Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Safe People 2


"My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, 
don't show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting 
with a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby 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."
James 2:1-4—Part 2

I've been thinking about the need each of us has to have safe people in our lives. I have also been contemplating the calling we have on our lives to be safe people for others. Last week we identified that a safe friend is one that allows a person to become the person God created her to be rather than trying to get her to conform to a cultural or church mold. We also learned that a safe person will be someone who allows and encourages a person to fulfill their God given role in the church and willingly be a part of the process of discovering her gifts by affirmation and honest feedback. Thirdly, we learned that a safe friend is one that allows a person to be real with what she does not have. Today we are going to look at two more characteristics of a safe person. 
The first characteristic is that a safe person allows a friend to be real with her feelings. This comes from Romans 12:15--"Rejoice with them that rejoice, and weep with them that weep." A safe person allows a friend to feel and express her feelings. She will allow her to laugh when she needs to laugh and to dance when she needs to dance. She will also encourage her friend to cry when she needs to cry and to express frustration when she needs to express it. A safe person will not discount her friend's feelings, but will validate them and normalize them. A safe person knows expressing doubts is the first step in replacing them with faith. She also knows that bringing fear to the light is the first step in instilling courage into a anxious heart. A safe person knows that when a friend is angry she needs to express it in a godly way so God can replace it with peace and she won’t shame her for feeling it. When a person is grieving a safe person allows her to heal without putting a time limit on it. A safe person may at times have to encourage her to seek help when she is stuck in anger or grief or using self destructive behaviors to express or numb her feelings, but she never shames her for having either. 
Secondly, a safe person will model transparency in her own life. This comes from two different verses: "But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I will delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of righteous man is powerful and effective." James 5:16. A safe person is honest about where she is in her own growth. She won’t pretend she is more mature than she is, nor will she ever hide her maturity. She will be humble enough to confess her own faults and seek counsel when she needs to and be open and honest about it. I have had several people tell me that the hardest thing about being a Christian is that when they were really hurting, their church members told them counseling was wrong and a sign of not trusting God enough. Yet the church did not help them overcome the problems with which they struggled. A godly counselor can help you find steps to get to where God is calling you. I have found sharing my story with others helped others find the courage to seek God as a healer with the help of a counselor. I have also experienced the joy of hearing young ladies confess their sin after I shared my testimony and find joy in God’s goodness and grace. A safe friend is one who when you share a struggle, admits she shares the same struggle and offers mutual accountability. 
In conclusion, let me ask you a couple of questions. Do you have safe Christian friends with whom you can be totally transparent? If not, what can you do to develop safe friendships? Are you, yourself, a safe person? Choose one thing you can do today to become a safer friend to someone. Read through one of the gospels and see how Christ related to people. They found Him someone with whom they could talk truthfully and be real. I wonder what we each can do to become more like Him.

Prayer: Father, we know from scripture You are the ultimate "safe person." Thank you for loving and accepting us unconditionally. We also know You have called us to be safe people. We know the church is to be a place of refuge for the hurting and the fearful. It is also a place for sinners to be accepted and loved and encouraged to become more like You. For the church to be that we each need to commit to being safe people. Please love and encourage others through each of us and make the church what You meant it to be. Amen.

Becoming Safe People I


"My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, 
don't show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting
 with a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby 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."
James 2:1-4—Part 1

I have been blessed by having a few friends with which I felt totally safe. They rejoiced with me when I shared good news. They cried with me when I hurt. I could share my failure with them and know they would not think less of me for failing. They showed compassion to me when I stumbled and then asked me how they could support me as I got back on track. They allowed me to be the person God created me to be instead of trying to fit me into a cultural or church mold. Each one of us needs safe people with whom we can be real. And God has called us to be safe people as well. We are going to look at five character traits of safe people. This will help us see what is needed to develop godly relationships.
First, a safe person allows a friend to be the person God created her to be. This is taken form Psalm 139:13-14: "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well." A safe person recognizes each person has been wonderfully created by God and accepts her exactly the way God created her. This includes one's outward appearance. God created bodies of all sizes and shapes and safe people never encourage someone to do unhealthy things to obtain an unrealistic size. It also includes the way God created personalities. A safe friend will accept a friend’s personality type and not try to force her into being an extrovert when she is an introvert and visa versa. She will recognize her abilities and encourage her to develop them and use them. She will allow her to be all God wants her to be and won't hinder her growth whether it be physically, emotionally, intellectually, or spiritually. She will encourage her to grow, think her own thoughts, and express herself with out fear of rejection. She will encourage her to enjoy the passions God put in her heart. If she loves music she will let her sing. If she loves animals, she will not think it dumb or less spiritual to spend time with them. If she loves sports, she will root for her when she plays and be interested in how her team is doing. If she loves to read, she will take an interest in what she is reading.
Secondly, a safe person accepts a friend as a part of the body of Christ. I Corinthians 12:13-31says, "For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body…whether Jew or Greeks, slave or free…Now the body is not made up of one part but many. If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts of the body, every one of them, just as He wanted them to be…And the eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!'” God combined the members of the body so there should be acceptance and concern for each other. A safe person recognizes a friend’s unique God-given blend of personality, experiences, gifts, and passions and wants her to fulfill her unique role in the church. She will encourage her friend to stretch to find out how and where God wants to use her. She’ll allow her friend to shine in her strengths and be one of the first to affirm her when she does. She’ll also allow her friend to show her weaknesses without judging her and be willing to come along side of her when she is struggling to overcome them. 
Thirdly, a safe person will allow a friend to be real with what she doesn't have. John 20:25-28: "Then he said to Thomas, "put your finger here; see my hand. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe." Notice that Jesus did not get angry and disown Thomas for doubting, but invited Him to examine the truth. A safe person allows a friend to wrestle with truth until it becomes her own. This is also a principal that can be taken in a physical sense. From the beginning verse in James we see we should not show partiality towards the rich, but also accept the poor. One mom shared her shock in hearing her daughter and her friends looking down on girls in PE for not buying their bras and underwear at a higher priced store. It grieved the mom that her daughter was judging someone for what she did not have. Wise Mama that she was, took away the fancier bras and bought her bras from a discount store. (To be continued...)  

Prayer: Lord, you are the safest person that lived. You loved us in our sin, our pride, and our ignorance. Help us to connect with safe people who reflect your love. us allow others to be the person you created them to be. Amen.

A Wee Little Man


Those of us who have been in church for any length of time are familiar with the children's song, "Zacchaeus was a Wee Little Man." It is easy to understand why children would love the song and the the story of Zacchaeus. They can identify with being too small to be able to see every thing they want to see! But this story isn't just for children, it is for adults as well. It tells us about our great God. 

Zacchaeus was a Jewish man who lived in the town of Jericho. He was of tiny stature and in his culture that meant he was overlooked and even looked down upon. In addition he had become a chief tax collector for the Roman government. That added to the contempt his countrymen would have had for him. His peers believed he was doing "dirty work" for the Roman government and treated him as if he were an enemy. In addition, most tax collectors became rich by taking extra taxes from people to pad their own pockets. So, it was likely he had personally robbed them, resulting in his not being liked by most of the Jewish community.
           
Zacchaeus had heard of Jesus, but did not know him personally. He didn't know what he looked like, but was curious about the Jesus everyone was talking about. But, because of his stature he could not see past the crowd. And no one in that crowd would have wanted to make room for him. So, he ran ahead of Jesus and climbed up in a tree and waited for Jesus to come by so he could get a glimpse of Him. When Jesus came, He paused beneath Zacchaeus and looked up and called him by name! It amazed Zacchaeus that Jesus knew his name and where he was perched before He even glanced up. Jesus invited Himself to Zacchaeus' home and Zacchaeus responded by quickly coming down from the tree. He found in Christ a love and an acceptance that he, a despised person, was hungry for. Because of his reputation, it was a while since anyone had made eye contact with him and acknowledged his presence. It had been a long time since he had experienced close fellowship with others in his home. 
As he began to experience Christ's pure love, Zacchaeus realized all of the wealth he accumulated could not satisfy his heart like Jesus could. As a result, he was changed from being a "thief" to being a "giver" and told Christ he would restore what he wrongly took from people fourfold! The crowd criticized Jesus for spending time with Zacchaeus, but Christ did not respond to their criticism directly. Instead He told Zacchaeus, "This day salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost." What a awesome thing for Christ to do! Their enemy was now in the spiritual family. 
What can we learn from story about Zacchaeus? First, we can relate to him if we are really honest. We often feel small and overlooked. For many, that feeling began in childhood. When Mom got on the phone or in a conversation with another adult and wasn't connecting to us as children, we more than likely clamored for attention, interrupting, doing things we weren't supposed to do, or starting fights with siblings because we knew that would get Mom's attention. 

I came across a Michael Card song a few years ago called Underneath the Door. In the song he describes himself as little guy with stubbly little fingers who wanted to get his Dad's attention. But his dad often closed himself off, hiding behind his office door. He would draw his dad pictures and push them under the door. Sometimes he would even stick his little fingers beneath the door as if to say, "This is me, its who I am."  He shared his story with someone and they pointed out that as an adult he still was that little boy wanting to be seen. So often we do feel small and overlooked. We may smile at what we did as children to get the attention we wanted, but we really are just grown up children still desiring to be seen and heard. We may not be tax collectors and we may not do exactly the same things we did as children. However, we have all sorts of ways of dealing with our feelings of insignificance, insecurity, and inferiority. We have ways we deal with feeling unseen, unheard, and, "small." Some of us become hyper critical and shout the faults of others. Some of us turn those feelings inward and we beat ourselves up emotionally, sometimes physically. Some of us become perfectionists, never stopping to rest or enjoy life, people, or God. Some of us  pursue wealth, fame, or popularity only to find it is never enough to allow us to feel fully seen and fully heard. Some of become so independent we deny the need of being seen, heard, or loved is a need written carefully on the heart by the Creator Himself. Some of us may have even stepped on others, trying to climb to the top where we believed we would be noticed, only to find we felt even smaller.     
Second, we can that learn God is a God who seeks out the smallest. We don't have to climb a tree, the corporate ladder, become the favorite child, or scale the tallest peak. Christ seeks us even we are still sinners, while we are still enemies with God, and when others crowd us out, overlook us, refuse to hear us, or simply ignore us.   
Third, just as Jesus knew the wee little man by name, He knows our name. He was the one who ascribed significance to us as He chose to create us, to love us, to die for us, to reveal Himself to us, to call us down from our self-made tree. His great love looks past our visible sins as well as the invisible ones we keep so well hidden and sees who He created us to be. When He calls our name and invites us to know Him, we can either reject Him or we can embrace Him. If we embrace Him, He comes home to our hearts, radically changing our lives.  
When we feel the most lost, the most unseen, the most unheard, and the most unredeemable, that is the very moment Jesus is calling our name. Those feelings were given to us to let us know we have needs--the need to be seen by Him, the need to be known by Him, and the need to be loved by Him. Those needs were designed to drive us to Him who died to exchange our unrighteousness for His righteousness.  
Lastly, our significance is found in Christ and in the gifting He gives us. We want to be sure our biases don't get in the way of our seeking and offering the love of Christ to sinners in need of a loving, life changing God who sees and knows their names. The "tax collectors"--those we might view as enemies, those we might avoid seeing because we're angry, those we might overlook because their poverty of spirit makes us uncomfortable, those we think are beneath us are the very ones Christ might use us to be His voice calling their name. As His skin representatives He desires for us to reach out to the lost, to fellowship with the invisible, and to disciple new believers, looking past their pasts to what they can become in the hands of a holy, all powerful God. We don't want to lose God's people because they remain invisible and unheard within the church. We don't want to lose people because we have never given them the opportunity to live down their pasts. After all, in light of the bigness of our God aren't we all  Zacchaeus's? I praise God for the instant change in Zacchaeus and personally believe he, the wee little man, walked a bit taller the day Jesus invited Himself to dinner.

When feelings and lies from the past return and I find myself tempted to shrink in shame I remind myself that Jesus knew my name. I rejoice in the fact that Jesus and sought me out! Then and only then can I square my shoulders, walk a bit taller, prepare for battle, and walk in victory.
 
Prayer: Father, sometimes when we have heard a story over and over, we fail to see the lessons You would have us learn. Open our eyes to Your truth even in the stories we learned in our youth. Thank you for choosing us and reaching out to us when we are caught up in sin. Thank you for saving people even when we behave like Pharisees, tax collectors, and wee little people. Thank you for seeing us, for calling us by name, and being a God who redeems. Thank you for the way You have revealed yourself to us even though our sin has tainted our lives. Thank you for maintaining the vision of what You have created us to be. Help us to love the unloved people for Christ. Amen.

Introduction

Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!