Tag Archives: encouragement

On the Mat

Image

They were all so very glad to see me; it kind of took me by surprise.  Normally my “Hug Block” is fully operational (I have a list of those who can get through…and it’s a very, very small list).  I remember one time, years ago, an adorable little girl ran my way, arms outstretched in the classic “I love you a lot and I want you to pick me up” posture, only to hit the hug block protective shield about five feet away from me, come to a (yes, literal) screeching halt, look up at me with bewilderment dripping from her face, turn and slink away.

But this day the entire Hug Block mechanism experienced an epic fail.  People were breaking through left and right.  For a moment I thought I had transmogrified into some Brad Pitt lookalike, but then I caught my reflection in a car window and it was the same old lumpy, dumpy, baldy, blobby me.  One person (I am not making this up) genuflected and kissed my hand.  They were all truly happy to see me!

I am a bit of a self-deprecator.  I tend to minimize me, myself, and I.  The simple truth is that I am on the inner edge of the introvert spectrometer and will usually downplay and just “aw shucks” the congratulatory moments that come my way.  It’s simply how I am wired (or, I guess, not wired?).

Anyway, this bunch was genuinely happy to see me (if not, they deserve a group Oscar for “Best Performance by a Cast Doing Pretense”).

Wow!  What church is that?  I am going to drop everything and make my way there so that I can feel welcomed and valued too.  They really have the Welcome Mat out at that place!  Jesus must be tickled to hang out with that gang!  The Holy Spirit must be dancing His way through hearts and minds!  Get me that address, website, Facebook page, Twitter handle, or whatever…just get me to that place! 

Not so fast…it wasn’t a church…wasn’t even church-like.  It was a group of folks connected to a place of secular employment.  It was…hold your breath…a place in “The World” (cue dark, suspenseful music).  And yet I walked away from that place more affirmed in my spirit than I often feel in the Body of Christ.

Now…I know what you’re thinking…I’ve been stopping in the wrong highways and bi-ways in the Body of Christ.  Maybe my Google Maps have been set to the wrong destinations.  Maybe Siri took my request for a, “Church that loves,” and heard “chokes and shoves” and sent me to those places.  Siri is a little off like that sometimes.

But, to be honest (By the way, does that phrase “to be honest” bother anyone else?  Does that mean everything said up to that point is suspect?  Somehow less than honest?), most churches struggle with the Welcome Mat.  We get used to each other or critical of each other for wearing plaid (or some other character flaw) and we let go of the enthusiasm that should mark our times together.  We are submerged in the mire of our struggles and we forget that others struggle too.  Or we let five minutes of chit chat about the baseball team (though they do need to get their act together) substitute for genuine connection in the Body of Christ…the Church Family.  Or we hand off the notion of Welcome to those “gifted in the area of hospitality” who have signed up to be Greeters or operate the Information Booth.

Don’t get me wrong, there are always pockets of saints in every place of worship who have the aroma of encouragement about them–people in every congregation who see past the facades and into the souls of men and women and boys and girls–people who can always run past the Hug Block.  I am blessed to know many of them and “Praise God from Whom all blessings flow!”  But most of the rest of us can’t seem to find the Welcome Mat–at least not regularly.  It’s a shame, really.

“When you see him again, hale and hearty, how you’ll rejoice and how relieved I’ll be. Give him a grand welcome, a joyful embrace! People like him deserve the best you can give” (Philippians 2:28-29).

© All rights reserved.  Scripture quotation from The Message.

 


Just Like Nose Hairs

I was seated across from him at lunch; trying to have an earnest conversation.  But my conversation attempts were constantly thwarted by the Houdini of nose hairs.  Sometimes it wasn’t there; sometimes it was.  I it appeared; it escaped!  I couldn’t tell what made it come or go; was it the waitress?  Was it the salad?  Was it something clever I said?  And why did it flick out from its hiding place for only parts of our conversation?  I managed to keep a straight face during the conversation but, trust me, IT WAS VERY, VERY HARD!

This particular nose hair was one of those very long gray ones that lash out like some kind of nasal switch blade; determined to slice and dice (or at least tickle) anyone that got in its way.   I could not tell what made it sometimes pierce the air between us and sometimes duck for cover.  I also wondered how a (what seemed to be) six-inch nose hair could appear, disappear, and reappear without its human host head noticing.

I am puzzled by nose hairs and their auricular cousins:  ear hairs (Don’t get me started on ear hairs–I mean, if you’re going to have ear hairs, shouldn’t you have enough ear hairs to keep your ears warm?  But no, they manifest only in groups of two or three, parading themselves for all the world to see [after you, yourself, look away from the mirror in the morning], but are totally useless.  You can’t even comb them up to the top of your head to make up for the retreating head hairs.  Life is decidedly not fair.)

Nose hairs don’t show up until later in life; usually.  They remain latent until, detecting the creeping advance of middle age, they suddenly announce themselves one morning in the mirror.  And–they are completely useless.  They are annoying and, no matter how much you trim or pull (which is hard; gripping a nose hair to pull, that is); THEY KEEP COMING BACK!  You cannot make them go away; as much as you might try; they are resilient; they are the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae facing the menacing might of the Persian Empire; they will not fall (out, that is).

It occurred to me a while back that the Body of Christ suffers from a strikingly similar problem.  Just like nose hairs, it keeps coming back.  You can’t seem to kill it off and it is also decidedly not helpful.  In fact, it’s downright harmful.  And, unlike nose hairs, not in the least amusing.

What is this menace in the Body of Christ?  It is harmful speech.  Words spoken to wound.  Words spoken carelessly.  Words spoken from a presumed superior position.  Words that cannot be retrieved once spoken.  Words that land in the middle of someone’s spirit like a neutron bomb–their outward bodily appearance is intact, but the killing effect of the “radiation” has taken deep root. 

Why is it that, in Larry Crabb’s words, what is supposed to be the Safest Place on Earth, is often the source of such ruinous speech?  For the life of me, I cannot figure out why people, who have been redeemed by the preeminent act of grace, can be so profoundly graceless in our speech.  It’s a puzzler.

I know, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).  I know, “I do not understand what I do.  For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Rom. 7:15).  But chalking our harmful speech up to, “I can’t help it because I stumble in many ways,” JUST DOESN’T CUT IT.

I think we need to stop.  We need to speak words of hope and healing and help into the lives of the people around us.  Are there times when particularly egregious behavior needs to be lovingly confronted?  Sure.  But we all know that our wounding words are usually not that.  We all know that our wounding words spring from selfishness and carelessness and a lack of loving investment in our neighbors–from a sense of superiority and smugness and self-righteousness.

 “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of [our] mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29).

I have to go now; I have some nose hairs to trim.  And, if you happen to be having lunch with me (or breakfast or dinner or popcorn at the movies for that matter), and you see a Houdini nose hair make an appearance; go ahead, laugh…just let me laugh with you.

© All rights reserved.  Scripture quotations from the NIV, Zondervan.


Unpotential Realized or Why I Never Ran for President

“You can do anything you want!”  I can’t recall the number of times I’ve heard those words in the context of some well-meaning adult encouraging some young person to tackle the next challenge in their lives. Everybody is on a quest (or encouraged to be on a quest) to do something…wait for it…AWESOME!

By the way…may I just mention that the overuse of the word, “awesome,” hurts my head?  I know that “awesome” is giving way to “epic” (how many “awesomes” does it take to make an “epic” anyway?), but still…awesome?  Seriously (which is also getting way too much play)…few things are genuinely awe-inspiring and I have not heard much recently that deserves the term…a Red Sox World Series win…maybe.  Or a child coming to faith in Christ.

But meanwhile, back at the ranch…I can remember believing as I was growing up, that I would one day run for (and, of course, be) President of the United States.  I didn’t….run, that is.  Along the way, despite my “potential,” I never had the opportunity to impress the voters with my calling to be their leader.  (I also didn’t have the half a billion dollars to pull it off, but that’s another story.)

But still it keeps happening…most high school or college or kindergarten graduation ceremonies are marked by someone in the room saying that the students can do anything they want; they can be anything they want.  They can scour the stars and boldly go where no one has gone before.  They can invent the next must need, over-priced electro-gadget.  They can solve all the world’s ills.  They can be President of the United States. 

(Oh, and not for nothing, but honestly, kindergarten graduation ceremonies?  What’s next?  “Ladies and gentlemen, we are happy to welcome you to this morning’s ceremony honoring the Hospital’s most recent “Womb Graduates.”  Yes, these students successfully negotiated the rigorous “Pre-Partum” course of study, featuring our most intense coursework [“Ultrasound 101 & 102,” “Nausea Inducement 220;” topped off by “Umbilical Cord Jumping 341”] and we are proud to recognize them as recipients of the prestigious “Post-Partum Prize.”  These are not ordinary scholars, ladies and gentlemen, these students have enthusiastically and successfully trod a path that few [well, everyone, really, but then announcing that wouldn’t be “awesome,” would it?] dare attempt.”) 

But again, back at the ranch…is it really the case that everybody can be anything?  Does everyone have the potential to hit life’s grand slams?  I think not.  And I think it’s a mistake to try to make people believe that.  That is, I believe, faux encouragement…and an impediment to helping people see genuine potential.  I think it’s more important to help people (particularly young people) see that they can find and know God’s purpose for their lives and cooperate with Him in making their way toward that.  In our “Everybody Gets a Trophy” world, we delude ourselves (and our progeny…but just for a moment because they eventually catch on) by insisting that there is an unlimited path toward societal definitions of success–that everybody is equally capable of climbing the highest mountain…of dreaming the impossible dream. 

By now you have likely decided that I am some curmudgeon whose mission is to dampen the spirits of anyone who comes my way.  Perhaps.  But I think more realistically that we, Christian parents, grandparents, leaders, and teachers, do our young charges a disservice when we direct them toward unrealistic (and unbiblical) ideas about success.  We better serve them, I think, when we encourage them to find and pursue God’s purpose for their lives.  Encouragement along those lines aligns with God’s intention for parents and grandparents and other influential adults in young people’s lives. 

In case you’re wondering…vocationally…I have had a reasonably successful military career; I have been blessed to be a local church pastor, a Christian and secular college faculty member, a seminary adjunct professor, and a health care administrator.  Things have been just fine…though along the way I have hurt people and strayed from my purpose.  I have messed up and been brought back by God into His gracious presence.  But I am not the President of the United States–that was Unpotential Realized.  That was not God’s purpose for me; He had other things in mind.  And, smack in the middle of God’s purpose, genuine potential is realized. 

Philippians 4:10-13, 10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.”

Paul, speaking primarily here about material needs, makes, I think, a larger point about potential:  we should be content to find and know God’s purpose for our lives and rest in that.  Someone will be President; someone will scour the stars; someone will be invent the world’s next must need, over-priced electro-gadget.  But not everyone.  And more importantly many, given the right encouragement, might find and know God’s wondrous (though perhaps not presidential) purpose for their lives. 

© All rights reserved.


%d bloggers like this: