Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Right Soil

The Parable of the Sower in Mark 4:1-20 is a familiar one.

A farmer goes out to scatter seed. There's four places the seed lands:

  • Path - where the birds eat it up right away
  • Rocky Places - where it springs up quickly but doesn't last when the sun comes because there is no root
  • Thorns - where it gets choked by the thorns growing around it before it can really take root and grow
  • Good Soil - where it takes root, grows, and produces a crop

Each of the soils represents a heart and how receptive it is to the Word of God.
In some hearts, it will be snatched away before it even try to grow.
In some hearts, it will begin to grow, but won't last when hard times come.
In some hearts, it will be choked out by the worries and anxieties of life.
In some hearts, it will take root and produce fruit in their lives.

I've always heard this parable spoken of in regards to salvation. It's a pretty clear application.

As I was reading it recently, I was struck by how this applies to more than just salvation. The same concepts continue to apply to our hearts after salvation as well.

We continually have a choice in how we'll respond to God's voice in our lives. When He speaks to us, our hope may be that those words will always take root in our lives and bear fruit, but that's not always the case. Those words can land on any one of these types of soil when we're believers as well.

Sometimes we've wandered away and given Satan access he shouldn't have and he uses this to grab the words before they have a chance to grow.

Sometimes we're not will to deal with the sin in areas of our lives and when the word speaks to those areas it grows quickly but doesn't last because there's no way for the roots to go deep.

Sometimes our focus shifts and we get so focused on the worries and anxieties of life that they choke out the words of truth God is speaking.

Sometimes our heart is receptive to what we're hearing and we respond in a way that brings what God desires those words to bring in our lives.

What kind of soil is your heart right now?

Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Danger of Using Labels to Put People in Boxes

We live in a society that gives us labels and defines us by them. Often those labels are true, but they are only a part of who we are. They only describe one aspect of us.

The labels can be helpful, but they become a problem when we use them to put people in a box and try to keep them there. Or when we only have a few boxes to put people in, and someone comes along who doesn't fit in our pre-determined boxes. That's when we can do great damage with the labels we use.

None of us can be completely understood or defined by only one label, because none of us are just one thing. We're a different selection of the labels we could use that only work when we look at the unique combination of them together - seeing how they all work together to make up who we are.

One of the labels I've often seen used in the church that can be harmful if used wrong is that of relationship status. I'm a part of an online community made up predominantly of Christian singles and this is something that comes up regularly. Many of us have had the experience of being unwelcome with those who are married, and in the process we've gotten lumped in with the college-aged in the church because that's where the other singles are - even though we're significantly older than them.

I fell incredibly blessed that this has only happened rarely in my church experience. But it's happened just enough that I know the pain is causes - both personally and from conversations that I've had with others who have experienced it. Leaving you feeling as if you don't belong anywhere because you don't fit with the pre-determined labels we've become comfortable with.

This is when our use of labels becomes harmful. Because it only looks at one part of who we are, instead of all of who we are. It just sees the label "single" and doesn't see the rest of the person for who they are.
So, how we avoid this danger? How do we avoid causing pain to others because of the labels we use?

Most importantly, we realize our need to be flexible with them. They may still be helpful sometimes, but we can't be so rigid with them that there's no room for adjustment. We need to take time to get to know more about people, so we're not putting them in a box based only on one aspect of them. This takes intentionality and work on our part. We have to actually invest in relationship with people.

We need to be willing to get to know people who look different than us from a first glance. What we see at first, may seem very different, but as we take the time to get to know them, we may discover that when we get past our surface-level labels, we have for more in common with them than we first thought.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

I Don't Need a Dessert Created for me Because I'm Single

I've started and stopped writing this post a hundred times in the last couple weeks. Deleted it all to write something new. Deleted the new to rewrite what I'd written before. I wasn't even sure I was going to post this for others to read.

Until I saw today on Facebook that Dairy Queen has created a blizzard for single people on Valentine's day.

I had to go back a few times to read it, because I wasn't sure I had read ti correctly the first time.

. . . a blizzard . . . 

. . . for singles . . .

. . . for Valentine's day???


But, as I read it, I realized they appear to be serious about this. And, even if this is some kind of a joke, the fact that they would go this far with it is just as ridiculous.

Can just put this out there?

This isn't what those of us who are single for Valentine's day are looking for. (At least not most of us.)

We don't need a dessert created for us.

We don't need to have businesses doing something different for us just because we're single on a day when relationships are front and center.

We don't need pity from those who feel our lives are less than on Valentine's day just because we're single.

We don't need our singleness emphasized on a day that can already be more difficult than others simply because there is a focus on love and relationships.

So, if that's what we don't need, you may be left wondering what we do need - not just on Valentine's day, but really every day. The truth I've discovered is that what we need isn't too much different than what most of need just as people, whether we're single or married. The nuances might look different for single people, but it all comes down to the same thing.

We need to be defined by something other than our singleness. Yes, we're single and that has a big impact on every aspect of our lives. But it's not all that we are. Just as those who are married are more than just someone's husband or wife, or those who are parents are a mom or a dad. My being single is just a part of who I am. Please don't define me only by that label.

We need to know we're not alone - that we belong somewhere. That we have family and friends around us who care, who love us, who encourage us, who listen, who will call us out when we need it, who will push us out of our complacency.

We need to be treated like normal when we go to restaurants by ourselves. Even if we forget it's Valentine's day and show up by ourselves - just treat us as you would any other customers. We need to know we're not going to be treated differently just because we show up alone. (And for some reason, outside of a quick middle of the work-day lunch this seems to be seen as strange by many.)

We need to talk about life with you like you always do with other people. Don't avoid talking about your spouse and kids with us. We feel more weird about our singleness if family is a subject you avoid, than if you just talk about your family as it is. For us, our family situation may look different, but we still want to talk about family - yours and ours.

We need you to understand that some days we'll handle being single better than others - especially if we still have a desire to be married one day. Some days, I'm okay with still being single. Some days, I'm not so okay with it. I don't need you to pity my situations, but sometimes I just need someone to hear me say I'm not as okay with it today, and not try to tell me why being single is better or give me advice about how to find someone.

I'm sure I could make a long list to go with this, but I think these are the important ones. And I think the truth is that most us, whether single or married, need:

-to be known for more than just one part of who we are

-to know we're not alone, that we belong somewhere

-to be treated like others in any situation we find ourselves in

-to have conversations about all of life with people, not have certain topics avoided

-to be listened to when things are hard without being told how to fix it all

It's really as simple as needing to be known by people and to know them. A need that God created us with.

But, please, whatever you do, don't create something that you advertise as being for single's on Valentine's day. That doesn't help anyone.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Reflecting His Image

"Every person bears God's image."

How many times have you heard this? And in what situations?

If you're like me, you've heard it most often related to the challenging people in our lives. It's the words we hear when we're finding a person in our lives difficult to love.

And it is true. Even though it's marred, we still reflect the image of God because we were made in His image at creation.

But, it's not exactly what we want to hear when we're in that situation. It's usually the last thing we want to hear, or are in a position to really hear.

But, even when it's hard to hear, and even more difficult to believe, that doesn't change the truth. And, in those situations, when we hold onto that truth, it can change the way we look at the other person, and the way we treat them.

Let's think about it for ourselves first. We know we've been made in the image of God. We also know that we sin and we don't always do a very good job of reflecting that image of God in us to the world around us. Our sin mars the image of God in it. We can't see it clearly and others can't see it clearly in us. But it's still there and there are still glimpses of it.

Going back to the people we find challenging in our lives - that same thing that's true about us is also true about that person. In some people it's far more difficult to see the image of God that was stamped onto all humanity at creation, than in others. But, it is there in all people.

And when it gets to someone who is close to us in relationship and we spend more time with, it can be even more difficult when they become the person around us who is hard to love. That's when it becomes really important that we remember the truth that all humanity was created in the image of God. We need to pay attention to the glimpses of it that we can still see.

Remembering that, holding onto it, looking for the glimpses of it - that changes the way we pray for that person, the way we interact with them. It doesn't mean we accept words and actions that cause harm to us or others we need to protect. But, it does mean that even when we need to remove ourselves from a person, we pray remembering that, however marred it has become by sin, this person has the image of God stamped on them.

It's not easy. I've been learning just how difficult this is, and how powerful it is to think and pray this way. To interact with a challenging person while keeping this in my mind. Honestly, it keeps me praying, even when things are difficult.

Do you have a person in your life who is hard to love? What would happen if you began looking for glimpses of the image of God stamped on them and allowed that to influence your prayers for them and interactions with them?