Loving Others Well

I wrote a letter to a friend in jail today. Never quite thought I’d write that sentence. But I did and it was probably a good and healthy thing for the both of us that I chose to do that with some of my free-time this afternoon.

I remember a time in my life where I wouldn’t have had the strength to do such a thing. To reach out to and love on the ostracized or to understand the world from the perspective of another, but that’s something I’ve yearned to change about myself. It’s easy to judge others from the outside, but it’s much more difficult if we actually get to know those around us. Having conversations with different people at work or church or in any social setting has a stretching affect on the heart. You’ll feel uncomfortable at first but before you know it, you’re caring about someone that you typically wouldn’t.

This gentlemen wasn’t my enemy – but did you know that we’re called to love even our enemies as Christians? That’s a hard pill for me to swallow. If you’re a Facebook Friend of mine you’ve seen me quoting Bob Goff’s “Everybody, Always” fairly frequently over the last month or two. What a phenomenal book about loving our stranger and enemy – if you haven’t read it yet, you should. Goff’s love for his enemies has led to witch-doctors sharing the Gospel to their fellow inmates in prison…with Goff in the audience…and he’s the one that put them there (as an attorney)!

You know what makes an ass out of you and me? When we ASS-u-me things…

All puns aside, we do a huge disservice to ourselves and to others when we assume we know the whole story about other people’s lives. Until you’ve given them a chance to share their perspective and journey and asked them about their heart, where they’ve been and where they’re going, you really have no insight into who they are.

Why do we do that? Judge people before we know the whole story. It’s one of the first things we try to train out of good salespeople. Never assume a customer’s situation…always discover what they want and need, then make a recommendation based on what you’ve learned.

We’ve all heard the stories of someone deciding to ask a young lady if they were pregnant, when really they’d just been enjoying the Fall Weather’s pumpkin-spiced lattes and coffee-cake like I have this afternoon. You don’t know people you haven’t actually had a conversation or shared a meal with.

The moral of the story is we cannot know where people are going if we are unaware of where they’ve come from. And even that won’t tell us the whole story.

If people judged you solely off of your past, would you enjoy seeing the trajectory that they displayed on a white-board for you? Probably not.

Keeping God’s Grace on the table, like a bowl of sugar with a big spoon in it can really help sweeten one’s vision for the future. There’s always hope in Christ. Recovery from addiction, reconciliation for relationships, development of a healthier individual with better habits and weekly rituals; these are all possibilities that we as Christians should be able to pray for, speak over, and believe for another person.

We should be reminding people of the grace and love we see in them. Pinning them with medals of excellence for who they’re becoming.

If God were writing you a letter right now, he wouldn’t tell you who you’ve been, he’d tell you who you are. But he’d have permission to do that because he knew us first.

Our words have power. Created in His image, our words can give life and take it. Do you breathe life into the sails of others ships? Or when you encounter others, do you shipwreck them with a powerful storm of assumptions? Do you encourage them with who they’re becoming or shame them with who they’ve been?

You’ll build strong, deep, faithful, loyal friendships if you take the time to love others well and choose to breathe life into their sails even if their ship isn’t sea-worthy today. You’ll be better off for it, as will they. We’ve all had bad hair-days after all (I just got a haircut that I don’t really love…a little too short for my liking). So it’s probably time we stop thinking we have our life more pulled together than anyone else.

Learning With You,

Justin

letters

Beginning, Middle, End.

My wife says I’m an introspective person. I think she’s right – I spend a lot of time looking into myself and wondering what’s there.

Introspection has its purposes. It’s good to know what you’re made of, where you’ve come from, and where you’d like to go. But at some point, you have to stop looking in the rear-view mirror and start living. The Justin of yesteryear is certainly not the Justin of today and even if he comes back and visits for a day or two every now and then, it’s not the end of the world. Living in a shame-pit of self-hate for poor decisions made just isn’t the right head-space to live your life out of.

My counselor and I have been working through some of this lately. At some point the motivation for life-change can no longer be the fear of doing something wrong or the shame of who you’ve been, but rather the desire to better oneself and become something even better. No one thinks Patrick Mahomes is crazy for wanting to win the Super Bowl this year – we all think that’s a great idea. Build on the success of last year to become better this year.

I think we all make things too complicated – or maybe it’s just me – but I’m betting I’m not the only one. We care too much about what others may think, or what church we go to (or associate ourselves with), or how many people liked our photo. We wonder if what we’re doing is really making a difference or if we are enough for our friends and families. Wasting away all of the energy we have worrying, rather than living. (Obviously, some of this can be related to mental-health as I’m working through in my own life. However, some of it is thought-patterns and neural pathways that have convinced us this is our truth.)

Most of my life I have lived with this idea that I needed to be something. The “goal” of becoming a published author or speaker or a ministry of my own one day. Or perhaps that I needed to be the very best salesman. Maybe I needed to own my own coffee-shop, built it into a successful empire of franchises and retire in the mountains somewhere.

But what if where I’m at is where I need to be? And what if the way we walk through the valley is more important than the mountain-top? I’m confident that one day I’ll “arrive” and discover what I’m made of, what God has called me to, and what I ought to build a legacy around. But the end of the story is only as good as the beginning and middle allow for it to be – there isn’t a climax without the build-up and thickening of the plot and some challenges along the way. Bill Gate’s success wouldn’t be as exciting without knowing Microsoft really started in someone’s garage before it exploded into Silicon Valley.

My favorite books to read are the ones written by storytellers. Bob Goff’s “Everybody Always: Becoming Love In A World Full Of Setbacks & Difficult People” is a follow-up to his incredibly popular “Love Does” and I find myself enthralled by the stories within. What makes Goff so unique is that he just loves people. They don’t have to love him back or do something right or text him back within 5 minutes of him texting them. When asked what church he goes to, his answer is “our church” – because when you’re becoming more like Jesus and loving people the way he did you don’t need all the labels, name-tags, and license-plate brackets and bumper-stickers. After all, people won’t remember that you wore matching t-shirts and participated in a Missions Trip for a week. But they will remember that you visited them in the hospital, wrote them in jail, paid for their coffee when they couldn’t afford it, and answered the phone when it was inconvenient at the time.

Love doesn’t sit on the bench or wait for the right play-call. Love jumps into action now without “praying about it” first.

I want to live more of my life in this way. I want to love people like I’m made of it. “Every time we go to church and point fingers at each other, we betray Jesus with another kiss. At “our” church, we go there to meet Him, not critique each other.”

“Talk behind each other’s backs constantly. Just talk about the right stuff. Talk about Jesus. Talk about grace. Talk about love and acceptance. People don’t grow where they are informed; they grow where they’re loved and accepted. Talk about who people are becoming and who you see them turning into.” (Bob Goff, Everybody Always)

My goal this week is to worry about the future less and be present more. Loving the person right in front of me is more important than worrying about how people will talk about me at my funeral in 80 years.

If all I’m ever living for is the future, then I’ll probably never get there.

But I bet if I live for today, tomorrow will probably still come. If it’s God’s will for me to get there, then I’m sure He’ll find a way. I don’t have to know the end of my story to keep writing the beginning and living, loving, and being in the middle…

beginning middle end

 

New Insight In A New Season

I decided recently – again – that I spend far too much time online. By far one of my favorite coping mechanisms is reaching for the smartphone and surfing Facebook to see what others are up to. It helps me feel connected without risking being vulnerable in real-life. Requesting prayer from an online platform is a lot different than speaking face-to-face or over the telephone line about your life’s hardships and opening yourself up to someone else’s feedback and perspective.

It’s easier to crop an image and choose a filter than to deal with people seeing the real, angsty, almost always sweaty this time of year, Justin. One of the guys that I’ve grown up with invited me over to his house for a Guy’s Night this weekend – the fire pit was ablaze, cigars were lit, beer cracked open (or sparkling water in my case that night), and a huge, life-sized Jenga set was played.

Jenga Set

All that fun happening and I found myself wanting to reach for my phone to take a picture so that others would know I’d had a good time that night. (Also, because the Jenga set was awesome and I wanted to remember it.) The point remains, it’s so much easier to be able to document life online than it is to actually live it.

I’ve been encountering a lot of weird, heavy, dark, tough emotions lately and my first reaction is to find some form of coping mechanism (social media apps on the phone, booze, entertainment, etc.). Due to this and some other life-experiences, I’ve placed myself on bit of a fast from social media being so easily accessible on my phone and from alcohol for the next few weeks at least.

Technology is a useful resource but one of the things I despise about Sales is being married to my cell-phone, and reducing the amount of time I spend on it and coping with my stress and emotions in other unhealthy ways at home, is something I’ve chosen to work on.

After all, it was interesting what happened when I resisted the urge and left my phone in my pocket the last few evenings. I connected with total strangers and got to know about their lives, what they do, and the varying ways I can be actively praying for them. And I returned home to my wife, refreshed and ready to re-engage her with a fresh set of relational batteries because I’d taken the time to pour out God’s love on others and receive it from them as well. And last night – sitting across from Allie at Red Lobster enjoying the ultimate trio of salmon, lobster, and shrimp (mmm, seafood!) – we found ourselves connecting on a conversational level like we did when we were first starting to date each other a few years ago.

I think it’s time that we, as a society, begin taking larger steps toward becoming less dependent on hiding behind text-messages and social-media and instead invested the time in face-to-face interactions with those we love, and perhaps, those we don’t currently, but could lead our hearts to love over time.

An interesting tidbit from Tim Keller’s “The Meaning Of Marriage” is that as he pastored a church in Virginia, he took on ministering to a rather difficult couple with lots of problems and no one really seemed to like them. Over the course of a few months, he spent some of his ministry time in their house, inviting them into his office for counseling, and so on. Well – one rare mid-week day off, his wife was asking what he’d like to do that day and he said, “I think I’d like to hang out with the couple we’ve been working with.” His wife was surprised until he realized what had happened. As he’d been faithful in loving them, even though they weren’t all that likeable, he’d actually come to enjoy spending time with them – to love them, as he loved himself. He now genuinely loved his neighbor because he had led his heart in the direction of God’s will.

I found that convicting as I considered the people in my life that I don’t really like all that much or the coworkers that I tend to…avoid. I may make a greater impact for the Kingdom if I were to focus less on who I love and don’t love, and simply chose to love others as myself, as the Lord has directed.

Oh, and another thing – the world seems to spin a little smoother the more we align ourselves with what God has in store for us. Like many of you, I’ve spent plenty of time trying to direct my own footsteps and find my own, individualistic, “unique” way in life. It takes a lot of energy attempting to control all of the people and circumstances in your life. It’s just kind of ironic, humorous, and perplexing to consider that the “freedom” we’ve all been searching for in our youth is actually found in surrendering ourselves to the will of the God of Jacob – the same God that’s been keeping the world spinning on its axis just fine, since long before you and I came into existence.

So – the lesson I’m presently learning in life is quite simple: Love God. Love Others. Less of me, more of Him, so that His Kingdom can come, right here, right now, and we don’t have to wait any longer for His peace to fill our homes and flood our hearts.