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

Live with Expectancy

Good morning from Westminster, MD!

Do I really believe in it, or do I just pay it lip service? Do I expect to see it, or would I miss it completely? Is it changing my life, or do I live as if it does not exist? These questions have been rattling around in my head for the past month or so. What is “it”? The Power of God.

I have recently been challenged on this subject by conversations with a couple of friends in Nicaragua. They did not intend to challenge me as far as I know, but the stories of their recent experiences with the Power of God through the Holy Spirit produced a certain tension in me. Their stories were filled with expectancy, humility, and trust.

They expected to see the Power of God as they walked through their day. They humbly recognized that the Power of God came from the Holy Spirit and not from themselves. They trusted the outcome to God. The results- life change, healing, growth, hope and joy to name a few. In many ways, their stories remind me of the early church described in the book of Acts in the Bible. They are living out the words of Acts 1:8- “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witness in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

While the impact on their own lives has been exciting to watch, their impact on the lives of others has been incredible. Instead of being turned off by their new passion to live for Jesus, people who were previously far from God have been drawn in. In fact, I would say the change in their lives is what was so attractive. People who were far from God saw a glimpse of the Power of God and found themselves wanting more. It was Jesus shining through the lives of my friends rather than my friends themselves that was so attractive.

This is what challenges me. Do I live expecting to see God move? If I did see God move through me, would I just think it was something I had done? Does my lack of expectancy impact my ability to point people who are far from God to Jesus, the only real source of life-changing hope? I would have to say yes.

I am still wrestling with this new found tension, but one thing is for sure- I want to experience more of the Power of God. I want to live with expectancy. I want to have eyes to see God move. I want my life to reflect Jesus in a way that draws people to God. I want my life to be different because of the Power of God.

– James Belt

My Hope for the Year to Come

Good afternoon from Westminster, MD!

Today happens to be my birthday. As I considered what to write a thought came to mind- what would I want to be able to write about on this day next year? What do I hope has changed or happened by September 30th, 2021? Well, here I go.

Over the next I hope the world becomes a little more hope-filled. This year, 2020, has been full of pain and brokenness. On the surface 2020 appears to be a recipe for hopelessness and despair, but I believe it can be the starting point for something new. It is often when we find the bottom that we discover how to climb to new heights. Real hope has the power to change the world. When people realize their God-given potential and have the opportunity the exercise it everything can change. May hope abound and the world change over the next year.

Over the next year I hope we move closer to true Racial Reconciliation. In some ways it feels like we are miles apart as it stands today. However, there are other signs of true movement towards a world in which everyone is treated as equal creations of a Creator who loves each of us equally. We should not assume saying Black Lives Matter means anyone else’s life matters any less. True healing starts with recognizing how someone has been harmed and a willingness to do what is necessary to right the wrong. May love for our neighbor become more important than our pride. May the Church be a driving force for change. May our Brother and Sisters of Color be given equal opportunity and standing in our country and world.

Over the next year I hope we find a new level of unity. Today division appears to be the name of the game. Instead of looking for common ground, we look for dividing lines. Pride abounds and polarization has become the norm. This is destroying our world. It is time to set aside our differences and in humility come together. As beings created by the same God, we are more the same than we are different. There is more to life than being right. May we fight for what is best for all of us, finding common ground on what really matters and setting aside our differences. May we find true unity.

I am excited to see what the next year brings. May I be a part of making it the best year yet!

James Belt

Hope Not Forgotten

Good morning from Westminster, MD!

Nineteen years ago today the world stood still in shock as the United States experienced an incredible tragedy. Unfathomably, terrorists attacked the World Trade Center Towers in New York, and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. The devastation could have been even greater if a brave group of heroes had not fought back against the terrorists on the plane that eventually crashed in Pennsylvania. Over 3,000 lives were tragically lost and the world would never be the same.

I remember the moment well. I was sitting in a lecture hall at Towson University when a student yelled out that a plane had hit the Twin Towers. Initially, our professor believed it must have been a hoax, but this unthinkable event was confirmed when the administration announced that classes were canceled for the rest of the day due to safety concerns. I remember driving home wondering what exactly had happened and why. Upon arriving at home, while sitting at the breakfast bar in our kitchen, I watched the news as they confirmed that these were intentional acts of terror against our nation. The future no longer appeared certain. It was a dark day.

However, darkness can only be present when light is absent. Not long after the tragic day of September 11th, 2001, a light of hope began to emerge. What started as fear and despair turned into resolve and hope. Yes, the world was different but it was not over. From the darkness emerged a collective hope that would not be stopped. We were one nation with one goal- we would always remember those who were lost, and we would choose to live fully, honoring those who were not given that choice. What could have driven us into hopelessness became the catalyst for a new found hope.

I hold the same hope on this September 11th. We again find ourselves passing through a moment of darkness. We appear more fractured than ever. However, this moment of darkness could be the catalyst for a new beginning. As we did nineteen years ago, we could find hope for a new and better way forward. A way forward that brings us together and reminds us to live fully.

September 11th, 2001 taught us we are stronger united. We are stronger when we put aside our differences and pride, and choose to love each other well. We can choose to remember the lesson we learned from the lives that were lost, we can choose to live fully. We believed there was still hope on that tragic day. We can do the same today.

We will never forget.

James Belt

It Is Time to Listen

Good afternoon from Westminster, MD!

As I sit to write this, today marks the 57th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech. Remembering this moment has always been important, but it is of particular importance in 2020 as United States, and maybe the world, has reached what appears to be a breaking point with Racial Injustice. As we ponder the question, “where do we go from here?”, it is important to reflect on the question, “why are we still here?”

From the first time I really listened to King’s famous speech, I have always found it powerful and inspiring. His dream of a country in which everyone, regardless of race, has the same opportunity to reach their God-given potential is beautiful and hopeful. The United States is a place of great opportunity, but some people have been arbitrarily disadvantaged from taking advantage of “The American Dream” simply because of the color of their skin. King did not lose hope that one day this could change and neither will I. This dream can and will one day be realized.

There are many reasons why King’s “I Have A Dream” speech made and continues to make such an impact. As a white man, I want to focus on one of them- people actually listened. I was not alive when the speech was made, but it would be hard to deny the far reaching impact of King’s words. In a moment, King simultaneously shined a light on the realities of injustice and the hope for a new way forward. While change was not immediate, it is clear that King contributed greatly to the steps that have been taken to correct racism and racial injustice.

However, it is also clear that the work is not complete. Why are we still here? Again, there are many reasons, but it stems in a large part from an unwillingness to listen. Earlier in 1963, King wrote an open letter to pastors and others who were telling him to stop pushing so hard to end segregation and racial injustice. The letter, now known as “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” was written by King while jailed in Birmingham for his fight for a better way forward. King made many profound statements in the letter, but his plea for people to actually listen and see the realities of racial injustice is what sticks with me most. This plea is still relevant today, especially for people who call themselves Christ Followers. We are still hear because, like the people of King’s day, we are unwilling to truly listen to the pain of the hurting.

As Christ Followers, we can no longer remain complacent and unwilling to listen to the cry of our brothers and sisters of color. We are called to love our neighbor, which starts with a willingness to understand their story. This is the beginning of change. This is how Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream becomes a reality. What a beautiful reality it would be.

On this day in 1963, people chose to listen. Will you choose to do the same today?

James Belt