The New Normal

Typically, whatever we experience growing up in our family of origin, we consider to be normal. It is often not until we are exposed to something different that we realize that everyone doesn’t live this way. For example, in our household growing up, my family wore bathrobes around the house, sometimes even if we were fully dressed underneath. I had a friend or two who would visit who thought that was strange, but I never questioned the practice before then. Likewise, I thought it strange when I visited friends’ homes where the common practice was for family members to walk around the house in their underwear. That was something I had not been exposed to. I remember one time having to wait at the front door while my friend’s dad put his pants on before I could go inside. I learned that what was normal for me was viewed as odd to some of my friends—and vice versa.

Usually what is normal becomes acceptable. Little children who swear and use profanity are generally exposed to that type of language in their homes. They don’t see anything wrong with their behavior because it is what they know. Sadly, sometimes abuse is even accepted because it is the only thing that a child knows. They don’t understand that being beaten or molested is not acceptable by most standards. It is all they’ve ever known. Fortunately, this principle also applies to positive behaviors. If a child is constantly told she is loved and receives hugs and kisses regularly, those things become acceptable. Anything less is unacceptable to her, and she behaves accordingly.

The media are bombarding us with programming, stories, music and images to suggest to us that certain lifestyles are normal. Those of us who are old enough to have known a different era of media programming can see the vast shift that has taken place. Unfortunately, there is a generation of young people who only know this “new normal”. This is their only frame of reference, so they see nothing wrong or abnormal about it.

Prayer in schools or saluting the American flag was normal to several past generations, but is not normal today. The church building was at one time the gathering place and civic center for certain communities. There is now a generation that rarely attends church. At one time, it was normal to believe in God. Now, having belief in God often means a person is labeled unintelligent.

(Excerpted from The Silencing of the Sheep. Read the complete chapter titled, “The New Normal” for more.)

Photo Credit: lunab Flickr via Compfight

Taxes and Death: Not the Only Sure Things

As we approach the April 15th IRS tax filing deadline, I am reminded of the famous quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin. “Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

I believe, however, that there are other certainties in life other than the two mentioned by Franklin. One that comes to mind is change.

Change is certain. Circumstances change. Seasons change. People change. There’s no doubt that our world is not the same place it was just a few decades ago.

I’m keenly aware of change due to the aging process. Activities that once came easily for me, can now be more of a burden. I notice the effects of time when I look in the mirror every morning.

We often resist change because we tend to fear the unknown. There will always be uncertainty and even unanswered questions. Jesus told his followers before He left them to return to His Father, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.” (Acts 1:7 NIV). However, He assured them of God’s presence and power. His followers would be equipped to make the adjustment to His physical absence.

Change is often necessary. Without it we cannot grow. One of the keys to our success in life is how we adapt to change. With God’s help, we can navigate the often turbulent waters of change as we journey toward our destination.

(Photo Credit: wuestenigel Flickr via Compfight)

One Side of the Story

In our current world, we are bombarded with information. However, too often we proceed with only one half of the story. Social media, and media in general, can provide us with snippets of a situation, but may not always convey the full story. People can have an agenda, and it may not always be pure. Just because it’s on cable news, or the Internet does not mean it’s true. We even spread the information without verifying its validity. What we hear initially often makes total sense or is completely believable. But when we hear the other side, we often say to ourselves, “I hadn’t thought of it that way.”  What we thought was correct turned out to be completely false.

The wisest king, Solomon, tells us:
The first one to plead his cause seems right,
Until his neighbor comes and examines him.
~Proverbs 18:17 (NKJV)

The more we hear the same message, the more it is reinforced–no matter how untrue it may be. We tend to only listen to the side that aligns with our preset beliefs. We “block” those with differing views. People discourage us from listening to the opposite perspective, but the truth can stand scrutiny. We need to be open to discussion, even if we ultimately disagree.

The person with a different worldview than mine is not always wrong, just as I am not always right. It would do us all good to exercise critical thinking when processing what we read, hear and see. Wait to draw a conclusion until we have examined all the available facts. Think about how we feel when misinformation is communicated about us. Let’s not be guilty of jumping to the wrong conclusions before we’ve heard the other side.

It’s All About Perspective

This weekend we set our clocks ahead one hour as we begin Daylight Saving Time (DST) 2018. Already, I’ve heard people complaining about the fact that they are going to lose an hour of sleep on Sunday night. Some people tend to dwell on the negative, rather than seeing the benefits. The positives include more daylight to enjoy and accomplish daily tasks, and potential lower energy costs with the decreased need for artificial lighting. The tiredness should wear off in a few days, and then we’re left with eight months to enjoy more daylight. As one who lives in Ohio, I welcome the additional sunlight after a long day of working.

In the same way, life can be a series of setbacks. But often those setbacks are only temporary, and lead to something much better. We may feel groggy the next morning, but eventually, we look back and are thankful for what we’ve gained from the experience. Instead of focusing on the losses, let’s concentrate on maximizing the time we have to accomplish something great. The right perspective can change your outlook for the future!

Continuing the Celebration (Joy For the New Year)

Happy New Year! We are well on our way into 2018. A new year often brings new beginnings and new opportunities. However, an opportunity is only as good as your ability to take advantage of it. Maybe 2017 was not a good year for you. You may have faced many difficulties and challenges. You said to yourself, “Things have got to get better this year.” Every year at this time you believe that this will be “your year”. You’ve been waiting a long time for dreams and promises to come to fruition. The reality is that sometimes it’s difficult to be optimistic while we wait. Circumstances have a way of affecting our joy. Maybe something has already occurred in the first few weeks of 2018 to sap you of the joy and enthusiasm you started out with on January 1.

I want to encourage you to continue the celebration you started several weeks ago. Remember the optimism and expectancy you had when the year first began. Make a choice to keep the party going despite whatever hardship you may be currently enduring. We may not be able to control our circumstances, but we can control our responses to them. If we can step back for a moment and look beyond our circumstances to our loving heavenly Father, we can rest in the fact that He knows what is best for us.

If you ask, God will give you direction. I have to admit; sometimes the answer doesn’t make sense. It may seem like you’ve been given foolish instructions, but trust Him. Take a risk. Exercise faith. It is possible for your joy to be restored. You can have joy for the new year and beyond. You’ll soon have a reserve from which you can share joy with others. You will quickly discover that joy is contagious! Let’s keep the celebration going!

Happy Columbus Day?

Today is designated as the Columbus Day holiday in much of the U.S. However, it has become politically incorrect to celebrate Columbus Day these days. Revisionist historians have transformed Christopher Columbus from a brave explorer and proud historical figure into one of the world’s greatest villains. For 500 years, we believed one set of facts about Columbus. He is now credited with singlehandedly decimating the Native American population and forcing them to embrace Christianity. Even the sources that seek to restate Columbus’ place in history differ on the facts.

Columbus has become a poster child for why people should reject Christianity. Columbus certainly had his flaws, but we need to be careful of what the mainstream media tell us to believe. There is often an agenda behind the stories presented. The same people would have us believe, for example, that Margaret Sanger is a hero who should be celebrated. They try to refute the authenticity of Jesus, Himself and what He taught. There is information available with a different perspective on these figures that you may not have considered. It may require a little research, but it’s there.

Some have renamed this day Indigenous Peoples’ Day. While it is proper to celebrate the indigenous people groups of the world, we must be careful that we are not buying into the subtle deception that permeates our information sources. Where are you learning your history? Who’s influencing your children and grandchildren? Just because it’s on the Internet doesn’t mean it’s true. It is important to evaluate the context of the quotes cited to prove a point, and determine what information or quotations have been omitted. There’s more at stake here than Christopher Columbus’ legacy.

Forgiveness: A Key to Recovery

I believe one of the keys to recovering from failure is experiencing forgiveness from those we have hurt. Unfortunately this is not always possible. Those individuals we have offended may be unwilling to forgive. They may no longer be alive. One can still, however, experience God’s forgiveness. It only requires repentance and confession on our part.

One must also be willing to be on the giving end of forgiveness. We should forgive others just as we have been forgiven by God. We cannot afford to fall into the trap of bitterness. Extending forgiveness is not so much for the person who has wronged us, as it is for ourselves. Many times the person that we are holding hostage with our unforgiveness is not even aware or affected by it. We are the ones who are being eaten up on the inside by our resentment. We lose sleep, experience health issues, or become agitated when we think about what that person has done to us. We need to release that person and trust God to make things right.

A Season of Renewal

We welcomed the first day of Spring 2016 in our area yesterday with some unexpected snow. We had been spoiled by a warmer-than-normal winter with low amounts of snowfall. My daffodils had already emerged from the ground and my red maple tree had started to bud. Thankfully by the end of the afternoon, all of the snow had melted, although it was still quite cold. Despite this little surprise, I look forward to springtime every year. A few mornings ago, I awoke to the sound of birds chirping outside my window. Spring symbolizes a time of renewal. Things that have been dormant for months begin to blossom with new life. There is all kinds of activity. I also look forward to the warmer temperatures, fragrant blossoms and beautiful scenery that accompanies the season.

(Photo by Valérie Ungerer)

Many of us may need something new to happen in different areas of our lives. There are things that need a fresh start. Like the onset of Spring, life goes through different seasons. We can use this time to make positive changes in our lives. Some people have an annual ritual of spring cleaning during this season. They remove the dirt and unneeded garbage from the past to make room for the future. Others plant a garden or just spend more time outdoors enjoying God’s creation. Whatever the case, shake off the winter blues and begin to bask in the hope that Spring symbolizes. The arrival of Spring is evidence of God’s faithfulness. We have new opportunities to accomplish something great.

May this season propel you into new and exciting endeavors!

It’s Not As Bad As It Seems

joseph_maryOne of the applications we can draw from the Christmas story is that things are not always as bad as they seem.

Joseph and Mary were a young, engaged couple. This carries the idea of hope, promise, dreams and potential. But before they ever came together physically, Joseph discovered that Mary was pregnant. Joseph knew that he was not the father of her child. This was, no doubt, devastating news for Joseph. In his mind, the young woman with whom he had planned a future had been unfaithful to him. This was a deal-breaker for Joseph. These types of discoveries force one to make some decisions. Joseph’s decision was to secretly end his engagement.

Although Joseph was not aware of it, God was behind the discovery he had made. The Child Mary was carrying had been conceived by the Holy Spirit. God is often working behind the scenes in our personal situations, and we do not realize it. But after the discovery and the decision, Joseph received some direction from an angel – a messenger from God. The angel told Joseph to proceed with his plans to marry his fiancee. Even though Joseph’s fear and reservation were justified, the angel assured him that he could stop being fearful, because this was all a part of God’s plan.

The thing that Joseph thought was the worst that could have happened, turned out to be the best thing that could have occurred. The Savior that the world had been awaiting was going to be born in his household. Joseph was planning to get rid of Mary and what (who) he really needed the most – Jesus. Joseph’s deliverance was closer than he understood. Just as things were not as bad as they initially seemed to Joseph, your current circumstance is probably not the end for you.

Maybe you started out with great hope, potential and promise, but you discovered something that threatens your dreams. You have made the decision to get rid of something that is ultimately what you need. Don’t make the mistake that Joseph almost did. The situation that you thought would destroy your dreams could actually be orchestrated by God to bring relief. What you thought was the worst may actually be one of the best things that could ever happen to you. Like the angel told Joseph, don’t be afraid to pursue your dreams!

The Grateful Response

Sometimes we fail to stop and thank those who have done something kind for us. This time of year is a great reminder of how we should be grateful for all we have received. We should never be ashamed to show our gratitude. We should do so with excitement and joy, without concern for who may see or hear us.

Even if no one else around us says, thank you, when thanks is appropriate, we should give it. In spite of any challenges you and I may be facing, we still have many reasons to be thankful today.

Thanksgiving is about more than turkey, dressing and cranberry sauce. It’s bigger than football and parades. It’s even more important than spending time with family. Ultimately, God is the source of everything we have, and we should always be thankful to Him for all of His goodness to us. Have a happy Thanksgiving!