Friday, July 17, 2015

Through the Lenses

Headed down the highway, I watched the hills grow taller as I draw nearer to them. Through a blue and white cloud speckled sky, the sun filtered down. Wearing my sunglasses, I can see shafts of light carved through the sky; faintly lighter than their surroundings. Flipping my sunglasses to rest on top of my head, the differentiated light beams disappear. Glasses on again, and the light beams show up again. The lenses serve as filters to let me see the world differently. It struck me how different lenses impact the way I interact with my world. Just by adding or removing my sunglasses, my entire perspective changed. I started to think, what lenses do I need to put on each day?

Do I put on a lens of love? Do I love my neighbors like I want to be loved? Do I give them the benefit-of-the-doubt? Do I seek out ways to encourage and support them? Love has so many meanings. I can love a thing, a person, a place, a choice, an action, etc… Even though the word is the same in the English language, it has many nuances to explain depth of feeling and commitment attached to each, and each are very different. Just to give two differing ends of the spectrum, I can love a song. It can encourage me, make housework a little more up-beat, or just help set a mood. But that song, as much as I love it, is normally a blip on the timeline of my life. It pops up here and there, but it’s not a constant choice to love. I can love people with a lifetime of love that is a binder through mountains and valleys. This is a constant choice to love. The words found in 1 Thessalonians 5:8 are strong, “But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation.”  A breastplate, worn by a Roman solider is an example of being covered to protect the chest and back. With two main pieces, this armor was shaped to the body. Hinged on one side, and then fastened by buckles, the breastplate was further connected with bands of metal or strips of leather, passing over the shoulders and tying in the front. Love is mentioned as armor; in battle faithfulness and love serve as needed protection; a strong word, both individually and within the body of Christ to create unity. Christ is the armor and the source of faith and love; I rely on him for the strength to love.

Do I put on a lens of joy? Joy is drawn from a deep well, one that is far greater than happiness. Do I depend on the strength which comes from reliance on the Lord? Do I let joy color my thoughts and actions as I go about my day? I have so many blessings, many more than I count; and I’m actually quite happy. This morning alone, I have laughed deep belly laughs with family, those that are so good for our bodies and spirits. Yet, I need to distinguish between happy and joy, as they tend to be used interchangeably at times – and yet are not the same. Joy is present when I am not happy. Joy is an unlikely load-bearer that supports so many other things. Joy brings strength and long-term perspective that sorrow and sin cannot take away, for they will pass away and joy remains! Joy has the unshakable tenacity of faith and the strength of love. That long-term joy is expressed in 1 Peter 1:8 as “inexpressible and glorious.” As I sit here in the morning sun, rocking on the porch swing, I try to think of how to describe joy. I think it is a little like trying to describe the sun. Imagine that you have never seen or felt the sun. I can give you a scientific and fact filled description that tells how our sun is a dwarf star. The facts will be true, but won’t start to explain the feel of the sun’s warmth, the power of its heat, or the brightness of its light. Joy is like these things; simple and complex. Joy’s long-term view makes me see that if joy is this great in a fallen world, how much greater will it be when I am one day with Jesus.

Do I put on a lens of peace? Peace, as a gift that the world cannot give, is a reliance on something much greater than my own abilities. Anytime people come together, each carries their own thoughts, preconceptions, ambitions, opinions, perspectives, and varying degrees of skill on how to express them. It can lead to a fragmented nightmare or a harmonious body working in concert. Working with all of the other lenses that have been mentioned before, and will be mentioned after, peace calls to rule my heart and mind every day. I get up, get dressed, let out the dogs, get coffee (a necessity for my brain to work), and start my day. I will have many minute and a few large choices throughout the day, where I can choose to be ruled in peace or not. I know what it feels like to have anxiety swelling in my ribs, restricting breathing and making thinking difficult. I recognize this feeling, this is not the peace of Christ I have been given. Actively taking hold of that gift, I reclaim the peace which “transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” This peace, described in Philippians 4:7 is a jewel that has such worth that the price can never be met, it is truly a gift. The peace of God is a clarifying light. It brings order to the soul and shows that fear is a mere shadow. Peace is the result of time with Jesus. Not only as my Heavenly Savior, but as one who has walked this earth, laughed and cried, made friends and enemies, loved, healed, fed, and gave His love to us as a faithful gift of life upon the cross with His death. His peace is truly unique, it is not dependent upon circumstances, people, or places. It only depends upon Him.

Do I put on a lens of kindness? Kindness seems to be a word that can be easily diluted, making it into something lesser than intended. Ephesians 2 tells me that it was a kindness of Jesus in bringing grace; a point I certainly won’t argue with. But this perspective deepens the meaning of kindness for me; kindness being sacrificial and selfless giving. Am I kind when asked to give of myself, my time, my talents, or my resources? Not to be pushed into unhealthy extremes, where I am left empty and unable to give; but in a manner to put my neighbors first. Do I seek to show them kindness in the little daily things and the big sacrificial things? My calendar seems to be ever-filling, my to-do list ever-growing. It is easy for me to become caught in the busy aspects of the day, and simply overlook how a few sentences in a conversation, a quick text, a phone call, a letter, a card, or just being there can change someone else’s day completely. We need these kindnesses, I need these kindnesses. A kindness I think of is a return from a very hard trip a few months ago. When I got home, a friend had not only taken care of the house and the dogs, she had given of herself and gone above and beyond. After the luggage was in and I collapsed on the couch, I noticed that floor had been swept, the windows washed, and food was waiting in the refrigerator. Little things are enormously impactful, when done in kindness. Grace can never be repaid, and it was a gift of kindness; a powerful lens indeed. 

Do I put on a lens of goodness? A missionary visited and spoke on that very subject, using Galatians 6:1-10 as his text. Goodness, like kindness, can be used in ways to make it less than its intended meaning. Doing good, do good, and share good; actions are paired with this word goodness. Printed hand in hand, moving me forward in action, goodness inspires change. This is not come-uppance piety. Goodness is truth, the light of Christ, and the salvation of grace. The lens of goodness propels me to action as I encounter people either in physical proximity or virtually across the globe in need of the Truth of Christ. Goodness is sharing what we have learned with each other, not making each one go-it-alone; how lonely would our world be. Goodness is sown for a rich harvest. When I work in my flower bed, I admit that as much as I enjoy planting and picking, I don’t love to weed. I firmly believe that one weeding a year should be sufficient for the entire growing season. Invariably, it takes quite a bit more sweat equity as those weeds keep coming back and the plants need tended. As we give goodness to others, the harvest can be slow in coming. It can be a discouraging process as the weeds try to choke out the fruit, the deer nibble on the stems, and the weather doesn’t cooperate. Just like in my flower bed, I cannot simply give up and walk away. Instead, I pull weeds again. I stake the plants, water the flowers, and put out something to discourage the deer. The effort is worth the work as I pause to enjoy the beauty of the blooms, the structure of the leaves, and the fragrance that perfumes the air. Over and over, this long-term view of goodness is needed as we invest in each other for the glory of God and their gain.  

Do I put on a lens of faithfulness? I have always been interested in medieval history, read the stories of chivalry and honor. But, faithfulness is more than being honor bound to a feudal lord for battle service. Faithfulness is choosing to lead the life Christ led me to lead, even when it is not the life I planned. Am I faithful to honor promises I have made? Am I faithful to continuously seek after Christ, to put him first in my whole life? This word faithful is a mountain of a word, it is so large that to scale it can be a worthy, but daunting, challenge. Faithfulness makes me careful what I attach promises or a handshake agreement to, whether it is of small or large consequence. The lack of faithfulness, the breaking of trust in a relationship, creates cracks that require immediate attention and repair. Without that, they will continue to grow, ever wide and deeper, causing severe damage. And yet, what an example is Jesus to me of faithfulness, as I have certainly broken his trust before. As the Master Builder, he not only rebuilds, but moves to restore; many times making that relationship better and stronger than it was previously. To me, one of the very best definitions of faithfulness is in 1 Thessalonians 5:24, where the word “will” is used. This is a definitive word. The verse states that not only is Jesus keeping faith, and can be trusted – but he will fulfill his promises. He is faithful when I am not, and continues to draw me back to a solid rock upon which the foundation of trust is built and is strong. 

Do I put on a lens of gentleness? I love this word, gentle. It is a soft word, and many have mistakenly perceived it as weak. Yet, a gentle touch can restore, a gentle word can change the tide of a life, and a gentle moment can create a safe harbor amidst the storms. Gentleness can sting, words spoken in love can still hurt. But the intent behind them is to build, encourage and restore; not to destroy and tear apart. Gentleness paired with a quiet spirit is described as something of unfading beauty in 1 Peter 3. In this particular case, it is a woman's attributes being described. Though this week I am happily skipping the make-up, as it would just melt off anyway, I certainly understand the desire being spoken of in 1 Peter to be thought of as beautiful and think every woman does. We choose clothing, our hair styles, shoes, jewelry and many accessories to accentuate our best features. Though I may wish on Monday morning I could go to work dressed in my sweat pants and a comfortable t-shirt, that is not how I want to be seen there. As Shakespeare says, “Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks within his bending sickle’s compass come.” The sickle of time happens to us all as we continue our lives. The beauty of photo edits and editorials in the magazines changes as we age. Life and laugh lines are something to be proud of, but rarely touted as such. White hair, earned through a life well lived is not a disgrace. Yet, here is this unfading beauty, a gentle and quiet spirited woman. 

Do I put on a lens of self-control? Not controlling, or attempting to control others; but control over myself is the focus of this lens. Author Evelyn Christenson wrote a series of books to women focused on strengthening their prayer lives, one of which is called Lord, Change Me. Realizing that it is only herself that she could work to change, the focus of her prayers became those things that Christ wanted to change in her own life. Titus 1 and 2 covers quite a bit on the value of the older generation teaching the younger a variety of things, including self-control. To teach how to self-monitor and change actions, thoughts, and how we act on our emotions can be a valuable lesson. Ironically, by letting Christ change me, it can be an example and a change agent for someone else. My thoughts land on two-women, one who did not not display self-control and one who did. They both faced the same task, they both felt stressors at about the same point. One unleashed her stress in a torrent of angry words and general unpleasantness at whomever happened to be standing by at the time. People tended to either pull back and avoid being the object of misplaced wrath; or rather meanly, provoke the outburst just to watch and laugh. She appeared a fool. The other woman displayed self-control, choosing her words and reactions. She chose to be gently strong, handling issues with a measure of graceful leadership that both moved the project forward and cared for the people involved. She created an atmosphere of openness, where ideas were shared, and was very productive. Needless to say people love to work with her. We all face challenges and difficulties. I am not perfect and in a moment of stress or fatigue, I can lose control of my tongue, temper, or the moment in general. Relying on the self-control of Christ can provide me with the strength to make wise choices, keep good habits going, and extend grace to others when needed (especially because I will need it myself).  

It sounds as if I need multiple lenses to look through each day. I choose to look through the lenses of love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. “Against such things there is no law.” These lenses color my world in a unique way, and change the way I interact with it.