Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Genuine Concern

Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to hear Joni Erickson Tada speak at a conference.  In 1967, at the age of 17, Joni dove into the Chesapeake Bay but she misjudged the shallowness of the water.  This resulted in a fracture between her fourth and fifth cervical vertebrae, which left her paralyzed from the shoulders down.  After two years of rehabilitation, she emerged with new skills and a fresh determination to help others in similar situations.  Since 1969, she has become a best-selling author, painter, and advocate for those with disabilities.  She has also founded an organization called Joni and Friends, which helps those with disabilities and their families in countless ways.

Listening to Joni speak was incredibly moving for me.  The joy she demonstrates in the midst of her struggle is very powerful.  But, I really think it was her husband Ken who had the greatest impact on me … and he didn’t even say a word.  You see, there were several times while Joni was speaking that she needed help.  Once her bracelet got caught on her sweater.  Even though she does not have use of her hands, she is able to move her arms up and down.  Since the bracelet was caught on her sweater, every time she moved her arms, her sweater would rise up.  Joni didn’t even notice this was happening, but her husband Ken did.  Unprompted, he came from back stage and unhooked the bracelet from the sweater.

The next night, Joni was speaking and she needed help clearing her throat.  She called for Ken, who came from back stage and began to help her clear her throat for approximately one minute by pushing on her stomach with his arm. 

Those were only two examples of how he cared for Joni and he did those things with grace and gentleness.  I do not even know this man, but watching him serve his wife in these ways showed me a whole lot about who he is … and he didn’t even say a word. 

In Philippians 2, the Apostle Paul talks of Timothy and he describes him by saying, “I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare.” (Philippians 2:20) I am sure that Joni would say something similar about Ken:  “I have no one like him … someone so willing to walk side by side with me and who is genuinely concerned for my well being.”

As I read Philippians 2 again this morning, I was really challenged by Timothy’s example.  As Paul continued to write about Timothy, he said that he really does not have anyone like him.  Everyone else seems to be concerned about their own interests and not those of Jesus Christ.  (Philippians 2:21)  But, Timothy seems to keep his eyes focused on Jesus and he leans in to what can help him know Jesus in a deeper way.  This appears to fuel his “genuine concern” for others.  

The more I see Jesus, the more compassion I will have toward those around me.  Looking toward Jesus helps me remember that the people around me have souls … that the family who has just had a baby may be feeling overwhelmed.  Because Jesus is concerned about this, I want to show that I am as well.  Looking toward Jesus help me remember that my barista at Starbucks isn’t just there to get my coffee.  He/She has a soul and because Jesus is concerned about their soul, I want to be concerned about it as well.  Looking toward Jesus will help remind me that the person sitting alone at church has a soul and because Jesus is concerned about this person feeling lonely, I want to be concerned about it as well.  Looking toward Jesus will help remind me that the parents of a child with a disability may need a break in order to feel refreshed.  Because Jesus is concerned about the weariness they may feel, I want to be concerned about it as well. The more I look toward Jesus, the softer my heart becomes for those around me.  But, I think the opposite of that is true as well … the more I look toward my own interests, the harder my heart becomes toward those around me and the less genuine concern I will have.

If you were sitting next to me right now you would have just heard me "sigh."  My eyes drift so easily toward unimportant things and toward my own self-interests.  It’s true for so many of us. I long to remember the words Paul wrote to Timothy: “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 2:1)  The desire I have for myself and for followers of Jesus everywhere is to see our affections continually stirred toward Jesus … to live in awe of who He is and the grace He has shown.  As that happens, a genuine care and concern for others will follow and we’ll find ourselves moved to help and shining as lights in the world (Philippians 2:15). 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Draw Me, Lord

Draw me into you, Lord
Rough me in and draw me
Sketch me and erase me
Sketch me and erase me
Trace me positive in negative space
By shades and shadows
A light design
Then fling me out
Across your page
Bold strokes for service
‘Til they see
Your face in mine
Draw me, Lord

by Nan Powlison

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Locker Room Talk

First things first: this is not a political post.  After the most recent debate, I think I’ve had enough of politics to for a while.  This is a post, however, about “locker room talk,” something we’ve heard much about over the past several days. 

To objectify a woman … to reduce her to an object for sexual gratification … to use power, position, or authority in any way to take advantage a woman … to demean a woman with words, thoughts, or actions … to be caught saying something horrific behind someone’s back … to lie … it’s all wrong.  It’s selfish. It’s repulsive.  It’s sin.  And it’s, at times, what I have done.

You see, if I’m being honest, there have been times in my life when I have looked at women with lust.   Any time I have done so, I have reduced a woman to an object.  Lust dehumanizes.  It objectifies.  It takes someone made in the image of God and reduces that person to an image for sexual gratification.  My heart breaks over the fact that there have been times when I have done this in my life. 

If I’m being honest, there have been times when I have talked very badly about people behind their back.  I’ve made fun of people.  I’ve gossiped.  I’ve allowed my anger to get the best of me.  I’ve used my words to beat up another person and they didn’t even know it. I grieve over the fact that the reason those types of things have come out of my mouth is because those types of things were finding a home in my heart. 

The words of Donald Trump horrified me and yet they also reminded me that there have been many things that I have thought or many things that I have said that would cause me great shame if they were ever brought in to the open.  I think we all have a tendency to “hide.”  That goes all the way back to the beginning. Genesis 2 tells us that Adam and Eve were in perfect relationship with each other and with God … they were both naked and they felt no shame. But, then in Genesis 3 we see sin and brokenness enter our world.  Their private world had now become public and, both Adam and Even immediately hid. As God searched for them in the Garden, He called out “Where are you?”  Adam answered “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”  Exposure created a sense of fear.  And, where fear is found, shame is not far behind.

So, we keep our sinful thoughts hidden.  We keep our sinful words private.  We keep our deepest fears secret.   It’s easy to think that as long as those things are not public, we’re OK.  But, the truth is that our sinful thoughts, our sinful words, our deepest fears … they’ve all been made public on the cross.  You see, the cross just points out what nobody likes to admit it … the fact that you and I don’t have it all together.  There are times I find myself thinking things I know are absolutely wrong … there are times I find myself saying things that are absolutely sin … there are times I find myself doing things that I wish I didn’t do.  Now, I can deny it, but reality will eventually catch up with me.  I can try to hide it by comparing myself to someone else who is worse and say, “Well, I’m certainly not perfect, but at least I’m not THAT bad.”  But, that doesn’t deny the fact that there is probably someone else out there who is “better” than I am and maybe they are comparing themselves to me and feeling pretty darn good about themselves!  Or, I can admit my need for grace.  What leads us to freedom and transformation is the ongoing reminder of our need for grace.  I can hide my struggles, but when I do I hide from grace.

I know I’m not alone in this.  In Romans 7:15 – 19 and 24, the Apostle Paul wrote, “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it.  Instead, I do what I hate. But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.  And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t.  I want to do what is good, but I don’t.  I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.” 

The freedom Jesus offers is the freedom to stop pretending we are anything but a sinner in need of a Savior. In other words, when I trust in Jesus’ accomplishment and not my own, Jesus’ strength and not my own, Jesus’ track record, not my own … my lustful thoughts, my sinful words, my selfish actions aren’t just outed, they’re forgiven. This is grace.

So, as horrified and offended as I was by the words of Donald Trump, I was reminded once again of the grace I have been shown and my heart is overwhelmed with gratitude.  I am not guiltless, but I’m no longer guilty. Thank You, Jesus!

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Help She Didn't Need

A few years ago I shared some amazing advice with my wife … and it was exactly what she DIDN’T need from me at the time.  Without going in to all of the specifics, the advice I shared with her was more for me than it was for her.  You see, she was sharing something painful and I do not like to see my wife in pain.  When my wife hurts emotionally, I hurt.  I feel uncomfortable.  I feel helpless.  I feel angry.  So, as she was sharing her difficulty, I turned it in to a situation that became more about me than about her.  Because I didn’t want to feel what she was feeling, I immediately went in to “fix it” mode.  In essence I was saying, “If you just do what I’m telling you to do, then everything will be fine and you won’t be hurting and by you, I mean me I won’t be hurting.  So, just start feeling better about yourself so I can start feeling better about myself.” 

Yes, I was trying to love my wife, but it was in a way that was best for me and not best for her.  What she needed from me at that point in time was someone to listen  … someone to sit in the hurt with her … someone to simply say, “I’m not even sure what to do right now, but I’m willing to sit here with you even if we never figure out what to do.”  Instead I was unwilling to enter her world right then because doing so would have meant I would have had to experience some hurt as well.  I didn’t want that and it hindered me from loving her well in that moment.  Although loving her well is exactly what I long to do as a husband, I don’t always get that right. 

In Philippians 1:9, the Apostle Paul prays a specific prayer for the people of the Philippian church.  He says, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more.”  Now, I’m all for that.  It sounds so nice and helpful.  I want to be a loving person and I’m all for love abounding more and more.  But, Paul goes on to say, “with knowledge and all discernment.”  Wait a minute.  You mean I can’t just love?  I have to know and discern HOW to love?  I can’t just love in the way I want to love or in the way that is most convenient for me?  That changes things a bit.

Love is rarely convenient and to truly love will mean I don’t always receive what I want and certainly do not always do what I want.  Basically what Paul is praying is that God would help them to be able to look at the people around them and to be able to know and discern what their real needs are and to love them in the ways they most need to be loved in that moment. This is much easier said than done … which is why we pray. 

I find myself very willing to enter the life of another on my terms.  I’ll give what I want to give or love how I want to love.  But, doing that is like giving a thirsty person a piece of chocolate.  Chocolate is good.  It’s actually my favorite type of candy.  And, I can feel good about myself for giving them something, especially if that something is really sweet.  But, chocolate … even really good chocolate … is not what a thirsty person needs in their moment of thirst. 

So, one way we can partner with each other is by asking God to not just help us love but to help us know how to best love those He has placed and will place in our lives.  What do they need most in the moment?  What do they need most moving forward?  What will help them to best recognize the grace of God working in their lives?  Sometimes what a person needs most is a listening ear and other times it’s a gentle (or maybe not so gentle) rebuke.  Sometimes what they need is a helping hand and other times it’s a willingness to step back and watch them learn how to work through a struggle on their own.  Life is complex … people even more so.  This means there is no “one size fits all” way to help people and enter their lives.  We need help from God to know and discern how He best wants to use us in the lives of others. 

Jesus, you say that our love for one another will prove to the world that we are Your disciples. (John 13:35)  Knowing that, I pray that Your love would overwhelm me more and more each day so that my love for others would overflow more and more.  Help me to know and see and discern the best way to love those you have placed and will place in my life. Holy Spirit, empower me to love beyond my own capabilities and give power that enables me live a life that is pure and blameless.  Amen. 

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