she was probably busy and maybe outstation, I decided to wait for a response. I still wanted the parking attendant’s contact in view of any necessary arrangements in future. Long story short, in the evening I saw that my text was read (thank you WhatsApp), but there was no response. I then politely replied by asking Jane if she was busy as I also saw that she posted some WhatsApp messages in another chat group.

Well, being the lawyer that I am – and a bit of a risk taker, I proceeded to let her know in a nice way that it was not encouraging (my precise word) to have read my text and not give a reply. Behold, Jane’s response was rather disappointing. She did say that it was not easy to have wifi access (fine) but (surprise, surprise!) managed to response with limited wifi access reprimanding me that I lacked respect, furthermore that I only respect people in ‘higher authority’. Whoa!

Taking a step back in this whole scenario, I reminded myself of a few things.

#1 To first address the ‘plank’ in my eyes: although I took the route of addressing the fact that Jane did not reply my text. I reminded myself to not do the same to others to give the benefit of doubt just in case the individual genuinely sought help or information. To have some self-reflection to avoid being bitter and judgmental. Instead prayerfully to allow God through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit or through scriptures to give insights on my own heart (basically to search my heart).

#2 To give grace and envision what kind of ‘older woman’ that I want to be: no matter how old or young we are, it is always an emotionally healthy practice to get rid to the superiority or entitlement attitude. Moreover if we are in the community of Christ – Jane is someone who attends our office Christian Fellowship, thus I thought I could rely on her to assist not only in providing information – if not, to have at least the courtesy to leave a short reply.

#3 To build and not tear down: instead of actually providing the parking attendant’s contact, Jane’s reply was an accusatory sweeping statement, not encouraging at all, which I vehemently reject. The focus was not to assist but to reprimand, which I thought was such a waste of time.

#4 People are weird (and yeah, you may think that I am too): but this does not justify for us to be discourteous, especially to people that we meet on a consistent basis (as a matter of fact to everyone).

Reflecting on this particular scenario got me thinking about how we are to carry ourselves.

  • Do we put others first in our thoughts, words and deeds?
  • Instead of waiving your index finger at others, why not take the approach of leading by example?
  • Instead of demanding respect, why not consider that others want to be respected too – that it goes both ways?

In conclusion, I hold these verses close to my heart. Philippians 2: 3-4 (NIV)Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

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timmie-liew Timmie

Hello, my name is Timmie and I’m from Malaysia. I am a lawyer by profession. I am a charismatic, passionate person and enjoy beautiful things in life such as travelling to different cities to appreciate the culture. I love fashion and appreciate ‘coffee time’ with people to talk about life and build meaningful relationships. I’m passionate about the things of God, the Church and authentic leadership. My deepest desire is to embrace all that God has called me to be and be a blessing to whoever that God has placed in my life past, present and future. Our God is a GREAT God, and the best is yet to come !🙂

Peacemaker

girls

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” -Matthew 5:9

It was happening again.

To my right stood Wanda, loudly voicing her displeasure, her nape length ponytail wagging with every word. To my left was Charlotte. Her jelly bean-colored barrettes were clamped over her braids and were as frozen as the frown on her face.

And in the middle was me…again.

The three of us enjoyed being together. Playing jump rope on the playground. Eating Ellio’s frozen pizza in the school cafeteria. Talking excitedly about the newest toys in the Toys “R” Us Sunday circular.

But eventually, there were times when one of us would do something that would completely disrupt the peace.

Maybe we didn’t see Michael Jackson’s latest video. Maybe one of us had spearmint lip balm and the other had cherry. Maybe we liked Pepsi instead of Dr. Pepper.

Whatever the reason, Wanda would complain and usually Charlotte would counter back, resulting in a rip in our friendship blanket.

I would try not to take sides but my residence on the sidelines never lasted long.

During recess, I’d walk along the length of the playground with Wanda, half-listening as she complained about Charlotte. I’d scan the concrete for Charlotte and would finally spot her, playing happily, oblivious to the invisible friction that was rubbing me raw.

But then, they got over it. The rip was mended and all was well again.

Until next time.

We were 9-year-old girls who eventually matured into women and outgrew such behavior. But thinking back made me wonder how often we take the easy exit in an conflict.

Aligning with the loudest voice, joining the strongest alliance, standing with the largest group against the weaker side is the path of least resistance. But peacemaking requires a lot from us: backbone, energy, and love for all involved.

Taking sides keeps the conflict alive. As Christians, we should work at dissolving discord, not feeding it.

Have you ever taken sides in a conflict instead of trying to end it?

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Jennifer Jen

Hi, there! My name is Jennifer. I’m 32 and live in the D.C. area. I love Jesus, R & B music, and sugar in all its forms :-). In June 2016, I married my amazing husband, Calvin. I was completely single and waiting throughout my entire twenties. So I know the prayers, fears, and tears that come with prolonged singleness very well. I am excited to share my story and encourage single women who are waiting for God’s best!

August Finish/September Start!

fall

Brr!  I walked outside this morning and there was a chill in the air!  It sure feels like the start of fall!  To me, fall says college football watching with nachos, chicken wings, and dip, long hikes through woods exploding with color, and cool nights under a blanket with a mug of hot tea.  Fall is by far my favorite season.

Rather than fall representing the end of growth, fall is energizing to me.  There is a quickening in the air, a sense that change is coming.

It is also a time for reflection.  The year is coming to a close.  All those great goals from January – what happened to them?  Am I closer to where I wanted to be?

Last month we looked at taming the tongue.  It’s no coincidence that this month we’re looking at managing conflict.  The two are intertwined; if we all had a lot more control over our tongue, we’d have a lot fewer conflicts.

In today’s world of phones, emails, texts, and social media, the opportunity for conflict is ever greater.  What’s more, taming the tongue is no longer valued as a sign of maturity and self-control.  Instead, now people start Facebook posts with “I just have to put this out there…” and post not-so-cryptic memes that are clearly aimed at specific people in their lives.

The Bible tells us that Satan is prowling like a lion, looking for opportunities to devour someone (1 Peter 5:8).  We are daily presented with these opportunities – that’s a fact.  We have to decide now who we’re going to be, how we’re going to respond.  We can follow the world and say what we want, what makes us feel good, show how right we are.  Kaboom, conflict.

Or we can do what Jesus prescribes.  Turn the other cheek, be a peacemaker, forgive even those who have wronged us.

When soldiers came to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter responded with the way of the world – conflict.  He drew his sword and cut off a soldier’s ear.  But Jesus responded in the way of grace – he told Peter to put away the sword and he healed the soldier’s ear.

Are we more like Simon Peter?  Or are we more like Jesus?

Do our actions foster conflict?  Or do they foster peace?

As I said last month, the biggest source of conflict in my life is not my personal life, but my work life.  Last week, I had a situation that made me so upset.  I felt it was unfair and completely unjust.  I was so upset about it that it kept me up at night.  I wanted nothing more than to call out the person who I thought was being unjust.

But instead, I prayed for peace.  I prayed for self-control.  I prayed for wisdom.  I checked my motivations and found that what was driving me was really ego, and I knew that wasn’t right.

Rather than calling out the person and likely blowing up the situation into a larger conflict, I chose a different path.  The time for the conflict passed and peace reigned instead.

When Satan comes prowling, choose peace.

Gossip Girl

tongue1

Talking had never really been my thing. As a child, whenever a teacher would call on me to speak, my mouth would rapidly coat with the tepid slime of fear. Maybe it was social anxiety or deep over analysis of my own thoughts but I was totally comfortable being silent. At 8 years old, I became a professional at keeping my tongue still.

But while my mouth was inactive, my ears weren’t. I learned the art of eavesdropping and soon discovered gossip. The adults in my family would collect around a crowded dining room table, a bright cozy kitchen, or sizzling barbecue grill to talk. About their spouses. Their children. Friends. Coworkers. Church folk. Other relatives. Celebrities.

When it became aware that I was in earshot, I was quickly shooed out the room. But the rich laughter and vociferous declarations were too full to be contained and always spilled into the other rooms. The conversational crumbs would tumble into my lap, sponge cake-like cubes soaked in innuendo and dusted in opinion. I’d stuff them in my mouth and scarf them down excitedly. Unlike being called upon in school, listening to juicy tidbits about people I knew loosened my tongue. I’d chew happily, surprised at how delicious they tasted and how much I wanted more.

The words of a whisperer (gossip) are like dainty morsels [to be greedily eaten]; They go down into the innermost chambers of the body [to be remembered and mused upon]. –Proverbs 18:8 (AMP)

Gossip is appetizing, there is no doubt about it. But there is equally no doubt about how damaging it is. It wrecks friendships (Proverbs 16:28), destroys trust (Proverbs 20:19), and creates an environment where love is M.I.A. and judgement reigns supreme (Psalm 69).

I wish I could say that that I’ve acquired a more mature palate or an appetite that always craves more graceful conversation. Unfortunately, I can’t yet but I have learned a few ways to keep away from the gossip platter.

  1. Walk away. Simply walk away. When a conversation among friends dives into gossipy terrain, remove yourself. Suddenly become really interested in the view from the window. Or if at a large gathering, get acquainted with people on the other side of the room.
  2. Say something positive. 99% of the time, the subject of a rumor mill is never present to defend or explain themselves. Their absence can give gossipers pretended power to tear down their reputation or even their worth. Saying an encouraging or optimistic word about the person can stop the flow of destructive words. It can remind everyone that gossip affects a real person, not a thing.
  3. Pray. When you feel tempted to gossip, pray. When you are in the midst of a gab session, pray. When someone’s name comes up in conversation, pray for them. And when someone comes to you with a load of gossip about an acquaintance, try saying, “Oh, that’s too bad. How about we pray for her right now?” There’s something about prayer that makes sin no longer as attractive after you’ve talked with God about it.
  4. Don’t talk. Do. Talk is cheap. It is emotionally and physically easy to run our mouths about someone else’s life, misfortunes, choices, and events. But that’s not what we are called to do. 1 John 3:18 says, “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” Instead of talking about the person, reach out to them. Inquire genuinely about their life and their situation and offer to do what you can. Then do it.

Like most unhealthy foods, gossip is good to the tongue but injurious to the body. And like all unhealthy habits, God can and will overcome it.

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Jennifer Jen

Hi, there! My name is Jennifer. I’m 32 and live in the D.C. area. I love Jesus, R & B music, and sugar in all its forms :-). In June 2016, I married my amazing husband, Calvin. I was completely single and waiting throughout my entire twenties. So I know the prayers, fears, and tears that come with prolonged singleness very well. I am excited to share my story and encourage single women who are waiting for God’s best!

End of July Challenge: Making Space

freedom

I quit my job this summer.

It feels crazy to even write that sentence. For years, I felt consumed by my job. I was working in a very high-stress social services position. The sacrifices I made for my job were many: social, time, financial, and (unfortunately) even spiritual. Don’t get me wrong – it was a calling for a certain time. But then the Lord gave me the peace and the wisdom that it was time to let go and hand over the reins to someone else.

By letting go of one thing, I have opened myself to other opportunities.  I’m ready to make space for other aspects of myself that a high-stress, full-time job simply did not leave the time or energy for.

Space is scary. Space means emptiness. Yet that same scary emptiness is bringing me hope. That space can be filled up by my Savior. That space will give me the time to hear the still, small voice. The God I serve can show me new ways to serve with that space. Finally, I can even focus more on my writing! That space and the changes in my life could even allow a special relationship to blossom. Only God knows the great things that could happen, if we would only allow some space in our lives!

Creating space can be difficult. Most of us have a tendency to fill up our time. Like me, we can get so focused on one thing – even one that we see as a calling – that we forget to still give ourselves space to grow in multiple dimensions.

Empty space has a way of forcing us to face ourselves. Empty space brings unknowns. I believe that empty space is necessary as we move onto new steps in our lives and discern what God is asking of us. Space is necessary for growth.

I’m taking the risk and creating space in my life. Yes, it’s scary, but I’m also feeling freedom and new waves of hope in my life. I’m eager to see what God will show me as I create empty space in my life.

Are you ready to see what the Holy Spirit could do in your life, when you allow some empty space?

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lianna-headshot Lianna

Hello! My name is Lianna. I am 28 years old and live in Cleveland, Ohio.  I am a Master’s student studying to become a counselor.  My favorite things are traveling, learning other languages, singing, and journeying with others. I blog and hope to inspire others at sunflowersojourn.wordpress.com.