Saturday, April 25, 2009

Listening Skills

Sometimes I half-jokingly say that Preachers and Car Salesmen are two groups of people who never know when to stop talking; and of course it's virtually impossibleto LISTEN when you're talking; no wonder, then, that as you read through the Bible you see many instances where we are admonished to be quiet, be still, listen, be "slow to speak", and so forth. There are even a few times in Scripture when God (or an angel) removed, for a short time, a person's ability to speak at all!

There are lots of resources on the Internet, like this one and this one, that can help us understand how to listen (if only we will take the time toSTUDY them and put them into PRACTICE)... We chuckle, too, when we recall how our late Grandma Kate used to get so bothered by what she felt was any surplus of speaking around her (she used to turn off the sound on Cardinals baseball games, which she loved to watch on TV, and when asked why, she'd say, "too much talkin'!")

I wanted to mention Listening Skills here to draw attention to the role that LISTENING plays in the all-encompassing mandate for Christians, the focus that overshadows everything else about the Christian life:

Good LISTENING skills send a message to the speaker that you care about what they are saying and therefore about them, in general. You can use not only your ears but your face, your eyes, your shoulders, your hands, the overall position of your body, and even your voice (for appropriate, responsive, non-interrupting Feedback) to convey to the speaker some unspoken messages, like "I'm interested in what you're saying" ... "I care about what you care about" ... "You, and what you are expressing, are important
to me" ... "You are a valued person!"

I've been in "discussion classes" where there wasn't much "discussion" going on because the leader of the class was not only driven to deliver his material (short-circuiting any "discussion") but also, when anyone did insist on getting a comment in there, he would "hurry them along" with a stream of "uh-huh...right...sure...that's right"...  I've seen "debates" where the exchange of ideas never got off the ground because neither side was LISTENING to the other, and shouting matches took over... I've seen fathers berate their sons, verbally over-powering the poor boys who were just trying to make a point that, if heard, would have changed the father's position on a certain issue; and I've watched their exasperation as the father shouted them down... I've been at club meetings, and work meetings, and church meetings, etc., where I am asked a question and I hardly get two words out of my mouth before the questioner is talking over top of me, never letting me finish, and then asking their question again...

The Bible has much to say about controlling the Tongue; so imagine what it would be like if we began to regularly and sincerely practice LISTENING SKILLS? How might it soften our relationships with our spouses if we conveyed LOVE to them simply by listening to what they have to say and demonstrating that their thoughts and expressions are important to us? How might we deepen our relationships with our kids if we spent more effort listening to their thoughts and feelings and responses, instead of over-powering them with our authority?

How much more successful would we be at work if we sharpened the skill of listening to what bosses, peers, and subordinates want to say to us? How much more vibrant would our CHURCHES be if the leadership regularly, pro-actively, and sincerely sought out the thoughts and feelings and Feedback of the congregation? (When was the last time you heard the pastor say something like, "drop me a note, or send me an email, and let me know how you think the Staff is doing here... Help us understand how to SERVE you better... This is YOUR church"? Probably never?)

One of the practices we enjoy at our church is the several segments throughout the service where we are all QUIET, for several minutes at a time. And just as we need Quiet as part of the practice of showing reverence to God, we need Quiet so that we can demonstrate LOVE to those around us by LISTENING to them.

May God help us all to be "QUICK to LISTEN, slow to speak, and slow to Anger"...

Friday, April 17, 2009

McCarthyism is Back!

In addition to other threats to our Freedoms that I've noted in this Blog,
the news of the past few days has revealed yet another giant leap in the
Obama race toward government domination of the lives of Americans:

We learned this week of the Department of Homeland Security report in which
"right-wing extremists" are now being watched by the U.S. government...

Since the U.S. government tends to abuse whatever power they're given
(we also heard this week a report that the NSA has been abusing the
wire tap powers given to them by the Patriot Act(s)... Gosh, what a shock!),
what this will MEAN, in the very near future, is that the government will
label you as an "Extremist" -- and therefore a "terror threat" -- to the U.S...

...If you, for example, declare that homosexuality (and gay "unions")
are an abomination, or if you are opposed to abortion, or if you go public
with your "limited government" views, or if you proclaim that Jesus is
the only way to God, etc. etc...

Basically, if you're a CONSERVATIVE CHRISTIAN, look out, the government
has branded you as an "Extremist" now, inclined toward "domestic terrorism"
and probably a "threat" to national security...

We've seen this kind of thing before, during the dark years of McCarthyism,
when LABELS could ruin a person's life (and did, in many cases)...

There is a phrase that I am hearing over and over, these days, and it has
never been more true than during these first 80 days of the Obama-nation:
    Those who fail to heed the lessons of history
    are destined to repeat them
All of this helps to strengthen the conviction that putting all our Hope
in anything connected to this world is just so foolish...

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Story of Easter

If God knows everything, past, present and future, surely He saw
the whole story all laid out ahead of time: God creates man,
who really could choose to rebel; man in fact does so; and then
God is angry. So His plan -- which He surely had in mind the
entire time! -- is to take the penalty for man's rebellion on
Himself, thereby saving man and restoring things to the way
He made them in the beginning.

Why the whole charade, then? It's like a game of checkers played
with one's own self, feigning strategy and plotting moves, and then
moving around to the other side of the board and pretending to
counter-attack, perhaps with a playful "a-HA! Gotcha!" thrown in
just for entertainment...

God knew before He created man that man would fall; why the
seemingly pointless round of heavenly solitaire? He knew what
would happen, He knows what's happening now, and He's there at
the end of time, with absolutely no surprises (to Him) at how
it will all end.

There is only one reason why the Christian story exists at all:

God's "grand experiment" was to create Souls -- I like to call
us "Conscious Choosing Agents" -- who could, if they so chose,
enter into a Love relationship with Him, of their own volition,
freely, and to whom He could direct the perfect Love that is
central to His very nature.

Love always GIVES. The eternal Trinity, existing before all time
in a three-way community of Love, created Souls because that Love
spilled over and could do nothing BUT seek to take Love as far as
it could possibly go.

There was risk, to be sure: The awful, terrible, real Risk that
a Conscious Choosing Agent could actually spurn that Love,
opting instead to focus on itself, eventually self-destructing,
feeding on its own wretchedness forever even as it is fed to the
demons who hate God with a profound hatred.

The Ressurection of Jesus means nothing until this Risk is fully
appreciated: The precise intersection of Supreme Justice and
Perfect Love requires Punishment with one hand and offers Redemption
with the other; but the damned Soul, still perfectly loved
by its Maker, cannot be given less than what it, ultimately and
finally, demands to have: independence from Love.

The death of Jesus -- very God Himself -- satisfied the requirement
of Justice; His ressurection revealed for us the glorious New Creation
that this Love story intends for those who choose Him: Perfectly
glorified sons and daughters of God, able to love as perfectly as
we are loved, bound together forever in a joyful servant-Master relationship.

Yes, God certainly does know the whole story, and He is surely
at the end of Time already loving and being loved by His children.
WE, however, are hemmed in by Time, and on Easter we celebrate -- with
tremendous fanfare, and wonder, and awe -- the single moment in Time
when victory over even death itself was guaranteed for us.

He is our triumphant Groom, and we will be His purified Bride;
there will be a wedding, and a feast, and singing and dancing,
and never-ending eons of joy and peace and radiant beauty.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is first and foremost a LOVE Story,
and we can choose to marry Him and enter into His eternal Life,
or spurn His affection and spend a loveless eternity
in darkness and misery.

On this Easter, I choose Him, all over again.

Hosannah!! He is risen!!

Monday, April 06, 2009

The Importance of TRUTH

Let's say you have one hundred million dollars, and you're looking for a bank
to place your money with, having become unhappy with your prior bank. So you
arrange a meeting with the bank president -- perhaps a nice lunch at a local,
expensive restaurant -- and you begin to ply this bank president with a series
of questions related to the stability of his bank, and how they treat their
"high rollers", and what sort of rates you might expect to enjoy given your
enormous wealth, etc. etc.

(I don't know much about how all this works, really... I'm just using it as
a loose analogy)...

What if that bank president told you something like this: "Well, sir, we like
to let our clients take their OWN view of our bank. We're not into a lot of
self-promotion, so if you think we're a good bank -- if it 'works' for you to
think that we're stable and so forth -- then that's what we are. The most
important thing is that your perception of us gives you fulfillment and peace."

Well of course you'd look at that bank president like he had gone absolutely
insane, and you'd let him know in a flash that he had better come up with
a much better response than that! Or perhaps you'd excuse yourself with a polite
but terse rebuff along the lines of "baloney" and leave him sitting there...

Or what if you were taking a parachuting class, and your Jump Master asks you,
just prior to take-off, if your chute has been properly packed and is ready
for the jump, and you replied, "Well, I feel like it is, yes.." If his tack
was anything like the military, he'd jump down your throat, curse your "feelings"
and tell you you'd better make damn SURE it's ready...

Why? Well because there is so much at STAKE in these two scenarios... If you
fail to ascertain the TRUTH in these matters, you stand to lose a great
deal (your very life, possibly, in the second one)...

We can all think of world events where, when the Truth came out, the "shock and
awe" of its impact changed things forever... The Holocaust is a good example...

Our contemporary culture's relativistic attitude toward Truth is no less significant,
because of what's at stake and because of the potential impact when the Truth
does finally come out:

When Oprah -- and those like her -- say "we all find our own way to God", she
is affirming a Truth statement whether she realizes it or not. And of course the
right response is, "Is that statement TRUE?" If it IS, then those who claim that
there is only ONE way are a menace to society and a blasphemous affront to a god
that "welcomes any old way we choose" to get to him; if it's NOT True, then those
who listen to this Lie are doomed, and will, sadly, discover the Truth in the first
moment after death...

Let the weak-minded pursue "whatever works for them", but personally, I am willing
to do the work required to find the Truth (and hopefully Wisdom, too). When it
comes to these most important of questions, it's the TRUTH we should be
seeking, not some self-focused "realize your potential" mantra nor a system of
beliefs we accept by default because we were raised that way...