Reach Out and Touch Someone

miami_package_feelthehealdetoxGod’s family is certainly not exempt from hurt, including the hurts that come from within. People in churches are just as vulnerable to unjustly criticize, gossip, neglect, and offend one another as anyone else. It’s true that God sets us apart to reflect his image to the world, but to believe Christ-followers are perfect representations of Jesus will, to say the least, lead to disappointment. What (should) set Christ-followers apart from the world is how they deal with one another to heal the hurt. Will they do the hard work it takes to unite or will they further divide into quarreling, backbiting, judgmental factions? Which will you choose? Today wraps up Healing the Hurt, a 10-post series to help hurting communities cope in biblical ways.

It’s difficult to keep a distance from somebody and touch them at the same time. Physically, it’s impossible. Emotionally, it’s nearly impossible unless you’re very good at denying emotional response and withholding compassion. Touch requires closeness, and closeness reflects relationship engagement. It’s easy to stand across the room from somebody and judge, spite, ignore, begrudge, and build a dividing wall between “us” and “them.” You can even avoid eye contact as you meet someone in the hall or pretend not to have brushed shoulders in the shifting crowd. You might be able to shake hands with a cold commitment. But what if you intentionally shake hands and make eye contact at the same time? Add a warm smile? How judgmental can you be then, regardless of what your attitude has been prior to that time?

We’re not all touchy-feeling people, and I’m certainly not suggesting a huge hug-fest in the church foyer. However, approaching someone with whom you have opposing opinions to inquire about his or her work week, family, or other concern or interest beyond the opposing opinion spurs you to stand on common ground. You may or may not be able to stand on common ground in the area of disagreement, but you can find other common ground even if it’s the simple fact that you are both Christ-followers who are passionate about seeking and following his will. Acknowledging and committing to stand on common ground helps highlight the similarities of your relationship instead of focusing on the dividing wall you’re steadily building by keeping your distance. When you build a dividing wall on the common ground you share, it’s much more difficult to stand on that same common ground!

Reach out and touch someone. It doesn’t have to be a hug. Simply rest your hand on someone’s shoulder. Gently touch someone’s arm as you ask how her week has been. As you shake someone’s hand, place your other hand over her hand and hold it for several seconds as you look into her eyes and remind her you’ve been praying for the situation. Of if you’re a natural hugger, gauge your motivation to hug. Is it simply a meaningless habit? Do your hugs really mean anything, or are they received as an obligatory handshake? Think intentionally when you reach out and touch someone. You can touch someone without much thought or purpose, but reaching out takes intention and effort.

Reaching out builds a bridge. It personalizes the relationship. When you reach out and touch someone, you’re reminded the person with whom you’re most irritated is a living, breathing person. God created her, and he loves her. He wants you to see the value he gave her, not the value you give her. When you reach out and touch someone, you also become a bit more “real” to a person. You cannot control the value someone else assigns to you, but you always have a choice to perpetuate a judgmental stereotype and assumption or invite someone into a growing relationship. Actively engage with the people with who you disagree. It’s not the easy choice, but God wants you to honor relationships.

Love each other like brothers and sisters. Give each other more honor than you want for yourselves. (Romans 12:10)

Listen with Respect

miami_package_feelthehealdetoxHow do you know what you think you know? It’s amazing how many times we jump to conclusions. We hear something through a third party, or we overhear a part of a conversation, or we hear something in the way we want to hear it and insist we know the intention behind it. We fill in the gaps between what someone actually said to make the entire story into what we want it to be instead of what it actually is. We omit the parts that contradict what we want to believe, and we ever-so-slightly embellish those areas that emphasize our points.

It’s important to go to the source, then listen with respect. Listening with respect isn’t the same as listening for ammunition. It’s listening for truth. It’s giving the person time to talk. It’s asking clarifying questions and briefly summarizing or restating every now and then to insure what you’re hearing is the same as what the person is trying to communicate. It’s listening more than you talk. It’s setting aside your personal agenda for the common good of the relationship. It’s putting others above self.

Active listening is a developed skill. It takes practice. Most of us talk much more than we listen. Even if you’re a quiet person, you can’t quickly take yourself off the hook on this one, because a quick word count comparing what you say and what you hear isn’t the same as active listening. Active listening involves investment in a relationship, which means you need to respond in order to show the person your respect. You need to engage, asking questions and restating the basics.

Listening with respect doesn’t assume you agree with everything being said. It’s not nearly as much about what is said as who is saying it. God instructs us to respect one another. It’s clear by the standards and expectations he sets that not every behavior, belief, and attitude should be respected, revered, accepted, or tolerated. But we don’t throw the person out with the behavior. It difficult to listen with respect when the person has done something we don’t respect, especially when we find out a person we’ve previously looked up to has gone against biblical principles he or she has previously personally revered and taught. However, it’s not about how we feel like responding. It’s about how God instructs us to respond. And there’s no doubt he commands respect among his followers.

To whom do you need to listen with respect today? Invite the conversation. Let God build your faith by trusting him through the process. He will guide you through what you think is impossible.

Show respect for all people: Love the brothers and sisters of God’s family… (1 Peter 2:17)

Get Outside Your Circle

miami_package_feelthehealdetoxIt’s a bit easier to perpetuate the cause and effects of hurt when you hang out with a group that isolates itself and allows the hurt to multiply. We all need reality checks, and we don’t get them from the people closest to us if they’re not willing or able to shine a revealing light on the truth of a situation. We connect with people because we have things in common with them, so we affirm one another. However, when the affirmation becomes a crutch and pulls a blinding shade over accountability, we’re in trouble.

We need to choose friends who love us just the way we are yet aren’t content to leave us there—just like God. Affirmation is great as long as it’s biblical. However, our circles of friends—even in churches—can become gossip fests. Once the can of gossip is opened, it’s incredibly difficult to secure the lid on it, but the effort is worth it. We do a lot of damage spreading hearsay or gathering breakneck momentum based on our opinions instead of factually-based information and biblical truth. When our small groups of friends or Bible study groups begin to share opinions and gain momentum of what we think is happening or should happen with an individual or the church as a whole, it’s not long before we take the small leap that rationalizes we’re being “led by God.” Just because we’re a group of Bible-believing church folks who come to a consensus doesn’t mean our conclusion is God-directed. Were biblical principles followed throughout the process of coming to the conclusion, or was there misguided rationale, misinformation, and inappropriate sharing? You cannot reach a Spirit-led result with a man-led process.

There are many boundaries drawn between the “us” and “them” in churches. It can be old versus young or paid staff versus volunteer staff. It can be “old-timers” versus new members or regular attenders versus members. The division of groups is often perpetuated by assumptions. Because we tend to hang out with people most like ourselves, we quickly make assumptions about other groups as well as about what those groups must think about us. It isn’t long before we feel slighted, justified, or entitled, and the space between the groups widen.

The way to build a bridge between groups is to get to know individuals in other groups. It takes effort, because we have to reach across the aisle to approach the very people we have some unflattering assumptions about. We might find some aspects of the assumptions to be true, but we’ll likely find many more exceptions if we open our eyes and hearts widely enough to recognize and acknowledge them. If each person in your circle of camaraderie gets to know three people in one of “the other” circles, how many assumptions would be proven right and how many would be shaken or shattered? It’s worth a try to find out. Test the all or nothing perspective.

When you do things, do not let selfishness or pride be your guide. Instead, be humble and give more honor to others than to yourselves. (Philippians 2:3)

God’s family is certainly not exempt from hurt, including the hurts that come from within. People in churches are just as vulnerable to unjustly criticize, gossip, neglect, and offend one another as anyone else. It’s true that God sets us apart to reflect his image to the world, but to believe Christ-followers are perfect representations of Jesus will, to say the least, lead to disappointment. What (should) set Christ-followers apart from the world is how they deal with one another to heal the hurt. Will they do the hard work it takes to unite or will they further divide into quarreling, backbiting, judgmental factions? Which will you choose? Healing the Hurt , is PurePurpose.org’s current series to help hurting communities cope in biblical ways.

Coping with Criticism

miami_package_feelthehealdetox“To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.” (Aristotle)

“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” (Winston Churchill)

If you’re not encountering criticism, you’re not building relationships, because relationships should involve value-driven discussions and daily living, which will cause friction among individuals. Of course, the friction should be handled in God-honoring ways. We should respect one another even when we disagree, but how often do we think respecting each other is refusing to disagree? How God-honoring are we when we’re on the receiving end of the criticism? Do we take it personally and have difficulty as we think someone no longer likes us, or do we callously respond as if we don’t care because we’re going to be who we are regardless of what anyone says or thinks of us?

What do you learn from the following verses?

Bear with each other, and forgive each other. If someone does wrong to you, forgive that person because the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:13)

Brothers and sisters, if someone in your group does something wrong, you who are spiritual should go to that person and gently help make him right again. But be careful, because you might be tempted to sin, too. (Galatians 6:1)

In everything you say and do, remember that you will be judged by the law that makes people free. So you must show mercy to others, or God will not show mercy to you when he judges you. But the person who shows mercy can stand without fear at the judgment. (James 2:12-13)

I give you a new command: Love each other. You must love each other as I have loved you. All people will know that you are my followers if you love each other. (John 13:34-35)

Accept into your group someone who is weak in faith, and do not argue about opinions. (Romans 14:1)

God certainly gave his children guidelines for criticizing others. We must be loving, gentle, and merciful. We are not excused from criticism; we are simply directed to criticize within God’s standards with his provision. We are to accept and respond to criticism in the same way—within God’s standards—even when people criticizing us are not adhering to the same standards. Just because another Christ-follower is bending God’s rules does not make it okay for us to bend God’s rules, thus, fighting fire with fire.

We cope with criticism with the same standards by which we’re to give criticism.

  • Be loving—by God’s standards.
  • Be gentle—by God’s standards.
  • Be merciful—by God’s standards.
  • Be forgiving—by God’s standards.

Responding to criticism by God’s standards is not the same as hiding feelings. It’s setting aside feelings for truth. God gave us feelings to enhance experiences not to distort the truth of a situation. Let God reveal the truth of a situation. You don’t need to know the person’s motives. You don’t need to know how the person will respond. All you need to know is…God. God is truth, and when you invite and trust him to guide, your motives will become God-driven and your responses will become God-guided. You will cope with criticism with God and for God. He is at the center of your life and your relationships, including criticism. Let him lead from the center.

Are You a Building Block or a Stumbling Block?

miami_package_feelthehealdetoxCome to the Lord Jesus, the “stone” that lives. The people of the world did not want this stone, but he was the stone God chose, and he was precious. You also are like living stones, so let yourselves be used to build a spiritual temple—to be holy priests who offer spiritual sacrifices to God. He will accept those sacrifices through Jesus Christ. The Scripture says: “I will put a stone in the ground in Jerusalem. Everything will be built on this important and precious rock. Anyone who trusts in him will never be disappointed.” This stone is worth much to you who believe. But to the people who do not believe, “the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” (1 Peter 2:4-7)

In these verses, Peter is encouraging believers to be like the stones used to build a holy temple for God. In order for the building blocks to do what they needed to do to fit together with other building blocks, they needed to be carved, molded, and placed together. In order for believers to fulfill individual and collective purpose for God, we must be willing to let God shape us and place us where he wants us to be. That means we don’t decide who we sit alongside. We don’t decide our exact shape. We don’t decide how we serve within the building. We don’t get to decide how pretty our rough edges are or how smooth is smooth enough. God does all that. It’s not about us; it’s about God’s building. It’s about unity. However, in order to come together to make what God intends to make, each piece has to be worked on and fitted together. Each has to be yielding in order for the building to be sound and holy.

We have another option other than yielding. Instead of being building blocks, we can be stumbling blocks. When we don’t allow God to shape us into the right shape for the right fit into the building, we will become displaced. We’ll fall to a place we’re not intended to be and create a stumbling hazard for those around us.

You get to choose which you’ll be, so ask yourself, “Am I a building block, or am I a stumbling block?” Avoid quickly giving the Sunday School answer. Think about specific situations you’ve been involved in recently. Of course, we all want to believe we’re building blocks. We want to believe we’re doing exactly what God wants us to do, but are we…really? Have we checked with him before we’ve proceeded, or have we moved forward in the direction that makes sense, responding first, then asking him to bless the process once we’re in motion? The popular adage “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission” isn’t a biblical principle.

In order to fit well within a body of believers, you must invite God to shape you in order to fit where he intends you to fit. You don’t decide where you fit, then reason through why you’re such a good fit. You don’t decide you were made for such a time as this. God decides the time and place. He decides the process. You seek. You trust. You obey. You can certainly be stubborn about it, but when you don’t allow him to place you where you’re supposed to fit, you’re not just impacting yourself and your purpose. You’re impacting the body of Christ.

So, are you a building block or a stumbling block?

I beg you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that all of you agree with each other and not be split into groups. I beg that you be completely joined together by having the same kind of thinking and the same purpose. (1 Corinthians 1:10)

God Says What’s Best (It’s Not About You)

miami_package_feelthehealdetoxWe’re not the center of the universe.

While this statement might not surprise you, we can easily slip into a me-centered way of thinking. It’s not just about selfish, demand-what-we-want-when-we-want-it thinking that’s selfish. You can certainly find someone who is a bit more selfish than you, so you don’t see yourself quite as selfish. Me-centered thinking is more sneaky than the obvious me-statements, whining, and high expectations for people to tend to personal needs and whims. Me-centered thinking is in every single one of us, and it particularly begins to decay the health of church families when we begin with ourselves as the foundation of plans, judgments, and assumptions.

“Well, I know that happens to some people in some churches, but people in my church are much more mature as believers than that. We know the dangers, and we’re cautious never to put our individual selves above the church.” It happens more often than you might recognize, and refusing to consider how me-centered thinking is impacting you as an individual or the church as a whole is negligent and deters you from spiritually growing as God intends.

Even when we know God is sovereign and accept him as all-knowing and all-powerful, our behavior often contradicts our beliefs. Because we can’t understand everything about God, we make some assumptions. We start with what we do understand and make assumptions. We project our limited understanding onto what must be true about God.

We experience fear, and we know God’s Word refers to fear, so we infuse our experience of fear into our belief of what God means when he refers to fear.

We hear a particular Scripture verse taught in a way we’ve never considered before, and without checking the context of the verse or keeping the context of the teaching, we begin to expand the application into areas God never intended. We make our own rules because they make sense to us without checking to see if God says our rules are necessary or God-honoring.

We’re confident God guided in a specific direction in one situation, so when we’re in a similar situation again later, we assume God wants us to move in the same direction.

God’s will is unchanging, but the specifics of how he wants us to respond changes across situations. He desires an ever-deepening relationship with us, which means we must rely on him through every moment of every situation. He guides us to stand up, speak up, speak up, and shut up, depending on what he knows is best in each situation. If faith was as simple as “If A, then B…If C, then D,” we wouldn’t have to rely on God’s leading on an ongoing basis, because we would live within the bounds of legalism. It’s obvious through Jesus’ interactions with the Pharisees that legalism is not the same as a thriving relationship of faith with God. He’s not interested in legalism. He wants sacrificial dependency that spurs us toward bold obedience.

When we want what is best, we can become so passionately invested that we place blinders on our eyes, causing us to miss some important truths God. We need to invite God to reveal the situation in which we’re starting with what we most want and projecting our wish lists onto what we’re proclaiming as God’s will. Faith is yielding to God. It’s dying to self to live in his will, which isn’t a one-time decision. It’s an ongoing commitment. We need to set everything of our own wills to the side—our assumptions, wants, relationships, and much more—in order to hear clearly from God. Only declare his will when your confident it’s founded in God’s Word and not in your own.

Trust the Lord with all your heart  and don’t depend on your own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5)

Catch Your Breath

miami_package_feelthehealdetoxI’ve learned to take a breath before I speak. When I don’t, I often find myself in a quagmire of problems.

Our lives are stuffed to the brim with space-fillers. With tablets, cell phones, computers, and much more at our fingertips, we can access information and have multiple conversations at once. While e-readers and other screens emphasize the importance of white space for our eyes, we’re constantly sacrificing the white space in our lives. Less white space leads to an overcrowding that pressures us, and our conversations are no exception.

Every second of white space in time doesn’t need to be filled. When we feel the pressure to fill every moment, we’ll begin to anticipate the filling process, thinking of what we want to say next instead of waiting, patiently listening, reflecting, and respectfully responding in turn. Invite processing time. It will take practice, because you’re likely not used to it, and people with whom you converse are certainly just as unfamiliar with it. More white space in conversations creates a slower cadence, a rhythm that flows more than fires. When push and pull is replaced with intentional give and take, the focus can shift from the conversation itself to a respect for the people having the conversation. After all, the relationship is more important than the outcome of the conversation. Words spoken should be driven by the impact they have on the relationship instead of the influence they have on the outcome of the conversation.

Breathing helps as you talk, because it’s an intentional invitation to reflect before responding. As I breathe, I invite God to fill my mind, heart, and words, taking a moment to intentionally yield to him. While it takes some getting used to, it’s not as intrusive or distracting as you might originally think. Most people won’t notice at all. It’s not a deep, cleansing breath, just a regular breath in for oxygen—with an invitation for more nourishing, courageous, and powerful breath. If you find yourself still struggling to listen to the person instead of planning what you’re about to say, you can also use an exhaled breath as you’re listening as a commitment to empty yourself of your self, yielding to and trusting God instead. (Let me admit, I do not always yield well, so I’m not sharing these techniques as someone who has perfected it. I’m a work in progress!)

Inviting breaths into a conversation isn’t just about you. Invite breaths for the other person, too. When somebody pauses to think of a word or finish a thought, wait with them. You might anticipate what you think they’re going to say, but respect them enough to let them finish. It’s nice to be known well enough that someone can finish your thoughts, but it’s also nice to be given the space and time to finish your own thoughts.

Conversations are not a race; they’re an opportunity to engage in relationship. Invite the nourishing rhythm of breathing into your conversations today.

I will be in them and you will be in me so that they will be completely one. Then the world will know that you sent me and that you loved them just as much as you loved me. (John 17:23)