The Familiarity of Foreign

unnamedI regularly write for a website that posts daily devotions. There is a team of us who write each month to share the responsibility and provide a diversity of voices. While the site is written in English, it is equipped with translation capability, so people around the world can read it. After this month’s post, the site admin sent me the following message she received about it:

Bonjour à Qui de droit  !

Merci pour  ce texte qui parle de lui-même ! J”ai beaucoup aimé   Tes écrits ….Gloire à Dieu ..Il est important de s”humilier

et de faire “comme Jésus a fait pour Nous ” !  Alléluia !
Merci d”exister !!!!!!!!!!
I don’t speak French. I have just enough experience with a variety of languages to (very) loosely translate.
It’s always fun to get encouraging feedback.
There’s an added “cool” factor when that feedback is in another language.
But I hope encouragement is never foreign. If it is, we can’t relate to or receive it. We have to find some commonality to find meaning in it. And in that way, the foreign becomes the familiar.
Perhaps it’s not always as familiar or as comfortable as our native tongue. Maybe we encounter people or situations that seem to pull the comfortable rug from under us. But isn’t that part of the joy and adventure, being able to consider what is outside of ourselves?
Let’s celebrate differences, not just for differences’ sake but for the pursuit of connection and unity in the midst of it. We don’t have to be uniform. There will always be enough to divide us. May we determine to see beyond the barriers and reach out with a hand, a hug, or a simple smile.

Barbed-Wire Christians

12i-Barbed wireAre you a barbed-wire wrapped Christian? Even if it’s not you, I’m sure you know “that one person” who fits the description. Unless you completely agree with absolutely everything the person has to say (which I doubt is even possible), you watch them poke and wound others. Fighting takes precedent over kindness, arguing over listening, being right over engaging in a relationship to reach out to others. They are “come,” not “go” people, who focus on getting everyone to agree to and adopt their own perspectives instead of engaging people where they are and doing the messy life with them while living truth out loud.

How can you avoid being a barbed-wire Christian?

Laugh at yourself more than others. Live with high hopes and standards of civility. Instead of chronically fighting back, fight how and when God intends. Pursue and follow Jesus well, because when you do, you won’t be retaliatory. Instead, everything you do and who you are becoming will be motivated and prompted by God alone.

How Far Will You Go?

Disciple-Making-SandWhen people commit to reaching others in remote places of the world, they go through extensive training to to learn the language and culture. That makes sense. Otherwise, how are they actually going to impact others’ lives?

Jesus said, “You will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). We all reach people somewhere, whether it’s close or far away, friends or enemies. We’re to “go, therefore, and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). Even people who don’t believe Jesus’ words make disciples…just not the way He intended. We all influence others.

How much effort are we willing to give? It makes sense for foreign missionaries to learn the languages of the people they reach. Shouldn’t the same be true for wherever and whomever you serve and reach? If you’re truly committed to people, shouldn’t you learn their language and culture?

Instead, we often don’t want to be bothered. Keeping things comfortable for ourselves is so much easier than investing in other people’s lives, especially if they’re not like us. We can just give money to the person who is really passionate and well-trained for reaching “those people,” right? I mean, if someone is living in this society, in my community, and even comes to my church, he or she is pretty much like me, right? Why would I need to listen, grow, or change in order to impact his or her life?

Discipleship requires action and effort: “Go”!

“Go” isn’t just about location. It’s about setting yourself aside, as well as your expectations for God to just bring people across your path. He’ll certainly do that, too, but you have to pay attention to the path you’re on. You have to follow Him, and I can say with certainty that He will put you on some paths that are inconvenient and uncomfortable at times.

I don’t know what language you need to learn today, but I know God wants to teach you something you didn’t know. It might be right in front of you. Open your mind and heart today.

Always be ready to “Go”!

Reach Out and Touch Someone

healingthehurtGod’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? Welcome to 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)

Life Side-by-Side

Grammy was my mom’s mom. She and I were close. When I was little, I’d often go to her house on Sunday afternoons or spend the night. We played Solitaire side by side. We had tea parties. I roller skated for hours in her large driveway (or in her basement on rainy days). She let me eat Jello with whipped cream and Little Debbie treats.

Grammy was still alive when I got married, and I wanted to learn how to fix my favorites of her recipes. I could have simply copied her recipes but I scheduled a day of cooking with her. (1) It was going to be fun to spend an entire day with her, and (2) I knew I’d
learn more of her “secrets” by working by her side. The women in our family don’t necessarily follow recipes closely, so handing over a recipe usually won’t duplicate someone’s end result.

Lasagna and custard were the two recipes I remember requesting. I wrote specific notes as Grammy blended, whipped, and
folded ingredients. I still have my original notes, and I’ve used them many times (I’m getting hungry for both recipes as I type!). I learned what ingredients I could substitute and what were “must haves.” I learned a couple short cuts. I learned how to tell when each dish was “just right” to pull from the oven and how soon I could serve them.

Most of all, it was a great day – not because I learned how to make Grammy’s lasagna and custard but because I got to spend the day and make memories with her.

She died several years later, and the end of her life was tough on our relationship, but I have a lot of great memories with her. Her life was a gift to me. I’m sure there were times I took her for granted, but I’m glad for the times we invested time in each other.

There are people – related or not – in your life who can pour into you. Who comes to mind? How are their lives a gift to you?

There are people – related or not – in your life you can pour into. Who comes to mind? How is your life a gift to them?

Write two notes of encouragement – one to someone who influences your life and the other to someone whose life you influence. Don’t put it off. Do life side by side. You’ll learn a lot more than you might expect.

A good person gives life to others; the wise person teaches others how to live. Proverbs 11:30

Reaching

I walked along my favorite trail recently. It’s built where a railroad track used to be: a long, straight, flat stretch, including a couple old bridges, a tunnel, and…lots of trees. The trees vary in type and age. I don’t know much about trees, so I can’t give you many details except to say I love the way they make the path feel secluded (when it actually runs alongside a major road).

As my feet shuffled the colorful leaves littering the path, I looked above at one of my favorite qualities of the trail: the canopy of trees. The trees on either side of the trail grow toward the sky and then – well above my head and reach – begin to lean and then reach toward the middle. Each side reaches for another. The branching limbs reaching across the trail and intertwining with others reaching from the other side look like arms and hands. And I think…

We’re a lot like these trees.

We reach for relationships. Sure, some of us reach faster and more assertively than others. Sometimes we’re bold; sometimes we’re shy. But we want to connect in some way. We’re created for relationships.

So we reach and connect… We entwine ourselves with others, which prompt us to bend in unexpected ways. The winds blow, and we get bumped and scratched. We don’t grow well in some positions because we lack the nourishment we need.

Reaching and connecting might not look or feel great in particular situations. But take a step back to see the bigger picture. It’s not just about me, you, us. It’s about community.

The trees reach into an archway, beautiful to see and helpful for protection. The reaching branches create a trail for some animals and insects and a home for others.  The curves of the branches create runways for water and windows of sunlight for smaller plants beneath and among the trees.

You’re going to live in community with others. Take a step back to see the bigger picture. Are your relationships…

  • a (beautiful) example for those around you?
  • (healthy) protection for others?
  • a path for others as they grow?
  • a place where people feel they belong?
  • nourishing for those all around you?

Sometimes my relationships feel more like the uncomfortable bending, bumping, scratching, lacking nourishment kind. How about yours? Take a step back with me.

We’re part of a community, and we won’t see much of the impact our relationships have on others. As we reach for relationships, we entwine in such intricate ways that we don’t see the costs and benefits of every aspect of our reaching. One thing is certain: our relationships don’t just impact us personally.

Keep reaching. Relationships are difficult, but connecting with others is worth the reach.

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. Philippians 3:12