Social Media Part 3 of 3 – Do No Harm

Social Media Part 3 – Do No Harm

One of our family patriarchs was born, grew up, and spent his whole adult life in the Southern Oregon town of Paisley (Pop 213) Most famous for its annual Mosquito Festival!). We lived in Tri-Cities, WA and traveled the 400 miles to Paisley every year or so for family visits. I remember an incident from a visit there in the mid-70’s, when the Vietnam war was winding down.

Every evening, whoever was at home would gather in the living room for the news. Homes in Paisley had access to one TV station, from Klamath Falls. The reception was poor, the picture was snowy, the sound staticky. On this occasion there was a news item on about Vietnam and Papa Earl launched into a diatribe against the Vietnamese, all Asian people—in fact against all “those damn furriners” in general. He had a very strong opinion, anchored entirely and solidly in prejudices and misinformation!

Also in the room was a young man in his early 30’s who had not long before spent a year in SE Asia and had lived and worked among and fought alongside the “furriners!” This young man really, really wanted to bring some light to bear on the one-sided discussion taking place!

But Papa Earl was not interested in accurate facts or correct information. He was not interested in knowing the truth. He did not want light. He was more interested in generating heat! And the young man, that would be me, decided not to engage Papa in an argument about Vietnam, the world political situation, or “furriners.”

I had facts that could enlighten his uninformed, misinformed opinion. I had experience that could have informed his prejudice-based, bigotry-fueled rant! But my facts would also damage or destroy a relationship that was far more valuable than “Being Right!” There would be no satisfaction in winning in an argument at the cost of a relationship! And I really loved the old guy! I learned a lot from him through the years. Just not about Global politics and “damn furriners!” (He was about the age then that I am now!)

Whenever I remember that little vignette from 45 years ago, I remind myself that if you win an argument and lose a relationship, nobody really wins.

As Christians, we may choose to align ourselves with a particular ideology and political party. We may choose to support and promote political candidates we feel will serve us well and lead us wisely. We may choose to communicate our ideas and opinions with others on social media and in our small groups and at lunch and wherever. But our true allegiance is to a servant-King, Jesus Christ, who is not up for election or re-election this or any other election year. And Jesus Christ has some clear and simple things to say about our lives in community and about our communication with those we agree with and those with whom we strongly disagree!

Here are some questions to ask before posting to Social Media: Is it true? Is it helpful? Is it kind. Will it encourage or discourage. Will it build or destroy? Will it open minds or close minds? Does it need to be said?

Add Value Every Time

31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:31-32 NLT)

Let’s be sure we think through these things I’ve mentioned. I don’t mean that every time you want to post a kitten video, or a photo of your birthday cake, or the snow on the patio furniture in your backyard on Facebook, that you’ve got to pray and fast and seek legal advice before hitting the “Share” button.

Let’s be aware, friends!

  • Be aware of credibility.
  • Be aware of truth and lies.
  • Be aware of help not harm.
  • Remember that keeping a relationship healthy is way more important than winning an argument.

To paraphrase Ephesians 4:29 “Let everything you post be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who read them.”

A Couple of Footnotes to this series of posts:

  • Among the unhealthy effects too much engagement with social media can have on us is discouragement and depression. We’re sitting on the couch in our pajamas watching NCIS reruns (again), scrolling through our Facebook Timeline on the tablet while the commercials are on. We’re looking at this seemingly endless stream of photos and stories of vacations, parties, family gatherings, and adventures our Facebook Friends it can seem really depressing. We’re comparing our dull lives to their exciting lives, and we end up feeling left out and alone. Or is that just me?
  • Try to remember that people carefully curate their story and its accompanying videos and images to present the very best moments in the very best and most exciting way! And it’s entirely possible that while you’re scrolling through the social media record of their Most Excellent Adventure, they’re sitting on the couch eating Doritos, watching Guy’s Grocery Games and scrolling through someone else’s Best Life Now presentation on Facebook.
  • The instructions I listed earlier for how to control what you see on your Facebook Timeline are not absolute guarantees. Facebook does use algorithms that affect what gets sent our way, but you have some control. Your Social Media experience will be enhanced if you use it wisely!

Here are some scriptures that have influenced me in my Social Media use and in writing this article:

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. (Philippians 4:8 NLT)

25 So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body. 26 And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 for anger gives a foothold to the devil. 28 If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need. 29 Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. 30 And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:25-32 NLT)

I hope this has been helpful!

Grace and Peace,

Jim Stephens

January 2020

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments

Social Media Part 2 of 3 – Post to Social Media With Care

In conjunction with a series of devotionals for GraceNotes, I’m writing a series of three blog posts on the topic of Social Media. Here’s Part 2…

Social Media Part 2 – Post to Social Media With Care

When posting something to social media, make sure it’s something you don’t mind everyone seeing. You may not have hundreds of Facebook Friends and Followers, but remember that each one has a network of contacts that they might share your post with. Even if you post something and later decide to delete it, it’s possible that some or many have seen it, have read it, have reacted to it. Have you ever tried to “unsee” something or “unhear” something you wish you hadn’t seen or heard?

Here are some simple common-sense and common-courtesy guidelines for choosing what, why, and how you post and share on social media:

Tell the Truth

So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body. (Ephesians 4:25 NLT)

10…because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false. (2 Thessalonians 2:10-11 ESV)

Social Media loves political posts! Have you noticed that in matters of opinion, especially opinions about politics, social issues, generational issues, and the like, much of the posting is done by sharing memes, cartoons, quotes, and news headlines about issues and individuals. We saw this pattern develop prior to the last national elections. It tapered off slightly between election seasons, but it’s starting to ramp up again now.

Many of the posts shared are negative—that is, they are attacking a person, a party, or a policy. However, relatively few of the most negative posts shared are actually true! Some, even many, of the posts shared are slanderous. They often consist of false headlines, false survey results, false videos, false accusations. Statements made in these memes are often so ridiculous they don’t even pass the simple “Common Sense” test!

For a while, when these posts would show up on my Timeline, I’d do a quick fact check on Snopes or Politifact or Allsides and comment with a link to the facts and history of the false post. What I quickly discovered is that no one thanked me for pointing out the truth! The poster or some other commenter would reply, “Everyone knows those fact-checkers are slanted to the left (or right).”

I’ve done enough research on legitimate fact-checking sites to know that the problem isn’t the bias of the fact-checker site. The bias is in the person who has decided, “I’ve made up my mind! Don’t confuse me with the facts!” By the way, I still fact check. I just don’t frustrate myself trying to present the facts to folks who don’t want to know!

Try This: Since Snopes is probably the best known fact-check site, go to Snopes.com and search “Is Snopes biased toward the left or right?” Take five minutes to read the comments on that question. Then make your own decision.

There are a couple of reasons it’s important to me that we “Tell the truth, and nothing but the truth, so help us God” in our Social Media posts:

  • Lies are sourced in darkness. Lies keep people in the dark, including the people who originate them, the people who pass them along, and the people who consume them.
  • The truth is sourced in light. Truth may be hard to hear and painful to process, but it’s the only thing that leads us to light and freedom.
  • Passing on lies, whether intentionally or not, destroys our credibility. I’m a Christian, so I have a stake in the reputation of other Christians, whether or not we’re of the same brand, or of the same political convictions. So when Christians pass on opinion posts that are false, slanderous, and often created in a meme factory in Eastern Europe, it reflects on all Christians. And this is not a time for followers of Jesus to throw away our credibility. We’re gonna need it soon!
  • My advice: If it doesn’t pass the basic fact check, don’t post it! And block the organization that originated it. Your credibility as a truth-teller is more important than the “Zing” you get from posting!

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Social Media Part 1 of 3 – Why I like Social Media

In conjunction with a series of devotionals for GraceNotes, I’m writing a series of three blog posts on the topic of Social Media. Here’s Part 1…

Jean and I have lived on both sides and the middle of the USA. We’ve lived in Jamaica, the UK, and we’ve ministered in countries across and up and down Africa. We have friendships spanning the globe, the generations, different segments of Christianity, cultures, and denominations. We’ve reconnected with High School friends since moving back to the USA. I have friends from my Vietnam Tour of Duty. We’d lost contact with many of these old friends and acquaintances, but Social Media has made it possible to reconnect and stay connected across the years and the miles.

I like to read about what friends far and wide are doing after all these years, see photos of their grand-kids, vacations, and events, and even see what they ordered at the last restaurant they ate at! And I marvel that “they haven’t changed a bit!” when I see their latest photos. My life is richer through my use of Social Media.

How I use Social Media

I have a very eclectic Facebook page and  Instagram presence! I post My daily devotional, GraceNotes, to three Social Media platforms each day. I post quotes from books and authors, challenging questions, crafted phrases and proverbs from my observations and meditations. I love to read and pass on puns, both written and visual. And I post photos of my dog Jake finding bones in the desert.

I use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram. I use each of those for specific purposes, and I’m able to link those Social Media Platforms so that I can post in one place and link that post to all my other accounts. This allows me to limit the time I spend on Social Media, yet communicate with a wider, more diverse audience.

You Should Decide What You Say and See on Social Media

I’ll use Facebook as an example. It’s the platform more people in my demographic use. Each platform has its own system and procedures for choosing what you see. I’ll include some of my thought processes in choosing what comes to my Timeline and how I actively manage the content.

Choose What You See on Your Timeline

Like some of you, I have Facebook friends from across the faith spectrum, the political spectrum, and most any other spectrum that comes to mind. If someone in my Friends list starts posting stuff that’s so contrary to my convictions it makes my heart hurt or my brain boil, I may not want to unfriend them because I always expect to have friends I don’t agree with on everything. Depending on the issue, there are ways to limit what you see without slamming the door on the relationship.

My advice is that if someone is posting stuff that offends you, hurts your sensibilities, or infects you with the outrage virus, stop seeing their posts. You don’t have to unfriend them to do that. Click on the three dots in the upper right corner of the post. You’ll see a menu of things you can do, from “snoozing” their posts, to unfollowing them, to blocking a particular “meme factory” they may be posting content from.

If there’s a Facebook friend who brings you some sunshine and sanity through their posts, but you’re not seeing much of them, go to their Facebook page, and in the lower right corner of their cover photo click “Follow” or if you’re already following them click “See First.” If you want even more sunshine from them, move left to the Friends tab and click “Get Notifications.” That sets you up to see lots of stuff from that friend!

You can tweak your Timeline so that you have a great deal of control over what you see. You can even ask for different ads. You’ll still get the ads, but you may as well have some that you like better than others. Controlling what you see on Facebook will take some awareness and diligence, but you can shape it.

Choose Your Responses Wisely on Social Media

When you see a really funny meme you might respond with a “LOL”! Or not! You may react to a kitten video with “Awwwww! That’s so cute!” You may react to a political post or one of the many variations on “Hot Button Issues” with outrage or even disgust. It’s important that you think through the range of responses you could make and consider the consequences.

  • First, remember that you’re not going to change someone’s mind with angry words and an outraged reaction.
  • Second, remember that a person is not the sum of their Facebook posts. Because we tend to live in a sub-cultural bubble on Facebook and other social media, we may see lots of posts that friends haven’t really thought through or even checked carefully. It’s unwise to do that, but equally unwise to have a melt-down when someone else does it!
  • Third, decide if your relationship with that person has enough value that you don’t want to throw it away in the process of attempting to tell them how wrong they are and how right you are.

Positive Responses to Posts

When you’re scrolling your Timeline, you have some react-response tools at hand. 1) You can “Like” a post. 2) You can “Comment” on a post. 3) You can “Share” a post. Each of these is an escalation of your degree of interaction with the post and the person who posted it.

  • You can Like the post. This adds you to the number of likes and anyone can look and see your name there behind the hearts or smileys or thumbs up. This means you’re also likely to see more posts from the person in the future. If it’s a post from a Group or a Page, you can Like, Comment, or Share and those will escalate your future interaction with the Group or Page.
  • You can Comment on the post. This means you type in some words or post an emoji, and your name will appear beside your comment. Depending on settings, the person who posted may get a notification of your comment. If you want a friend to see the post, type their name in a Comment and they’ll normally get a notification.
  • You can Share the post. If the post or meme has a Share button, you can share it with or without comment to your Timeline or by Messenger to a friend. This is a higher level of engagement and it’s on your Timeline and in your network.

Two more posts coming in the series, friends. Stay tuned! I’ll post the links in my GraceNotes devotionals for Tuesday, January 14 and Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

The Incarnation – by Frederick Buechner

“THE WORD BECAME flesh,” wrote John, “and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). That is what incarnation means. It is untheological. It is unsophisticated. It is undignified. But according to Christianity it is the way things are.

All religions and philosophies which deny the reality or the significance of the material, the fleshly, the earth-bound, are themselves denied. Moses at the burning bush was told to take off his shoes because the ground on which he stood was holy ground (Exodus 3:5), and incarnation means that all ground is holy ground because God not only made it but walked on it, ate and slept and worked and died on it. If we are saved anywhere, we are saved here. And what is saved is not some diaphanous distillation of our bodies and our earth but our bodies and our earth themselves. Jerusalem becomes the New Jerusalem coming down out of Heaven like a bride adorned for her husband (Revelation 21:2). Our bodies are sown perishable and raised imperishable (1 Corinthians 15:42).

One of the blunders religious people are particularly fond of making is the attempt to be more spiritual than God.

-Originally published in Wishful Thinking

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Man and the Birds in the Snow – by Paul Harvey

The Man and the Birds in the Snow – by Paul Harvey

I’ve always enjoyed this story. I’m passing it on to you because it has a clear message for us about what God did in sending Jesus Christ to become one of us. Enjoy! Jim

The man to whom I’m going to introduce you was not a scrooge, he was a kind decent, mostly good man. Generous to his family, upright in his dealings with other men. But he just didn’t believe all that incarnation stuff which the churches proclaim at Christmas Time. It just didn’t make sense and he was too honest to pretend otherwise. He just couldn’t swallow the Jesus Story, about God coming to Earth as a man.

“I’m truly sorry to distress you,” he told his wife, “but I’m not going with you to church this Christmas Eve.” He said he’d feel like a hypocrite. That he’d much rather just stay at home, but that he would wait up for them. And so he stayed and they went to the midnight service.

Shortly after the family drove away in the car, snow began to fall. He went to the window to watch the flurries getting heavier and heavier and then went back to his fireside chair and began to read his newspaper. Minutes later he was startled by a thudding sound…Then another, and then another. Sort of a thump or a thud…At first he thought someone must be throwing snowballs against his living room window. But when he went to the front door to investigate he found a flock of birds huddled miserably in the snow. They’d been caught in the storm and, in a desperate search for shelter, had tried to fly through his large landscape window.

Well, he couldn’t let the poor creatures lie there and freeze, so he remembered the barn where his children stabled their pony. That would provide a warm shelter, if he could direct the birds to it.

Quickly he put on a coat, galoshes, tramped through the deepening snow to the barn. He opened the doors wide and turned on a light, but the birds did not come in. He figured food would entice them in. So he hurried back to the house, fetched bread crumbs, sprinkled them on the snow, making a trail to the yellow-lighted wide open doorway of the stable. But to his dismay, the birds ignored the bread crumbs, and continued to flap around helplessly in the snow. He tried catching them…He tried shooing them into the barn by walking around them waving his arms…Instead, they scattered in every direction, except into the warm, lighted barn.

And then, he realized that they were afraid of him. To them, he reasoned, I am a strange and terrifying creature. If only I could think of some way to let them know that they can trust me…That I am not trying to hurt them, but to help them. But how? Because any move he made tended to frighten them, confuse them. They just would not follow. They would not be led or shooed because they feared him.

“If only I could be a bird,” he thought to himself, “and mingle with them and speak their language. Then I could tell them not to be afraid. Then I could show them the way to safe, warm…to the safe warm barn. But I would have to be one of them so they could see, and hear and understand.”

At that moment the church bells began to ring. The sound reached his ears above the sounds of the wind. And he stood there listening to the bells – Adeste Fidelis – listening to the bells pealing the glad tidings of Christmas.

And he sank to his knees in the snow.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Transition Zone

THE TRANSITION ZONE

Copyright © 2020 Jim Stephens

I remember years ago, every Tuesday night at a certain time, something weird would happen on the TV.  First there would be some spooky black and white images (this was in the days of black and white TV, so no extra points there), then there would be some spooky music (na-na, na-na, na-na, na-na), then a spooky guy named Rod Serling would appear on my TV screen and say “You have just crossed over into the Twilight Zone …where nothing is really as it seems…!”  I suppose that somewhere in the world of cable television reruns, you can still find those “Twilight Zone” images and occurrences on your TV.  But let me tell you about another weird and spooky place that you are  likely to experience…..  Let me welcome you to the “Transition Zone…..where nothing is really as it seems!”

God normally directs and moves people in seasons of life and ministry, with times or seasons of transition between the seasons of ministry.  When we are in or entering one of those recurring “in-between” times we are in the “Transition Zone.”  The Transition Zone is potentially very dangerous for Christians.

The Grace of God begins to lift from our current situation, we begin to experience friction and frustration (both internal and external).  The things that used to satisfy no longer do.  One’s heart begins to withdraw from present activities and responsibilities.  Creativity and energy level drops.  Everyday details of responsibility begin to produce irritation and an “attitude” develops.  It seems as if there’s no passion and no way to get the pilot light lit again.

When change is thrown at us by season or circumstance or by the decisions or actions of others, we can feel a loss of control, and find ourselves in an emotional tailspin.  We may feel as if we’ve been robbed or assaulted or “mugged!”

Before attempting to deal with the negativity and frustration we may feel, we’ve got to determine if it is Transition or Transgression.  This is the time to ask the Holy Spirit to examine your heart and expose hidden faults.  These must be dealt with through repentance, confession, and cleansing as they are exposed.  Once it is clear that it is transition and not merely transgression, it’s time for Transition Management.  Transition must be managed.  It cannot be avoided.

The time of Transition is a crucial time of being responsible but letting go.  Move too fast, you become irresponsible.  You let people down, violate your own integrity.  Move too slow, you become irritable, then irascible.  You lose respect for those you serve, perhaps even begin to tear down what you have labored to build.

If you find yourself in the Transition Zone, the next step is to identify the situation; determine  what needs to be done, what steps to take, what resources are required.  God supplies resources for what He purposes for us to do.

Once again, Welcome to the Transition Zone!  Here are some things about the Transition Zone that every visitor needs to know.

Nothing is really as it seems. In the Transition Zone, problems seem larger and blessings seem smaller than they actually are.  You must “Magnify The Lord” to get things into proper perspective.  These are some of the feelings and perceptions that occur in the Transition Zone:

  • “I look like a fool and feel like an idiot.  I  left in a blaze of glory to go and make my fortune in a distant land and now I have nothing to tell the people back on the other shore who told me I shouldn’t go.  I’m stuck here in a kind of limbo.  What will they think?  How will I vindicate myself?”
  • “Maybe I was wrong to take that step.  Maybe I should have just accepted things as they were and learned to live with it.  Maybe I should think about going back.  Maybe I really blew it and as a result, life as I have known it is over.”  (This part is true!  Life as you have known it is over!  Life as God wants you to know it is ahead in the fog somewhere!)
  • “I have committed the unpardonable sin in leaving a place of security, as frustrating as it had become.  There will never again be a place for me to really function in ministry and service.  The only place God could really use me is in that particular place and situation.”  (See, it’s good to look at this in print.  It looks really silly when you write it out, doesn’t it?)
  • “I left a good situation in a place I was really happy (In Egypt we were having such a good time!)  “You want fries with that?”  So now God is going to punish me for leaving what He had provided.”  Actually, God is going to check your attitudes and reasons and then provide for you where you are now.  He is the God of Things as They Are.  (Note: You didn’t leave a good situation in a place where you were really happy.  You left a place of growing frustration to follow God and your heart and took a step of faith to start a new life.  So start a new life!)

Anything Can Happen. The purpose of the Transition Zone is to take you to a place where things can happen that could not happen where you were before.  Remember how you felt when you first became aware of God’s call and purpose for your life.  You were so confident that “Anything Can Happen!”  It still can.  But it is partly in your hands and partly in God’s hands.  Put yourself entirely in God’s hands and then you will be better able to deal with the part that is in your hands.   Don’t insist that everything be set in concrete too soon.  As soon as the next step occurs, the “Anything” that can happen narrows down to “Certain Things” can happen.  This is the season of opportunity.  Let God run it His way.

The rules have all been changed. You no longer “have to..”: Get up in the morning at a certain time, be somewhere at a certain time, go to the hall on Saturday and set up for Sunday church.  In fact, you no longer “have to..” do anything.  Now the big question is, “What do you do when you don’t ‘have to..’ do anything?”  How you handle yourself when the rules are taken away determines what the next set of rules needs to be.  How you handle yourself now will figure significantly in what you will be doing ten years from now.

The Transition Zone is not in color nor is it in black and white… It’s grey. At first grey makes it seem featureless and even hopeless.  There is no clear sense of direction (very much like the London sky most of the time!)  But keep in mind that anything God wants to show you will stand out very clearly against a grey background.  Keep your eyes open.  You’ll have to watch out for the danger of eyes being focused only on the TV, a paper-back book, or a web page.  Watch out for the tendency to only look down at your feet when walking in fog.  Keep your head up!

What was is no longer and what will be is not yet. Before you entered the Transition Zone, it seemed  as if you would be only too glad to be rid of what had been and that what would be was just around the corner.  That’s because when God is leading you forward, He somehow seems to forget to mention the Transition Zone.   (Moses – 40 years, Joseph – 13 years, David – 13 years, need I mention others?)  Remember that the very purpose the Transition Zone exists, the reason you entered it, was so that what was would be no longer and what will be can be! 

It’s easy to become confused and lose your way in the Transition Zone. You must not lose sight of why you entered the Transition Zone.  Your ability to remain calm depends on it.  Accept the fact that the Transition Zone is a grey, foggy, confusing place with no sign posts or beacons, not even a map.  But there is a reason you entered and there is a way out.  You must stay calm and apply to yourself all the lessons you have learned previously.  Some of those lessons you have experienced, others you only know intellectually.  This is the proving ground.  But whatever you feel, whatever you experience remember…THE ONLY WAY OUT IS FORWARD.

There is no way to predict how long you will be in the Transition Zone. It depends on factors you have no way of knowing.  Some of the factors depend on you: lessons you apply, principles you operate, disciplines you exercise, attitudes you develop and maintain.  Some of the factors depend on circumstances: timing, job openings, people God brings your way, opportunities that have reached maturity, tests God has determined to apply.  Do your part as well as you can.  God will do His part perfectly!

Determine to make the best of the time you have in the Transition Zone. Once it is over and you are in “What will be,”  you won’t find it easy to have time for some of the things you need to establish as disciplines and patterns.  If you establish them now it will be easier to maintain them when you are in “What will be.”

  • Daily Bible Reading.  Follow a plan.  Minimum of Through the Bible in a Year.  Do it at a set time each day.  No excuses!
  • Keep a journal of thoughts, feelings, and events in the Transition Zone.  Enter some info each day.  You and others will need the insights you gain later.
  • Get up and go to bed at a set time each day.  Don’t let day run into night and night run into day.  Set your own schedule.  If God is going to be able to use you effectively in full-time ministry or in any task where you don’t have external controls, you need to develop this kind of discipline while you can.
  • Set yourself projects with schedules and deadlines.  Job search, fixing up the house, exercise, creative computing or writing, getting acquainted with the community, getting into church, make your own list.
  • Take a walk.  Walk 30 minutes a day and gradually increase it to an hour a day.  Use the exercise to feel better and the time and distance to talk and pray.

Some additional Transition Zone thoughts:

  1. Transition from A > to > B. Moving from one clearly defined position or role to another.  This is hard.  But it’s easiest to explain to others and to vindicate yourself to your adoring public.
  2. Transition from A > to 0 to > B. Moving from a clearly defined position or role to another more or less clearly defined role but with a delay in between.  This is harder.  Harder to explain, harder to maintain your dignity in your own eyes and the eyes of others.
  3. Transition from A > to 0 while waiting for B to be revealed.  Moving from a clearly defined position or role to a period of no role, but with the expectation that God will reveal His will in His time.  This is hardest.  It’s impossible to explain.  It looks like failure.  It is humiliating.  It can be financially embarrassing.  Think of Elijah moving from the victory at Carmel to the wilderness, the tree, the gentle whisper and the new anointing. (1 Kings 19; James 4:10; John 5:41, 44).

The Type 3 transition is not only difficult but loaded with danger, in that the feelings of uncertainty can lead to making rash decisions or making rash statements or commitments.

When one is going through any transition, it is important to have people near who are more or less objective: People who care, who know us, but who can see the situation apart from the emotional state we’re in.  If it is a Type 3 transition, it is imperative to have someone to help us monitor the process and to avoid dangerous errors.

One of the good things about a Type 3 transition is that whatever ministry you do from this point onward will be uniquely you.  It won’t be shaped by the responsibilities and expectations of a role, but will emerge from within,.  It will be developed out of the desires and concerns of your heart, the unique gifts and skills God has given you, and the relationships you have developed and will develop.

This little article grew as I was writing it.  It is written from experience, both in how the Transition Zone feels, how to deal with it, and how to come out of it.  Please bear in mind that we all are pilgrims who are seeking God’s city and we all spend some time (even time after time) in the Transition Zone as well.  So there is no pride or sense of superiority in anything here presented.  We are all on level ground in the Transition Zone!

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

When God’s Grace Lifts

WHEN GOD’S GRACE LIFTS…

Copyright © 2020 Jim Stephens

If you are God-called, you are who you are by the Grace of God.  If you are God-called you are what you are by the Grace of God.  If you are God-called, you are where you are by the Grace of God. We are saved by the Grace of God.  We are kept by the Grace of God.  We are called to service by the Grace of God.  We are enabled to serve by God’s Grace-Gifts.

So what do you do when the Grace of God begins to lift off you in a particular situation or place of service?

Most of us who have dedicated our lives to God’s service are functioning in the situation we’re in by God’s grace and His grace alone.  We may be living in what to others seem to be abnormal circumstances, but to us it seems perfectly normal.  We may be operating way outside our skill level or comfort zone, but the grace of God in which we are living and functioning makes it seem as if it is the most reasonable thing.  God gives grace for a sense of peace and normality in the most unusual situations and circumstances.  We operate in those situations and it seems normal for a long time.

It’s like what happens inside the engine of a car.  A car engine is subjected to incredible stresses and extremes of temperature that can produce friction between the metal parts of the engine.  In order to carry away the heat and prevent damaging friction, the engine is lubricated by oil that is constantly circulated around and between the moving parts.  As long as the oil is fresh and the oil level is full, the engine can operate smoothly for many thousands of miles.  But if the oil level drops too low or the oil becomes contaminated, friction develops, heat builds up, and the engine can be severely damaged in just a few minutes.

Like the car engine, we may be ticking along; little or no friction, temperature normal, life is sweet.  Then suddenly we find our attitude begins to deteriorate.  Little things that we have taken as normal and acceptable begin to really grate on us.  We become critical of people.  We lose the motivation to keep going.  We become irritable and negative and it seems like it only takes the littlest thing to set us off.

In this mode we can become disagreeable at home, negative with friends, and we may lose vision and momentum in ministry.  As we look at our responsibilities and as we try to look forward to the things that we need to be doing it’s as if we simply “can’t be bothered!”

Depending on the strengths and weaknesses of our personality we may tend to withdraw and become depressed and isolated or we may attempt to increase our level of activity and involvement by sheer force of will in an attempt to “jump start” ourselves.

If we are in leadership ministry at a time like this, we know we mustn’t let others, especially those we lead or those we are accountable to, know of our struggle, so we may attempt to hide it.  This becomes very much like wrestling with an alligator and trying to tie it up and stuff it into a bag without letting anyone notice what’s going on.

We are at this point in a very difficult and potentially dangerous situation.  If we continue to try to hide our struggles from those around us, we risk damage to ourselves, our families, and those we are called to serve.  If we come forward and try to explain what we’re going through and how we’re feeling to our people, our co-leaders, or our supervisor (whatever form that role takes in our accountability structure) we may be perceived as weak or unstable or “Just take a couple of days off and pull yourself together!”

When we begin to feel frustrated, lose vision, and become irritable, we need to take time to determine what is going on:

  1. Is there sin in my life that I’m not dealing with that is causing me to feel this way?
  2. Am I overloaded with responsibilities and activities and feeling the strain of it?
  3. Is there a problem or conflict with someone that needs to be resolved?
  4. Is this a test of my integrity, stamina, or perseverance?
  5. Is it time for a change due to God’s Grace being lifted off me to live and function and serve in this situation?

If it is sin, repent, confess, and deal with it.  (1 John 1:9-10)

If it is schedule or responsibility overload, take stock and pace yourself.  See if there are activities others can help with.  See if there are responsibilities others can assume.

If it is a relationship conflict, take the necessary steps to resolve it.  Whether it requires conciliation or confrontation – deal with it.

If it is a test of integrity and responsibility, be faithful, fulfill your commitments.

But if it is due to the lifting of God’s Grace for service in the place or situation in which you are serving then you may be facing a decision with long-term consequences for you and others around you.  It is important that we properly handle and respond to the lifting of God’s Grace.

A word of caution: Don’t use the “lifting of God’s Grace” as an excuse for failing to persevere under difficult circumstances, for failing to deal with difficulties, for failing to work through a difficult relationship.

Some possible steps of action when we find God’s Grace is lifting:

  1. Don’t panic. The Grace of God brought you into this place of service, the Grace of God has kept you in this place of service, the Grace of God will take you into your next place or level of service.
  2. Begin to talk to God about how you are feeling. Be honest with God and honest with yourself.  Listen to yourself in prayer.  Try to distinguish between your feelings about how things are and “how things actually are!”  Don’t allow yourself to see everything as negative and useless.  Ask God for direction.  Ask God for strength.  Ask God to help you preserve your integrity and a measure of dignity!  Ask God for help to avoid doing anything stupid.
  3. Begin to talk to your spouse or if you are single, to a trusted friend about how you are feeling. Again, be honest about it.  Don’t make too much or too little of things.  Listen to yourself as you talk; are you whining?; are you angry with someone?; are you feeling guilty about something?; are you disappointed in something that has failed or not met your expectations?; are you feeling betrayed or let down by someone?
  4. Bring yourself to the point where you are willing to “put it all on the altar” of sacrifice to the will and purpose of God for your life. Be willing to offer up to Him your position, your sense of achievement, your security, your ambitions.  He may take it from you or He may give it back to you, but in any case, He will accept your willing sacrifice.
  5. Try to take some time to get a little perspective on things. If you can go away for a few days to a quiet place to think and pray, do it.  Take a mini-retreat with your spouse and talk and pray about how you’re feeling.  If you can’t get away, take a couple of half-days, put the answer machine on, and talk and pray.  If you can lighten your work load for a while, do it.  But don’t just go along trying to do “business as usual” if all the oil is draining out of the engine.  The heat and the friction will soon do some damage!
  6. This is a good time to do some journaling. Write your feelings, your concerns, your fears.  Write your hopes, your dreams, your burdens, and your ambitions.  Write your ideas: “Some things I would really like to do if time, money, and location were not an issue..”  If you have kept a journal, spend some time looking back to see if there is a pattern in the development of how you are feeling.
  7. If you have been given words of counsel or encouragement, if trusted people have given you words of prophecy or insight, go over those things again. If you have them on tape, listen to them now.  If you made notes about them, go over the notes.  If you remember the person speaking to you but can’t remember much of what was said, phone them and ask them if they remember what they shared with you.  In all of this, be active, not passive.  Seek God’s will, listen for God’s voice, watch for God’s hand.
  8. Get some advice or counsel from trusted friends or peers in ministry or from people whose character and wisdom you respect. But don’t expect someone else to answer all your questions or make your decisions for you.  Be careful about talking too much or too soon to those you are leading.  You may be struggling, but you are still their leader.  Don’t undermine their confidence or throw them into a panic.
  9. When the Grace of God begins to lift in a particular situation or ministry responsibility, we still have to finish well. Don’t do or say things that will hurt others or make it hard for others to trust you.  Don’t “drop the ball.”  It is important that we find the strength to carry out our responsibilities until we can release them in a mature way.  It is important that we don’t begin to tear down what we have been laboring to build up.  It is important that we fulfill our commitments.
  10. Prepare for God to lead you on. Be willing to move on if that is what God requires.  Be willing to let go of your security.  It may be painful.  It may require that you step completely out of your comfort zone.  It may require great sacrifice.  But it will keep you in God’s will, it will keep you growing and maturing.  And it will keep you under the Grace of God for life and service.

When the Grace of God begins to lift, we need to act quickly to determine the cause, to examine our hearts and attitudes, to communicate with trusted friends, and to begin to look for the Grace of God to lead us forward.

Don’t move too fast and fail to fulfill your commitments and responsibilities.  Don’t move too slowly and allow your attitude to deteriorate and damage your reputation and relationships.

Remember that it is by God’s Grace that we are who we are, where we are, and doing what we are doing.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The Princess

Princess Eve, the King’s oldest daughter, was kidnapped from the palace by an evil witch.  The Kingdom was in an uproar as a fruitless search was made of every town and village, every farm, every forest camp.  The princess was gone!

Nearly ten years later, Sir Andrew, the King’s most trusted aide, was passing through a dismal little town near the southern border of the Kingdom.  As he watered his horse at the well in the town square, a raggedly-dressed girl came to the well for water.  She was dirty and bruised and walked with her shoulders slumped and her head down, yet there was something, just a hint of dignity in her walk and her manner.

Sir Andrew called her to him and asked her name and where she lived.  She shyly replied, in the local accent, “My name is Sadie.  I’m an orphan. I belong to the wealthy man who owns the bank in this town.”  “Give me your hand, Sadie,” Andrew said.  He took her hand and pushed back her sleeve and there on her forearm was the heart-shaped birthmark that confirmed to him she was really Princess Eve!

Sir Andrew took her from the dismal little town and within two days she was back in the palace.  It took weeks for Princess Eve to become healthy again.  It took even longer for her to learn to trust, to smile, to realize she was safe now from the abuse she had suffered.

But what a glorious day it was when at last the King called a national holiday and brought Princess Eve out on the palace balcony for all the people to see!  Then, at last, the story could be told, that Sadie the slave was really Eve the Princess and that she was home, safe at last!

18 Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. 19 For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are.  (Romans 8:18-19 NLT)

Prayer:

Father, Thank you that, in spite of our years as “orphans” and slaves, we really are your children.  Thank you for rescuing us and bringing us home.  Thanks for being so patient with us as we slowly learn to hold our heads up, look you in the eye, and think, speak, and behave like Princes and Princesses.  It’s who we really are!  Amen.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Friend of Greg

I recently spoke on a Sunday morning at Crescent Creek Church in Lapine, OR.  The pastor, Greg Price, was away that weekend and we had made arrangements for me to fill in for him.  Jean and I arrived early to meet with the service leaders and worship team to plan and pray before the service.  After some discussion and details, we joined hands at the front of the sanctuary and a few of us voiced prayers for the morning’s service.

After the prayer, worship leader Robin, who was to introduce me before I spoke, handed me a printed copy of the service order.  I glanced at it and slipped it into my notebook so I could make sure to be ready to step up at the proper time.  After a couple of songs and some announcements, I glanced at the service order again to see where we were in the process and I noticed this line, “Robin introduce Jim and Jean Stephens – friends of Greg.”

I don’t want to make too much of this, but when I read those words they brought tears to my eyes!  Greg Price and I have been friends for a long time—our friendship tested through life’s ups and downs—and I value our friendship highly.

Most of the congregation at Crescent Creek Church knows me from past encounters, but for anyone who didn’t know me yet, they were going to suspend disbelief for a few minutes and give me a chance to say something worth hearing.  Because I’m a Friend of Greg!

In Acts 9:26-28, Barnabas, a trusted leader in the Jerusalem church used his influence to give young Saul of Tarsus an opportunity to join with the believers in spite of his past reputation.  Because of Barnabas’ influence, he was accepted by the apostles.

What an honor it is when someone extends the canopy of relationship over us so that those in their circle make room for us.  What a privilege it is when we can open doors of opportunity and acceptance for others by identifying them as our friends!

What blessings and privileges do you enjoy because you’re a “friend of” someone?  How can you extend your canopy of relationship and acceptance over others by being a “friend to” someone who’s on the outside looking in?

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Thoughts on Dr King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”

For the past few years, I’ve made it a personal duty to read Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” each MLK day.  It takes me nearly half an hour to read it.  Today I looked at some other sources and found a video re-enactment of his letter, along with some video clips of the issues he addresses and the audio of the letter to the newspaper written by Birmingham clergymen that prompted the writing of his letter.

This letter was written in 1963, the year Jean and I married.  It reminds me of how far our nation has come, of how far we still have to go, and of the price good people are willing to pay to find freedom.  It convicts me of the complacency that often comes with privilege.

This morning, as I read the letter again, I felt strongly to share it on social media and to share it with my daughters and their husbands.  My grandsons are only seven and five years old now, but I’m thinking that as they get older, we could and should find some creative ways to help them understand the privilege they have as white, middle-class Americans, the inequalities that still exist, and the price others have paid in the on-going fight for freedom and equality.

The letter takes me almost 30 minutes to read to myself.  This video, which contains the audio of the clergy letter and a video re-enactment of Dr King’s letter is about 56 minutes long.

I hope you can find some creative ways to stay aware of our privilege of position and race and other’s pain and sacrifice and that you can find creative ways to help your kids understand and care.

See video links below:

Grace and peace,

Jim Stephens

Letter from a Birmingham Jail video

http://www.mlkonline.net/video-letter-from-birmingham-jail.html

Letter from a Birmingham Jail full text of speech

http://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment