Archive for May, 2014

In Everything…

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good,22 reject every kind of evil. 23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. 1 Thessalonians 5

One of the signs of grace in our lives is that we notice gifts.  We notice God’s gifts, and we can see the gifts he gives us through people.  I find that there is a gravitational force pulling the spiritual and personal tone of life downward.  It is true: I am known as the guy who whistles as he walks through life. But sometimes, my whistle disguises a deeper and more negative introspection at work in my heart. For hours or sometimes for whole days, I find myself ruminating on the negative. And, negativity has the power of exaggeration.  It causes us to see things worse than they are and it soon begins to color everything we see.

Gratitude unleashes the freedom to live content in the moment, rather than being anxious about the future or regretting the past. –Ellen Vaughn

grateGod challenges me with his grace to see life, all of it, as his loving gift. He pushes me to see grace and to express the fact that I need it. God patiently opens my eyes to see that for which I can be grateful, and the people I can thank him for each day.

  • I am grateful for parents, who raised me in the church, where God pursued me and revealed himself to me.
  • I am grateful for a youth director who looked beyond my pimples and social awkwardness and who affirmed me as a follower of Jesus. Along the way he helped me to see that God had a future for me.
  • I am grateful for a pastor who mentored me, and was persistent with his affirmation.  He valued me when I did not value myself.
  • I am grateful for my wife who stands with me, and sometimes she stands against me when I am not looking or walking in the right direction. I am grateful for her love and patience.
  • Yes, there are so many more people for whom I am grateful: my children, faithful brothers and sisters, gracious friends, and many others. When I think of those who have prayed for me, walked with me, lifted me up, encouraged and challenged me, I cannot think about my life without gratitude.

Gratitude is a vaccine, an antitoxin, and an antiseptic. –John Henry Towett

Here’s what I have learned about gratitude.  First, if you practice it, it will reset the tone of your life.  This is why, I believe, God commands us to give thanks in all circumstances.  We need to see life, even those moments we do not care for, as something for which to be grateful.  Second, gratitude is a small door and relatively easy to open, but it leads into a large and spacious place where life can grow and flourish. Third, of course, it tends to always turn your face toward God, and this is always a good thing.  It helps us to keep our eye on him and to focus on his attributes of love and faithfulness.  It is then that we remember that our lives are all of grace.

Alongside

When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was. Job 2:11-13

In his book entitled The Happiest Life, radio personality Hugh Hewitt says there are seven gifts successful people give to others.  One of those gifts is empathy.  Empathy is the ability to come alongside someone who is hurting. As scripture puts it, being able to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.  This is what Job’s friends did when calamity struck him.  They showed up and simply sat with him.  There were no pious words, no attempts at explanation.  Their presence said it all: “We are with you and for you.  You are not alone.”

Some people think that those who experience trauma need space to sort things through. Assume the opposite. Most people need presence. –David Brooks

shoulderYes, we need to know we are not alone.  We need to feel love, especially when we are hurting and when words simply won’t help.  As Rabbi Kushner advises:  “Show up and shut up.”  But, empathy costs.  It hurts to be with someone who is hurting.  The sadness hits us when we walk into the hospital to see someone we love.  It feels awkward to make that phone call to someone who has suffered loss. And when we empathize, we are risking the possibility that coming alongside someone will unearth sorrow of our own.

So, why risk?  Simple, empathy is love. It is love in a most basic form.  It is saying, “I put you before me, your encouragement before my safety.”  It shows forth the gospel, Jesus’ determination to be God with us even though he knew it would be the death of him.

…the gift of empathy means a real willingness to go with suffering people wherever they are and walk with them as long as is required, to understand and to patiently endure with them all that their illness or loss entails. –Hugh Hewitt

The Gift of Caring

Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people. Philemon 7

Years ago when I was a struggling young church planter, I received a phone call from my mentor.  Somehow he had managed to get a cassette tape of a message from a wedding I had performed.  It didn’t take him long to get to the purpose of his call. He said that he was delighted to hear the message and quite impressed.  In essence, he called to encourage me.

encourEncouragement.  It is often called the “gift of caring.”  At those times when I was struggling to carry on, or when I felt lost, it was encouragement that kept me focused and positive.   Sometimes encouragement kept me from giving up.

The Apostle Paul was buoyed by the encouragement and love he received from his friend Philemon.  No doubt, long days in prison threatened to push Paul toward depression. But, he had faithful friends who supported him with their love.

The word for encouragement here is scripture means that someone comes alongside of you. This can be in the form of comfort, consolation, or appeal.  It can be an urging forward for someone who is stuck and discouraged.  The person who encourages reminds you of things you have forgotten or helps you to see forward from where you are.

Also, encouragement can happen in little basic in the most simple of encounters.  It is telling the barista, “You are really good at this job.” You can encourage by noticing any job done well or any action deserving recognition and praise.  For this reason, I believe it is a gospel virtue.  Those who live daily in the affirmation of God find it natural to affirm and praise others.  They regularly give the gift of caring.

That phone conversation from my mentor was no isolated event.  His life was one of on-going encouragement.  Some of the letters that I cherish and still keep in my files were ones he sent me, to encourage me.  His encouragement makes me want to extend this grace to others, to give the gift of caring.