Tag: love (page 2 of 3)

The best way to love your enemies

image credit: Creation Swap user Stephen Hay

My wife and I don’t watch a ton of reality TV.

But there are a few we catch each time around:

I find myself drawn in as personalities take shape, and characters are revealed. Within the first few weeks of a season, I’ve got “my” contestant. The one I want to see win it all.

I can usually nail who will win it, who will lose it, who the network’s keeping around for ratings, and who has no chops to hang with the big dogs.

I also find myself instantly being frustrated by certain people.

“Why could she say that?”

“Why would he treat ____ that way?”

“How could she be so callous with _____?”

In just a few weeks of watching a show, I can develop intense emotional responses to negative contestants. Not in a sinful way, but in a very real way. I know that being in an intensely stressful environment with other contestants in a competition brings out the worst in people, but goodness me…these guys can get downright nasty. And I can jump on the “Down with ____ bandwagon” as quickly as the next guy.

Maybe this is to my shame.

But you can’t tell me you don’t have that guy or that girl you don’t like either. Come on. Don’t lie. You’re rooting against them, too.

The Change

When I hear a snippet of people’s stories, though, my “I don’t like that person” goes out the window.

There was a contestant on one of the cooking reality TV shows that I was watching who was a cut-throat villain. I’m not saying that to exaggerate…she really was. She was mean. Sly. Cutting. And she took no prisoners. She was the person that everybody loved to hate.

But then I found out she’s a single mom, and loves her daughter like crazy. Much of what she does is to provide a living for her daughter. She broke down when she was telling her story about raising her daughter by herself.

And part of me broke with her. I understand a small slice of single parenthood because, living in a military town, I get to walk that road with families regularly. It’s tough. Tougher than one parent should ever have to shoulder alone. And it breaks the toughest of parents.

In watching this person’s story unfold before my eyes, I shifted from seeing her as the villain to seeing her as a fighter, battling for her family. Grinding it out so her daughter would understand hard work, success, making an impact on our culture. Stepping on toes so her daughter could stand on her shoulders.

Beyond TV

When you hear someone’s story, it humanizes them. Instead of just being the person who insulted you, their cutting words become a cry for help.

Instead of being your enemy, a person becomes a chance for you to extend love in a new way.

Instead of being a villain, your enemy presents a new opportunity to serve.

Instead of being a homeless man on the side of the road, they become a dad who’s been beaten up by life.

Instead of being a cut-throat business man, they become a man who’s never understood real love.

On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” – Mark 2:17

When you react defensively, you ruin a chance for redemption. You spoil an opportunity to extend grace. You heap shame and condemnation and anger on someone who needs none of that.

Next time someone says something hateful, humanize them. Get to know their story. Understand their pain. Put yourself in their shoes.

I’m not saying that you should justify sinful behavior.

I am saying that it’s time to build relationships.

Let’s get to know people.

Especially your enemies. (Matthew 5:44)

Question:

Have you ever been shocked to be broken by someone else’s story?

 

 

Authentic community and stinging honesty

Confession 1: I’m not a huge fan of American Idol.

Confession 2: I kind of like the first few weeks of auditions.

It’s probably completely the sinful side of me that enjoys those awful auditions that make our ears bleed. Oftentimes though, I’ll watch the first few weeks of a season then check out once the competition officially begin.

I watch as people who think they can sing like an angel crash and burn in front of 3 judges and millions of TV viewers. As the hour progresses, I’m struck by a strange combination of emotions, wanting to laugh, cry, and scream at my TV all at the same time.

The whole time I’m wondering why so many of these people’s friends told them that they were good. You know that they didn’t arrive at this conclusion all by themselves. Someone else must have told them, “Umm…yeah, that’s good. You should try out for American Idol!” Or, “You’ll really go somewhere with that voice.” Or, “Yes, you are a superstar!”

I began to wonder if we try to do similar things in “community,” encouraging people where they’re not gifted. Praising people when they don’t need to be praised.

Dishonest community

In the short-run, it’s easier to choose a ‘white lie” and preserve the peace than to find a way to lovingly speak the truth.

  • If I think I have the gift of teaching, but I’m awful at teaching, don’t tell me I’m good. If I didn’t do a good job, don’t tell me, “That’s the best sermon I’ve ever heard!” Be honest! It’ll sting in the short run, but like momma always said, “Honesty’s always the best policy.”
  • If I think I have the gift of hospitality, but I’m a jerk when I’m hosting people in my home, don’t let me keep thinking I’m doing a great job. Authentic community is honest.
  • If I think I’m a good writer, but my writing stinks, it would be unloving of you to tell me that it’s wonderful. And ultimately, if I think my writing is good, and I don’t work on it, in the long run I’ll never try to improve. And what I think I’m a superstar at will make me look foolish. I would bear the responsibility for that, but those along the way who were not honest with me would bear the load, too.

Authentic community is others-focused, not just you-focused.

Helping people understand their gifts is vital to the success of any leader. But don’t lead them to believe they’re awesome in something that they’re not. Speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) to those you participate in community with is a difficult thing to do. But it’s incredibly honoring as you seek to help someone improve a gift they’re using. Your words are setting them on a path to utilizing their gifts, not just embarrassing themselves with it.

Gifts are like muscles…they need to be exercised in order to be effective. Sometimes exercise has to start with a little honesty. And honesty is best received in the context of healthy, authentic, loving community.

 Do not lie to each other. – Colossians 3:9

 

A better way to keep Christ in Christmas

Do people really want to leave Christ out of Christmas?

I don’t think so. Because if we did, we’d be left with just ‘mas.’ Which can’t work.

  • We wish you a merry mas.
  • All I want for mas is my two front teeth.
  • We’d invite people to our mas Eve service.
  • We’d watch National Lampoon’s mas Vacation.

Nobody wants that. Not even pagans. Because we all know that whether you’re a pagan or a Christian, you watch National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation at some point during this season.

With the myriad of distractions flying at us through the media, shopping, office parties, and traveling, we need reminders to keep Christ in Christmas, right? You’ve seen them on buttons, t-shirts-billboards, and yard signs.

CHRISTmas reminders

  • Jesus is the reason for the season.
  • Keep CHRIST in CHRISTmas.
  • No Christ. No Christmas. Know Christ. Know Christmas.
  • Christmas is about Jesus from long ago, not Santa trudging through the snow.

Maybe I made that last one up. But I’m not convinced that these types of reminders work. I also think that when you make it a personal mission to tell everyone you see, “Merry CHRISTmas” (over-dramatizing the “Christ” part), you don’t necessarily help your cause.

In fact, that’s offensive to many people.

“Shouldn’t that make us, the Church, upset?” you say. “It is our holiday, after all, right?” This holiday should be all about Jesus, so we should expect that everyone, even those who don’t follow Jesus, to honor him as Savior and Lord during the Christmas season, right? Oh wait…never mind…forcing someone to recite something they don’t believe isn’t necessarily helpful. Expecting that they’ll honor Jesus during December even though they don’t believe He is King may not be the best way.

Can I offer a better way?

Better CHRISTmas reminders

Maybe a better way to keep Christ in Christmas is to show people love. Even people that don’t deserve it.

Maybe a better way to keep Christ in Christmas is to pursue peace with people because God, through Jesus, has pursued peace with us. 

Maybe a better way to keep Christ in Christmas is to live joyfully in the midst of difficulty. Because we have a Savior who endured our suffering.

Maybe a better way to keep Christ in Christmas is to live generously. Because we serve a King who has given us salvation.

Maybe a better way to keep Christ in Christmas is to live our lives as if the God of the world sent his Son to call us His own.

But maybe I’m wrong.

Maybe we should just keep wearing our buttons. 

 

 

The Gospel-Centered Small Group Leader

Let love be genuine. – Romans 12:9

image credit: creation swap user Josiah Kopp

When it comes to talking about the marks of a true follower of Jesus, it’s no surprise that Paul starts out talking about love.

Literally, Romans 12:9 says, “Let love be without hypocrisy.” This is significant because the hypocrite has one thing on his mind:

What will people think of me?

Not, “Who am I?” Not, “How can I serve?” Not, “How can I make much of the power of the Gospel to transform?” The hypocrite is primarily concerned with what others think of them, trying to make the outside look better than the inside. (Matthew 23:27)

Hypocrisy loves to hide.

We have this part of us that tries to hide and appear better than we really are. We don’t want people to see the “real” us. Because the “real’ us may be repulsive, scandalous, depressed, and unworthy. We think, “If you only knew the ‘real’ me…”

The great news about our approaching God is that we don’t have to hide! Christ died for us, right in the midst of all of our messiness. And the Church, authentic community, should be the same. But there’s a vast difference between the group leader who’s pursuing the Gospel with their group…and the one who’s not.

A me-centered small group leader

  • Hides their junk.
  • Tries to make much of his or her knowledge of the Bible.
  • Hides behind the veneer of leadership.
  • Hides behind pushing other people to share their story.
  • Shares pain and heartache and difficulties and struggles using the terms, “him, her, they, them, and you.”

A Gospel-Centered Small Group Leader

  • Shares their faith story knowing that it displays God’s grace.
  • Shares their faith story knowing that it offers hope.
  • Shares their faith story knowing that it breaks down walls that keep people from God.
  • Pursues vulnerability because they’re not scared of being “found out.” They’ve already been accepted by the King.
  • Uses the words, “I, me, and us” way more than, “you, him, her, they, or them.”

Anything less than genuine love (Romans 12:9) is cheapening the grace and mercy and kindness and power of God. Because it’s making much of you, and little of the God we say we love.

Being vulnerable with your faith story leads to Gospel health. And if our aim is Gospel-centered community, then we need to pursue genuine love. Love that says, “I know you, I know your story, I know your pain and your failures and your frustrations and your questions…and I love you still.” That’s what the Gospel says. (Romans 5:6)

And that’s what we should say, too.

*image credit: Creation Swap User Josiah Kopp

 

BE the Church

I learn a lot while flying on an airplane. Last time I flew, this post happened: HERE.

Photo Credit: Creation Swap user Suaz Carranz

Last time, I sat beside a couple of ladies that brought along hard-boiled eggs.

This time, I’m not sure it was any better. Here’s what I would’ve tweeted if I had had internet capabilities:

  • Gosh, I love kids, but seriously? Do you really need to scream the whole flight? And I know that you, mom, are trying to help, but yelling louder than the screams isn’t helping.
  • Did that guy in front of me just exhaust that whole bottle of Germ-x? Is he drinking it? I’m pretty sure my nose is now germ-free. And on fire.
  • I think the person behind me has passed enough gas to fuel the plane. This is bad…and I can’t go anywhere.
  • Truth: Snores are much louder on a plane. Something gets amplified when you’re that high in the air.
  • I got in “trouble” on the plane because I didn’t listen to the pilot when he said to put away all electronic devices. Apparently, a Kindle can take down a plane.

But I sat beside a couple of single parents and had a great time hearing a bit of their story and understanding who they are. We struck up a conversation about parenting, and they both have 16-year-old daughters. They were throwing ideas around for their daughters’ upcoming birthday parties, and I quickly felt out of my league. Partly because I have a 3-year-old son. Partly because they think much more extravagantly for birthdays than I do. I can get my son a $.99 matchbox car and he’s thrilled.

I also felt like a great parent after hearing their birthday suggestions. There were three that rose to the top.

Top 3 Birthday Suggestions from 10,000 feet

  • You could take your daughter to this make-up artist I know. She charges $400/hour, but it’s worth it. I go there every once in a while…
  • You could send them with their friends to Dallas. Dallas is a fun city, right?
  • You could send your daughter to Las Vegas for the weekend. I’m sure she’d love that. Oh, wait…do you think she should have adult supervision?…

It was at that point that I really started feeling like, though I often feel clueless as a parent, I am a pretty awesome dad. And I was reminded that common sense isn’t common.

Inevitably, all of my conversations on a plane end up coming back to a conversation about God. This one was no different. Both of these single parents grew up in church, but were burned for various reasons. I asked

Are you and God on speaking terms?

They were. But they wanted nothing to do with a local church. Nothing. “I like your God, but not the whole religion thing.”

So I got the chance to advocate for a ‘better’ Church. And I took the opportunity to show them that there are churches in America that aren’t burning people. Churches that are making a difference in their communities. Churches that are speaking Truth and hope and grace and mercy. Churches that are based not on maintaining programs, but investing in people. Churches where it’s safe to explore faith. Churches where you’re encouraged to come as you are.

As I’m sharing this truth with my two new friends, I was struck by the fact that everywhere I go, I’m a living, breathing, talking billboard for the Church. And if we (the Church) are ever going to overcome the perception that we’re just a group of judgmental, self-serving, stingy bigots it’s got to start with me.

You may not think of yourself this way, but you are, too. The conversations you have paint a picture for others.

Can we start painting a better picture? One that looks a little more like our Savior?

My new picture will look like this:

Be generous.

Be loving.

Be full of grace.

Be full of mercy.

Be the Church. 

*Photo credit: Creation Swap User Suaz Carranz

 

How to Overcome Perceptions

image credit: CreationSwap user Rich Aguilar

Just the other day, I had someone tell me that all of my posts on Facebook are about food and parenting. “You must really love your food…and your son!”

Well, she’s right about me loving my food…and my son.

But she’s wrong about all of my posts being about those two topics. And I could’ve corrected her, but thank you very much Dale Carnegie, I just smiled and continued the conversation. Correcting her would’ve done no good. Why?

Perception is everything.

People can perceive you to be all sorts of things that you’re not. I’ve been perceived

  • Naive
  • Un-thoughtful
  • Forgetful
  • Unwise
  • Small-minded
  • Forgetful
  • Lazy
  • Unmotivated
  • Wasteful
  • Greedy
  • Self-serving

And in each of those cases, I could verbally tell you why I’m not that. Explain to you how I’m not lazy. Map out for you how I’m really not small-minded. Draw a diagram on the back of a napkin to show you how I’m not self-serving.

And in each of those cases, I would watch you walk away shaking your head in disagreement, firmly planted and confirmed in your ideas about me.

Perceptions aren’t often logical. They’re feelings-based. And feelings-based ideas aren’t overcome by logic and reason. They’re overcome by another feeling.

Instead of telling you how I’m not lazy, I need to show you that I hustle every day.

Instead of telling you how I’m not forgetful, I need to remember your name.

Instead of telling you how I’m not greedy, I need to demonstrate for you generosity.

Instead of telling you that I’m not self-serving, I need to show you what it looks like to serve others.

Perceptions of the Church

I know that, because of what we’ve stood against and how we’ve lived in this world, others have certain perceptions of the Church. Certain perceptions that aren’t necessarily true. Perceptions that, because of our history, people have come to believe. They perceive that we’re

  • Naive
  • Small-minded
  • Bigots
  • Deceived
  • Foolish
  • Stubborn
  • Boring
  • Lazy
  • Uncaring
  • Weak

I’m ashamed of the perceptions that the Church has gained. And I could lay out for you how our church is different. I could logically walk you through what we do differently. But most of the time, that’s not going to work. Perceptions aren’t logical. They’re rooted in feelings and emotions.

So I’m just going to show you. I’m going to let you see the Church in action through me. I’m going to serve and love and give and go and never expect anything in return. I’m going to be the Church and live the Church. Instead of just talking, I’m going to serve. Instead of just debating, I’m going to love. Instead of arguing, I’m going to give.

That’s what the Church does.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. – Jesus, from John 13:34-35

*Image credit: CreationSwap user Rich Aguilar 

 

 

 

Pursuing God’s Love

My friend, Margaret Feinberg (on Twitter HERE or Facebook HERE), just launched a new 6-week DVD Bible study series called “Pursuing God” with Zondervan. The first two titles are Pursuing God’s Beauty: Stories from the Gospel of John and Pursuing God’s Love: Stories from the Book of Genesis. Instead of me giving my thoughts on the study, I thought you might like to hear directly from Margaret.

Ben: Where did you come up with the idea for this series?

Margaret: I reached a place in my own spiritual life where I felt disconnected from God. I decided to return to the foundations of my faith by reading through the Book of Genesis. Something sparked as I studied, and so I continued reading and rereading for more than 18 months.

During that time, I kept hearing a reverberation in conversations with people around the country who were looking for a Bible study that wasn’t topical but rather based on a book of the Bible—allowing them to really dive deeper into the Scripture. But they admitted that either they or some of the members of their small groups don’t have time to tackle an hour of homework a night. So I began to develop a study that created an equal playing field for the veteran believer who had time to do 30-minutes of homework a night and the young mom who barely has time to take shower. Both can engage in this study—whether or not they’ve done the homework that week—and explore the Scripture together. The study encourages participants to not only grow deeper in relationship with God but with each other as they discuss and share life together.

Ben: What are some of the unique features that make these resources different from every other resource available for small groups?

Margaret: Pursuing God’s Beauty: Stories from the Gospel of John and Pursuing God’s Love: Stories from the Book of Genesis are six-session DVD Bible studies with each session averaging 18 minutes in length—leaving plenty of time for discussion and digging deeper into the Scripture and topics covered. Pursuing God’s Beauty is filmed in an artist’s loft with an artist painting in the background—the picture complete with the final session. Pursuing God’s Beauty is filmed outdoors in Colorado with rock climbers in the background. Each lesson features icebreaker questions as well as experiential activities, and five after-hours studies each week are provided in the participant’s guide for those who want to dive deeper into the Scripture at home.

Ben: What is it that you hope people would get out of these studies?

Margaret: Studying the Bible is more than something for ‘religious’ people and is more than something done in isolation. Through these studies, we’re reminded the Bible was meant to be discussed in community, and its stories are powerful enough to speak to each one of us—wherever we are and whatever our circumstances might be.

Ben: Why did you select Genesis as one of the book of the Bible to dive into?

Margaret: It’s amazing to think that everything we see and encounter in our world today—whether in a place like this with breathtaking views or in a more urban context all began in Genesis.

I love this book of the Bible, because Genesis is the story of our beginnings. In fact, the first word of the Bible in Hebrew is beresheet meaning “in the beginning”. This is the story of our origins, where we began, the formation of our cosmos and humanity. It is also the story of alienation from God, from each other, and from the creation. It’s is also the story of his loving initiative to redeem the world back to himself.

The Genesis story matters because in order to understand where we are today, we must go back to the beginning. The past helps us understand our present and illuminates our future.

Ben: In studying the Gospel of John, you invite readers to explore the beauty of God. Unpack that a little for us.

Margaret: Ultimately, you and I were designed to be captivated by God’s beauty. And when we pursue His beauty—we can’t help but find ourselves on a journey… to know more about God, His character, attributes, ways and work, in our world. And the miracle of this journey is that along the way we find breathtaking portraits of salvation, redemption, and restoration.

Perhaps no book of the Bible paints a clearer picture of this then the Gospel of John. Throughout the Gospel of John, the beauty of God radiates in the person of Jesus Christ—the one in whom God displayed his whole heart for the world to see. It’s within the person of Jesus that we find the invisible attributes of God being made visible, on display like the fine pieces of artwork in this gallery—to be enjoyed, celebrated, and reflected upon.

For more info, check out PursuingGodBibleStudy.com.

I’ll be giving away one copy of each of these studies. To be eligible to win, leave a comment, ReTweet, or share on Facebook. Make sure you tag me so I can add you to the drawing! Drawing will be held on Friday, September 23rd, at 9:00 pm.

 

 

 

Love & Fire

Creative Commons: Will G

 

Love is a lot like fire.

The more you give, the more it grows.

Come to think of it, so is

  • grace
  • hope
  • mercy
  • generosity
  • acceptance
  • joy
  • peace
  • truth

Try to hoard any of these, and the flame goes out.  For you and for others.

Share them copiously, and you’ll see the blaze take over your life.

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? – James 2:14

 

 

 

The quest for the perfect cup of coffee

If you’re in the business of leading people, you must also be in the business of building relationships.

If you’re not, you can forget about having any significant level of influence.

Yesterday, I had a cup of coffee from a Chemex.  You know how long it took between the time I ordered it and the time I took my first sip?

Nearly 12 minutes.

Was I frustrated?

Not a bit.

It was a perfect cup of coffee.  Perfect.  It was clean, smooth, and a bit chocolatey.  Its roasty-ness wasn’t overwhelming, but its flavors deep and rich.

With the Chemex, you don’t just hit a button and watch the magic happen.  You have to stand beside it the whole time it’s brewing, continuing to add more water at just the right time.  Then wait for the percolation to happen.  Then add more water (with a very specific type of kettle) to the areas that are dry, starting with the center and moving out towards the edge.  Until finally, after all of the water has percolated through and the brewing process is complete, you get a decanter full of perfection.  The cup of coffee that comes from the Chemex is truly a work of art.

And relationships are no different.

We’d like to think that relationships are microwavable.  Quick, easy, and cheap.  But they’re far from it.

Truths about Significant Relationships

Relationships take time, effort, and expense.

They take constant care and attention.  Don’t walk away, or you’ll miss that key opportunity, that key moment that the next step forward is contingent upon.

Each relationship is different.

Building relationships is not a one-size-fits-all model.  Just as each Chemex cup takes a slightly different amount of time to brew, depending on the grind of the coffee, the speed at which you pour the water, and the temperature of the water, so each relationship takes a different amount of effort, time, and care.

You can’t have significant relationships with a vast number of people.

There’s just too much expense involved.  It’s not possible to give of yourself enough to have deep, significant relationships with significant numbers of people.

Relational investments take cultivation to grow.

Don’t expect to hit a button, wave your magic wand, and voila!  Cultivating important relationships is hard work.  You’ll have to let other things slide.  Other commitments, responsibilities, emails, phone calls, and things less important.

It is worth the wait.

If you’ll give a relationship the time and effort it needs, you’ll be surprised the mutual benefits that will follow.

If you lose sight of the end goal, you’ll get frustrated.

You’ll get burned, feel like it’s too big an investment, and feel the tension to just move on.  Like this is a hopeless cause that’s benefiting nobody.  Offering grace, mercy, love, and hope isn’t something you do because you are looking for immediate results.

“Love is patient…Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” (1 Corinthians 13:4, 7)

 

 

Play the back 9

You may have seen this, but let me fill you in.

Kevin Na, 27 year old PGA Tour golfer from South Korea, turned pro at age 17.  He skipped his senior year of high school.  He’s no slouch of a golfer.

He was playing in the PGA Tour’s stop in San Antonio, the Valero Texas Open.  During round 1, on the 9th hole, Na had…um…one of those holes.  If you’re a golfer, you know what I mean.  It’s one of those holes where nothing goes right, and you feel like you have no clue what you’re doing.  You begin to wonder why you’re even playing golf, and if in fact you have ever played before.

After going right, into the trees, off of the tee, re-teeing, going right again, and proceeding the knock it around in the woods for a while, Na finally sunk a 6-footer for a cool 16.  He set the record for the most strokes in a PGA tour event on a par-4.

Here’s his meltdown.


But here’s the rest of the story. Na turned and played the back nine at -3.  He didn’t give up, even after an epic meltdown!  Here’s what he said in an interview:

“I was pretty proud of the way I handled the situation.  And after that, I shot -3 on the back nine.”

That takes some courage, doesn’t it?  Likely many people would’ve just walked off of the course and quit the tournament.  They would’ve packed up their bag and been done for the day.  But not Na.  He knew he still had work to do.

Maybe you’ve felt like Na.

You’ve had an epic meltdown.  You’ve failed your work, your church, your home, your family.  And it feels like it’s time to hang it up.  Call it quits.  Give up on any significant dreams or goals.  And just give in to a life of insignificance.

But thankfully, God’s in the business of restoration.  And He loves to redeem His people.  He’s done it throughout history.  And He can do it again in your life.

Na may have still missed the cut.  But he didn’t quit.

You may have lost your job, your career, and some significant relationships in your failure.  You may feel like there’s nowhere to go from here.

But don’t quit.  If you’re still alive, God has plans for you on this Earth.

Take a step of faith in the right direction.

Thankfully, God hasn’t quit on you.

Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you. – God (Hebrews 13:5)

Love is patient and kind; love never gives up. (1 Corinthians 13:4, 7)

 
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