JANUARY 2020

January 8, 2020

 

I’ve been thinking about how vital meaningful conversations are.  I think that learning to truly listen to one another is crucial in families, with friends, in church, and in our culture, if our relationships are to be healthy and what God intends.

 

Having meaningful conversations is something that can be learned, and with focus and practice, we can all become better at it.  Here are suggestions to help engage in meaningful conversations:

 

1.  Make it about the other person.

Don’t talk endlessly about something that the other person isn’t really interested in.  That leaves the other person with the impression that you’re having a conversation with yourself, and they just happen to be there.  Don’t be oblivious.  Be sensitive to their needs.  The best conversations begin with showing an interest in the other person, their world, and what they might be interested in. 

 

2.  Ask good questions.

Ask open-ended question that do not expect a “yes” or “no” answer”.  Ask questions about feelings as well as about facts or thoughts.

 

2.  Practice active listening

Don’t just think about what you want to say next while someone else is speaking.  Listen so that you might be able to repeat back to the other person in summary form what they said to you.

 

3. Intentionally move conversations to a deeper level.

Take a risk.  Be vulnerable.  Share on a deeper level yourself so the other person may be open to do the same.

 

4.  Consider place and time.

Places that are noisy with a lot of people around are not the best places to engage in meaningful conversations which require a relaxed pace and an atmosphere free of distractions.  If people are really tired, that’s not really a great time for a significant conversation.

 

This year I hope we will all challenge ourselves to engage in more meaningful conversations.  It may surprise us what a difference that will make in our relationships.

 

-Michael


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January 27, 2020

 

I am Sam.  Sam I am.  That Sam I am, that Sam I am, I do not like that Sam I am.” 

 

And so begins my son’s favorite story book, “Green Eggs and Ham.”  If you’re unfamiliar with the Dr. Seuss classic or it’s been a while, let me recap the plot for you.  Sam is convinced the other character in the story will like green eggs and ham if only he will try them.  Sam suggests various ways the other character might try the green eggs and ham.  For instance, he asks him, would you try them in a house? With a mouse? On a train? Or in the rain?  The list is exhaustive of all the different ways Sam tries to get the character to try green eggs and ham.  Finally, the character gets so worn down from Sam asking him to try the dish that he says, “If you will let me be, I will try them.  You will see.” So, he tries the green eggs and ham and, lo and behold, he discovers just how good they are.

 

One evening as I finished reading this story to my son, Ryan, I was struck by something I had never considered before.  What if I was half as persistent as Sam was when it comes to sharing my faith?  What impact would that make?  What if I never gave up on my family and friends, until they tasted and saw that the Lord is good?  What would my family look like?  What would my community look like?  What new faces would be around me as I worshipped on Sunday morning?

 

I may not agree with all of Sam’s tactics, but you have to give him props for being consistent and persistent.  May we all persevere and continue to share our faith with others until all come to know the goodness of Jesus as Rescuer and Lord.

 

-Jackie







FEBRUARY 2020

February 5, 2020

I am grateful, truly grateful to God.  I am grateful that for eight days I was beside my mom’s bed around the clock.  I am grateful that on Saturday I had the holy experience of sitting by her with one of my hands on her arm as she took her last breath and passed away.  I am grateful that she was experiencing no pain or anxiety.  I am grateful she did not struggle at all. 

 

I am grateful that over a dozen of the nuns in the care facility where she lived encircled her bed and sang hymns to her and recited scripture to her and repeatedly prayed the Lord’s Prayer over her as she gently passed from this life into the eternal love of God. 

 

I am grateful I was able with my other hand to hold my daughter’s hand as my mom passed.  I am grateful that because of our faith we do not face death with fear but with hope.

 

I am grateful for the genuinely loving Journey Church family.  I am grateful that I have the privilege of serving with you.

 

I am grateful that God’s love never fails.  We may fail, but God’s love never fails.  I am grateful for that, and I take hope in that.

 

-Michael

 

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February 19, 2020

 

Grief after grief can come our way.  I am contemplating this today as my wife Debbie has learned that her father has been taken to the hospital with congestive heart failure.

 

I took several hours this past weekend to reflect on the passing of my mom and on her life and on the relationship we shared.  I want very much to grieve in a healthy, Godly way and have no regrets.

 

I have been considering how we may experience grief.   There is anticipatory grief in which we grieve a loss that we know beforehand is coming and which we have some time to prepare ourselves for.  There is also bereavement grief in which we grieve after a loss that we may have known was coming or we may not have known.

 

Whether we grieve with anticipatory grief or bereavement grief, God wants us to grieve well, because if we do not grieve well, over time it will affect us negatively spiritually, emotionally and physically. 

 

I’ve come to understand that if we deny our need to grieve losses, we are failing to faithfully follow Jesus, because even he wept when he experienced anticipatory and bereavement grief, and we are failing to open ourselves up to the comfort God wishes to give us.

 

I think we all would do well to ponder 2 Corinthians 1:3-5:  All praises belong to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he is the Father of tender mercy and the God of endless comfort.  He always comes alongside us to comfort us in every suffering so that we can come alongside those who are in any painful trial.  We can bring them this same comfort that God has poured out upon us.  And just as we experience the abundance of Christ’s own sufferings, even more of God’s comfort will cascade upon us through our union with Christ. (TPT)

 

-Michael

 

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February 26, 2020

 

How does God want us to respond to sin, failure, imperfection in human life?  I believe with constructive hopefulness—facing up to it without giving up.

 

William Muehl shares the story of a 5-year-old boy who worked all fall on a ceramic gift he wanted to give his parents for Christmas.  On the last day of school, before the holidays began and after the traditional Christmas program that his parents had come to watch, the boy was running down the hall and trying to put his coat on and waving goodbye to his classmates all at the same time.  In the process, he slipped and fell, and the ceramic gift he had worked on for so long crashed to the floor with a terrible shattering sound.

 

There was a moment of silence.  And then when the boy realized what had happened, he broke into uncontrollable sobs.

 

In an effort to comfort him, the father responded:  “Don’t cry, son.  Don’t cry.  It doesn’t really make any difference.”  The mother responded:  “But it does matter.  It matters a great deal.”  And she took the boy in her arms and wept with him.  After a while, she stooped over and gently said:  “Let’s pick up the pieces and see what we can make of what’s left.”

 

That’s forgiveness at its best.  Not discounting failures or imperfections and not denying the hurt and heartache that come with them.

 

Godly forgiveness takes evil seriously, but not ultimately.  It dares to see beyond the brokenness of the moment and looks to the something positive that can be made of what’s left.

 

Godly forgiveness takes wrong seriously but remains hopeful in the face of it.  Godly forgiveness doesn’t give up on us when we fail, and we are to relate to others in their imperfection in that way too.

 

-Michael







MARCH 2020

March 2, 2020

Carey Nieuwhof has written about “3 Things Christians Do That Non-Christians Despise.”  I want to share part of it with you.

 

Spend two minutes talking to almost anyone outside the Christian faith and you’re almost certain to hear a list of complaints they have about Christians.  The problem has been around awhile.  As Mahatma Gandhi famously (and sadly) said: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians.  Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

 

The problem with many non-Christians isn’t that they don’t know any Christians.  The challenge is they do.

 

It’s not so much that Christians have an image problem.  It’s far more likely that we have an integrity problem.

 

Do we get misunderstood on some issues?  Of course.  But that’s outside our control.  There are more than a few issues entirely within our control that give us a bad name with people outside Christianity.

 

Here are 3 things Christians do that non-Christians despise.

 

1. JUDGE

It doesn’t take long for non-Christians to tell you how much they hate the way Christians judge other people.  Two minutes on social media will reveal Christians condemning unchurched people.  I doubt this is what Jesus had in mind when he gave his life in love for the world.

 

Very few people get judged into life change.  Far more get loved into it.  What would happen if Christians stopped judging the world (isn’t that God’s job?) and started loving it instead?

 

2. BE HYPOCRITICAL

There’s a word for Christians who say one thing and do another.  The word is hypocrite.  It’s far easier to call someone else a hypocrite than it is to admit you’re one.

 

What do imperfect Christians do?  You watch what you say.  Don’t pretend to be something or someone you’re not.

 

When you admit your shortcomings, you build a bridge between you and others.  Owning your sin is different than living in it; confession is never an excuse for complacency.

 

Change how you live through the power of Christ day by day (getting better), and at the same time, change how you talk about your faith, yourself and how you live (adding more honestly and humility to your words).

 

Want a quick fix for hypocrisy?  Accelerate your walk.  Humble your talk.

 

3. STINK AT FRIENDSHIP

Friendship is hard.  We all have ideas of finding the perfect friends with whom we’ll never disagree, share 1000 common interests and ride off into the sunset with.  Very few human relationships ever work that way.

 

Perhaps the first obstacle between non-Christians and Christians is that relatively few Christians actively pursue meaningful friendships with people who don’t share their faith.  Jesus pursued friendships with people who were different than him.  Whose lifestyles were far different than anything God had in mind for them (or for people in relationship with him).  Yet Jesus was their friend.  He went to their house for dinner.  They shared moments and meals and life.

 

It scandalized the religious leaders of Jesus day, and sadly, when it’s practiced authentically, it still scandalizes most of us today.  When was the last time you had someone who’s not your skin color, not your political persuasion and doesn’t share your value system over for dinner, or when was the last time you broke bread with an addict (who’s not in recovery)?

 

Often when Christians do pursue ‘friendships’ with people far from God, it’s more of a project than it is a friendship.  But people aren’t projects; people are people.

 

How exactly do you talk about faith?  Real friendships always drill down on real issues, and few things are more significant than the meaning of life.  Talk naturally in the context of your story; it is a great place to start.

 

Want a simpler place than that to begin?  Try this.  Just like the person. As Reggie Joiner says, people will never believe you love them if they feel you don’t like them.

 

Boom.

 

-Michael

 

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March 9, 2020

 

I just received a text letting me know that a long-time friend has died.  Last night my wife Debbie let me know that my father-in-law had been taken to the hospital for an emergency heart procedure after being in the hospital the week before with congestive heart failure and pneumonia.  My mom passed away last month.

 

What to make of all this?  I’ve come to the conclusion that there simply are seasons to life.

 

This morning I read Ecclesiastes 3:1-8:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;

a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;

a time to kill, and a time to heal;

a time to break down, and a time to build up;

a time to weep, and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;

a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

a time to seek, and a time to lose;

a time to keep, and a time to throw away;

a time to tear, and a time to sew;

a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

a time to love, and a time to hate;

a time for war, and a time for peace.

 

Different seasons of life involve different joys and celebrations.  Different challenges and difficulties.   Different thoughts and emotions.  Different reactions and responsibilities.

 

What to do?  I choose to trust God through them all.

 

How about you?

 

-Michael

 

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March 25, 2020

 

Suffering is a mystery.  Only faith can throw light on it.  Pain is not directly willed by God.  People have rejected his plan; they have thrown humanity and the universe out of balance, and so suffering was born.  But Christ came to straighten out the disorder.  He made of useless suffering the very means of redemption.

 

Michel Quoist writes . . .

 

This afternoon I went to see a patient at the hospital.

From pavilion to pavilion I walked, through that city of suffering, sensing the tragedies hardly concealed by the brightly painted walls and the flower-bordered lawns.

 

I had to go through a ward; I walked on tiptoe.

My eyes passed quickly and discreetly over the sick, as one touches a wound delicately to avoiding hurting.

I felt uncomfortable

I had nothing to say.

 

Lord, I don’t understand why you allow it.

Why, Lord?

 

Why this innocent child who has been moaning for a week, horribly burned?

This man who has been dying for three days and three nights, calling for his mother?

This woman with cancer who in one month seems ten years older?

This workman fallen from his scaffolding, a broken puppet less than twenty years old?

This stranger, poor isolated wreck, who is one great open sore?

 

Why, Lord?

I don’t understand.

 

Why this hideous suffering that strikes blindly without seeming cause, falling unjustly on the good, and sparing the evil; which seems to withdraw, conquered by science, but comes back in another form, more powerful and subtle.

 

I don’t understand.

Why these people, Lord, and not others?

Why these, and not me?

 

It is not I, your God, who have willed suffering; it is people.

They have brought it into the world in bringing sin, because sin is disorder and disorder hurts.

There is for every sin, somewhere in the world and in time, a corresponding suffering.

And the more sins there are, the more suffering.

 

But I came and I took all your suffering upon me, as I took all your sins,

I took them and suffered them before you.

I transformed them.

They are still an evil, but an evil with a purpose.

For through your sufferings, I accomplish redemption.

 

But he took our suffering on him and felt our pain for us.  We saw his suffering and thought God was punishing him.  But he was wounded for the wrong we did; he was crushed for the evil we did.  The punishment, which made us well, was given to him, and we are healed because of his wounds.  Isaiah 53:4-5 (NCV)

 

-Michael

 

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March 30, 2020

 

“Do not be afraid.”  Really? 

 

Did Jesus actually mean that in saying:  “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  John 14:27 (NIV)

 

Is not being afraid a genuine possibility? 

 

I remember being told when I was a child about polio epidemics and that I had to swallow a cherry-flavored sugar cube vaccine so I wouldn’t end up in an iron lung, struggling to breathe.  But I can’t say I was really afraid.

 

I remember as a child about drills of getting underneath desks at school in case there was a nuclear weapons attack.  But I can’t say I was really afraid.

 

I remember as a young adult sitting in a prison cafeteria across from an inmate who threatened to put a fork in my eye.  But I can’t say I was really afraid.

 

I remember walking through an open dormitory in a prison that did not have cells where there was still blood on the floor because the night before an inmate had been brutally and repeatedly stabbed to death.  Okay, I had a twinge of fear that time.

 

What I feared most of my younger life was that I would never be loved.  I was way more afraid of not being loved than being sick or physically injured or even dying.

 

I knew that Jesus commanded that people who follow him are not to be afraid, but practically, how does that work?

 

For me, it came down to really believing, trusting whole-heartedly in this truth:  “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.  There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.  The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”  1 John 4:8, 18 (NIV)

 

Once I deep down in my soul authentically embraced the God who is perfect love into my life, it really did free me from so much fear.  (I cannot say all fear has been driven out of my life.  I am not perfect.  I am a work in progress.  I still fear at times for the well-being of my wife, Debbie, and children, Allison and David, but that’s pretty much it for me as far as fear goes.)

 

I really do believe God does not want us to live in fear.  

 

I don’t want to come across as holier-than-thou or some fake pious type of preacher person.  But I by faith truly embrace this spiritual transformation in my life:  “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  Galatians 2:20 (NIV)  It’s my “life verse.”  And since every day I seek to die to self and allow Christ to live in me, from my perspective at least, that is what frees me from almost all fear.

 

What will work for you?

 

-Michael