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Archive for July, 2011

“It was horrible.”  Annabelle looked like she’d just stepped off an intense emotional roller coaster, and she was still reeling from the experience.  “I know it wasn’t real, but it felt real!”

The German Bible school students were doing a role-play in pairs, practicing confrontation.  Each pair was given a hypothetical situation – lying to a co-worker, misuse of company funds, etc.  One student had the role of the confronter, and the other student was supposed to respond inappropriately – with angry accusations, avoidance of the issue, outright denial, or couldn’t-care-less dismissal.  Some students were enjoying the activity, throwing themselves into their parts with enthusiasm.  But most, like Annabelle, squirmed in their seats and had trouble verbalizing a direct rebuke, especially when it was not well received.

I knew exactly how they felt.  Several years ago, in a workshop on interpersonal skills, I was paired with a gentle woman in her 60s for an exercise in healthy confrontation.  My role was to approach her about inappropriate interactions with a male team member who was not her husband.  Though my brain knew it was a completely made-up situation, it was still so hard to say those words of reproach to this sweet woman smiling across the table at me!

That experience really made me think.  If I have trouble confronting someone in a safe, controlled environment, how will I be able to do it in real life?

I wonder if the prophet Nathan hesitated before going to confront King David about his sin.  He must have felt some trepidation – God had told him to reproach the king of Israel for committing adultery and murder!  But I admire Nathan’s wisdom in his approach, and his boldness to speak the truth.  His heart-wrenching story of a poor family’s pet lamb that was slaughtered by their rich neighbor for a feast touched David’s shepherd heart.  “The man who did this must die!” the king cried in anger.  Can you imagine David’s conviction when Nathan replied, “YOU are the man!” (II Samuel 12:5&7, NIV, emphasis mine).

Is there someone in your life that you need to confront?  Forgive anything you need to forgive, release the person and the results to God, and then ask Him to give you wisdom and boldness in addressing the issue. Like the prophet Nathan with King David, the Lord may use you to help that person see his or her sin, come to a place of repentance, and have a restored relationship with the Father!

Going Vertical!

MJ

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The first real live shepherd I ever met was not at all what I expected.  No long flowing robes.  No gnarled wooden staff.  No full white beard.  This shepherd, or “shepherdess,” was dressed in blue jeans and a button-up shirt, long hair pulled up in ponytail – a girl in her early twenties with a university degree in animal husbandry.  We met the day before my friend’s wedding in the quaint little village of Winkleigh, in southern England.

“Want to see my sheep?” the girl asked eagerly.  Before I could answer, she opened her wallet and out tumbled eight or so photos of the newest additions to the flock.  “This is Molly – just 5 months old, and so sweet!” she pointed out proudly.  “And this one is Jack – he’s a rascal!  He’s always getting into mischief.”

This girl was obviously not one of those modern sheep-herders with hundreds of animals that are only identified by the number in their ear-tags.  Though they all looked the same to me, each sheep in these photos was unique and precious to the shepherdess.  She knew each one by name and she cared for them as if they were her children.

Jesus is that kind of Shepherd.  He describes the intimate relationship between the Good Shepherd and His sheep in John 10:

            “The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.  The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice.  He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice” (John 10:2-4, NRSV).

Sometimes I doubt whether I can really hear the voice of the Shepherd.  I get confused when I listen to all the other voices around me – well-meaning friends giving advice, leaders sharing opinions, critical voices telling me what I’m doing wrong, or inner voices of guilt and condemnation.  I doubt my own ability to recognize my Shepherd’s voice.

But my Shepherd knows me.  And He does speak to me.  He says, “My sheep hear my voice.  I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).   How can I hear His voice?  By developing a relationship with Him – reading His Word and spending time talking with Him.  As His sheep, I CAN hear and recognize His voice.  I just need to be listening.

Going Vertical!

MJ

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TEMPER TANTRUMS AT 20,000 FEET

The tiny occupant of seat 14D is throwing an all-out tantrum.  Before the plane even started taxiing down the runway, the toddler began wailing at an ear-piercing pitch.  This is not an “I’m hungry” cry, or an “I’m in pain” cry.  It’s an “I’m angry and I’m going to scream until I get what I want” kind of cry.  I have a feeling it’s going to be a long flight.

Briefly I contemplate what would happen if I decided to throw a tantrum in seat 22B.  What if I suddenly started shrieking at the top of my lungs, kicking my feet, and pounding my fists on the seat in front of me?  I can imagine they would call security and have me hustled off the plane in no time.  But I have other ways of expressing my anger.

Two weeks ago I was speaking about anger at a meeting.  Demonstrating on a large paper thermometer, I explained that anger is not just explosive rage – the top of the scale, but it can also be minor irritations and frustrations – what we consider the bottom of the scale.

“When was the last time YOU got angry?” one of the Bible school staff asked me during our discussion time in small groups.

“Well…” I hesitated.

“It was today, wasn’t it?” she prodded.  “I could see it in your face.  Right after lunch I saw you in the office and you looked so angry about something that I was afraid to talk to you!”

I was shocked.  “It was that obvious?”  A student had made a comment at lunch that I thought was disrespectful, but rather than say something about it, I just stewed inwardly.  I allowed the irritation to grow into bitterness as I mulled over it – “How could she say that?  How rude!”

The building anger was evident in my facial expression, in my tone of voice as I talked with co-workers, in my impatience at our staff meeting.  Though I wasn’t screaming and yelling, I was throwing my own inner tantrum, not much different from that toddler on the plane.  It was a result of wanting my own way, wanting the student to apologize and confess her disrespect.

So when my co-worker confronted me about it, I realized I needed to forgive the student for her insensitive comment.  I asked God to remove the seed of anger and the desire to have my own way.  And I prayed that He would show me if I should speak with the student directly about it or just let it go.   As I released all the emotions and desires to God, I was filled with His peace.  He is the judge, not me.  I choose to submit to His will.  Throwing a tantrum doesn’t accomplish anything!

“Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.”  (Ephesians 4:26-27)

Going Vertical!
MJ

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AMY’S STORY

The evening was not going as planned.  The idea had been to prayer walk in small groups around the Colorado Springs city park, talking with people along the way.  But somehow Amy had gotten separated from her group.  Not wanting to wander too far, she paced up and down in front of the park entrance, wondering what to do next.

After a while, an older gentleman approached slowly on a bicycle, dismounted, and leaned against it, appearing to be waiting for someone.  Looking for a way to begin a conversation, Amy noticed a large tattoo on his arm and commented, “Nice tat.”

“Thanks!” replied the man, “I love the Denver Broncos.”  Amy was confused for a minute until she noticed his baseball cap of the Broncos football team – he must have thought she was commenting on his hat.

“Yeah, the Broncos are great,”  Amy responded. “A few of them came to visit me while I was in the hospital in Denver.”

“Really?  No kidding!”  The gentleman was obviously impressed.  “What were you in there for?”

Amy began to recount her story of a scared thirteen-year-old facing a life-threatening cancerous brain tumor.  An emergency eight-hour operation miraculously removed the tumor, just millimeters away from her spine.  If the doctors hadn’t discovered it in time, Amy could have been paralyzed or killed.

But there was another kind of cancer that had been eating away at Amy’s joy and peace – a cancer of rebellion, bitterness, and wanting her own way.  As she began the long recovery process after the operation – re-learning to speak and to walk, enduring countless shots, and swallowing dose after dose of foul-tasting medicine, she repented of her rebellion and turned back to Jesus, allowing Him to give her a fresh start for her heart!  Here’s the rest of the story in Amy’s own words:

“I firmly believe God allowed this so I would recognize His Hand on my life, and to draw me back to Himself.  I can’t tell you the times I’ve been able to share with people what Jesus Christ has done in me; how He healed me after doctors gave me very little hope.  His Touch on my life has opened a door that otherwise could not have been opened.  When I have felt ‘down’ He reminds me that He’s got a Plan (notice the capital P!), and I can completely trust that my future is in His Hands!”

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

Going Vertical!
MJ

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AN ABUNDANT LIFE IN CHRIST

“Are you really alive, or are you already dead?”  The question hung in the room as the German university students at the Christian fellowship group pondered how to answer.

“I think many young people in Germany are walking around dead,” one girl ventured.  “They have no life.  Their bodies may be alive, but their souls are dead.”

Others began to share more of the problems among German youth: depression, suicide, broken families, inability to communicate, and the lack of real relationships. “We have hundreds of facebook friends,” one guy noted, “but hardly any real friends.  We don’t know how to connect with people.  We don’t have real life.”

“My cousin used to work in Washington, D.C.” I told the group when there was a lull in the discussion.  “She rode the train into the city every day.  Her fellow commuters were usually engrossed in their morning paper or to-go coffee or the music on their iPods.  Hardly anyone smiled or laughed or greeted anyone else.  They all looked so dead.”  The German students nodded in understanding.

“So my cousin started playing a game during the morning commutes,” I continued.  “She would look at the faces of everyone who got on and off the train and try to guess if any of them were followers of Jesus.”

“Then she started to think: If people look at ME, can they tell that I’m a Christian?  Can they see Jesus in me?”  The room was completely quiet now, and several of the students leaned in closer, listening intently.

“I often think about that story and ask myself the same questions.  When people look at me, what do they see?  Do they see that Jesus is alive and working in me?”  As we concluded the group discussion, I had the opportunity to share one-on-one with some of the students about how to begin processing the issues of their hearts in order to have abundant life in Christ.

How about you?  Are you walking around dead because of unresolved grief, pain, or loss from your past?  Has your soul shriveled up inside as a result of broken or abusive relationships?

Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10, NAS).  Allow Him to sweep out all the cobwebs in the dark corners of your heart, and shine the light of His truth in every room.  You can have an abundant life, a life of overflowing joy and peace!

Going vertical!

MJ

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