Archive for November, 2012

Write the Letter, Make the Call

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever.  Psalm 136:1

Robert Emmons, in his book Thanks!, tells the story of a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who asked students to pay a gratitude visit.  Here was the plan.  First, write a 300 word letter to the person you are going to visit. Tell the story of what they did, the difference it made in your life, aand where you are now as a result.  When you complete your letter, call the person and say, “I want to come visit you.”  But, you don’t say why.  Then visit and share your letter in person by reading it.  The students responded and hundreds of people had amazing experiences doing this. The almost universal response we tears of joy over the thankfulness they hear.

One student was big tough guy who wrote a letter to his parents explaining the sacrifices they made to raise him and his younger brother.  He detailed how much he and his brother loved and respected their parents. He decided after writing it that he would never share it with his parents.  He’d be too embarrassed.

Later that year when he was home for Christmas vacation, his little brother was seriously injured in an auto accident. After he was taken to the emergency room his parents arrived to see him. Sadly, his brother died that day.  After returning home from the hospital the parents were inconsolable.  They had loved their son and invested so much in him.

The older son decided he needed to share the letter he had written, describing how he and his younger brother had been loved and cared for so faithfully over the years.  It was his gratitude that ministered to them at the most significant emotional event they ever had as a family.  His gratitude became the bandages that bound up the wounds of their grief.

Reading about this incident was a reminder to express gratitude, to make the phone call, to write the letter, to put our thanks into words–not to let it go unspoken.  Of course, giving thanks is a command of God.  He tells us to

Give thanks in all circumstances. 1 Thessalonians 5:18

In the season of thanksgiving I have wondered: why have I failed to give thanks?  There are words of love and affirmation we fail to express.  I am not sure why.  Perhaps, we feel like we are giving away some great treasure when we thank someone or when we speak well to them.  I thought about this this weekend. After my sermon on gratitude. I had the privilege of thanking some amazing people, and then I wondered why I had not thanked them before. Why did I withhold praise?

It is the overflow of God’s grace that begets gratitude, receiving and seeing what God has given to us.  It is seeing life as the precious gift from God that it is.

Neighbor Love

Modern man has suffered from a deepening condition of “homelessness.” The result of the migratory character of his experience of society and of self has been called a metaphysical loss of home. –Peter Berger

Sandy and I started walking a couple of months ago in preparation for the ING marathon coming up on January 27th, 2013.  Obviously, we want to get in shape for race day. (Read- Pray for us!)  An unintended consequence of our walking routine has been the opportunity to walk nearly every street within two miles of our house.  Along the way, we have discovered streets we didn’t know existed. We’ve gotten a better feel for our neighborhood and the sense of what “local” means.

We use the word “local” a lot today and we are encouraged to support our community through our buying choices.  But, as Berger says, we have lost our sense of connection.  It takes a hurricane and loss of power for us to bind together with our neighbors.  Not much will get us out of our air condition controlled homes.

As I read church history, I find that the church grew not because the first believers were powerful or wealthy.  There was no church growth moment.  It was clearly the Spirit’s power.  The first churches, with one exception, all met in homes.  To invite someone into your home was to invite that person to share fellowship.  It was tantamount to inviting them to church.  The church grew through neighboring as believers loved their neighbors.  One Roman writer explained it to the emperor Hadrian:

They love one another.  And he who has gives to him who has not without boasting. And when they see a stranger, they take him into their own homes and rejoice over him as a very brother…. And if there is among them any that is poor and needy, and if they have no spare food, they fast two or three days in order to supply to the needy their lack of food…. Such, O King, is their manner of life…. And verily, this is a new people, and there is something divine in the midst of them.

I think this is what Jesus meant when he commanded us to love our neighbors.  He wasn’t asking us to love the idea of loving people around us.  I believe he was asking us to start with our actual neighbors.

Make a home. Help to make a community. Be loyal to what you have made. Put the interests of your community first.  Love your neighbors—not the neighbors you pick but the ones you have. –Wendell Berry

So yes, please pray for Sandy and for me…that we would be able to get into shape for the marathon, but also pray that we come to know and love our neighbors.

Speak Up

If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. Matthew 18:15

Sometimes I think the sins of omission are worse than sins of commission.   (Certainly, we do not see our sins of omission as clearly.) There is a verse in the book of Proverbs that says: when words are many, sin is not absent. No doubt, I have sinned much over the years by what I have said.  But, I have also sinned by what I have left unsaid.

My wife is an excellent communicator. Her over communication can irritate me, but more often than not my lack of communication hurts her and my relationship with her. Here is where I fail to communicate:

First, there are things that I fail to say that need to be said out of love.  It is very tempting as a pastor simply to be nice to people rather than tell them the truth.  Often after an encounter or perhaps a counseling session, I have to repent of things I did not say.  I may fail to speak up because I don’t want to have a confrontation, or I want people to like me. In doing so I love myself more than I am loving them.

Second, there are also words of love and affirmation I fail to express.  I am not sure why.  Perhaps, we feel like we are giving away some great treasure when we thank someone or when we speak well to them.  I thought about this this weekend. After my sermon on generosity, I had the privilege of thanking some amazingly generous people, and then I wondered why had I not done thanked them before. Why did I withhold praise?

Third, then there are the people I have problems with.  I should go directly to them and work it out, but often I don’t.  I leave the thing unsaid or worse I may tell someone else rather than going to them.  It can be a terrifying thing to confront someone and speak your mind

Honest speech set Jesus’ ministry apart.  He spoke up. This was his manner of loving. He opened up about when others remained silent. And, he left this legacy to us, his church.  This sort of speech is meant to be a vehicle for our love.  Okay.  So how are we doing?

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. Eph. 4:14-16