Thursday, February 2, 2017

Is anyone really listening?


     I had a psychology professor with an interesting reputation. The word was passed down from one class to the next. "Don't wear the color yellow. She hates that color." And "Every test is essay. If you want a passing grade on tests, you must find a way to add the phrase 'Every person needs to feel needed, necessary, important, accepted, loved and understood.' She loves it."
     I never wore yellow and evidently I used the phrase a lot because it is seared into my memory. I made an A in that course!
     Lately the phrase has popped into my thoughts a lot. As I observe what is taking place in our nation and what is constantly crossing social media, I'm burdened by all the anger I see. I ache when I witness people being hurt. I see people begging and sometimes demanding that others notice their worth and value. They are right. We should. And people are crying out that they want to be accepted and understood.
     I get that. I am no different. I want the same things.
     There seems to be one problem though. The art of listening appears to have fallen by the wayside. Lots of words are being spoken but no one is responding with questions so they can understand. No one is asking with sincerity, "Why do you believe this? What are personal life experiences that led you to feel this way?" No one is honestly saying, "Tell me more so I can learn more." 
     We can agree to disagree. But we need to do so with teachable spirits and kindness. And if the tables should turn, and someone should ask about our convictions, we need to be honest, raw and vulnerable. Not arrogant and self-righteous. 
     One more thought…we may have rights to our opinions. But if Jesus could lay down His rights as God and come to this earth to live with us, taking on the nature of a servant…if he could lay down His rights and humbly walk to the cross…(Philippians 2:5-8) then perhaps we can lay down our divisive comments. Perhaps we can lay down our opinions long enough to listen to others.
     One of the greatest joys we have in life is learning. But learning occurs through experiences and through listening. Conservatives need to listen to liberals. Liberals need to listen to conservatives. People of different races, ethnicities and genders need to listen to the struggles each face. 
     We can do better than we have been doing! Because behind every person's words and action lies a "little boy or girl" who just wants to know he is needed. She wants to know she is necessary and important. He wants to be accepted and loved. And she wants to be understood.

     Now…to practice what I have been preaching. I think mankind has another emotional need…and that is to feel safe. Maybe it is just a want but it feels like a need. I am confident that I am safe spiritually but I also want to feel physically safe and I want to feel emotionally safe with my loved ones. Perhaps this need is grounded in times when I found myself in dangerous circumstances or when I was hurt by people I thought were friends. Perhaps it resulted because of being ridiculed for expressing thoughts. 
     I can't imagine living in a perpetual state of fear. And even worse, fearing for the lives of my children. But I know that people do. When I rock my grandsons at bedtime, I think of the moms and dads around the world that are, at that very moment, frightened about the danger surrounding their little ones. They must crave safety. I don't know all the answers. Issues are far too complex and I have a limited amount of accessible facts but I do know the only true source of peace - even in the midst of danger - is Jesus. This is not a cheap platitude, it's truth. I know from experience. 
     I know that God doesn't promise there will not be danger in our lives but He does promise that He will walk with us in the midst of it. I believe that His grace is sufficient for every need we have. I believe it pours out in extra measure over those being persecuted for His name. I know that Jesus is the answer to our need for value, purpose, acceptance, love, understanding and safety.
      The mandate for those who follow Him and know His peace is to share this good news. Our world is desperate for peace!

Monday, December 5, 2016

One remarkable moment

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us…(John 1, 14)


One remarkable moment when "The Word became flesh." It is

Revolutionary

Powerfully impactful

Utterly beautiful

Our most precious gift

Absolutely astounding

Perfectly perfect

Brilliant

A display of amazing love and grace

The moment when God became touchable, coming to touch lives.


The moment when the unseen became visible.

I'm thinking of the angels. Can you imagine the wonder they experienced? God did not consult with them before putting His plan into place. They were not privy to what He was planning. 

They witnessed God take the form of an innocent, vulnerable baby. The Omnipotent became dependent on a teenage girl. A baby was born to die…that we might live. 

The angels must have been stunned into silence for a moment. Heaven must have gone quiet as the Holy One entered His own creation - a world that had chosen sin over Him.

And then... what delight must have been experienced by the angel chosen to share this wondrous event with the shepherds. "Good news of great joy that is for all people I bring you. The Savior is born - Christ the Lord."

Finally, when the multitude of angels could no longer maintain their silence, they joined in praise, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is well pleased."

Finally…peace! The Prince of Peace had arrived, making peace with God and peace with one another possible.

I pray that I will be struck with this kind of angelic wonder this Christmas season. The Word became flesh!!!!


Sunday, September 18, 2016

A Beautiful Picture

     This morning I observed the line of people waiting to approach the communion table at church. 

I saw elderly couples shuffling forward. 

I saw little children twirling and dancing. 
I saw interracial families.
I saw young couples holding hands. 
I saw singles. 
I saw people dressed in the finest of clothes. 
I saw people dressed in shorts and t-shirts.
I saw people dressed in their motorcycle garb complete with bandanas around their heads.
I saw people of multiple races.
All in one room at one time.

     All I could think was, "I love this church. I love your Church, Jesus." A place where there exists "neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female but all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 4:28).

     For a moment, time seemed to stand still and I saw evidence of God's grace and love. I saw evidence of His power to take broken people and make them whole. I saw His ability to knock down social, economic, racial and gender walls and create one body. I saw unity. I saw hope. 
     Beautiful! Simply Beautiful!
   

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

A wee little man

        
              If you asked me describe him, I would have said, "He is sleazy and slimy." Occasionally I find myself at the same event as this man and I had done everything possible to avoid having to make small talk with him. I don’t want to be anywhere near him. 

      He cheats and he lies. He has made millions of dollars at the expense of others. He has used people for his gain and then discarded them. He's the man you would envision on the golf course with a big cigar hanging out of his mouth, rings on all fingers, snapping his fingers for service, throwing lots of money around trying to impress people. And often he does impress the impressionable. Other times, he repulses people. Some people are just confused.
      I rarely think about this man, however … A young man asked to meet with Keith and me. All we knew is that he was trying to make decisions about his career. He said he was struggling because the industry that employs him requires him to come into contact with people who live lifestyles that demean women and are filled with attitudes of entitlement. He did not mention any names but by using a few buzzwords, Keith and I glanced at one another. We knew that the same wealthy man was causing this young friend to question his walk as a man who wants to honor God while living in relationship with arrogant people who have created idols of worship. Our young friend asked, "How can I stay true to Christian values and beliefs when I am called to have a relationship with people who hold such different ideas of right and wrong?"  
     And it hit me like a ton of bricks. This wealthy man that I shunned is a modern day Zacchaeus. Jesus came that he might have a relationship with this man. Jesus is pursuing the souls of men who deny Him. And no person is outside God’s grace. Jesus did not run from these relationships. He ran to them. He invited Himself into lives.


Background: 
     During Jesus' life, there were two major highways in Israel. One ran right through Jericho. It was Passover time, which meant tens of thousands of Jewish pilgrims were traveling to Jerusalem. Jesus was one of them.  The only difference…time was running out for Jesus. He was heading towards the cross. 
     Many people would have either heard of Jesus' miracles or witnessed them. So a large crowd gathered, wanting to see this man who made such bold statements and held such authority.
     On His way into Jericho, Jesus paused to heal a blind beggar on the side of the road. The destitute man’s response was to follow Jesus and praise God. And the crowd praised God for what they witnessed.
     Then Jesus entered Jericho. He reached out to a man who was also poor - but poor in a way that eyes could not detect. Same mission - different men - different response from the crowd. Jesus would declare Luke 19:10 “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost". Jesus is on mission to save souls and He is also determined to transform followers into His image. But in this scenario, the crowd didn't praise God. They muttered, "He has gone to be the guest of a sinner."
     The Jews thought of Zacchaus as a traitor and a turncoat because he had become wealthy by gouging his fellow Jews. Tax collectors would take more than the tax required by the Roman government and then they would pocket the excess. 
     This "wee little man" went to extreme measures to catch a glimpse of Jesus. He certainly could not see over the crowd and I am sure none of them were going to let him in front of them. So he climbed a tree.
     While people in his community were repulsed by Zaccheus, Jesus was not. Jesus saw beyond wealth and sin. His eyes went beyond fancy clothes and saw a desperate soul, longing for His coming.  He saw a man living in poverty – spiritually bankrupt with an emptiness in his soul. Jesus responded with compassion and exhibited kindness.
     Here is where I get a stab in my spirit. I have felt absolutely no compassion for the wealthy man that I once labeled "sleazy", I have certainly not tried to see him with an eternal perspective.
     Send me to love orphaned children in Guatemala and I'm on my way in the blink of an eye. Ask me to help provide jobs for women in 3rd world countries and my checkbook is open. Ask me to love young women who have been deceived and abused and I'm in 100%. But where is my heart of compassion for those who are putting their hope in things that won't last? I've turned my back on too many people because of my assumptions and judgmental attitude.
     It’s easy to show compassion for the poor. And we should! Too many of have so much, while others struggle to put food on the table for their children. It's wrong. But where is our heart for those who are trying to find worth, value and meaning in trivial things that won't last.
     Zaccheus responded to Jesus’ call. He obeyed quickly. He repented. And you know why? That's what kindness does. God's kindness leads people toward repentance (Romans 2:4). And then Zacchaues gave away enormous amounts of his wealth.
Jesus made no apologies about hanging out with Zacchaeus. He didn't hand out a list of requirements before going to Zacchaeus home. But His kindness and love transformed Zacchaeus. 

My lesson: We are all in the same mess - regardless of our standing in society, regardless of our gender, regardless of our culture, regardless of anything. We are all struggling with sin in our lives. None of us deserve anything. But if we want to be like Jesus, we open our doors to all … regardless! And we are kind!
I look forward to the next opportunity God gives me to be in the same room as the wealthy man in our community. I choose to define him as "a man with great potential." May I become a woman who shares the kindness God has graciously extended to me.

Monday, February 22, 2016

A Sacred Romance

     I assumed she was a Christian. After all, she was a respected friend and a very good woman. For years, we spent a lot of time together, discussing life and it's issues but somehow we never got around to discussing our faith. Then … one day, I made a random comment about eternity. She informed me that she was an atheist. I mean…really? My goodness, she had been a Sunday School teacher at one point in her life! But now, this brilliant woman was convinced that there was no God and that we would all die and turn to dust. Nothing more!
     Wow! I spouted off things I had learned through many years of sitting in church pews but honestly, I didn't have a clue as to where those truths were found in the Bible. My faith was challenged. Why did I believe what I believed? Was my faith real? I knew exactly when I first professed my faith in Christ but had I grown as a disciple of His? Not much. Why not?
     So I decided to attend a Bible study for one reason only…I wanted to know where I could find answers for my friend. Not that she was asking any questions! What I discovered led to radical transformation and a sacred romance. I was falling in love. I was obsessed with learning more about Jesus and His character. I could not get enough … sometimes enrolling in 3 Bible studies at one time. And as an avid reader, I read absolutely nothing secular for 5 years! I would read 2-3 books at one time. I talked non-stop about my discoveries. At one point, Keith said, "You have got to stop talking about this all the time!" Stab in my heart. So I stopped … for all of 30 minutes.
     And I made mistakes along the way. I quickly learned who my believing friends were and who were not. One friend briefly cut me off, telling me that her faith was "private." And I knew what she meant. I got it. I had been there. All I could do was cry out, "Lord, I pray that my passion is contagious, not offensive. Please stop me from turning people away from You. But God, please add even more fuel to the fire within."
     I began to identify with the woman at the well (John 4:4-42). I met Jesus while steeped in sin, realized that He knew me better than I knew myself and that regardless of my past, He still wanted to spend time with me. No condemnation! We had a spiritual discussion (through His Word)  and my world was rocked when He offered me "living water." My greatest desire became to be a "true worshiper who worships the Father in spirit and truth." I met the Messiah one-on-one, saw my sin and recognized how desperately I needed Him in my life. And then … I ran back to my world and began telling people of the Savior. Some would listen. Some would tolerate me. And some would turn their backs. It's ok. Same things happen to Jesus on a daily basis.
     I'm not the same woman I once was. And I am not the woman I want to be. But this I know... there is absolutely nothing that can or will every separate me from Jesus. I am His and He is mine! We have a great love story - one that will last for all of eternity. A sacred romance!