Is Small Talk Unspiritual?

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Scripture gives great significance to our words:

?I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned? (Matthew 12:36-37)

?Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear? (Ephesians 4:29)

?Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person? (Colossians 4:6)

As men and women created in the image of a speaking God, our words have great capacity to build up or tear down. What we say or don?t say matters. But that raises a question. If, as Jesus says, we will give an account for every careless word; and if, as Paul says, all our speech is to be gracious and good for building others up ? is it a sin to small talk? Is conversation about the weather or sports or any other insignificant topic an absolute waste of time?

I know ? this might sound like hyper-spirituality. But as apparently small an area of life as it is, our view of small talk is significant. Because it?s the most mundane area of our conversation it reveals much about how we think about all conversation. Or, to put it another way, it?s the place where we?re most likely to have our guard down, and therefore the one that shows what we really think about our words. We can boil it down to one question: does your small talk build walls or bridges?[1]

The difference is not so much in what?s said, but why it?s said. Building walls is when your conversation about the latest sports news or the weather is just a means of keeping someone at arm?s length. It might be because you don?t really care about them ? at the precise moment of your conversation, baseball is more important to you than what?s going on in your neighbor?s life. It might be because you?re afraid of what will happen if the conversation gets serious ? better keep it on the weather or you?re going to end up on a subject you?re not prepared to handle! But the end result is that you use your small talk to build a wall. And that is ultimately wall-building is a failure of love.

But the exact same conversation ? ?How about that game?? or ?Starting to feel like fall, isn?t it?? ? can be a means of building a bridge towards someone. Maybe you don?t have an established relationship. Casual conversation is a first step towards turning a stranger into a friend. Maybe you do have a solid friendship, and sharing sports news is one of the things you enjoy together. A conversation that touches nothing deeper than Peyton Manning?s latest game can still be a way of moving towards your friend, strengthening and reinforcing your relationship. The bridge is there, even if you don?t walk all the way across it in this conversation.

So is it a sin for Christians to engage in small talk? No, not at all ? provided it isn?t used to build a wall separating you from a person God?s called you to love. Use your words to tear down walls and build bridges ? because that?s what God for you.

?In the beginning was the Word?And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.?

 

[1] I?m indebted to David Powlison in his counseling class ?Dynamics of Biblical Change? for this question and image.

Photo by Bert Kaufmann

Can A Christian Lovingly Use The Slippery Slope Argument?

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?That?s a slippery slope.? Have you ever heard that phrase used in an argument before? A slippery-slope argument is one in which it?s assumed that holding Position A leads inevitably to Position B, then Position C, then to D, and on down the line. The assumption is that no one wants to hold Positions B, C, and D, so therefore Position A is discredited. Usually the person holding to Position A responds that the slippery slope argument is a way to obscure the issue by smuggling in other topics, while the Slipper Sloper thinks his logical links are unassailable.

It?s worth thinking about the slippery slope argument because it?s in the headlines a lot these days in connection with debates on same-sex marriage and gender/transgender issues. Opponents of same-sex marriage argue that legalizing it would start the slippery slope towards crossing other sexual boundaries such as polygamy, pedophilia, or incest. The other side responds by saying the slippery slope argument is nonsense and an attempt to make anyone supporting same-sex marriage look bad. So my question is: can a Christian use the slippery-slope argument? And if so, how do we do it in a way that honors the commands to love our neighbor, and to be quick to hear, slow to speak?

I?m going to suggest two answers to that question, especially with regards to gender and sexuality debates. But first, in the interest of full disclosure, let me state where I stand. I think legalizing same-sex marriage would be wrong from a Scriptural standpoint and would ultimately be very harmful to our society. I also think the slippery slope argument has considerable force in this debate. (See the recent headlines about incest laws in Germany and polygamy laws in Utah.) But I?m also convinced that in this discussion, as in any other, those biblical commands still apply. So how can we love our neighbors while disagreeing with them?

Don?t assume that this person accepts Position B because they believe in Position A.

This is simply an application of Jesus? words in Matthew 7:12: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.? You?ve probably had, or at least heard, someone say, ?Oh, you?re a Christian, you guys believe ______? with the blank filled in with an outright distortion of Christianity that neither you nor anyone you know actually believes. You would like that person to actually ask you what you believe rather than write you off as ignorant, bigoted, or outdated based on a false assumption about what Christians are like. We owe that same respect to anyone we disagree with. You might be convinced it?s a slippery slope between A and B, but don?t assume the person you?re talking to sees it exactly as you do. Which leads to my second suggestion:

Ask the person to explain why they believe Position A doesn?t lead to Position B.

Questions are always better than assumptions. Use them. ?In my mind there are implications to what you?re saying that trouble me. Could you help me understand if I?m hearing you correctly?? Or: ?If you believe _______, what are your thoughts about ___________?? Two things might happen. One, you may find there are valid ways to hold Position A and not Position B that you haven?t thought of. Honesty and respect require ? actually, let?s rephrase that: our Lord requires ? that we consider those possibilities. Two, you may discover that the person you?re talking to hasn?t actually thought through the implications of their belief. That?s not the time to do a victory dance and pound your chest for having won the argument ? not if our goal is to ?always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect? (1 Peter 3:15). Instead, this is the time to gently ask the person to reconsider their beliefs, and then give them time and space to do so.

Beliefs have implications. There are slippery slopes that need to be recognized and, with love and compassion, exposed. But any debate or argument brings its own slippery slope: slipping away from love, compassion, and a desire to help people see their need for Jesus towards a miry pit of arrogance, poor listening, and hard hearts. Don?t slip down that slope!

Photo by John Haslam

The Antidote To Selfish Ambition

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Our culture tends to be?self-focused and self-absorbed.

We say things like ?You have to look out for number one. Because if you don?t look out for number one, no one else will.? TV commercials constantly tell us what we need to make us happy. TV psychiatrists tell us we should?love ourselves more and be?sure to?bolster our self-esteem. But when Jesus comes into our lives and rescues us from our sins, he begins to reorient our whole mindset about everything in life, including?our tendency to be self-focused. ?So he tells us in Php 2:3-4:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Selfish ambition and conceit (pride) tries to get more of this world for itself,?tries to advance itself over others, always?wants more. More admiration, more power, more possessions. But contrary to what the world says,?selfish ambition won?t fulfill us, but is really the enemy of joy.

As?believers in Jesus, we need to remember that we have all the riches of God in Christ. We have the encouragement, comfort, sympathy and affection?of Jesus! We have the fellowship, comfort, guidance and counsel of the Holy Spirit. We don?t need to get ahead of others or get more than them. We don?t need to be admired more than others; we have Christ to encourage us. We don?t need to be loved more than others; we have the comfort of Christ?s love. ?So God says out of our fullness here’s what we should do:

in humility count others more significant than yourselves.

This doesn?t mean that everyone else is more significant than us, but that we should COUNT or CONSIDER them to be so. Think of them as more significant than ourselves. ?When we go to church or our fellowship group, we should think, These brothers and sisters of mine are SIGNIFICANT – they are important to God. I?m not going just for myself but for THEM. ?This mindset leads us to do what verse 4 says:

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

This doesn?t say don?t look to your own interests?or that?your interests are unimportant. ?It says ?Let each of you look NOT ONLY to his own interests, BUT ALSO to the interests of others.? All of us have concerns. All of us go through tough times. All of us have prayer requests. So our mindset should be – I?m not just focused on me and my interests. I want to focus on others as well. I want to be concerned for them ALSO.

D.A. Carson says, “It is also very practical to make a habit of thinking and speaking of the interests of others rather than boring people by constantly dwelling on our own interests?

In other words TAKE AN INTEREST IN PEOPLE. Find out about them. When you first meet someone you don?t start with What?s your biggest struggle? You get to know them. You find out about where they work or what their major is. You might ask about their families or maybe about hobbies they enjoy. You may say, Mark I hate making small talk. But in church it?s not simply small talk. Eventually they may open up about a problem they?re having or a spiritual struggle that you can encourage them about. ?Romans 12:15 says:

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

Our Christian life is a shared life. We live this life with others. We?re not isolated individuals. We?re all part of Christ?s body. So what happens to you affects me. When you?re blessed, I?m blessed. When you suffer, I suffer. When I stub my toe, my whole body goes into action to comfort my toe. My arms send my hands down and my eyes direct them to the aching toe. My fingers grab my toe and massage it as my mouth cries, ?Ow, ow, ow!?

You may say, Mark, I feel like no one cares for my soul. If that?s the case, I feel really bad for you. My advice would be – and I know this might be really challenging for some of you – but my advice would be for YOU to begin to try to care for the souls of others. Ask others how they are doing. Ask how you can pray for them. Because in MT 7:12 Jesus said:

Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

Do you want others to take an interest in you? Then take an interest in them. Do you want others to be compassionate to you? Then be compassionate toward them.

We can all be tempted to think about our church or fellowship group at times, ?What am I getting out of this?? But our gatherings are not ONLY for what we personally get out of it, but they are for what we can do for others.

So I encourage you today to meditate on and thank Jesus for the riches you’ve received in him?and look for ways to take an interest in others.

Don’t Be So Quick To Quote Scripture At Your Friends

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Is there ever a time not to quote Scripture? Imagine this scenario. Sunday after church your friend approaches you asking to talk. He?s having struggles in his marriage. At the office a project is requiring extra hours and at home the kids are in a high-octane phase that?s driving his wife nuts. The result is a household full of tension and irritability, with a number of petty, smoldering conflicts gradually merging into one ongoing conflagration.

?I know these arguments don?t please the Lord, and I know I?m partly to blame,? your friend says. ?What do you think?? It?s your opening. Time for Scripture, right? ?Bro, you just need to love your wife as Christ loves the church. I?ll pray for you!?

It?s biblical (Eph. 5:25). It?s true. It applies to his situation. But is it what he needs to hear? Surprising as it may seem, the answer is no. Not yet. Why? Here?s the principle: don?t quote Scripture until you can personalize the truth. ?Husbands, love your wives as Christ loves the church,? is true ? gloriously and challengingly so. It?s also generic, one-size-fits-all. Husbands from Papua New Guinea to Pennsylvania can apply it. But your friend isn?t a symbolic representative of all husbands everywhere. He?s one person walking out his life before the Lord, loving a specific woman and specific children in a succession of unrepeatable, never-to-be-duplicated moments. God?s ultimate goal is for Ephesians 5:25 to be embodied in concrete, particular ways in real time, at 5:47pm on Friday the 29th and 9:30 on Saturday morning after breakfast.

What does that mean for you? Simply this: ask more questions. Don?t use a Bible verse to end a conversation before it requires too much of you. Find out how your friend is struggling, in specifics: when did it happen last? Where? Why? When you can help your friend see what loving his wife, in this season, this week looks like ? then you can remind him that planning to take the kids Saturday afternoon or pick up pizza for dinner Wednesday night so she doesn?t have to cook is his personalized expression of Ephesians 5:29.

Sometimes, even with good question, you may not know how to help someone particularize truth. You know a verse applies, but you?re not sure how because the situation is complex. That?s okay. In that case you?re honest with your friend, and Scripture doesn?t become a conversation stopper. You talk about the verse. You pray together. You commit to helping walk with your friend while you both grow in wisdom. But the goal is to make truth personal ? even when it takes time.

Why is this so important? The ultimate answer is because God is personal. He is not a general truth about life, but a person. And he relates not to abstract humanity, but to real people. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The living Redeemer writes down names, whole chapters of them (see Romans 16, for instance).

So yes, your friend needs Scripture. So do you ? but Scripture that?s personalized, melded to real life. Don?t be content with abstractions. Ask questions. Pray for wisdom. And then speak.

Photo by Brett Jordan

How Do I Grow in Love?

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The New Testament often distills the Christian life down to its most basic essence: faith and love. For instance, Galatians 5:6:

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

Or consider Paul?s summary exhortation to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:13:

Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

Of course, other descriptions apply as well ? but, in the broadest sense, faith and love pretty much cover it. Faith towards God ? belief in his promises, in who he says he is for us in Jesus Christ ? that?s the vertical element. And love, directed towards others ? that?s the horizontal element.

Which, of course, leads to a question: how do you grow in love? You know you?re supposed to love your wife, or your neighbor, or the other members of your church. And you do love them ? but you want to grow in that love. What do you do? What does that look like? A change in emotion? More warm-fuzzies? More sentimentality?

Here?s a simple answer. Love expresses itself in actions for someone?s good. If you want to grow in love, grow in taking actions ? real, concrete actions ? that do good to another person.

You?re probably thinking, Wait: isn?t love an emotion, too? Yes, emotions are a necessary part of love. If you claim to love a person but never have any feelings of warmth, affection, enjoyment of their presence, happiness for their success or sadness over their loss ? then you probably don?t genuinely love that person. But the emotions of love, like any other emotion, are such an up-and-down, unstable thing that if we?re really going to grow in love, we can?t just sit around and wait for an overwhelming emotion to strike us. The call to love is too vital for such inactivity. Instead of waiting for the Emot-O-Meter to rise, take action. Do something. What does that look like?

A meal delivered when the new baby comes. A card written on the anniversary of a significant loss. Help with an oil change. A day given to pack boxes and load the moving truck, a word of gratefulness for a service rendered, a word of encouragement when someone has stepped out in faith. ?Doing good? has a thousand outfits but a few of them are formal dress. Most of the time, love wears its street clothes.

So here?s an assignment: consider a few people around you that you are called to love. Pray for them, and ask God for a concrete idea to bring good to that person. (Be content to think small.) Then go and do it! You?ve just taken a step of love. Now repeat.

Oh, and don?t forget ? you can give love because you?ve already received love. Remember the apostle John?s words: ?In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.? Even today, the God who saved you through the gift of his Son is plotting kindness towards you in a thousand disguises: food, protection, friendships, moments of worship and spiritually enlightened eyes and fellowship in prayer. We?re simply imitating him, the God who is kind in all his works (Psalm 145:17).

So go, put on your street clothes, think small, be creative, and demonstrate love. It?s a family trait.

Photo by Kophe

Who’s Better, Extroverts or Introverts?

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In 2012 Susan Cain published a tremendous book called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can?s Stop Talking. Her insights opened thousands of people?s eyes to how introversion works (including my own) and how introverts are often misunderstood or over-looked. Cain doesn?t waste time bemoaning anyone?s plight but rather explain all the ways introverts function uniquely and the distinct ways they are gifted and relate to others. As an extrovert, though not an extreme one, I found Quiet exceptionally insightful?and helpful in my own work and relationships.

In the two years since the book was published introverts have moved from the background to the fore, especially in business and organizational contexts. No, corporate culture hasn?t shifted so 549105954completely as to value their contributions as it should. That will likely come on the heels of the perception change that has occurred. ?Introvert? now carries a certain amount of cachet. Where it was once a term of perceived inferiority or oddity, now it?s a term of substance and respect. We aren?t quite sure why or how, but we know introverts are special.

Once introverts were seen as shy, anti-social, even reclusive. They never spoke up in meetings and weren?t much fun at social functions. Subtly but strongly, those largely incorrect notions have shifted. Today?s introverts are seen as more reflective, thoughtful, introspective, and even creative. It?s well known that they aren?t so much anti-social as selectively social.

The flip side of this is the equally subtle shift in how extroverts are seen. Once extroverts weren?t seen as, well, anything. We were the norm, even the ideal, in business and social contexts: outgoing, talkative, decisive. Not so much any more. Extroverts have taken on the traits of impulsive, flighty, shallow, and insensitive.

I write in broad brush strokes to describe both Introverts and extroverts. These are stereotypes, traits I?ve seen and heard communicated in the numerous blog posts and articles written about being introverted in the workplace or the struggles of the introverted in various contexts. No stereotype is true for everyone in a group, but no stereotype arises from nowhere, either. So read these as broad perceptions, not indictments of any individual or disparagement of the whole.

Much of the perception shift seems closely linked to the old adage ?It?s better to be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.? Introverts are seen as more insightful in many contexts because they speak less. Thus, their flaws and mistakes are invisible. This, however, is a matter of misunderstanding how people process ideas.

Imagine yourself in a meeting at work. Out of the five people in the room three are firing ideas back and forth, talking often and energetically. The other two are leaning over their moleskins taking notes or reclining in their chairs not saying much. What you?re seeing is not engaged versus disengaged employees. Rather you?re seeing verbal processors versus internal ones. Introverts, more often than not, prefer to get all the information and take some time to work through it before offering an opinion or making a decision. Extroverts talk through their thoughts. When I come into a meeting usually have a sense of an idea, but over the course of the conversation I might change that idea three or four times as I learn new information and am persuaded by others. This makes me neither flighty nor indecisive. It?s exactly the same thing the introvert is doing in her brain. I?m just louder about it.

However, when the introvert does speak her words carry serious weight. They are apples of gold in a setting of silver. Input that was once easily overlooked by the verbose extroverts it?s now perceived as a most valuable contribution. Whereas an introvert and I might have arrived at the exact same conclusion, my audible meandering route can often undermine my contribution. The introvert, after silent reflection, speaks, is heard, and is easier to respect for her care and precision.

God made extroverts and introverts for a reason. Each set of traits exhibits aspects of his character and each group is equally marked by sin. The point of this article isn?t to cry, ?foul? on introverts. It?s to point out that what once was a problem in one direction (the overlooking and undervaluing of introverts) could easily become a problem in the other. Businesses need extroverts and introverts. So do churches and friendships. We balance each other so long as we respect each other and put forth the effort to understand one another. One is not better or wiser than the other, though each may be better at certain things than the other. Susan Cain was right to raise awareness of the contribution and significance of introverts. Now it is incumbent upon all of us to balance it rightly with the significance and contributions of extroverts, for the good of everyone.

photo credit: [1]an untrained eye via [2]photopin [3]cc

Do As Much Good As You Can. Even If You Gag And Retch While Doing It.

Someone Always Have to Clean Up After Our Mess

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (Titus 2:11-14)

Zealous for good works. That phrase has been rolling around in my head a lot lately.

In the middle of December, my 95-year old Dad slipped on the ice in his driveway and fractured his ankle in 2 places. Since then he?s been in an emergency medical facility, then the hospital emergency room, then in a hospital room then in a skilled care facility. He?s been to the surgeon?s office, then again in the emergency room this past Sunday morning and back into a hospital room. My poor Dad has endured and endured and sought to remain cheerful in Jesus and glorify him through all this. I hope I can do as well should I ever go through anything like he?s going through.

But I?ve also been thinking about the hundreds of people who have cared for Dad. Of course the surgeon and doctors who did the big repairs on his ankle, prescribed all his medications and made the big decisions. But as I?ve walked the halls of the hospital and Dad?s care facility I?ve been especially affected by the many who serve the suffering in inglorious ways. Ways no one sees. Ways that few appreciate. Ways that receive little or no thanks. Ways like washing up patients who are incontinent, changing diapers on the elderly, cleaning up gross messes, lifting someone to help them feel more comfortable, feeding someone a bite of food at a time, doing a craft with an elderly person, singing an old time hymn to a group in their wheelchairs, shaving and washing the hair of someone who can?t do it for themselves.

One night an aid cleaned up a patient who?d had serious bowel problems. It took quite a while. Then 5 minutes later the patient had more bowel problems and the aid had to come back and clean them up all over again. It was obviously miserable for the patient, but I couldn?t imagine having that aid?s job and doing this all day long, day after day. I stopped her later and said, ?I know you probably know this, but you are doing so much good to these people. I don?t know how you do it. I couldn?t do your job.? She said you just get used to it. She also said she had 11 patients under her care that night and she didn?t get any down time. I just shook my head and tried to convey how grateful I am for all she and the other aids and nurses do.

Most of the ways God calls us to serve are inglorious and insignificant. But God tells us to be ?zealous for good works.? Zealous – anxious – passionate about – earnestly desiring to do – good works. Good works that no one sees. Good works that involve getting dirty. Works that make us gag and retch while doing them. Works that no one thanks us for.

I?ve had to do a few challenging things in caring for my dad. I can?t say I?ve been zealous. I want to be. I?m praying and asking Jesus to make me zealous for good works. Even when they don?t appeal to me. Even when I just did them and have to do them all over again. Jesus, make me zealous for good works. Even when they are tedious and boring. Even when I?d rather be doing something else. Even when they make me uncomfortable. Even when I?m not good at them.

I remind myself that on judgment day, Jesus will reward those who give a cup of cold water to someone who is thirsty. Those who feed a hungry person or visit someone in jail. Because whatever we do to the least of these, we do to Jesus.

Lord Jesus, make us zealous for good deeds as we wait for your appearing. Won?t it be incredible the day Jesus returns if he finds us cleaning up after someone, or changing your child?s diaper, or playing catch with your teenager or making tea for your grandma? May he find us all doing good. So do good today. Do as much good as you can, in any way you can. Do whatever good you have opportunity to do. Ask Jesus to give you joy in doing it. And look forward to your reward.

Kindness Is A Pointguard

I’m a big basketball fan, and there are few things I enjoy watching more than a good pointguard. For those of you who aren’t familiar with basketball, the pointguard operates as the floor general for the team. A good pointguard is always dribbling into the middle, dribbling back out, actively looking to pass the ball to the open man, actively looking to set up a scoring play. Good point guards are aggressive, always probing the defense, always looking to dump the ball off to a man under the basket. The best point guards, like Kyrie Irving and Russell Westbrook are always on the move, always active.

Kindness is like a good pointguard. In his book?Loving the Way Jesus Loves, Phil Ryken says:

To be kind is to be ?warm, generous, thoughtful, helpful.? To show that such kindness is a verb, Gordon Fee defines it as ?active goodness on behalf of others.? Other commentators describe a kind person as someone who is ?disposed to be useful? and ?freely to do good to others??definitions that emphasize the readiness and eagerness of kindness to engage in the service of others. Lewis Smedes calls kindness ?love?s readiness to enhance the life of another person.?

Being kind is actively for opportunities to do good on behalf of others. Being kind is having an eagerness and readiness to enhance someone else’s life. Being kind is the opposite of being self-centered. Lord make me kind!

Without Love, I’m Nothing More Than An Amplifier Turned Up To 11

A number of years ago I went to an Anberlin concert in a dingy club in Pittsburgh. The smell of cigarettes, alcohol, and tattoos permeated the air, and everything felt slightly claustrophobic. Punk rockers with various shards of metal jutting out of their eyelids, lips, and noses huddled together, lighting each other’s cigarettes.

I’ve always liked Anberlin because of their ability to combine shimmering vocals and fantastic guitar licks into a heavy rock song. They are a ?talented, tight, engaging band, and when you listen to their albums the talent shines through. Even though I’m not a huge metal fan, I’m big on melodies and musically interesting songs, which is why I enjoy listening to Anberlin.

But the concert was awful. Absolutely awful. Apparently the sound man for the night lived by the motto, “Louder is better, a heart attack is best.” The sound was cranked up so unbelieveably loud that I could not separate out the bass from the guitar from the drums from the vocals. It was like being hit by a tsunami of sound, and all of Anberlin’s talent was lost in the giant wave. All of the things that I love about Anberlin were overpowered by the unbelievable loudness. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of loud music. I haven’t reached the age yet where loud things sound like pots and pans banging together, but the concert was unbearable.

This morning I read the following insightful, concvicting quote by Phil Ryken:

No matter how gifted we are, this is what we become if we do not use our gifts in a loving way. No one can hear the gospel from the life of a loveless Christian. People just hear ?bong, bong, bong, clang, clang, clang!? (Loving the Way Jesus Loves)

Wow, that hits home. I may be gifted. I may be a decent worship leader, or a good writer, or a funny blogger, or a great children’s ministry teacher, or a great singer, or generous giver, but if my gifts aren’t used in love, they don’t benefit anyone. If my heart isn’t filled with love and affection for others, then all my spiritual gifts are nothing more than an overwhelming noise, like a loud, clashing cymbal, or an amplifier turned up to 11. If my gifts are not guided by the love of Jesus, then they are wasted.

I want to be useful for Jesus. The first step in being useful is being loving. Which means I need to spend a lot more time praying that God would give me a deep, abiding love for him and for others. Instead of focusing on whether or not I’m being used for God, I need to focus on whether or not I’m loving others. God will take care of the being useful part. Ultimately it’s not about how good I am at a particular thing, it’s about how loving I am. And truth be told, I’m often not loving. I’m just a clanging gong.

Lord, do a deep, thorough work in my heart. Change me, sanctify me, cleanse me. Replace my selfishness with love, my me-ness with other-ness. I want to be used by you, for you, to honor you. If that is going to happen, I must be filled with your love. So fill me today with love for you and love for others. Let my spiritual gifts be shaped by love.

+photo by?Mario Pleitez

15 Ways To Become Like Doug The Encourager

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. ?1 Thessalonians 5:11

I want to grow as an encourager. ?I want to be like Doug, a man in our church, who has the gift of encouragement. ?Every time I talk with him, he has this uncanny way of turning every conversation into an encouragement of me session. ?For example, “Hey Doug, thanks for all the good ideas you brought to the meeting last night.” ?Doug: “I only did that because I was trying to imitate you. ?You have so many great ideas. ?You’re so innovative and always bring a creative perspective to any conversation. ?And you’re such a great husband and dad. ?And the way you love your dogs so inspires me. ?And when you’re doodling in our meetings, I know you aren’t bored, you’re creating great works of art!”

Well, Doug isn’t really over the top, but he does consistently encourage everyone he interacts with. ?I want to be like Doug.

So here are some reflections on ways to encourage others that I have observed in Doug and many others:

1. ?Point out how you see God working in their life. ?Tell them how you can see they have changed over the last six months, year or five years. ?”You know, a year ago you would have responded in anger. But today you were patient and gentle.”

2. ?Tell them you are praying for them ? and be sure to do that.

3. ?Point out any ways they encourage you. ?”Thank you for sharing that scripture this morning. It really helped me.”

4. ?Share an encouraging scripture with them. ?”I’m sure you know this, but none of your labor in the Lord is vain. Someday you’ll be rewarded for what you’re doing right now.”

5. ?Encourage them that God is for them and will be faithful to them

6. ?Tell them what you appreciate/respect/like/enjoy about them. ?Thank them for ways they inspire you. ?Point out good qualities they have.

7. ?Appreciate and thank them for any ways they serve.

8. ?Encourage them for any effort you see them making in the right direction.

9. ?Encourage them not to give up. “God is going to come through for you. He will surely reward your faithfulness. Someday this will all be worth it when you are standing before God in heaven and he says to you, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Master.’ ”

10. ?Thank them for their example to you. ?”Thank you for being an example to me of faithfulness to your husband through thick and thin.” “Thank you for your example to me of trusting God in affliction.”

11. ?Commend them for any job well done.

12. ?Share with them how you see them glorifying God. ?”You know, to forgive your brother for the way he hurt you is so pleasing to God.”

13. ?Encourage them for any gifts or talents they have. ?Thank them for ways their gifts have blessed you.

14. ?Point out the fruit of the Spirit you see in their life. ?”I appreciate how consistently joyful you are.”

15. ?Remind them that they have a sympathetic and compassionate great high priest who intercedes for them.

Send them a note. Fire off an email. Give them a quick call on your commute home. ?Text them. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. Sometimes, “Great job!” is all you need to say.

Tell them why you’re glad you get to work with them. Tell them why you’re glad God brought them to your church. ?Tell them why you’re glad they are your child (assuming they are your child). Husbands, thank your wives for anything and everything they do for you.

Be like Doug.