Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Reaching Out

This is a blog post I've been literally carrying around on a couple of scraps of paper in my wallet for several months.  This seems a good time to finally get it out there.  Also....I always feel the need on some of my posts like this one to communicate to you clearly. Although I believe strongly in these principles and the profound potential that can be realized if we DO them, this does not mean that I have "arrived" at a place in which I practice them as consistently as I should. This is an encouragement to us ALL to recognize the constant opportunities we are given and an encouragement to seize these opportunities more and more regularly.  Otay, here we go.

Do you have a relationship that almost makes you wince with pain when you remember that you must interact with this person yet again?  Perhaps, it is a co-worker that has become the bane of your existence or a classmate that will be in the same class as you for what seems an eternity. Or maybe it is a family member that will be a part of your life going forward whether you like it or not.

Another possibility is that the tension or anxiety or negative whatever that you have is not necessarily localized in a single person.  Perhaps it is a group of people.  Maybe at your high school or college, there is a group of atheists that are particularly outspoken and have become aware of your faith.  Maybe you have become the target that they often engage trying to provoke or embarrass.  There are obviously political differences that can motivate these kinds of feelings.  There are cultural differences and religious differences. And on and on and on.  Rather than trying to conquer or be conquered....  Rather than trying to go the "invisibility" route of trying to go SO unnoticed that there never need be another confrontation or interaction.... I have another set of possible steps to try out.

1. Pray
    Take some time before you begin the next several steps and seek God's help both for yourself and them.

The following are not necessarily in any order and don't have to all be done all the time but can be mixed and matched as you see fit.

2. Speak first
    I have a close friend in Mobile, AL. We used to work together, and he told me once that he always gauged what someone was thinking or their general state of mind first thing in the morning when he passed them in the hall for the first time.  He said if they spoke to him and/or greeted him in any way, this meant they were in a good frame of mind and if not, he knew to stay away from them because they either were in a bad mood in general or had a problem with him specifically.  I couldn't help but laugh. When he asked me why I said, but what if the other person approaching you is thinking the exact same thing about you, and you both pass each other waiting for the other to speak first?  Anyhoo, such a small simple gesture as saying hello, how are you, what's up, etc. can really mean a lot when we initiate the contact sometimes.

3. Extend your hand for a handshake
   This is the physical equivalent of the above principle.  It shows you are not only initiating interaction but are willing to physically make contact.  Sounds so small, but people sometimes get ideas in their head that people don't want to touch them.  You never know who this is and sometimes the simple act of a smile, head nod, and a brief handshake can break that perception.

4. Do something kind for them
   Even simply offering to do something can sometimes be all it takes to communicate that you want this person to know you want to be a friend to them.

5. Share a funny story or personal experience with them
   Obviously, this is only if and when an opportunity arises and probably good to choose a "safe" funny story or personal experience until you get to know them a bit better or have a consistently good enough relationship with them.  This provides a shared experience with them.

6. Offer to share food or get them something to eat or drink
  This is sort of a subset of number 4 but food has a special place in this process.  This is especially true if you both eat or drink together.  It tends to create a more relaxed environment for you both to perhaps talk or not even to talk but to simply be in each other's presence and begin to see each other in a new light.

7. DON'T expect results
    Wait....what?  Perhaps this post has had a Zig Ziglar win friends and "influence" people feel to it.  I am not a fan.  Stay with me.  What I mean by don't expect results is not about being hopeful, but I want you to understand that this is not about doing this a few times in an attempt to manipulate a very basic short term outcome.  This is AT LEAST as much about allowing God to change us as it is about our actions being used to hopefully change others.  In other words, I believe the above actions/principles can become a way of life, and if we never or extremely rarely see fruits of it, we will still greatly benefit from it.  Let God have a greater control over who and when any actual noticed changes play out.

8. Pray
   Think of it like bookends.  We need to surround ourselves and these endeavors in prayer.  It is ultimately the power of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives that will bring about meaningful change in AND through us.

In 2 Kings 5, we find the story of Naaman the leper being healed.  He is an important figure in Syria, and when he encounters Elisha seeking instructions for healing, it is not what he is expecting.

"So Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stood at the door of Elisha's house. 10 And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.” 11 But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, “Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. 12 Are not Abana[c] and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage. 13 But his servants came near and said to him, “My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” 14 So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean."

I can't help but wonder sometimes if I have the same attitude towards so many of these simple little things I believe God shows me to do.  I pray that I will be willing to be obedient to Him whether it seems profound or simple to me.  I pray the same for you.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

I'm the baby

There are many lessons I didn't really even begin to understand about my walk with God until after I was married.  Many of these began specifically after Myndall and I had kids.  I want to share some of these.

Answers to prayer versus growth
One powerful moment was when my oldest, Ella, was just a few months old and she was just at the phase where she was learning to roll over and lift herself up by the strength of her own arms.  I distinctly remember lying next to her on the bed.  She was getting so frustrated. I knew exactly what she was trying to do, and I had the ability to make that happen for her by simply reaching down and rolling her over.  That would have been an "answer" to her request of me. She would have gotten what she wanted so, so badly. Here's one strange observation. It was not a matter of me NOT wanting her to roll over.  I also wanted her to do that.  I was basically cheering her on.  So, if that was the case why did I not simply roll her over and give her rest from her straining?  It was because I knew that she needed to develop her own strength to be able to do this.  Not only was this important for her in regards to being able to roll over, but with each new time that she rolled over on her own strength, it would inevitably put a crazy notion that perhaps she could even sit up on her own.  This would lead to the nutty thought that she might even be able to move from place to place on her own by crawling, etc., etc.  You get the idea.

God's Provision and Protection
Another aspect to the situation with Ella on the bed trying desperately to roll over as I simply watched is that even though it looks at a glance like I am callously allowing my daughter to strive and couldn't care less.  Let's look at it a bit more carefully.  First, as I have stated, she was struggling on a bed not a concrete floor.  The bed had clean sheets on it. She was wearing clean clothes as she struggled.  We were in a home that allowed her to struggle in a safety that she was not even old enough to understand the need for. This house had central heating and air conditioning which provided the optimal temperature to engage in rolling over exercises.  She was wearing a clean diaper recently changed by either myself or more likely her mother.  She was clean because she'd recently been given a bath. Downstairs there was a kitchen with food in it that she had been and would be fed when hungry.  Etc. Etc. get the idea.  In other words, the struggle she was undergoing while FROM HER POINT OF VIEW seemed overwhelming and frustrating was actually taking place within a very carefully controlled and protective environment designed to give her maximum opportunity to gain newfound rollover skills.

Hearing from God
Another angle to my walk with God has to do with hearing from God and how to think of that concept.  Just remember these are simply the ramblings of a trucker theologian.  Lord knows many think there should not even be such a thing allowed to exist, but, well, here we are.  We tend to think that we are simply not hearing from God because for whatever reason he is not speaking to us.  I want to be clear that God is in no way limited by OUR limitations; however, keeping with the spirit of the above rollover dilemma and God's apparent emphasis on growing OUR capacity, I submit the following thought.

What if the issue is something more like this?  When you speak to a baby, the baby knows that something meaningful is taking place even if and when it cannot truly "understand" you in the way we think of language and paragraphs and dictionaries.  Communication is SO much deeper than that, and upon reflection, this is self evident to us if we consider the last time we spoke to a baby.

I believe many would acknowledge that they have a sense of very basic moral struggles in various circumstances. You have something/someone seeking to teach you the morally right decisions to make if you are born again. There are probably also often times that you have a sense that you should be careful.  Perhaps there is a relationship that is not inherently wrong, but it seems like very possibly, it poses a danger to your walk with God. Also, there are times if you are a child of God that you probably sense that you have not been spending quality time with God in prayer, Bible, and Christian friends hanging out and being encouraged or challenged. Perhaps these three examples, the sensitivity of conscience, an alertness to danger, and a call to be in the presence of God and other believers is like the baby hearing its parent communicate.  Just because we don't hear words doesn't mean He isn't communicating with us.  Basically, what if the issue with how clearly and regularly we are or are not hearing from God is simply about how much we have embraced the notion that God wants us to grow.  Are we willing to let go of misguided notions of the Santa God?  Are we willing to truly pursue growth rather than flirt with bitterness when God doesn't give us what we ask for?    I'm embarrassed to say too often I'm the baby, and God is trying to get me to grow NOT because He is so harsh but BECAUSE he wants to have much more meaningful and clear interaction with me, but I need to get off my butt and trust Him as He pushes me to grow.  Strangely, the road to better communication with God the Father is the same as the baby's road to better communication with the father.  Keep talking and keep listening.  We will eventually understand more and will be able to talk with words that speak to the Father.  AND we will hear the words of the Father and more clearly understand them.  The bottom line is that the less we depend on our misguided notion of what should happen next in our growth, the better off we are. Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be thy name!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Other LGBT Community

This will be a brief post about something that has been on my mind for a bit.

First, let us define our terms.  I am referring to LGBT, gay, or lesbian as anyone who has same sex attraction as a prominent feature of their daily life.

There is a march that has long since been underway in our world and especially within our country to not only guard against mistreatment of gay and lesbian folk, but quite honestly, to shame any who would not whole heartedly embrace homosexual sex as being seen as simply an alternative to heterosexual sex.  This movement largely has taken place in secular environments of pop culture, legal settings, and studies within various scientific disciplines(genetics, brain function, etc.).

 However, it has also been and is being fought within the church.  It is not as though I argue for a strict separation between these two worlds.  They obviously overlap in all sorts of ways within our daily lives, but there are some extremely important distinctions that need to be made.

We, in the church, as I understand,are charged with, among other things, faithfully communicating to our generation the gospel and all that it entails.  The scriptures are generally viewed as being a primary,and for Protestants, THE primary source of authoritative information for us to acquire and faithfully communicate in regards to the gospel.  My "thing" that has been nagging at me is simply this.  Many within the church have taken it upon themselves to decide that homosexuality is not inherently sinful before God.  It is my belief that the vast majority do so in an effort to show that God is loving and is not seeking to condemn people who are struggling so intensely with deeply real and personal feelings and attractions that are many times unrelenting.  Let me quote Rosaria Butterfield Champagne here who says, "People of God, please know that you are not more merciful than God."
Who is she, and why should you care what she says about this?  She is currently a believer who is married to a Presbyterian minister.  She is also an author who has written among other things, Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert.  She WAS an English professor at Syracuse who was a radical feminist who had lived in committed lesbian relationships for many years prior to her rather unorthodox conversion story(shared in the book above).  I invoke her story not because she is the ONLY person allowed to speak about this issue.  I know that she is not.  However, her voice and those like hers are, I would argue, the MOST under represented voices within the current discussion about LGBT issues.  In other words, have you, Christian, ever considered that there are people within your own church or social group who are currently living with same sex attraction but have chosen not to make that known?  Have you considered that the reason they have not made it known is not because they are secretly engaging in homosexual sex and in homosexual relationships but BECAUSE they have those attractions and have determined that to remain faithful means to deny the fulfillment of these desires??  Have you considered that when you choose, in your mercy, to seek to affirm homosexuality as mentioned above, you are also impacting these fellow believers who have chosen to live their life based on their genuinely held convictions about truth rather than allowing their desires to be the ultimate deciding factor?  God is the most merciful being in the universe.  Perhaps we should spend more time squaring our understanding of that with his prohibition regarding homosexual sex.   Or perhaps you don't really believe that.  Perhaps you believe you are more merciful than God.  This is directed to those WITHIN the community professing belief in Christ.  I am also posting a link a video below that will make this point far better than  I am able to make it.   Thank you.

Please watch