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Monthly Archives: May 2015

5 Steps to Judging Thy Neighbour

“It’s their choice.”

Sometimes these words come as a choker chain pulling me into check, and I know there is nothing more to say. But I’ve heard the same words often used with misguided implications. At those times, every neuron of my brain protests any further silence.

Of course, not every situation is so straight or crooked. Your friend drinks Fireball shots on weekends until the bar goes lopsided. Your roommate disappears to their significant other’s place every night because they’re “crazy about each other.” And your little sister got a rainbow unicorn tattoo on her birthday, with plans to add a lollipop forest across her lower back.

When someone you love makes choices that you question, what is the “Christian” response? Do you cover your eyes and repeat something like, “They can run their life however they want”? Or do you kidnap them and stage an intervention at a remote cabin, complete with cult-worthy brainwashing?

Credit: Thomas Leth-Olsen (https://flic.kr/p/fkF6E5)

Credit: Thomas Leth-Olsen (https://flic.kr/p/fkF6E5)

This is a much more complicated question than what’s right and wrong. My mental processing in these situations runs like this (along with copious prayers for guidance):

1. Are their actions one-size-fits-all sins?

Before all else, are we dealing with sins or something I’ve personally been convicted by? Just because something makes me uncomfortable doesn’t mean it’s wrong for someone else to do (Romans 14). We are free to do anything, yet there are some things God has made clear throughout history that are not healthy choices for anyone (1 Cor. 10:23). Is the lifestyle in question explicitly dishonoring God and disobeying his Word?

2. Am I being a hypocrite?

Who listens to the advice of a hypocrite? No one. So if you are one, just drop the issue now and save everyone’s time. How do you know if you are a hypocrite? See Matthew 7:4-5. Jesus basically says (in not-so-friendly terms) deal with your own issues before nitpicking other people’s lives. Maybe you are struggling against the same sins as your friend (or are avoiding addressing something worse). For example, people who suffer from road rage are more likely to accuse other drivers. Am I seeing my friend’s choices without a “log in my eye”?

3. Is this person a believer in Christ?

If not, then you should be concerned with only one choice: will they choose Christ? We have no authority to judge the sins of unbelievers (1 Cor. 5:12). Christ always has to come first because we are all saved “while still sinners” (Rom. 5:8; Eph. 2:3-4).

Read the stories of when two tax collectors met Jesus (Luke 5:27-30, 19:1-10). In Jesus’ day, tax collectors were considered thieving, exploiting, traitorous scum. But once Levi met Jesus, he became an apostle and author of the Gospel of Matthew. When Zacchaeus met Jesus, he was so overwhelmed by gratitude that he immediately offered restitution for anyone he had cheated.

Real change can only happen when Jesus is present. Can I genuinely call my loved one a brother or sister in Christ?

4. Is God telling me to speak up?

Paul envisioned the ideal Body of Christ together growing more like Christ himself by stable teaching and “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:14-16). Paul demonstrated this when he wrote a disciplinary letter to the Corinthian believers. The letter hurt both Paul and the Corinthians, but he didn’t regret sending it because the correction brought about their greater good (2 Cor. 7:8-12).

He instructed Timothy to follow his example, and I believe every believer shares the same duty to “correct, rebuke, and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Tim. 4:1-2).

The New Testament Church carries a theme of mutual accountability. The apostles couldn’t be with every group of believers at all times, so God had to speak through each group’s own people to prod them towards greater fullness in Christ (Gal. 6:1; James 5:19-20). Every believer needed to be responsible for each other, just as we ask children to keep their younger siblings out of trouble.

Don’t ignore the pressing feeling that I need to say something. Could it be that God wants to use me as his voice?

5. What is the best way to share Christ in this situation?

So I think God may be leading me towards a climax. Before I get too hasty, I need to take time to pause, thoroughly study the Word, and earnestly pray about what my next steps should be. Whatever I may like to tell my loved one may not be what’s most honoring of Christ. Remember that we are challenged to use our words in the name of Christ to build each other up (Col. 3:17; Eph. 4:29). Test the words that come to you in study and prayer and then keep whatever is good and of the Holy Spirit (1 Thess. 5:19-22).

It may be that the Spirit doesn’t give me words—at least not this time. Maybe words are not strong enough in this case and action is required instead. Re-evaluate whether your life shows Christ to others and strive to be the light that will not be covered or hidden (Matt. 5:16).

This is what it all really comes down to. What’s most important: that this person gives up their sinful lifestyle or that they come to know and love Jesus Christ? As any Christian should have witnessed in their own journey, if you have the latter, then the former necessarily follows.

“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.” Matthew 5:17-19

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Posted by on May 22, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Savor This Precious Moment

How often do you taste your food? I mean, really taste it.

Sometimes when I’m eating, I have a sudden epiphany of This food is absolutely delicious. It surprises me because I was eating too quickly or with too little attention. Hand-to-mouth out of instinct rather than intention. But when the epiphany does come, I notice that there are only so many bites left and only so much can be consumed without upsetting my stomach. So I chew slowly and enjoy each bite as much as I can. (Bonus! Savoring food also means reduced risk of choking.)

Credit: tbz.foto (https://flic.kr/p/9g1zTb)

Credit: tbz.foto (https://flic.kr/p/9g1zTb)

Unlike many other college seniors, I wasn’t ready to leave when it came time for graduation. I had transferred and so missed the full four-year experience (and four years of debt). In my last semester, I wanted to squeeze out all the sweet juice of the college experience until the last drops.

So I began planning coffee and lunch dates with people I wanted to know better. I made more friends in my last semester than in any of the ones before. I lingered after classes to talk to my professors and made office appointments to pick their brains. I attended campus events even when I knew I’d be up late finishing essays. I napped by the student lounge fireplaces and filled up my travel mug with the cafeteria’s free coffee. I took long walks around the campus by myself just because the sun was shining through the pine trees.

A similar season of my life has come up once again, and I’ve been pondering the word “savor.” Especially when I feel caught up in the moment exactly where I am, not where I used to be or plan to be in the future.

Now savoring looks like joining my housemates on the front porch. Without agenda or plans. Just enjoying the warm sunlight and waving at passersby. We have three months left in this house before we all part ways. Only one of us plans to stay in the city.

Tomorrow we will host a backyard BBQ for our neighbors. On one side of the house, there’s the family with the friendly boxer that had puppies. The other side has the clean and sober smokers who stand on their porches and talk to us over the wood fence, offering gardening advice. And there will be the little girl who always asks to play with my housemate who painted her nails once. We’ll set up the volleyball net that has been in our basement since we moved in. We don’t know yet if we have charcoal for the grill.

Many of my housemates are job searching for their next adventure. They don’t know where they will live or what they will do when they get there. My plans are more settled but not lacking in uncertainty.

I remind myself that all I have is this moment, this breath. The next is not guaranteed. I’ll enjoy what I have while it lasts.

Like spring blossoms that fall from the trees in showers of petals, making room for fresh leaves. Or like the dessert almost too pretty to eat. Maybe they are more beautiful because we know they won’t stay. Maybe it’s easier to treasure something because we know this precious moment will soon be gone.

Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. Psalm 34:8

What will you savor today?

 
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Posted by on May 8, 2015 in Other thoughts

 

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“Packing Light”: How to Become a Writer in 50 States or Less

“I wonder if I’m not the only one who panics when people ask that dreaded question—what do you do? There is so much wrapped up in it, so much that has nothing to do with a job. We worry it says something about our identity to say we’re a waitress, or a barista, or a lawyer, or a student.”

–Allison Vesterfelt, Packing Light

Allison used to live in Portland, where she grew up, and taught middle school classes. She probably would have told people she was a teacher, but what she left unspoken was that she actually wanted to write a book.

She also wanted to travel to all 50 states of America. A friend liked the idea and convinced her to take a road trip. She could write her book while her friend played music at gigs across the country. And so Packing Light was begun.

They would have to give up almost everything to make it work: quitting jobs, selling belongings, and putting relationships on hold. They packed everything they thought they would need in Allison’s 1999 Subaru Legacy GT and left the rest behind.

Over time, their perfectly organized car becomes a mess. They can’t find half of the stuff they brought with them, and yet somehow the belongings accumulate and multiply. Several times, they stop to throw unnecessary and unwanted items in boxes to either ship home or give away.

The book’s opening quote by Rick Steves does well to sum up the lesson: “You’ll never meet a traveler who, after five trips, brags: ‘Every year I pack heavier.’ The measure of a good traveler is how light he or she travels.”

But there are other intangible things, such as parts of Allison herself, that are harder to give up. Changing locations doesn’t change who she is or free her from the challenges she doesn’t want to face. Life on the road is surprisingly similar to life at home.

For instance, it takes her several chapters to realize that she already was a writer before driving one mile. All she needed to do to be a writer was to simply write. Yet in the first week of travel, a new acquaintance asks a question that particularly resonated with me.

Are you a Christian or are you not? That question stuck with me for weeks, even months, after he had asked it,” Allison wrote. “It was an important question—a helpful one—even though it didn’t feel like it at the time. At the time it felt like an attack, like a headlock I wanted to wriggle my way out of. Why did we always have to pick a side? I was a Christian, and I wanted to be a writer, but was I a ‘Christian writer’? I didn’t know.”

What did it mean to be a Christian writer? And was that what she wanted to be? I’ve asked these same questions before.

Perhaps the first question to ask is: what does it mean to be a Christian? I believe Christianity is about more than how I spend my Sunday mornings. It’s not even weeknights at church or going to special conferences and retreats. None of that makes me a Christian.

Being a Christian is a way of life for every day. It means every day is devoted to following Christ and loving him more than I did the day before. This doesn’t allow for any compartmentalizing. Either Christ is part of everything I do, every moment that I’m alive, or he’s not. There’s no sitting on the fence or being lukewarm.

And if that’s the case, how could I not be a “Christian writer”? If being a Christian affects everything else in my life, then of course my writing should be no exception.

Since her trip, Allison has written multiple books and started a business to inspire and coach others to pursue their literary dreams.

“I prayed that He would whisper words to me, and I promised I would commit them to paper,” Allison wrote about one night camping in the Grand Tetons. “Is that what it means to be a ‘Christian writer’? I asked God. Because if it is, that’s the kind of writer I wanted to be.”

Me too.

 
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Posted by on May 1, 2015 in Books

 

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