Change the Topic

topicchangeThe sign on the table said “Ministry to Women.” It was one of many tables from which people attending the networking breakfast could choose. Seats were first-come, first-served, so those who didn’t arrive early took the risk of having to sit at a table that was less than an ideal fit for them. And that’s what happened at the Ministry to Women table. Just as the program was beginning, a man slipped into the room, looked around urgently, then slipped into one of the chairs at the table with us.

As the facilitator, I wanted to be sure he felt as welcome as everyone else, but I was concerned about his comfort level…and the comfort levels of the women at the table. Everyone one seemed fine, and as we began introducing ourselves and sharing why we chose to sit at the Ministry to Women table, he confessed, “I really wanted to sit at the Elders table, but it was already full. But this table interests me, too. I thought that it said Ministry of Women, not Ministry to Women, and I’m curious to find out what you think about women in various ministry positions and roles.”

I was faced with a choice: (1) Stick to the plan of covering topics under the umbrella of Ministry to Women, which would meet the needs of the majority at the table. (2) Explore the Ministry of Women topic, which would meet the curiosity of one person. Majority rules, right?

Not necessarily.

I knew if I tried to control the conversation, push an agenda, or meet everyone’s needs, I’d fail as a facilitator. So I took a deep breath, set aside all my preparations and expectations, and guided the next forty-five minutes’ discussion by asking thought-provoking questions, acknowledging and affirming each person, and most important, trusting God to guide.

And we had a great conversation. As unexpected as it was and as controversial as it could have been, our discussion was filled with respect, inquisitiveness, and investment. Everyone had something to say and took his or her focus off personal experiences and onto ways to invite conversations and investment in the process, including ideas for moving forward in personal circles and ministries.

We can often get a little off-balanced when things don’t go the way we expect them to go, and that unbalance can make us just edgy enough to get defensive or take control. We can begin to push our own agendas, try to prove others wrong…and forget that settling the controversy isn’t about the topic itself as much as it’s about the relationships we’re establishing along the way. When we’re sitting on the edge of our seats, waiting to respond in order to prove our points or tear someone else’s apart, we miss the process. We miss the opportunity to meet others where we share common ground instead of stopping short because we’ve built a stubborn wall we’re unwilling to cross. Then we call it “establishing healthy boundaries” and rationalize why we can’t move. Supporting a person through listening doesn’t assume you support the idea or viewpoint. But it shows respect.

We miss out on a lot of opportunities to learn from others and about ourselves when we choose to sacrifice the process because it isn’t what we expect or isn’t comfortable. When God brings people into our lives so that what we discuss will sharpen everyone involved, we need to be willing to be involved in the process. We need to trust him to work instead of withdrawing or getting uptight about taking control of the situation. God knows what he’s doing.

The table discussion wasn’t what I expected, yet we weren’t read to end our discussion at the end of the networking breakfast. We exchanged contact information and enjoyed seeing each other throughout the conference in the following days. We didn’t get stuck in the differences; we moved forward in the possibilities. We encouraged each other and invited each person to share, question, and advice. We walked away feeling respected and appreciative that God gave us a tangible reminder of the value of the friendships he brings into our lives every day.

Look around you today. Even when you have a common purpose with someone, you might find you’re very different. Invite the opportunity to explore the differences while you’re standing on the common ground of respect.

To those who are without the law I became like a person who is without the law. I did this to win those people who are without the law. (But really, I am not without God’s law—I am ruled by Christ’s law.) To those who are weak, I became weak so I could win the weak. I have become all things to all people so I could save some of them in any way possible. I do all this because of the Good News and so I can share in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:21-23)

Everyday God: Get Some Rest

everydayBecause of the Games We Play with God, we’re digging into a new series this month to explore ways we can know God in the everyday of our lives. Today’s daily task? Get Some Rest!

Living in the everyday of God’s plan means living by his schedule and timing, and God is adamant about the balance of life. He tells us to work, and he tells us to rest. He set the example of intentional rest on the seventh day of Creation. Scripture is scattered with references of and commands to rest. We often excuse our own schedules and timelines, because we think we can keep things in balance. As if we can do a better job of balancing life than God can? (1) He created us, so he knows what we need. (2) He knows when we need what we need and how to best give it to us.

So, why oh why, do we not listen and forge ahead in our own strength, exhausting ourselves, then wondering why God is providing more strength and energy for us?

God didn’t create you to go, go, go and do, do, do. He created you to be. His plan is the best. It seems I have to learn that lesson over and over again. Sometimes I’m certain I have something completely figured out. I’m certain my way is the best, and in many cases, it works pretty well. Yet over time, the chinks in the wall I’ve built begin to crumble, and I realize I’ve done my own mortaring instead of letting God design, guide and provide. So, we do some clearing together and get back to the firm foundation and begin to build.

Yes, Lord, you’re way is best.

That includes rest. It’s in rest that we recuperate. It’s in rest that God restores us. It’s in rest that we have checks and balances, so instead of forging ahead and building the wall ourselves or creating and completing our own to-do lists, we’re quiet long enough to inquire, “Yes, Lord?” And when he answers, we can confidently proceed with “Yes, Lord!”

Come to me, all of you who are tired and have heavy loads, and I will give you rest.Accept my teachings and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit, and you will find rest for your lives. (Matthew 11:28-29)

Everyday God: Watch the Story

everydayBecause of the Games We Play with God, we’re digging into a new series this month to explore ways we can know God in the everyday of our lives. Today’s daily task? Watch the Story!

I don’t hear many people talk about “their stories” very often anymore in the context of soap operas. I don’t know if soap operas have simply fallen out of vogue or if I’m running in non-soap opera circles. I know it’s not because people aren’t closely following television shows, because I see many posts when some shows air, especially when anticipated shows premiere. In early January of this year, I saw many posts about Downton Abbey, The Biggest Loser, and The Bachelor. Later this year, it will be Dancing with the Stars and (my favorite) So You Think You Can Dance. We certainly follow stories. Perhaps you’re more into the crime stories, news magazines, entertainment shows, or home improvement shows. You might like news programs, human interest stories, love stories, comedies, or sports. Even if you don’t watch television much, you mind be drawn to movies, internet sites, or books. You’re getting stories from somewhere.

The choices that you make about what you watch and in what stories you invest affect your life. I know, I know, so many people will respond with a flippant, “Really? Does it really matter all that much? I mean, it’s just entertainment!” I like entertainment, too! I enjoy going to a good movie (and eating buttered popcorn) or lazily watching a movie on a rainy afternoon; but I’m not naive enough to think the choices I make about my entertainment have no impact on me. The books I read, sites I visit, and shows I choose all influence me, because I let them into my mind and heart, as least for a brief window of my life. And then there’s the argument that as long as I enjoy it, it’s okay. After all, don’t I have the right to watch whatever I want?

Rights? Privileges? Well, we certainly have opportunities to choose. But just because we can choose something doesn’t mean we should. What should we choose and what should we avoid?

Know God.

What is drawing you into HIS story?

How is God weaving your story with your choices?

Know God today. Choose well.

Everyday God: Lock the Door

everydayBecause of the Games We Play with God, we’re digging into a new series this month to explore ways we can know God in the everyday of our lives. Today’s daily task? Lock the Door!

What doors do you lock regularly? Your house? Car? Office? What about doors you lock occasionally, depending on the situation? What doors do you keep unlocked? And are your reasons for locking or unlocking valid reasons or rationalizations?

What about spiritual doors?I do not mean that I am already as God wants me to be. I have not yet reached that goal, but I continue trying to reach it and to make it mine. Christ wants me to do that, which is the reason he made me his. Brothers and sisters, I know that I have not yet reached that goal, but there is one thing I always do.

Forgetting the past and straining toward what is ahead, I keep trying to reach the goal and get the prize for which God called me through Christ to the life above.All of us who are spiritually mature should think this way, too. And if there are things you do not agree with, God will make them clear to you.But we should continue following the truth we already have. (Philippians 3:12-16)

“I say this because I know what I am planning for you,” says the Lord. “I have good plans for you, not plans to hurt you. I will give you hope and a good future.Then you will call my name. You will come to me and pray to me, and I will listen to you.You will search for me. And when you search for me with all your heart, you will find me!” (Jeremiah 29:11-13)

From this time on we do not think of anyone as the world does. In the past we thought of Christ as the world thinks, but we no longer think of him in that way. 17 If anyone belongs to Christ, there is a new creation. The old things have gone; everything is made new! (2 Corinthians 5:16-17)

As you close physical doors in your house, vehicle, office, or other locations throughout the day, consider the spiritual doors you’re prying open, blockading shut, propping open, or slamming shut. Are you taking control or trusting God to guide you as you close, open, and lock doors?

Everyday God: Answer the Phone

everydayBecause of the Games We Play with God, we’re digging into a new series this month to explore ways we can know God in the everyday of our lives. Today’s daily task? Answer the Phone!

How many times would you estimate you answer the phone in a day?

Let’s widen the circle and throw texts, Facebook messages, and emails into the category of “answering the phone.” After all, it’s communicating with someone. You might prefer to rationalize it’s different because you’re not using your voice, but actually, you are. Here are a couple guidelines I try to follow.

  • If I am going to send a text, I respond only in a way I would respond face-to-face. I want the same boundaries of respect. Just because I can’t see the person doesn’t mean I should say something more offensive, less confrontational, or unloving in any way.
  • If I’m going to post something on a social networking site (and not in a private message), I respond only in a way I would step onto my front porch and shout to the world. After all, that’s basically what I’m doing when I post something publicly-accessible online. (I suppose I could shout my blog posts from my front porch, but I doubt my neighbors would appreciate it much. There’s no “hide” or “unsubscribe” button in my neighborhood.

What’s your attitude when you answer the phone, send a text, reply to an email, or post on Facebook? Do your words match your attitude, and do both glorify God? As you talk with people today (in any format), consider how you’re living out the following verses.

Speaking the truth with love, we will grow up in every way into Christ, who is the head. (Ephesians 4:15)

Why do you notice the little piece of dust in your friend’s eye, but you don’t notice the big piece of wood in your own eye? How can you say to your friend, “Let me take that little piece of dust out of your eye”? Look at yourself! You still have that big piece of wood in your own eye. You hypocrite! First, take the wood out of your own eye. Then you will see clearly to take the dust out of your friend’s eye. (Matthew 7:3-5)

When you talk, do not say harmful things, but say what people need—words that will help others become stronger. Then what you say will do good to those who listen to you. (Ephesians 4:29)

Everyday God: Make the Bed

everydayBecause of the Games We Play with God, we’re digging into a new series this month to explore ways we can know God in the everyday of our lives. Today’s daily task? Make the Bed!

Why make the bed when I’m just going to sleep in it the next night?

Without getting into a household debate that is likely only rivaled by the toilet-paper-roll-under-or-over or squeeze-the-toothpaste-from-the-end-or-the-middle debates, let me start by saying, “Yes,” I believe the bed should be made every day, and, “No,” I don’t think you’re a slob if you don’t. I could state multiple reasons for making the bed, but arguing the point isn’t the point I want to make today. I’m going to focus more on the how than the why of bed-making.

Here are some basic bed-making tips.

  • Simplify the bedding. The more layers you have, the more will need to be straightened. That includes throw pillows.
  • Freshen your pillows. Depending on the type of pillows you have, you can fluff them in the dryer, air them outside on warm days, or spritz them with non-allergenic freshening spray.
  • Use hospital corners. It’s a simple technique for tucking in the corners so they’re stay better. Even if you tear the covers lose at night, tucking the corners tightly in the morning will insure sheets remain straight over multiple nights.

So, what on earth does making a bed have to do with your everyday faith?

  • Simplify. The more stuff you have to deal with on a daily basis, the more distracted you’ll be. Keep God in the center of everything, and let him decide what stays and what goes.
  • Refresh your faith. Routines can certainly keep us on track, but they can also foster a stale environment. Invite God’s refreshment daily. A growing faith with him will never grow stale.
  • Secure the corners. Keep the details of your life straight by regularly securing the foundation. Jesus is the cornerstone that keeps everything else in your life in place. (Acts 4:11)

From now on, when you make your bed, intentionally commit your everyday to God.

Everyday God: Get a Haircut!

everydayBecause of the Games We Play with God, we’re digging into a new series this month to explore ways we can know God in the everyday of our lives. Today’s daily task? Get a Haircut!

So, getting a haircut isn’t an everyday occurrence, but it’s a reminder that we can’t ignore the little things that add up day after day. We can tolerate our hair day after day following a haircut, but as the weeks pass, we notice our hair just isn’t doing what we want it to do. Even when we’re trying to grow it out, at some point, we need to trim the ends to keep it healthy. The wear and tear of daily life adds up.

Even when we don’t need to take action about something that’s going on in our daily life, we need to pay attention to what’s going on around us. Without intentional effort toward growth, our relationships, commitments, and attitudes will slowly–and sometimes not so slowly–deteriorate. It’s a law of thermodynamics: entropy, or disorder. It states that nature will, on its own, deteriorate toward disorder. In other words, things will fall apart.

Considering such a law of nature testifies to God as Creator. He’s an orderly God. What he created makes sense (to him), and of course, he created it with a bend toward entropy. Nothing in this world was intended to last forever. Something else that reminds me of entropy when I consider God as Creator is that even our relationship with him will bend toward entropy. We’re created in his image and with a need for a relationship with him, but we have to believe him. A relationship requires intimacy, and in order to grow in relationship with God, we have to know him.

We have to pay attention to the everyday stuff, knowing what makes our relationship with God deeper and stronger and what weakens it and distances us. So, what are you doing today that is strengthening your relationships with God? What are you doing today that is weakening it? Pay attention to the everyday wear and tear!

Listen, people of Israel! The Lord our God is the only Lord. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. Always remember these commands I give you today.Teach them to your children, and talk about them when you sit at home and walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.Write them down and tie them to your hands as a sign. Tie them on your forehead to remind you,and write them on your doors and gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)