Month: January 2016 (page 2 of 2)

Reads of the Week | 01/16/2016

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Start your weekend with these five articles in the Reads of the Week.

My Real Life Hosea Story by Craig Keener

Keener shares the compelling story of his divorce. His experience gave him insight into the prophet of Hosea and God’s love for us.

Biblical Hospitality: What Happened When Our Christian Family Stopped Inviting Our Church Friends to Dinner by Sara Barton

Here’s just a little of a phenomenal reflection from Barton:

It’s like God wants us to follow all these breadcrumbs strewn throughout the Hebrew and Christian scriptures.

From manna in the wilderness to the last supper, we’re supposed understand God’s kind of table. Breaking bread, sharing life, building community across the boundaries humans erect, is a non-negotiable for God’s people.

Going Into the Dark Places of the Soul by Seth Haines

Haine’s article comes from an excerpt of his book Coming Clean. He steps into the darkness of our souls and pointing us to God at work.

Actor and Activist Tim Robbins on the Life-Changing Power of Empathy by David Zax

David Zax of Fast Company interviews Tim Robbins about his new movie, A Perfect Day. The film follows aid workers in the Balkans in 1995.

The Most-Edited Wikipedia Pages Over The Last 15 Years by Andrew Flowers and Carl Bialik

Wikipedia turns 15 today. Check out the most edited pages on this article.

What were your reads of the week? Share the links in the comment section below.

Photo credit by Aleksi Tappura.

I’m No Saint

Do you have a difficult time receiving admiration? Downplaying seems humble, but you have undercut a compliment. Saying thank you at times feels seems like we expected it. Part of the tension for us comes from how we view ourselves. Many of us have filled our minds with our sharp critiques. Hearing admiration from another halts the thoughts of ourselves.

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We use self-deprecating humor. Our ability to laugh at ourselves has an ounce of authenticity, but for many it acts as a defense mechanism. If I can put myself down before others, then they will not. It reveals how uncomfortable we are in our skin.

For some us, we live every day with the constant bombardment of knowing that we do not add up. Our imperfections gnaw at us. Rather than seeing the beauty and grace of the Gospel, we have the partial view of over recognizing our brokenness.

Paul in Ephesians 1:15-23 prayers over the readers. He calls them saints. Not a word just reserved for the spiritual giants or charismatic leaders, but for the ordinary people. Eugene Peterson in Practicing Resurrection says this about the passage:

If someone is taken by surprise by something admirable that we do and that person says, “You’re a saint,” our automatic response is “I’m no saint.” We protest, “If you knew me you would never say that.” But Paul is not deterred. “Yes, you are. Pay attention to what I am saying. I want to give you a new word for yourself, a word that defines you primarily in terms of who God is for you and God is doing in your life, a person who is growing up in Christ, a person who cannot be accurately identified apart from God’s intents and persistent attention: saint.” And so we do pay attention. Saint. Holy (pg. 78)

The Gospel in us declares, “You are a saint.” Not of the virtue of what you have done, but of what Christ has done for you. Misunderstanding the Gospel can result from not moving from seeing our brokenness to receiving Christ’s wholeness.

All of us have faults and foibles. You and I have a first-hand view of our areas of growth. When someone points out any goodness in you remember God calls you saint. Those words of affirmation point to the tangible presence of Christ in you. Rather than protesting it, let us realize how the Gospel changes our lives.

Sainthood moves from just seeing ourselves to seeing others. The grace we have received from Christ in our lives allows us to see His grace at work in others. Being a saint has nothing to do with us, but has everything to do with Christ with us.

In the midst of knowing the reality of our thoughts and actions, we may have come to believe the lie, “I’m no saint.” Paul reminds us of the Gospel at work in us, which Jesus calls us saint.

Photo credit by Chris Lawton.

Lowering the Shields

Does anyone enjoy criticism? You can temper it by labeling it feedback or evaluation. Maybe like me, you can sense the critique coming. A person pulls you aside and pauses before they say, “I need to tell you something…” Or the subject of an email says it all. Our minds recount potential mistakes we made anticipating what the person has to say to us. We wait for the other shoe to drop.

Saturday, I saw the new Star Wars. The captain of the ship in a flurry of people running to their posts and anxiety yells, “Turn up the shields…” Prepare for the attack.

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Some of us know this scene all too well. When the critique drops, everything inside of us powers up our shields. Outside we try to listen and engage the conversation while on the inside we frantically try to raise our shields to protect ourselves from the oncoming attack.

After the person has shared their criticism, we want to defend and debunk their argument. Perhaps, they share the truth of the 1% that needs improvement as opposed to the 99% that worked well. It can feel as though the feedback dismisses the work put into a project.

Negative words sound louder than compliments. They confirm our fears about ourselves. Now, someone has verbalized what we may realize. They notice our mistakes and imperfections.

You and I will hear criticism at some point. It could happen today or this week. Whether a person shares valuable feedback or not, the question we have to ask ourselves is, “How can I grow from hearing this?”

Lower the shield. What if instead of preparing for an attack, we prepared to listen? We might walk into receiving feedback with a few thoughts in mind:
Take a breath and slow down.
I can give this person the benefit of the doubt of having a motivation to help me.
These words might hurt temporally, but the truth could impact me to mature.
My reaction affects the relationship with this person.
God graciously brings us the feedback we need to hear.

When we learn how to receive criticism, it teaches us how to offer criticism in a helpful way people can hear. Lowering our shields values the truth, but also recognizes the pain of negative words no matter how helpful. We can learn to challenge our assumptions and the lies in our mind. In the end, receiving criticism well has the potential to cause growth and build trust with another person.

How can you lower you shield in receiving criticism today?

Photo credit by Michael Kulesza.

Reads of the Week | 01/09/2016

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Start your weekend with these five articles in the Reads of the Week.

How ‘The Ninth Configuration’ Argues For God’s Goodness by Nick Ripatrazone

The sequel to the ‘Exorcist’ delves into a complicated conversation about theology. Ripatrazone offers a helpful interpretation from this movie on the goodness of God.

How to Find Your True Purpose in Life by Tyler Huckabee

Huckabee dispels the lie that purpose equals career. He calls to process and find our a deeper and more significant purpose in knowing God.

Why the British Tell Better Children’s Stories by Colleen Gillard 

American literature gave children Pollyanna and the British gave Lord of the Rings. Gillard compares how the literature from these two nations have shaped the thinking of children.

How Ken Griffey Jr.’s Rise to the Hall of Fame Was Fated, but Not Easy by Ilan Mochari

Ken Griffey Jr. got elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame this week. He was the first number one draft pick to make the Hall of Fame, and he dealt with the expectations of his father’s baseball stardom. Mochari goes behind Griffey’s story in this piece.

Buzz Williams is a self-proclaimed underdog in the right place by John Feinstein

I consider John Feinstein one of the greatest sports writers of the generation. His exposé on Buzz Williams speaks to this coaches challenges and opportunities at Virgina Tech.

What were your reads of the week? Share the links in the comment section below.

Photo credit by Aleksi Tappura.

Acceptance

Do you remember the agony of waiting to get picked? You lined up in gym class wishing not to hear your name last. The work or school project when the leader calls your name with enjoyment rather than obligation. It happens on the road trips filling the vans. We hide in the background wanting the drivers and riders to invite us exuberantly with them.

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Getting picked indicates our sincere desire for acceptance. As adults, we still hope for the invitations. Not hearing our name still stings. Acceptance hangs in the balance of another’s decision of us.

Many of us work strenuously for it. We craft the perfect image of having everything together. We memorize our job resumes and accolades to add value. We rehearse our jokes to get the laugh. Sometimes, we even try to stand off in the background to play it cool. Often, we place unrealistic expectations by acts of kindness and giving gifts to maintain acceptance. Would anyone want us around if we could not benefit them?

Genuine acceptance cannot be earned, bought, or bargained. We cannot work to maintain it or defend it. Real acceptance results from grace from another. A person sees us authentically: the good, bad, and the ugly. And after seeing that, saying, “You are loved and cherished.”

John Lynch, Bruce McNicol, and Bill Thralll in The Cure discuss God’s acceptance of us in spite of our brokenness and sin. They make this observation:

…Any time I hurt another or make wrong choices, the home is not by attempting to cover up my failure through something I can do to pay God off. The home is not effort, not amends, not heroic promise. The way home is trusting what God paid to cleanse me

This life in Christ is not about what I can do to make myself worthy of His acceptance, but about daily trusting what He has done to make me worthy of His acceptance.

I wonder if we have lived most of our lives working towards acceptance that God has already given to us. Grace continuously reminds us of the Gospel. Out of Christ’s love for us we have experienced forgiveness and acceptance.

Each time we receive genuine acceptance from another or offer it to someone else, we extend what God has offered to us. The Gospel dispels any lie in us of maintaining or defending acceptance.

For those of us who struggle with acceptance, a few questions we can ask ourselves:
How do I try to earn acceptance from others?
What version of myself do I portray to gain acceptance?
How would my life change if I began to realize Christ’s acceptance in my life?
Who in my life genuinely accepts me as I am?

When we recognize the grace Christ offers from acceptance, we can then begin to experience life as He intended for us and in relationships with others.

Photo credit by Mayur Gala.

Faithfulness

How much happens without us realizing it? You can list the sun rising. Oxygen goes into our lungs. Electricity power our homes. Right now, our eyes process the words off this screen to our brain creating thoughts in a matter of seconds. It’s not that we don’t know these activities happen, rather we see these as commonplace or monotonous.

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New gives freshness. The romantic idea of starting energizes us. We find ourselves heading into mid-January. Some of us live in the winter reality where resolutions freeze. The change we so hoped to experience may have gone off track reverting to the old way of life.

Over and over again the Scriptures, Old and New Testament, express God’s faithfulness. Found in one of the most dismal book of the Bible, Lamentations, the author speaks of mercy coming “…new every morning…” (Lam. 2:22-24) Paul later teaches the Thessalonian church of about maturity saying of Jesus, “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.” (I Thes. 5:24)

Perhaps, somewhere we have lost a vision of faithfulness. The wonder of repetition gets lost. Our minds run a thousand thoughts a minute without the ability focus. People disappoint us. The characteristic of faithfulness seems archaic and old fashioned because we have never committed long enough to experience it.

G.K. Chesterton in Orthodoxy provides a glorious insight of God’s faithfulness in his book Orthodoxy. Just like a child who asks an adult in wonder to “Do it again,” Chesterton sees God repetition:

It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore.

Faithfulness brings us wonder. It starts with our view of Christ’s grace in our lives. We never graduate from understanding the Good News of the Gospel. Because of His faithfulness in coming to earth, His death, and resurrection, you and I can experience new life. The sunrise becomes a repetitive reminder of His work in our lives.

Genuine growth and change happen in our lives by responding to Christ’s faithfulness. It requires faith in Christ to engage Scripture, pray and live in community with others on a daily and weekly basis. The transformation happens at varying rates. Sometimes we radically experience it in a moment and often it seems mundane. We never actually understand this faithfulness until we look back.

Friendships form out of faithfulness. The people who matter the most in your life show up. Extending faithfulness to another points them to the reality of Christ’s grace. Sometimes it means saying “yes” to the extra mile when every feeling in you says “no.” The wonder of faithfulness happens because trust develops. Not in perfection, but rather trust that points all of us to how we can see Christ in our lives.

May we never lose the wonder of Christ’s faithfulness, so that we might recognize faithfulness all around us. Do not lose heart in the midst of change, growth, and maturity. Today, you have the opportunity experience faithfulness in your life with God, others, and yourself. “Do it again.”

What faithfulness will you experience today?

Photo by Tom Sodoge.

4 Questions Towards Authenticity

Authenticity brings tension. This quality can become a license for a person to say whatever comes to their mind. In reality, saying whatever you want may never get to the heart of the issue. On the other hand, authenticity takes time. Some use that fact as a way of prolonging getting known by others. We walk a tightrope in a community of people of not enough and too much.

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In my role, I receive the regular feedback that goes like this, “My friends or group don’t go deep enough. We remain on the surface level.” The desire of realness wells deep within us but getting there means becoming vulnerable. You and I want the right people who will not shame us in our weaknesses, accepts us where we are and challenge us to grow. If we face this, how much more can we understand others in this process?

The Apostle Paul makes a radical statement in Ephesians 4:15, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.”

Paul places truth and love hand in hand. The previous verses of this section speak of the reality of Christ in us. Followers of Christ experience His grace in growing maturity. That means authenticity comes out of the motivation of love and expresses the truth for the benefits others. Two seemingly contrasting actions brought together by Christ at work in us.

In a healthy community, we create safety, not comfort. Safety looks to create an environment for people to get challenged, but they feel protected. Comfort esteems keeping the status quo. Authenticity becomes as much about what people say as we leave unsaid. Saying versus not saying comes out of the wisdom of safety, not the hope of comfort.

Craig Groeschel speaks about authenticity in regards to social media in #Struggle. What he says here about taking off the veil and experiencing authenticity can extend outside social media and apply to our relationships with each other:

So yes, we should remove our veils, and tell the truth. But social media is not the place to bare all! Be yourself, but don’t feel like you have to share everything you’re feeling. Being authentic is not about being brutally honest and confrontational about everything on your mind. But by all means – at the right time, with the right people, and when you’re face to face – drop the veil completely. If you don’t, you’ll always be longing for something more (pg. 81)

As you look to experience authenticity and depth in your community, I would offer four questions to start the discussion:

1. How do I process my life?

Process means understanding actuality. Some of us run from that, so we distract ourselves or even stifle ourselves. Other’s of us vent out the problems of our lives too much. This question starts with prayer. Beginning with prayer allows to slow down in quietness first. Then we can look to journal or even find helpful ways to get perspective. The heart of this question attempts to understand how we respond to the positives and negatives of life in regards to ourselves in others.

2. What needs to be said and when does it need to be said?

We can vacillate between sharing too much and not enough. This question gets the motivation of the what and when. Sometimes you and I need space for people to listen to our frustrations. Other times we need to process on our own first and then speak. It works the same with others. Often, people want us to listen first and talk later. God’s grace gives us the wisdom to see the perspective of another so that we can create safety and build authenticity.

3. Who do I have permission to speak the truth in love?

Relationships take intentional investment. A person has to know that we love them and want the best for them before we speak the difficult truths. If we need to say the challenging truth, we need permission from the person receiving it.

4. Who has permission in my life to speak the truth in love?

A question like this acts as a litmus test. Many of us have no problem speaking the truth, but we have a difficult time receiving it. Authenticity forms when people feel that you can accept the challenging truth. We model this for each other and build trust.

How have you experienced authenticity in community? Share in the comment section below.

Photo credit by Martin Wessely.

Disagreeing, Debating, and Distractions

A friend turned to me, “You’re so disagreeable.” If I had any sense at that moment, I would have thought about how to respond. You cannot win by responding to that statement. I retorted quickly by saying, “No, I am not.” My response only proved his point causing my other friends to laugh.

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Some of us relish the role of devil’s advocate. The lively debate energizes us. To a certain extent having these discussions reflects a healthy community. On the other hand, disagreeing and debating can distract us. It can keep us from finding common ground and discussing what matters. Instead of a healthy exchange, the fight spirals into gridlock. No one changes along the way. Frustration forms in a relationship and hurt develops with each other.

I will never forget this conversation. It surfaces in my mind at moments when I want to disagree or look for a debate. Those moments when my mouth gets ahead of my thoughts. People hear us louder when we disagree with them. Often, others desire us to listen rather than go toe to toe on an issue. Wisdom asks this question; is it worth it?

Thomas à Kempis in the 1400s dealt with the distractions of debating and disagreeing. He said this in the Imitation of Christ:

If we were as diligent in uprooting vices and planting virtues as we are in debating abstruse questions, there would not be so many evils or scandals among us nor such laxity in monastic communities. Certainly, when Judgment Day comes we shall not be asked what books we have read, but what deeds we have done; we shall not be asked how well we have debated, but how devoutly we have lived.

Disagreeing and debating reflects on us. They distract us from looking into our lives. We can point other’s flaws or misunderstandings while not taking into consideration our own. Thomas à Kempis hints at the Gospel at work in our lives. Not looking to assert our pride or knowledge, but attempting to understand a person and what they need from us in a conversation. Learning to see others and situations from Jesus’ perspective.

Grace moves us to look into our hearts and motivations. Here are a few questions for us to ask ourselves when we want to disagree or debate:
Do people consider me a disagreeable person?
What’s at stake by me playing devil’s advocate?
Will this person hear my intent to help them?
Why am I looking for this debate?
How is disagreeing distracting me from own issues?
How can I join this person rather than stifle them?

Perhaps, our family, friends, and coworkers could use a little less of our disagreeing and debating. We have the opportunity to extend them grace from God by listening and encouraging them today. Lastly, let’s take the opportunity reflect on areas of our hearts where God would call us to grow, rather than giving into the distractions.

Photo credit by Martin Kníže.

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