Pride and Prejudice

I’m thankful to be a part of a church where the pastor has the courage and the faith to provoke his congregation to love. He not only teaches through the words of his sermons, but through his attitude, humility, and compassion. We have been studying the book of James over the last month or so, and this past week’s sermon dealt with James 2:1-13, which says:

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?

If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”

Although in the context of the people James was writing to the issue was accepting a rich person with favoritism, Pastor Bill contextualized it for us by flipping it around. (I think, in part, because we, unlike the early church, are rich.) We are likely to have prejudices towards certain types of people, whether they be different ethnically, racially, economically, sexuality, theologically, or even in gender. He spent some time explaining Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink which in part discusses about our prejudices toward blacks and whites. We have prejudices than unintentionally creep up into our perceptions of people. They affect how we treat people, how we act around people, and how we think.

He gave examples of some of the prejudices he’s had to confront in his own life. He was very honest. The way he discussed his prejudices was appropriate and helpful. (And in my opinion, that’s a hard thing to do.) He talked about how he regretted that a woman answered the phone at a car mechanics because he didn’t think that a woman would know as much about car repair as a man would. He mentioned how when he hears a person with a southern accent, he for some reason assumes that they are not as intelligent as a person with a northern accent. He explained his discomfort when he first moved into Andersonville and mingled with the sizable LGBTQ community that exists there.

He’s had to confront himself about these. And he challenged us to do the same. In the church setting he explained that we shouldn’t give preferential treatment to people we agree with or have prejudice towards those we are not like. He gave the example of how charismatics and non-charismatics react toward each other. He mentioned how people feel toward those in the LGBTQ community. And it was here that I felt he was being bold, knowing that people may feel uncomfortable or that he is caving to the culture by saying that we should not judge those in the LGBTQ community, but love them.

He talked about how the church’s stance on traditional marriage hasn’t changed, but that doesn’t affect our ability to love others. He talked about what it was like to go to gay parties for the first time after moving into Andersonville. It was uncomfortable for him at first, but then he realized that these people are people. They are made in the image of God just the same as any other person. They have the same fears, issues, and goals as we all do. And then he said something that shouldn’t be ground-shaking or incredibly insightful, but in the current evangelical culture we just don’t hear it like we should.

We don’t have to agree with people to love them.

To love others doesn’t mean we agree with everything they do, believe, say, or think. But in a Christian culture that splits and splinters over minor theological and even non-theological differences, the statement is truly counter-cultural. And yes, that’s very sobering. But growing up with a father who was quick to judge others and after spending four years submersed in the Independent, Fundamentalist, KJV-only, Baptist crowd in Pensacola, Florida this was so refreshing that I found myself overcome with emotion during the service. Tears welled up.

It just shouldn’t be a profound statement within the church to say that the fact that someone is not like us shouldn’t change the fact that we should love them with the love of Jesus Christ. But right now, here in 2014 – it is.

So he challenged us to look in ourselves. What prejudices do we have — even unintentionally? We must learn to confront those prejudices and overcome them by loving all people. If we are blind to our own prejudices, then we should make an intentional effort to love all people well. We must determine to love others better.

If we judge people, James explains that we can expect to be judged in the same manner that we judge others. Mercy is better than judgment. I believe it is better to be quick to love others and give mercy than it is to judge others. As I have said before, it is better to err in love than it is to err in haste judgement. We should love others the way we want God to love us.

Jesus was pretty clear about this as well in His “Sermon on the Mount.” In the Lord’s prayer, something many people have memorized, there is this statement:

And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

That’s a dangerous thing to pray to God for someone who is not very forgiving.

Jesus also says this later in his sermon:

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

It seems pretty clear. James says, “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” Our daily challenge to ourselves should be to be loving others better, resisting judgment. The judgments that we should be making are those of our own hearts. That’s a hard thing to do, though. It’s a scary thing to do. It’s a lot easier to just compare ourselves to others or to judge others whom we deem as worse than ourselves. We should pray that very vulnerable and dangerous prayer that David prayed to God in Psalm 139:

“Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.”

And then we should ask for the mercy we need as David did in Psalm 51:

“Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
    and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
    and justified when you judge.”

To do this requires vulnerability before God, it requires us to be honest with ourselves, and both of vulnerability and honesty require humility. Pride is what leads us to judge, to be unforgiving, to not have mercy. We can’t be prideful and truly love well. So maybe we should start by praying for the ability to humble ourselves before others and before God.

Living in Ambiguity.

I think we stay away from conversations that make us uncomfortable because we don’t want to change. Ultimately, I think deep down we are all afraid of change. And at the end of the day if we’re honest with ourselves, not every day, but every once in a while, we think that horrible thought, What if I’m wrong about everything?

What we believe about God, the universe, the goodness within mankind (or lack thereof), and our future hope is what determines how we live our lives. As we grow up our family, friends, schools, community, culture, churches, books, experiences, society, chemical balances within our brain and body, and everything else we are exposed to affects the framework by which we determine how to live. We spend our entire lives building a framework of values and of beliefs. Most of those are built up at a very young age. The foundation is at least.

Something I’ve learned over these past few years is that as the circle of people and experiences one is exposed to expands, his or her own worldview expands. Same with their values. And with their love and respect. It’s easy to condemn something you don’t know, understand, or haven’t experienced. But it’s amazing how hard it is to condemn something when that something becomes a someone. Or multiple someones. Communities. Populations.

This is true for minorities. For those struggling in this country. It is easy to commentate on immigration. To bash those who break the law by coming into this country illegally. And it’s easy to condemn those who help those who do. So people try to write laws to prevent this from happening.

It makes sense. What do they think they are doing? How can they think that it ok to do that? They are stealing jobs from rightful citizens of this country. Right?

But then by accident you are flipping through the stations on the radio and you land on NPR and you hear a story on Latino USA about how the waiting period to legally immigrate to the U.S. through a family member who has become a citizen is now almost 20 years.

And that was just by accident. You didn’t even mean to hear that. Your world blows up a bit when you actually intentionally meet illegal immigrants or hear their stories.

This is true for the poor. For those struggling in this country. It is easy to commentate on poverty. To bash those who take checks from the government. It’s easy to condemn those who abuse the system. So people try to write laws to prevent this from happening.

It makes sense. Why can’t they just get jobs? If they just applied themselves they could stop taking advantage of normal hard-working tax payers. They have motivation to eat enough to get fat, why can’t they motivate themselves to go get jobs? Right?

But then you help out at a community center in the city which helps the homeless, and the under-resourced, and simple poor families. And you hear their stories. You hear about the true injustices and disadvantages that they experience. You realize that the reason they are overweight is because the cheapest food is the unhealthiest food. And even if they did want to eat fresh fruits and veggies, well, they are nowhere to be found. No grocery stores. They are miles away. (And that’s barely the tip of the iceberg.)

You see and hear their stories. You experience their reality, if only for a week when you were simply wanting to help out at a community center.

This is true for the LGBT community. For those who feel harassed in this country. Unequal. It is easy to commentate on homosexuality. To bash those who aren’t “normal.” It’s easy to condemn those who want to support same-sex marriage. So people try to write laws to prevent this from happening.

It makes sense. Homosexuality isn’t natural. How can they think it is ok to do that? They must have not been raised right. They clearly have rejected God. Right?

But then you go to dinner with a group of individuals who identify within the LGBT community AND within the Christian community. You meet a Christian gay man who recently came out to his wife. A Christian bisexual woman who is happily married to a straight man. A whole group of people who love Jesus, believe the Bible, and identify within the LGBT community. People who want to just do what is right.

You hear their stories. You get a glimpse of their reality – their struggles. And you are simply eating dinner with some people who are part of the LGBT community.

I could go on. For me, this is my story. I have decided to refuse to comment definitively about any group of people, especially without hearing their stories or getting glimpses of their realities. That’s one of the major injustices in this world. The people who make the decisions, who have the power, are often the ones who have not heard the stories or experienced the realities of the people whom their decisions affect directly and deeply. Or they just don’t care. Many times the people in power are the ones who think they have the best answers to the perceived problems that exist. They rarely take the time to listen. They rarely ask for solutions from the people experiencing the problems, which is unfortunate because the people who experience the problems, the injustices, are usually the ones that have the best solutions.

We just don’t care enough. Listening takes time. It takes humility. And what does power have to do with humility? More often than not, hearing the experiences and realities of people not like yourself challenges your values, your worldview, your understanding of, well, everything.

And that is scary. That does not make me feel good (or well…). It might keep me up a bit at night if I think too much about it. It might mean that I can’t have definitive answers. It makes life more ambiguous. No one wants to live in ambiguity. We want to have things figured out.

That’s where I’m at right now. Ambiguity.
Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t say I’m living in doubt or forsaking my values or worldview. I’m just allowing them to be challenged. Maybe I don’t have things as figured out as I once thought.

When I realize that I’m not desperately and defensively holding onto things I thought to be true, which might not be as sure as I once thought, I realize that I am just being honest – to myself, and before God and others.

That’s how I want to live. Honestly.

Even if it means living in ambiguity.

On Being Content

People are so different from one another. There are dozens of personality tests we take to analyze ourselves to figure out what kind of category we can put ourselves into. Whether it be the Myers-Briggs or Strength Finders or any number of other tests. These are nice and definitely interesting to read about to better understand ourselves and especially how we interact with others. I’m just tired of how these types of tests are used. And it doesn’t even have to be tests like these. We have our own perceptions of ourselves in light of how we view others and how we interact with them. Some would consider themselves extroverts, others introverts. We all try and grasp our own personalities and categorize ourselves so that we can understand why we interact with people the way we do. And some more than others.

In understanding how we think and why we do what we do, we begin to think that we are just that kind of a person. That it is integral to the part of who I am, and it doesn’t change. When we interact with others these things are manifested. For instance, because one is an introvert, they don’t feel like going out with a group of people they’ve never met before and go into the city for a party. That’s just not who they are.

In leadership roles these aspects become very important. How people interact with one another really is important for an organization, team, or group to move forward in unity. Self-awareness is a key to maturity and also healthy social interaction. It is incredibly helpful to work with a group of people who have a high self-awareness of their strengths, limitations, and personalities. However, we often stop there. And that is what I really have an issue with. We are content with who we are, convince ourselves that we don’t need to change, or even that it is possible to change, and we prevent ourselves from growing and maturing as individuals.

One might say that he is a big picture thinker. “I don’t like getting caught up in the little details,” he might say. Another might say, “I don’t get technology. I try to avoid it at all costs. I only want to communicate face to face.” Another might say, “I just don’t get along with people like that. I try to stay away from them.” Another might say, “I’m just not wired to think that way, I leave that for others to do.”

It’s one thing for people to say that in everyday life (which I still don’t think is appropriate), but it’s another to say things like that or to think that way if one is in a leadership role. The quickest way to limit the effectiveness of a group is to be content with where we are personally, not really willing to grow in any significant ways. Leaders must be willing to never be content with where they are personally. We must always be learners, willing to be challenged personally. We must not grow content with who we are. We must have a drive that seeks to be better people and better leaders. That requires thinking that we need to move past our own personalities and ways of thinking and learn from others. We can work out of our strengths and into areas in which we struggle.

When we think, “I am big picture thinker, I don’t like getting caught up in the details,” we need to think about how we can grow to appreciate the details more. If I am a leader and I find myself saying, “I have a problem with that person, I try to avoid them,” we need to think about how to grow in such a way that we can overcome that problem with that person, and not try to avoid them. If we find ourselves saying that “I’m not just wired that way,” we need to be willing to adjust some of the wiring.

It takes a lot of work, and honestly, it takes a lot of humility and maturity to be able to even desire to not be content with oneself.

Be content with what you have, but not with who you are.

I was just talking to a good friend yesterday and he was telling me about how he is trying to be more intentional about simply looking people in the eye and friendly greeting them. For him, this is not a natural thing to do at all (and it isn’t for me either), but he thinks it would help him as a person as well as affect others in a positive way. This is a simple example of how we can always be looking for ways to move outside ourselves. And yes, it is for our own growth and betterment, but ultimately it is for the betterment for everyone we come in contact with or lead. See, his sharing this with me helped push me in thinking about how I greet and interact with strangers and was an encouragement to take steps in changing that aspect of my life.

We have to be willing to learn from one another, to grow with one another. If we do this, we will find our lives and relationships to be more fulfilling and enriching than if we simply stay content with who we are, how we think, and how we interact with others.

The process of 16,000 people making 32,000 Caregiver Kits

Swaziland has one of the highest rates of AIDS/HIV in the world. The caregivers there, however, don’t have the common resources that most have to keep themselves safe as they take care of people suffering from HIV/AIDS such as latex gloves.

At Urbana 2012, the 16,000 participants spent our evening hearing stories from Swaziland and putting together medical care kits for the people there through World Vision. In total, we created 32,000 medical kits for caregivers. We also wrote personal notes for every single kit. The kits were put in boxes, and then they were put into big metal shipping crates.

To hear the personal story of one of these caregivers in Swaziland, watch the video below.

Join In – Caregiver from InterVarsity twentyonehundred on Vimeo.

 

One of my favorite parts is when she talks about coming and asking from them. Hospitality is so key to ministry, especially when it is a ministry of humility. People want to be able to give and help one another, and we should always give opportunity for people to bless us even when we are going to bless them.

“Love is an expensive word.”

Learning to be transparent

Learning to be transparent

I believe that if one is concerned about growing closer to God and maturing in one’s own thought process of self-reflection, being transparent with oneself is absolutely key. The people who I have truly marveled at while here at Trinity have not been those that seemingly have the answer to every question. They are not the ones that have the great credentials. The people that I have most respected are the ones that are transparent before others, full of humility, and honest with themselves.

As I began to realize that the people I most respected all had this in common, I realized that transparency is something that I needed to focus on in my life. So I did. It has been helping my wife and I grow closer. It has been helping my friends and I grow closer. And I have found that when I am honest with myself I can move beyond ridiculous facades which hinder intimacy.

Okay, so I felt like realizing that I needed to be more transparent and honest with myself was a big step of maturity. But now what? How do I be more transparent?

For me, I believe it is key to be a good listener if you want to be transparent with yourself. If you are going to identify things in your own life that need to be addressed, you need to be able to identify good and bad qualities in others. If you are talking with someone and they are very positive and full of encouragement, learn to identify it. Tell them that you appreciate it out loud, and reciprocate their attitude. If you are talking with a person and they exemplify poor quality or character traits, learn from that as well. Identify what may be causing that person to act or think that way and question yourself as to whether their attitude also exists in you. If so, be honest with yourself and do something about it. Being an active listener will do wonders for your own growth. Plus it will grow you closer to your friends as you are actively listening to what they have to say. And, if you are close enough friends and the situation arises, you may even be able to work through common issues together.

I have been attempting to do this the last few months and it has been so beneficial. Of course journaling I believe is also a huge help in self-improvement. Which is something that I also do.

The reason why I bring this up now is because I have really been reminded of it this past week. Over the last week I have been exposed to two great song writers who both know how to be transparent. They both have obviously learned how to be great listeners. They both are musicians who have been doing their thing for many, many years now. One was here at Trinity for the week and is pretty well known, Michael Card. It was neat to hear him play his songs and have us sing a long with him. I picked up on two things from him while he was here, and I thought it was pretty powerful. First, he focused on lifting up our sorrows to God. He really finds it important to lift up our laments to God. He stated that over 80% of the Psalms are laments to God. His song “Lift Up Your Sorrows” speaks to this theme and is a wonderful song. The chorus goes like this:

Come lift up your sorrows
And offer your pain
Come make a sacrifice
of all your shame
There in your wilderness
He’s waiting for you
To worship Him with your wounds
for He’s wounded too.

The song challenges us to be transparent before God, something that obviously stuck out to me.

Secondly, he focused on what our identities are as believers in Christ. He mentioned that we commonly like to think of ourselves as God’s children, which we are, but the fact that we are slaves of Christ rarely gets mentioned. But he brought up that the Bible is full of slave imagery and that we are indeed slaves to Christ. And if we are not slaves to Christ we are slaves to something that is not Christ, whether it be pleasure, our own pride, or whatever. We are all slaves of something. What stood out about this was the fact that being a slave is not a thing to really be all that proud about. It causes us to be humble as we should be. We are owned by God, and ultimately we will answer to Him. This causes me to be honest with myself because I am naked before the Lord.

The second musician that I encountered this week was Michael Kelly Blanchard at my local church, Village Church of Lincolnshire. This man has been playing music for a long time and it was a joy to hear him play. He is a story teller. He is a poet. He is a fine musician. (Although he looks like Michael Kane, and so I had to close my eyes as he sang or else I thought Michael Kane was singing songs to me). He has the amazing ability to tell great stories of ordinary people and occurrences through song and make you a part of it. You are emotionally drawn into his music in a way that I have not really experienced before. Many times I found my eyes to be watering as he sang the songs of ordinary people. It was quite powerful.

He mentioned towards the beginning of our time together that he thinks that everyone has their few hobby-horse topics they like to talk or preach about. A pastor can preach from any book of the Bible and the things that that pastor feels are important in life will emerge in his sermons no matter what. It’s just how we are. Well, he said he was no different and that he thinks that a theme that really has stuck with him throughout his years of playing music is the idea of “God in disguise.” He explained by saying that we bear the image of God as humans. We can find the image of God in all people. And sometimes it is when we are trying to see the image of God in others that we best represent God to them. (He has a song entitled “God in disguise” which builds on this idea).

I liked his performance. I liked how he thought about things and was supremely thoughtful and introspective. By him being so, he really caused everyone in the crowd to be so, too. It was really a neat experience.

As I began to think about Michael Card and Michael Kelly Blanchard I began to realize that they really were not too different from each other. They are both very talented musicians who reflect and lament. They both are honest with themselves and they carry themselves in a very similar way. I also noticed that Michael Card’s newest album is called “The Hidden Face of God,” which I felt was very comparable to the idea of Michael Kelly Blanchard’s “God in disguise.” These guys seem to have it going on, and know how to be transparent.

I say all this to say that I am currently learning how to be transparent and I think that everyone should work on being transparent as well. It causes us to live naked before God now. We may have to lift up our shame or our wounds to God, but as Michael Card says, “He’s waiting for you to worship him with your wounds, for He’s wounded too.”

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:2