Can I Get a Witness?

I remember my first band camp experience as a freshman in high school at Briarcrest. I remember how badly I wanted to fit in and be accepted. In other words, I was very much a typical teenager.

There was a junior named Rhett who took me under his wing, so to speak, and who didn’t treat me like the awkward freshman I probably was at that point in my life. He talked to me about music and even introduced me to some of his favorite bands. He didn’t talk down to me or treat me as an inferior. He treated me like a friend. That’s what I needed.

Most of us go through at least one season in our lives where we feel unnoticed and unappreciated. We feel invisible and wonder if what we do matters (or if we matter). We wonder if the world would miss us if we were suddenly gone (or maybe even if the world wouldn’t be better off without us at all).

We need that one person who will see us, that one person who will say in essence, “Yes, I see you. Your life will not go unnoticed, because I will be a witness to it. No matter what you’re going through, I’m with you.”

Maybe we need to seek out one person so that we can be a witness to their life. Maybe you can’t change the world, but for one person you can make a world of difference.

I know for me Rhett make a world of difference. I lost touch with him after my freshman year, but I’ve never forgotten how much his acceptance and friendship meant to me in a time when I desperately needed it. I wish I could thank him for that.

Hopefully, someone will say that about me one day and then turn around and pay it forward.

 

To E. G.

I confess I hadn’t thought about you in a while until tonight. I sat across from someone at Chick-fil-A who reminded me sharply of you.

I hope you’re doing well these days. I imagine that you’re married, maybe with a kid or two. I hope that you’ve found a career where you’re successful and are able to make a difference in the world around you.

I’m beyond thankful that God put you in my life for a season. You encouraged and blessed me more than you probably will ever know. The time you told me that you read my blogs still ranks as one of my all-time favorite surprises.

I will always think of you whenever I get those grape-stuffed leaves from Kalamata’s. I will always think of you whenever I think about The Mall at Green Hills and the time we  walked through that place without any idea of where we were going.

If it’s God’s will for me to marry, I hope she’s a lot like you. You are one of those rare people who make life better just by your being in it.

I doubt that I will ever see you again this side of heaven, but just know that if you’re ever back in the Nashville area, there’s an open seat at the Starbucks in Green Hills with your name on it.

God bless you, friend.

 

From Hostility to Hospitality

“He is the embodiment of our peace, sent once and for all to take down the great barrier of hatred and hostility that has divided us so that we can be one. He offered His body on the sacrificial altar to bring an end to the law’s ordinances and dictations that separated Jews from the outside nationsHis desire was to create in His body one new humanity from the two opposing groups, thus creating peace. Effectively the cross becomes God’s means to kill off the hostility once and for all so that He is able to reconcile them both to God in this one new body” (Ephesians 2:14-16, The Voice).

Chris Brooks brought another fantastic message to Kairos tonight that I much needed to hear. It was rooted in Ephesians 2:11-21 about how we were once hostile to God and everything He stood for, but through Christ we have been reconciled and brought into right relationship with God.

His mantra throughout the last few weeks has been “And you . . . but God . . . all grace.” As in and you were lost and far from the promise, but God made you alive and redeemed a sinner into a son and now your life is all grace.

He said something again that struck me. He said that maybe those Muslims that we keep hearing about aren’t the greatest threat to Christianity, but it’s greatest prize. Maybe what they need to see is not our retaliation with further hostility but our hospitality in welcoming them with the gospel message the way God once welcomed us through that same message.

Only through Christ can an enemy truly be transformed into a friend and a stranger become a brother. Only through the grace and mercy of God can so many different kinds of people previously estranged from each other be invited to the same table to sit together and enjoy each other’s company.

So many times churches and communities of faith have looked like people encircled with arms locked, facing inward and more determined to keep the wrong people out than to let the right ones in.

The true gospel of Jesus Christ calls us to stand outward with arms not locked but outstretched in welcoming those who feel disenfranchised and alienated from every other group to come sit at the table of fellowship. We offer the same Christ to others who brought us along from citizenship to family to living stones in the temple of God.

I love that the gospel of grace is still for those who don’t quite fit in and don’t have their acts together. The message of hope is still for those who continually mess up socially and financially and in every other way possible. The truth that still sets us free is still for the outcast and downtrodden and used-up and for those who are still in bondage to the lies and addictions that were sold under the guise of liberation.

The gospel is still for you and me. The gospel is for everyone.

 

Dear Abba

“Dear Abba,

Ten thousand things are already vying for my attention. Wait, actually make that ten thousand and one. Some of them are shallow — like what shoes I will wear today — but some of them are legitimate: lunch with a friend, a doctor’s appointment, responding to a letter. Still, they are all earthly things. So startle me, I pray. Burst into the compound of my senses and steal me away from the urgent tyrannies already seeking to keep my eyes fixed on things below. You died for me. For me. That is the one thing; nothing else compares” (Brennan Manning).

That’s my prayer, too. That I would be startled away from the tyranny of the urgent in my own life, to have my eyes fixed on the reason for both Lent and Easter.

I think that says it all on this Saturday before we celebrate Palm Sunday.

 

 

Seize That Day

I found out recently that a friend of the family passed away suddenly. Actually, I’d say he was my friend, even though he was closer to my parents’ age.

It’s been a long time since the last time I saw him, but I remember him as being one of the most positive and encouraging people I’ve ever met. In fact, I’d say that he qualified as jovial.

When I was working on getting my Eagle Scout award, he was one of my biggest encouragers. Every time he saw me, he always made me feel like I could do it. In fact, he helped me keep going in those times when I felt it was too hard and I felt like giving up.

I don’t know that I ever really said thank you. I know I can never adequately express how much his encouragement and enthusiasm meant to me.

Maybe the best way of saying my thanks is to pay it forward and to be as positive and encouraging to those in my life. Maybe it’s to live life the way he did, and do that ol’ Carpe Diem thing– seize every moment and live it to the fullest.

Thanks, Doyle, for being my friend and for believing in me. Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into your reward.

 

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I have Monday brain. That means all higher functions have ceased and my mode of existence is somewhat akin to “Fire bad. Tree pretty.” It’s not pretty.

I started off my post-work afternoon with a salted caramel latte, courtesy of the fine folks at the Starbucks on Franklin Road in Brentwood . I later met my accountability friend at the same Starbucks and we went walking in the lovely pre-fall weather. We toured the usual places– REI, The Fresh Market, the parking lot. We talked about anything and everything– football, life, work, etc.

20 years ago, I would not have foreseen my life turning out like it has. I don’t think anyone could. But I have seen two decades worth of the faithfulness of God in the midst of frustration, disappointment, joy, grief, triumph, and defeat. I have felt God’s smile over me and known that no matter what, my identity as His Beloved is forever secure. Nothing can or will ever change that.

Would I like the big house and the wife and kids? Of course.

Still, I wouldn’t trade my life for anyone’s. I’m on my own journey that belongs to me and to no one else. I don’t know what’s around the corner, but I know God will be there has He has been around every other.

I’ve learned in every way possible that God is enough. It’s something I’m reminded of on a daily basis, because I am that stubborn and slow to believe and also because God is that patient and willing to lead me.

So once again, I slow down and count the moments and relish the blessings. I sit in Starbucks, sipping on my latte and watching Friends on Netflix, taking in my surroundings and the people coming and going all around me.

Life is always good because God is always good.

The end.

PS I still think my blogs would be much improved by me typing them on a Mac Book Pro. Donations accepted in all forms.

 

 

Listening with Soft Eyes

I heard someone use an intriguing expression today in a conversation. She talked about empathetic listening and used the expression “listen with soft eyes.”

If you take it literally, it sounds kind of stupid. Of course, people listen with their ears, not their eyes. But when you take into account that 90% of communication is nonverbal, it starts to make more sense.

Most of us (me emphatically included) tend to listen not to hear but to respond. All the while the other is speaking, we’re coming up with the perfect retort to win the argument or the perfect solution to fix the other’s problem.

To me, listening with soft eyes means listening with compassion. It means I don’t try to fix the way you feel– even if it seems irrational and counterproductive to me. It’s me saying, “I know what you’re going through is hard and I know you must feel scared or tired or frustrated. I’ve felt like that lots of times before.”

Real listening is an art form that takes practice. Especially if you have a flighty attention span like me. You have to train yourself to listen not to just words being spoken but to facial expressions, tone of voice, body language, etc.

I confess that while I like to think I’m a good listener, many times I am anything but. I can get distracted and lose the train of the conversation and walk away without any clue about what the other person was saying.

I think a lot of us do that. It’s happened to a lot of us. And it’s frustrating when you know you’re not being heard. Truly heard.

So one of my Second Half of 2015 Resolutions is to work on listening better. Being a better friend, husband, wife, lover, father, mother, son, daughter, or anything else starts by being a better listener.

So, I’m learning to listen with soft eyes.

 

My Takeaways

Here’s what I’m taking away from the Supreme Court’s decision to essentially legalize same-sex marriage in all 50 states.

1) I don’t agree with the decision, but I’m not going to bash those who disagree with me. It doesn’t accomplish anything and is counterproductive to how Jesus told me to love people regardless of whether they agree with me or even love me back.

2) Just because I disagree with someone’s beliefs or lifestyle doesn’t mean that I hate that person. The old adage stands true that you can love the sinner (a category which includes all of us) while hating the sin, or more accurately, what the sin does to the person.

3) If you’re my friend and you’re gay, know that I won’t love you any less or be any less of a friend to you. I may not agree with you on everything, but I’m sure you wouldn’t agree with me (or anyone) 100%. Jesus Himself chose to dine with sinners and said that He didn’t come for those who were righteous, but for those who know they need lots of help.

4) Jesus died for sinners. Period. There were no exclusions or exceptions to who Jesus went to the cross for. If you believe in Jesus with your heart and confess with your mouth, you will be saved. Period. PS You won’t just be saved from hell, but saved to an incredible, amazing, everlasting and full life.

5) If you believe in Jesus sincerely and solely for your salvation, you are saved, whether you are gay, straight, bipolar, alcoholic, prideful, arrogant, drug-addicted, lazy, or anything else. Jesus doesn’t ask for anybody to clean up his act and get his life together before salvation can take place. Jesus will meet you where you are,  but He won’t leave you there.

6) There will be a lot of people who will use this as an excuse to condemn other people and pronounce judgment on them. I won’t be one of those. I know that if anyone has a right to judge and condemn, it’s God. I also know that God could very easily judge and condemn me for what I’ve done and said and thought in the past. So I choose grace instead.

I think that about covers it.

 

Tuesdays Are Good Again

As you know, I’m a greeter for Kairos, a contemporary worship event on Tuesdays at 7 pm. I realized tonight that this fall will mark nine years that I have volunteered by offering a smile and a hello as people make their way into Hudson Hall on the Brentwood Baptist Church campus.

I love what I do and I love that people know me as the greeter guy from Kairos. I truly think that my worship experience is all the greater for me having invested, however small, my time and my somewhat limited people skills. I’m not the world’s biggest extrovert who can walk up to any stranger at any time and start a conversation, but I can offer a friendly greeting to the person in front of me.

On some days, it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. I mean how hard is it really to wave at someone and say, “Hi”?

But then I think that maybe the person I’m greeting has had a rotten day or even a horrible week. I may be the first face that person has seen that isn’t cursing at them or sneering at them. Maybe that person will look at me and see Jesus smiling at them. Who knows?

I’ve been on the other end, barely making it through the week and badly in need of something– anything– positive. I know the power of a smile and a friendly greeting. I know the power of encouraging words, whether spoken or texted or posted. In fact, when I missed Kairos a couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine posted on my wall that she missed seeing me there. That meant the world to me.

You don’t have to have the Bible memorized or have your theology down pat to be able to serve. All you need are open hands and a willing heart. Sometimes, all you need is simply to show up and get out of the way so that Jesus can take over.

 

Constructive Criticism?

“Wounds inflicted by the correction of a friend prove he is faithful; the abundant kisses of an enemy show his lies” (Prov. 27:6).

I don’t like getting criticized. To be honest, it hurts my ego. It’s okay if I find fault with myself for doing dumb stuff but I’d prefer if other people didn’t. Still, if I’m honest I have to also admit that I need it. I need someone else who will keep me accountable for my words and my actions so that they line up with what I profess.

I see so many posts on various social media that basically say, “I do what I want and don’t you dare judge me”, i.e. say anything that might be construed as negative or critical in any way (or even someone who tells you the honest truth). While Jesus did speak against those who are judgmental or who are critical and mean-spirited, I do think it’s equally wrong and dangerous to live outside of any kind of accountability. After all, as a pastor once said, “The first person you lie to is yourself.”

You and I both need people who will get in our faces (in a loving manner) and call us out when we speak and act in ways contrary to our true selves. We need people who will say, “What you’re doing doesn’t match what you say you believe and that’s giving the faith you profess a bad name.”

True, the ability to speak that way has to be granted. Only true friends to whom I give the right can speak this way. And no, being a prophet doesn’t give you the right to trample over people’s feelings and be careless with your words. Prophets always spoke God’s truth in love and often spoke God’s judgment through heavy hearts and tears.

I’ve heard that for every rebuking/correctional word you speak you should always give two encouraging or complimentary words. And I do believe it’s never a good idea to try to rebuke or correct another person via any other forms of communication other than face-to-face. E-mails and texts and posts are good in their way, but they leave out facial expressions and tone of voice so vital to any kind of constructive criticism.

Most of all, remember this. The God who chases after you isn’t running you down to tell you what a no-good lowdown dirty dog you are. His words to you tonight are this: you are still My Beloved, the apple of My eye, and I thought you were worth dying for. I love you just as you are but I refuse to leave you that way. I won’t ever stop with you until you look just like My Son Jesus.”