Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Power of Other-Orientation

     I love to watch God heal: bodies, hearts, emotions, spirits, and perhaps especially, relationships. And I am not alone in my joy in seeing relationships healed. In writing his joy-filled letter to the network of house churches we know as "the Church at Philippi," the Apostle Paul says, "Make my joy complete by being in completely healthy relationship with one another." (Philippians 2:1-4 summarized and paraphrased.). 
     In encouraging the Philippian saints to complete his joy, Paul gives a powerful other-oriented prescription as to how these healthy relationships are achieved. All that follows "make my joy complete" is one big string of supporting participles describing how they can fulfill his joy: "being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose, doing nothing from selfish ambition or empty conceit, humbly considering others as more important than yourselves, not looking out only for one's own interests but also the interests of others." (Tom's translation). And if there's one phrase that, in my opinion, describes all of these, it's "other-orientation."
     There is tremendous healing power in other-orientation, even beyond the obvious realm of relationships. I have noticed many times over the years the power of turning someone from the self-focus that often accompanies great pain to at least a little focus beyond him/herself. Even small movements towards others can bring, if not total healing (physical, emotional, relational), a noticeable reduction in pain and an open door to more healing. Indeed, I cannot recount the number of times I saw breakthrough for someone who decided to turn away from self to serve others in some small way or the number of marriages that started the healing process when at least one partner made a decision to consider his/her spouse "as more important than him/herself."
     Sometimes this truth is quite obvious: allowing God to remove bitterness and its connection to physical healing is well known. And the shift towards serving the other, forgiving the other is also clearly a key to healing relationships. But is it possible? Absolutely! Consider the following.
     First, before Paul gives the admonition about fulfilling his joy, he reminds his hearers of what we all have been given through Jesus Christ. Verse one literally reads, "Since you have encouragement from being united with Christ, since you have comfort from His love, since you have tenderness and compassion from Him..." (Tom's paraphrase). Paul's appeal is given to those who were, through their relationship with Jesus, experiencing an ongoing flood of encouragement, comfort, tenderness and compassion. It is in light of their corporate and individual experience of the wonder of all this that Paul says, "make my joy complete by ...." So we are not asked to make a choice to consider others better than ourselves, to become other-oriented, in a vacuum. Rather it's in the infinite context of and continuing experience of God's love and power and all that means (the healing of our own wounds and changing of our "wounded" thinking) that God says to us, "Turn from self to the other"! 
      Second, Paul doesn't suggest that in considering another better than self we are to accept that as reality: that they really are better than we are, more important than we are. That's where far too many people live already: feeling inferior to others, and it's totally wrong and counter-productive in terms of becoming other-oriented. Neither does Paul suggest that we "pretend" in some way that the other person is more important. No, what Paul encourages us to do is to make a conscious decision to make the other person: their heart, their interests, etc., more important than our own. It's a solid decision, made in the heart, that reveals itself in how we think and act.   
·           Third, Paul elaborates on what "considering others better than ourselves" looks like in verse 4: "looking not only to your interests but to the interests of others." Wow, I wonder what it would look like if our American culture, our church culture, really put this one into practice in a conscious and continuing way. What healing, what relational wholeness would follow, eh? 
     Finally, Paul points to Jesus (who lives in each of us by His Spirit) as our example for the power of other-orientation in verses 5-11. I don't have time today to fully elaborate on this remarkable passage, but please notice the following: God's Son made a conscious and settled decision to lay aside the "God part" of Himself to serve us, but He did this in the context of His knowledge of and trust in His Father and His Father's love for Him. It is, I think, the context of Father's love and the very deliberate decision to lay self aside that grew out of it that we need most to understand if we are to release in our own lives the power of other-orientation. Just a thought.

Living loved in order to live increasingly other-oriented.

Tom, one of Abba's dearly loved little children

Sunday, June 16, 2013

My Dad

     My dad is now 88 years old and in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, and it's sad to see that disease slowly steal away a great man. But the legacy of who he is remains, of course, and it seemed fitting today to share with you portions of a letter I wrote to my dad a while back that lists some of the things my dad gave to my siblings and me. I have written about my dad a couple of times before--the entry from September 17, 2010 being somewhat similar to today's entry (you can see it by clicking here), but I have never really listed out some of the things for which I am truly grateful like I do in the letter below. 
     My dad was a captive, in a sense, of the times in which he lived. His generation, the "Greatest Generation," according to Tom Brokaw (see my blog on this by clicking here), lived through some of the most horrific seasons in modern history: the Great Depression and World War 2. Those experiences shaped my dad and others in his generation, and some of that "shaping" left them broken in ways that hurt their children. Thus I and others in my generation have our share of "father wounds." But the older I have gotten, the more I have come to realize the reasons why Dad is the way he is and, more importantly, the legacy he has given to me in spite of his own wounds. You will glimpse some of that legacy, I trust, in my letter to him.

Dear Dad,
I was going through my journal the other day and found my entries where we were all realizing that Mom’s time of departure was near at hand. One thing that struck me deeply after her funeral was discovering my letters to her in her Bible. I found myself wishing I had written more of them to her.
It’s strange how we sometimes fail  to tell those who are most precious to us how important they are to us, but I don’t want to make that mistake with you. And even though historically you have thought it a sign of weakness for people to need “an Attaboy!” I know that you really do need to hear encouragement from others just like all the rest of us. So I want to write a few thoughts telling you why I think you are a good man, a great man. You probably don’t know this, but one time when Mom confided in me about your relationship, she described you (more than once, I think) as “one man in a million.” That moment has always stayed with me, and as I have grown older I have come to realize why Mom said that, and why I believe she was right. Here are a few reasons.
First, you are a leader. From your stories about almost walking off the edge of the ship to the ones about how you started the business to a thousand other stories, it’s clear that God destined you to lead. You spent decades leading a company through good times and bad times, and you did so with a caring heart for your employees and a true commitment to ensuring that customers could count on Wymore’s doing things right. You led in other areas as well, serving on the board at church, serving as scoutmaster, taking the lead in caring for the Blue Angels during their training season down here, and many more. That leads me to the next point.
Second, you are a servant. If we didn’t know that before, watching you care for Mom during her final years proved that beyond any shadow of doubt. And you served in many, many other areas as well. Every time you drive by the First Christian Church building you see evidence of your servant’s heart. You and John, Claude and a few others took the lead in seeing that facility constructed and it stands today as a testimony to your servant-heartedness. And think of how many members of the Blue Angels got to experience not just good barbecue but good hunting and good friendship from you as you served them. I could write more, of course, but you get the picture, I think. You also served your country as part of the Greatest Generation—something I appreciate more and more each time I meet a WWII vet or read about the Great War. You also served us as best you knew how. Many of my friends never had a dad who taught them how to fish or hunt or work or fix cars, but I did. And I realize now that your taking me hunting or fishing or having me work for things instead of just giving them to me was your way of saying “I love you” to Rich, Marla and me. Thanks for serving and loving us, Dad.
Third, you are remarkably generous. I learned how to be generous and hospitable by watching you, Dad. And of all the things I am proud of you for, this one may be the one I mention the most often to others. I trace my deep commitment to generosity to my learning it from you. It seemed to me that every time I turned around I was watching you give to people—that marked me deeply, Dad, and I will always be grateful for your example in this!
Fourth, you put your very strong mind to good use. None of us can take credit for how God made us, of course, so the fact that some folks have strong minds is simply a gift from God. But we watched you put your mind to very good use, and you taught us to do the same, challenging us to think things out, use initiative, etc. You also modeled good reading habits, and I owe my love for history directly to you, I am sure. I saw you reading history so much that I caught the desire to read it myself.
Maybe this is enough for now, Dad, but I can think of many, many more things. Happy Father's Day, Dad! Thanks for being a good man, a Christian man, and a dad who loved me!

Thanking Papa for a good Daddy,

Tom, one of Abba's little boys

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Problem with "Christianese"

     I am surprised that I haven't posted this before. Today I want to write a few thoughts on the reason why we need to avoid using "Christianese" and then share a rather funny story about Christianese that I collected from the Internet years ago (and edited considerably.
     It is a natural tendency for groups of people to create language unique to their group, so the formation of the strange language known as Christianese and its various dialects (Baptist-ese, Pentecostal-ese, Fundamentalist-ese, Toronto Blessing-ese, House Church-ese, etc.) is not unexpected. But we who wish to connect with those Jesus loves would do well to cleanse ourselves of Christianese language as much as possible so that we remove the barriers that it creates. What barriers? I can think of three off the top of my head: 1) lack of clarity (illustrated humorously by the story below), 2) exclusion of others (people feel excluded when the "club members" talk in language only the club members understand), 3) hurtfulness (think what it feels like to a recovering alcoholic to hear the words "drunk" without further explanation! Think what it feels like to be excluded rather than invited in, etc.). I am sure there are more reasons, but maybe these will do. The point is that if we share our Father's heart for people, we will want to remove every obstacle that might hinder their hearing His invitation to transformation and relationship with Him.
     So to help make my point in what I trust is a humorous but forceful way, I offer today the following story about Ed, a Christian with a real "speech problem." Enjoy (and consider what Papa may be saying to you through it, please!)
 “Have you ever been saved?” a wide-eyed young fellow asked me this question as we walked toward the bus. He handed me a booklet with a picture of hell on the front. 
“Sure,” I responded. “Once when I was nine, I was swimming at Jones' beach on Long Island, and a strong undertow began to drag me out to sea. My uncle heard my call and ?..” 
“No, no, no,” he interrupted. “I mean redeemed. Have you ever been redeemed? You know, reborn? Washed in the blood?” 
“What,” I inquired, “in the world are you talking about?”
“Convicted,” I mean. “Have you ever felt convicted?” “Well, of course not. I've never been in trouble with the law.” 
He looked at me square in the eye and said, “I think you need to be delivered.” 
“Delivered? I was just waiting for the bus home. I think I'll stick to that, but thank you very much.” He looked at me as though I were speaking another language. 
“Can we have lunch together sometime?” he asked. “I work just down the street.” 
“Sure, that'd be fine.” He looked like a harmless fellow to me, but I must admit, he was unusual and quite difficult to understand. That Wednesday, I had lunch with Ed. He was a little late, but he explained he was having a quiet time. 
I said, “Quiet time? What does that mean?” 
“Well, each day before lunch, I get in my prayer closet.” 
I was puzzled. “You pray in a closet? At work?” 
“Oh, no, it's my car.” 
“You have a closet in your car?”
He changed the subject like the first day I met him. Again he left me confused. This Ed is quite a unique fellow, I thought. As we parted that day, Ed gave me a little book that explained how someone could come into relationship with God through Jesus Christ. I read it and understood it well enough to know that this was exactly what I needed. So that night I submitted my life to Jesus, was "born again" like it stated in the booklet. Two days later, I told Ed. 
He was overjoyed. The following week we got together again, and he strongly urged me to find a good body. Now I was surprised at this suggestion, but it sounded good to me! So I took his advice and began to comb the local health clubs for an attractive body. When I met Denise, I knew she was just the one. We began to date and soon, she became a follower of Jesus as well. 
Ed rejoiced and told us it was crucial that we "get planted" so that we could grow together. I said to Denise, “Sometimes this guy's hard to understand.” 
I told Ed I wasn't quite sure what he meant by planted. He responded, “Committed. You know, both of you need to be committed.” 
“Now wait a minute,” I protested, “just because I don't understand what planted means doesn't mean I'm nuts. Anyway, I think to trust in Jesus is probably the most sane thing I've ever done.” 
Well, it was obvious that Ed's patience was growing thin, and he explained, “Bob and Denise, you've got to get plugged in. Don't you understand?” 
Well, no, we didn't. I did wonder if getting plugged in had any connection with going out under the power, something that I'd heard Ed mention and hoped it would never happen to me. 
Regretfully, I had to miss worship the next Sunday out of town. But Ed and I had breakfast together later, and he filled me in on what had happened. He said, “Boy, God moved!” He said, “God really moved yesterday.” 
“Where did He go, Ed? I was just getting to know Him and now He's gone?” 
“No, no, Bob, God hasn't gone anywhere.” I was relieved. “It's just that so many people were stepping out and moving in the gifts.” 
“You mean people were leaving the meeting? And what's this about presents?” 
“No, no. It's the gifts. The gifts were really flowing,” he said. 
Changing the subject, he said, “Hey, Denise was there, and boy, was she on fire!”
“Fire? Denise got burned? What happened? Is she ok?” “
“No, Bob, you don't understand.” 
“And boy, that's an understatement,” I thought. 
He said, “Denise is just fine. It's just that I believe she's really called, and God really wants to use her.” 
Things were not getting any clearer, so I asked, “Did Denise mention she was getting too many phone calls or something? And what's this about God wanting to take advantage of her?” 
Ed sighed, “Can I walk in the light with you, Bob?” 
I said, “Well, yeah, where do you want to go. We can walk in the light. It's daytime, Ed.” 
He just shook his head. I don't know what it is. Sometimes it seems like Ed and I have a hard time communicating.
It's been 2 years since I was saved and delivered, plugged in, planted and committed to a good body. God has been moving, and I've been stepping out in the gifts. I can hardly believe how God's been using me. I do have one new problem, however. It seems that all my friends can't understand me any more. When I share about my redemption, and say that I've been washed as white as snow in the blood, and that I desire to follow the Lamb, they just tune me right out. I guess they're just convicted when they see me on fire.

Praying you get the point :-)

Tom, one of Abba's little children