Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Unsolicited Advice

Call me a rebel, but whenever I hear the words, “You know what you should do…”I can feel my defensive guard going up. My fight or flight mechanism goes into overdrive and it’s hard to politely listen to whatever wisdom might come next.  
Is it just me, or do you bristle a bit when people give you free advice on how to - do your job, raise your kids, run your household, order your love life, or any number of personal dealings. It doesn’t matter - they’ve got the answer for you.

It’s not that I’m against seeking advice. I need advice. I want advice. But I want to ask for it first, from the person or people I feel are most qualified to give it. That’s why I rankle so much when those who barely know me presume to provide answers for my situation. They bestow advice as if it were a gift for which I should be grateful.

If we spent more time in conversation, I might discover their advice is exactly what I need and I would be very grateful for it. And I might immediately put it into practice. But when it’s pushed on me cold turkey, with an air of condescension, it’s more offensive than inviting. I agree with the proverb that says: “The right word at the right time is like a custom-made piece of jewelry, and a wise friend’s timely reprimand is like a gold ring slipped on your finger” (Proverbs 25:11-12, Message).

The key words are “right word,” “right time,” “custom made,” “friend.” These speak of a relationship between the advisor and the one receiving the advice. In this case, even if the advice wasn’t sought after, it would be welcome, or at least considered, knowing the giver spoke from love.

I wonder, sometimes, if that’s the way unbelievers feel when believers try to tell them about Jesus. Does it come across as unwanted advice on how they should live their life and what changes they need to make? Is there a relationship, or does it come out of nowhere from a virtual stranger? Has the unbeliever expressed a need, or is the information given in an “I’m better than you” attitude? Do we even give them a chance to ask before we give the answers?

Jesus calls His followers to live our lives in such a way that people would want to know - what we think, what we would do in their situation, what keeps us going when times are tough, where we get our hope, how we manage to forgive when we’re wronged. We need to be ready with answers.

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet. 3:15, NIV). If we are gentle in our responses – not angry or defensive - respectful to others, and humbly put Christ ahead of our own ego, people might be more willing to approach us with questions. These are the conversations we dream of; this is the hope we long to share with the world around us.

I want live His peace, His JOY, His love, His hope,and for others to ask where I got it. I want to be ready to answer in a manner worthy of my Lord and Savior, giving Him all the glory.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Don’t Be Surprised

            Our response to the shooting yesterday in Roseburg, Oregon is outrage and shock. And rightly so. Such violence is unspeakable. It hits especially close to home when we learn the shooter specifically targeted Christians.
            A young woman who was there told her father the horror of the moment. The gunman, while reloading his handgun, ordered the students to stand up and asked if they were Christians, Boylan told her family.
"And they would stand up and he said, 'Good, because you're a Christian, you're going to see God in just about one second'…’And then he shot and killed them.’" (
Like you, I’m grieving for this entire community affected by this atrocious violence. Yet, this is nothing new. News reports on ISIS activities over the last year place the number of Christians and civilians killed for their beliefs at 24,000-170,000. Our brothers and sisters in the east daily face this kind of persecution and terror. The treatment of those not killed include rape, slavery, beatings, and actions too terrible to comprehend.
Even with all this, I discover I’m still surprised when someone doesn’t like me simply because I’m a Christian. I’m hurt and feel unfairly treated. But we’ve been forewarned.
Peter passed on the truth that Jesus taught His disciples, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name” (1 Pe. 4:12-16).
And Apostle John said the same, “Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you” (1 Jo. 3:12-13).
We grieve, we comfort those who are mourning, and pray for the community so devastated by this loss. But we shouldn’t be surprised. Tighter gun control is not going to solve this problem, because the problem is hatred within the shooter, not with the weapons used. As long as darkness exists, it will hate the light. It will attempt to snuff it out. But the darkness will not prevail.
If we are truly disciples of Jesus Christ we can boldly say to the enemy, “Devise your strategy, but it will be thwarted; propose your plan, but it will not stand, for God is with us” (Isa. 8:10). And Jesus promises us a reward for whatever we face in this life:
“Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death” (Rev. 2:10-11).
May we all be ready for that moment when someone asks, “Are you a Christian?” Our answer will make a difference for eternity.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Never Assume

How does the old saying go? “Never assume; it only makes an ASS out of U and ME.” Assumptions, pigeon-holing, prejudice, always, and never. The list of synonyms goes on.
            I thought I had her pegged. She shuffled in each day dressed in sweatpants and shirts that barely spanned her ample belly. Her wispy, white hair shot in all directions with no particular style, and she didn't wear any jewelry or makeup. She seemed out of place in the group. Yet, she answered every question put to her with intelligence and insight. She spoke with eloquence and discernment. I was ashamed. I had assumed, because of her appearance, she would exhibit ignorance and apathy. I was so wrong.
            How could I, who’ve been wounded by the assumptions of others, fall into this trap? Too easily, I’m afraid. Yet it frustrates me to no end when people judge me – about my work, beliefs, character, even thoughts – without any true knowledge of who I am. Isn’t that how prejudice begins? So often we come to wrong conclusions because of the way another person dresses, talks, or moves. We pass over people with delightful qualities, seeking those who fit our preconceived mold of acceptability. Only to discover the ones who looked good on the outside lack depth of character.
            More recent translations word it differently, but I still prefer Proverbs 19:2 from the 1985 NIV Study Bible: “It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way.” This verse has yanked me back onto the right track many times over the years! In this context, it tells me I need to slow down, listen, ask questions. I need to go beyond the surface and get to know who people are on the inside. That’s what really counts.
            Assumptions put others in a box of expectations. They keep us from seeing who they really are. They erect barriers between people. They predetermine our perceptions instead of providing true understanding and insight. Jesus calls us to view each person as a one of a kind creation, with multiple facets of wonder.
            How many of us have been hurt when others have made hasty decisions about us because of our appearance, education, financial status, race, work, or belief system? If they had only taken the time to get to know me, we’ve thought.
            And so, I determine anew, to approach others that way. Man may look on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart. As a follower of Jesus Christ, I have access to His Spirit-gift to look beyond the surface, if I will ask for His eyes to see.