Simple conversation

Wikihow’s got an 8 step process for sharing the gospel with a complete stranger I’ll admit, I laughed when I read it. Here’s the steps;

  1. Find someone who’s alone and engage them in conversation.
  2. Swing the conversation into the spiritual – you could ask them if they go to church, like that’s a normal question to ask a stranger on the street.
  3. Try to show him they’re sinners.

If they’re still willing to talk to you, they’re likely to say; “But I don’t believe in hell,” or, “Yeah, I’m a sinner, but I’m still going to heaven,” or “Yeah, I’m guilty and I’m going to hell.” I’m not sure what you’re supposed to do if they say something else.

  1. Now, tell them about the Holy Spirit. I’m not quite sure why, but there’s the advice.
  2. Finally, if you done your job well, they’re ready to hear about Jesus. If they’re not ready, it’s just their fault so don’t worry about it.

Okay, I’ll agree, my interpretation is a little irreverent. So perhaps I’ll offer my own rewrite;

  1. See someone and engage them in conversation. You could start with a simple, “how you doing?”
  2. Take an interest in who they are or what they’re doing. I asked a young man if he was still in school. “Yeah, I’m graduating soon.”
  3. Find something you can affirm. I said, “Hey, congratulations. You know what’s next?”… He told me his college plans and smiled while he was doing it.
  4. Bless them. Yup, I really mean that. It’s not hard. “Hey, that sounds great. May God bless you as you do it.” He grinned from ear to ear.
  5. If they tell you about a problem, offer to pray for them.

Look, I have no idea if the young guy loves Jesus or not. For all I know, he’s an acolyte or president of his youth group. If so, then he’s been warmly encouraged. If he’s completely unchurched or hostile to church, then he’s probably thinking, “Hey, check it out. That was kind of a nice church lady. I guess church people aren’t all that bad.”

Regardless, he’s not likely to say, “D**n! What’s she shoving religion down my throat for?”

I’ll admit, it’s not the whole story, but it’s a nice gift. Try it, let us know how it goes.

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Christ in me, in you – Glory

We each walk through our days wrapped in whatever presents itself to us through the context of our lives. We’re busy; moving, facing, reacting and sometimes, we’re barely able to do even that.

We think if we don’t keep going, then somehow, we’ll fail. We’ll drop our responsibilities. We’ll confuse people in our stumbling and maybe, we’ll find ourselves on the wrong end of someone else’s desires or fears or disappointments.

We’re afraid, too, of the mirror. What will we see? Will we like ourselves? Or, really, are we at core somehow as deficient as our self-recriminations tell us we are?

So we keep moving. We keep dealing and reacting and everyone is happy or at least comfortable in the norm we’ve projected of ourselves.

All the while, we grope for the seam of God’s grace; the space where God is honored and the world spins on a right axis. We look outside for ourselves – to scripture, to culture, to the faces of loved ones or strangers and the long memorized demands of internal ‘shoulds’.

We create effective strategies to look good or smart or kind or wise. We wear masks, not because we want to hide, but simply because we need to get through the day. I need to get through today and today is just so demanding!

At some point, we begin to hear the unbroken invitation; come, be the person I’m creating you to be. Come.

If we are brave, we take the risk. We pause and listen to the breath of our own real selves. In the quiet, we get to know our contours and composition, the precise and unique creation that we have always been. And if we listen very, very carefully, we hear the Spirit breathing in us; God’s breath woven into our own.

We realize, slowly, that this shared breath, this unity, this Christ in us and us in Christ is the promised hope of glory. Ah, life, truth, love, wholeness; Christ in me as Christ can only be – the unique expression. I am a word of God spoken in your life and you are a word of God spoken in mine. And I so desperately need to hear both!

Ah, and when I do, I am struck with wonder and love.

Are you listening?

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God loves people

God doesn’t love Muslims or Afghans or Syrians. God loves people who happen to be Muslim, Afghan or Syrian.

God loves Ahkmed, Aziza, Gul Afruz, Taj Muhammad, Jane, Nancy, Bob and even George. God loves people – all people.

Who will you love today?

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There’s the sharp, time stopping fear that drives the brake pedal into the floor. There’s the icy, creeping, fear that warns a person off the dark road and into the light. There’s the slow, spreading fear that forces a pizza lover to take up salads.

There are times, situations, when fear is a gift. When without it, we would react too slowly and careen into the car in front of us. We would miss the warning that tells us the stranger following is dangerous. We would continue in habits that destroy us.

Fear is not evil, or at least, it’s not always evil.

Jesus said, “Fear not!” And so we miss the context and categorize all fear as evil or as a failure or as something that ought be foreign to us. We face terrible situations and rebuke ourselves for being afraid. We demand of our trembling hearts an absence of fear that would only destroy us.

Perhaps we would do better to embrace fear that is good and discard that which isn’t. After all, Jesus never condemned fear. Instead, he redefined its practical applications.

Fear God, first, because he can destroy both body and soul.

And then, don’t fear God because he counts you as precious. He’s numbered the hairs on your head. He’s called you more valuable than sparrows that die in the field. He’s promised to give you the kingdom.

Don’t be afraid of those who are capable of killing the body; terrorists, murderers, crazy men with guns. Don’t be afraid of the future you can’t predict; sickness, hunger, homelessness. Don’t be afraid of those in the world who would judge you, mock you or even condemn you.

And here’s more…

Don’t be afraid of the manifestation of Christ; when you see him walking across waters upon which no human being should be able to walk, when he appears in your midst though the doors are closed and locked, or when you see the life of another transformed, healed and delivered.

Jesus never said fear was categorically evil. Instead he said there are things of which we ought be afraid and we are not. There are others of which we ought not be afraid and we are.

So once again, he invites us to consider; what are you afraid of?

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Why the scarf?

Have you ever thought about why Muslim women wear headscarves? Recently, I asked a group of Americans that question. I heard a number of responses; to hide their sexy hair, to submit to their husbands, because it’s required.

Finally, an American woman of Indian descent brought forth the most fundamental answer; Muslim women cover their heads to honor God. By wearing a scarf, a Muslim woman says; I am submitted to God.

We, who are Christ followers also say; we are submitted to God. We recognize Christ as our covering and our faith in His suffering, death and resurrection as the sign that we are his.

So, next time you see a Muslim woman in a headscarf walking down the street or purchasing supplies at the local store, look at her scarf and recall your own submission to God. Remember your faith.

Then, maybe you’ll be able to see the same desire in her that you carry within yourself – the desire to know God and live your life in him.

Perhaps, with that in mind, you might find the grace to smile and say; “Salaam Alaykum. May God’s peace be upon you.”

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Every day, God loves you

Do you know God loves you? Do you really know? If you’re a Christ follower, and you believe the Bible, then you have to answer; Yes. Don’t answer to quickly. Think about it.

God loves you today, right where you are. He loved you when you crawled out of bed this morning and staggered into the bathroom. He loved you when you are brushing your teeth. He loved you when you groused and grumbled at the coffee maker. He loved you when you tripped off to work. He loved you when you did a good job and he loved you when you did a lousy job. He loved you when you fudge to the numbers and when you recorded the numbers properly.

Think about it.

He loved you when your child. He loved you when your parents were fighting downstairs. He loved you when you didn’t want to spend the weekend with your dad. He loved you when you stole pack of cigarettes and smoked him behind the school.

He loved you when you were a teenager, when you were doing everything you could to fit in. He loved you when the kids picked on you and he loved you when you picked on other kids. He loved you when you make great decisions and he loved you when you made that boneheaded decision that you’re still ashamed of.

God loves you. God has loved you every single day of your life. There’s no day in your life that was so shameful, embarrassing or stupid that he wasn’t still there, loving you.

Think about it. Seriously, think about it.

Are you thinking about it yet?

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When I was a kid, I thought that advocating on behalf of children, women, or the rights of African-Americans meant carrying a placard and marching through the streets with a few thousand other people. I thought it meant angry speeches on courthouse steps and letterwriting campaigns directed at political representatives. Drama. Outreach. Holy anger.

And I’ll admit, I respected the protesters, the fiery orators. After all, even the small world around me was full of injustice.

An African-American family moved into our all white neighborhood. In the dark of night, neighbors hurled bricks through their windows and fired shotguns at their house. No one rose in objection.

A girl raped by a family member had no hope of deliverance or protection. A woman couldn’t secure credit to buy property and divorce required clear proof of marital violation.

Of course I admired the protesters. But when I look back on the how things have really changed, I see a very different picture of advocacy.

I see changed housing laws. TV Shows that illumined prejudice. I see school integration values education. I see structures for hearing the testimonies of children and protective services groups. I see changes in financial laws to enable women to secure credit based on their own incomes and divorce laws that allow for no-fault divorce.

We may not like all these changes. We may be painfully aware that with each step forward, we created additional problems. But today, African-American families can live in majority white neighborhoods, allegations of incest and sexual abuse are taken seriously, and a lot fewer women are beaten by their husbands.

Today, advocacy includes birth certificates for all children born in Africa, clean water in small South American villages, latrines in India, mandatory education for all children, even Afghan girls.

Effective advocacy doesn’t always claim the limelight. Often, it’s a hard slog through the trivial; roads, recycling, birth certificates and plumbing.

It’s not the things changed. No, even in the Old Testament, the laws that encouraged justice were small; defecate outside the camp, not next to your neighbor’s text, don’t move land markers, use the same weights to measure value for buying and selling, celebrate the year of Jubilee.

If these also are justice actions, then each of us can participate. What are you doing to advance justice in the world around you? I’ll bet you’re doing something.

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