Wednesday, May 25, 2016

God is NOT Fair! God is...

As I write this blog, I'm recovering from quadruple bypass surgery. This was an unexpected event that came out of left field. I always considered myself to be a healthy 64 year old who works out regularly and eats a pretty healthy diabetic diet. 

So when the cardiac doctor told me I had 90% blockage in two of my arteries and 100% in another and needed bypass surgery, I could have easily complained about how unfair God was.  The doctor said it was probably hereditary. That made it seem even more unfair. 

But obviously life is not the same or equal for everyone. Some have more problems than others. We all probably know the guy who has a dark cloud that seems to follow him around, always in some kind of trouble. And then there is the jerk who seems to have made it in the shade!  And yet in the past few years fairness has risen to the top of our society's values and I'm not sure where that originated. We want everything to be fair and equal.  So we are constantly comparing our lives to others and there is this movement to somehow control all things, to level out everything. Many believe it is the government's role in society to make everything equal for everyone (except those in power).
And this idea that life should or could be equal on all fronts even slips into our theology. We believe that the God who created the world and governs should be fair to one and all as well. I heard a popular pastor recently preach about how God will balance all of your books in the end. He said that God is a fair God and if you have a lot of trials, sickness and disappointments in life, God will return blessings to you that are equal to your trials. I'm not sure where this pastor got this theology but it doesn't come from the Bible. 

The reality is that the God of the Bible is not fair. And praise God that he is not! Because if God were fair, I would be in hell, on my way to an eternity without God. We all would be because that is what every person deserves on earth. Because God's standard is perfection and one sin or anything short of perfection cuts us off from God. None of us are perfect. So if God were fair, we would warrant a sentence of eternity without God (Romans 5:8).

Fair is not a word I use to describe God. God is anything but fair. He chooses one particular race over all others to show his favor. He chooses the less qualified to be his leaders.  Check out Noah, Moses, Saul, David, and Esther. None of these were the most qualified or popular choice to be a leader.  In the New Testament, Jesus shares the parable of the hired workers in Matthew 20. The manager hires day laborers and agrees to pay a certain amount for a day's work. At the end of the day, when it is time to pay, the manager pays the same amount to those who worked 12 hours as to those who were hired late in the day and only worked an hour. "This is not fair", declared the workers who had toiled all day. The manager responds by saying he is not being unfair, but he is being generous.  

The same principle applies in the parable of the prodigal son. On the son's return home he receives a party in spite of his horrendous and irresponsible behavior, squandering his inheritance. In Luke 12:28 we see the elder brother, the responsible child, throwing a fit, claiming it is unfair to reward his brother and not him. 

So fairness is not a high value in God's kingdom. Mercy, love and generosity are the values that describe God. He loves us so much that he provides a way for us to be in a relationship with Him regardless of our past or how good we've been. There is no way to earn it. 

Therefore, I don't expect life to be fair or for all my trials to balance out in good things for me. I am not jealous of those who have it "better" than me.  I am very thankful that God loves me and is merciful to me and that I can spend eternity with him! Jesus didn't come to earth and die so that I might have a "fair" life. No, he came so that we all might have life to the fullest! (John 10:10). That is love that goes way beyond fairness. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Speaking So People Will Listen

Martha Garcia speaking to women in Honduras
I was partnered this past week with someone I didn't know on the golf course.  Sometimes I play as a single and look forward to the opportunity to get to know someone new.  On this day, I was paired with a guy who was in no mood for anything spiritual. As a matter of fact almost everything out of his mouth was a negative statement. What made it worse was that he used the "f" word in almost every sentence. He ranted about California where he lived and complained about the course we were playing.  He didn't like the greens and the holes were not marked correctly according to his GPS.  On and on he went. 

I told him I was a pastor but that didn't stop him one bit. I also tried to be encouraging but nothing seemed to work. I was worn out and depressed by the time we finished and didn't really want to talk to him any more.  The guy said he was a salesman, but I was wondering how he sold anything to anyone with that mouth and attitude.  It reminded me of the importance of our words, and how they make an impression and an impact on others.

As a chaplain to businesses, I have to be very conscious of my conversations.  I must remind myself to be slow to speak, to ask questions and listen. But when I speak, I have a great opportunity to impact a person's life, to lift them up and share with them the keys to the abundant life that Jesus offers us. We all have relationships, and opportunities to do the same.  And if you are a pastor, you have this precious 30 minute window almost every week, give or take a few minutes, to address an audience with your undivided attention. What a tremendous opportunity to affect lives for Christ. This should be your most important 30 minutes of your week and you should do everything possible to make the most of that opportunity. I pray you never take it lightly or for granted.  

If this time is so important, shouldn't we all work at communicating to the best of our ability? When planning a speech or sermon most of us spend a lot of time preparing the content of what we plan to say. Content is the most important thing.  But a close second is how we say what we want to say. How much time do you spend on your delivery, as opposed to the content?  It is my experience that most pastors spend very little time in preparing how they speak. Yet, if you do not communicate effectively or have an awkward speech pattern that creates a barrier for the listener, it may not matter what you say. 

I know a pastor who has a speech pattern of elongating certain words he wants to highlight.  "How are you doing chuuuuurch."  He does this at the end of his phrases, sort of an "up talker" but making his words much longer than necessary and pausing after the word. This slows his speech to a crawl and doesn't make listening to him very easy. He could be a much better communicator but he has to be aware of his speech pattern and then work hard to change it. 

Americans speak generally with a nasal tone, especially women. On a mission trip to Africa I was reminded of this when I heard the African children laughing at the way we talked.  They were imitating the girls speech, speaking out of their noses.  The Africans speak from their diaphragm with this very rich and deep vocal tone, much different than our speech. I hadn't really noticed the difference until the children pointed it out.  Great speakers often are those who speak in a lower tone so if you are one that speaks with a nasal tone, and you want to be an effective speaker, you probably should change your register from the nose to chest.

The best speakers have speech patterns that are not only easy to follow but are also pleasant and compelling to hear.  They will vary their cadence, pace and volume, pausing at the right moment to get across their point. There is an art to speaking well, but many never try to master it and never become the communicators they could be.  

So here are some suggestions on speaking so that people will listen:

1. Listen to yourself.  It is hard for me to listen to myself but I can't change unless I can identify what needs changing. You should record or video yourself whenever possible. Listen and make a list of the things you think should be changed or improved.  

2. Have a mentor or a vocal coach who can critique you and help hold you accountable to change. Often you will not catch everything that could be improved. I have a tendency to say, "you know", way too much and the word "kinda" for no particular reason. My wife is the one who pointed this out to me and holds me accountable now when I begin to slip those words into my speech.

3. Practice, practice and practice some more. Your speech patterns have been formed over many years and are difficult to change. But you can do it if you practice and focus on the areas that need to change. Practice in front of a coach.  Just like a batter taking batting practice while their batting coach watches.  

For more on speaking so that others will want to listen, check out this 9 minute Ted Talk by Julian Treasure. Half way through he talks about the importance of register, timbre, prosody, pace, silence, pitch and volume.   

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Are You A "Skin Tag" Christian?

My pastor, Will Davis Jr., used a crazy analogy this past week to illustrate the life of many Christians. He said many are like "skin tags", those little extra growths of skin we get that have blood pumping through but are absolutely good for nothing. I was laughing at the metaphor as he explained that these "skin tags" are like the spiritual lives of many Christians. They may have the spiritual blood of Christ running through them, but apart from attending an occasional church service, they are pretty much useless to God's kingdom. Kind of gross but it is a good analogy.  Watch the full sermon here.

It is my observation that my generation of Christians (baby boomers) is overflowing with "skin tag" believers. You'll find a lot who attend mega churches, those who want to pop in and out without being noticed. Our generation created the mega church phenomenon. Many have little to no investment in the church they attend and yet they believe they are doing their "Christian duty" by attending occasionally.  

One of the reasons I think this is so prevalent in my generation is that we baby boomers are experts at compartmentalizing our lives. We set aside Sunday mornings for church and a certain amount of days during the week for work and then some for rest or recreation. We live to keep them separate. And so, it is very easy for us to keep our spiritual life from intersecting with our daily life. 

One of the refreshing aspects of the millennial generation is that these young adults seek a different lifestyle than that of their parents. They don't compartmentalize as much. They want a more integrated life instead. Take work for example. They want life, not just a work/life balance. They would like to have time for their friends, family, hobbies, and other small pleasures and pastimes. They work to live, not live to work, and so they want their work to be fun and meaningful.  As one millennial put it, "I want my job to align who I am with what I do".  The older generations may look at them as lazy but I don't begrudge them for wanting to live an integrated life.  

This applies to their faith also. Millennials want to be able to live their faith 24/7.  It's not only a Sunday morning thing for them, it is a lifestyle!  That is what the first century Christians experienced and is what life in Christ should be. But that hasn't been the case for many Christians for years now. 

That may be changing as this new integrated life mindset is having an affect on the church today. The missional movement and the idea of "you don't go to church, you are the church wherever you go" are concepts that have been brought about because of this change of perspective.  There is a higher expectation to being a follower of Christ now, focusing more on application of faith than just knowledge.

It may be harder in the future to be a follower of Christ because of this. So there may be a decline in those who say they are Christians, but those who choose to follow Christ will be more devoted and hopefully a much better model of Jesus to the world than my generation of believers.
For more about the work habits of millennials, check out this blog post, 8 reasons millennials seem lazy at work.

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