A Yes Face

I read a fun story about Thomas Jefferson a few months ago.  The story goes that President Jefferson was riding with a group horseback when they came upon a flooded river.  There at the rivers edge was a wayfarer.  The wayfarer watched as some of Jefferson’s company rode by forging the river on their horses until the President came along.  The wayfarer asked the President for a ride across and Jefferson agreed.  On the other side of the river, one of Jefferson’s men asked the wayfarer why he chose the President for a ride across the river to which he responded,
“The President?  I didn’t know he was the President.  I just know that on certain men’s faces is written the word, ‘No.’ and on others is the word, ‘Yes.’  His was a Yes face.”
Isn’t that so true?  Have you ever wondered why you tell certain people your junk and others you just smile and nod?  I’m not talking about the safe, politically correct mistakes like swearing after stubbing our toe.  I’m speaking of those dark, ugly, “it’s all my fault” kind of mistakes. What specifically do we see in those that cause us to feel safe, accepted, and understood?  What does a “Yes face” look like?  What makes a person approachable?
What’s your reputation?
I’m realizing every human interaction I have moves me closer to or further from becoming an approachable person.  What you think is just a meaningless interaction could be the very thing that sticks out in the mind of a friend that is considering sharing with you.  Even the jokes we make about homosexuals, mormon’s, and mentally handicapped people are subtle ways we communicate our level of acceptance.
This is why I first approached Jesus.  His reputation is irrefutable.  I kept reading story after beautiful story of how he touched a leper or forgave a prostitute.  These stories began building hope in my young search.
“If you treated those people with such acceptance and love, maybe, just maybe Jesus, you will accept me as well?”
So what’s your reputation?  How do you treat the woman who made your coffee or the friend that cheated on his wife?  What’s your response to the young man who bagged your groceries or the woman that’s coming out of the closet?  Because, like it or not, you’re building a reputation.
Humility
Last year, my wife and I hosted a couples group that met at our house.  It was a diverse group of couples with a variety of different spiritual beliefs and backgrounds.  My favorite couple were the Baxter’s.  The husband, Tom was an agnostic / Buddhist that remained very skeptical to Christianity.  Throughout the months we met, I was continually inspired and encouraged by the Baxter’s marriage.  They are really good at creating hobbies and friend groups they both enjoy.  This happened to be the very same thing my wife and I have always struggled with so we were able to learn from them.  Looking back, I think this humility to point out the good in their lives rather than slapping the “non-Christian” label on them was paramount to the Baxter’s coming to a faith in Jesus.  It tore down the “me vs. you” dynamic and leveled the playing field.  Instead of being disregarded, they were validated.  The dividing line between pastor and parishioner was blurred.  We became just people with our own individual weaknesses and strengths discovering God together.
I notice this same humility in the story Jesus tells of the Good Samaritan.  Three people pass by an injured man but only the Samaritan stops to help.  Jesus purposely chose the Samaritan because in that culture this kind of person represented the outcast, marginalized, and even evil.  Yet, we know this story as the “Good Samaritan”.  Jesus does not seem bothered to point out the good in others different from us.  Jesus was unthreatened by the differences in others. Instead, he encouraged that which was true and right in the people around him.  It was stories just like this that spread grace to those uncertain seekers listening in.  A “yes face” broke through loud and clear.  Who are those around you with different beliefs or lifestyles you can point out the good in?  Perhaps the gay couple you disagree with has elements of their relationship healthier than yours?  What if the Muslim coworker in your life can teach you a stronger work ethic?  Recognizing the good takes humility.  It requires we stop staring at the line dividing our beliefs from theirs and put to rest our religious territorialism.
Divine Distractions
We wear busyness like a badge of honor so I realize this might be a tough one.  Making margin in our lives can be a constant struggle.  However, I just can’t get past the fact that most of Jesus’ miracles did not come in the form of prearranged appointments, or strategically planned events.  Most of Jesus’ miracles came from distractions, interruptions, and even annoyances.  Instead of looking for those in need, most of them came running to His feet.  The needy must have known he wasn’t too busy for them.  They must have heard a rumor that this man would make time for even me.
Listen, I know we all desperately want to be important and needed but what if our ambition has accidentally communicated the message, “I’m too busy for you.”  Who have you sent that message to lately?  When we talk to people, do they get our undivided attention or are we looking over their shoulder?  Do we get annoyed easily?  Are there people in our lives we treat like inconveniences?  We become more approachable as we allow God to divinely distract us.
Final Thoughts
I know we all want to seem important and impressive but that is not Jesus.  He is wonderfully approachable.  He walked with friends for years.  He developed inside jokes and had dirt under his nails.  They watched him cry, get lonely, and lose his temper.  God didn’t just communicate the truth to this world, His Son became the truth and lived among us.  Finally, he spread his arms wide on a cross so that you and I could approach God and receive grace.  Jesus lived as a model of what an abundant life really looks like.  And I want that.  I want to live a full, rich life of meaningful relationships.  I want friends to see an active, under construction kind of faith.  I want to enter conversations teachable.  I want a reputation of grace.  I want to share a God that allowed even me to approach Him and be loved.  Care to join me?

People Are Not Projects

Sometimes I miss the days I was in sales.  Life seemed simple and quantifiable.  At the end of each work day I could easily look up how much I sold and how much money I made.  I’d drive home every day either proud of my accomplishments or disappointed by my failure.  Either way, there was a sense of completeness after a long work day.

Unfortunately, we don’t get this luxury with people.

People are not projects we just solve and then move on to the next.  We all know life is messier than that.  See, the problem with treating people like projects from a spiritual perspective is that we reduce them to a list of problems to be solved.  If people are projects, we care more about results than relationship.  It’s simpler that way.  Less messy.  After all, compassion takes its toll.  That’s why we go oversees on a mission trip for a week to evangelize but don’t know our neighbor’s name.  Taken to an extreme, it’s the spiritual head hunter just looking for the next notch on his evangelism belt.   It’s the in-depth Bible study night where everyone leaves more informed but more lonely.  It’s the cheapskate customer that leaves a spiritual laws tract instead of a tip for the hard working waitress.

People are not projects.

And neither are you.

When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

 “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

 Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”  At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.  -John 5:6-9

At first glance, this story seems typical.  Jesus heals yet another one in need.  A grand miracle occurs and it looks like the only prerequisite was willingness.  Project complete.  Or so I thought.  See, after the healed paralytic is walking around, he is questioned by some religious types:

 So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”

 The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.  -John 5:12,13

Did you catch that?  The healed man doesn’t have a clue who Jesus was.  He doesn’t even know Jesus’ name and he certainly doesn’t know He is God.  But that’s not the crazy part.  The crazy part of the story is that Jesus is okay with that.  Jesus heals the man for the sake of healing him.  He addresses the need and that was enough for now.  Perhaps the man wasn’t quite ready for a leap of faith.  Maybe a jog down the street was on the forefront of his mind for now.  Faith is left incomplete.  God is patient with the process.

See, this is important to me because I used to think when I messed up God was rolling his eyes, sighing loudly, and thinking, “Jeeze, is this guy ever gonna figure it out?!”  I thought of my prayers as a nuisance to Him.  My requests were an interruption to someone very busy.

I now understand God is not in a hurry to move on to the next project.  Rather, He patiently walks with us.  He graciously enters our mess and addresses one need at a time.  He is recklessly hopeful, abundantly loving, and extravagantly compassionate.  He is not a project manager.  He is your Father.

he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. -Phil. 1:6

And all God’s people said… “Amen.”

 

Just Sit There

Ok, time to share a confession.  I have trouble sitting still.  I’d like to partially blame it on technology.  For example, I’m writing this blog while in a church elder’s meeting.  I am a multi-tasking machine.  My morning alarm sounds and I’m off to the races.

But it’s more than busyness.  It’s the desire for distraction.  It’s a need to feel needed.  it’s my clinging to control.  It’s embarrassing to admit, but it’s my discomfort with grace.  Let me explain.

The last week Jesus was with his friends, he wanted to show the “extent of his love” so while his friends were busy he quietly poured some water into a basin.  Jesus tied a towel around his waist and then began walking around the room washing his friends feet.  When he got to Peter, there was a protest awaiting.

 Peter persisted, “You’re not going to wash my feet—ever!”

Jesus said, “If I don’t wash you, you can’t be part of what I’m doing.”(1)

I can relate to Peter.  This must have been uncomfortable.  After all, Peter was a man of action and he was left with nothing to do.  He must have been squirming in his chair.  Surely he wanted to leap up, grab the towel from Jesus and demand to wash his feet instead.  He was forced to just sit there and receive.

But this is the discomfort of grace.

When you feel unworthy.

When you are tempted to earn it.

When you would rather be in control.

Just.  Sit.  There.

And let him love you.

Like a wide eyed girl listening to the proposal of her kneeling beloved.

Like a cheerful child opening birthday presents at his surprise party.

Just sit there.  Let your words be few.   Allow the Lord to lavish on you.  Drown in an ocean of grace.  It’s why they call it amazing.  Just sit there and receive.

 

1.  John 13:8 MSG

Date Night Gone Bad

Date night is every Friday.  It’s a discipline Laura and I have made a part of our marriage for the past eight years.  It’s a time reserved for just the two of us.  For me, it’s a time where I remember all the reasons why she’s amazing.  During date night we slow down and really connect.  There’s no interruptions from the kids, we turn off our cell phones, and we usually laugh a lot.  Also, date night usually involves a nice dinner and some good wine.

It was during one date night we began looking around the sushi restaurant while having dinner.  We noticed one older couple holding hands across the table.  They were completely locking eyes with each other and obviously madly in love.  What a great picture for what we could have together someday!

Next, we noticed a couple in the corner.  The husband was playing on his phone and the wife was rolling her eyes.  I could tell from even my vantage point the tension was high and their was plenty unsaid.  They seemed disconnected, uncomfortable, and couldn’t wait to finish their meal.

I guess date night’s not for everybody.

And this is how we should view the spiritual disciplines.

Prayer, Bible reading, solitude, journaling, and so much more(1) are simply ways we connect with God.  They are pathways to God.  They are a means to an end.  The problem is we compare our faith with others and then sit awkwardly in prayer with nothing to say.  We think we have to read the Bible for an hour each day because the guy on stage boasts that he does and then we feel guilty when we fall asleep while trying.  This is when tension rises, things are left unsaid, and we feel disconnected to God.(2)

May I suggest God wants your affection, not your duty.  May I propose that your relationship with God is different from mine.  We were created unique and therefore uniquely relate to our Creator.

Date night’s not for everybody.

But a relationship with God is.

So how do you connect with Him?  Go and do that.  Remember all the reasons why He’s amazing.  Slow down and connect.  Cast off distractions and be free to laugh.  Oh, and a lil wine can help to.

May you rekindle the romance of the one that waits with open arms.

“Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends. (3)

1. I suggest Sacred Pathways by Gary Thomas and The Me I Want To Be by John Ortberg for further resources on the many historic Biblical ways we connect with God.

2.  Isn’t it amazing how we so easily accept grace to save us but not to sanctify us?

3.  Revelations 3:20 New Living Translations