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Your Life is Your Ministry

The only letter of recommendation we need is you yourselves. Your lives are a letter written in our hearts; everyone can read it and recognize our good work among you. Clearly, you are a letter from Christ showing the result of our ministry among you. This “letter” is written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God. It is carved not on tablets of stone, but on human hearts. ~ 2 Corinthians 3:2-3  

I have heard many people claim that they are going to do this or that when they clean themselves up, get themselves right. They’ll focus on God when they stop clubbing or have had enough of the promiscuous lifestyle. They’ll forgive someone… eventually… they just have to keep praying about it. They’ll commit as soon as they get the job or the raise they’re waiting on. They will love people as soon as people love them.

I’m sure you’ve heard many variations of this theme. And to all of those excuses and the ones waiting to be spoken, I say – Indeed, the “right time” is now. Today is the day of salvation. In 2 Corinthians 6:2 we are told:

For he says, “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.”

I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.

So… just do it!

Bust a move and build on your good, life-giving thoughts.

A Lifestyle Example in the Workplace

“You are the light of the world…. [L]et your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” ~ Matthew 5:14, 16

My last performance evaluation was eye-opening for me. You may not think of your job as the appropriate place to let the light of God shine through, but I will tell you anywhere your body goes (or your presence is seen or felt) is an appropriate place for God’s light to shine through you.

Last year was a very rocky year for me in some respects, but apparently it didn’t show in my day to day interactions.

Here are some remarks my manager wrote about me in my annual review:

LaShawnda performs her day-to-day duties in a superior manner. She exercises good judgment about priorities. She functions very independently, but seeks guidance when appropriate. She asks questions and applies what she learns to her daily work.

She is well-organized and always pleasant, cheerful, and professional in her dealings with others, and has built many constructive relationships [in the company]. She is a great ambassador for me and our group.

LaShawnda is service-oriented. She works extremely well with others, whether she is in charge or taking direction.

She understands the importance of corporate rules and policies and ensures that this office follows them.

LaShawnda has initiative and persistence. She is a person of integrity and can be relied on to be direct and forthright about problems, complications, errors, and other “bad news” as well as good. She takes responsibility for her performance in the fullest sense.

She is flexible and adaptable, and she is always open to new challenges. If she promises to do something, she always follows through. I love that she comes to work with her brain turned on.

She is an intelligent, enthusiastic, hard-working, conscientious, and creative partner in the workings of my office. She is considerate of my work style and sensitive to times when I need to be left alone to focus on something, but she is also a lot of fun!

She wrote much more, but these are some of the comments that mirror Kingdom principles to me. She deserved an on-the-record response for recording such an evaluation of my character and conduct. In the first part of my response, I spoke as a citizen of God’s Kingdom. “I truly enjoy the role of ‘helper’ – it is a pleasure working in a role where performing well means I must assist others and maintain good relationships with them.”

That’s my life in a nutshell. I’m here to help. I’m here to serve. And it doesn’t matter if I’m giving orders or taking orders, my responsibilities are going to be the same: love people/treat them well, let my light shine, speak truth/be freed by it, do everything as I am doing it for the Lord, declare what the Lord has done for me and rejoice always.

People will know you by your fruit and you drop seeds with every interaction you have.

God has transformed and blessed you so that you may be a blessing to others.

 We are confident of all this because of our great trust in God through Christ. It is not that we think we are qualified to do anything on our own. Our qualification comes from God. He has enabled us to be ministers of his new covenant. This is a covenant not of written laws, but of the Spirit. The old written covenant ends in death; but under the new covenant, the Spirit gives life. ~ 2 Corinthians 3:4-6

Scripture references:
Psalm 118:17, 24
Mark 12:29-31
Matthew 5:14-16
Ephesians 4:15
John 8:32
Colossians 3:23
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Philippians 4:4-7

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Forgiveness – You have it. Now What?

My pastor did an illustration some time ago. He called someone up from the congregation and told the man to ask for his Bible. The man asked the pastor for his Bible. The pastor gave the man his Bible. Then the pastor said, “Keep asking for my Bible.” The man kept asking for the Bible even as he held it in his hands. The pastor turned to the congregation and said, “How foolish does he look? He has what he asked for. He received it the first time he asked. Now, what is he going to do with it?”

Forgive (v.): to pardon an offense or an offender (dictionary.com)

Forgiveness (n): act of forgiving; state of being forgiven; disposition or willingness to forgive (dictionary.com)

Forgiveness is rather simple. It’s a matter of letting things go. Not holding on to hurts and infractions. No longer resenting the person who caused offense. It’s about moving on from where you were. Those are all pluses for the forgiver.

Not so simple is what comes after. From my recent experiences, the offenders/transgressors remain in the same spot. Waiting for you to return and participate in the same habits that led to the offense. They don’t want things to change. They’re free to offend and happy to receive forgiveness in a continual cycle. They’re just being themselves, after all, and if you love them you’ll accept them as they are. Repeat offenders are master manipulators. They aren’t interested in experiencing the consequences of their actions. According to them, there shouldn’t be any! Receiving forgiveness does not absolve you from the consequences for your behavior (i.e. reaping what you’ve sown). Every action has a reaction. Every cause has an effect. Each step is followed by another step. We are never in the same position twice. Even when we move backwards we are aware of what’s coming towards us because we’ve been there before.

The consequence of treating someone badly is that the relationship will not be what it was before the ill-treatment, even after forgiveness has been given. That doesn’t have to be a negative. Success usually comes after many failures. For me, personally, the relationship is either better and stronger or nothing. Either way, I’m going to keep moving. Keep learning and keep growing. My hope is that the other party is moving with me, because I refuse to allow myself to remain in any situation I feel I am continually being taken advantage of. 

Jemini Effect

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.  ~ Prov 15:1, 4

My friend Jemini was mentioned several times in my book, My God and Me: Listening, Learning and Growing on My Journey. Every time I wrote anything about her, I told her about it and asked if she wanted to read it. When I completed the manuscript I asked her if she would review it and provide feedback. She wasn’t interested. A month before I published she read a snippet of a Dichotomy of Jemini (a piece about relationship-changing verbal attacks she made against me). I later confirmed she didn’t read the whole piece. She took offense at a couple of sentences and stopped speaking to me. From the moment her treatment of me changed I knew she had read something. [Dichotomy of Jemini causes the most commotion at my readings, so I understand there’s some uneasy controversy in it. However, I am not remorseful for publishing it. It speaks of a lesson I learned as does the rest of the book of personal essays.]

Dichotomy of Jemini outlines a relationship I put much more value on than the other party. It touches on remarks Jemini made that wounded me. It goes on to discuss how I brought the issue to her attention and she told me I misunderstood her words, then she made excuses and eventually she avoided the issue altogether. She never acknowledged that she hurt me (rather she intended to or not). She never took responsibility. She never apologized. She wanted to forget that we had a disagreement and act like we did before the “episode”.

But I had already changed. Her words had already been spoken. You can’t take back what’s already been done but you can make amends for it. So, more months passed and I was promoting my book. (As I said, I keep moving.) When Jemini decided she wanted to be “friends” again, she staged a “make-up” call, during which she blew the piece up in a way to make herself out as the victim. I was wrong and unfair; and worse I wasn’t seeking to heal the breach. How can she forget the “episode” if everyone was reading about it?

I decided to sit back and do nothing during this second act. Jemini trailed a long line of people who took me and my friendship for granted. I had never asked her for anything, except her sincere and honest friendship. Then the time came when I asked her for an apology and expalnation for her behavior towards me.

She didn’t have any sincere honesty for me. More avoidance, deflecting and excuses.  

Woo Effect

Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.   ~ Prov 16:24

I had to sit back and think about how so many people have been comfortable treating me so cavalierly and then setting me aside. The answer I came to: I forgave when they asked and forgot their transgressions without requiring anything from them. No expression of repentance, no sincere/specific apology and no attempt to make amends. I was always giving of myself and going home empty.

Now, I’m asking for something in my relationships. I want to be wooed. I want to know you’re not just after a comfortable foot stool or a quiet ear. I need to know you’re interested in contributing to and sustaining a relationship with me. I need to know I’m not in it alone.

Jemini isn’t coping well with LaShawnda version 2010. Apparently, I spoil people with the full force of my personality and affection when they’re in my good graces. The other day, Jemini told me I was difficult to figure out. I wasn’t returning her calls like I used to. I didn’t come by and lounge with her and her family on lazy Sunday afternoons anymore. Her husband had told me earlier in the week that she and the kids missed me and I should stop by. I told him my bell worked just as well as theirs did and my phone was functioning too.

He looked taken aback. I had never been so abrupt with them. I’ve become so fed up with putting out so much on the front end that the other person doesn’t know how to hold up the back end. Meaning, if my effort is driving the relationship, it’s all going to fall apart when I stop, let go, sit back. Who wants a relationship like that? A relationship that only functions when you function? I don’t. I now take issue with making all the outward effort. If you want to see me, but you can wait until I come to you (like you always do), well, keep on waiting. You want to hang out, but only in your house, with your kids, talking about your life, fine, hang out. I have stuff I need to do, I’ll see you later. You want to do this or that because it’s convenient for you, go ahead, I’m not interested in tagging along. 

I’m done setting myself aside too. I’m not saying everything should be about me. I am saying relationships should be balanced. They should blend the personalities and lives of the involved parties.         

Back to Jemini…. My response to Jemini’s comment that I’m difficult to figure out was, “I’m very simple.”

She gave a disbelieving roll of the eyes and said, “I’m gonna write a book to help your husband out, ‘cause he’s gonna have some problems.”

I looked over at her children and thought about sharing the non-secret key. I had done so previously and she had even commented on it in nearly each of our conversations. Your fans miss you. Your groupies want to see you. She calls her children my fans and groupies because they shower me with affection. Simple, sincere, honest affection that’s seeking after its own kind. The kids don’t care who’s in a bad mood, who doesn’t want to be bothered, who’s angry at whom – each visit begins and ends with a kiss and hug from each of them. Exuberant, cheerful, excited, loving, raucous, uninhibited. They chant my name before they see me, they jump up and down to open the door (it’s rare that I cross the threshold without someone jumping into my arms first). Their smiles remove every drop of gloom or sadness in my heart from the moment I see them, no matter how difficult my day may have been. The children aren’t hiding their affection. They’re overt and shameless. And guess what? So am I. I chase after them. I toss them in the air and swing them in circles. I hug them tight and kiss their cheeks. I ask about their day, their new friends and listen to whatever else they want to tell me. It’s a mutual pursuit.       

“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he (Jesus) took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.  ~ Mark 10:13-16

Don’t miss this! You have to receive the kingdom of God like a little child or you will never enter it! Children aren’t trying to save face. They’re not concerned with having the upper hand and never admitting to a wrong. God has gifts for us. Many of His blessings can be found in our relationships. If you’re not open and exuberant about the people in your life, then you can’t be alarmed when they gravitate towards people who are. If you treat your friends as if you can take them or leave them, chances are they’ll leave.

Children don’t remember wrongs, hurts, or anger. They’re quick to love and quick to forgive. The world teaches us differently as we age. We “grow” out of such child-like behavior and “mature” into being suspicious of everyone, not needing anyone, telling little lies and omitting whole truths.

An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips.  ~ Prov 24:26 NIV

Being emotionally honest may sound too simple to be effective when looking back from a heart that’s been bruised, scared and broken. In adulthood our emotional honesty may have ended painfully with us vowing never to open ourselves again; never to reveal the truth of our feelings; to keep our love to ourselves; to get what we can out of others without exposing our need for so much more. If you’re hiding, camouflaging, fronting, popping your collar and slapping hi-fives to the boys and shouting you-go-girl’s to the girls then you’re not being honest about where you are. You’re putting on a show. There’s no sincerity in your approach. No honor in your staying around.

At some point you have to accept responsibility for the damage you made to a relationship. Even if you’ve already been forgiven, just confessing your error goes a long way to eliminating resistance to interacting with you.

I’m not too proud to say, I need love. Affection goes a long way to improving a person’s disposition. Like anyone else, I flower when you pour the love on. A hug and a soft word can bring an end to battles. If a relationship has gotten to a point that I fold up my petals, it’s not because I want it that way, I simply need to be wooed into unfurling.

How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!  ~ Psalm 119:103

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Question: To Forgive or Not to Forgive?

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart—These, O God, You will not despise.  ~ Psalm 51:17

The answer is: forgive. We are clearly instructed to do so. But sometimes with forgiveness, forgiveness isn’t the issue.

Perhaps the transgressors’ nonchalance is the issue. Their lack of care. Their disregard. Sometimes it’s the way a person handles the circumstance requiring forgiveness that is the bigger issue. The way you handle the situation speaks to your character and the value you place on the relationship that’s in need of righting.

You’re forgiven. Know that.

Each party has a role to play in the process of forgiveness. The transgressee needs to make the transgression known. The transgressor needs to acknowledge the transgression and make amends.

“Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15-17)

We are also called to take corrective action when any of our brothers/sisters are injured by us (Matt. 5:23-24).

  1. Acknowledge the issue
  2. Address the issue
  3. Ask for forgiveness
  4. Make restitution

Afterwards, if the injured party refuses to forgive you, then they have an issue they need to deal with separately. It’s important to note the transgressor must be accountable and take responsibility for words or actions that caused harm (direct or indirect; purposeful or not).

Wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if we all did exactly what we want whenever we want with no consideration for other people’s feelings, well-being or life? Wouldn’t that be great? So what my words or actions harmed you… I was enjoying myself! After all, I’m free in Christ! Who are you to bind me with your issues? Sorry you’re so sensitive and took offense. You should pray on that. Oh… and forgive me. Or better yet, I don’t have to do or say anything to gain your forgiveness. You’ll forgive me because you have to; you’re a Christian.

How did that sound to you? Sounds crappy to me. As in, someone actually crapping on me.

Unfortunately, that “christian” attitude is not uncommon. It’s also not truly Christ-like. The nature and principles of Christianity are based on brotherhood, community, and unity. The most common metaphor is that we are members of the same body – the body of Christ. Perhaps it’s difficult to recognize and interact with one another because we function in different parts of the body. Perhaps, you’re the left big toe and I’m the right ear. We can’t see each other too well or grasp the other’s function, but that doesn’t mean we should treat each other like strangers when our paths cross.

The problem with forcing our “freedom” on others by doing whatever we want with no consideration for our fellow members is that it disrupts the whole unity idea. It tarnishes the brotherhood; breaks down the community and it certainly gives love a bad name. How can you love me when you’re doing things to me you wouldn’t want done to you? How can you call me sister when your actions repeatedly hurt me? How can we be one when you’re double minded?

Jesus said, “If you love me you will keep my commandments (John 14:15) and no commandment is greater than these:

“‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-39)

EVERYTHING that has come before and since falls under the directive of love. Love is the critical piece that works with forgiveness (for the transgressee & the transgressor). Love allows patience and provides compassion. Love covers every single sin you can imagine. The whole of God’s law is fulfilled when we practice love as instructed.

Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.

For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!

I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. (Galatians 5:1, 13-18)

Picture this: You’re seated on the subway train and I’m standing over you. My hand is gripping the overhead bar and my shoulder bag is dangling from my arm. As the train rocks and lurches ahead, my bag swings unimpeded from my arm knocking you in the head repeatedly. Now, I apologize after each contact, even though it’s not intentional. But am I really repentant? Or just careless? If I don’t do something to stop my bag from hitting you in the head, saying sorry after each hit isn’t going to do much good. Pretty soon, you’re going to want to hit me back – intentionally. However, if I take corrective action such as step aside or move my bag so it’s not over your head, you are more apt to forgive me and drop the issue. Why? Because I acknowledged the issue, expressed concern for your discomfort and remedied the situation.

Our true freedom comes when we manifest the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. We are told when the fruit is evident, then there is no law against us.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.  And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5:22-26, emphasis mine)

So the true questions are: What is love? What is joy? What are peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control?

God is love. Obeying Him brings us joy. Trusting Him gives us peace. Longsuffering is patience; we build and perfect patience through our faithfulness – meaning when we are faithful. Kindness, goodness, and gentleness are a matter of looking after others as God looks after us – shining our light in this world. Ah, and self-control – the big one. In a nutshell, self-control is NOT doing whatever we want to do whenever we want to do it.

Self-control (n.): Control of one’s emotions, desires, or actions by one’s own will (dictionary.com)

Self-control is discipline. Discipline is a portion of the fruit of the Spirit. That’s a whopper, isn’t it? Tempted to stop there… but one more thing before I go.

People can forgive you, but their forgiveness does you no good if you don’t stop doing what you’re doing. Stop behaving as you’re behaving. Stop saying what you’re saying. Forgiveness doesn’t heal the relationship, it frees the forgiver from it. Repentance and apology heals the relationship.

I will forgive you seventy times seven times and beyond, as often as it takes, but know that I can forgive you from a distance. I don’t need to subject myself to your nonchalance and lack of regard. Who wants to be hurt? Did you raise your hand? At some point, self-preservation has to kick in. As believers and workers in Christ, we cannot allow the undisciplined to destroy us. Of course, they may not do it on purpose, but the end result is the same. Only a fool will stay in harms’ way when the danger shows no sign of abating.

If my brother/sister in Christ continually neglects to take me into consideration when their words or actions are hurting me, then it’s my responsibility to take my own well-being in hand.

Dear Transgressor: Yes, you are completely forgiven by our Most Gracious and Merciful Heavenly Father. We have been bought at a price. All our sins have been washed away by the same blood. God is appeased with the sacrifice He provided for Himself in Jesus Christ.

That example teaches me that forgiveness is a process that requires commitment and sincerity. Honest effort and sacrifice (stepping out of your comfort zone) is evidence of your desire to make amends. Since we are called to be Christ-like, I must ask, what have you sacrificed to appease those you’ve transgressed against? Do you even know what you’re asking forgiveness for? Have you learned from the situation? If so, how have you changed?