Friday, April 26, 2013

Start with Why

In my last post, I talked about the power of asking someone else, "Why?" You might want to read that one first. But what about the power of asking yourself this question? How often do we believe things or do things without understanding why?

When I was a child, like most, I asked lots of questions. It wasn't enough for me to know WHAT or HOW I should do something, I had to know "WHY?". Although I've become a little less demanding, that question still drives me today. In his presentation at TEDx-Puget Sound, Simon Sinek talks about how the power of WHY is a complete game changer.
"How do you explain when others are able to achieve things that seem to defy all of the assumptions?" - Simon Sinek
Although he is talking about innovation and commerce, as I watched this video I immediately thought about the Church and how we communicates God's truth. Most often, Christians go straight to the WHAT & HOW, rather than humbly and patiently helping people wrestle with the WHY. I've recently been challenged to better understand and communicate the WHY in every aspect of the my faith. Whether it be a simple presentation of the Gospel, an admonition to love your neighbor, or a rebuke against grumbling and complaining, someone understanding the WHY can make all the difference in the world. In the very first chapter of Isaiah, we see God having this conversation with the rebellious nation of Israel. “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool."(Isaiah 1:18) "Come now, let us reason together..." The fact that Almighty God would want to "reason" with us (in order to save our souls!) is an idea that I find hard to comprehend. Perhaps this is why I do such a poor job of having that same patience and humility with those who question what I believe. I'd encourage you to do yourself a massive favor and take 18 minutes to watch this video, then take a little more time to ask yourself "why?". 

"Why do I do what I do?"
"Why do I believe what I believe?"
"How can I better communicate that with others?"

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Transformational Power of Questions

I was recently in a men's small group setting when the leader asked, "Does anyone have any thoughts or questions?" After an extended awkward silence, one of the the guys we'll call "Joe" spoke up: "I'm afraid", he said. "I'm engaged and I'm afraid of getting married." As Joe took a breath before continuing, the leader jumped in and began what seemed like a five minute rambling monologue on how fear of marriage is normal and reasonable, every guy has it, he had it, don't be surprised by it, and you just have to seek God for strength to push past it. My immediate thought was, "STOP TALKING! Why don't you ask him what he's afraid of ?!" I was frustrated, annoyed and convicted. I'm sure I've done the same thing to many innocent victims. I'm often much more concerned about blessing people with my "wisdom" than I am about patiently taking a journey into the depths of their heart to discover their real need. 

I emailed Joe the next day and invited him to get together some time. He gladly accepted and we met for lunch later that week. After a few minutes of small talk, I gently steered the conversation toward our last meeting. "You shared that you were afraid of getting married. Do you mind me asking what your specific fears are?" As Joe eagerly opened up and began to share his story I was taken back. Although he grew up around church and "prayed the prayer" as a child, Joe truly put his faith in Christ when he hit rock bottom just a few years ago. After a drug and alcohol fueled binge that left him unconscious and unemployed, Joe reached out to his brother for help. Not long after they talked, he surrendered his life to Jesus and was baptized. He went to a Christian rehab, joined a Christian recovery group and things seemed to be going great. Then there was the relapse. In the midst of the chaos, his now fiancĂ© became pregnant with their daughter. In response to my original question, Joe  said that he is afraid he wouldn't be marrying her if they didn't have a child together. He also fears what might  happen if he relapses again. On top of all of this, his brother, who led him to Christ and taught in the marriage ministry at his church, is now separated from his wife. Initially, all I could say was, "Wow. Thanks for sharing." I was so glad I asked "Why?"

Does Joe have anything to be afraid of? Absolutely. Does he just need to push past his fear and pray for strength? Absolutely not! 

Humbled, I eventually responded with a few ideas about his current situation, but mostly thanked him for his honesty and asked if we could get together again soon. "Definitely", he replied.  I hope to share some suggestions with Joe about how to successfully pursue a Christ-centered sobriety and to help him wrestle with his questions about his engagement. But most of all I hope to continue to be his brother; his asking and listening brother.

When we don't ask "why" we are like a doctor who doesn't interview the patient or listen to their symptoms. People's issues are generally far more complex than we realize. Our diagnosis of their problem will most likely be as accurate as the amount of our research. How many times have I been guilty of quickly responding with a Christian cliché or slapping a Bible verse on someone's situation without knowing the full story?

When Jesus, encountered a blind beggar He asked, “What do you want me to do for you?”(Mark 10:46-52) Jesus clearly knew this man's problems and needs, yet He still took time to ask and listen. There are many more examples where Jesus begins His ministry to people by asking questions. Can you think of a few? If the Son of God cares enough to ask and listen, shouldn't we?

I want to ask more questions. I want to listen without waiting for a chance to speak. I want to know people beyond the surface. I want to be better at helping them at their true point of need. I want to be more like Jesus, don't you?

To learn more about asking and listening, check out this recent post on my friend Zach Nielsen's blog: "The Evangelistic Power of Listening"

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

An Inescapable Network of Mutuality

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King penning his seminal civil rights plea, "Letter from a Birmingham Jail." Originally addressed to a group of white church leaders in the south who questioned his actions, King's words are every bit as relevant and convicting to us today. When those who claim that all people are created in the image of God can stand idly by as others are being oppressed, it is often the product of ignorance or lack of perspective. King understands this, and rather than angrily respond with righteous indignation(which he surely could have) he first invites us in to the pain of his personal plight, then guides us through scriptural examples and insight from early church fathers. In this letter we not only gain perspective on the reality of racism in our country, we see the heart of a man whose leadership was shaped by the founders of our faith. Dr. King writes with the wisdom of Solomon, the poetry of David and the prison pleas of Paul. The end result brings the reader to a place of conviction and personal decision. 
"I am in Birmingham because injustice is here... I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider..."
Perhaps most of all, I am shocked that this was written only a half century ago. I wonder what his thoughts would be on the current state of race relations in America.  I encourage you to take a moment and read it today. You'll be glad you did.

Read the letter in its entirety here: Letters from a Birmingham Jail