Un-Expecting Expectations

fillintheblank.jpgDo you prefer fill-in-the-blanks or open-ended questions? Which would best describe the way you live out faith?

When we live out our faith with fill-in-the-blanks, we look for what we expect to fit. Sometimes we don’t even look at the context of the blank. We just know a blank is coming, and we sift through what’s coming into our lives to find what best fits. We know something must go there, and we don’t want it to be blank for long. We’d prefer the answers be handed to us on an answer key or shown on a large screen right in front of us. Fill-in-the-blank living can create a lazy interaction. Yes, we’re still engaged in doing something, but we’re jumping from one statement and blank to another, skimming what comes in between.

What if we lived out faith with open-ended questions that invite us to search? Open-ended questions aren’t as safe, because we can get off track without the structure of fill-in-the-blanks. We can easily meander down a rabbit trail or get distracted by a squirrel. Yet open-ended questions engage us. They invite us into experiences. As we learn through experiences, we apply what we learn. We feel a sense of ownership, because we’ve engaged in the process. We’re not just interacting with pen and paper; we’re interacting with the world around us. Open-ended questions lead to mistakes that seem a bit more significant than the fill-in-the-blank mess of crossing out a wrong answer. Just because we experience something doesn’t make our interpretation of what we experience or our perspective of what is accurate and what isn’t reflective of truth. The mistakes of open-ended questions can have lasting impacts, yet we continue to learn through those experiences when we’re seeking God’s truth over our own preferences and perspectives.

When we live by fill-in-the-blanks, we look for something specific. We expect something to fit, and when it doesn’t, we’re not sure what to do. When we live by open-ended questions, we explore what fits, and the answers we find through our experiences are richer and deeper.

Consider a few questions Jesus asked.

“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?” (Matthew 7:2)

Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why are you thinking evil thoughts?” (Matthew 9:4)

“Why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31)

Knowing what they were talking about, Jesus asked them, “Why are you talking about not having bread? Your faith is small. (Matthew 16:8)

But knowing that these leaders were trying to trick him, Jesus said, “You hypocrites! Why are you trying to trap me?” (Matthew 22:18)

Jesus knew immediately what these teachers of the law were thinking. So he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things?” (Mark 2:8)

When Jesus turned and saw them following him, he asked, “What are you looking for?” (John 1:38)

Jesus had the answers before he asked the questions. He didn’t ask because he needed the answers. He asked because he wanted people to work through the answers. He wanted them to search for the answers, engaging in the experience of learning.

What kind of questions are you asking? The ones you can easily fill in the blank or the ones that take a bit more time, move you out of your comfort level, and sometimes create more confusion before creating clarity?

Engage in a relationship with God. You’ll find the answers you need.

Snapshot Moments, Video Life

240_F_16248506_F05h1oUKwBIIm8dsgrii07O3wIByUZxa.jpgIf someone showed you snapshots of my life, you’d assume a variety of things about me.

I’m not talking about the actual photographs stored in boxes and computers. I’m talking about moments of my life that might seem like isolated incidences…until studied in a photo.

Has anyone said to you, “Remember the time you…,” then they proceed to bring up one of those not-so-proud-of-it-so-why-d0-you-have-to-remember moments? Our families are good at it.

But we all change. We need to take videos, not snapshots.

Sure, snapshots are good for fun, silly, even bittersweet memories, but for capturing our lives, we need to be willing to consider a series of snapshots over time. We need to string moments and situations together. We need to refuse to keep someone in a time capsule, when they’ve clearly grown up.

 

Give people room and grace. See how they change. Acknowledge growth to encourage more – in both yourself and others.

Some Evolution

024“They’ve had some evolution.”

The statement declared some growth, some change toward what the speaker believed. People were growing into what he proclaimed, so he saw it as evolutionary, productive, advance.

We need to be careful what we see as progress. We can encourage people in directions that might not be the best (or the best timing) for them.

I’m not saying anything is wishy-washy and relative and that there is no direction that is better or worse than another. There is truth. Absolute Truth. But many of the things we claim as evolutionary are more on the fringes of truth than the center of it. There is spine truth and rib truth. The spine is non-negotiable. The ribs give some structure but we can do without one or two.

Through it all, the person is more important than the issue. When we define people based on where they are or where they’ve been, we minimize them even in the context of what is intended to be a compliment. We make people about their actions instead of their motivations, reasons, potential, and purpose.

Confrontation and Resolution Are Not The Same

cf6716efee4e4040d8133c8ebce5ec84I have a fairly strong personality. Sometimes, it means I get a lot done, can lead well, and help others move forward. Other times, it means I’m bossy.

It also means I’m fairly comfortable with confrontation. But for those who shy away from it, that quality in me can be scary. It’s not intended to be. If it is, I’m misusing it.

After all, it’s not confrontation that I like; it’s resolution.

People and relationships are too important to me to allow issues to go unresolved. People can’t grow without remaining sharp. We can’t grow without pruning. Being sharpened and pruned sound painful, and let’s be honest: sometimes they are. But they also help us to move forward, to not get stuck in our own comfortable way of doing things.

None of us are completely responsible for each other’s growth, yet we do have some responsibility. And not just in other’s growth but in our own. Being sharpened and pruned sound passive, but they are anything but. The growth process is active: planting, cultivating, nurturing, pruning, harvesting, preparing. And there are tools for each part of the process. Some tools are sharper than others. Some seem more effective or less desirable, but all are necessary.

Confrontation isn’t intended to just shake someone into shape and get them on the right path. It’s about a relationship of preparation and resolution, and that includes questions, doubts, disagreements, discussions, patience, reconnections, and more.

It’s worth the effort. It’s worth the humility. It’s worth the boldness.

Resolution is often not attained, but it can always be the goal. We can work toward it. It can define the process. It can be part of the foundation of our relationships. It might not always feel steady, but when it’s our goal, it provides firm footing to move forward and grow.

 

To Seek and Surrender

imagesOne day Elisha went to Shunem. A prominent woman who lived there persuaded him to eat some food. So whenever he passed by, he stopped there to eat. Then she said to her husband, “I know that the one who often passes by here is a holy man of God, so let’s make a small room upstairs and put a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp there for him. Whenever he comes, he can stay there.” (2 Kings 4:8-10)

Holiness shows. People won’t always be able to identify exactly what it is that sets someone apart. They might say things like, “She is just so calm and has a peace about her even during chaos,” or “I’m not sure what sets him apart, but there’s something different that draws me to wonder more.” Of course, not everyone wants to know more or get closer. Sometimes the evidence of God’s presence in someone’s life repels them, because they simply aren’t in the place where they want to welcome God yet.

But when someone is curious and receptive, he or she extends hospitality. It shows an open and generous heart, searching for God’s presence. Hospitality shares life. So does holiness.

Holiness isn’t perfection; it’s humble growth. It’s the process of faith. It’s the result of faith, the evidence of faith. It is what purposes and drives faith as well as what faith develops. It is a goal and a motivation toward the goal. It is what we choose and how we surrender. Seek it, and surrender to it.

What Prayer Reveals

2-sam-7-28-ww-mf-9xThis prayer of David’s reveals much about him, God, and their relationship. It is rich, and when we read it, it can almost seem as if we are intruding on something private.

Then King David went in, sat in the Lord’s presence, and said,

Who am I, Lord God, and what is my house that You have brought me this far? What You have done so far was a little thing to You, Lord God, for You have also spoken about Your servant’s house in the distant future. And this is a revelation for mankind, Lord GodWhat more can David say to You? You know Your servant, Lord GodBecause of Your word and according to Your will, You have revealed all these great things to Your servant.

This is why You are great, Lord God. There is no one like You, and there is no God besides You, as all we have heard confirms. And who is like Your people Israel? God came to one nation on earth in order to redeem a people for Himself, to make a name for Himself, and to perform for them great and awesome acts, driving out nations and their gods before Your people You redeemed for Yourself from Egypt. You established Your people Israel to be Your own people forever, and You, Lord, have become their God.

Now, Lord God, fulfill the promise forever that You have made to Your servant and his house. Do as You have promised, so that Your name will be exalted forever, when it is said, “The Lord of Hosts is God over Israel.” The house of Your servant David will be established before You since You, Lord of Hosts, God of Israel, have revealed this to Your servant when You said, “I will build a house for you.” Therefore, Your servant has found the courage to pray this prayer to You. Lord God, You are God; Your words are true, and You have promised this grace to Your servant. Now, please bless Your servant’s house so that it will continue before You forever. For You, Lord God, have spoken, and with Your blessing Your servant’s house will be blessed forever. (2 Samuel 7:18-29)

I don’t know that anyone feels fully confident in their prayer life. Even when we are confident in God, we don’t always feel confident in ourselves. That’s okay. When we claim the truth of who God is and speak with Him with authenticity, it reveals a lot about us, God, and our relationship. And when that happens, we grow, because we’re willing to see gaps in our faith and let God fill them well.

The Winds of Change

tumblr_n95zyakht41snexhzo1_1280When the winds of change blow, some people build walls others build windmills.

Which is your default setting?

To be honest, sometimes we need to hunker down and take cover because the change is so life-altering, we need to ride out the storm until it settles enough to let us pick up the debris and rebuild. But most times, changes is much more gradual. We might feel a bit windblown, but a little wind rarely hurts us. We might get a bit of dirt in our faces. Our hair might swirl around. We might need to be careful opening our car doors and secure a few loose items outside, but we survive.

Not only do we survive, but we benefit from the wind. Seeds blow around and germinate, replenishing vegetation. Wet soil dries so farmers can get in their fields and we can walk on the ground without getting muddy. Dust that has settled blows away.

And we can get energy from windmills. They can energize and equip us to move forward. They can sustain us to persevere. But we have to be willing to put in the effort and ask, “How can we grow from this change?”

It’s an important question to ask. Avoiding change might cause us to avoid growth, too.