Tag: Friendship (page 1 of 2)

Meeting New People in Church

You have a choice. The Sunday morning routine begins. You find yourself in the same seat of your section. Next thing you know, a person who you have not met sits next to you. The internal questions begin to race through your mind. Should I say hello? Will I scare them off? What if I say something weird? How will they respond?

The choice comes down to greeting or letting them move on quietly. What choice do you usually make?

This situation can conjure up a host of emotions like fear and anxiety. Your response can result from having an extroverted or introverted personality.

Consider the role reversal. Whenever any of us walks into a new space, we hope someone will take the risk of meeting us. It alleviates a little of our anxiety and can help us get to know other people. This situation full of unknowns becomes more known.

Acknowledging the presence of a new person speaks volumes to what you believe about the Gospel. We welcome people warmly because Jesus has done the same for us. When you take the time to meet a person, you communicate their value as one created in the Image of God.

The next time you encounter a new person, rather than letting fear and anxiety keep you from meeting them, consider these steps:

1. Introduce Yourself and Find Out Their Name.

The first step can take the most courage. Take the time to not only find out their name, but remember it. You may want to use it two-three times in the conversation to help you remember it. You taking this first step helps a person feel noticed.

2. Ask Questions and Listen.

Once the introduction ends, carrying the conversation can become difficult. Start by asking, “Where are you from?” Most times that question will open the door to get to know a person. Then you can move to the question, “How did you find out about the church?” You might find similarity in your story. Most importantly, listen to what they say. You validate people by giving them the space to share their story.

3. Watch for Cues.

Most conversations happen before or after a worship gathering. If the gathering begins, be cognizant of a person wanting to get to service on time. At the end of service, a person may have to pick up their kids or go to another event.

A couple of cues to end a conversation: checking their phone, nervous tapping, looking around, and mentioning they need to go. Cues for staying in conversation includes eye contact, positive flow of conversation, and a relaxed posture.

4. Avoid the Pass Off.

You know the feeling of getting your phone call transferred. Sometimes in our exuberance to help someone connect at church, we immediately want to introduce them to other people. Remember how participating in a new setting can become overwhelming. You are a living human being talking to another living human being.

If a person has a specific question and they want the answer, then that would be an appropriate time to connect with a church leader. Recognize the next steps the person wants to take. Often, they want to start by getting to know a few people before taking a next step.

5. Invite follow up.

When you end the conversation, offer to exchange emails. Making a connection can make the difference between coming back to a church the following week – or not. People feel welcomed when you follow up with them. It speaks volumes to them feeling important if a person takes the time to make themselves available.

Also, invite them to events at the church. Think of the groups, classes, or gatherings that could be a good fit for them.

The time you take on Sunday to meet new people communicates far more than you can ever realize. Jesus not just saw people, but He welcomed them. He calls us to do the same.

How have you helped people feel welcomed at church?

Photo by Nina Strehl.

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.

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.

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.

Jesus’ Prayer in Pain

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There’s no easy answer to the question of pain. Logically, we try to rationalize coming out better on the other side. Our feelings can make us only focus on the present and how much the current season hurts. Each of us walks with a degree of pain looking for hope.

Grief can hit us in waves of what once was.
Disappointment arrives daily in minuscule and enormous ways.
Rejection appears in the least expected moments and from those closest to us.
We feel the criticism, betrayals, and the daily exhaustion of life.

Pain leads us to ask, Where is God in all of this?  Seth Haines in Coming Clean reflects on Jesus’s prayer in the midst of pain.

I consider Jesus in Gethsemane. Lord if it be your will, let this cup pass. It is the most human prayer of Jesus, I think. It is the bend-low before God, the stinging sweat prayer where Jesus says, “If you could spare me a favor, I’d rather not endure this.” I consider his prayer of self-preservation; if his request had been granted, what of this groaning creation? Would we still have been united with God, rescued from the slavery and corruption of the world? Or would we have groaned and groaned and groaned into and throughout eternity?

In his humanity, though, Jesus learned to bend his will to God’s so that he could be the ultimate agent of reconciliation. He surrendered to the mystery of God’s will, that he would be crucified, murdered, and that his murder would somehow bring a better way.

We celebrate Palm Sunday this weekend. Jesus’ prayer in the garden seems separated far more than a few days. He would endure the betrayals and scrutiny from people. Then He suffered the physical pain and exhaustion in the crucifixion.

The days leading up to Easter bring us back to the humanness of Jesus. He has walked where we have. We can imagine ourselves in the garden praying. It’s not about the tidy answers or logical conclusion; rather a Savior becomes present with us.

One of the most powerful expressions of God’s grace comes from His identification and presence in the most excruciating moments of pain. He finds us in the midst of prayer. He brings people who offer their presence.

How does Jesus’ prayer in pain offer hope to you? What did Jesus experience in His humanness that brings clarity to your pain?

Photo credit by Hannah Morgan.

Chosenness and Love

How did you celebrate Valentine’s Day as a child? You may have had a mailbox where you received the delivery cards and candy. Notes got passed with the checkbox for the question, “Do you like me?” Schools would allow students to fundraise by selling roses and secret singing grams. A classroom anxiously anticipated the blushing, excitement, and embarrassment of classmates receiving these gifts.

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We learned at an early age about the joy and disappointment of Valentine’s Day. Some of us get the note with the checkbox “yes.” Others of us waited for the flower or love letter that never came. We might have taken courageous steps to show another our interest met with approval or rejection.

The week leading up to Valentine’s Day amplifies the human desire for acceptance, being chosen, and finding love. It can be an exhilarating celebration the loved ones around us. On the other hand, many struggle with the reality of pain. This day represents a hope for what could be, but a present that does not reflect that.

Learning to experience grace in following Jesus calls us to enter the darkness. Not necessarily for easy answers to our questions, but an even deeper recognition of Christ in us. Identifying the hurt and brokenness, while seeing the beauty in the midst of the reality.

Henri Nouwen in the Life of the Beloved makes a powerful statement finding the truth of God’s love in the midst of a world full of rejection, darkness, doubt, insecurity, and self-interest. He calls us to reclaim our chosenness from God:

The great spiritual battle begins – and never ends – with the reclaiming of our chosenness. Long before any human being saw us, we are seen by God’s loving eyes. Long before anyone heard us cry or laugh, we are heard by our God, who is all ears for us. Long before any person spoke to us in this world, we are spoken to by the voice of eternal love. Our preciousness, uniqueness, and individuality are not given to us by those who meet us in clock-time – our brief chronological existence – but by the One, who has chosen us with an everlasting love, a love that existed from all eternity and will last through all eternity.

The world around us this week will give us various definitions and expectations about experiencing love. Let us find the truth of our chosenness and acceptance from the One that loved us first. And in experiencing that love, we can then love the people around us. The Gospel time and time again reminds us that the truth of God’s love trumps the lies the world around us has told us.

Many of you have wanted to forget this week for various reason. I hope you have you can find your acceptance in a God who loves you and a friend with a listening ear that does not speak clichés or trite, simple answers.

Christ calls us out of our brokenness and in the healing we can become aware of the pain in others. Becoming aware of our pain leads us to help others to find healing in Christ.

May all of us communicate God’s chosenness and love to each other. In the midst of a highly commercialized holiday with seemingly fluctuating messages about love, I hope we speak the truth God’s love in us before anyone else loved us.

Photo credit by Hello Goodbye.

Gossiping and Processing

People will frustrate us. Some might even hurt us. Miscues and miscommunications happen on a regular basis with our family and friends. It occurs intentionally or unintentionally. When we experience disappointments in relationships, we need a space to speak our mind.

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Speaking our mind about our relationships has to do with not only what we say, but how and why we say it. The difference becomes a matter of gossiping or processing. The space where we talk about our disappointments and frustrations of others can either leave us in resentment or moves us to maturity.

Jesus in Luke 6:45 says, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”

The writers of Scripture do not run from the pain we experience from others. Rather their insight concerns what happens in our hearts. They focus on not taking revenge, letting unforgiveness fester, and pursuing peace. Jesus calls us to look into our hearts to recognize the unhealthy patterns of how we see others when they disappoint us.

Talking about the conflicts in our relationship deals with our hearts. We can fall into the trap of gossiping of others in unhealthy ways or learn to process the situation healthily.

What’s the difference between gossiping and processing? Here are four indicators of having the right motivation for speaking our mind in the midst of relationship conflict:

They vs. I

Gossiping makes the problem about the “other person.” It speaks in the third person and assigns motives to actions without knowing all the facts. On the other hand, processing uses “I” statements. These statements give the other person the benefit of the doubt, but more importantly, help separate feeling from reality. It’s not that our feelings do not matter, but often they do not give us the whole picture.

Shifting from “They” to “I” begins to help us see our part in the problem rather than blaming the other person.

Quantity vs. Quality

Simply put, gossip looks to broadcast the problem to as many people as possible, quantity. Processing pursues quality relationships and conversations. Quality relationships includes people who will listen well, but will give us the truth about the other person and our role in the problem.

Campaigning vs. Feedback

Closely aligned to the last indicator, gossiping campaigns. We share our relational problems with several people for them to side with us rather than the other person. Gossiping builds a case with an audience.

Processing looks for feedback. After speaking our mind, we start asking the question, “Am I seeing this person and situation rightly?” Processing wants to pursue growth and maturity. Gossiping remains in the same place.

Winning vs. Reconciliation

Gossiping makes the goal of winning. How do win the relational disappointment? We take revenge on the other person by airing our grievances with multiple people. Sometimes we hold a grudge against them. Inside our hearts, we have held on to bitterness.

Processing pursues reconciliation. When we want to discuss our relational problems with a close friend, they help us see the road to forgiveness and Christ at work in us. They tell us where we have gone wrong and help us give grace to the person who hurts us.

This week, you might experience disappointments in relationships. How you handle it reveals Christ’s work in your heart. Start by asking God for forgiveness for the times you responded in the wrong ways and for the grace to respond healthily in the future. Then identify the people in your life who will listen to you process and will help you see the reality of yourself and the other person through Christ.

What other differences do you see between gossiping and processing? Share in the comment section below.

Photo credit by Arnel Hasanovic.

Jocks, Nerds, and Punks

What group did you run with in high school? 1980’s movies depicted high school segmented into cliques. The jocks exerted their athletic authority. Nerds attempted to walk the hallways without getting shoved into lockers losing all their books. Punks wore their cut off jean jackets while trying to stick it to the man. It seems these three groups got the most attention in movies with the Brat Pack or even in Back to the Future.

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Each plot line of these 1980’s high school movies followed the same premise. The jocks, nerds, and punks started separated. They might bicker with each other. One group would pick on another group. At a particular scene, they would have a genuine moment where they identified with each other. Soon the labels would not matter. The acts dropped.

We may have graduated from high school, but we may not have graduated from groups. Many of us still try to maintain our membership in labels.

The Gospel challenges us to drop the act. Jesus’ first beatitude in the Sermon on the Mount begins in Matthew 5:5, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Meekness misunderstood seems to imply timidity. It’s not the first character trait we follow. Christ’s calling us to meekness welcomes us to see ourselves as God sees us: accepted and loved by God.

Meekness releases us from embodying a group or persona. We can exhaust ourselves living up to an image. Just like a 1980’s high school movie, we experience the realization of authenticity. A.W. Tozer makes this observation in the Pursuit of God:

To men and women everywhere Jesus says, “Come unto me, and I will give you rest.” The rest He offers is the rest of meekness, the blessed relief which comes when we accept ourselves for that we are and cease to pretend. It will take some courage at first, but the needed grace will come as we learn that we are sharing this new and easy yoke with the strong Son God Himself (pg. 110)

When we follow Christ, we no longer have to pretend or maintain an image. Christ’s grace offers accepting ourselves and others. Not based on pretense, but founded in the rest of experiencing Christ in our lives.

Whether you label yourself a jock, nerd, punk, or another label, Christ offers rest in finding our identity in Him.

Photo credit by Ryan McGuire.

MLK Day 2016: A Prayer

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Today, we remember the life and influence of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
His life embodied Your words on the Sermon on the Mount,
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
He had the audacity to believe that You bless those who repay evil with good, rather than evil.

Almost fifty years have passed since King’s death, and we still face similar issues.
At times, we have overlooked injustices.
We sometimes lack the compassion to walk in another’s pain.
Political affiliations separate us from each other.
It seems now more than ever; we need the peace that You offer.

Lord, forgive us.
Forgive us for not seeing each other as created in Your Image.
Forgive us for continuing the fight rather than seeking reconciliation.
Forgive us for not practicing presence by listening to others.
Forgive us for not moving towards each other in love.

The Gospel reminds us that You bring peace.
Though sin alienated us, You brought us near through Your grace.
Thus, You removed the wall that divides us from each other.
We stand at the same level at the foot of the cross.
We realize the message of the Gospel brings us closer to You and each other.
You are our peace.

Give us hearts motivated to bring peace.
Move us to have empathy for each other.
Teach how to extend the grace you have freely given to us to each other.
Let us love each other in words and deeds.

Prince of Peace rule in our hearts and lives.
Let us reflect on this day how to embody Your peace and reconciliation in remembering the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Photo credit by Michael Wilson.

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