The Things that Aren’t Ours

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Have you ever wanted to do “more” to share hope with those around you…but you weren’t sure where to start? Here are some of the “secrets” I’ve learned about moving toward others.

It’s happened to me more than once.

…and probably more times than I realize.

As I go about my day, God will often set me in the middle of an opportunity. I wish I would pray for these opportunities more, but whether I remember to ask for them or not, God is faithful to send me tangible reminders of His intimate care for our lives.

In these moments, girls tell me, “Shelbie, that is exactly what I needed to hear” or “I don’t know how you knew what to say!”

And I tell them, “I didn’t know.”

When I feel an “opportunity” coming on, my conversation with God usually has a quick upspike as I plead for help for the next words. “Help, Lord!” or “Please help me know what to say” are some of my go-to “arrow prayers” when God places someone in front of me who needs a special sort of encouragement. These are desperate, wisdom-seeking prayers. And they are so often answered, with impeccable timing.

It’s true. I have no idea what to say. My personality tends to be tactful and wary of offense, and this approach seems to put people at ease. My mom jokes that I could tell one of my music students how much trouble they were in, and they would still walk away with a smile on their face.

When people start baring their souls to me, I try to listen, ask probing questions, and point them back to their only hope, which is Jesus.

Amazingly, God sometimes uses imperfect channels like you and me to spread His love. 

Here are a few things I’ve learned about finding and embracing God-given opportunities:

1. Be an Approachable Seeker 

Depending on how desperate they are, people may not come to us for help. Moving toward others as Christ moved toward me is a challenge and can nudge me (or downright catapult me!) out of my comfort zone.

Look around.

This is hard, at least for me. It can take a lot of effort to take my gaze off myself and lift my eyes to those around me. Not only that, but it can be just as much of a challenge to actually see needs. As humans, we can be good at covering up just how in-need we are at any given moment. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been shocked at the pain and emptiness hidden behind smiles and polite conversation

Ask for eyes to see the need, to see what other people are missing. And then, go to that place of need. Dare to ask.

“A person’s thoughts are like water in a deep well, but someone with insight can draw them out.” –  Proverbs 20:5, GNT

2. Arrow Prayers

I love the Nehemiah-style “arrow prayers” that I referred to above. When Nehemiah heard about the ruins of Jerusalem and  then spoke to the king, he demonstrated the short, desperate prayers that I turn to often in a challenging conversation.

“Well, what should be done?” the king asked.

With a quick prayer to the God of heaven, I replied, “If it please Your Majesty and if you look upon me with your royal favor, send me to Judah to rebuild the city of my fathers!”

 – Nehemiah 2:4, TLB –

Whether you have to walk across the room to engage that hurting girl or whether she appears in front of you asking for advice, an arrow prayer is in order. Help is needed right away, for both her and you, and—thankfully—it is only a whisper away. God is faithful. I’ve been amazed time and time again.

“The Lord is close to everyone who calls out to him, to all who call out to him sincerely.”
 – Psalm 145:18, CEB –

3. Strive for “Liminal Space.”

Liminal space comes from the Latin word limen, meaning threshold. Basically, liminal space is an attitude of setting aside your own opinions for a moment in order to understand someone else. It is “willing suspension of disbelief.”

Liminal space allows me to step into someone else’s shoes. While fully recognizing the sinfulness of sin, I can try to understand why someone made a decision or feels a certain way. Even if their reasons are inadequate or misinformed, I can set aside myself for a moment and truly listen. Liminal space can take me a long way in a conversation.

Relational liminal space is not a call for Christians to set aside their convictions, but it is a call for us to set aside harsh criticism to make room for compassion.

A situation will often call for you to speak Biblical truth, but first, listen. Seek understanding. Because, at the end of the day, what is liminal space, really?

It is dealing with grace.

“Try to help those who argue against you. Be merciful to those who doubt. Save some by snatching them as from the very flames of hell itself. And as for others, help them to find the Lord by being kind to them, but be careful that you yourselves aren’t pulled along into their sins. Hate every trace of their sin while being merciful to them as sinners.”
 – Jude 22-23, TLB –

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4. Be Ready

How do I prepare for these spontaneous moments of ministry?

Well, I do prepare…and I don’t.

Moments of opportunity have no script, but…

The more I fill myself with Scripture, the more truth is in my heart, ready to be drawn out at a moments notice.

The more I look out for others more than myself, the more I see opportunities to speak truth and comfort into the lives of others.

The more ready I am to drop my plans and embrace God’s leading, the better my attitude will be when unexpected situations come up.

Actually, spontaneous ministry is fueled by moment-by-moment faithfulness. Every moment that I love Jesus, every choice I make because I want to glorify Him, and every time I deny my sinful self, I lay a paving stone for others to use to walk toward me.

Moments of ministry spring out of consistency. Not perfection–no, not perfection! I know I am a far cry from all that my Savior calls me to.

But that is the beauty of it.

He can use me — a flawed, redeemed, growing girl — to live out His truth and, sometimes, to speak it into others’ lives.

5. These Things Are Not Ours

At the end of a conversation, when someone asks, “How did you know?” the answer is always, “I didn’t know. But God did.”

With matchless skill and wisdom, God places His children in just the right places at the just the right times…and then His Spirit gives wisdom.

These things–these answers we give to others–are not ours.

It is not our intelligence, our intuition, our skill with language, that wins over hearts or gives encouragement to a weary soul.

These things aren’t ours at all. They are too wonderful.

Jesus alone receives the glory for a “word fitly spoken.”

But, as His co-heirs, we are swept up as well in the swells of His glory. His joys become ours. His loves become ours. His thoughts, slowly, become ours, because “we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16).

When God puts someone in my path, it is pretty much my favorite thing ever…

To think!

I get a part in the grand drama of history.

My God allows me the joy of joining Him in the dance.


“But even though we were dead in our sins God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, gave us life together with Christ—it is, remember, by grace and not by achievement that you are saved—and has lifted us right out of the old life to take our place with him in Christ in the Heavens. Thus he shows for all time the tremendous generosity of the grace and kindness he has expressed towards us in Christ Jesus. It was nothing you could or did achieve—it was God’s gift to you. No one can pride himself upon earning the love of God. The fact is that what we are we owe to the hand of God upon us. We are born afresh in Christ, and born to do those good deeds which God planned for us to do.

Do not lose sight of the fact that you were born “Gentiles”, known by those whose bodies were circumcised as “the uncircumcised”. You were without Christ, you were utter strangers to God’s chosen community, the Jews, and you had no knowledge of, or right to, the promised agreements. You had nothing to look forward to and no God to whom you could turn. But now, through the blood of Christ, you who were once outside the pale are with us inside the circle of God’s love and purpose.

For Christ is our living peace.”

 – Ephesians 2:4-14a, Philips –

 

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Breaking Down the “Other”

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“Love each other as I have loved you…”

 –  John 13:34b –


I happened to have two young teenage friends with me in Walmart the other day. While I moved around freely between the aisles, one of my young friends in particular seemed very inhibited. She was nervous and wary of our other friend straying too far away from us.

As I scanned shelves of fabric looking for a potential rainbow costume for a children’s song about God’s creation, my anxious young friend piped up again. I don’t think I was looking at her at the moment, but I can only imagine the wide-eyed, sidelong glances she may have been giving our fellow shoppers.

“People at Walmart keep getting stranger and stranger. Have you noticed that?” she asked us.

I held my tongue, but internally, I mulled over her reaction to people in the “outside world” — that is, those beyond her church and homeschool circles.

My sweet young friend suffers from a condition that many Christians seem to have, especially those who identify as conservative. In reality, I’m sure that this condition still lingers in me as well, although more extreme circumstances than a shopping trip might be required to draw it out of me.

This condition is “otherness.”

As a result of sin, humans instinctively withdraw from others who are different from us. Historically, there have been hundreds, if not thousands, of dividing lines: ideology, religion, language, education, skin color, social status, clothing choices, geographic boundaries, gender, intelligence, or political view, to name a few.

All of these differences reinforce to us the “otherness” of those around us. They are so different, so very strange. We stay back because…well, why would we move toward them? Why would we want to? Estranged by their cultural leanings, the way they dress, or the number of tattoos marking their arms–these “others” move past us and we often watch them go by with fear, disdain, or even anger.

Distance demonizes.

I don’t know who first coined that small phrase, but it is so true. The distance we erect between us and “them” makes others grow strange and monstrous. The farther away you get, the worse your perception of people will be. Distance demonizes. Estrangement is a dangerous sort of myopia, eroding your relational perception until all you can see is the faint shadow or outline of a person.

This is not the way of Jesus.

Sometimes we can get confused about what being salt and light means. Salt has to be on the food in order for it to make a difference in the taste or preserve the food beyond its natural shelf life. Light has to be uncovered and obvious in order for it to pierce the darkness.

You are like light for the whole world. A city built on top of a hill cannot be hidden, and no one would light a lamp and put it under a clay pot. A lamp is placed on a lampstand, where it can give light to everyone in the house. Make your light shine, so that others will see the good that you do and will praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16, CEV).

How did Jesus deal with people who were different from Him? The Bible contains many examples if we really want to know: Samaritans, people with contagious diseases, the wealthy, the impoverished, the thieves, the notorious sinners (John 4:1-42; Matthew 8:1-4; Matthew 10:17-27; Luke 21:1-4; Luke 19:1-10; Luke 23:39-43; Matthew 2:13-17).

I recently discovered — and highly recommend — a beautifully-written book that clearly and practically lays out steps we can take to walk “with others in wisdom and love,” as the subtitle says. This book Side by Side, by Edward T. Welch, lays out the pattern for us to follow:

“As the King goes, so go his people. He moves toward people; we move toward people. He moves toward people who seek him and people who do not; we move toward those who want help and those who seem distant and marginalized. He moves toward friends and even enemies; we move out beyond our circle of friends to those far beyond that circle” (Chapter 8, p. 74).

As my pastor preached on Sunday, Jesus’ death and resurrection established a New Covenant that no longer keeps an ethnic people cordoned off from the rest of the world. Ephesians 2 says that He broke down the barriers of separation between us and made the two (Jews and Gentiles) into one. On a universal level, this means that no one is beneath our notice, no one is too lost to be redeemed, no cultural gap is too wide, and no hands are too dirty or too bloody to be clasped in welcome.

Why would we welcome?

 Because, if we claim follow Jesus, there is no other real option.

Yes, God is the only one with enough love and courage to unswervingly enter into the mess of someone else…but this glorious God’s power fills us. The divine power that resurrected Jesus is the power that fuels us with the ability to move away from our prideful perspectives and, instead, move toward others (Romans 8:11).

And what we see–if we see rightly–is that at the foot of the cross we are no cleaner, no more acceptable, no more lovable, than anyone else in this broken world. It is our sin–yours and mine and theirs–that drove the bloody nails into our Savior. 

But this crucified and risen Savior welcomes you and me and them, all of us equally, without playing favorites.

Christ’s love to sinners is radical, transformative, unconditional, and full of compassion.

Who are we to offer anything less to others?

And if we got close enough to look, we might see that the people we instinctively demonize are just…people. People who, like us, are desperate for a taste of grace.

I don’t know how much opportunity I’ll have to lead my shy young friend in the way of this grace, but I do know that her fear of “otherness” taught me something this week.

Jesus broke down all the barriers of “otherness,” and if we claim to be His, we cannot fail to do the same.

One broken, love-starved heart at a time.


Then he came to Nazareth where he had been brought up and, according to his custom, went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day. He stood up to read the scriptures and the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. He opened the book and found the place where these words are written—‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor. He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord’.

Then he shut the book, handed it back to the attendant and resumed his seat. Every eye in the synagogue was fixed upon him and he began to tell them, “This very day this scripture has been fulfilled, while you were listening to it!”

 – Luke 4:16-22, Phillips –

 

The Firm Foundation

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Today, I asked my friend Liz to share about how a building in downtown Seattle taught her something about God’s love. I hope you enjoy her story!


“It is the most sweet and comfortable knowledge; to be studying Jesus Christ, what is it but to be digging among all the veins and springs of comfort? And the deeper you dig, the more do these springs flow upon you.

~John Flavel~

Located in downtown Seattle, Space Needle’s height taunts the very essence of gravity. The tower’s delicate construction elicits from thousands of observers both the elation of Anne Shirley as she balanced upon a ridge pole and the terror of Diana Barry as she witnessed such a precarious victory.

Shaped like a flying saucer, the Space Needle’s observation deck pokes into the clouds on a thin base 520 feet above the ground. Visitors brave enough to ascend the 848 steps from the tower basement to the rotating deck enjoy a panoramic view of Seattle from high above her stores, waterfronts, and busy highways. This dizzying perch atop the building allows tourists to glimpse the far-off peaks of Mount Rainier, the sparkling night lights of downtown Seattle, and tiny blood vessels of cars as they snake silently through vein-thin streets.

When darkness falls, a looming night sky envelopes visitors who feel close enough to stroke the cheek of the man on the moon. Hovering high above the earth on the thin, single stilt of the Space Needle, they marvel at a view provided only by such height.

But the Space Needle Tower does not begin on the observation deck. Its foundation is buried thirty feet below Seattle’s streets. Weighing 5,850 pounds, the tower’s foundation contains 250 tons of reinforced steel, ensuring that the tower is neither shaken by wind or shifted by rain. Seventy-two bolts, each thirty feet in length, stretch from the base of the foundation to the tall needle perched atop the observation deck. Majestically, the 605 foot tower soars high above the city by sinking deep below the city, all the while connecting its deepest place to its highest height.

The Space Needle reminds me of myself.

Have I ever felt that a giant drill, removing dirt deep down in my heart, will be the only way for me to stand tall? Have I welcomed that possibility into the building of my character?

Not really.

In fact, I often find myself cringing when the faintest hint of a challenge, an ache, or a sandpaper circumstance threatens to create ground zero in my day. No, I do not practice the spirit of the Space Needle tower. I do not often linger over my choices, praying for lessons of self-sacrifice or solitude to make way for my faith’s firm foundation.

But God does.

With a hard hat larger than the Milky Way, God leans over the cordoned off areas of my life, His finger pressing surely over the place where the drills will land. He nods to Himself, His face filled with the fixed attention of a meticulous engineer. His finger hovers, His hand dips, His palm lands. And the digging begins in my soul.

Squirming in discomfort, I embody the words of author Thomas a Kempis.

All men desire peace, but very few desire those things that make for peace.”

Am I willing to let the roar of a hefty backhoe break into the comfortable spaces my unbelief creates? All too often, I let my desire for false security and momentary  tranquility to distract me from the shovels of God. When I ask God to follow my blueprint rather than His, my own ideas of peace utterly miss the mark.

I ask to meet Him on the observation deck. He asks to meet me at the foundation.  

I want to see Him in the 360 degree panorama. He wants to see my eyes just one degree away from His.

I ask for the unconditional guarantee of paved streets. He plans to guide me where excavation and salvation meet.

I tend to want a disconnected life, one which isolates my fragile heart from a harsh city and a hard world. Christ wants to connect my foundations to my pinnacles. He wants to strengthen me with steel beams that have been reinforced, planted in concrete, and laid to rest at His feet.

I may wish to see Him at the highest peak of a mountain range, the cheeriest part of a cheery day, or the happiest laughter in a spring-laden May. I wish He wouldn’t dig so deep, wouldn’t scratch away at the rocks in my thoughts. But He does.

For He says, “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts. And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine (Isaiah 55:88-9, NLT).”

And I’m so glad.

Author Emily Freeman writes, “Let’s dig deep, not to create meaning where there isn’t any, but to see Christ, our companion, where he actually is, not where we wish he was.”

Though my dreamy heart wishes for spiritual heights, my adoring and thirsty soul longs for Him.

Him in the heartache; Him in the mistake; Him in the earthquake; Him in the stomach ache; Him in my soul…Him…even when He digs a hole.

He digs a hole to make me whole.

He wants to dig deep into my heart, pour Himself into my character, and build my faith on the bedrock of His Son’s ever-present, unmovable Gospel of Love.  

“That’s why growth in Christ is never going beyond the gospel, but going deeper into the gospel. The purest waters from the spring of life are found by digging deeper into the gospel well.”

~ J.D. Greear~

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