Tag: Grace (page 1 of 10)

Who asks you the tough questions?

What’s your greatest challenge?
How are you handling that conflict?
What keeps you up at night?
How’s your marriage?
What do you sense God doing in your life right now?

You could probably add a thousand more like these. When it comes to tough questions, you stop and ask, who asks me questions like these and do I ask people around me the same types?

Creating space for deeper conversation allows you to see God at work in the larger issues. For some of us, we live life swayed by the vapor of urgent matters. For others, our minds run through these questions without answering because no one asks them of us.

When I hear people share where they want to grow spiritually, they tend to list off reading the Bible, praying, serving, and other disciplines. Taking a next a step of growth is extremely valuable; but if you want to take your spiritual growth to the next level, it requires you to share with the people closest to you what you sense God doing in you.

Let me ask you – Who asks you the tough questions? Who in your life can help you see beyond the immediacy of today to the long term important issues? Or who has permission to ask questions to draw out what consumes your mind?

People asking us the tough questions invite us to see God at work. The Gospel, the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection, invites us to these conversations. These conversations allow us to see the truth of our own brokenness and the grace of God’s love for us. God speaks through the people in our lives asking the tough questions.

Photo produced by Cole Hutson

Little Foxes

“Catch for us the foxes,
    the little foxes
that ruin the vineyards,
    our vineyards that are in bloom.”
(Song of Solomon 2:15)

What pesters you? What frustrations consume the dialogues in your mind?

The other day, I spent the morning frustrated by a minor detail of a conversation. Nothing necessarily immoral or consequential, but irksome nonetheless. It created an issue of more time spent discussing the topic that could have been avoided.

My wife noticed my distraction and seemingly “off” behavior. She graciously asked, “What’s on your mind?” Without really thinking, I blurted out, “Why do these little issues matter so much to me?”

Have you been there? I think for most of us, we prepare for the enormous issues. Yet, on a day to day basis, the little pesterings and frustrations get the better of us.
You have to re-explain the same direction after the thousandth time.
You once again have been the benefactor of a nitpicked piece of feedback.
Your day gets detoured by an unforeseen errand.
Your plans get altered by everyone else except you.

I recently came across Song of Solomon 2:15, the passage quoted above. In an extremely obscure book of the Bible, that word picture made so much sense. When you and I look at what derails us, the “little foxes” can be as or more dangerous than the catastrophic problems.

Listen to what Tremper Longman and Dan Allender say about the verse:

…the foxes stand for anything or anyone who threatens the harmony and well-being of the vineyard garden. That is, anything or anyone who presents danger to the intimate relationship between a man or women. (God Loves Sex)

Though Song of Solomon 2:15 specifically references the marriage relationship, this verse provides us a larger principle whether married or single. The “little foxes” keep the focus on ourselves rather than others. They can distract us from God’s best blessings in our lives. Ultimately, the accumulation of them in our lives can result in long term effects.

How do you deal with “little foxes?” It begins by identifying WHY anything or anybody has taken so much space in our mind and time.

These seemingly small issues hint to a deeper pain inside us: insecurity, bitterness, doubt, or anxiety. When we can go deeper, we can invite God to speak to the root problem. This is why community matters: with a trusted friend, you now have a place to receive truth and grace. Truth to see your blind spots to grow, and grace to receive.

What are your “little foxes?” What little pesterings or frustration are robbing you? Perhaps today is a prompt for you to identify these and take your next steps of growth.

Photo produced by CloudVisual

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.

When People Frustrate Us

You’re frustrated. The conversation goes horribly. Tardiness becomes the norm. A person nitpicks our actions. You and I have a list of what frustrates us.

Frustration raises the levels of our emotions and defenses. In the heat of the moment, some of us want to retaliate. Others of us avoid the situation while slowly seething with anger. Some of us utilize passive aggressiveness.

Proverbs 14:29 says, “Whoever is patient has great understanding, but one who is quick-tempered displays folly.” The key to overcoming frustration is seeing the big picture. Patience invites us to realize the grace God has given us and therefore have the wisdom to respond well to the other person.

Today, you might get frustrated with a person. Ask yourself these four questions before you take any actions:

1. What’s my preference vs. problem?

It’s important to categorize our frustration. Preferences emphasize opinions. Problems deal in terms of facts and guidelines. When our preferences get mixed up with problems, we focus on how we want to change the person to fit our needs rather than helping them mature.

2. What’s my role vs. theirs?

Often, our frustration comes from a lack of communication. We have not shared our expectations. Frustration causes us to assign motivation to a person with them filling in the blanks. Deciphering our roles helps us honestly assess the situation clearly.

3. Where are they on their journey of growth?

Our frustration with people can cause us to forget their growth. A person may have come a long way on an issue, but they have triggered us to forget. Subjective grace overlooks issues that do not bother us, but can magnify the ones that do. The conflicts we have with people may not adequately understand their journey.

4. How ready is the person to hear what I have to say?

We play over and over in our mind the conversation we would love to have. You could have the perfect argument to the person in their place. If our frustration causes us to confront, then the person may miss what we have to say. Ultimately, this has to do with trust. Can the person see that you are invested in the well-being of their lives to hear you?

When you get frustrated with a person, take a moment to pause and see the situation. Asking one of these questions could make the difference in how you approach the person. What other insights have helped you when you get frustrated with others?

Photo credit by Josue Bieri.

The Deeper Reality of Politics

How have you felt about the upcoming election? One week from today millions will cast their vote for president. Messages of fear, anxiety, angst, and anger have come to the forefront of each commentary on the candidates. Fact-checking gets more and more difficult with the vast amount of information.

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Faith in Jesus does not dismiss our fears, anxieties, and frustrations, but rather responds to it differently. The deeper reality of politics has to do with one of the greater narratives of Scripture; Jesus is the hero of every story.

Scan the pages of the Old and New Testaments. You will find deeply flawed political leaders. David, the most heralded of Jewish kings, commits murder. Solomon exploits his riches to feed his pleasure. Xerxes operated out of insecurity. Nebuchadnezzar had an enormous ego out of his gain. Pilate cared about the polls before they even existed.

I wonder what those followers of Jesus would say to us today. Perhaps, they would empathize with our plight. Even more so, I think they would remind us to look beyond the power systems to see God at work. They had lived through their political chaos to see that Jesus works in the storms.

How do you live out the deeper reality of Jesus in the midst of this political mess? Eugene Peterson in Reverse Thunder, a book about Revelation, has a chapter called “The Last Word on Politics.” Peterson describe living in the deeper reality called the “Politics of the Lamb” or the politics of Jesus:

The politics of the Lamb takes the ordinary and basic elements of our obedience (offering our adoration in worship, listening to the proclaimed word, practicing a holy life) and develops them into the ultimate and eternal. The politics of the Lamb, by showing that the plainest of details of our daily faith are significant facts in a cosmic drama, protects us from hubris and guides us into maturity that pours intelligence and energy into what is before us, make a work of a holy art out of the ordinary.

Radically following Jesus in this political climate can look ordinary. Our faith lived out goes well-beyond who will become president. You live out in your practices.

It exchanges the constant fact-checking of policy and insults with the truth of Scripture. It calls us to identify our anxiety and bring it to prayer. We watch our words and thoughts because we recognize each person created in the image of God. Faithfully, we gather with the community of believers sharing in the greater story of grace.

Today, live in the deeper reality of Jesus. No matter who becomes president, He is the hero of every story. Let your faith become practice.

Photo credit by Augusto Navarro.

Just a Little More

“Don’t wear your cleats to practice. Bring your running shoes.” Coach Jamie, my high school soccer coach, would announce these dreaded words. It signified what he lovingly termed, “Conditioning Practice.” As opposed to a regular practice, these practices meant running and sprinting. Followed by more running and sprinting. A few ab workouts and pushups rounded out our session in the humid August weather of Upstate New York.

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We loathed these practices. Coach would press us to compete against ourselves, putting in just a little more effort and energy every drill. By the end of practice, each of us had experienced a small degree of satisfaction in making it through this conditioning. When the humid August sun turned into the cool October breeze, our team could run with any opponent we face.

Grace reminds me of conditioning practice. The moment we think we have sufficiently exercised grace, we find ourselves in relationships and circumstances that need just a little more than we thought.

Consider what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:41, “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.” It’s as if Jesus says, “Just when you thought you gave enough, double it.” Not necessarily the Bible verse we stitch onto pillows or make into bumper stickers.

Jesus calls to exercise an unnatural amount of grace. We do not extend it by sheer willpower or gritty determination. It comes from experiencing the forgiveness and acceptance that He has given us. The more we realize the grace we have received through Christ, the more we can come to extend it to others, even when it’s a little more than we think.

So today, you might encounter opportunities to offer a little more grace…
Listening to a person who needs five more minutes in a conversation.
Answering ten more additional questions.
Waiting fifteen more minutes than you would like.
Perhaps, even walking a literal extra mile.

Grace like conditioning practice prepares us to offer more each opportunity with the realization that Christ has given us infinitely more than we can ever think or imagine.

Who will you extend a little more grace today?

Photo credit by Christian Widell.

Remedying Short Attention Spans

Short attention spans come easier and easier. The headlines of last month can get lost in the urgency of today’s news. We move from story to story at an alarming rate, sometimes without taking any time to reflect on the larger issues. Opinions get debated without little nuance or thoughtfulness. It can seem more information brings anxiety rather than peace.

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Remedying short attention spans begins with recognizing Christ’s grace. It requires us to redirect our focus to a greater reality rather than succumbing to distractions. In a world where everything seems urgent, the Gospel constantly reminds us of the resurrection of meaning. We can live life as those created in God’s image and restored by His forgiveness.

A new way of looking at engaging Scripture includes the habit of having a longer attention span. We need this simple practice and reminder of seeing God’s grace. Consider what Eugene Peterson says in Run with the Horses:

We live on the gossip of the moment and the rumors of the hour. It is not as if we never hear the truth at all, but we don’t realize its overwhelming significance. It is an extra, an aside. We have no sense of continuity. We respond to whims, sometimes good, sometimes bad. Then Scripture is placed before us. Words are assembled and arranged, and powerful patterns of truth become visible…Amnesia is replaced by recognition. Distraction gathered into attention.

Engaging Scripture has to do with cultivating an attentive heart to seeing God’s presence in the world around us. Not falling into the trap of worry, today’s headlines, and ventilated opinions, but coming to the place where we discover the Gospel in real life; seeing God’s grace in the everyday.

So today, read the Bible seeing the continuous work of God’s grace in the world around you. Take time to reflect on His faithfulness of yesterday. Slow down at a verse that stops you rather than reading for a quick self-help fix. Keep the Scripture as a reminder by writing it down or saving it on an app.

How can you recognize God’s continuous work rather than living with a short attention span?

Photo credit by Seth Doyle.

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.

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