Tag Archives: relationship

Can a Christian Learn Something From a Survivalist?

Be a survivalist.

If you are a survivalist, some people will think you are amusing, and some will think you are a threat. There are enough people in our world who believe the world might end tomorrow that most people have spoken with at least one of them. Survivalists hoard certain things, and the motivation for their hoarding is the desire to be prepared to live and thrive when there is a disaster of such proportions that even the federal government is powerless to help. Survivalists don’t stop at collecting piles of food and bottled water. They also learn skills such as fire without matches and the proper way to make pemmican. They prepare this way, because they intend to survive whatever disasters befall them.

Christians can take a lesson from the survivalists. As long ago as the days of Jesus’s life in the flesh, he warned his followers to be prepared for the day that the followers of Christ would suffer. He foretold that the world would always hate people who followed him, and he foretold that there would be times of great danger. History is filled with evidence of the truth of his warnings. In fact, the daily news is filled with evidence that such times are already upon Christians in many places, and the evidence is clear that Christians in the USA need to prepare for real danger.

Christians who see threats to faith increasing in frequency and intensity need to learn from the survivalists. Christians need to prepare to live through some experiences unprecedented in the USA. The language of law which protected people of all faiths for more than 200 years is being re-interpreted and redefined to mean that all religious speech and actions must be confined to religious spaces, and the principle behind “conscientious objection” is being dissolved in acerbic legal conflicts. If Christians are serious about being Christians, they will need to prepare for the coming disaster.

In what ways can Christians learn from survivalists?

First, Stash the one resource without which no Christian can survive for long.

When a young pastor went to China to learn how to help Christians there, he was surprised. They did not ask to be rescued from persecution; they asked for Bibles. They considered that rather than be rescued, they wanted to live powerful testimonies to people who desperately needed to know Jesus. Who needs Jesus more than someone who is trying to arrest, imprison, torture, and kill Christians? What prepares a Christian to tell about Jesus better than a Bible?”

Every Christian needs a Bible, and that Bible should be worn and tattered. Christians need to read their Bibles. They need to ask questions about what they read and seek the answers. They need to memorize texts from the Bible and be able to share specific information from the Bible with anyone who needs it. The Bible is, according to Jesus, as important to us as daily bread. Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Jesus, God himself, quoted God’s words (His words) and indicated that Scripture is the food we need most. We need it every day, just like meat and milk.

Christians also need to study commentaries and devotionals and other Bible helps if they have access to them; most people should have such access online if not in their own hands. Maps, dictionaries, and many other books can help Christians see the biblical texts more clearly, or may help them unravel complex ideas, rather like carving a turkey and eating it a slice at a time rather than trying to gobble down the whole thing at once. But Christians who do not have helps, have the best helper of all given to them freely as Christ promised – the Holy Spirit. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit “will guide you into all the truth(John 16:13).

The earliest Christians did not have the New Testament. They only had the Scriptures we now call the Old Testament. That is fine. When Jesus met the disciples walking to Emmaus after his resurrection, he talked with them and “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). The Holy Spirit taught the earliest Christians about Jesus as he is revealed in the Old Testament. After the New Testament became available, it provided much more material, but the Holy Spirit is able to use the Scriptures, all the Scriptures to nourish, sustain and inspire a believer.

Second, Pile up the promises of God.

Look at them often. Separate them and pick through them to remind yourself what God says. Make lists of them. Memorize them. Sort through them and count the repetitions. Know your inventory of the promises of God like the back of your hand. Write them down and look at them frequently. Say them to yourself when you go to bed at night and when you get up in the morning.

Third, Put all your hope in God.

It just makes sense, if you believe God’s promises. If God had promised nothing and delivered nothing over the thousands of years recorded in the Bible, then why would anybody hope in him? The Bible shares God’s promises, and the Bible demonstrates how he keeps them. You may come to understand that when God keeps his promises, the fulfillment may not look the way you imagined. God is not in the business of fulfilling your orders; he is in the business of fulfilling his plans. Therefore, you may need to exercise hope in the face of what looks like a failure. Abraham was told that all nations would be blessed through his descendants (Genesis 12:3), but at the time of God’s promise, Abraham had no children. Abraham tried to force God to fulfill his order, and Ishmael was born to Hagar, but that was not the promise God had made, and that was not the fulfillment of the promise. Abraham was 100 years old when God finally fulfilled the promise and Isaac was born. Abraham learned that if you hope in God, even the worst looking outcome can be the best possible outcome.

When Jesus died on the cross, all the disciples went home and locked the doors. It looked as if the worst possible outcome had befallen them. Jesus was dead. Gone. The great adventure was over. Kaput. Then on Sunday morning, they found the empty tomb. The worst possible outcome wasn’t the outcome at all. The real outcome was better than anything they had imagined.

Fourth, Start looking at things God’s way.

When you look at things with eyes full of hope in God, then you can see things God’s way. After Jesus had fed a lot of people with a little bit of food, he and the disciples left that place and kept traveling. One day Jesus asked the disciples what people were saying about him. Jesus might have been a circus sideshow. “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets” (Mark 8:28) The people were confused about Jesus, because they did not see things God’s way. They looked for a sideshow, and that is what they saw.

Then Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do you say I am?” (Mark 8:29a) The disciples had a chance to look at Jesus up close. They saw things the other people did not see. Peter answered, “You are the Christ” (Mark 8:29b). Peter was able to see things God’s way, and he saw the Messiah God had promised over and over in the Old Testament Scriptures. Of course, Peter would simply have said that the Messiah fulfilled “the Scriptures,” because those were the Scriptures he had. Everybody else had those Scriptures, too, but they did not recognize Jesus in those Scriptures.

Fifth, Build relationships.

Jesus knew how crucial it is for humans to have strong relationships. Human beings who are isolated from other humans too long become mentally ill. They are not strong in the face of pressure or pain. They are weak and needy. They want to be with people and be liked by people so much that they will do some terrible things in order to try to earn the fulfilling experience of human caring. People don’t even need to be truly separated to feel deeply needy. They simply need to be convinced that nobody likes them. That experience cuts off the fulfillment of friendship and sharing, and a needy person cannot face persecution and pain with strength.

The most important relationship is the relationship between a human being and God, and many people have survived horrific separation and agonizing torture nourished by the presence and power of God.  Still, people who have the option to live around family and/or friends are wise to build relationships with the people in their lives, even if those people are very different or even indifferent. Joseph, for example, was thrown into a prison where the only way out was at Pharaoh’s order, and Pharaoh did not know that Joseph existed. In that depressing state of affairs, the Bible says, “the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden” (39:21). Joseph’s relationship with God bore fruit when God made Joseph look good in the eyes of the prison warden. Joseph was able to build and nurture a relationship with the man who could make his life in prison miserable. That relationship sustained him for many dark years before Pharaoh found out about Joseph.

Sixth, Refuse to be a victim.

Bad things happen.  Joseph had been a victim several times over by the time his brothers showed up in Egypt looking for food. By that time, several good things had also happened to Joseph, and he was the second most powerful person in Egypt. If Joseph had wallowed in victimhood after his brothers beat him up and sold him to slave merchants, he would likely have died in the slave market before ever getting to Potiphar’s house or to jail or anywhere. He could have whined and cried so much along the road to Egypt that he might have been beaten to death before they got there. Joseph, however, did no such thing. He trusted God. He looked for the opportunities God put in his path. He built relationships with enemies. He had a real life. In fact, he had several great life stories to tell by the time ten shepherds arrived at the grain warehouse where Egypt was able to sell food when all other nations were starving.

Nevertheless, there are many, many people who would have told Joseph that those ten men owed him big time. They would have said that the passage of time had healed nothing, and that there was nothing short of extremely painful restitution and reparations that could possibly heal the breach. We see exactly such attitudes in real life every day. The Balkan Peninsula and the Arabian Nights are full of stories where the key element is skillfully crafted revenge. A recent popular novel, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, centered on one man’s sick, gruesome notion of revenge. The culture of the USA is currently in full-blown warfare over the righteousness of a hashtag, #blacklivesmatter, because some people who prefer victimhood to blessed relationships say that the words “all lives matter” are not fair to people who feel the need for revenge.

Joseph, however, had a different outlook. He had had twenty years to decide what he would do if he ever saw his brothers, those rats, again, and his decision was — forgiveness. Joseph chose not to be a victim. He chose not to be tied in knots over the past. He chose to look at the good God had done with the bad that his brothers had done. He might even have humbly recalled that he was no prize at the time, either. Joseph abandoned a cry for sympathy and safe space and comforting words and apologies and revenge and reparations. Joseph simply said, “do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you” (Genesis 45:5). Because Joseph trusted God when things looked hopeless, willingly viewed the world God’s way, and cared about his relationship with his brothers, Joseph was able to forgive. He pulled the poison injected into the family by his brothers’ dastardly deed. He made it possible for the family to heal.

When Christians today encounter hardships, feel danger, or endure persecution, they are experiencing exactly what Christ promised would come their way. If they gather up the things they will need ahead of time, and if they practice the skills they need ahead of time, then, like survivalists, they will be prepared when hard times come. How do you prepare for persecution? You might learn something from a survivalist.

 

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It’s Not Magic

There is a wonderful story in the book of Luke. Many people in today’s world could identify with a woman who spent all her money on doctors without getting well. Here is Luke’s record of that day:

As [Jesus] went, the crowds pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years; and though she had spent all she had on physicians, no one could cure her. She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his clothes, and immediately her hemorrhage stopped. Then Jesus asked, “Who touched me?” When all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds surround you and press in on you.” But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; for I noticed that power had gone out from me.” When the woman saw that she could not remain hidden, she came trembling; and falling down be3fore him, she declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. “He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace.”  Luke 8:42-48 NRSV

When I read this story this morning, I was struck by a question: why didn’t Jesus simply keep moving? He knew the woman was well. She knew she was well. Why did he insist on speaking with her?

Jesus did a lot of things that shocked the people of his day. He frequently spoke with women as if they had the same value as men, and that certainly shocked them. However, I don’t believe that he did any of those things for the sheer shock value. I don’t think he singled out this woman because of any social agenda.

I believe he forced this woman to come near and talk with him, because Jesus wanted her to understand that it was her relationship with him that healed her. Her faith touched him as my faith touches him today. It reached out and claimed what his presence promised.

Jesus knew people very well. He knew that she had received her healing the instant she touched the fringe of his clothing. He knew that when she told people what had happened, that detail would stand out, and many people would be tempted to wonder if they could produce a miracle, too, if they only had a little bit of the fringe from Jesus’ clothing. He wanted to prevent the woman and all the people who might ever hear her story from thinking that this was some magic trick that anybody could perform if only he had some of that fringe. Jesus didn’t want people fighting to get near enough to trim off pieces of his clothing. Jesus did not want people reacting to him the way people today react to the arrival of a rock star.

Jesus also knew that miracles like this have a way of stopping time in someone’s life. Since the story makes it clear that she had been sick for a long time, most of the people in the crowd probably knew about her illness. If she suddenly became well, and it was all due to touching Jesus’ fringe, she herself might become a junior celebrity, introduced as the woman who was magically cured by Jesus’ fringe. She could become like a forty-year-old man I once knew who had nothing to talk about except a speech contest he won his junior year in high school. Jesus came to make people’s lives rich and fulfilled, and he did not want her life to stop in that dusty street with her fingertip on his fringes.

Jesus wanted this woman, and everyone else, to know that her healing came through faith in God. Jesus was God in the flesh, not a passing stage show. This healing was a response to faith in God, the God she saw in Jesus. His response to her faith and her act of faith was relationship. Jesus wanted this miracle to be like the miracle of birth. When a baby is born, we all gather round and admire the baby. We are excited by this tiny little creature whose arrival is a new miracle of life. But if the baby never grows at all, it is a tragedy. The new world record for the smallest man in the world is a man who never grew any more after a few months. Jesus did not want this woman to be stunted that way.

Jesus was on his way to important business when a sick woman touched him in the middle of a crowd of people. Even to notice her was an interruption, but for Jesus, the relationship was more important than staying on schedule. He took the time to speak with her and to bless her and to nourish the faith that acted with both fear and determination. Jesus wanted to nourish that relationship. It is a lesson for us all.

The Ministry of Listening

On the night Jesus was betrayed by one of his closest friends, Jesus said that his followers would be identified in the culture at large by the love they showed to each other. We often think that we show love to one another by doing things for one another, and that idea is not wrong. Just today in my church, we blessed and prayed for a small group of people who are preparing to leave for El Salvador where they will help Habitat for Humanity build houses. We are accustomed in churches to use the word “ministry” for the types of activity that show our love for one another. We expect someone who performs a ministry to be actively doing something.

In today’s world, we expect people to be very active all the time, whether in ministry, or in other activities. I hear people apologize constantly for any failure to do something, by saying, “I was just so busy.” In other words, people have way too many activities on their to-do lists to do all the activities on the list. One of the casualties of all that busyness is listening. For example, I have a friend whom I seldom actually see or talk to. She is quite busy. She almost never answers the phone when I call. I leave voice mail. If I really want her attention, I send e-mail. She is more likely to answer her e-mail with a quick sentence or two than to call me back after hearing my voice mail. When we do see each other, it always takes a while to get through her recitation of her busy schedule before we can begin to talk about the things that make us interested in each other. This state of affairs is very common these days. A real conversation is about talking and listening, but way too much of our interaction with people is about saying, or texting, or tweeting, or e-mailing, what we have to say. Not nearly enough is about listening to others.

I am starting to understand in my old age that one of the kindest, most helpful things people can do for each other is to listen. Have you ever felt completely alone in a room full of people? It happens all the time. People with the gift of hosting are attuned to the signal that somebody in the room is isolated. They find that person, engage him or her in conversation, and introduce that person to someone by saying something like, “Ellen, have you met Jody? Just wait till you hear where she went on vacation this year.” Jody, who used to be isolated and lonely, now has a cue to speak up, a topic to talk about, and a listener primed to pay attention. Jody feels a lot better about things already.

In the book, No Future Without Forgiveness, the South African bishop Desmond Tutu describes the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as South Africa moved away from apartheid. He wrote that very often people said that the simple fact that the commission listened as they spoke was in itself healing. They needed to tell their stories, but they also needed attentive, respectful hearers. After the opportunity to speak the truth to someone who listened all the way to the end, they were ready to forgive the people who had done terrible things to them, or to those they loved. Simply speaking the truth to people who listened started the healing process.

It is easy to validate Bishop Tutu’s observations when you realize the value of counselors, psycho-therapists, and psychiatrists. These people provide the great service of listening to troubled people. Then they ask questions and listen again. Articles and books on the subject are full of examples of people who actually solved their own problems as they simply talked and talked and talked to someone who would listen.

It is a principle of relationship-building that people need to listen. If you want to have friends, you must be a friend, and one of the fastest ways to make a friend is to listen. As soon as you stop talking and give your full attention to the other person, that person starts to think better of you. If you are listening so attentively that you only speak to ask questions, you will endear yourself to the person speaking. It will be obvious that you are not scheming to figure out how to stop listening and start talking instead.

Good listeners don’t just sit quietly. They truly pay attention and try to get the whole story. Some of us tell our stories in a disjointed fashion, jumping forward and backward in time, making it hard for the listener to sort out the narrative. Good listeners ask questions, or even say things such as, “I think you said you went to your grandmother’s house before you went to work that day. Is that the way it was?” The dialogue in police stories on television often moves forward with the question, “And what happened next?” A good listener asks such questions and indicates to the speaker that there is plenty of time and plenty of attention for him to finish the story.

Good listeners actually look at the speaker, too. They aren’t checking the time or staring out the window. They make eye contact with the speaker, giving the non-verbal message that they value what the speaker is saying.

A good listener encourages the speaker by remaining silent when the speaker falls silent. Especially when a story is intensely personal, or when the story is about a very painful experience, the speaker may stop talking. He may be gathering his thoughts. He may be unable to speak due to emotion. He may not know how to put his real thoughts into words. A good listener won’t jump in to make comments or draw inappropriate conclusions before the story is ended. The speaker needs time, and good listeners make it seem that there is all the time in the world.

Jesus said that we should serve one another and love one another. One of the finest ways we can serve one another and show our love is to listen. We all go to God with our troubles and we expect that he will listen. If we want to be like him, we will learn how to serve family and friends by listening.