I cannot do anything

I cannot do anything

Note: This is the first post I ever wrote for this blog, way back around September. But for some reason, every time I stumbled on it in the drafts folder, I felt like it wasn’t the right time to share it. Today, however, I was again reminded of the principle in this post, and so I’m sharing it with you. I hope it will be an encouragement to someone today.

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It’s been over two years.

From the beginning, I knew I was getting into something huge, something complicated, something that would be difficult.

People always are.

But I also knew it would be worth it.

People always are.

There’s a saying, “The older I get, the more I realize I do not know anything.” And that has already proved to be true in my life. Because over the days and weeks, months and years, I have learned that much of what I thought I knew was actually wrong. It’s a difficult thing to understand people, sometimes. Every time I think I finally understand something, later something else comes to light and I realize I was wrong. I did not understand. And, inevitably, sometimes I wonder if I ever will.

It’s a complicated and messy and confusing and just plain hard thing to love people, sometimes. Especially those with life stories so different from my own.

When people trust me enough to talk about the beyond-surface level of their lives, I consider it a privilege. I try to understand them and where they’re coming from as best as I can. And I try to share truth with them as it relates to their situation. And I pray. I always, always pray. But sometimes…sometimes I feel helpless.

If you care about someone, naturally, you want to be able to make their life better and fix their problems.

But that’s not the way it works.

It took me a long time to learn that. To learn that it’s not my job to fix things, to always have the perfect word of advice, or anything like that. It took until a moment of understanding, a moment where things finally “clicked” and I understood why things were the way they were with someone, and a moment of cold, hard realization–I cannot do anything about this.

I think as humans, our reaction to things that we see as problems is to fix them. To figure out what’s wrong and what happened and how to make things the way we think they should be.  It’s kind of an instinct. And that’s not always bad. In fact, sometimes it’s a very good thing. If someone never wanted to fix problems in life, I would be very worried about them, because they must have a serious case of apathy.

But sometimes, this intense desire to fix things can be just another way we try to control our lives and the lives of those around us. We forget so often that we are not in control, don’t we? We forget that God is in control.

“The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” – Proverbs 16:9

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28

“He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” – Colossians 1:17

“Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit.” – Psalm 147:5

“The LORD works out everything to its proper end.” – Proverbs 16:4a

We can make all the plans we want. We can desperately brainstorm and try to come up with a solution. But God is the one who knows exactly what’s going on and has a plan for it.

When we come to the realization that we are not in control–that we cannot do anything–we are finally ready to let God work. How did that night go for me? I realized the only thing I could do was pray and continue to love. But then the other thing that hit me was, “that’s all I’ve ever been able to do.”

Nothing had changed about the situation. The only thing that had changed was my understanding of it.

Jesus didn’t command “love your neighbor and.” There was no and. No “love your neighbor and…fix all their problems.” No “love your neighbor and…be sure you always have something to say about their life situation.” No “love your neighbor and…it’s your fault if they don’t become a Christian.”

There simply is no and.

All we are commanded to do is love.

Do you see how freeing this is? It means it doesn’t matter if we don’t know what to say. It doesn’t matter if we spend months or a year or two years or ten years or our whole lives loving someone who’s lost only to die without seeing them trust Christ. It doesn’t matter if we can’t see the results, as long as we are faithful to love.

All God asks of us is to love the people around us. We trust Him for the rest.

Loving people is still hard. It’s still confusing and uncertain and painful and patience-trying. But if we remember it’s not about us and what we can do, and leave the rest to God…it’s so much less complicated.

Have you ever had that moment before, where you looked at a situation in your life or someone else’s life and realized you just couldn’t do anything? Take heart, friend. Nothing changed. God is still God, and He is still in control. Trust Him.

What are some of God’s commandments you’ve recently seen in a new light? How do you think realizing we cannot do anything helps us to live freely?

How dirty is your towel?

How dirty is your towel-.png

On the night of the Last Supper, Jesus took on the role of a servant–the lowest servant, at that–and washed the grime from his disciples’ feet.

The King of kings humbled himself enough to do the job none of the disciples would step in to do. The dirty job. He knelt down with a towel and washed each one’s feet.

Wow.

Washing feet may not have the same cultural relevance today, but it still sounds like a pretty dirty job to me.

“How dirty is your towel?” This question refers to Jesus’ willingness to get dirty and do the job relegated to the lowliest servant in the house. It’s a question meant to cause us to consider our own lives and our own willingness–or, more often, unwillingness–to serve those around us.

Working at Chick-fil-A has been teaching me a lot about having a dirty towel.

Servant leadership is a huge part of the company’s model. But more than leadership, the “how we give” page on the company website states the principle they teach each employee: “We firmly believe in treating every person who comes through our doors with honor, dignity, and respect.”

Sounds great, right? Sounds like it shouldn’t be so hard. And it isn’t, most of the time.

But you know what?

One thing that hit me several months ago was it’s not so much that we’re unwilling to serve anyone, at any time. It’s that we put these exceptions on a list in our mind. We get this attitude of feeling “above” certain tasks, or certain people, whether we’re consciously aware of the attitude or not. 

Sometimes, I have to serve customers who are snippy with me when I make a mistake. Sometimes, I have to serve customers who are talking on their phone the whole time I’m trying to take their order. Sometimes, I have to serve customers who are interrupting and demanding things unreasonably. And sometimes, I even have to serve people with profane t-shirts. And it is hard, so hard, to treat them with honor, dignity, and respect.

But looking back at the example of Jesus…He served the people who deserved it the least. He consistently served the ones who were the “untouchables” of society.

At the beginning of the year, I was praying about 2016. I asked God to make me a servant. I said, “I’m not going to qualify that with ‘leader’ on the end, though that would be nice. Just a servant, God. Humble and meek.” And sometime not too long afterward, I had a day at work with several rude customers and one with a repulsive shirt. And as I complained silently to God, I felt Him gently remind me: Honor, dignity, and respect.

I called that young man “sir” several times as I took his order.

Respect.

Usually, I reserve “sir” and “ma’am” for the older crowd. But that day, something changed. And I began to see those “untouchable” people in a different way. I now make it a point to address customers who irk me in extra patient tones and with “sir” or “ma’am.” To keep me humble. To keep growing me as a servant.

That day I also remembered a time my pastor preached on a servant’s heart. He asked this question–a more blunt and direct version of “how dirty is your towel”: Whose feet are you unwilling to wash? That really hit me. I went home and thought about it. And by the end of the day, I had to ashamedly admit that there were very few people in my life whose feet I would even consider washing.

I remembered that question when I returned home from work that night I called the young man sir. And I again asked God to change me. To take away my list of infinite exceptions and give me a humble spirit, loving each person He put in my path in a self-sacrificing way.

I’ve been able to watch Him answer that prayer, little by little. I’m seeing opportunities to be a servant more and more often, especially as I begin taking them. And slowly but surely, God has been doing a work in my heart. I don’t say this to boast, for as He knows, I have much room for improvement. But I say this as a testimony of God’s grace, and as an encouragement that He does change hearts and lives.

How dirty is your towel? — I’m asking myself this question today as a check-up, this Passion Week. If my Lord would suffer the scorn of His creations, and not only bear it, but also serve them…how could I refuse to do the same?

But besides reminding myself today, I challenge you with these questions: Whose feet are you refusing to wash?

How dirty is your towel?

 Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. – Philippians 2:5-8

“But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:26-28

The power of discussion

The power of discussion

One problem with society today is that for all the clamor of talking people do, they fail to have discussions.

What do I mean by a discussion? Simply put, a discussion is communication between two or more people. But I would venture to qualify that some more. Discussion requires a topic. Discussion involves giving everyone a chance to speak. Discussion requires thought, and forming a verbal explanation of those thoughts. Discussion is a team activity–you build off each other’s ideas. Discussion demands truly listening and actively thinking. It is more than just conversation–it is conversation with a purpose. A good discussion leaves participants with a new perspective or insight.

In my own observation, these discussions are a rarity today. Why? A variety of reasons could be behind this social trend. I would suggest that our culture is increasingly fast-paced; jam-packed schedules are the norm. Discussions take time and intention. They also require careful, critical thought, which is becoming quite unpopular today. Lastly, I think people are afraid of stepping on toes by expressing disagreement of any kind.

But this is unfortunate! The lost tool of discussion has numerous benefits and effects.

First, discussion provides the opportunity to develop an opinion on a topic. Sometimes a topic may come up for discussion that you hadn’t thought about before, but because it has come up, you have reason to think it through and formulate a position on the topic. You might even be prompted to research it and learn more about it, so you can understand it more. This is a good thing! It expands your horizons.

While you are forming your opinion on a topic, you will have the opportunity to employ logic and reasoning. You can check your own argument for holes and other problems, and the people you are talking with will do so as well. Which brings me to another benefit: You gain experience communicating your position. This is an incredibly important skill to possess. Having convictions and opinions doesn’t do you much good if you are unable to clearly explain them.

Discussions are also useful for brainstorming or working through an issue as a group. Oftentimes, when someone starts a discussion about a certain issue, it’s because they want to have the benefit of others’ viewpoints in the situation. Discussion is a great way to gain input in tricky situations or advice for a decision. It’s also useful for brainstorming ideas.

Now, this all sounds very corporate-office-job to you, doesn’t it? But let’s go back to my statement at the beginning of this post. I said that the lack of discussion in our society is detrimental. What if you don’t have an office job? Are discussions still applicable to you?

Let’s switch gears here and describe a different situation: The modern church. Many of us who have grown up in church have been told the same things over and over since we were toddlers about Bible stories, God, and what’s right and wrong. Most of us haven’t seriously questioned most of what we’ve been told. We just accepted it. Am I saying that’s wrong? No, of course not. But do you know why we have those statistics saying up to 80% of high school graduates leave the church? It’s because teenagers are encountering opposition in the world to the ideas they’ve been taught as children. They’re facing tough questions about what they believe and why. And they don’t know how to answer those questions. Why? Because there’s been a lack of discussion.

I think as teenagers especially, we’re often scared to ask critical questions about things we hear in church. Maybe we don’t want to be seen as doubters. Maybe we want to look like we have it all together. Maybe we just don’t know how to ask. But I think we as the church have failed to create a culture that promotes discussion. And it goes further than just opinions on political events or even doctrinal questions. It goes deeper. I think we’ve failed to create an open community where all members feel like they can ask tough questions about struggles in their lives and be lovingly received and supported. And as a result, people are struggling alone, never feeling like they can open up and get real help.

This is beyond serious. This is critical.

But what can we do about it?

I don’t have all the answers. (And in fact, that’s definitely the attitude we need to have going into discussions of any kind!) But here’s what I can tell you: It starts with us. It has to start with us. Waiting for someone else to change things isn’t going to help anything. And I think change starts with a simple step: Starting discussions. Be the one to ask a question that requires thought, then listen to the answers people give. Encourage interaction between members of the conversation. Build off what other people are saying. And then the next time you are around those people, or a different group of people, do it again. Eventually, people will start to expect those questions, and they will begin to bring questions of their own. And then hopefully, someday soon, discussion will be normal enough that they will feel comfortably bringing their life’s struggles and questions.

It’s a dream, yes, and it may be a while before I am able to see this brought to reality. But it starts with discussion. And I am committing to being the one to start discussion around me.

It’s time to speak.

In the interest of this topic, let’s have a discussion! Here’s the question, taken from my history curriculum: What do you believe is the proper relationship between a leader’s public role and his personal life? How much should a leader’s personal choices affect how we view their public role?

Post your thoughts on this topic below, and respond to someone else’s comment if you can!

Lovesong to a dying world

Lovesong to a dying world full

Shalom: A Hebrew word translated as peace, but with a broader meaning that carries the idea of wholeness, of perfect completeness, “as things were meant to be.”

God, be our rest. In this world of broken shalom, You are the one who is constant. Whole. As things are meant to be.

You placed the longing in our hearts for that completeness that can only be filled by You. It broke Your heart when Adam and Eve chose to doubt and go their own path, and You had to cast them out of the garden, the first blood sacrifices for human sin cloaking their backs.

But even then, You gave the promise of a Redeemer to come. To enter this world of broken shalom and provide the way back to You.

Through the ages, the promise rang. Through death and disobedience. Through grumbling and groaning. Even as Israel fell and the people were carried away into captivity, the prophets proclaimed the message: One was coming who would be the Messiah.

Then the silence. Four hundred years, as the people waited. Some doubted, some disbelieved, but others clung to the stories and the prophecies–threads of hope.

And then, finally, the Messiah was born. His name? Jesus–Savior. Emmanuel…God with us. At last, the miracle. The bridge to restore shalom.

 

Christmas is more than a day to recognize the birth of Jesus. It’s a gateway of hope. Of opportunity contained in the angels’ proclamation of God’s lovesong to a dying world: “Peace–shalom–on earth. For today, in the city of David, a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord.”

Sarah Spradlin wrote a poem once about writers. One line that particularly resonated with me reads, “Writers are a people who will watch quietly as the world, in all its glory and depravity, spins out of control and still believe it’s worth saving.” It reminds me of God looking upon the mess His creations made and still deciding that we were worth saving. That we were worth the price of a Savior.

“Emmanuel…now all is well. God dwells with us.” (See “When She Looks at Jesus” here)

God dwells with us.

 

There’s such a beauty in Christmas when you celebrate more than just a baby in a manger. When you recognize the shattering of the darkness–literal, spiritual, and metaphorical–the host of angels accomplished that night. When you understand the hope, the answer to everything gone before and to come, that was born that night. When you understand the glory and the sacrifice packed into that tiny bundle of humanity, lying in the straw–then, then it becomes beautiful. A story of beauty entering into our brokenness in the form of a baby, that cry of beginning ringing out into the land.

The promise, the hope of Christmas: The cross has created a way.

And that is where the peace comes from–knowing that though this world has troubles, though questions may still echo in our hearts, the greatest ones were answered in the Messiah as He accomplished His redemption. “It is finished!” He cried, and in the light of eternal glory, these troubles are indeed light and momentary (2 Cor. 4:16-18).

Meanwhile, the Redeemer left us with a very special job to do. The Creator entrusted us with bearing His message–His lovesong to a dying world. As 2 Corinthians 5:18-20 says, God “gave us the ministry of reconciliation” and has “committed to us the message of reconciliation.” In fact, we are Christ’s ambassadors, “as though God were making his appeal through us.”

There’s such a beauty in Christmas when you celebrate more than just a baby in a manger. When you recognize the shattering of the darkness–literal, spiritual, and metaphorical–the King of kings has chosen to accomplish through us. When you understand the hope, the answer to everything gone before and to come, that was born in us that night through His presence, which was itself the fulfillment of countless promises and prophecies. When you understand the glory and the sacrifice packed into that tiny bundle of humanity, lying in the straw–then, then, it becomes beautiful, and you begin to realize your purpose in this big old thing we call life. It is a story of beauty entering our brokenness–our messy lives and hearts–in the form of a baby, and providing a new beginning (2 Cor. 5:17). Providing a chance to be used as a vessel for His glory (2 Cor. 4:7).

The promise, the hope of Christmas: Broken shalom doesn’t have to stay broken. In Him, we are complete (Col. 2:10), and have the opportunity to let our completeness and fullness of joy spill over into other lives, touching pockets of brokenness and filling them with the light.

Oh Father, use us as restorers of the broken shalom in this world. Fill us with the peace that surpasses understanding (Phil. 4:7), that we may shine like stars in the darkness of this world (Phil. 2:15), overflowing with the radiance of Your love.


 

Here With Us, by Joy Williams