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Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Art of Disregarding the Expectations of Others

I had the privilege of teaching this past weekend in our services at Dayspring Fellowship. We are in a series from the book of Acts, and my assignment was chapter 13. With the help of a friend, who courageously told her incredible story (you can download it from the church website), I shared some principles about evangelism. Among many other things, I said that every Christian should know how to lead somebody to the Cross. And, if you can't, you should get a tract, memorize the verses and principles and practice.

I also talked about the importance of our personal faith stories (including, but not limited to our salvation story), and how God uses them in the lives of others. In this section I shared that all good stories have three parts (a beginning, middle and end). With regards to our faith stories they should include conflict/tension (why you needed Jesus to show up), resolution (how He showed up) and transformation (how you were different because He showed up). 1 Timothy 3:15 tells us to be prepared to share the hope of our salvation. Get that: be prepared.

I got some incredible feedback. God was clearly in the house. Val's testimony rocked!

But there's always a naysayer in the house...in this case two.

We hosted a couple who were visiting with their friend, who was just coming back to the Lord. After the service this couple decided that they needed to share their thoughts with me. After making sure I knew that they were very involved in their own church, in which he was a deacon, they proceeded to let me know how they wept as I preached because I was so inaccurately representing scripture. They told me that no where in scripture does it say to use a tract to lead people to Jesus. Nor does it say that a story should have a beginning, middle and end. And, in practicing our stories we relegate the telling to a performance.

My bad. They are right. No where in the Bible does it say to use a tract to lead someone to Christ. No where does it say that a story has a beginning, middle and end. For the record I never said it did.

Let me pause, and say that I assume they were well intentioned. Their delivery wasn't hurtful. Their concern was real. In no way do I wish to bad mouth them. I prayed in that moment, as I continue to pray, that God's glorious grace would wash over them and give them understanding...both of scripture and the effect of their words.

I tell this three part story because we have all been on the receiving end of other people's expectations. Generally we only realize it because we let them down in some way, and they make sure that we know we've done so. How do you respond in this moment? Does anger overtake you? Does the unfairness make your back straighten? Do you feel pity? Do you want to use your own words to make sure they understand your point?

Would that really help?

When I am faced with these moments (and since I live my life on stage I have the privilege of facing them relatively often), I always search for any truth that God has for me in their words...regardless of the delivery. If he can use Balaam's donkey to speak truth, he can use a couple like I've described (in no way am I saying they are donkeys, just that God's truth can be found in unexpected places).

But note...it's about the truth that God has for me. Not their truth. Many years ago a mentor taught me some beautiful words, "I'm sorry. You have expectations for me that I won't be able to meet." How very freeing...and God honoring.

This weekend I said to them, "I'm sorry I disappointed you." And, truthfully, I was. But I wouldn't change a thing. I serve a Higher Power and I know He wasn't disappointed. They'll can have it out with Him. He takes all my complaint calls. God's truth for me in that moment was to laugh (inside voice...not outside voice) at the absolute insanity of what they were saying. And then I walked away free. No regrets.

How would you have responded? Words matter. Ephesians 4:29 says, "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen."

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Cost of a Lost Opportunity

Hebrews 13:16 - "And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased."

Galatians 6:10 - "Therefore as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially those who belong to the family of believers."

1 Corinthians 10:24 - "No one should see their own good, but the good of others."

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I was talking with a good friend this week about regret. He related a personal story that went something like this: when his son was old enough to hunt, they went on a father-son hunting trip. They waited through the day and eventually a buck wandered into the line of sight. In the words of my friend, "I got greedy and took the shot."

Later that night, he realized that he had missed an opportunity to bless his son by allowing him to take the shot. He wept. He wept because he recognized that in the grand scheme of life, another deer killed by him would never be remembered, but his son's first kill would make a memory that would be treasured for a lifetime. And, even though his son shot his first deer the next day, my friend still wishes he could CTRL-Z the event and UNDO the moment to bless his son with that particular shot.

How many times in our lives have we done something similar...we had he opportunity to bless someone and we botched it. We neglected the expectations or feelings of others in favor of our own. We demanded our own way (or cajoled or was even friendly about it) rather than considering someone else's idea. It could be an encouragement left unspoken, a lunch where you didn't pick up the tab, a win you could have given credit for, a momentous occasion where you made the world revolve around you. In most cases we aren't talking about sin...just the lack of "good." It may be something that we had every right to have our own way. But is that really how we are called to live?

The verses above talk about a different kind of life. A life that does good. A life that sacrifices to bless others. The world is filled with people who don't look any farther than end of their nose. What should distinguish us, from people of the world, is the vision to see past our own junk. And love puts others first. Love gives opportunities.

In most cases the other person will never think about, or know that the opportunity was missed. This is very different from hurting someone. This isn't what these verses are talking about. The cost of the lost opportunity is only paid by our foolish selves. We live with the regret that there is no CTRL-Z in life. I'm sure it's not regret that will put us in bondage (hopefully), but who wants any regret at all?

Every now and then I sense the spirit telling me to bless someone by sending them a card. (Yes, actual snail mail...imagine anyone's surprise when they get something other than a bill or junk mail!) This past week I obeyed the call and sent a card to a dear older couple at church. The love that the husband exhibits for his wife with her failing health inspires me to be a better husband. So I told them that. It was a simple - though completely true sentiment - that cost me very little to convey. I could have just thought nice thoughts about them and prayed for her health and his patience. They would never have known that I missed the mark. But his watery eyes spoke more than his words as he tracked me down to thank me for the blessing they felt because of my simple gesture. No regret there...

Now it's your turn. Send a card. Buy a lunch. Give a gift card. Let someone else have an opportunity to shine. DO GOOD!

The best part...read the end of Hebrews 13:16...God is pleased (i.e., he's blessed)...which puts it in the category of worship. Go figure.


Saturday, August 4, 2012

Shrinking Hearts

We watched "Machine Gun Preacher" this week, a movie I can't say I really recommend because there is too much foul language. Nonetheless, it was very interesting.

The Chris Voigt short version: An convict is released from prison to find his family has gotten religious. Though he rejects their change at first, he too becomes saved. He goes to Africa and upon seeing the tragic, criminal treatment of the children (slavery, forced conscription into the rebel army, etc, hunger, homelessness...) he decides to build an orphanage.

The movie finds him going back and forth between Africa and his home in the US. As he sees more devastation, his diatribes at home, including preaching at a church he built, becomes more angry. As the title of the movie indicates he carries a gun and isn't afraid to use it when saving children in Africa. His heart is shrinking. His family is breaking. Even in Africa he loses the trust of his team as they sense a hardening of his heart.

Of course, there is a turning point, found in the tender words of an orphan forced to kill his own mother at the hand of the rebels.

Philippians 1:9-10 says, "I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ's return."

In real life, all around me I see shrinking hearts. I have a friend who is anti- everything. He doesn't like the president, the congress, churches who don't preach politics, liberals of any type...and most conservatives. He's bought a generator, stocked his home with MREs, bought gold to use as currency when the dollar fails, purchased weapons (legally with a license to carry) and who knows what else. The world is coming to an end as we know it and he and his wife will be survivors. From his perspective he is being prudent. As I see it his heart is shrinking.

A shrinking heart squeezes out God. Anything that God is involved in will grow your heart. Your love will abound. When we do anything on our own strength our heart will shrink. We'll get cynical, burned out, angry, judgmental, impatient...

If you want to know if you're on the right track spiritually, track your love. If you love more...God is at work.

Read Paul's words again. He wants us to understand what really matters so that we may live pure and blameless until the world ends Christ's way. For that to happen love must overflow. It is one-third of the equation...love...knowledge...understanding.

Where is your heart?