A Generous Grace

ideas on practical spirituality and loving each other

How Not to Share Jesus with Your Friends

(…And now for a completely controversial post! Over to you, Janel.)

Several years past, my husband and I were selling our little yellow house by owner. It was one of those crazy years when we were covered in toddlers and preschoolers. For every house showing, we’d shove all the kid detritus into the washer, dryer, and dishwasher, lay down some vacuum tracks, and scurry off to the playground just in time.

I remember standing in my garden when she rang: A realtor eager to sell my house for me, rattling off her exuberant pitch. At first, I was honored she called (“Your house is so cute!”) and interested to hear her spiel. But soon my shoulders fell. I was getting a subtle vibe she cared more for her agenda than she cared about the needs of my family. I politely declined, sighed, slid my phone back in my pocket.

Weeks later she called to confidently schedule a showing for one of her clients: “I’ve got someone who’s perfect for your place. I’m going to sell your house today!” Her certainty buoyed my sagging spirit. We rearranged our schedule entirely, cleaning in a frenzy. Of course it was in vain, and her words meant to inspire assurance left my frazzled self…smoldering.

It’s a lesson, I think, in a lot of things (my own stupid reactions included!). But I think of that a bit when I consider talking about what I believe; about the One who’s changed my life so profoundly.

To put it simply: sharing with people the faith that’s given me so much life has to flow directly from loving them. If I slide my agenda before my concern—we must get this person saved! Hellfire, brimstone, etc. etc.—I’m the annoying gong, the clanging cymbal; the car alarm everyone wishes would shut up. People don’t hear, “God loves me!” They hear, You didn’t even respect me enough to really see me.

It’s a similar phenomenon to what I’ve realized after living in Africa. Often we Westerners give—quite generously and sacrificially—because it makes us feel so good to finally do something. And in all senses, we should! But at times we give in a way that actually cements Africans in handicapping cycles of poverty. When we don’t take the time to understand the nuances of their need—and I am certainly guilty of this—we can be guilty of loving our own desires (to assuage our guilt, to feel happy about giving, to help, etc.) more than their needs.

I have very limited exposure to evangelism methods. But I do believe there has been a vast generational shift in how our culture is reached with the mind-blowing message of grace and true peace. Though there was unquestionably a time for tracts, formulas, massive events, and the evangelistic equivalent of a “cold call”—and many are still reached this way!—those techniques can offer a knee-jerk rejection, particularly for Gen X and younger. (Christianity Today seems to agree with me on this.)

They can even stoke the fires for future flat-out rejections.

As I once heard from a pastor (my paraphrase)—the Cross is offensive enough. We don’t need to add to the offense with insensitive social skills. I can’t say that it’s Jesus that offends people…when I’m actually being socially inappropriate. (Picture yourself with someone of another religion approaching you in the same way. Would you feel uncomfortable?)

That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t talk to the woman next to me on the flight, or the one on the beach, or express something God’s done on Facebook. This doesn’t dampen my boldness, or the frequency with which I diligently work to extend this gift to people. It just means that in this culture where people can sniff out an agenda a mile away, my boldness and sense of urgency must proceed solely from deep regard for the person in front of me. Just like with my kids—all agendas for them must proceed from that source. (In contrast, I heart the concepts Tim Keller communicates in his podcast on Public Faith.)

 

We get into trouble when we care more about how many people came to Christ than how many will have the fervent, time-intensive discipleship to make it out of the gate. We enter dangerous territory when we equate salvations with some sort of spiritual pelts on the wall; when achievement surpasses concern. As the late theologian George Buttrick wrote wisely, “Genuine love sees faces, not a mass; the good shepherd ‘calleth his own sheep by name.’”

Full disclosure: I’m a people-pleaser extraordinaire—and our culture, too, is hyper-conscious of never offending anyone when it comes to personal beliefs. Often we’d rather have someone suffering in the necrotic tissue of destructive behavior than gently tell the truth and risk hurting their feelings (gasp!) or angering them. So I need to acknowledge the cultural water I’m drinking, so to speak, encourages me to add fabric softener to my courage; to justify my selfish comfort with “not offending anyone.”

True care propels me to let people, even strangers, know the fullness that’s finally satisfied me; finally filled all the holes in my soul. But I can rest in faith in God’s control over their souls, which helps me be patient to listen to the person in front of me and hear their “soul holes”. I can be content to maximize opportunities as a full-on planter, waterer, or harvester in whatever stage of a spiritual journey I encounter someone: for His honor.

(Not mine.)

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Guest Post: Are We Raising Spiritually Entitled Kids?

Grief is a chisel.

As you know now,  my family and I are moving back from Africa, i.e. place I have felt technicolor, I-heart-my-life alive for the last five years. Though I believe God is showing us it’s time to move back for now, and though it’s also been a place where our family has encountered profound suffering, it’s been far more of a place of deep satisfaction. All of us are struggling with returning. We’ve been so stinkin’ happy in this place. For me, serving in my sweet spot has throbbed with purpose and meaning.

Ugly truth: My hide has been, off and on, a little chapped. I don’t completely understand why God’s doing this. And after all we have endured here, truth is still percolating into my heart that, hey, God can put me wherever He wants me.

Truth: Even (especially?) in work that serves God, I can get pretty…entitled. Sometimes I think I can even be in danger of passing that on to my kids. There’s a thin line, I think, between our kids trusting in God’s good character, His working everything out for our good, waiting expectantly for God to work on our behalf…and us feeling entitled to His tangible reward here on this planet, when we want it, as we want it.

Is there a chance we’re raising spiritually entitled kids?

I’m posting on this today at weareTHATfamily.com. Hope it encourages you.

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The Broken Heart: On Leaving Africa

I’ve wondered for awhile now how I would write this post; what I would say. Eight hundred words seems only enough to barely outline the dimensions of what I’ve wrestled with for the last several months.

You see, we’re leaving Africa.

(For now. …Or so I tell myself.)

So many factors, really, have sifted out what feels like the remaining solution. Among the factors: My husband’s job. My kids’ education. Other family factors we’ve batted back and forth, scouring for solutions until it seems this is really the only way to love well. And in many ways, the poor and this work God’s been doing in our midst will be better served as my husband performs his leadership role from Engineering Ministries International’s home office in Colorado. (Colorado! I should be thrilled, right?!)

And yet.

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The Next Great Love Story

I was eighteen, it was February, and we were all headed on a road trip that weekend to a mutual friend’s house. I’ve wondered what God thought of that day, if perhaps He was rubbing His hands together with glee. The stage was set, everything immaculately timed.

In my memory, the young man was wearing a white T-shirt and khaki shorts. His hair was longer then, curly. Upon request, he prayed for our safe travel before we left. We all left for Oklahoma City and I climbed in behind the passenger’s seat of his car. I confess the thought may have flitted through my mind that his car was a little girly. That was before I knew he paid for it and maintained it himself, and before I’d ride around in it for the next five years, happy as a clam to be in his passenger’s seat.

That day, February 5, 1999, was the day I met the love of my life. If God would’ve tapped me on the shoulder—Hey, that guy over there? Yeah. That one. You two are going to have four kids, live in Africa. He’s the kind of best friend and man you couldn’t even imagine yourself having.

Like I said. I wonder if God just sat back and soaked in the love story He’d cooked up.

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Serving in Your Sweet Spot?

Read an interesting quote yesterday. So tell me: Do you agree or disagree?

The place where God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. (Frederick Buechner)

So at first glance, I’m like, Yes. Yes! Yes with a smiley-face-with-heart-eyes emoji! Especially when it comes to my kids (which you saw in Tuesday’s post on ideas for teaching kids the spiritual discipline of service). I want them to not just drag themselves through service, like our stick-shift doing 45 MPH in second gear. I long for them to find that burbling well inside of them: their part of the Body of Christ.

But then—I think, say, of young motherhood. Where initially, I couldn’t wait to see the double lines on that stick, couldn’t wait to pick out maternity clothes, couldn’t wait to gaze into a rosy little face that somehow looked a lot like mine. “Deep gladness” could definitely describe so many parts of motherhood.

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Guest post: 9 Ways to Pray for Your Marriage in Tough Times

It’s been one of the most pressing seasons for our marriage.

We’ve been navigating a crux of major life decisions—only one of which included the continent we’d be living on. And our marriage that has been characterized by fairly fluid teamwork can at times be pulled taut by our diverging passions, longings, and reasoning.

“Stressed” doesn’t begin to cover it.

The most pleasantly surprising discovery of such a thin, exhausting stretch of marriage:  Despite all we were juggling–by God’s grace, we have remained (as Dan Allender calls it) intimate allies.

Ever wonder how to pray for your marriage in the thin, challenging times? This post is for you.

On many of the Wednesdays of 2017, I’ll be helping my friend Barbara Rainey, on everthinehome.com, explore what she calls “prayer lessons”: ideas to pray for ourselves, our most critical relationships, our communities. This week’s post, “9 Ways to Pray for Your Marriage,” gives some uber-practical ways to move in prayer toward what’s always a good decision: being more married, more one flesh. …Even, perhaps especially, in the tough times.

I hope it encourages you today, wherever this finds you.

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Spiritual Disciplines for Real Families: Fairly Painless Ideas to Teach Kids Service

Catch earlier posts here on Solitude, Prayer, Meditation and Contemplation, and Simplicity. Find initial concepts for this important series here.

Part of what I love about living in Africa: opportunities for my kids to serve are everywhere. As in, next door. I admit to being concerned about this when we landed in the U.S. six months ago. How was I going to draw a dotted line for my kids from compassion in Uganda to compassion in Colorado?

Awesome thing is, there are opportunities to serve–in really fun ways–in every zip code, from Salvation Army bell-ringers, to running a booth at the Fall Festival for the community, to the military family across the street whose dad’s deployed. Serving transforms our homes into aircraft carriers as its members are nurtured, then launched into the community.

The question often becomes how much we push our kids

into what they don’t want to do.

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I’d rather be whining: Complaining vs. Healthy, Honest Expression

I toppled into it this morning without a clue. Actually, it was before that: The electricity had snapped off sometime in the middle of the night, my husband and I groaning as the fan’s blades slowed and quieted, leaving a stuffy heat beneath our mosquito net that I knew would make it challenging for him to sleep well.

In the morning, I cooked pancakes and eggs by candlelight; by 9 AM the lack of electricity to the water pump at the bottom of our hill meant we were without water in the kitchen sink, too—after nearly a week of alternating lack of power and water. Grr. The kids had forgotten to plug in the “school” laptop last night, so mine was the option for homeschool, i.e. getting my own work done in the afternoon did not seem in the cards. I scrambled through phone calls before my phone battery died. The power company wasn’t picking up.

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Essential Social Skills for Kids (and Ideas to Teach Them), #5-7

Missed the first post, on phone skills, table manners with a guest, conflict resolution, and greeting? Grab it here.

5. Gratitude.

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Guest post: Breathing Lessons

For those of you who’ve been married: Do you remember what “just married” felt like? After the sound of the tin cans clanking behind the car faded, after you set your bags down in your together home after the honeymoon—what was it like?

Reality: No matter how much training you’ve had, one flesh takes a lotta work. My sin settled in our little 500-square-foot apartment right alongside our stacks of wedding gifts. And when my sin collided head-on with his? Well, let’s just say sometimes I wished our duplex walls were a little thicker.

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