‘It’s not all about you’

When my nephew Jared was a little bitty thing, he would get all over his big brother with a consistent reminder, “It’s not all about you, Jacob!”

The boldness of his approach and the intensity behind his words always made me smile, but the clear truth behind his appeal has stuck with me since the first time it rolled out of his mouth.

The key to strength in any relationship points back to whether the two parties are going to be self-centered or other-centered. This is true with friends, co-workers, all formulas of family relationships and especially in marriage.

“It’s not all about you” was the focus of a recent article in Relevant magazine, “Marriage Isn’t About Your Happiness.”

An excerpt from the article written by Debra K. Fileta says:

“Marriage is not about your happiness, it’s not even about you. It’s about love — which is something we choose to give time and time again. It’s about sacrifice, serving, giving, forgiving — and then doing it all over again. … often, we’re choosing ‘personal happiness’ over real commitment, over real love.

“They say marriage teaches you more about selflessness than you ever wanted to know. I have definitely found that phrase to be true in my relationship with my husband. Because at the heart of it, real love is all about sacrifice. About the giving of yourself, in ways big and small.”

Read the full article here.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

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Finding our way back to Him

Parable of Lost Son

Luke 15

He knew he had walked away from God — far, far away — and he couldn’t imagine God would take him back, much less forgive him. His hands were dirty and he convinced himself he would need to figure out how to become clean before seeking forgiveness from God.

But without God he could never be purified.

With the help of a persistent group of prayer warriors and friends who refused to give up on him, the young man eventually found his way back to God. He is growing in the Lord now and helping those he hurt heal from the intense pain he caused.

Shea Lowery, executive director of Lives Being Restored, shares a similar experience about her life story and how there was a time she truly believed God would not want her. With God’s tugging and the love and care of a group of accountability partners, she found her way back to Him and now leads a ministry to help other believers in need of restoration (www.livesbeingrestored.com).

Finding renewal and restoration

Both of these restored believers are teaching me as I watch them maneuver through their faith journeys. The richness of what they are learning and experiencing in the Lord, the depth of their renewed faith, the incredible turnaround in both their lives — it is inspiring.

It also reminds me that we all play a vital role in each other’s lives as believers. We need each other as accountability and prayer partners.

None of us is immune to being attacked by the enemy nor is any one of us strong enough to avoid the various temptations of the world on our own.

It might be alcohol and/or drugs for one person while another struggles with lustful thoughts and actions. Still another may be tempted with greed and personal possessions while the next person battles busyness and ambitious goals outside the calling of God. And then there is laziness, selfishness and other seemingly benign actions that actually hinder our growth in the faith and possibly harm others along the way.

Attacks will come but there is One who is greater

Believers, just like nonbelievers, are attacked by the enemy at our weakest point. The difference is we have the power of the Holy Spirit within us. And if we allow Him to take charge, then we have the ability to fight.

It doesn’t mean any part of the journey is easy nor does it mean we won’t slip up from time to time, but it does mean we have the answer to defeat the enemy if we are truly walking with the Lord and seeking His face.

We can always come home

It is when we take our eyes off Jesus, stop meditating on the Word and spend too little time in prayer that we leave ourselves vulnerable. When we stop guarding the door to our hearts we will find ourselves walking on the wrong path. At some point we will realize we’ve gotten off track. And while “the sooner the better” definitely applies for the purposes of the people we will hurt along the way, the mercy of the Father is consistent no matter how far we’ve strayed.

He will be right there with open arms ready to take us back, cleanse our dirty hands and restore us fully to Himself, exactly how Jesus describes in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15). When we finally come to our senses and see clearly, we realize God never moved. We were the ones who walked away, drowning out the sound of His voice and the drawing of His Spirit with the gleam of whatever worldly temptation caught our eye.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

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What I Am Reading

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I’ve never been interested in reading much more than a few paragraphs about how a particular organization or group got its start but Rosalie Hunt’s new book Her Way: The Remarkable Story of Hephzibah Jenkins Townsend has stretched my interest in this area.

While only a third of the way through the book, I already feel a connection and admiration for the main character. I love her spunk and determination. Yes, the book certainly achieves the goal of helping share the history of national Woman’s Missionary Union because Townsend was founder of the first missionary society in the South but it does so much more. It also reminds us that our true strength comes from the Lord and, despite the difficulties life brings, we can all make a difference for the Kingdom.

Hunt showcases a true storytelling ability that has me anxiously awaiting the events described in the next chapter. And I love how Hunt developed Townsend’s voice and personality by piecing together the available historical documentation and then basically “becoming” Townsend for a season as she wrote the book.

For more information on Her Way, click here.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Read the directions carefully

Rashional Thoughts artIt has happened more times than I care to admit and each time is just as embarrassing as the others. You may have done it a time or two yourself especially if you communicate via email and/or text messages on your smartphone.

And I know better, I really do, but I continue to do it — failing to read a document, an email, a text or how-to instructions carefully.

You know the drill. We know we should slow down and read all the words and make sure we understand what is being communicated before we respond or act, but for some reason we tend to skim the text and then take action.

The dreaded life lesson

And many of us can remember that particular exam given to us by that one teacher or professor determined to teach us a life lesson. He or she handed out the test papers and said, “It is important to read through all the questions first, then take the exam.” The top of the test paper also stated, “Read all questions before answering any of them.”

But what did we do? We answered the questions as we read them because we thought it would take less time. We didn’t want to read through all of them and then come back to the first one to start answering them.

Of course, the disappointment hit hard when we reached the last question and realized why one or two students got up fairly quickly and turned in their exams. The final question wasn’t a question at all. It stated, “Do not answer any of the above questions. Sign your name here, turn it in now and you will receive an A. All others will fail this test.”

Ouch — if only we had followed the instructions.

Repeating the same mistakes

And yet still today, I find myself failing to read carefully through correspondence and other forms of communication.

I’m not sure if it is because my full-time work requires such careful reading, editing and fact checking that I get a little slack when it comes to other content or if it is merely a result of going in too many directions, but it happens more than it should.

When others do it to me

The one good thing about realizing what I’m doing is that I am reminded to be kind and gracious to others when it happens to me. And it does happen — often.

I might send an email or text asking three questions and the reply comes back with only one question answered. Or I might provide an outline for what all needs to be in a story and 75 percent of what I noted is written but the other 25 percent is overlooked.

It happens at work, at home, at church, in the neighborhood, at school and anywhere else we interact with people.

The deadline was clearly marked in the notice but somehow we didn’t see it. The change of plans was tucked inside the other three paragraphs of information but we stuck with the original schedule because we missed that note.

Take the challenge

If you are still with me and are truly reading through the column rather than skimming it, then I would encourage you to take the challenge I’m giving myself — slow down and read carefully. I believe we could save a lot of time, missteps and apologies by doing it right the first time.

I also wonder how much of the habit of not slowing down to read carefully could spill over into our biblical studies. How many times do we skim the Scriptures rather than carefully and thoroughly read every word? What are we missing if that is the case? Could God be blatantly showing Himself to us in a life-changing way that we are sadly missing because we’ve chosen to skim rather than absorb?

—Jennifer Davis Rash

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Shockingly speechless

Yes, the rumors are true. I can confirm I was indeed left speechless earlier this month — not only once but twice. Many were shocked to witness the historic events.

Editor Bob Terry and The Alabama Baptist staff get all the credit as they found a way to surprise me with a feature article and a party celebrating my 20th anniversary with Alabama’s state Baptist newspaper. And if that weren’t special enough, I also received calls, emails, letters, texts, Facebook posts, tweets, video messages, gifts and personal appearances by friends and family from various parts of the state, across the nation and around the world.

It is still hard for me to believe all of that was done for me. I remain speechless and thank all of you for honoring me the way you did.

I know that finding me speechless once, much less several times, is hard to believe, especially for the number of you who referred to my “gift of gab” in the notes you wrote. And you know me well, I do like to talk — a lot.

But 2016 has discovered a more contemplative version of me so far. Along with the celebratory moments, another anniversary struck other emotions.

Marking the date

January 17 marked one year since my young niece and goddaughter Belle Mitchell left us for heaven (to read more about her cancer journey, visit the “Snapshots of Belle” category here on rashionalthoughts.com).Belle with Aunt Jen

It is true what the grief experts say — you do adapt and learn to live without the person you are missing — but the ache of missing him or her lives on. I’m not sure I realized the degree of how much I missed Belle would actually increase with time but it is happening. I find myself continually needing a hug from her, wanting desperately to hear her laugh and/or wishing for one more silly moment with her.

Still I hold on to what others have shared with me — each day we live is one day closer to being with her again. And each day we have an opportunity to do great things for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We can choose to tackle each day and make a difference for the Kingdom or we can fall into a pit and let the enemy convince us we are not able to keep moving.

Believe me, I’ve fallen into the pit a few times and some days I might have been easily convinced to stay there, but every time a friend or family member came along and pulled me out, reminding me to keep my eyes on Jesus.

Again, I am overwhelmed with the love surrounding me, and I am convicted to not take it for granted nor overlook others who might slip past our gaze and be falling further and further into their own pit.

The lyrics in Sidewalk Prophets’ “Save My Life” touch on this point:

“… You come here every Friday night; I take your order and try to be polite; And hide what I’ve been going through;

“If you looked me right in the eye; Would you see the pain deep inside; Would you take the time to;

“Tell me what I need to hear; Tell me that I’m not forgotten; Show me there’s a God. …

Belle taught me how to love unconditionally (consistently showing grace, mercy and forgiveness while also showing others there is a God), live life to its fullest (despite the obstacles that undoubtedly will appear in your path) and laugh as much as possible (even amid the pain and fear). She knew how to celebrate life — and I want to be like Belle when I grow up.

—Jennifer Davis Rash (aka Aunt Jen Jen)

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Considering a fresh start?

Screen Shot 2016-01-24 at 9.02.37 PMWho doesn’t love a fresh start? It might be buying a new house or car and enjoying the freedom from repairs (at least for a few weeks). It might be cleaning out the pantry, joining a gym and beginning a new healthy lifestyle.

And then there are natural fresh starts that allow us to breathe in the excitement that comes with new opportunities.

Transitioning from high school to college was one of those moments for me. It was a chance to reinvent myself without all the baggage of the past 12 years. New interests, new experiences and new people to meet allowed me to figure out more of my potential and what opportunities lay before me. And believe me, I grabbed hold of everything I could juggle in my arms and tied strings to my belt with the things I couldn’t. I threw myself in deep and swam through the endless hours of academics, activities and achievements.

Following college graduation I committed to a short-term missions assignment.

Diving in deep

For the next two and a half years, I swam even deeper — growing in my faith like I had never before experienced, developing life-changing relationships and refining my intense desire to serve others.

Next came my transition to The Alabama Baptist (TAB). What started out as a short-term job to get me through Beeson Divinity School at Samford University turned into a beloved career. Now, 20 years later, I look back and realize I’ve been swimming so far and so deep that I can no longer see the shore. I am one with the sea — but not just with TAB, in all aspects of Alabama Baptist life. I love this people group and am honored to be one of them and serve them.

But even with the depth of my love for Alabama Baptists, are there moments I’m tempted to bail for a fresh start? Absolutely.

The weight from dealing with daily life issues year after year, the frustrations that lie continuously beneath the surface, the disappointments, the unmet expectations, the exhaustion from carrying each other along the journey — they are real.

Holding on to the rope

It isn’t any different than the decisions all of us face in life.

It may be a difficult choice in your personal life. It may be in church life — to revitalize the dying congregation or plant a new one. It may be in the workplace or volunteer role — to dig deep to find freshness in a long-term position or make a change which guarantees new energy.

It isn’t that one answer is necessarily right and one is wrong; it is about determining what is best despite the cloud of emotions, exhaustion, etc., that might be tainting our view.

Sometimes life gets so marred down that escaping to a blank slate seems like the only way to survive. And in many cases, that truly is the best move to make.

But we also should evaluate if gaining some relief, taking a break or making a specific adjustment would release us from the lack of enthusiasm, loss of love or hopelessness we might be feeling. After all, fresh starts are a never-ending desire and it won’t be long before that which is new is old again — complete with its own heavy luggage.

What makes the most difference, whichever decision we make, is to hold on to the rope that connects us to Christ. I may be battered from being pounded in the storm and continuously tossed up against the side of the rescue boat but I hold on tight, knowing with confidence He won’t let go of His end.

We may need a fresh start sometimes. But what we need even more is the consistency of a God who doesn’t let us go — a God who works in both our current situations and our fresh starts.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

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Finding forgiveness for a wounded heart

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It was as if the verse had been penciled into the Gospel of Luke when I wasn’t looking. Had it really been there all along?

Luke 19:8 — “Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, ‘Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much” (NASB).

The Gospel According to Luke — written by the only Gentile author in the New Testament who was described by Paul as the “beloved physician” (Col. 4:14) and known for being a detailed historian — has been a consistent part of my readings since becoming a Christian a little more than 25 years ago. With the theme of the book focused on Christ as the perfect and compassionate Son of Man offering salvation to the whole world, it became a favorite book of mine almost immediately.

Journalist-like

Luke, who also wrote the Acts of the Apostles, acknowledges in Luke 1:2 that he was not an eyewitness of the life of Jesus Christ but his writings are extremely detailed.

I appreciate Luke’s style. He reminds me of an investigative journalist as he dives in deep, consulting as many eyewitnesses as he can find, keeping copious notes and working hard to tell the full story.

Thoroughness

He did thorough research and sought to totally understand the story before writing about it. You can always tell when a journalist doesn’t understand the story he or she is writing about because you (as the reader) don’t understand it either. Luke is careful to avoid this pitfall in his writing.

While a journalist might not choose to go with a chronological approach, this seemed to work best for Luke (1:3) who undoubtedly had an overwhelming amount of content to weave together in a readable form.

Life lessons

The Gospel of Luke has helped me learn more about Jesus and understand His teachings. The Lord’s Prayer in chapter 11 and the Sermon on the Mount in chapter 6 as well as the 35 parables (19 unique to Luke) have continued to challenge and grow me in my discipleship journey.

And while the book has helped me understand so much of Jesus’ life and the various ethics, values and morals of the Christian life as well as the basic ways we as believers should live, Zaccheus’ decision to make right his wrongs slipped past me — at least until I truly needed to see it.

About two years ago, God began to disclose some dark places in my heart and the conviction to deal with them was strong enough to lead me deeper into Scripture to seek the proper path. It all had to do with forgiveness — forgiveness of those who had hurt me and seeking forgiveness from those I had wronged.

No limit on forgiveness

The list was a manageable length but that didn’t make it any easier. Every conversation was going to be hard.

Luke — who had carefully researched and documented his book, which is thought to have been written between 59 and 62 A.D. — said in 17:3–4 we are to forgive our brother (or sister). And there is no limit to how many times we should forgive him or her no matter how many times he or she sins against us.

There were eight people on my list to forgive and this passage burned in my mind. I started down my list right away and checked off four within the year and worked through the other four this past year.

And wouldn’t you know it, within days of being free, I ended up with another exercise in forgiveness, and just a few weeks after that I encountered a hurt that knocked the breath out of me — one that I’m currently working through, trying to reach the point of forgiveness.

Seeking forgiveness

Of course, the journey of learning to forgive others uncovered my own wrongdoings that need forgiving. Five people came to mind right away. I sought out the first three people immediately and asked for forgiveness. The other two were a bit harder, but I worked through them.

In all of the forgiving and asking for forgiveness I realized God is faithful to show us where we need work if we will pay attention. And Luke shows us the complete picture of what forgiveness means. It is not only about making amends and seeking forgiveness but also about being willing to truly forgive without holding a grudge. Matthew 18:21–35 provides another great lesson in forgiveness, reminding us that we are to forgive others as God has forgiven us.

Not always easy

Still I’m the first to admit that knowing we should forgive when we have been wounded doesn’t take the difficulty away of actually being able to do it.

C.S. Lewis said, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive.”

Which is harder for you — forgiving someone who has hurt you or asking for forgiveness when you’ve hurt someone else?

—Jennifer Davis Rash

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