Saturday, August 27, 2011

Would you correct a friend who is badmouthing someone?

Brian faced this situation.
He and his wife were having dinner with some friends of theirs.  The friends are Christians too, and generally very good people.  Brian enjoys being friends with them, and doesn't want to jeopardize that.

The friends started badmouthing some people in the neighborhood.  They were not only describing actions but moreso interpreting the motives behind those actions and besmirching characters.  It was uncharitable. 

Brian knew that God would not like this sort of gossip, and hesitated for a minute before saying something, because he didn't want his guest to dislike him. But he decided to say something anyway.  He said to his guests "Are you sure of the facts of this matter?  Would you like somebody speculating about you this way?  You might be right, but you might be wrong about them."  

Brian said that the male guest raised his eyebrows, and Brian interpreted that as meaning, "How dare you challenge me!?"   But despite that, the guests went on to other topics, and stayed just as long as they normally do, and still stayed friendly in weeks after that.  So no fallout.

Except that Brian noticed that the friends continued to engage in gossip after that, but just not in Brian's presence.  Was that a win?  Not in terms of getting the guests to rethink their actions.  So how was that a win?

Brian felt it was a win to him personally because he chose to be a representative of Jesus' message, even though it may have cost him friendship points.  He felt good that he was willing to take a personal hit in order to help promote the loving message of Jesus.

What makes a person tithe

This is not a chastisement to those who don't tithe.  I don't tithe.  It's not really even about tithing or money.  It's about how Jesus changes how we think, and rewards that.

A Deacon from a local church told this story about a man who had a family to feed and was on welfare who decided to tithe.  Yes, a man on welfare gave 10% of his meagre income to charity.

The Deacon at the time was without a paying job (Deacons have to hold down 9-to-5 jobs to make ends meet).  He was in a men's group meeting when the topic was tithing, and he was saying, rather, justifying that when you don't have much money to feed your own family, the priority has to be on feeding the family.  He was saying that he only gave $20 to charity in the entire prior year, and said it was the right approach. He was strongly stating that he didn't believe the church should require, for example, a man on welfare to have to tithe.

At that point one of the other men in the group offered out loud that he and his family are on welfare, and he was praying about the finances, and he was led to tithe.  His wife and he agreed to trust God beyond logic.  And he was happy to report that after they began tithing, they became very blessed by God.  Their mental burden reduced.  And in addition, the part time jobs he was able to pick up allowed him to feed his family adequately.

My commentary:  It seems that the welfare man and his wife were not making a decision they saw as primarily financial in nature.  It seemed to be primarily a faith decision; motivated by a desire to do what God wanted them to do, with the primary objective of pleasing God.  I'm sure that if their primary objective was to get something in return, the results (especially the part about the mental burden easing) would not have been the same.

Comments?  What are your thoughts?  Had something similar happen?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Jesus Shows Himself in a Birthday Gift

This story has four actors:  Jim and Joan, a married couple, Father Ed, and Jesus.

It was Jim's birthday, and Joan wanted very badly to make from scratch her husband's favorite dessert:  blueberry pie.  But her eyes were dilated all day and she was unable to accomplish it, and so she cried about the missed opportunity.
Meanwhile, their friend and pastor, Father Ed, was doing what he did very well every day:  praying to Jesus for direction for the day.  It's notable that Father Ed's prayers, as frequent as they are, are more fruitful than most.  He actually gets inspired to know how to spend his time for the benefit of Jesus' kingdom.
He knew that it was Jim's birthday, and so he went to a local bakery with the intent of buying a birthday cake and taking it to Jim and Joan's house.  It being late afternoon, the bakery was out of cakes, and so Father Ed was sad that he had to settle for a simple blueberry pie.
A few minutes later, Father Ed showed up at the door of Jim and Joan with a happy birthday, and apologized that he was unable to find a birthday cake, but had only a blueberry pie.
The reaction from Joan was... well, you can imagine.

Here's what I noticed about this situation:
1.    Jesus did not share with Father Ed the full story.
2.    Despite Father Ed not knowing the full story, he still carried out the task that he believed came from Jesus.
3.    There was a moment that Father Ed must have questioned whether the instructions really did come from Jesus: the moment when the bakery said that no cakes were available.  But, and this is important to note, Father Ed did not lose faith even when the 'facts' contradicted what he thought the instruction was.  By carrying out Jesus' task anyway, the far larger mission was accomplished.  All parties saw Jesus' hand in that gift, and felt Jesus' love for all of them.  Had the Father Prus instead brought a standard birthday cake, that punchline would not have been realized.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

What God's voice sounds like (experience #5)

Roughly eight years ago I was really into ice cream.  I must have eaten the equivalent of a half gallon every week.  Then I'd try to kick the over-doing of sugar and was able to stick with it for a few months, and then got back into the ice cream.  I was concerned about my sugar consumption because my brother Jim and my uncle Henry are both diabetic.  So I was at higher risk.

At one point I prayed to Jesus for will power, and nothing changed for several weeks.  But after staying with the prayer, I eventually "heard" this answer in silent prayer:  "I will be your sweetness".  

Quite enigmatic, eh?  Poetic too. Trust me, that's not a phrase I would have thought of on my own.

What it meant to me was that if I spent more time in prayer about this with Jesus, that he would replace my desires for sugar with a desire for more sweet time with Him, and that I would find that tradeoff to be more than satisfactory compensation.

I'd like to say that I reacted exactly as he had offered, but I must admit that I was only able to give up ice cream for about another month.  Then I got back into it.  Over several see-saws like this I heard His phrase "I will be your sweetness" over and over.  But when I was not responding adequately, the phrase stopped, and I continued to struggle with over-doing the ice cream.

Just three years ago my doctor did a blood sugar test and said that my blood sugar was getting too high.  I slacked off the sugar a little bit, but not well enough.  At the next annual physical exam, my doctor reported that I was on the verge of being diabetic, according to my blood sugar reading.  It scared the crap out of me, and I cut out sugar out of fear.

I'm embarrassed to say that I paid more attention to fear more than love.

I also noticed that had I taken Jesus' advice years ago, I would probably have never reached the point of being tested as pre-diabetic. Even though He must have known that I would respond to fear, He did not use fear in his message.  There was no "or else" communicated.  Only God would be that patient.  I'm learning that God is not a demanding boss.  He offers with love, and hopes that we trust Him enough to respond to what He knows is the best overall big-picture option for us.

Unconventional Hope for a Heart Transplant Patient

An acquaintance named Craig, a man with grey hair and a low upbeat voice, told this story yesterday. Craig has a friend who has needed a heart transplant to survive.  He has been waiting for a judgement from his cardiologists at a renowned Michigan hospital, and finally had a visit with them.  They gave him what for anybody else would have been considered a death sentence:  "You are not a candidate for heart transplantation".

The patient's response was puzzling to me, but appealing.  Craig said that his friend said "Thank you Jesus, Thank you Jesus.  I don't know what your plans are for me, but I accept them.  I know you will continue to be with me the whole way."

What kind of man would react that way?  Either a madman, or a man who really trusts.

I don't pretend to know what went through his head.  But because my acquaintance Craig is not a madman, I suspect neither is the heart patient.  To me, he sees "the future" as having a longer time horizon than just the time spent here on Earth.

Took Risks to Follow Christ - Educated Women of Color in 1829

This story was told by Sister Mary Steven from the Oblate Sisters of Providence (Baltimore Maryland).  In 1829, when slavery was still legal in the U.S., it was against the law to educate slaves, and it was against Catholic precedent to allow women of color to serve as nuns. 

Father James Joubert was the only one of his noble French family to escape massacre during the French Revolution, and he fled to the US, where he decided to become a priest.  He became associated with an existing catechismal school which educated freed black girls.  Because of the poor support for educating blacks, these children often could not read their homework. He well understood that bucking social norms can sometimes end in death, and despite that, he risked his own safety to throw the support of his religious order behind this school.

Similarly, two black Caribbean women living in Baltimore, Elizabeth Lange and Marie Balas, risked their safety for the same cause.  They had founded the school 11 years earlier against stiff resistance from many parts of society. 

When Father Joubert offered his religious order's support, the women wanted to go out even further on a limb by wanting to become the world's very first black Catholic nuns.  They founded the Oblate Sisters of Providence in that year, and became nuns. 

During the 1830's, the group were under constant threat by anti-Catholic rioters in Baltimore.  They also persisted despite later losing the support of Joubert's religious order, despite poverty, and despite racism. 

The Oblates are still at work in Baltimore today. 

I'd like to comment that when you see such a strong willingness to bear great suffering for the sake of loving the vulnerable, there must be some very real and very meaningful motivation in those people.  In the case of Joubert, Lange and Balas, that motivation was Jesus.

What God's voice sounds like (experience #4)

In the previous post, I mentioned that I needed reminders to maintain a respect for the female form.  Here's one where, in my absolutely convinced view, God provided another reminder. 

I've been married for a very long time now and have held true to my vows, having sex only with my wife.  But according to Matthew 5:28, I'm still not in the best shape spiritually because of where my eyes go.
Last month (July) I was grocery shopping for my family on a Saturday morning.  In July it's hot out, and I wear shorts and so do the women.  Many of us "people watch", and that activity can be harmless or not.  I noticed that I was looking way more at the beautiful women and way less at the ugly old men.

I've been attempting to put more time into my relationship with the Lord by prayer since Jan. 1 of this year.  And I've noticed I "get" what he wants to say more quickly now.  The sermon messages and Bible verses and Bible study conclusions that apply to particular situations come to mind more easily, and they seem to be "just what I need". 

But on this day, I again believe I heard the Man's "voice" in the back of my head.  Here's what I "heard":   "To me, that woman has no greater or lesser worth than any other person you see.  All are souls."

The implied message I got from this was that I should also do the same.  In this case, I have been able to repeat that phrase to myself whenever I find myself glancing towards a pretty woman, and I'm able to see her as a soul.  Not 100%, I admit.  But much more readily.

To read more stories like this, click the link for the label "Sound of God's Voice" below this posting or in the right-hand column.  You'll see all stories with that theme.

What God's voice sounds like (experience #3)

The previous post reminds me of a time when I too believe I "heard" God enouraging me.  So I'll share it here too.  This is also "R-rated", but worth being frank about.

I was about 27 years old, not dating anybody, and working out by myself in a weight room.  Nobody was around. While laying on my back on a bench, pressing iron, I was feeling pretty in-shape, and started to dream about sex.  In my mind I was picturing (excuse the directness) a woman's vagina, and very much enjoying staying with that image as long as I wanted.  It's important to say that I was in enjoyment mode and not feeling any hesitation or guilt despite what my parents taught me about respecting women. 
In a completely unexpected moment, I "heard" a strong, caring, father-like voice say very clearly to me "This is one of my greatest creations.  Respect it as such."  

This was the first time anything like this had ever happened to me.  I was quite alarmed.  The words were quite distinct, even though I did not hear them through my ears.  I heard them in the back of my head.  It was not a thought of my own.  It came from someone outside of me. 

You would think that my alarmed reaction would be akin to being caught by the school principal smoking behind the school, like "Man, I'm in trouble now!".  But it was not that kind.  I was alarmed at the idea that the God I already believed in was someone who would interact with a mere peon like me.  I was alarmed that He was that close to me.  I was alarmed that He knew exactly what I was thinking. 

But curiously, the alarm did not translate to fear.  His delivery was distinctly more loving and undertanding than a school principal.  But at the same time I did not feel like he was telling me that savoring those pre-marital sexual ideas were OK.  He was reinforcing His commands, but in a way that I felt more loved than chastised. 

There was no question in my mind that it was God, and I will hold that memory my entire life.  

Being a human though, the way it affected my behavior wore off over time and I needed additional reminders over the years.

To read more stories like this, click the link for the label "Sound of God's Voice" below this posting or in the right-hand column.  You'll see all stories with that theme.

What God's voice sounds like (reported experience #2)

This post takes a risk.  It is "R" rated (not for the immature).  But it covers a topic that's very real and very difficult for many many men. 
A man I know confided in me this very personal story.  For obvious reasons, I will not give any clues about his identity.  I'll pretend his name is John Doe.

This was at a point when John had not had sex for many years.  He was dreaming an especially sexual dream one night, and getting very worked up. He said to himself, "If I could get a hooker tonight, I think I would do that, despite knowing that it's a huge sin".   Then a few moments later, he appealed to God by thinking, "Lord, this is just NOT FAIR!"  

John tells me that he heard a voice in the back of his head, not through his ears. But it was definitely a voice, using words, not thoughts.  He cannot fully explain the timbre or tone of the voice, but after it spoke, he was absolutely convinced that it was not a thought from his own mind, but that it was God. 

The voice said, "Trust in Me and you will see my power".  

John tells me that he has not told anybody else this story because of the general perception that if you say you heard a voice or heard God that people, even Christian people, will think of you as Schizophrenic.  But he says that there is nothing anybody can say that will convince him he did not hear God. 

He says that the voice had several characteristics:
1.    It was loving and authoritative.   But not demandingly authoritative.
2.    It was definitely a different being than himself.  He did not initiate the thought. It occurred.  The speaker identified himself as being unique by saying "Me" and "my".  Joe has never had a thought like that.

I want to add that I noticed that the message was not a condemning message.  It was an encouraging message.  It did not say that sexual sin was acceptable.  It said "Trust in me", implying "Trust in my commandments, and you will see that what you give up in my name will be replaced with something much greater if you persist."