Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Do You Listen or Talk

There are two things about me that are very important to understand;  1-  I like to talk  2-  I like to be right.  This obviously can be the source of much difficulty.  If I was a talk radio host it would be the perfect combination of never pausing and never thinking to be a wild success......

But as a husband and someone who works vocationally in ministry this can be a terribly challenging problem.  And I think this is probably a problem with everyone, regardless of relationship status or vocational calling.

We are people who love to hear our own great thoughts and brilliant ponderings.  Disagreements are not to be understood, but to be defeated.  Have you ever felt like the point of a conversation is to win the conversation??

Let me be clear, there are RIGHT answers.  People CAN be wrong.  And where wrongness can lead to destructiveness, we SHOULD speak plainly and clearly.

But the problem is we are so interested in scoring a point, whether with a spouse or a friend, that we don't take the time to listen long enough to even know what the problem could even be.  We bring a loaded shotgun of presuppositions ready to pepper spray the conversation with silver pellet bullets.

To put some meat on the bones of that thought....your spouse calls and asks what time you are getting home.  You get defensive...don't they know how busy you are, give it a rest already....So you snap that you will be home when you get home.  Little did you know that they were planning a surprise dinner for you, they weren't lecturing you on being late.  But you never stopped to listen.

And your surpise dinner suprisingly falls into the disposal......

James 1:19-21 tells us;

19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

Are you quick to listen?  Slow to speak?  Slow to anger??  How does this all interact in one coherent thought?

When we don't listen we create tension and contention between us and others, and because this tension is an outflow of our unwillingness to listen(selfishness....aka,..sin) an expected outcome is anger.  So what are we encouraged to get rid of?   All MORAL FILTH.

Do you catch that?

Being someone who is slow to listen, quick to talk and quick to be angry is someone who has some moral filth and evil that they need to get rid of.

So what is the word James mentions that we ultimately need to be humbly listening to, the only word that can save us?  The Gospel of Jesus Christ.  The finished work on the Cross by God the Son.  When we don't listen and just talk and talk and talk, we are behaving as someone who is not living in light of the Gospel.

Recently I had a great lunch with a friend who doesn't believe in Christ as the Son of the Living God and is the only hope for all mankind.  There are probably a thousand points of contention we could have.  But he matters as a person who, like me, is made in the image of God, and therefore deserves to be heard and cared for.  He isn't just another person to argue with.

Getting to hear his thoughts, his life story, and how he thinks was great.  There are many things I could happily say, "Right on!"  And plenty of things I could say, "huh?" to.  But how many friends do you have that only want to tell you how stupid it is for you to like "that" sports team?  Probably not many.

He had a lot of great thoughts and if I hadn't listened I would never have known that he has shared his thoughts with others before who barely let him get out a thought before jumping at the chance to argue with every word and phrase he had used.  Who wants that?

Let me abundantly clear.  Christian, you ARE called to proclaim the hope that is in Christ, but you are not called to brow beat people into submission.  You will NEVER argue someone into saving faith.  Only the Holy Spirit can draw us towards the Father through the work of the Son.  Is every convesation you have simply an opportunity to win?  Or, is the point of the conversation to know and care for a person who is in the image of God because they matter?

One final warning/exhortation....Do not take this as a reason to not speak clearly about Christ and the Gospel.  But talking over people isn't the same as the Cross.  If they DO want to talk and ask your questions BE READY.  But let's try listening a bit more folks.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Suffering In UnSilence

There are two extremes when it comes to suffering that seem to be the most commonly observed reactions.  Either someone over dramatizes their "despair" and insists everyone look upon the great injustice that they have been subjected to, or, they stoicly and privately "grin and bear it".  The attention seeker and the hidden pain.

Hurt and pain, in these extremes, exists for personal gratification through attention, or, it is without point and so must be pushed down and hidden because who cares.....

What if neither response is a correct response to the meaning of suffering?

What if suffering is a beautiful purposeful experience that points to a greater hope than even a removal of that suffering??

Colossians 1:24 points suffering in a much different light than we often allow ourselves to believe;

Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. 

Paul, writing here, does not whine and ask for sympathy, neither does he pretend everything is ok.  Instead he rejoices!  And why does he rejoice?  Because it is in his suffering that he is fulfilling the message of Christ's hope to his readers in brilliant technicolor.  He IS NOT saying that Jesus didn't do enough on the cross, but that in Paul's joyful and hope centered response to suffering he is making tangible what the power of the Gospel is all about.

When suffering is about US, we gravitate to the unhealthy poles of extremism.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ is that ALL suffering belongs to the finished work on the cross.   Earlier in this letter Paul makes it clear that from Eternity past to Eternity future all things are under the Lordship of Christ.  Even our suffering.  Even our pain.  Even our breath.  Even our death.

Starting with this truth, we see that what we are suffering through is not outside of the control of God, as if He has been rendered powerless and incompetent in the face of great tradgedy.  But that instead this, even this, is working towards a great weight of Glory in Eternity.  

The most powerful testimony to the Goodness of God is not that God lets you win the lottery, or your cancer is healed, or that your children come home, but that your heart can sing with a joy that is not defined by the momentary circumstances of our lives.

Paul understands something that I wish I(and others) would embrace more completely more often.  Offering the Cross to the lost, and freedom to the slave, is not an offer to money, health, and material blessing.  Instead, it is an offer to suffer for the sake of a hope that surpasses suffering.  The Colossians were not going to be encouraged in a lasting way by Paul saying, "look, I started following Christ and my pain in my side went away, my shorter leg grew longer and I found money in my couch".  Surely this would be enticing for a while, but when the brokeness of life caught up with them they would see the lie for what it is.  Paul did not offer quick fixes and temporary blessings, he said, "Look at how I suffer, and how even in my suffering I celebrate the goodness of a God who gave up Himself for my sake".

We often "sell" our church, our beliefs, our faith, on the premise of "look how great it is here!!! look how happy we are!!! look how much better off our lives are now that we are "in"!!!"  Instead, we should follow Paul's example.

To weep with each other.

To face difficulties with each other.

To be honests about our failures and imperfections.

And in the midst of it all point to the Cross that stands over it all and calls us to lie down along still waters!  To be joyful that even our very suffering declares the power of the Hope we have in Christ.

Even when it is good, we can be selfishly angry about it....