Living Water for Today

Good afternoon from Westminster, MD!

Does spiritual hope make a difference in a person’s life today? Can it change a person’s view of themselves? A formerly hopeless woman who had a life changing encounter at a well would say yes.

She was an outcast, even among her fellow outcasts. As a Samaritan, she was born on the “wrong side of the tracks”, seen as unworthy of association by the Jewish people. As a woman who had been married five times and was now living with a man out of wedlock, she was even rejected by her people, the Samaritans. This had become her identity. Wanting to avoid the glares of others, she went to fetch water from the well during the hottest hours of the day as she knew she would be alone. “Better to endure the sweltering heat than be reminded how little her life mattered”, she thought. She seemed to be doomed to a life of “less than”.

Getting closer to the well, she noticed someone else was unexpectedly there. Her plan had not worked. Even worse, it was a Jewish man. “Why would a Jewish man be at a Samaritan well in the middle of the day,” she pondered as anxiety began to set in. She would just try to avoid eye contact and make it a quick trip. “He will want to stay as far away from me as he can anyway”, she reasoned. Except she was mistaken.

“Will you give me a drink?”, he said.

“Realizing she had nowhere to hide, she replied, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?”

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

“Sir”, the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”[1]

 The surprise interaction goes on. Jesus goes on to tell her he knows her story. He knows her life circumstances had become her identity. She saw no way out and believed the lie that she was hopeless and why wouldn’t she? Society said she was hopeless. Her reality looked hopeless. Why would she believe anything could ever change? However, Jesus did not leave her there.

After making clear he knew her story and current reality, Jesus painted a picture of a reframed identity. At the end of this fateful conversation, she said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

The Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”[2]

Do you see it? A woman who believed she was forgotten and unseen by God at best, and cursed at worst had an encounter that showed her otherwise. If the Messiah, the Savior sent by God in her faith tradition, would choose to step into her world to offer her new life, how could she not see herself differently? In “living water” Jesus offered a spiritual hope that changed a woman stuck in hopelessness into a beacon of hope for her community.

How do we know? Later in the recounting of the story, we are told she, who previously avoided everyone, went back to her town to tell them about this Jesus and what he said. The change in her must have made an impression as many of these Samaritan ”outcasts” grabbed onto the same spiritual hope.

Spiritual hope connects a person with their true, God-given identity. Changing the way you see yourself, changes the way you see the future. Changing the way you see the future can change the way you live today.

It did for this Samaritan woman and it can for you and me.

James Belt

[1] John 4:7-15

[2] John 4:25-26

Revisiting Why Into the River?

Good afternoon from Westminster, MD!

As I considered what to share today, I thought it might be interesting to revisit a post from the past. The post below was originally written a month or two into my time living in Nicaragua. If you ever why I chose the name “Into the River” for this blog this post is for you. Enjoy it!

If you have taken the time to check out this blog (thank you!), you may be wondering why I titled it “Into the River”. Being that I think that is a fair question, I thought it would be equally fair for me to share the answer with you. So here we go…

When you here the phrase “into the river”, there are more than likely a lot of things that come to your mind. Whether it is a childhood memory of jumping into a river on a hot summer day or throwing rocks in the river and watching the ripples, there is much fun to be had at a river. Maybe you think of launching a canoe or a fishing boat for life’s next big adventure or just relaxing by cool, waters contemplating life. Much of this comes to my mind as well when I hear those three words, but it was something very different that lead me to this name. One day as I was reading the Bible, I came along a story in the book of Joshua. Like many stories in this part of the Old Testament, it was about the Israelites’ journey into the Promised Land. Specifically, it is the story in Chapter 3 of the Joshua leading the Israelites across the Jordan River. As you may remember, Joshua tells the people to prepare themselves for God to do great things and instructs the priests to take up the ark of the covenant of the Lord and pass on ahead of the people. After Joshua offers these instructions, the Lord tells Joshua to have the priests who carry the Ark of the Covenant go to the edge of the Jordan River and then to go and stand in the river. Joshua communicates the Lord’s words to the Israelites and tells the priests to go into the river with the Ark of the Covenant. Picking up with Joshua 3:15 it says, “Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (this is, the Dead Sea) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho. The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stopped in the middle of the Jordan and stood on dry ground, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.” (Joshua 3:15-17 NIV)

This wasn’t the first time I had read this story, but it was the first time I realized the challenge and opportunity presented to the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant. You see, I think it is easy to read this story and think about how awesome it is that God stopped the river from flowing, but miss the “step of faith” these priests were asked to take. Certainly God had promised through Joshua to stop the river as soon as their feet touched the water, but I can only imagine the myriad of thoughts that were probably going through their heads as they approached the Jordan. If you journey back in the Old Testament, you will read that people died just by touching the Ark of the Covenant. These priests were being asked to walk into a river bed, with the river flowing (prior to them stepping in) none the less. If you have ever walked into a river bed, you know it can be treacherous. The Ark of the Covenant was created based on God’s request and carried the tablets containing the Ten Commandments. What if the Ark of the Covenant was swept away by the river? It said the Jordan River was at flood stage. What if it doesn’t stop flowing and the priests are drowned? The challenge presented was great and it is easy to understand why someone might say “thanks, but no thanks”.

However, so was the opportunity? What if God is faithful and stops the Jordan River? The priests had an incredible chance to be a part of God’s amazing plan. As we know, that is exactly what happened. The priests came to the river, trusted God, stepped and the river stopped flowing. Not only that, but they were able to stand in the middle of the river until all of the Israelites had crossed over. Do you think their lives were different because of this experience? What if one of the priests “called out sick” that day and didn’t take the opportunity to be a part of God’s work? Do you think he would be asking “what if?” for the rest of his life? We will never know the answer to these questions for sure, but this I do know, those priests chose life. Despite what looked to be an impossible challenge, one that some might call crazy, the priests decided that God was big enough and the chance to be used by Him was worth the risk. By walking into the Jordan River and risking everything, they found life and, I would think, were different for it.

I believe God gives us the same challenge and opportunity. We are standing on the edge of what looks like a raging river wondering how stepping in could possibly be a part of the plan. We too have a choice. Step into the river and experience life to the full or wait on the bank and ask “what if” for the rest of our lives. As I have grown in Christ, I have come to realize that real life is found in the river. Even when it looks a little crazy, following God’s call on our lives presents us with the opportunity to see God work in ways we couldn’t even imagine. Will it be hard? Yes. Maybe even a little scary? More than likely. But when you step into the river, I believe that you will find that it is worth the risk and exactly where you are meant to be. So this blog is my challenge to you. Will you step into the river or miss your chance to be a part of advancing God’s Kingdom? The choice is yours.

What river might God be asking you to step into today?

As I mentioned last week, I had a neat opportunity to “step into the river” last week with a group of guys from Northern Virginia and Virginia Beach. Monday of last week, we loaded up three four wheel drive trucks with supplies and gear, and headed to Albellanas, a small rural village in Nicaragua. With the exception of Roger, who grew up in Albellanas before moving to Managua and eventually the United States, and a couple of the guys who had been there before, none of us knew what to expect. As usually is the case with “getting into the river”, God did more than we could ever imagine. Albellanas is a very remote and poor village with no access to running water or electricity. It is also a very challenging place in which to go due to the condition of the 8 kilometer road/path from the main road to the village. In fact, it took us well over an hour to travel there in vehicles equipped for the conditions. Upon arriving at the village, we had many opportunities to share meals and life with the people of Albellanas. Over the course of the two days we were there, we did build a structure for an outhouse, leave material for other outhouses, fix electrical issues and play games with the kids, but the real joy of the trip was the life change we saw. From getting to pray with a few of Roger’s family members who came to know the Lord to seeing twenty-two people give their lives to Christ after the Jesus film, the way we saw God move will impact us for the rest of our lives.

I will share more about the trip and what I feel God revealed to me while I was there next week.

Have a great week and get into the river!

– James Belt

Thoughts from a Control Freak

Good morning from Westminster, MD!

Hi, my name is James, and I am a control freak. It is not so much that I need to be in control of every moment of my life but rather that I need to be in control of the outcomes. How about you? Do you ever find yourself trying to will an outcome into existence? Controlling outcomes sounds great except for one tiny problem–it’s impossible.

For example, have you ever grown a garden? I have. You can carefully prepare the soil, plant the seeds or plants just perfectly, water them regularly, and keep the weeds under control, but you cannot will the tomatoes into existence. No matter how hard you try, the outcome is not in your control. No matter how much you want it, all you can do is wait and see if those little red tomatoes emerge. More than once, I can remember doing everything “right” only to see my vegetable plant inexplicably wilt away.

Where does this leave us self-professed control freaks? As I have wrestled with my desire to control something uncontrollable it has led me to one place–surrender. Not the “sit on the couch and hope for the best” kind of surrender but rather the “understanding my role” kind of surrender. In other words, I have my part and God has his part.

My part is to put myself in a position to be successful. It is the tilling, planting, and watering part of the vegetable gardening process. It might mean making a step in a certain direction. It might mean making a phone call. It might mean spending the extra time to make sure something is the best it can be. Surrendering in this case does not mean deciding it is just not meant to be. Instead, it means finding peace in the reality that you did all you could do to make it happen.

God’s part is to make it grow. Once you have put the plant in the ground and given it the best care possible, the amount of fruit that is produced is in God’s hands. This sounds great in theory, but is hard in practice. However, does my struggle with it make it any less true? No, of course not. No matter how much I want to control outcomes, the truth is still the truth. Coming to terms with this reality is hard, but it is made easier by my understanding of who it is I am trusting with the outcomes.

Easter provides us with a beautiful picture of why we can trust the God who created us. In Paul’s letter to the church in Rome he wrote, “You see, at just the write time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8) If God loves me enough to send Jesus to die for me, why wouldn’t I be able to trust him with the outcomes in my life?

My prayer this Easter is to live fully into this surrendered life. I hope you will join me on this journey!

James Belt

I Care Too Much about What You Think

Good afternoon from Westminster, MD!

I have a problem. Truth be told, I have many problems, but that probably comes as no surprise to you. In the midst of my many issues, one stands out above the rest at the moment–I care way too much about what you think.

I know, this is probably a strange admission for a blog post given the point of writing a blog is for other people to read it. Isn’t that kind of the point? To have other people like what you write. To some degree, sure. However, I care way too much about whether or not you like it. Whether or not some likes what I write or say holds way too much power over me if I am honest. If I am completely honest, it is because I care way too much about whether or not you, or anyone else, likes me. Do they see me as likeable? Do they think I matter? Do they want to be my friend? Do they see me as valuable?

There is nothing wrong with wanting to be liked. The truth is relationships are important. I do not think it is a great idea to make it our goal to have everyone dislike us. Ultimately, it is a really a question of how much weight the opinions of others holds in our lives. In my case, the answer is way too much. I sometimes find myself valuing someone’s opinion of me more than the degree to which I am true to myself and my beliefs. While this might produce some short-term joy it leads to long-term emptiness.

Why is this such a big deal? It’s not, I guess, if you are fine with living a less than full life. You see, I have come to realize living for the opinion and pleasure of others leads to a life of captivity. Instead of being free to fully be the person I was created to be, I mute myself at best or pretend to be someone else at worst, all in the service of being liked by others. In doing so, I give the keys to my life over to the people whose opinions matters the most to me. Ironically, in most cases these people have no desire to hold me captive to their opinions, putting unfair expectations on them. I have quite literally put the handcuffs on myself.

This is not the life for which we were designed. We were created for freedom.

How do we get there? For me it starts with changing the object of my affection and my formula for achieving a full life. Proverbs, the book of the Bible referred to as the “Book of Wisdom” says, “The fear of human opinion disables; trusting in God protects you from that.” (Proverbs 29:25 MSG) We care about the opinions of others because that is the way we were designed. The problem is we put the wrong opinions in the position of power. We were only designed to live for the opinion of One–the God who Created us and desires the best for us. When we make his opinion of us the object of our affection, we begin to see the full life for which we were created.

This leads to a change in perspective on the formula for a full life. A full life is a life full of freedom. A life full of freedom means fully being the person God created you to be. The challenge is living this way stands juxtaposed to living for the opinions of others. If we are true to the person God created us to be it is almost certain to run contrary to the opinions of someone in our life. This means elevating a life of freedom and congruency above a life of being loved by others. It means choosing to be loved for who you truly are instead of who others want you to be.

This is my desire. No offense, but I want to care less about what you think and more about who I was created to be. In the end, I think we will both find ourselves more free.

James Belt

Have You Ever Believed a Lie?

Good afternoon from Westminster, MD!

Have you ever believed a lie? I would imagine the answer to the question is yes. If you believe the answer is no, refer back to the question. All of us who have lived more than a few days on this earth have believed a lie or two (or a hundred) over the course of our lives. I certainly have. Some of the lies we allow ourselves to believe are relatively harmless. When the scale says we have gained weight, we believe the scale must be broken, discounting the possibility that the couple of pizzas we have eaten over the last week may have more to do with it.

However, other lies we allow to take residence in our minds can have long lasting and damaging impacts on our lives. Someone tells us we will “not amount to anything” and we buy the lie. This can begin to shape the way we see ourselves and the decisions that we make. Instead of believing the future is bright, we begin to believe we have no future. Maybe the lie is more of a personal rationalization about the way you live or see the world. In a world full of information, confirmation bias is alive and well. If you want to believe something, you can find someone who agrees with you. The problem is this never forces you to confront the possibility you are believing a lie. The longer the lie lives within us, the more it begins to become a part of who we are. Eventually, it becomes difficult to discern between the lie and the truth, even when we want to change.

What’s the solution? Replacing the lie with the truth. For example, hopelessness. I used to believe people and places could be hopeless. After spending many years combating and trying to understand poverty, I have come to realize hopelessness is just a lie. People are only as hopeless to the degree to which they and, in some cases, others believe they are hopeless. The truth is there is hope for people trapped in apparent hopelessness and it starts with eradicating the lie by infusing the truth–you were created on purpose and with a purpose by a God who desires for you to thrive. A change in perspective matched with an opportunity to maximize one’s potential can change a life.

Overcoming the lies I believe has been an incredibly important and ongoing process for me. What has made the biggest difference in my life is leaning into the ultimate source of truth–the God who created me. The more I discover and eradicate lies in my life the fuller my life becomes. It has not been an easy process and I am far from a finished product, but the end result is worth it. I want to live a life connected to truth–a life without regret or the need to hide. A life full of love and hope. This starts with asking the question–Am I believing a lie?

James Belt

How Much Is a Story Worth?

Good afternoon from Westminster, MD!

“A picture is worth a 1,000 words.” It is a well known phrase attributed to a number of different people. This saying is often true in my experience. Pictures tell great stories and often cut through the complexities of language. If the picture of a story is worth a 1,000 words, how much is the story worth?

Story, like a picture, can be a powerful tool. I recently listened to a podcast in which they discussed the power of narrative transportation, which is more or less the ability of a story to suck us in and, at times, even change our perspective on a real world issue. Narrative transportation can be a powerful tool used for good or evil. This goes back to the question, “how much is a story worth?”

The answer to the question would certainly vary by the significance of the story and its connection to reality. A story written mostly for entertainment with very little connection with reality might not have value beyond its ability to allow us to disconnect, which can be very valuable at times. However, there are other stories that are so close to reality and carry so much weight they can force us to ask questions about what we believe and where we are heading. These stories carry immense value.

How about the story of your life? Not the story of where you have been, although that has significance as well, but rather the story of where you are going. What story do you tell yourself about your life? Your future? Your self-worth? Do you believe your life matters? Do you believe you are defined by your past? This is a story of great value and significance. The stories we tell ourselves about our lives have the uncanny ability to become self-fulfilling prophecies. Much like narrative transportation, we insert ourselves in the story, making it the lens through which we see our lives and our future. This can be a blessing or a curse, depending on the story.

This is why it is so important to consider what story you are telling yourself. Personally, connecting my story with my origin has been incredibly powerful. In other words, how and why do I believe I came to be. I believe I was created by a God who loves me and formed me on purpose and with a purpose. This belief has provided me with incredible hope even when my current reality was less than ideal. It has allowed me to write a hope-filled story for my life. I see my life as significant and purposeful, which informs the story I write about my future. This has served me well in my life.

What story are you writing? God has given us a lot of agency over our lives. This means we get to play a big role in writing our stories. How do you see yourself? Do you believe you were created by a God who loves you? Do you believe the story of tomorrow can be different than the story of today? The story you tell yourself has great value and significance. Why not be intentional about writing the story you want to live? It does not guarantee the story you write will be the exact life that you live, but it will change the direction in which you are pointing. This change in direction will change your perspective, allowing you to see life through a different lens.

Your story is powerful, tell yourself a good one.

James Belt

We Need Your Dash

Good morning from Westminster, MD!

What is a dash? This was a question I asked my team at my business as we kicked off 2021. The answers, of course, varied from person to person. A dash can be a punctuation mark. A dash can be a run or a race. According to Merriam Webster, dash can mean to smash or break something by striking it. There are many more definitions of the word “dash”, but we were discussing one dash in particular–the dash between two dates.

I have never done a “deep dive” into the genesis of the dash representing the time between two moments in time, but seems to be universally used. If you look at a tombstone anywhere in the world, you will almost always see the same three markings–the date when the person was born, the date when they passed away, and a dash to represent the time in between. This is not unique to tombstones–“the dash” can be found almost anytime someone discusses a particular period of time. Interestingly, our eyes normally focus on the two numbers and not the dash in between. However, is it not the dash, no matter how short, that gives the numbers their significance?

This is what I encouraged our team to consider and have, in turn, been considering myself. The reality is from January 2021 to January 2022, I will have a dash. There is no guarantee how long it will be, but whether I am aware of it or not, the “–” will be there. The question is not if I will have a dash but rather whether or not I will make it count. Will I choose to just exist, or will I make the most of the “dash” I have been given? Will I look back and say I gave it my all, or will I wonder what could have been if I had taken my life off “auto-pilot”? There is a lot we do not get to choose about our “dash”, but we do get to decide how we will live it.

This is not just true of the next year, of course. This also applies to the “dash” that represents our life. We, myself included, spend so much of our time trying to extend our dash, but is it really the length of the dash that makes it significant? It is the way we have lived our lives and loved others that brings significance to our dash, not the amount of time we were able to squeeze out of it. This is not to say living a long life is not significant. However, some of the shortest dashes have had incredible impact on my life because of the the way their lives rippled through the lives of others. Jesus only lived on this earth for 33 years, but his “dash” had changed the world.

Speaking of Jesus, he said he came that, “we might have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10) This is what it means to make our dash count. We were created on purpose and with a purpose by a God who desires us to thrive. This does not mean life will always be fun or easy–we live in a very broken world. What it does mean is we have the opportunity each day to live as though our lives matter, because they do. Let me repeat, YOUR LIFE MATTERS! YOU MATTER! Maybe you have not been “making your dash count” because you are not even sure it is possible. This is a lie. You were created uniquely to have a unique impact on this world. No matter how small or big, the impact you have on this world is significant.

As we start a new year, it is time we all choose to make our dash count because they truly do. Only you can live the life for which you were created. Only you can have the impact on this world for which you were uniquely designed. Only you can make your dash count.

James Belt

Who Do You Serve?

Good morning from Westminster, MD!

Happy New Year! As much as it is a new year, and a welcomed one at that, the beginning of 2021 feels a lot like 2020. This is the case for our world, but if I am honest, it is also true for my heart. While the outside of me looks pretty good most of the time, the inside of me could use some work. The truth is the two, my internal self I keep hidden and my external self I present to the world, are more connected than I often realize. This becomes apparent when I lose my patience with my wife or kids and then wonder what happened. Why is it we struggle to leave behind the parts of us that are preventing of from living a full and free life?

As I pondered this question, something Jesus said popped into my head- “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24) We often associate this verse with the love of money”, which makes sense based on the words Jesus used, but I believe the meaning is deeper. I do not think Jesus is concerned with how much money we have but rather the control we yield to our money. This is not unique to money. There are many “things” we elevate to a place of control in our lives. Whatever we allow to be in the place of control in our lives becomes our master, which can have serious consequences in our lives if we don’t choose well.

This has become very apparent in our current political season. If you are unsure, just take a look at what happened at the U.S. Capital last week. Make no mistake, the events of last week were tragic and heart breaking. Lives were lost, property was destroyed, reputations were forever tarnished, and our country was further divided. The right to protest and disagree is part of what makes our country great, but what happened on January 6th has no place in our country. To allow the words of a man and unsubstantiated conspiracy theories to put you in a position to storm our Capital is a picture of the consequences of allowing politics and politicians to become your master. The regret evident in the statements of some of the people arrested for their part in the incident demonstrates the impact choosing the wrong master has first on our hearts and then on our actions.

This is especially troubling for the church. To, as some did, use God to justify your decision to invade the U.S. Capital in hopes of overturning an election clearly displays misplaced allegiances. The trend toward Christian Nationalism is a trend toward making politics our master over Jesus. Instead of making decisions based on Christ, many in the church have used Jesus to prop up their political leanings, subjecting their faith to their biases. This is not consistent with the message of Jesus. We as Christ Followers need to repent and realign our priorities.

This struggle with allegiances is not always about something external such as politics. In my case, it is all about me. I have allowed pride to become my master. This becomes clear when I struggle to admit when I am wrong or to even consider the validity of another’s opinion. It also shows itself when I am unwilling to take steps I know are right and beneficial, but also come with a cost to my pride or reputation. I have allowed pride to own me and it is keeping me from experiencing the full life I desire.

Where do we go from here? It starts with taking an honest assessment of our lives and identifying the master we serve. We are all serving a master, whether we know it or not. Then I believe we need to ask whether or not the master we serve is producing freedom or bondage in our lives. Does the master I serve make me feel more free or less free? Is it life producing or life sucking? From what I can tell there is only one master who truly produces freedom- the God who created on purposes and with a purpose.

This is what Jesus meant. Jesus is telling us choosing a master is not optional. Whether consciously or unconsciously, we each serve something or someone. Jesus is calling us to choose the only master who can truly set us free. Who are you going to choose?

James Belt

A 2020 Lens of Gratitude

Good afternoon from Westminster, MD!

Thanksgiving 2020 almost appears to be an oxymoron at first glance. Why would we associate being thankful with a year that brought us a global pandemic, political strife, social unrest, and murder hornets to name a few? It would seem more appropriate to have a “book burning ceremony” for the collective Yearbook of 2020. However, this is not how thankfulness and gratitude work.

Thankfulness and gratitude are first and foremost a choice. Whether good or bad circumstances, we have to choose gratitude or we will drift towards ungratefulness. As humans we have the unfailing ability to find disappointment in the middle of the best of times. On a tropical island, with blue water, a nice breeze, clear skies, and an umbrella drink in our hand? Everything is perfect until we realize we need to be upset that the sand is hot. If there is an imperfection we will be sure to find it.

The positive side of this challenge is we have the opportunity to choose gratitude, even in the worst of circumstances. We can be passing through the most “2020” part of 2020 and discover a ray of hope or a blessing for which to be thankful. You are stuck in quarantine for two weeks over your birthday because you unknowingly occupied the same space as someone with COVID only to have your internet decides to stop working so no Netflix? After screaming on the inside, and maybe the outside, you realize it is the first time in years you will have an opportunity to disconnect and maybe even read a book. In that moment you choose to see your life through the lens of gratitude.

What if we chose to make gratitude the primary lens through which we see life? What if instead of defaulting to disappointment we defaulted to thankfulness? What is we looked at each other, no matter the color, political beliefs, or religious affiliation, through a lens of gratitude, searching for something we can appreciate instead of something we can hate? I have a feeling this world would look a little different and we would all be happier for it.

With a little over a month left in 2020, I am going to make it my goal to put on my “gratitude glasses” every morning. Instead of drifting through life disappointed and ungrateful, I will intentionally choose to filled with gratitude for the one life I have been given. I will redeem 2020 by making it the year I remembered thankfulness is a choice worth making.

Happy Thanksgiving!

James Belt

Hope Beyond Election Day

Good morning from Westminster, MD!

With November 3rd, Election Day, almost upon us I have heard many say, and have even sarcastically said myself, “the world could end” or “our future is hanging in the balance” depending on how the election goes and who wins. While I certainly do not want to minimize the importance of elections or voting (get out there and VOTE!), I do wonder if we are putting a little to much weight on the results of November 3rd. Are we giving ourselves a little too much credit?

The Year 2020 is one for the ages. I could go through the list, but needless to say, anxiety levels are through the roof. This is completely understandable. As someone who deals with anxiety on a daily basis, I can appreciate how even the most steady person could be knocked off kilter by the “Wave of 2020”. Additionally, having personally lived through a significant earthquake, I know what it feels like to suddenly realize the ground is not as stable as you once believed. The Year of 2020 has shaken us into a state of uncertainty. This lack of certainly plays into our perspective of the future.

While this year has been destabilizing, the root of the problem is much deeper. Our affinity for believing the “sky is falling” goes back to the human condition. From the beginning of time humans have needed to be reminded not to lose heart because of their finite perspective. If you would like proof, just read the Bible. The pattern is very consistent- life is good, something interrupts life (often our own choices), the future becomes unclear, humans freak out, God tells them not to lose hope, hope for the future is restored. What can we learn from this pattern?

In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, he wrote, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13, NIV) Paul did not write these words as someone who had lived an easy life to a group of people who were living in perfect circumstances. In both cases life was less than ideal, far more so than most of us experience today. Yet, Paul encourages them to be filled with joy and peace, and overflowing with hope. In fact, Paul writes it expecting that it would be true. What was the determining factor- their trust in God through Jesus. Their hope was not grounded in their unsteady, finite perspective, but rather in someone with infinite perspective.

This goes back to my original question- are we giving ourselves too much credit? If the future was ultimately in our hands, the results of November 3rd could make or break the future. However, the future is not ultimately in our hands. Instead, it is in the hands of a God who loves us and created us on purpose and for a purpose. We should find great hope in that, especially as Christ Followers.

Does that mean life will be perfect or that we shouldn’t care about what happens this side of heaven? No, of course not. We are called to vote our conscious and fight for a better future. How we live and what we do does make an impact on the world and its future. However, at the same time, we shouldn’t lose heart and believe the future is lost when life becomes a little murky. When the future becomes unclear to us, we must fix our eyes on the one who can always see. No matter what happens on November 3rd, we can find hope in a God who loves us.

I would challenge you to consider a change of perspective. Instead of putting your trust in your own decisions, or a political party, I would challenge you to put your trust in a God who Paul says will “fill you with joy and peace.” Maybe, just maybe you might find yourself “overflowing with hope.”

James Belt