Life This Week

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My daughter, Jamie, went on a serving trip to St. Louis last week with a small group of other kids and leaders that repainted and repaired two houses of families in need.  I heard about different aspects of the trip from Jamie – what the families were like, making new friendships, allergies, experiencing God through serving, and the long drive home.  What struck me most, though, was something one of the leaders said about her:  “Jamie was there to serve.  She constantly asked what more she could do, how she could help.”  I learn so much from this 13-year old.  I want to model this servant spirit in my life and so, here’s what I’m doing this week:

I’m entering into John 13:1-17.  In this passage, we are told of Jesus washing his disciples feet.  When he finished, he said: “Do you understand what I have done for you?  You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you should also wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”  I want to enter into this passage, picturing Jesus on his knees, his robe brushing the floor, one hand picking up a dirty, dust-covered, calloused foot, and the other hand rubbing off the grime with the water.  What intimacy and humility these moments must have held as the creator of all things knelt and washed those he came to save.

I’m serving from bent knees.  So often, I serve from a position of power.  I have something that the person I am serving does not have.  I give food to someone who has no food.  I give legal advice to a person who is not a lawyer.  These are not bad things to provide, of course, but how often do I serve from a position of humility?  I’m noticing this week if there are ways of service I shy away from because they require too much intimacy or humility and then I’m praying for strength to serve in those ways.

I’m asking: “What is needed here?”  I think I ask: “What am I good at?” much more than “What is needed here?”  I think I look for serving opportunities in which I can be at my best instead of looking at the need and serving even when I am at my least.  I must miss opportunities to serve this way.  Jesus’ gifts were more aligned with teaching and healing.  But he kneeled and washed other men’s feet because that was what was needed and he was not too proud to serve in the way that was needed.

What does your week look like?

Do you serve from bent knees?    

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Life This Week

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Yesterday, I was rear ended in my car pretty hard while stopped at a red light.  I am generally fine, just a sore neck.  This experience reminded me, though, of my vulnerability, and how you could run out to the store for a taco dinner kit and never come home.  I’m taking an extra dose of life into this week.  My desire is to be open, loving, and alive.

I’m expecting to encounter God every day.  I have great expectation that I will encounter God if my heart, eyes, and hands are open, instead of grasping and scared.  I’m entering each day with a prayer for openness to whatever God might have for me to see, taste, feel, or experience good or bad so that I can encounter him.  I know he is able to do immeasurably more than I could ask or even imagine.  (Ephesians 3:20)

I’m being a peacemaker.  Last week, the verdict in the Zimmerman trial stirred up racial tension that constantly exists below the surface.  Many of the people on my Facebook feed made comments that were racist and claimed to know the truth about what happened though they had not been at the incident or the trial.  I don’t want to be someone who stirs up dissension and hatred.  I want to be a peacemaker, one who reaches across racial divides in Christ-like kindness, one who builds bridges, and one who seeks understanding.  Jesus called these blessed: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”  (Matt 5: 9)

I’m not buying into the “single story” about anyone.  Yesterday, I watched the TED Talk called The Danger of the Single Story, by a Nigerian novelist named Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.  She tells of the dangers of hearing a single story about a people – “People in Africa are poor and dying of AIDS” – and making it the only story.  The best illustration of her point was made when she described a time when a young American woman, who had read one of Adichie’s novels, expressed her sympathy that men in Nigeria beat their wives.  Adichie’s response was to express her sympathy, based on reading American Psycho, that American men are psychopath serial killers.  Every people group, every person has a multi-story narrative.  I know I do.  But we reduce people to a single story all the time, sometimes consciously, sometimes not.  In doing so, we demean them.  Jesus never bought into the single story about anyone; he saw the whole.  I want to be made aware this week of the ways I seek to impose a single story on people and then I want to reject it in favor of learning the full story.

I’m turning on my Spirit Fire App.  I need God’s word to infuse every aspect of my day or I forget who he is, what he is capable of, and who I am.  Really, I do.  I found this phone app called Spirit Fire and I can set it to send verses of Scripture to me throughout my day.  It has different  categories of verses: Faith & Hope, Finance, In Christ, Inspiration, and Relationships.  The first day I used it, it sent me:  1 Corin 3:16 at 8:44 a.m.; Gal 5:22-24 at 10:47 a.m.; Rom 5:17 at 1:17 p.m.; 1 Corin 12:27 at 3:31 p.m.; and 1 Cor 15:49 at 5:56 p.m.  I’m using it all week to keep me grounded in truth throughout the day.

What does your week look like?

Are your hands gripped tight?  Can you open them, maybe just a little?

Christians Are Hypocrites

This is a continuation in the series “What Are You Afraid Of?” based on a discussion I had with a friend over dinner who said she was afraid I would try to convert her to Christianity.  One of the things she said was that Christians are hypocrites.

When I left my law firm several months back, I had conversations with as many people as I could who I had come to know to tell them I was leaving.  I took the opportunity to describe that I would be going into Christian ministry.  One of the men I told responded by recalling a lawyer he knew who was a “Christian lawyer” and the most difficult lawyer he had ever dealt with because he lied frequently and was belligerent.  At some point, he also mentioned the “Christian politicians” we hear about in the news.  His point was that the Christians he knows or has been exposed to are hypocrites.  They claim to be holy and righteous, but their actions demonstrate the opposite.  This leads, I think, to the conclusion that if Christians are this way, who wants to be one?

I remember feeling heartbroken about his perspective of Christians.  How often I had had this same view.  I remember becoming very aware about what a heavy thing it is to be called a Christian, one who carries the very name of Christ in your identity.  From a linguistic standpoint, when you describe yourself as a Christian, you are saying you belong to Christ.  The “-ian” means “belonging to.”  And “belong to” means to be the property of, to be a part of or adjunct to, and to adhere to.  In Romans, Paul describes himself as “a servant of Christ Jesus” and describes the gospel as a call to “belong to Jesus Christ” (Romans 1) and to be declared righteous in God’s sight based not on anything we do, but based on faith in Jesus who is righteous and holy and whose actions bear this out perfectly (Romans 3).

I respond to the assertion that Christians are hypocrites this way: First, I acknowledge the truth of it, at least in my life.  I belong to Jesus Christ.  My actions do not always demonstrate this.  I say God loves me, but I often act like he doesn’t.  I say there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus, but you should hear the things I believe about myself sometimes.  I say I trust God and there is no reason to worry or fear.  I worry.  I fear.  Second, I am clear that I carry Jesus’ name in my identity not because of my own holiness and righteousness, but because of his.  Third, I do not share my opinion as to whether someone else is a true Christian or not.  Fourth, I continue to ask God to, as he has promised, transform me into the likeness of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18) and help me be like Jesus in this world (1 John 4:17).  I remind myself that I am a follower of Christ, not a follower of Christians.

How do you respond to the assertion that Christians are hypocrites?

Life This Week

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Last week was a little strange because my daughter was in London all week; I was in Louisiana.  She returns home today.  I’ve missed her so much, but I have cherished her text messages with multiple exclamation points following all the things she has experienced while traveling.  I can’t wait to hug and kiss her, listen to her stories, and be in her presence again.  I have been thinking about what I reflect to her through my behavior and practices.  And in that vein, here is my plan for the week:

I’m forgoing the need to be right.  Right before my daughter left for London, she and I were having a debate about whether one of her cousins lived in Paris or New Orleans.  I believed Paris, she said it was New Orleans.  I knew I was right and when we were able to verify it, I was.  And, it was important to me.  Later, I reflected on this and wondered why I wanted to be right so badly.  What difference did it make?  In me, the need to be right comes from an unhealthy, unloving place.  Usually, it stems from wanting to be in control, to exert power over someone else, or to prove my value.  So much better to be wise and loving.  I’m praying for wisdom and the strength to be loving instead of right.

I’m paying attention to what I’m feeding myself. “A Native American grandfather was talking to his grandson about the tragedy on September 11.  He said, ‘I feel as if I have two wolves fighting in my heart.  One wolf is vengeful, angry, and violent.  The other one is loving and compassionate.’  The grandson asked, ‘Which wolf will win the fight in your heart?’  The grandfather answered, ‘The one I feed.’”  (Contemplation in Action, Richard Rohr and friends)  This story deeply resonated in me.  Have you noticed how so many news events turn into vitriolic polarizing screaming matches?  There is so little room for love and grace.  We prefer retribution to restoration.  And there is so much food for that wolf.  I want to bring love and compassion only, always.  So, I’m praying God increases my ability to love and show compassion, and I’m reading books, listening to music, and watching shows or movies that feed love and increase my compassion.

I’m noticing where I seek praise from people.  In Romans 2, Paul says, “a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people.”  (Romans 2:29b)  I mostly seek praise from other people.  I’m praying God will continue to change my heart and my desires so that I seek his praise alone.

I’m reading a Psalm before bed instead of email and Facebook.  I fall asleep in prayer, sleep peacefully, and wake up more refreshed when I read Scripture right before bed.  When I read Facebook or emails before bed, I am anxious and worried about the next day’s tasks.  Reading any Scripture is good, but I find Psalms best because they are self-contained, whereas a passage from Samuel or Hebrews is hard to just jump into in the middle.

What does your week look like?

What are you reflecting to those around you?

From whom are you seeking praise most?

There Are Some Things I Don’t…

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I have been writing this series of blog posts responding to fears that a friend of mine raised about becoming a Christian.  I am grouping the next three together because they are related:

  • I don’t know enough.

  • I don’t want to give up stuff I love.

  • I don’t really think I need it.

This is such an interesting group of fears, and maybe “fears” isn’t exactly the right word.  I struggled with each of these as I considered Christianity and so now when I respond to someone who raises them, I try to do it in a way that, looking back, did or would have helped me.

I don’t know enough. The Bible is the key to this one, but it is intimidating if we don’t know where to start.  If you start in Genesis, you’ll lose interest and comprehension quickly.  A suggestion that helped me most was to read the books of Luke and Ephesians first.  Luke gives an understandable and accessible description of Jesus while he was on earth.  Ephesians explains the significance of Jesus and what belief in him means and looks like.   I also found “The Case for Christ,” by Lee Strobel and “The Jesus I Never Knew” and “What’s So Amazing About Grace,” by Philip Yancey helpful.  There are only so many books to read, though.  And we will never know everything or have the answer to every question.  There is a passage in Psalm 34 that says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.”  (Psalm 34:8)  At some point, you just have to try it and see.

I don’t want to give up stuff I love.  Somehow following Jesus, or being a Christian, has become associated with rules that impinge on our freedom.  The thought that comes to mind immediately upon hearing the term “Christian” probably starts something like, “If you’re a Christian, you’re not allowed to…”  This is so ironic because when Jesus lived on earth, and during the years of the early church, Jesus was criticized for being a violator of the law, not someone under which the world would be restricted.  The only things I have given up since I’ve become a follower of Christ are those things that hurt me and left me feeling empty and those things I idolized, putting my trust in, all the while knowing they would not last.  I have never felt so whole, at peace, or purpose driven.

I don’t really think I need it.  I used to look at my life, I think mostly subconsciously, compare myself to other people, and conclude: “I’m a good person overall.  I’ve made some missteps here and there, but nothing that bad.”  And so the notion that I needed to be saved seemed a little dramatic and unnecessary.  I could always identify someone who had done far worse things and the idea of them needing help seemed much more plausible.  But then I realized I had been drawing the wrong comparison.  The correct comparison is between me and God, not me and other people.  If I assume that God is holy in every way, not just like the best person I’ve ever known, but far, far better, indeed, perfect, I could see that I was not “pretty good” at all.  Far from it.  (Romans 3:23)  And if the goal was to be perfect and holy, I knew I had blown it very early on.  If the deep longing in me was a longing to be with God, all the evidence suggested to me that I could not bridge the gap my wrongdoing had created between God and me.  When I speak to friends now about this gap, I try to help shift the comparisons they make so they are no longer viewing their life in comparison to another person’s life but instead are comparing their life to the standard of a perfect and holy God.

What do you tell people who feel like they don’t know enough yet about what it means to be a Christian?

What have you given up since becoming a follower of Jesus?  What have you gained?

Life This Week

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Trust and thankfulness.  Small words, difficult practices.  Trust means placing confidence in the integrity, strength, ability or surety of a person or thing.  Thankfulness means being grateful or appreciative.  There is an object to both of these practices.  We trust in something or someone and are thankful to something or someone.  Scripture is full of these two topics, maybe because they are both so hard.  How often I place my trust in things or people other than God!  How frequently I am looking to the next moment and forgetting to be thankful for the one I’m experiencing!  I’m spending some time this week cultivating and practicing trust and thankfulness.  Here’s how:

I’m asking for help.  I’m praying this simple prayer: Father in heaven, please cultivate in me a thankful heart that trusts you in every moment and every experience.  Help me have eyes that see all the ways you love me and a mouth that remembers to thank you.  Remind me that you are trustworthy, and when I place my trust in you, I find peace.

I’m repeating this to myself:  “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”  (Proverbs 3:5)  I am constantly leaning on my own understanding, like 90% of the time.  I’m going to try to loosen my grip.  I don’t understand that much, after all.

I’m saying or writing thankful.  There is something quite passive about “being thankful.”  I am generally thankful.  But being generally thankful somehow prevents me from being specifically thankful.  What I mean is that I am actually more full of thanks (and joy!) when I name the thing or person for which I am thankful.  The other night I was driving home from a hectic evening and Miles Davis was playing.  In my car, I said: “God, thank you for Miles Davis and this part right here of So What.”  Really, try it.  Name it.

I’m speaking the name of Jesus.  When I feel anxious, I’m going to notice, and speak Jesus’ name into the moment, trusting him with all my heart and reminding myself that my hope is not in anything but him.  When I feel rushed, I’m going to notice, and speak Jesus’ name into the moment, slowing down and thanking him for the way he is loving me right then and there.

What’s your week look like?

Are you trusting God, or something else?

Can you express your thanks for each moment?

Life This Week

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For many of us, this week includes at least a couple days off work and some additional family time, which means things can get a little rocky.  It is so easy to let go of our time with God in favor of sleeping in, staying up late, and crashing after long days in the sun.  These are days of watermelon juice running down kids’ faces, beanbag toss, and sunsets.  It will be hard to set time aside to read Scripture and pray.  Here’s what I’m doing to stay connected with God this week:

I’m saying thanks when I wake up each morning.  When friends and family are staying with me, or I with them, time before I get out of bed is precious alone time.  So, when I awake, I’m saying thanks to God for a new breath, new mercies, and a new day.

I’m reading a Psalm each night.  When I finally fall into bed after long, full days, I often struggle with words to say to God to thank him for all he has revealed that day in creation, my daughter’s laugh, and conversations with close friends.  This week, each day I’ll use David’s words of praise in the Psalms, starting with Psalm 145 on Monday, Psalm 146 on Tuesday, and so on, through Psalm 150 on Saturday and Sunday (it’s worth reading twice!).

I’m forgiving and asking forgiveness.  Another thing that comes with concentrated family or friend time is the possibility for hurts and offense.  We get tired and cranky, impatient and short-fused.  I’m forgiving any of these as soon as I am able and asking for forgiveness as soon as I realize I’ve caused hurt.

I’m not letting my expectations interfere.  I recently heard someone say that we often let our expectations interfere with what God wants us to experience.  I’m an optimist and so I often think: this will be the greatest vacation we’ve ever had!  Or, this dinner will be the best we’ve ever tasted!  And then it rains or the propane tank runs out of fuel.  At first, these little mishaps threaten to trample on any fun we might have had.  But the rain allows slow, long conversations that were not otherwise possible and running out of propane means we go out for pizza, don’t have to clean up the dishes, and laugh harder than we have together in ages.  I’m looking at any frustration of my expectations as a gift to experience something better.

What are your plans this week?