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Breaking Bread

My Grandma grew up in New York City during the Great Depression. She developed a toughness in speaking her mind and defending what she considered right. Her life changed when she began to follow Jesus; radical grace complemented tough, gritty truth.

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The church I grew up attending had a special communion service. Fresh loaves of bread sat out in the front of the sanctuary. The pastor gave instructions to take the bread and find a person who you might have offended or needed to forgive. It became a tangible way for the church to practice forgiveness as Jesus taught.

On that particular night, Grandma approached the front. She took the loaf and turned to the pastor, “I have felt bothered and upset at you, and I would like to ask for forgiveness.” As they broke bread together, tears began to roll down their faces.

I have heard that story from my Grandma a dozen times. When she talks about that pastor, I can hear her admiration for him. It has become a powerful picture to me of forgiveness.

Consider the night that Jesus gave communion to His disciples. He broke bread with a man who would betray him. Another person would deny him. Almost all of them would abandon him. After Jesus had resurrected, he broke bread with these very same people for their reconciliation. The Savior, who taught on forgiveness, practice it to the people who hurt him.

The Gospel motivates us to break bread because Jesus has graciously broken bread for us. Breaking bread means putting aside our desire for revenge. It moves us from bitterness to compassion. And in a simple act of eating to stay alive, we come to see that we all need grace from our Savior.

Imagine a community of people who sought reconciliation instead constant bickering. People would see the love of Christ at dinner tables and perhaps the literal act of breaking bread like my Grandma. Sometimes before our tough conversations, we simply need a meal together.

Who has God called you to break bread with today? Maybe, you can take the first step of reconciliation like what Jesus has done for you.

Photo credit by Mike Kenneally.

Bridge Building & Wall Building

Embrace your critics. You may have heard several iterations of this axiom from books, articles, and speakers. We desire to grow in how we interact with difficult people, our opposites, and even enemies. Then the conflict comes, or the blunt feedback hits us from them. Rather than looking to embrace, it seems easier to exclude.

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You and I have a choice when we come to these relationships, will we build bridges or walls?

No matter what the current best practice resources say, our natural tendency can desire to shut these people out of our lives or ready ourselves for an unhelpful argument. In the moment, we want to take revenge or find justice. Rarely does this help in the long run.

Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount says in Matthew 5:44, “…But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” You may have heard this verse a thousand times, but take a moment to consider it with fresh eyes.

The audience listening to Jesus’ teaching faced the injustice of the Roman government, especially taxation. In the previous verses, Jesus calls them not to retaliate and go the extra mile (Matt. 5:38-42). Not an easy task in the midst of mistreatment. Jesus called these people run against their natural tendency of building walls and build bridges towards other people.

Not only did Jesus teach this verse, but He lived it out. His death and resurrection provided us grace as a bridge to Him. That’s the Gospel, the Good News.

So when we face the critics, difficult people, and even enemies, how can we build bridges rather than following our natural tendency to build walls? Here are three ideas.

1. Wall building assumes the worst. Bridge building assumes the best.

Conflicts can result from us placing assumptions on other people. We think that they are out to get us, or they intentionally want to thwart us. At times, it can happen. Many times people have acted with positive intentions that they did not mean to affect us negatively. Looking to assume the best of a person allows us to see their perspective and then have a dialogue to share our perspective.

2. Wall building focuses on disagreements. Bridge building finds common ground.

People have different beliefs, convictions, and personalities. Before we go on in an argument, find the common ground. What areas can we agree? Starting from this place can encourage reconciliation and a mutual resolution.

3. Wall building pleads a case. Bridge building seeks personal blind spots.

When we plead our case, it becomes an us verse them. You and I will vent to others hoping they agree with us while continuing to increase the distance from the other person. Building bridges means asking, what do I not see about myself? We can begin to pray seeking God’s help see our motivations of our hearts.

You might find yourself in the midst of a challenging relationship. Consider the example Jesus and ask Him for wisdom. Find a trusted friend to help you recognize your blind spots.

What other ways can you build bridges instead of walls in your relationships?

Photo credit by Dan Gribbin.

Comfortably Uncomfortable

What seasons of your life have you experienced the most growth? I had graduated from college and embarked on a journey to Springfield, MO. My brother and sister-in-law had graciously provided me a place to stay as I began graduate school. Flying out on New Year’s Day, I had an idealistic view of hitting the ground running.

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The first few weeks did not go as planned. It took more time to get connected to a community than I thought. The job search ended with me at a school cafeteria and catering service. I found myself wandering and at times floundering asking God, “Why am I here?”

Comfort comes in various forms and fashions. Some find comfort in control, the ability to create predictable circumstances. Others tend to see comfort in equilibrium, situations and relationships at peace without any conflict. Each of us has our definition and image this kind of security and exportability.

Most of our growth comes in seasons of uncomfortableness. Those moments when we have to work towards a resolution to a conflict. It arrives in the midst of the unexpected changes and unforeseeable detours to our plans. We look for every way out finding no escape only to look back to see the grace of God transforming our hearts and lives.

Following the first few weeks in Springfield went from uncomfortable to comfortably uncomfortable. In that time, I started to connect with friends and embraced the opportunities. Christ began to humble my heart. The transformation that needed to occur needed to happen within me. Not the ideal vision I had thought, but the exact season I needed to mature.

Tod Bolsinger in Canoeing the Mountains makes a compelling insight about leadership, but also applies to each of us personally as we follow Christ:

The art of leadership is helping the system override the instinct of self-preservation and replace it with a new organizational instinct to be curious about and open to the terrifying discomfort of asking, Could God be up to something?

Our default responses to uncomfortable predicaments range from fight, flight, dismissiveness, stubbornness, and often blame shifting. What we might find is growth that would never occur unless we got outside of our comfort zones.

Today, I hope you can embrace the comfortably uncomfortable. The next time we face one of these moments or seasons we can ask the question, “Could God be up to something?”

In what uncomfortable season have you experienced growth? How might God cause growth in your life during a current uncomfortable moment?

Photo credit by Jared Erondu.

The Imaginative Gospel

I sat across from two friends at coffee. We updated each other on our lives and current reading list. The conversation began to turn towards how people grow. He reached for his coffee cup and made a powerful observation about following Jesus.

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He said to both of us, “We tell people what not to do, rather than giving them the imagination of what life in Christ could look like.”

We can become fixated of what we need to stop or quit. Dallas Willard in the Divine Conspiracy called this the “Gospel of Sin-Management.” This gospel lives in the present without the future vision of how Christ’s grace transforms our lives. It becomes our constant anxiety of checking out lists and earning God’s grace.

The Gospel gives us the optimistic imagination for growth. God’s grace causes us to see His presence at work in us. He invites us to have a vision for our lives in His likeness and loving people as He has.

When Jesus encounters people in Scripture, He sees the reality of who they are and who they can become through believing in Him.
Peter, despite his faults and failure, receives a vision from Jesus to shepherd God’s people (John 21).
The woman at the well moves past her reputation in Samaria to communicating to people a vision of Christ’s grace (John 4).
The woman caught in adultery moves from experiencing shame to the radical acceptance of Jesus (John 8:1-11)

The Good News of Jesus Christ gives us the reality of our need for a Savior, but also provides us a vision of life-change through His grace…
Worry can transform into faith in Christ.
Judging others can turn towards compassion.
Shame gets exchanged for the radical acceptance of a Savior.
Materialism and greed can be swapped for contentment.

The list could go further. The question for you is where has Christ given you imagination for life-change? What one area might He call you to have a radical vision for His grace?

Ask God about these questions. Then share it a with a trusted friend. Grace grows our imagination with the assumption of God at work in our lives.

Imagination and faith are the same thing, giving substance to our hopes and reality to the unseen – Bishop John V. Taylor

Photo credit by Kamesh Vedula.

Forgiveness | Guest Post by Scott Savage

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Today’s guest post comes Scott Savage. He serves as a Teaching Pastor at North Phoenix Baptist Church. His family includes his wife Danalyn and three toddlers. I met Scott last summer at a family get together, because our wives are cousins. You can follow his blog at http://www.scottsavagelive.com/.

Have you ever watched anything on the Animal Planet channel? You know, one of those scenes where a pack of lions attacks

I saw a similar scene one day when I was looking for new jeans. I drove to a shopping center near my apartment in Central Phoenix. The strip mall houses a Last Chance store. Last Chance is an outlet for Nordstroms, a high-end department store. Nordstroms sends their unsold goods to a few Last Chance stores around the United States, where one can find high-end garments at ridiculously low prices. Items you’d pay $100 or more for in Nordstroms, you can pick up for $15 or $20. I read a newspaper article a couple of years ago about Last Chance customers who make tens of thousands of dollars each year buying items at Last Chance and reselling them online.

Purses are popular items to flip, but shoes and suits can be steals too. My wife refuses to shop there – the tightness of the racks and the crowds of people stress her out. I love going – to people watch as much as to hunt for deals.

On the visit I mentioned earlier, I had a remarkable experience. As I came down the escalator, I saw a group of women descend on a recently opened stash of Coach brand purses. They were like the pack of lions I witnessed on Animal Planet. Where was Morgan Freeman to give commentary? Soon security intervened between the two women.

The reaction of the women reminds me of the way we often respond to the idea of forgiveness. Several years ago, I led a teaching series on forgiveness as a college pastor. I felt like it was a relevant topic, but I didn’t expect it to be such a divisive one too. If you had observed the discussion which followed my talk, you would’ve thought I had suggested the world was flat. The feedback was intense!

I had been working with many of these students for years. I thought I knew them, many of them were mellow, even reserved in group discussion. However, suggesting they forgive the people who wounded them seemed unreasonable. I learned a lot from that teaching series and discussion group. I’ve been studying human responses to forgiveness ever since.

One of my takeaways from my study has been nearly everyone has someone they’re struggling to forgive. Almost all of us have hangups about forgiveness. In first discussion session with my students, Matt couldn’t stomach forgiveness because he felt like he had to forget the wrongs done to him. Elizabeth felt it was a lot more complicated than just deciding to say, “I forgive you.” She had said those words but still felt like she hadn’t truly forgiven the other person. Michael couldn’t imagine reconciling with a girl who hurt him. Therefore, he couldn’t forgive her because he saw them as inseparable.

How about you? Do you have someone you’re struggling to forgive?

I believe one of our greatest stumbling blocks to true forgiveness are the myths we believe. Matt, Elizabeth, and Michael struggled to forgive because they believed myths about forgiveness. They said, “if this is what forgiveness means, then I cannot forgive.” If I had a time machine and could go back in time, I’d respond differently to them. I would say, “if that’s what forgiveness means, I wouldn’t forgive either. But I think you misunderstand forgiveness.”

If you’re struggling to forgive, I wonder what your stumbling blocks are. Why can’t you get over the hump? I’m curious if a forgiveness myth stands in your way, as it did for my students.

Over the last couple years, I began assembling a list of forgiveness myths I heard from people. The list now includes ten myths which have kept people I love from discovering the freedom of forgiveness. I believe the tragedy of unforgiveness is that we end up missing out while those who hurt us move in with their lives.

Anne Lammott, a writer, once said, “Refusing to forgive is like drinking rat poison and expecting the rat to die.” Unforgiveness is toxic, for us not for those who wounded us.

I wrote my new ebook, Forgiveness: From Myth to Reality, for all the people I’ve talked to since that original college discussion group. I don’t want any of us to miss out on the freedom we can discover when we forgive. What a tragedy it would be if we avoided forgiveness only to find we were avoiding a myth, not the real thing!

As a thank you to Peter for allowing me to share on his site, I’d like to give you a free copy of Forgiveness: From Myth to Reality. Click here to get your free copy. My prayer is you’ll unearth the myths you’ve been duped into believing and discover the reality of true forgiveness. You deserve the freedom which comes when you forgive.

Photo credit by m0851.

When Conflicts Turn

Gridlock materializes in conflict when two parties cannot find common ground. People stubbornly stand in their spot or even move farther apart. Often, seemingly unassuming issues become enormous challenges because people cannot make progress towards each other in a disagreement.

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As I look back at the conflicts in my life, I notice a reoccurring theme. Conflicts turned the moment I moved from rationalizing my rightness of position to moving towards understanding the other person. It took stepping into their perspective and relinquishing a need to defend my point of view.

90% of conflict is understanding the other person, and 10% is about being right and wrong.

In the heat of the argument, we want validation of our correctness. Two immovable people in the midst of a disagreement trying to find a resolution results in gridlock. Both vying to win the debate as opposed to finding common ground.

How can we turn conflict from being right and wrong to understanding each other? Here are a few ideas to consider.

1. Listen without Interruptions.

Nothing raises the level of contention than not letting a person finish their thought. You can see the escalation of frustrations like presidential candidates raising their voices for airtime in a debate. Listening can calm a situation. It allows a person to speak their mind. Then they can sense the value of you attempting to understand.

2. Play it back.

A phrase I often hear from my wife and appreciate her saying is, “So what I think I hear you saying is…” That means you have not only listened to the information, but you have processed what a person said into understanding. You have attempted to play back what they have told you.

3. Stop using “But.”

The word “but” negates. You can play back everything to a person, then using “but” signals your view is coming. We know the feeling of hearing an apology with, “I’m sorry, but…” Instead, wait to interject your perspective until the person has felt heard.

4. Use patience.

We want to resolve conflict quickly, but it may take more time than you think. In understanding the person, you may want to take the time to respond with your perspective. A person just sharing their frustration might not be ready to hear the other side. Pray with each other asking for God’s help. Then set up a follow-up time.

The way we handle conflict reveals to how we understand the Gospel in our lives and grace of Jesus. Consider 1 Peter 3:8-9:

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.

How have you learned to turn conflict by understanding the other person? Share in the comment section below.

Photo credit by Tomohiko Nogi.

Acts of Hope

Hope has become commercialized. Politicians peddle it during the election cycles. The endless amount of advertisers sells us on it. Sport’s franchises have asked fans to buy into the rebuilding process. Commercialized hope can lead us to cynicism and disappointment, making promises for today without any accountability for tomorrow.

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Genuine hope moves us from passivity to action. Hope harmonizes the present with the future. What we believe about tomorrow leads us to how we respond today.

Eugene Peterson speaks of hope in Run with the Horses:

All acts of hope expose themselves to ridicule because they seem impractical, failing to conform to visible reality. But in fact, they are the reality that is being constructed but is not yet visible. Hope commits us to actions that connect with God’s promises (pg. 174)

How do we live with hope? Later on, Peterson talks about it becoming “Really Practical.” A coworker once coined the term, the nauseating details. I think this fits for hope because we get to the nitty-gritty of today by God’s promises for the future rather than a mere pie in the sky view.

Practical acts of hope look like this…
Planting because Christ causes growth.
Working with our best effort today at our tasks because Christ sees.
Praying for our enemies and those who hurt us because Christ heals.
Seeking reconciliation and forgiveness because Christ restores.
Showing up, because Christ is already present.
Engaging Scripture because Christ speaks.

The list could go on, but most often acts of hope seem extremely ordinary. Those practices that we can dismiss, but they come back to our minds. They reflect a belief in God’s promises. When we live with genuine hope, we ultimately experience God’s grace today.

What acts of hope has God called you to fulfill today?

Photo credit by Clack Street Mercantile.

Rough Edges

Certain relationships change us. These friends, family members, significant others, and coworkers cause us to have perspective. In a merciful way, they tell us the truth that few will while still encouraging us. By observing how they relate to us, we become better at relating to others. They help us smooth out our rough edges.

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The rough edges represent the areas of our lives that Christ’s grace has work to smooth. The times we want to get even rather than forgiveness. It becomes present at our stubbornness. In conversation, we try to win the argument as opposed to hearing what the other person.

Rough edges remind us of the tension we live in of the old self and new self. Seeing the characteristics of Christ in us; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and self-control. Recognizing the work God still has to do in us.

So He brings people into our lives to speak the truth in love. Scripture invites to reflect on our hearts and actions. In the midst of prayer, taking the time to confess to God and even others those areas where we have fallen short.

My wife Robyn has become a person who has helped me smooth the rough edges in my life. Over the years, I have noticed the small transformations from her influence; moving from interrupting to listening, seeing conflicts from both sides, and responding with kindness rather than reacting in frustration.

Allowing God to smooth the rough edges means having more attentiveness to our lives. Seeing how people relate to us and observing how we handle challenges. Then His grace motivates us to change.

It feels like the tedious work of sanding or buffing. Gradually, our rough edges become the places where people experience Christ’s presence.

What rough edges in your life will God’s grace have to smooth? Who has God placed in your life to help you grow?

Photo credit by Mike Kenneally.

Longsuffering

Growing up, I had the challenge of memorizing from the King James Version (KJV). The Old English full of “thees” and “thous” would stump my recitation. Imagine a grade school student struggling through Shakespeare like verbiage.

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One word made a little more sense to me as a kid in the KJV rather than the modern language; longsuffering. It described the prolonged amount of waiting adults asked of me. It looked like putting up with the annoyances of friends and siblings.

The KJV uses it on the list of the Fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22 and Ephesians 4:2 uses it to describe our relationship with each other. Longsuffering relates to patience, tolerance, and forbearance for one another. Ultimately, it describes how God has given us grace.

We can become apt to want to change people. We critique without tact. Our impatience with others happens more than we would like to believe. Rather than responding in love, we react with frustration and anger. We can get fixated on other’s faults.

Longsuffering brings us to the Gospel. Christ has given us grace through his life, death, and resurrection. He calls us to extend the love He has given us to others. He loves us as we are and not a future version of ourselves.

In community, you and I experience the best and worst of each other. Every once in a while, we need to step back to ask Christ to give us the grace to see others as He sees them. Then we can begin to move towards longsuffering by…
Recognize how Christ’s presence in their lives.
Consider their gifts and strengths.
Support and celebrate when they take steps of growth.
Listen more without too quickly offering feedback.

As an adult, longsuffering has become less about my burden of patience and more about the realization of Christ’s grace given to me and extending it to others.

Who has Christ called you to act with longsuffering? How can you offer them grace that He has extended to you?

Photo credit by Samantha Sophia.

A Prayer for Holy Saturday

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Holy Saturday rests in the in between.
Good Friday reflects on Your sacrifice.
Easter celebrates Your resurrection.
We find ourselves on this day looking backwards and looking forward.
Yet, there’s a grace about this day.

Many of us will spend this day planning and preparing.
The small plastic eggs will get filled and hidden around the house.
We set the tables and check the items off the grocery list.
Final emails, texts, and phone calls communicate the details of Easter Sunday.

Today reminds us of the silence.
The tomb remained guarded, and the stone covered the entrance.
You taught your disciples about trust and dependence.
They had to wrestle with the reality of your Words.
It’s in the solitude of the in between that we experience Your grace.

We fill most our lives with noise and activities.
Stopping and reflecting has become inconvenient.
You invite us to wait in the quietness.
Grace means learning to be still and knowing You are God.

We continue to say, “Sunday’s coming…”
But we also recognize Your presence in the in between.
May today help us grasp a deeper understanding of our dependence on You.
Holy Saturday teaches us to trust You when we cannot tell how You are at work.
Help us not rush this day, but experience Your grace.

Photo credit by Annie Spratt.

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