Friday, June 26, 2015

Show and Tell! God’s Non PC Communicators; Examples of Godly Tongues and Wise Listeners

"It’s show and tell time," Mrs. Reeves, my first grade teacher, announced, "Who would like to go first?” 
Before she finished speaking, my hand shot up. I waved it rapidly to get her attention as, “ME, ME, ME” I squealed. 

 “Teri, I think you have something to share with us.”

My face lit with a grin as I popped out of my chair, snatching the bag at my feet. “Mrs. Reeves may I use the globe?” She set it on her desk within my reach.

“Here’s where we are,” I declared, pointing to South Carolina. Then I spun the globe and pointed,” This is where my daddy is on his navy ship. This is Japan,” Then I picked up the bag and carefully lifted out my treasure. “My daddy sent me this doll. This is what Japanese women wear. It’s called a kimono,” I motioned at her brilliant scarlet garment covered in pink and yellow flowers. 
Oooos and aaahs filled the room. 

“Thank you, Teri for sharing your special gift with us.”

As a navy brat I loved show and tell. I’m sure my obnoxious eagerness wore  Mrs. Reeves out but I also think she appreciated the geography lessons I gave.

                God knows we need show and tell. The first two thirds of the Bible show us faith through story. Then God elaborates through the epistles the precepts those stories illustrate. In my last two blogs I’ve shared some of His precepts on communication, rules for listening and speaking. I began my blog, 5 Rules for  Listening, by lamenting the effect of political correctness on our communication. Now It’s show time! What follows in this and my next blog are three examples of audacious communication that shatter our concepts of political correctness and cultural politeness. These shocking stories also show great listening and speaking skills; communication God used for His glory.

EliWho? Job’s True Counselor, God’s MC

                The curtain rises. In center stage is a pastor. His head hangs down. A pained look covers his face; his eyes red and puffy, his cheeks tear stained. On either side of him are three other men; the mayor, the police chief, and the high school principle. They are all silent but their brows are drawn together and their mouths twisted with sympathetic frowns. At the far end in the rear of the stage sits…someone. I wonder if a young stage hand forgot to get off stage. Then the drama starts as the police chief breaks the silence, “Pastor, just tell us what you’ve done! We’ll forgive you. You should confess your sin now before it becomes public.”

“If only that were the cause,” the pastor wails, “but I can’t think of how I could require such painful chastening.”

The all condemnation breaks loose as the three accuse the pastor. The pastor retaliates in self defense. The theater fills with the tension of the scene. The young man in the background seems just as drawn into it as the audience. Finally weary of argument, all four voices fall silent. We expect the curtain to close and the cast to prepare the next scene. Then the young kid in the back stands. He looks heavenward as though praying and drags his feet to take center stage.
“Eli what are you doing here?” gripes the principle.

“I’ve been concerned for Pastor too, I was hoping you would help him but you are just accusing him without any evidence. I’m really disappointed in how mean you’re being. Like soldiers shooting a wounded man. You ought to be ashamed of your selves…” Now we realize the young kid is an actor playing Eli, a high school student. He continues a twenty minute rant against the older, well respected men then turns to the Pastor and reminds him God answers to no one, telling the pastor his conversation had been out of line too. The other four characters along with the audience gasp in disbelief at the audacity of the angry youth. Are you getting a sense of how incensed they were?

Welcome to a modern day retelling of Job. Sandwiched between the six major characters of Job; The Lord, Satan, Job, and three miserable comforters, speaks an almost forgotten voice. His name was Elihu. What he says of himself and God’s silence concerning him, reveal a few important facts. He was by his own admission much younger than the other four men. The fact that he waits until everyone else exhausted their words shows he was both humble and patient, a good listener. His message in Job 36-37 communicates his unbridled passion for truth. When God rebukes Job and convicts the other three friends Elihu is not mentioned. God’s never addresses Elihu, confirmation that his words were righteous.

In most cultures throughout history youth are taught to respect their elders. An old Victorian expectation, still held in some circles, is “Children should be seen, not heard.” The Bible teaches the younger to respect the older but what if the elders are teaching falsehood or need correcting? Does God prohibit those younger from rebuking them? Of course not! He used Elihu for just that purpose.

How do we handle criticism or correction from those junior to us? I hope we listen to them the way we should listen to everyone, with a humble, gracious spirit. We old dogs just may learn some new tricks.

Next Friday I’ll share another shocking tale. Hope you join me for some more show and tell.

Father, please, give us teachable spirits even when the teacher you send our way may be a young whipper snapper.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Total Tongue Transformation; 5 Rules for Speaking

            “Open mouth. Insert foot.” Have you ever found yourself accomplishing these directions? I have.  Directions require a step by step process for correct completion. If I don’t open my mouth I can’t put my foot in. Yet opening my mouth may be necessary.

            In a culture where texting trumps talking, much of our interfacing is not face to face. Based on the understanding that eighty percent of communication is nonverbal, our social media society stunts the growth of communication skills. Is it any wonder we struggle with meaningful conversation?

            The key in good communication; follow God’s directions. “He who answers a matter before he hears it is folly and shame to him.” Proverbs 18:13 shows the first step we take in transforming our tongue.

1. Listen! If you have not read my previous blog What to do with Unwanted Words: 5 Rules for Listening, please stop, go back, and start from the beginning because this is part two of a five part blog.

Next we need to listen to our own words before we speak. What tone will we use? What words should we choose?

Then while we are speaking let’s listen with our eyes. Is the listener tuned in or fading out? Does her face reflect reception or rejection, agreement or offense? Make eye contact. Watch body language. Eyes do make good ears. Lip readers listen with their eyes all the time!

2. Speak Less; God gave us two ears and one mouth so we should listen twice as much as we talk, right? Whoever wrote this equation left out two important factors; mouths shut, ears don’t. We should always listen and speak sparingly because, “In a multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise,” Proverbs 10:19. To some this comes easy; the rest of us require considerable tongue biting.

Tongue biting hurts. Yet the pain caused by frothing at the mouth exceeds it exponentially. Trust me on this. In the realm of too much talk I supplant Paul as chief of sinners. Thankfully God can teach old dogs new tricks! By His grace I am learning to speak less and listen more.

The following rules come from Ephesians 4:25-32.

    3.  Speak Truth; Honestly?! She “always” does that or “never” does this? Exaggerations make great comedy but dishonest conversation. Absolutes tend to inflame arguments not resolve them.

Another common form of dishonest speech is polite replies. If we go to church and tell people we are fine when we are not how can they pray for us? Who will help us bear our burdens? And most importantly, how does that model authentic fellowship to young believers?

    4. Attack Problems Not People; When we are angry with some one that emotion produces adrenaline. God designed anger that way so we would have extra energy to resolve problems. God cautions us not to misuse that energy by sinning.

 “You lied to me!” attacks the person. I accused them of being a liar. Now they’re defensive.

“I under stood you to say______. When you didn’t follow through I felt deceived. Is that what you meant or did I misunderstand you?”

This explains a problem. It may be the problem was a misunderstanding. If there was intentional deceit, they are now accountable to ask for forgiveness. It’s a win, win without verbal sin!

When we’re confronted in anger only “a soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger,” Proverbs 15:1. One day when I was trying to resolve an issue over medical billing. I called the collection agency to express the frustration I had because of never receiving a bill from my doctor before it went to collections. My angry tone stirred up the woman on the other end who responded in kind. I took a deep breath, remembered the proverbial advice, apologized for my tone and continued in a more pleasant fashion. When I spoke softly she toned down too. What we call yelling the Bible calls clamor.

Don’t stew. Angry clamor is sin but so is neglecting a problem. Bitterness is equally sinful. When we’re on fire we’re told to stop, drop, and roll. Anger can burn too. So in the heat let’s stop, drop, and pray. Ask God how we can attack the real problem constructively. Let’s remember people are not the problem; sin is. It may be theirs. It may be ours. We need God’s wisdom to discern the truth.

    5. Build Up! Give encouragement and lots of sincere praise but also be willing to rebuke. When we see sin destroying someone’s life we must speak up. Discussing it with other people is gossip. To selfishly get something off my chest gives away a piece off my mind I can’t afford to lose. To put people in their place is to usurp God’s place. Love is the only pure motive in necessary edification. If I can’t speak to build them up or admonish for their good and God’s glory then I shouldn’t speak.

Tongue taming is hard work. When we do it well God gets the glory and His body grows healthy. So let’s embrace God’s rules for communication by casting out our cultural politeness and political correctness. 

Join me the next three Fridays as I shock you with three Biblical examples of great communication. 

Lord, You are the God who speaks. Please teach our tongues the law of kindness. Help us follow Your directions as we speak. Amen!

Friday, June 12, 2015

What to do with Unwelcome Words: Five Rules of Listening

            A glance out my window revealed a whiter than expected scene. Overnight my trees sprouted long, white flags of flocking that were blowing in the breeze. My daughter’s new boy friend decided to display his affection for her by TPing our house. We chuckled at the practical joke then I delegated the clean up to my daughter and suggested she recruit the culprit for help.

         Unwanted advice is a lot like getting your house TPed.  It’s an unnecessary nuisance, usually perpetrated by friends or acquaintances, but it does no lasting harm and certainly doesn’t merit a hurt or angry response.  Yet, isn’t that how we often respond to uninvited advice? Since we struggle with when to give and how to receive simple advice, how will we ever come to the place of giving and receiving Biblical admonition?

            The toxic philosophy of political correctness seeps into the church and its acidic presence makes us too thinned skinned to graciously receive counsel from one another. Candid communication plays an indispensible role in discipleship. Yet, when advice or admonition comes our way we bristle with resistance, “She doesn’t understand what I’m going through.  Who does she think she is telling me what to do?  She hurt my feelings!”

             On the other hand analysis paralysis often gets in our way of trying to help others, “How will she take this? Will it hurt or help her situation? What if she gets mad at me? I don’t want to lose her friendship.” And so we say nothing. As a result of these tendencies our fellowship withers into an exchange of neutered pleasantries or flares into unproductive, unnecessary conflict. Good communication, like traffic, flows in two directions. If we follow the rules we’ll have fewer accidents and avoid causing harm.

Five rules of listening; 

1. Listen! This seems obvious but when we hear unwanted words the natural response is self defense. We become quick to argue or justify which is talking not listening. Our pride, left unchecked, will tune out what it doesn’t like being told.

Proverbs 15: 31-32 reminds us, “The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise. Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence.”

 Even if we find some one’s advice not applicable to our present situation it doesn’t mean we won’t find it useful later. Listening and learning are marks of wisdom.

2. Listen in Love! “Owe no one anything except to love one another,” Romans 13:8. When some comes to us with unwanted words (notice I said when not if because it will happen) we owe it to them to treat them in love. “Love is patient, love is kind, …is not provoked, thinks no evil,…bears all things,” (1Corinthians 13:4,5,7) things like hurtful words and annoying advice. When we are trying to give helpful advice how do we want to be received? That is exactly how Jesus expects us to receive words from others.

 3. Listen with Gratitude! “Open rebuke is better than love carefully concealed. Faithful are the wounds of a friend,” Proverbs 27: 5, 6. With friends like that who needs enemies, right? Wrong! Enemies don’t care. They want to see us fail. The rest of Proverbs 27:6 says, “But the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” People who tell us we’re fine when we’re not or have an idea how to remedy our problem but don’t tell us are not helpful. Wouldn’t you rather have someone try to help and fail, than fail to try? Be thankful for people who care enough to say something, even if it is the wrong thing.

4. Listen in Humility! I touched on this in the first rule but it bears deeper consideration. “Hurt does not equal harm,” (source unknown). As we read in Proverb 27 wounds from a friend are faithful not fatal. I know for a fact that when my feelings are hurt it’s usually because my pride got hurt. When my feathers get ruffled I just need to pluck them off. 

     The old adage “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me,” was taught to children so that they would learn being hurt by words is a choice. We can choose not to take offense. We can choose to disregard insults. We can choose to overlook a person’s clumsy attempts to be helpful but these choices require humility.
     Truth spoken in love can hurt. It hurts to be told we’re wrong but that pain can promote healing if it causes repentance.  “Yes all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for “God… gives grace to the humble.” 1Peter 5:5

5. Listen as a Steward! What do we do with these unpleasant words? We own them for God’s glory. Let’s pray through unwanted words and ask God to show us if there’s any truth in what’s been said. Digesting unwanted words in prayer is a lot like eating chicken. Thank God for His provision, then chew the meat and spit out the bones. Like chicken feeds our bodies this process will nourish our souls.

These rules apply to one side of communication traffic. My next blog will cover the other side, the harder half, how we talk.

Father, You are the God who hears. You made our ears. Teach us to be good stewards of the ears You gave us and be better listeners for Your glory. Amen

Friday, June 5, 2015

Cross Roads: A Lower Case “t” for Me

            My housed buzzed with the noise of busy children at play. The washer and dryer humming in harmony provided me with peace if not quiet.

            “Ahh, finally time to be creative!”

             I seized the opportunity to put the finishing touches on a water color painting. The smell of fresh laundry and steeping Darjeeling complimented my tranquil endeavor.

            My solitude was soon dashed by the ringing phone. A familiar voice greeted me when I answered. It was the leader of the Bible study I had begun to attend two weeks earlier.

            “Hi Teri, this is Julie, from Bible Study. I’ve been praying about something and really felt I needed to talk to you.”

             The hesitancy in her voice clued me into the nature of her call. I braced myself as she continued, “I can tell by your comments during discussion time that you have a good understanding of the Bible, but in our group we have a number of newer believers. Your frequent comments are a bit intimidating to them and I’d like them to be able to share and ask question without feeling embarrassed. You’re tending to dominate the discussion. I want you to come but I need you to be considerate of the other women. Do you understand?”

            I absolutely did! She brought me to a cross road. Would I defend self or relent? Conviction demanded I relent. I had definitely been thinking more highly of myself than I ought.

            My inflated ego deceived me into thinking I knew more about the Bible than Julie. As a result, I felt compelled to play Holy Spirit rather than trusting her as God’s choice to lead the group. Truth be told, I was being an obnoxious know it all.

            Grace deflated my pride. “Oh Julie, you are right. I am so sorry that my pride has hindered your leadership. Will you please forgive me?”

            She sighed with relief. “Of course I forgive you, Teri. Thank you so much for understanding.”

            As I hung up the phone I fell to my knees confessing my folly. “Lord, forgive my arrogance. Thank you for using Julie to reprove me.”

            Returning to my desk I reached for sip of comfort. The tea was cold. My heart longed for something more satisfying than tea. I pushed the painting aside and picked up a pen. That’s when I had this epiphany. Have you ever noticed what letter is smack dab in the middle of pride? Yup it’s “i”. We spell pride with a little “i” but truth be told a capital better reflects the meaning. After all that’s what pride is, it’s I, I, I.

            As I opened my Bible, God’s Spirit directed me to Galatians 2:20, “I am crucified with Christ; It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me:” I continued doodling.

            I remembered the way John the Baptist put it when his disciples were jealous that John’s popularity was waning and Christ was getting all the glory, “I must decrease and He must increase.” 

            Kingdom living is counter culture and counter intuitive. It calls me to cross roads where I must choose which way I’ll go; my way or His, live selfishly or die to self. Do I really trust this King of Kings or will I take the throne? Do I want the lost to find Teri or Jesus? I need to get smaller so I don’t block their view.

            I picked up my painting added a few last strokes and started to swash my signature with its usual giant “T” but before the brush touched the paper I stopped; another cross road. God made me with these talents and He could just as easily take them away. “God,” I asked, “How can I decrease and You increase?”

            His answer came in a flash. In my heart I heard, “Try a lower case t.” There it was the cross, His cross. The cross I needed to take up. 

The lower case “t” in my signature serves as a small visual reminder to me that I must die daily if Christ is to live in me. 

I scribbled again.

I am in Christ and crucified with Him. Yup the “I” was bowing down where it belongs, at the cross.

             That was twenty some years ago. Putting the cross of Christ first in my signature is easy. Dying to self daily is not. The old man thrives on thievery; robbing God of His glory. The contradiction of telling you how I need to pursue humility while I’m promoting my writing haunts me. To be honest, I’m afraid of the old Teri. Yet, God has made me His steward and enlisted me to disciple others. My King calls me to this task of word crafting. So I must fear God more than my pride and trust Him to use the Julies in His kingdom to keep me in on the cross road.

            Abba, Father, thank You for honest sisters that teach us humility. Please, deliver us from our pride, lay us low and raise us up to new life, Christ’s life, lived to love and serve others for Your glory. Amen