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Monday, August 30, 2010

August 30, 2010 Killer Communication

In today's language, “killer” can mean really good (killer idea! Yay!) or really bad (well, that kills that great idea). Good communication, however, isn’t just a great idea…it’s necessary in order to maintain relationships. No wonder the Bible has so much to…communicate…about communication. Here is just a small sample:

“Just say a simple, 'Yes, I will,' or 'No, I won't.' Anything beyond this is from the evil one”
(Matthew 5:37).

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:6).

“Instead, by speaking the truth in love, we will grow up completely and become one with the head, that is, one with the Messiah” (Ephesians 4:15).

“But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery
hell” (Matthew 5:22 ).

“But now you also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth” (Colossians 3:8).

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen”(Ephesians 4:29).

Poor communication can cause a myriad of difficulties. When poor communication, whether expressed through misunderstandings, arguments, sarcasm, deceitfulness, etc., leads to a complete break-down in communication – one or both parties will no longer communicate at ALL – you’ve got a real mess. How can a relationship possibly be mended under such circumstances?

Recently I attempted to communicate with a fellow believer face to face. Some things are just better talked about in person; it's difficult to convey your heart via email –tone of voice, a certain look in the eyes, body language – all of these are vital to getting a complete “read” of a situation. Instead of an appointment, however, messages were sent back and forth…more communication about the lack of communication which ultimately communicated a decision to end communication!

Although there was disappointment involved, there was also a “freeing up.” I’d done what I could do, what the Lord had led me to do, in terms of waiting, reaching out, praying, trying to keep lines open. It isn’t the only relationship in which this has happened – people have free wills. If they don’t want to talk, they don’t have to. Sometimes, as my son says, you just have to say, “Forget it” (or words to that effect). Back off. Let the Lord work without your “help.” It’s not all about you – he may be trying to do something in the other person’s heart that, for the time being anyway, a relationship with you hinders.

My granddaughter has stopped me short on more than one occasion by asking if I meant something, or if I’m just being sarcastic. Sarcasm has its place – there are instances in the Bible when God himself is sarcastic – but it can also be hurtful, which is decidedly out of place.

Proverbs tells us that “life and death are in the power of the tongue” (18:21). Is what I’m saying bringing life to the hearer? Life to a conversation or relationship? Life to myself? If not, I need to remind myself that I am actually speaking death. How many children wouldn’t bear scars, how many marriages might be saved, how many friendships could be mended, how many political messes solved, if we would all speak life, rather than death. No more gossip or insults, no more put-downs or lies, no more ridicule or deception.

Philippians 4:8 is sort of the “end all” verse to godly thought, and since what comes out of our mouths starts in the brain, it certainly applies to our speech:
“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence or if
anything worthy of praise, let you mind dwell on these things.”

We don’t have to be great orators or writers to learn to communicate clearly and positively. We do have to want to. We do have to make it a priority. Sometimes we might be tempted to excuse poor communication skills with “well, that’s just who I am” or excuse others because that’s “just their personality.” We can be certain, however, that the biblical mandates for godly communication apply to everyon who looks to the Bible for instruction and guidance.

Someone has said that you can get along with anyone on the face of the earth if you’re humble enough. A little humility is often key to good “killer” communication. Without it, negativity is all too ready to take over….and kill the relationship altogether.

Permission to use with acknowledgement of source.

Monday, August 16, 2010

August 16 The Wow Factor

Years ago my mother told me about a tape she had heard describing the sharp intake of breath you experience when you see something extraordinary, specifically when you come into a room and see someone you love very much—whether spouse or child. The speaker said we all need that feeling in our lives.

And then there’s the sentiment you see on bumper stickers and t-shirts that showed up in the 2005 movie “Hitch” and on a George Strait album in 2009: It’s not the breaths you take that matter, it’s the moments that take your breath away.”

Let’s call it, for the sake of a catchy title (easier to express in print than a sharp intake of breath) the Wow Factor. You hear something along the same lines during American Idol or America’s Got Talent, although usually in the negative. “There just wasn’t any ‘wow factor,’” Simon might comment. Or maybe, “you did so well the last time, I was expecting you to bring ‘the wow factor’ tonight.”

The problem with people being the focus of our Wow Factors is that they, like competing singers or dancers or jugglers or magicians, eventually disappoint, eventually fail. We still love a handful of people, regardless—they are our family, our closest friends. There is an unconditional love that even the most hard-hearted among us may experience, at least in part.

Because the Bible tells us that “God is love” (1 John 4:7-8) I believe that our ability to love without selfishness or reward or even being loved in return, is a gift from God, a part of his nature passed on to us at Creation through Adam and Eve, who were made “in the image of God” (Genesis 5:1). That we find it so difficult to love results from the sin nature Adam passed down to us as well (Genesis 5:3).

God gave us the ability to love and commanded us to love him before anyone or anything else, with all our hearts, minds, souls, strength…but he disappoints us too. God’s purposes can not be thwarted (Job 42:1) but we don’t always like what those purposes entail. When we forget that he is God (not us) we begin to lose the Wow Factor we had initially.

Revelation 2:4 warns the church in Ephesus for abandoning their “first love” for God. Just as every human relationship requires vigilance, communication, protection, active participation, etc. our relationships with God do too. Without the pursuit of God, without seeking him and fellowship with him (not just his gifts and answers and miracles)…without taking steps in his direction, in other words…we find ourselves sliding further back from him, like one of those airport automatic sidewalks in reverse.

God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) expresses himself to us in different ways, but he promises to never leave us, which makes him a wonderful companion, worthy of our constant praise. Worthy of those sharp intakes of breath.

Wow. If you’ve lost it, pray about how to get back that “first love.”

Permission to reprint with acknowledgement of source.

Monday, August 2, 2010

August 2, 2010 Spa-rituality

“Spa” and “spirituality” may seem disconnected concepts. Spas exist for the body, the senses. We visit them (those who do, in varying degrees of frequency; for me, it is a historically rare event) for the sensual pleasures they afford, the improvement of the body’s appearance or feel. From soft New Age music in the background to fountains of water cheerfully dancing over carefully arranged rocks, from the aromatherapy of incense, candles, or perfumed lotions to that glorious feeling of tired and tense muscles suddenly and blissfully “letting go”…what is remotely spiritual about such things?

A few years ago my son gave me a Christmas present- a gift certificate for a spa in a nearby town that was so generous that I made several trips for different services before it was used up. I had a facial, a massage….then decided to try something I’d never heard of, some kind of a mud mixture body wrap that hardened and had to be peeled off.

I felt just like the ornery boy Eustace Clarence Scrubb must have felt in C.S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, when Aslan peeled away layers and layers of dragon skin (he had turned into a dragon after sleeping on a dragon’s pile of riches, dreaming covetously all night) to get to the penitent boy beneath. The sensation of having the mask stripped away felt wonderful, powerfully cleansing, like getting new skin.

Scripturally, we are to “put on the new self” (Colossians 3:10), “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14), “put on the full armor of God” (Ephesians 6:11). Before that, however, we must present ourselves as a living sacrifice and let the Holy Spirit take care of the old nature, the sin that clings and weighs us down (see Romans 12, Hebrews 12, and basically anything written by the apostle Paul).

Last week, I really splurged. Wednesday I had a Swedish massage with Samantha, the new masseuse at Bella East in Lillington (no charge for the promotion, ladies). Friday I took advantage of their July special on facials. As I lay back with the fountain burbling nearby, Kim expertly applying hot towels, creams, a mud mask, I thought about how unusual it was (for me) to pay so much attention to my head and face. Daily cleaning, sporadic damage control, and make-up is accomplished as quickly as possible…this was an entire hour devoted.

Which led me, head swathed in a hot towel, to think of Christ being the head of the Church, his Body. Our bodies do the work throughout our days, muscles straining, heart pumping, lungs exhaling and inhaling, feet walking, hands typing, but bodies can only function as they are connected to the head, to our brains which send out the appropriate signals and commands. Without the head, we are powerless and ineffectual.

Perhaps my mind went in that direction because of a funeral I’d attended a few days earlier, that of a woman about my age who had been in a vegetative state for eleven years. Although family visited, read to her, held her hands, there was never a response…a connection between brain and body had been forever lost.

Some people are uncomfortable with discussing the body, as if the fact that we can (and do, on a regular basis) use our bodies to sin makes the body itself a thing of shame and embarrassment. They forget that God pronounced its creation “very good” (Genesis 1:31) and chose to clothe himself within human flesh to restore our broken relationship to him, in the person of Jesus Christ.

The Bible, far from any agreement to that line of thought, is full of references to the physical nature of all that God created “good”. The Word tells us that our prayers rise to heaven as incense. The Revelation portrait of Jesus says his voice is like the “sound of many waters.” As the old song goes, the Lord “poured in the oil and the wine, the kind that restoreth my soul…he found me bleeding and dying on the Jericho road, and he poured in the oil and the wine.” Sensual pictures, all, appealing to the God-ordained abilities to touch, taste, smell, hear.

When God creates and blesses physicality and sensuality…it is spiritual. And he can use anything and everything around us…even a mud mask…to remind us of his love and truth.
Permission to use with acknowledgement of source.