I think about the people who read this blog. People like you. Normal. Everyday. Coffee drinking/Diet Coke sipping kind of people who are just trying to deal with life. Maybe just trying to deal with the day.
From the outside, some of us appear to be people who are whole. That is, we appear to have it together. Others of us appear to be struggling. Still others of us may appear to be a mess.
The truth? What you see on the outside can be deceiving. Regardless of the way we may appear on the outside, on the inside, we all are lacking. We have fears and inadequacies that many of us go to great lengths to mask. At the core of our being is a great need for God.
Yet, we often try our best to make it on our own.
So I want you to know that when I post each day (about four to five days a week), I am thinking about people just like you. In fact, I sometimes picture people just like you, turning on their computer and finding this blog.
You may be single. You may be a young father or mother. You may be a widow. You may be a church leader. You may not see yourself as very "religious." You may feel very connected with some special people in your life. You may feel very alone.
Regardless, we have much in common.
What we have in common, however, may not be what you see on the outside. What we have in common is what is real and what may be lacking on the inside.
Some days you might read this blog and come away encouraged or helped in some way. Some days--well, it just didn't do much for you. Regardless, I really pray that in some way God would bless and provide just what you need.
Right now I am thinking about some generous people I've noticed through the years. These people, in a variety of ways, model generosity. As I think about some of these people, here are some qualities that I've seen. (This is a composite of several people.) These people are:
Generous with their forgiveness. (They "let it go" and move on.)
Generous with their attention. (They seem to focus on others and not themselves.)
Generous with their praise. (They notice and affirm people regularly.)
Generous with their encouragement. (They have a way of communicating confidence.)
Generous with their time. (Often, they are very busy people and yet they give you their time.)
Generous with their money. (They are not known for being tight and stingy.)
Generous with their kindness. (They do things for others as a result.)
Generous with their thoughtfulness. (They do nothing that might humiliate another.)
What makes these qualities attractive? They are God-like. And--is he ever a generous God!
What makes these qualities almost radical? They reflect a life that is focused on others and not on self.
What makes these qualities difficult?Fear. Our hesitancy to let go of ourselves. We may not trust God with this much of our lives.
Today, I am praying for a generous heart. I am praying that my life today will reflect more of what I just wrote instead of the heart of a grasping, fearful man.
Yesterday, I was in Dallas with a friend and heard Joe Stowell, former President of Moody Bible Institute, speak. In one of his talks, he spoke of being a generous person versus being a person of greed. His use of these two words ("generosity" and "greed") went way beyond money issues. Rather, these words describe a spirit, a disposition, and a way of living on many fronts. In essence, these words describe a person's heart.
Some of us have a generous spirit. Basically, we reflect the character of God. After all, God is a generous God. Others of us have greedy hearts. In other words, regardless of what we are doing, we tend to focus on ourselves and our desire for more.
I've been thinking about this since my friend and I returned to Waco last evening. I want to be a generous person. But--I want to have a generous heart because I want to be like God. For example, I want to be generous with mercy.
The world can be such a hard, mercy-less place. Perhaps you can relate to this scene. It is a hot afternoon. Cars are lined up at a stoplight. The light turns green. One car does not begin moving the split second the light turns green. The guy behind this car lays on the horn and looks very irritated. The same kind of thing happens at work and in retail stores every day. Many people treat others without generosity. "You either respond correctly immediately or I will react negatively!" Wow...
People can be really hard on one another. Perhaps the cashier at Target is new. She seems to be fumbling around with the keys at the check-out stand. Maybe she doesn't know how to enter the code for a certain item I am buying. She asks another employee for help and then sheepishly apologizes to me, the customer, explaining that she is new. How will I handle this? Will I sigh deeply and show my impatience? Or, will I remember that God is generous with his mercy and I need to be generous with mercy as well?
I want to be generous today because God is a generous God.
God is generous with his love. He loves the "world" in general (John 3:16) and yet he loves me (and you) in particular. How generous!
God is generous with his grace and mercy. He is described as one who is "rich in mercy" even when we are dead in our "transgressions and sins" (Ephesians 2:4). How generous!
God is generous with his Holy Spirit. He has given his "forever presence" to every believer. God's forever presence (the Holy Spirit) was "...poured out on us generously through Christ Jesus, our Savior" (Titus 3:6). How generous!
One of the most attractive characteristics a person can cultivate is generosity. People who are generous with love, mercy, service, patience, etc. will be attractive because they reflect the very character of God. After all--God is an attractive God. Come to know God and you will want to know more of God. Like David, you will want to "...gaze upon the beauty of the Lord" (Psalm 27:4).
On Thursday of last week, I drove my mom and dad to Arkansas. We went to the town (Wilmar) where she grew up. It was fun to stay with my aunt (my mom's sister) and see another aunt and uncle, a number of cousins and their spouses and their children (and even their spouses). I had not been there in a number of years. I was very glad I went. As long as I am alive, these people in southern Arkansas will be family. And--they are a part of some very good memories.
Sometimes, we grow up with people or become friends with people and then lose touch. Perhaps we do not invest much in our friendships. We may not invest very much in our own extended or even our immediate family. For example:
Parents and adult children who rarely call or visit with one another. Far too many adult child rarely call or visit their parents. On the other hand, some parents will sit at home passively waiting for someone to call them (instead of taking the initiative to make the call themselves). Siblings can do the same with one another.
Friendships that are one sided. Have you had a friendship in which you were the one who always initiated getting together? If you and your friend were ever going to get together, you were the one who made that happen.
Churches where it is difficult, if not impossible, to break in. Have you ever been a part of a church where it was so hard to make friends? Maybe you invited people over or met some people at a restaurant. Yet, no one else seemed to take the initiative to invite you over. Perhaps you know what is like to be a part of a Bible class where everyone was buzzing about a trip some of them took to a state park. You knew nothing about plans for such a trip. You felt left out and awkward.
Many people are very passive about their relationships. They wait for something to happen. They wait for their wife or husband to make the first move. They wait for a family member to call and yet never pick up the telephone to call that person. They wait for a friend to invite. They wait for someone to come see them. They wait, wait, and wait.
Contrary to this, I believe I have to take the initiative with people most of the time. Fair or unfair--that is just life. I choose not to spend my life passively waiting for other people. That is often a dead-end street.
Some people will disappoint. Some people will be passive. Some people rarely follow through ("We'll call you and invite you over for dinner.").
Meanwhile--God does not disappoint. He is active. He follows through with whatever he promises. He has taken initiative through Jesus. I'm thankful he did not passively stand by. Instead, he stepped in and took action.
People who stay fully alive take care of themselves. If you don't take care of yourself, you can become sedate and lose your "edge." Remember that we are whole beings. Taking care of one part of our lives can positively impact other parts of our lives. Let me warn you, what I am about to suggest will sound very simple. In fact you may look at this and immediately move on to another blog or website. Yet so many people ignore and neglect self-care.
You might consider the following:
Exercise your mind.Do something that stimulates your thinking. Read. Read something (even the newspaper--paper or Internet) that relates to current events. Watch a television program that causes you to think. Read a good book. Far too many of us become mentally lazy.
Exercise your body.Walk. Run. Work out. I work out at the YMCA about four times per week. Working out makes such a difference in the way I feel every day. But don't complicate this. Start by walking. Some of us would do well to turn the computer off, put the book down, and get some exercise. You might be very surprised at the difference this makes.
Exercise your soul. Look for an imbalance. Maybe you serve people and are involved in several good works. However, your prayer life and Bible reading are lacking. Start by setting aside a short time each day that is dedicated for Bible reading and prayer. (Many have found prayer books to be helpful as well.) You might consider writing in a journal. Some find that to be a valuable tool.
On the other hand, you may be doing the things I just suggested but you are not involved in any ongoing ministry. To exercise your soul, you may need to get more intentional about putting your faith into action. Start simple. Consider doing something good for someone who is really struggling right now. Consider doing something good for someone who is sick, without a job, or in some way is going through a difficult time. Maybe there is a service organization in the community for which you could volunteer. The point is: Find a way to exercise your faith.
Tomorrow, I will drive my parents to Arkansas. We will go to Wilmar/Monticello, the southeastern part of the state where my mother grew up. It has been years since I have been there. But I look forward to going. I have a lot of very good memories of going there as a child. In particular, I enjoyed being there on Christmas.
My grandparents lived in a white frame house on a two lane highway coming into Monticello. They had a garden, a barn, a shed--all sorts of places where a city boy could explore. I have wonderful memories of riding on the tractor with my grandpa. At other times, he would take us to the woods. He ran a lumber mill and seemed to know about every kind of tree. I remember cold Decembers, riding in his pickup truck. With the deaths of my grandparents, all of those memories seemed to come to an abrupt stop.
At the time, I did not realize that we were making important and significant memories. I did not realize that one day I would look back and wistfully long to experience these moments again. No--at the time I was just living.
Today, I suspect the same is happening. Today I will just be living. But--it could be that I will make some memories as well. It could be that some of this "ordinary living" will actually turn out to be very significant.
As I think about today, I don't want to be overly focused on the past or consumed by what will happen in my future life on this earth. I do want to be very present in ordinary life.
As I think about the last few weeks, they have been ordinary in many ways. That is, they are very similar to many other weeks:
Time spent in conversations with people about their children, their aging parents, sicknesses, etc. I've talked in my office with a number of people. On the telephone with a concerned parent. A number of e-mails in which people expressed concerns and issues that were deeply personal
Time spent being with Charlotte. Talking on the telephone with Christine, Phillip, and Jamie (my children and son-in-law). Being with special friends.
Time spent mowing, weed-eating, dealing with loose insulation in the attic, and paying bills.
At the moment, I am sitting at my desk at home. I am looking at a small clock on my desk. The second hand sweeps around the face of the clock every 60 seconds. At some point, the clock in my life will come to a halt. Life on this earth will be over for me. I know--we all know this. Many of us just don't think about it very much.
How will I live in the meantime? How will I deal with the ordinary moments of life? Will I consciously live in the presence of God, even in the most mundane moments? Will I be open to however God wishes to redeem the ordinary moments of my life?
Master manipulators are not necessarily big, ugly, frightening people. No, sometimes they are smooth, really smooth. They have a way of wanting you to know they are with you, on your side, and think and feel as you do. Unfortunately, manipulation can be disguised as friendship. This can make it even more difficult to deal with.
Watch a manipulator work a room. The manipulator may be a male. She may be female. For the sake of example, let's suppose the person is female. She panders, flatters, and knows where the soft spot in each person is. She knows how to get to you. She shows interest in your children. She shows interest in your favorite hobby. She might have a way of making you feel as if you have a friend.
Yet, after seeing this person work, you may begin to wonder: Who is this person? What does she really think? What does she really feel? How can she communicate to person after person "I think like you"? Who is she anyway?
Perhaps one problem with the manipulator is that he or she is not living as an authentic self. This person is a pretender, pandering to people in order to use people for his own purposes. The manipulator puts a lot of energy into trying to manage relations (Dallas Willard's words) instead of genuinely relating to people as a mature human being.
Before going any further with this, I need to first look at myself (and maybe you will consider looking at yourself).
What do I really think? (At times have I been more concerned about being liked rather than being authentic?)
How do I really feel? (Do I express what I really feel?)
What would I do if I knew no one would see me? (Do I avoid immorality just because I wouldn't want to be caught?)
The answers to those questions reveal what is in my heart. These answers reveal the true me. As Dallas Willard notes in his fine book The Great Omission, "duplicity" has become second nature to so many of us. After all, we live in a world where we try to "manage" our relationships. Consequently, we have to hide what we really think, what we really feel, and how we might act if we knew we wouldn't get caught.
Duplicity takes a lot of energy.
Would those closest to me (my wife, my children, my friends) be surprised if they knew what I was really thinking?
Would those closest to me be surprised if they knew what I was really feeling?
Would I behave in a sinful or immoral way if I knew I would be out of the watchful eye of those who know me?
Some of us would say, "Just be authentic. Be real. Say what you really think! Express the way you really feel!" Some might even say regarding behavior, "Do what is right for you."
I want to be authentic. I want to be real. But--I want to be more than this. I want to become what Jesus wants. Right now, I am reading Dallas Willard's book The Great Omission, and he is causing me to think through this.
...only avid discipleship to Christ through the Spirit brings the inward transformation of thought, feeling, and character that "cleans the inside of the cup" (Matthew 23:25) and "makes the tree good" (Matthew 13:33). As we study with Jesus we increasingly become on the inside--with the "Father who is in secret" (Matthew 6:6)--exactly what we are on the outside, where actions and moods and attitudes visibly play over our body, alive in its social contest. An amazing simplicity will take over our lives--a simplicity that is really just transparency. (p. 15)
A nice piece in the Christian Chronicle has been written regarding blogger Bill William's experience at the scene of the disaster of 9/11. The following is from the Chronicle.
The events of Sept. 11, 2001, are more than a series of television images for Bill Williams.
He still remembers the smell — even the taste — of Ground Zero, after the twin towers of the World Trade Center collapsed. Nearly 1 million tons of steel and concrete became a giant incinerator for the bodies of more than 2,000 people. The smell of burned flesh and jet fuel was heavy in the air.
It’s not something he likes to talk about — even five years later.
Williams, senior minister for the Cedars church in Wilmington, Del., served as a volunteer chaplain at the site of the attacks. Offering comfort and prayers for hundreds of emergency responders and recovery workers, the minister listened to stories from people struggling to cope with the evil they had seen firsthand.
“Not a day goes by that I am not affected by the events of Sept. 11,” Williams said.
The experience has made him more sensitive to people dealing with smaller-scale, personal disasters.
“Because we witness these sorts of disasters so frequently, we’ve become somewhat desensitized to the pain,” he said. “I hope that I’m able to be more compassionate to others as a result of having been in the belly of the abyss.”
9/11 is one of those important markers in our lives. I can remember where I was and what I was doing the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I suspect I will always remember where I was and what I was doing when I heard that two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center.