|That Rarest of Luxuries
|Thursday, December 14, 2023
At the age of 99, Chuck Christensen is one of the best listeners you could ever meet. After every sentence you utter, he offers an affirming response.
When you talk, he makes unfailing eye contact. He nods in empathy, asks clarifying questions, and leans forward—as if to support you. He's the only human being I've ever met whose "Hmm…" feels like a comforting hand on your sagging shoulders.
Were your conversation recorded, stop-watched, and displayed as a pie chart, your half of that talk would invariably be larger than his. Always.
Like me, you’re probably guilty of “listening” while daydreaming, staring at the TV screen, or sneaking a peak at your phone or smartwatch. But could there be anything more Christ-like than giving someone the gift of listening—really listening to them?
This is the ultimate evidence of others-first living. It’s the lifestyle Philippians 2:4 calls us to: “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”
When it comes to Christmas, it’s easy to buy stuff.
But it’s costly to give time and attention.
This season, why not treat those you love to that rarest of luxuries—listening?
|Falling Down While Reaching Out
|Thursday, December 07, 2023
“How did your church’s outreach event go?” I asked my friend Jack.
“Went well—once it got started. The guy who rented us the equipment showed up 30 minutes late and took another 20 minutes to set up. So we had fifty people roaming the halls at church waiting for an event that started almost an hour late.”
“Not at all. I felt sick—like instead of hosting our guests, we’d given them a black eye.”
“Isn’t that a little harsh, Jack?”
“Maybe. But inside, I was seething—and I was blunt with the installation guy. Not over the top, but not exactly Jesus-like, either.”
“Ouch. I’ve been there.”
"Well, we talked further—the rental guy and me. He talked all about his business—how demand has been shrinking year after year. Yet, he worked hard. And honestly, he seemed to enjoy creating a happy experience for us.”
“How did it all end?” I had to know.
Jack admitted, “I…apologized to him for being gruff—and he was super nice about it. Still, I felt like a jerk. I was in charge of an outreach event designed to share Christ, but I sure didn't reach out to that installer guy at first! Ironic, eh?"
Have you ever been guilty of behaving like Jack (who gave me permission to share his story—warts and all)?
I think of my unkind conversations with arrogant tech support people. Or the un-Christlike ways I’ve conducted myself in traffic jams.
But for the Christian, there’s no on/off switch when it comes to outreach. We're to show Christ, preach Christ, and image Christ all day, every day. No room for tantrums of any sort.
Christmas is coming. And things are bound to go wrong at your church program or extended family dinner. Or whatever function you've invited non-believers to attend.
How can we sing Joy to the World and pray that our unsaved guests will have hearts that “prepare Him room”—when we’ve practically elbowed Jesus out of the room with our poor conduct?
|A Whole Lot of Nothin
|Thursday, November 30, 2023
The lights are on, but nobody’s home.
Okay, it’s not exactly a house—it’s a restaurant. Or at least it was.
A while back, a team with a dream took a long look at a cavernous bar with a concrete floor. In its place, they envisioned a killer French restaurant. It would be the crown jewel of eateries in Chicago’s River North community.
But the dream would take a significant investment. For about a year, I watched truckloads of contractors pouring in and out of the old bar. They cored through the cement, reworked the electricity, curved the drywall, hung new lights, and laid terrazzo floors. Talk about investment!
In January, the place finally opened led by a chef celebrated in Paris and New York. But you know what that restaurant is serving today? A whole lot of nothin’. It closed in just ten months.
Think of all the financial backers who bought into this idea. Instead of a return on their investment, they’re getting a whole lot of nothing. Not so much as a forkful of bœuf bourguignon or the flake of a croissant.
The lights were on in the begrudging gray of an early morning, so I peered in at the restaurant that wasn't. The beautiful booths are still there, but given the restaurant's ghost town status, the floors might as well be tumbleweeds as terrazzo. As I snapped a picture, a thought arrested me.
What about the people who have invested in you and me spiritually? What kind of a return are they getting? Did your parents help lead you to Christ? Perhaps a Sunday School teacher or Awana leader poured into your life. Or was it a pastor who counseled you and prayed for you? What are they getting for their investment?
They've spent time, energy, and money on you, dreaming that someday you might nurture others in Christ. Is your soul a banquet of life-giving nourishment for others? Or are you—like that defunct restaurant—serving a whole lot of nothing?
|A Discipline Called Thankfulness
|Thursday, November 23, 2023
If you are a little child visiting our home, you can expect a warm welcome and a horsey ride. We will gladly sit down and play your favorite game or laugh at your favorite joke. Truthfully, you can probably even expect a yes to your snack request.
As I often explain to friends, it's not that we never say no, it's just that we work real hard to say yes! But there are a few things we will not tolerate: children who refuse to say please and thank you.
We demand it. Insist on it. In our experience, unless you do, you end up with ungrateful brats. Sorry to be so blunt, but it’s true.
Thankfulness doesn’t just happen. It’s not like the flu—some get it, and some don’t. Honestly, thankfulness is a choice, a discipline.
No one becomes thankful by accident. It takes training. It's a commitment.
Thankfulness is not a mystical cloud that settles over us once enough good things come our way. It's a decision we make a hundred times a day, a learned skill that comes only with practice!
So, if you ask for a piece of pumpkin pie while seated at our table, your request had better come wrapped up in a "please." Otherwise, you'll be told, "I don't think I heard you." And when someone passes you the whipped cream, we'll wait to hear a thank you. Or remind you if you forget.
Why the tough-guy approach to thankfulness? Because it’s that important to God. He commands it no less than 44 times in Scripture.
Enough said, I hope. But since it’s Thanksgiving, could I please ask you to pass the pumpkin pie—and the whipped cream? Thank you!
|Before Billy Graham was Billy Graham
|Thursday, November 16, 2023
On November 21, 1948, a tall preacher with a North Carolina drawl stood in the pulpit at the Van Orin Gospel church. It’s a small chapel in a small town surrounded by other small Illinois towns like Green Oak, Kasbeer, and Zearing.
The preacher could never have known that just one year later, he would speak to 350,000 people in his Los Angeles crusade. If you visit the Van Orin Gospel church, as we did this week, you’ll see the plaque and pulpit that recall Billy Graham’s appearance. But they bring a question to mind.
Before Billy Graham was Billy Graham—world-famous evangelist—what was he like? Answer: humble enough to speak at a small church in a small town.
I think that's why God could and did use him. Though a fine preacher, I'm sure we've heard better. Though a compelling evangelist, God could have selected someone else. Yet God chose Dr. Graham over thousands of others. Of course, nothing in the Bible says that if we serve in small spaces, that leads to large places.
Faithfulness is the goal, not famousness.
Faithfulness, not bigness, is what God values.
Exactly 75 years ago this week, Billy Graham stood in that rural church in that unknown town and preached the gospel. Today, there are still small towns and small churches and small spaces looking for someone small enough to serve.
Are you small enough?
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