Developing Resilience

What is resilience? Is it a skill? Is it an ingrained character quality?

A Picture of resilience – a lone tree somehow thrives in a harsh environment where plant life is sparse
Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash

Marcus Buckingham, researcher and developer of the Gallup StrengthsFinder assessment addressed this question last month at the 2020 Global Leadership Summit, which Jen and I had the opportunity to attend virtually.

Buckingham and his team of researchers were interested in understanding this quality of resilience that some people seem to have, which gives them the ability to face incredible challenges without breaking or buckling.

Buckingham’s research determined that resilience isn’t a skill but a quality that can be developed. His talk focused on how to build resilience in others and in ourselves. Specifically, he shared 3 different ways we can build resilience in ourselves.

Resilient people have learned the importance of rest and recovery
Photo by Shane on Unsplash

First, Buckingham talked about a concept he called Agency, which simply refers to items we can control. One of the things we can control is the rhythms in our lives. Remember the morning and evening commute? As much as you might have hated that time in the car, it created an obvious separation between home life and work life. For many, that natural break is gone, disrupting the natural rhythm that existed.

The research on resilience, according to Buckingham, suggests that resilient people work hard and then take a break – they recognize the value of recovery. This sounds a lot like the idea of sabbath (rest), doesn’t it?

What are some ways you can create natural breaks in your schedule that would lead to rest, recovery and resilience?

Secondly, Buckingham elaborated on the idea of Compartmentalization, which means that different parts of our lives have different feelings and different outcomes. The most resilient people seem to understand that we have many different lanes in our lives and if we’re not doing well in one lane, there are other lanes. This doesn’t mean we deny the things that are going bad in that one area of life, but it’s a realization that there are other areas where I can see success and progress.

We all have different areas or lanes in our lives. If we’re struggling in one area, we can still succeed and see progress in other lanes.
Photo by Andrew McElroy on Unsplash

Dr. Henry Cloud, in his book Changes that Heal calls this the Good/Bad split, referring to our tendency to look at life as either “all good” if everything is going well, or “all bad” if something unexpected or undesirable happens.

The truth is, life is a mixture of good and bad. Resilient people are able to separate the good and bad and recognize that even when things happen that we wouldn’t prefer, there are often many other things that are going well which we can celebrate and for which we can be grateful.

What are the different lanes in your life where you’re seeing success? How can you leverage your experience in those areas to help you in the areas where you’re struggling?

According to Buckingham, the third way to develop resilience in ourselves is through our Strengths in Work. Resilient people have figured out how to utilize their strengths to derive meaning, purpose and joy from the circumstances they’re in.

Interestingly, Mayo Clinic research indicates that you don’t need to fill up your whole week with those invigorating activities in order to create resilience. If we can fill up just 20% of our schedules with the kinds of activities that bring life to our souls, we can develop resiliency that enables us to withstand the more difficult life circumstances which we may encounter.

What are the things that bring life to you? How can you inject a few of these joy-producing activities into your schedule to help build resilience?

Young Professionals face unique challenges, even apart from Covid, that makes resilience an important quality to develop. Many are struggling to find a supportive community while dealing with extreme financial issues and an uncertain job market.

We’re privileged to be able to help Young Professionals develop resiliency through coaching, Strengths assessments and awareness and Leadership Development.

If you’d like to learn more about resources and opportunities we provide to help people grow in their resilience, please contact us!

The Mamba Mentality – Book Review

The Mamba Mentality: How I PlayThe Mamba Mentality: How I Play by Kobe Bryant
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was not what I expected. I thought it would be the typical auto-biography of one of the greatest sports stars of the last 25 years, complete with details of his upbringing, family history, introduction to basketball, high school years and then a detailed description of his nearly 20 years as a Los Angeles Laker.

I was expecting detailed stories of what happened before the draft and what it was like to be a 17 year old in the NBA.

I wanted to know about his rookie year and growth as a player….the real story on his relationship with Shaq and Phil along with his decision to remain a Laker when he had the chance to leave via free agency.

This book really isn’t about any of that.

Instead, it’s a first person account of Kobe and his approach to the game. Most pages are short vignettes on a thought Kobe expounds on. It might be a name of a player he faced followed by Kobe’s thoughts on that player or how he would defend him or exploit him on offense. Or it might be thoughts on his pre-game ritual or his off-season training regimen.

Kobe gives analysis of dozens of players he faced over the years and how he prepared to defend and attack them. He also shares his personal thoughts on numerous team-mates he played with over the course of his career, including Olympic team-mates.

I found this book to be pretty easy to read and very entertaining. There were lots of photos from long-time Laker photographer Andrew Bernstein. It was interesting to hear Kobe share his thoughts on the game and as I read the words on each page, I imagined his voice speaking to me as if I were listening to an audiobook.

If you’re a Kobe fan, you’ll love this book. It doesn’t give the complete picture of who Kobe was or how he came to be the competitor that he was; we probably need an autobiography to fill in all those details for us. But this book was an interesting peek into the mind of a Laker legend and a basketball icon who sadly left us way too early.

View all my reviews

Live Like Molly Day

It may be the worst fear of every parent – to be awakened in the middle of the night by a phone call telling you your child has been in a car accident.

For my friends Doug and Doris Griffin, their worst fears became reality in the early morning hours of February 22nd, 2015 when they received news that their 23 year old daughter, Molly, had died earlier in a fatal car crash caused by a drunk driver.

I cannot even imagine the searing pain and unthinkable grief that one experiences as a result of such a tragedy.

I don’t know about you, but when I’m hurting and experiencing extreme emotional pain, I’m not a generally kind person. I remember a pastor once say that “a wounded animal is a dangerous animal.” It’s true of people too. When we’re wounded emotionally, we can be dangerously unkind, hurtful and even volatile to those around us.

Amazingly, my friends Doug and Doris, when first confronted by reporters regarding the tragic death of their daughter, did not respond as you might expect.

Doug wrote about his experience in the book Defining Moments: Coping With the Loss of a Child. In the chapter titled “Molly Day”, Doug wrote,

As word spread and people started showing up at our house, it came rather quickly to me that I had to forgive the driver. Even before knowing any details. I wish I could say that by my willpower and through some courageous act I made this decision. But that would be a lie. This time, perspective came quickly calling through the Holy Spirit: “Do you not remember driving as a young man while intoxicated yourself? Did you not come within an eyelash of dying in a car accident yourself when you were 22? Are you not commanded to forgive in order to be forgiven? And what is it that you hate more than anything? Hypocrisy.”

Later, when the first reporter showed up at their house, Doug said that the first words out of his mouth were, “I just want you to know that we have forgiven the driver.”

In this era of cancel culture and vigilante mobs who demand immediate and swift justice, what would compel a person to so quickly forgive a person they’ve never met, who’s committed an egregious crime and taken away one of the most precious things we love? This response does not seem natural, as evidenced by the reporter’s shocked expression.

Indeed, Doug and Doris’s response WASN’T natural….it was Supernatural!

Doug continued his explanation to the reporter:

“You see we are Christians and we are commanded to forgive. Did you know that Jesus forgave the very men who murdered him from the cross? If he can do that, I can forgive the driver.”

Doug also admitted that he “didn’t want to become known as the angry father who screamed for retribution or revenge.”

Later, when the time came for the driver to be sentenced, Doug and Doris were in the courtroom. California law requires that judges allow anyone who was impacted by a crime be allowed to speak at the time of sentencing. When it was Doris’s turn to speak, she pushed through the pain and the grief and expressed her forgiveness to the driver. Then Doug spoke. He writes,

…as I then rose to speak, I fought through the tears, I shared with
the drunk driver what I was sure Molly would say: “You took my life, you nearly killed my friends and you hurt every person I ever loved…And I forgive you.

(Side Note: You can read my related blog post about cancel culture and Forgiveness here.)

How does one move on after losing a loved one? As Doug asked, “how do we lean into this unceasing grief?”

Many people will do something to try to preserve the memory of their loved one. Some may set up a scholarship fund. Others may set up a charitable foundation. Doug and Doris opted for a different avenue to honor Molly’s memory and legacy.

Doug writes, “I told Doris that we needed to celebrate Molly’s life on her birthday and not focus on how she died. I said we needed to have an annual Molly Day. Doris, with a little help from her friends, took my idea and put it on steroids. She turned it into #LiveLikeMolly and came up with the perfect way to honor her: perform acts of kindness for others to establish her legacy as the kind, loving, wonderful person she was.”

Wednesday, August 26 will be the 6th annual “Molly Day”!

And so every year in early August, we get a postcard from Doug and Doris that reminds us of Molly and her birthday. This Wednesday, August 26th would have been Molly’s 29th birthday. Instead, it’s the 6th annual “Molly Day”, where those who knew Molly and those who have come to know her story are encouraged to #LiveLikeMolly by participating in random acts of kindness to those around them.

I wish I could say that I live EVERY day like Molly Day, but I don’t. I’m selfish and I often just think of my own needs instead of others. But this Wednesday, I invite you to join me in “Molly Day 2020”. Use the hashtag #LiveLikeMolly on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to share your stories of something kind and unselfish that you were able to do for someone else.

Together, we can help honor the memory of Molly while at the same time providing small moments of cheer and joy, something I think we all could desperately use right about now!

Use the hashtag #LiveLikeMolly to share your stories of how you are able to bless others!

#LiveLikeMolly

The First Hostage – Book Review

The First Hostage (J.B. Collins, #2)The First Hostage by Joel C. Rosenberg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The First Hostage is the second in a trilogy of political thrillers by author Joel Rosenberg involving JB Collins, an international journalist for the New York Times.

Collins finds himself in the middle of a massive manhunt as American and Middle Eastern forces align themselves in a race against the clock to prevent an Isis-initiated jihadist Armageddon.

Rosenberg once again weaves a tale that mixes current affairs in the middle east with fictional scenarios that, a few years from now, might seem like historical narrative.

For example, given the current political climate in the Middle East, it’s not hard to imagine a joint military operation between Israel and neighboring Jordan. After all, these neighbors, once enemies, are now allies and have been allies for a number of years.

But who would imagine a joint Israeli-UAE military campaign? Nobody but Rosenberg. Yet, in just the last few weeks, we’ve learned that these two nations, long opposed to one another, have formally announced diplomatic relations.

If you read any of Rosenberg’s books, you’ll find that he often appears to be clairvoyant, including political details in his stories which seem far-fetched at the time yet often seem to develop not long afterwards in real life.

The First Hostage will keep you glued to the page and, as is the case with many of Rosenberg’s books, when the last page is turned, your next step will be to search when and where you can get the next book in the series!

The First Hostage is available on Amazon and other book sellers’ websites.

View all my reviews

Hope and The Shawshank Redemption

Here’s a simple litmus test to tell if a movie deserves to be in your Top 10 list of favorites.

Imagine you’re channel surfing and you see a movie playing that you have to watch, even though you’ve seen it dozens of times before. That movie, which you find yourself tuning into any time you see it on the TV is likely one of your favorites.

I have several movies that fit that category for me, including Braveheart, Tommy Boy and The Shawshank Redemption.

“The Shawshank Redemption” is one of those movies I find myself watching any time I see it playing on broadcast TV.

Recently, Pastor Rick Warren gave a sermon on “Experiencing Hope During Difficult Times.” I was reminded of The Shawshank Redemption, since one of the main themes in that movie is “hope”.

The Shawshank Redemption is based on a short story by Steven King (yes, that Steven King), but it’s not a horror movie. It’s a movie about prison. Some have dubbed it the greatest prison movie of all time.

The story centers around Andy Dufresne (played by Tim Robbins) who is wrongly convicted of double murder and sent to the notorious Shawshank prison to serve back to back life sentences.

Dufresne quickly befriends Ellis “Red” Redding, played by Morgan Freeman, a murderer who has already served 20 years of a life sentence, and though he sees the error of his foolish teenage act, nevertheless, sees no hope of ever being paroled.

There’s a critical scene about midway through the movie. Andy receives an unexpected shipment of books and vinyl records for the prison library and decides to blare music from an opera record to the entire prison population via the prison loudspeaker system.

This infuriates the warden, who punishes Andy with two weeks in “the hole” – solitary confinement in a room with no light source.

When Andy emerges from confinement his inmate friends are amazed to see him so upbeat after such a harsh punishment.

“Easiest time I ever did” is Andy’s response. “I had Mr. Mozart to keep me company.”

Fear Can Hold You Prisoner.
Hope Can Set You Free.

Andy’s prison-mates are understandably confused. Andy explains that Mozart is inside…in his mind and in his soul and then he declares, “there are places internally that they can’t touch.”

Andy’s friend Red asks, “What are you talking about?”

“Hope”, Andy replies.

Red gets a stern look on his face and says, “Listen here friend. Let me tell you something about hope. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane. It’s got no use on the inside. You better get used to that idea.”

Pastor Rick, in his sermon, stated that we can have hope because we know that the situation we’re in is temporary….it will pass. He encouraged us to focus on that which is eternal instead of things that are temporary.

This is certainly good advice, but sometimes hard to implement. It’s difficult to focus on “eternal” things when there are so many immediate needs staring at you in the face, and often screaming for your attention.

We personally know people who have lost their jobs, are struggling financially, have lost their housing, have lost loved ones, are scrambling to figure out childcare and schooling options for the fall, are dealing with major health concerns with limited access to doctors, and many more issues that are magnified and amplified in this current Covid environment.

How exactly do we experience hope when there is so much pain and struggle in our lives?

I think Andy Dufresne provides a clue. Hope is something internal, rather than external.

Hebrews 6:19, speaking of Jesus, says,

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” (emphasis mine)

The context of this passage is that Jesus is our High Priest. Through His death, He provided atonement for sinful humanity, making it possible for us to experience a relationship with Him.

For the Christian, Jesus is our anchor. He alone provides hope and meaning because He alone can provide ultimate fulfillment and purpose in life.

Where is your hope anchored?
Photo by Ron Smith on Unsplash

But what about all of the tremendous struggles we are facing? They seem overwhelming!

As we navigate life’s current realities, I realize how important the body of Christ is. We need others who can come alongside us when we’re struggling and offer real, tangible, material help, while reminding us of God’s goodness and pointing us to the hope that only Jesus can provide.

At the end of The Shawshank Redemption, Andy writes these fitting words to Red – “Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.”

How are you doing in this current crisis? Are you more like Red – tired, disillusioned and lacking hope?

Or are you more like Andy, with a hope anchored to an internal, immovable source (Jesus).

Whatever your situation, let us know how we can pray for you! (Just click the Prayer tab at the top of the page)

Personally, we are grateful to our family and many friends who have been a source of encouragement and hope to us through the many struggles and trials we’ve faced over the past few months and years. You have helped us to continue to keep our hope anchored in Jesus!

Steve McQueen: The Salvation of an American Icon

“Steve McQueen was the biggest movie star in the world in the 1960’s and ’70’s”.

This is the claim from Greg Laurie, author of the recent biography on Steve McQueen published in 2019.

The truth is, Steve McQueen was a bit before my time. By the time I reached high school, Steve McQueen had passed away from cancer. I didn’t grow up watching him on the TV show, Wanted Dead or Alive, that had made him a household name, and I wasn’t even born yet when he moved to the big screen with his breakout role in the 1963 movie “The Great Escape“.

So, even though I was familiar with McQueen, he was never an actor I idolized or paid much attention to. To those a bit older than me though, McQueen was “the man.” For a generation of guys, McQueen epitomized what it looked like to be cool. He was “the king of cool”, as Laurie says numerous times in his book.

Greg Laurie is a pastor of a large church in Southern California. He’s older than me and he’s definitely part of that generation that grew up admiring McQueen. Laurie’s fixation with McQueen runs  so deep that he even has a replica of the famous Mustang car McQueen drove in the epic 1968 movie Bullitt.

As a pastor, Laurie had heard that McQueen had come to faith before his untimely death in 1980 at the age of 50. However, none of the biographies of McQueen’s life included any details about his faith journey. Being such a fan of McQueen, Laurie set out to learn the details, not only about McQueen’s life, but his journey toward God.

Laurie’s book, Steve McQueen: The Salvation of an American Icon, is a detailed biography of the legend’s life but also shares important details about McQueen’s last few years, in which he experienced a transformation spiritually.

McQueen’s life was one of contrasts. He grew up poor but became wealthy. He was abandoned but became a loving husband and father. He could be harsh on the set but he seemed to care deeply for the underdogs, especially troubled youth like he had been.

McQueen was a self-made man who epitomized the macho spirit of the 60’s and 70’s. Though he could not save himself physically, succumbing to the harsh and painful effects of Mesothelioma in 1980, he did find salvation spiritually.

Laurie documents McQueen’s life and career and highlights a number of key encounters and relationships that were instrumental in McQueen finding God late in life.

I found the book to be interesting and engaging as I learned about McQueen’s childhood and his professional career. The details about his turn to God were inspiring while the events surrounding his sickness and death were tragic to say the least.

If you’re a McQueen fan, you’ll likely love this book, as it fills in a lot of details of the actor’s life and career. McQueen’s life isn’t glamorized. The veil is pulled back and you get a picture of the man warts and all.

One thing to note about the book though is that Laurie takes every opportunity to insert his own story into the narrative. It’s obvious from the beginning that Laurie is a McQueen fan but it turns out that there are many similarities between the two men, mostly in the stories of their family upbringing.

Laurie uses these similarities to try to help the reader understand how McQueen might have felt emotionally regarding the circumstances of his childhood and adult life. While it’s helpful in some degree to paint a deeper picture of what might have been happening on the inside, there are times when it appears that the story becomes more about Laurie than McQueen.

Still, the book is full of interesting information about an American film legend who passed well before his time. If you’re a McQueen fan or just like a good redemption story, you’ll likely enjoy this book.

You can get the book on Amazon or listen to the book like I did by getting your copy at christianaudio.com.

The Third Target – Book Review

The Third Target (J.B. Collins, #1)The Third Target by Joel C. Rosenberg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Third Target is the first in a series of political thrillers by Joel Rosenberg with journalist JB Collins as his central character.

Rosenberg draws on his years in the political arena and his extensive understanding of the current Middle East political climate as he weaves a story that draws on historical facts to create a possible modern scenario that is plausibly believable, emotionally engaging and action packed.

Rosenberg is an evangelical Christian whose novels often contain spiritual elements without being overly preachy or dogmatic. His characters are real. Rosenberg doesn’t give you the James Bond or Jack Bauer type, which you might think is required for a political spy thriller novel. Instead, he gives you characters who experience the kind of emotions you might experience if you were faced with the scenarios created in the story. His characters are faced with moral dilemmas and they think about deeper issues of identity, meaning and purpose.

Rosenberg continues to churn out novels that are a mix of modern day politics coupled with intrigue, action and suspense. The Third Target will keep you engaged and glued to the pages until the final page, at which point you will be shaking your fist at Rosenberg for creating a scenario that forces you to reach for the next book in the series!

You can find The Third Target on Amazon and other book seller websites.

View all my reviews

The Struggle for Change

I’ve been on a diet since 2005.

At the time, I realized I had gained over 30 pounds since college and I decided I needed to be more proactive about my weight and overall health. You can read about my initial weight loss journey here. (https://bit.ly/Mar05-LD)

Photo by Jamie Matocinos on Unsplash

Since losing those 30 pounds fifteen years ago, I have found that keeping the weight off isn’t easy.

There are so many forces working against us, including, but not limited to donuts, chocolate, french fries, chips, cookies, ice cream, pizza and cheesecake.

Donuts and junk food are just a few of the challenges that face those who desire to get fit!
Photo by Jae Park on Unsplash

There are other non-food forces working against us as well, including lower metabolism and energy levels, slower recovery rates, and of course, Netflix.

The truth is that losing weight and maintaining fitness requires a certain level of surrender. I’m free to eat whatever I want and exercise as little as I want (or not at all), but every choice has its consequences. If I want to maintain a certain weight and fitness level, it will require some sacrifices and some intentionality.

With my 55th birthday approaching, I decided to once again embark on the fitness roller coaster in my attempt to lose 10 pounds. If I’m being honest though, my interest is not just in losing 10 pounds. What I’d really like is to get rid of this spare tire around my waist. I’d like to look different!

I’m doing the work, but so far, I look more like the guy on the left than the guy on the right!
Photo by Renee Fisher on Unsplash

I’m four weeks into this current program and every day I’m reminded why so many people give up. It’s HARD work. And while I’ve made some progress on the weight loss portion of the goal, I’m not sure I’ve made any changes to my waistline as my desired 6-pack still looks more like a keg!

I’m reminded that transformation isn’t immediate. Change takes time.

I think that’s true in our spiritual lives as well.

Years ago, I heard a speaker ask this question: “What do you want to become?”

He said that the choices we make today shape the person we will become in the future. I remember him saying these memorable words, “Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.”

In Matthew 16:24, Jesus said to his disciples,

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Many people become Christians because they want forgiveness and eternity in heaven. They want the eternal benefits that come after they die. This isn’t bad or wrong, but Scripture is clear that Jesus has a different purpose for those who follow Him – TRANSFORMATION.

Jesus’ desire is that we would become more like him – that we would be a reflection of His character to those around us. The theological word for this is sanctification, which simply means that over time, my life becomes more and more like the life of Jesus.

Sanctification isn’t easy though, because it requires surrender, discipline and intentionality, just like dieting. This is why Jesus said that those who would follow Him must DENY themselves.  If we want to change spiritually (and physically), we have to deny that part of us that just wants to sit on the couch eating donuts and binge-watching Netflix!

Spiritual fitness. like physical fitness, requires sacrifice, intentionality and training
Photo by Tomasz Wozniak on Unsplash

In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Paul compares the Christian life to a race. In order to win, strict training is required. Paul says that he beats his body and makes it his slave so that he might run the race and win!

Paul’s language shows the reality that our bodies don’t necessarily want to comply with our demands for discipline and training. We know this intuitively when it comes to fitness training or other skills like musical talent, but we don’t always think of our spiritual growth in the same way.

As Jen and I continue to minister to Young Professionals, we’re asking them this question, “What do you want to become?”

As they wrestle with the challenges of becoming the Christ-followers they desire, our job is to come along-side them, as coaches, and provide encouragement and support to help them “win the race.”

How about you?

What do you want to become?

How are you doing in this race Paul described? Are you winning or are you finding it to be a struggle?

If you’d like to share your thoughts, concerns or prayer requests, you can reach out to us through the Prayer Tab!

 

Butterfly Photo by Suzanne D. Williams on Unsplash

The West Point-French Connection!

Jen and I visited Paris for a few days in 2018 to celebrate our 25th anniversary.
Photo by Dave Lowe

I don’t speak French.

And though I’ve been to France once, I don’t really know anyone who lives there.

So imagine my surprise when I was tagged in an Instagram post last week by someone I’ve never met who lives in France.

A couple of months ago, I started an account on Unsplash. If you’re not familiar with Unsplash, it’s a site that allows photographers to post their photos for the purpose of making them freely available for anyone to use.

It’s a popular site for bloggers because everyone who blogs is always looking for photos that fit their latest posts. I’ve been using Unsplash for a number of years and I decided to make some of my own photos available for others to download and freely use.

Among the photos I posted were a number of shots I took 2 summers ago when our boys were attending a week-long leadership experience at West Point.

One of the most scenic views of historic West Point is a view of the Hudson River from Trophy Point.
Photo by Dave Lowe

At West Point, there is an area known as Trophy Point with absolutely stunning views overlooking the Hudson River. Situated among the trees and paths of Trophy Point are a number of concrete benches for people to relax, converse, or just take in the scenery.

I noticed that on the sides of all of these benches are stamped words that reflect certain character virtues. Words like “Responsibility”, “Trust”, “Discipline” and “Compassion”.

I didn’t think much of it but it turns out that these photos are among the most viewed and downloaded of the 60 photos I’ve uploaded to Unsplash so far.

Last week, an Instagram user from France, who goes by the name @s.ch.blog tagged me to alert me that they had downloaded one of my photos to use on their blog.

The Instagram user @s.ch.blog used my “Compassion” photo from West Point to introduce their poem titled “Compassion”
Original photo by Dave Lowe
Image edited by S.Ch.

It was a nice gesture because Unsplash does not require that users alert photographers when their photos are downloaded. Nor is it required to credit the photographer when their photo is being used (though I always try to credit artists when I use their photos in my own posts).

The blogger who tagged me wanted to use my “Compassion” photo because they had written a poem, entitled “Compassion” and they thought my photo would fit well with their post.

The poem is a beautiful reflection on the concept of Compassion. You can read the entire poem (in French, Spanish or English) at the following link: https://www.histoiresdaujourdhui.com/post/compassion

It’s interesting how connected the world is these days and I find it humbling to know the Lord is somehow using a photo I took at West Point to connect with people half-way around the world!

One Word to Define Christianity

If you had to pick one word that best characterizes Christianity, what would it be?

I’m sure an overwhelming number of people would say “Love”.

Eleven times in the New Testament we’re exhorted to “Love one Another”
Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

This is a great answer. After all, Jesus said the greatest commandment is to LOVE the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30). He also said we should LOVE our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:31).

In John 13:35, Jesus said, “Your LOVE for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” To Jesus, love was the pre-eminent characteristic of those who would follow Him.

Eleven other times, the New Testament encourages us to “love one another”, “serve one another in love” or some close variant of this admonition.

And of course, if you’ve ever been to a wedding, you’ve probably heard 1 Corinthians 13 read, in which Paul expounds on the characteristics of love and declares it to be the greatest of the enduring qualities.

I’d like to make the case, however, for a word that might rival the word “love” as a word that epitomizes Christianity.

In today’s culture, love has been totally distorted, and to be honest, secularism has co-opted the idea of love and adopted it as its own virtue.

Forgiveness isn’t easy, but it one of the characteristics that sets Christianity apart from other religions and philosophies.
Photo by Felix Koutchinski on Unsplash

So if you think of love as serving others, well, lots of non-Christians promote the idea of service. Or if you think of love as caring for those in need, or speaking up for those who are marginalized, there are many non-Christian groups that do that as well.

The word I’d like to promote that could rival to the word “Love” as a defining descriptor for Christianity is the word “Forgiveness”.

The other day, I was reading in 2 Timothy 3, starting in verse 1, where Paul says:

1 You should also know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. 2 For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. 3 They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control; they will be cruel and have no interest in what is good. 4 They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. (2 Timothy 3:1-4, NLT)

When I read that passage, I first noticed how Paul coupled the idea of love and forgiveness together. He said in verse 3, “they will be unloving AND unforgiving.”

Secondly, I was reminded of a tweet I had read the day before. It was from a woman who is an opinion writer for the New York Times (@ebruenig). She tweeted:

“there’s just something unsustainable about an environment that demands constant atonement but actively disdains the very idea of forgiveness”

Cancel culture is an environment where people try to shut down, ruin, or “cancel” those who have been deemed to have committed offenses that are not acceptable in today’s culture.
Photo by Marco Bianchetti on Unsplash

I was struck by that statement because I thought it cogently described our current “cancel” culture. If you don’t know what “cancel culture” is, it’s an attitude within our culture that seeks vindication and retribution on anybody and everybody for any transgression that is uncovered, no longer how long ago, that might go against current accepted standards of behavior or current accepted views.

Here’s an example of how this works. Let’s say you tweeted a coarse joke 10 years ago that was somewhat acceptable then but is considered out of bounds now. Somebody might dig that tweet up today and weaponize it by using it to “cancel” you, publicly shaming you to the point that your reputation and often your career are irreparably damaged.

I came across this statement from Alan Jacobs, a Christian who is a professor at Baylor University:

“When a society rejects the Christian account of who we are, it doesn’t become less moralistic but far more so, because it retains an inchoate sense of justice but has no means of offering and receiving forgiveness. The great moral crisis of our time is not, as many of my fellow Christians believe, sexual licentiousness, but rather vindictiveness. Social media serve as crack for moralists: there’s no high like the high you get from punishing malefactors. But like every addiction, this one suffers from the inexorable law of diminishing returns. The mania for punishment will therefore get worse before it gets better.”  (https://blog.ayjay.org/vengeance/)

What this says to me is that in our current culture love may be indistinguishable and unidentifiable to others. Of course we should love people, but our loving actions towards others may not set us apart from the culture as much as we might like to believe.

On the other hand, forgiveness, in this culture, stands out because our culture neither teaches forgiveness, nor promotes it.

Forgiveness is hard. It takes an extreme act of love to forgive others and to seek their ultimate good instead of seeking vengeance or vindictiveness.

In Matthew 5, Jesus says:

43 “You have heard that the law of Moses says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. 44 But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! 45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and on the unjust, too. 46 If you love only those who love you, what good is that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. 47 If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. 48 But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48, NLT)

I believe that what sets Christianity apart from other religions and philosophies is our ability to love others, even those who disagree with us and even those who persecute us. And I think a primary way we can demonstrate that kind of love in this current culture is in our ability to forgive others who offend us, while everyone around us is seeking retribution and vengeance.

What are your thoughts?

What do you think makes it hard to forgive others who don’t share our views or values?

How can we cultivate a heart that is willing to forgive?