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The Gift of the Best Question

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I’m not sure how you feel about questions. When I sat in classrooms, I felt anxiety about being asked a question. I tended to fear I would not know the right answer or say something that sounded foolish. I tried to be small enough in my seat so the teacher might not see me and ask. Of course, that was not very successful.

 

Later, as a teacher, I got a great view of what I must have looked like to my teachers, as I would see similar behaviors in certain students. I understood their feelings of uncertainty, their lack of confidence, and their insecurity.

 

I began to look for ways to ask questions of my students that would be a “win” for them, to encourage them and build up their confidence. I looked for ways to respond to their answers so that even if they were not correct, they would still feel valued.

 

As a professional counselor, developing my understanding of how to ask questions that would encourage the person sitting in my office to share with me moved to another level. I wasn’t asking questions as simply a formality, but to begin to really discover who the person truly was so I could glimpse the gifts, skills, and abilities within them to serve as a foundation to bring them hope in the midst of their situation.

 

Over the course of my life, I have come to see the gift the best question can be for others as well as for me. You see, the best question allows me to know you.

 

I have also discovered it is an ability or gift or skill that many do not have.

 

The best question is one which opens the heart of the person I have asked it of or it opens mine if I was the one asked.

 

Why is that significant?

 

It is foundational to a healthy, growing, vibrant relationship that goes beyond the surface and provides me with someone who provokes me to consider what I am thinking and feeling, how I came to those conclusions, and how they line up with what I know about myself or know from the Word.

 

A question that opens my heart gives me the possibility and gift of being known.

 

Consequently, any person who asks such a question deposits a gift into my life that I value highly. To be known is risky, but without the risk I have no hope of discovering I can be loved and accepted just as I am at that moment.

 

I admit to having developed some biases where questions are concerned. I am not a fan of some of the most common ones:

  • How are you?
  • What’s up?
  • How have you been?

 

These questions are often asked as I bump into someone I haven’t seen for a while and even if the person is sincere, it doesn’t register that with me. Often we are in a store, standing in line for coffee, or in the lobby at church when such questions are asked. I am keenly aware of feeling I cannot really respond to the question because there is neither time nor an environment that allows for a conversation of any depth. I think that happens to most of us. Perhaps that is why the common answer we give is, “I’m fine” even if we are not.

 

We have relationships at many levels, but what I most value are a few deeper relationships where someone has sought and desired to know my heart. Those are the gifts that develop intimate connection.

 

No one asks better questions than Jesus.

 

There is not a thing about his questions that are superficial.

 

Each question is asked with purpose. Page after page of the gospels give us one example after another. Here are just a few:

  • Do you want to be well?
  • Who is it you’re looking for?
  • What do you think?
  • What do you want me to do for you?
  • Why are you so afraid?
  • Why did you doubt?
  • Why are you bothering this woman?

 

He seems to ask questions that should be obvious and yet have a power that unlocks the person’s heart, pulls them out of their hopelessness, lifts the cloud from their eyes, and puts them in touch with their heart and the desire that has died.

 

His questions break through the hard shell we have developed from too much disappointment, too much hopelessness, and too much pain.

 

His questions expose the truth that when our hope was deferred we not only became sick, but also desire died within us.

 

Jesus comes into our lives by awakening a desire for Him, a desire for what we lost in Eden or in the laws we tried to keep to find Him.

 

Those questions that awaken desire bring us fully alive spiritually. They shake us out of our lifeless routines, our religion of duties and obligations. They give us the gift by being the best questions.

 

 

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No Catch…Really!

 

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Ads bombard us from every direction and never more so than the weeks between now and the end of the year for all the Christmas shopping every merchant is counting that we will do. It can be more than a little tempting and I can yield at times as well, but I try to only do so when the item is something I would usually buy from a merchant where I always shop. (I actually did that today when a shirt I know one grandson loves was on sale and then had a markdown on top of that for one day only. It brought the item to half price.) Other ads that look fun from sources I have not known before or items that are new to me don’t usually pull me in. I have already been known to make those mistakes before.

 

You don’t need to be very old before you start to notice there is a catch in that promise far more often than we might wish or suspect. There is always the fine print that most of us can’t or don’t take time to read that tells us a little about that if we can decipher it.

 

It’s little wonder we can feel challenges about grace and whether it really is what we hear it is or read that it is. The gift of grace is so scandalous, so costly, that we can more easily believe what Philip Yancey calls “ungrace” then grace.

 

The promise of grace seems too good to be true.

 

Phillip Yancey describes it this way:

 

“We are accustomed to finding a catch in every promise, but Jesus’ stories of extravagant grace include no catch, no loopholes disqualifying us from God’s love. Each has at its core an ending too good to be true – or so good that it must be true.”

 

advertising-business-close-up-commerce-259092As I prepare to attend a workshop on the book of Exodus, I am reminded again that God is the ultimate promise keeper and He proves it over and over again from Genesis to Revelation. No, we haven’t seen all that He says will happen because some of those things are still in the future but reading carefully from cover to cover will show his utter consistency.

 

Consider the promise God gave Abraham, a covenant, that from him and Sarah would come a people as numerous as the stars, a good land, and future kings. He even tells him how they will temporarily live in a foreign land where they will be afflicted for 400 years before bringing judgment on their oppressors so they will be released to inherit from Him a Promised Land. (Gensis15)

 

The promise/covenant is sealed with a sacrifice and a meal and then just as He said, Moses is spared and called to be the one God uses to accomplish this very thing. And God affirms his covenant promises again on Mount Sinai with an outline of the provisions. The people ratify it and again there is a sacrifice, a blood sacrifice, and a meal. And then God keeps making good on his promises.

 

Once Israel is established and wants an earthly king like all the other nations around them, David replaces Saul on the throne, but a bigger promise is fulfilled when Jesus is born so many generations later that many will question if He is the one.

 

c-m-heart-embossed-on-three-208154Because our timetable is so limited in scope, we can be tempted to doubt or question whether the promises yet to be fulfilled will actually happen. That is understandable perhaps, but to do so is unwise since all the other promises have been accomplished just as He said.

 

So, at its core we wrangle with the promises and the Promise Keeper and the grace He offers to those who will believe.

 

Is it possible that one of our challenges is that grace is so personal?

 

Henri Nouwen puts it this way:

 

“God rejoices. Not because the problems of the world have been solved, not because all human pain and suffering have come to an end, not because thousands of people have been converted and are now praising him for his goodness. No, God rejoices because one of his children who was lost is found.”

 

And grace comes to us again and again once we believe in Him. He knows we will still keep messing up. Our performance will never be good enough. We need his perfect sacrifice.

 

A letter once written by Mutua Mahiaini, leader of The Navigators constituency in Kenya, Africa, and quoted in Jerry Bridges’ great book, The Discipline of Grace, says:

 

“Any moment when we bask in God’s mercy and grace is our highest moment, higher than when we feel snug in our decent performance and cannot think of anything we need to confess.”

 

What’s the catch?

 

We must believe to receive this gift, but once we do there is no catch.

 

Grace is that great a gift and his love is everlasting.

 

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Lessons in the Desert

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Most of us have faced one time in our lives (if not more) what we might call a “desert experience”. Such a time is easily remembered as a benchmark of sorts where we were stretched and challenged, a time where we struggled to hope. Some of you may be there now.

 

The dictionary describes a desert as “a dry, barren area of land, especially one covered with sand, that is characteristically desolate, waterless, and without vegetation”. Some of us might refer to the time as a “wilderness experience”.

 

I don’t think we arrive there as a destination of choice. But our lives shift, our circumstances change, our moorings let go, and whether spiritually, relationally, occupationally, or physically, we find ourselves there. We feel disoriented.

 

Being in this place seems to cause us to lose our bearings, at least for a time. Everything about the landscape is unfamiliar to us. We scan the horizon looking for which way to go, but the path is unclear and no landmarks point the way. Because we didn’t plan to be there, we often arrive unprepared and lacking in supplies.

 

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The challenge of the desert is the uncertainty of how far it goes and how long we will be there.

 

We feel utterly alone, abandoned by those we thought would be there with us and sometimes we sense the Lord has left us as well. The sun scorches us by day and when darkness descends, cold etches itself deep within our bones.

 

We are weakened by the extreme conditions in which we find ourselves. We experience hunger, but especially thirst until a certain dullness relieves the ache and we become almost numb. It is then when we find the enemy most seductive, formidable, and unrelenting in his assault upon our minds and hearts. His whispers cloud the truth of who we are and whose we are.

 

Jesus too had a desert experience. It was a time when Satan came to taunt, tempt, and test Him in every conceivable way. The desert environment weakened Him too. He was tempted to call God’s care for Him into question.

 

In referencing the enemy’s devices, Ken Gire notes in Moments with the Savior that the temptation was “not to make Jesus doubt himself but to depend on himself”. At a time Jesus most needed to depend on his Father, Satan tried to persuade Him to depend on himself, to doubt his Father.

 

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I think we can relate to that temptation as well.

 

We cry out for an answer, but the heavens appear silent so we are tempted to be unwilling to wait for an answer, a direction, and we launch out on our own. Any direction seems better to us than waiting here in the middle of nowhere with no one.

 

One day slides into another. We lose track of time. We have difficulty with focus. We are tempted to lie down and sleep, but also know that could be the end of us if we do not stay on the alert.

 

How we fare in the desert is impacted by a number of factors:

  • What was our condition before we arrived there? Had we been fed and nourished daily prior to this?
  • What skills and disciplines had we practiced routinely?
  • How well did we know the Lord’s voice? Had we spent regular time listening for Him, to Him, so we could distinguish it from other voices?

 

Each of these, if answered in the most positive way, will make our survival in the desert more likely.

 

Being equipped for the desert happens in the days, weeks, months, and years before we arrive there.

 

We must be armed with the truth. Jesus certainly demonstrated that to us. His knowledge of the Word was key when the enemy’s voice and devices were swirling around Him. He also knew his Father’s voice.

 

What was most crucial for Him in addition to this was whether or not He would be obedient to the Word, whether He would follow the path his Father directed.

 

As we all know, He would face the test again in Gethsemane and at the cross.

 

The issue of obedience is crucial for us as well and our response will be strengthened by our knowledge of His Word and His voice.

 


If we have knowledge of the truth and a clear sense of His voice through regular time with Him before we arrive in the desert, we will be more likely to trust Him, more likely to follow Him.

 

 We will also be strengthened, even as Jesus was, for the next desert experience.

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Living in a Saturday World

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Photo by Rob Blair

 

Few things show us how impatient we are like the times we are forced to wait. 

 

The waiting can be for anything – small or great, a short or long wait. And it would seem we have enough practice on ordinary days that we should get better at it than we usually do.

 

Think how many times a day you routinely might need to wait. You wait for the coffee to brew, for the toaster to pop up, for the microwave to go off, and more before you are even into the busiest part of your day. Then you wait on your kids to get up or your spouse to leave for work. Add to that the wait at a stop sign or traffic signal or someone to pick up the phone when you are on hold and it all starts to add up. These are little nuisances that most of us just expect and learn to roll with most of the time.

 

Traffic delays due to construction, bad weather, or accidents happen often as well and on days when they do, those little routine annoyances seem to be more frustrating for us. Waiting shadows us most days.

 

Waiting on results from doctor’s offices or regarding legal issues we may face are harder to endure. We are more likely to experience anxiety and stress waiting on these as well as the results from exams or job interviews.

 

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Photo by Rob Blair

In a world where much of the time is spent hurrying from one thing to another, we do not like to wait.

 

Even so, we live in a waiting world.

 

In listening to an address by John Ortberg, I was struck by how he spoke about how we live with waiting. He talked about living in a Saturday world as he reflected on the disciples after Jesus was crucified and buried. He noted that we see more than one example of 3rd Day stories as we read in the Bible.

 

What are 3rd Day stories? They are ones that follow a similar pattern:

 

  • Day 1 – Trouble of some kind
  • Day 2 – Silence and waiting (You don’t even know it’s a three-day story if it is happening to you!)
  • Day 3 – Deliverance

 

For the disciples on that Saturday Sabbath so long ago, heaven was silent.

 

Some of us have experienced times when heaven was silent when we wanted an answer.

 

What choice do we have when it is Saturday and we are waiting?

 

As John Ortberg reflected on C.S, Lewis’ book, Surprised by Joy, he noted we have three options for Saturday. We can despair of all hope or that an answer or relief or deliverance will ever come. We can operate in denial of our anguish or the promise of tomorrow and Saturday ending, or we can wait.

 

We live in a Saturday world.

 

Not only do we wait for so many of these things I mentioned, but we also wait for the return for us that Jesus promised when He appeared to the disciples after that long Saturday had ended and Sunday had come. We have a choice about how we wait for Him.

 

“Friday is behind us, but Sunday hasn’t come. We live in a sinful world. We get sick, lose people we love; we have trouble. We live in a Saturday world.

Is it possible  it is the miraculous day? If we can find Jesus in hell, in death…then we can find Him anywhere!”

John Ortberg

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Photo by Rob Blair

 

 

Our Framework Makes a Big Difference

 

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On Golden Pond

 

My husband and I went to see a newly released movie back in 1981-On Golden Pond—since we loved the two leading actors, Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn. We fell in love with the movie, the story, the music, and the actors. We were clearly not the only ones as the list of Academy and Golden Globe Awards was a long one for the film and the actors.

 

I would guess many of you (not all) have seen it. The story of Norman and Ethel played by Fonda and Hepburn details the experience of an older couple returning to their summer cabin together. Though married for quite some time, each of them views the cabin and the return through a different lens.

 

Katharine as Ethel is excited to hear the loons, uncover the furniture, and find berries in on-golden-pond-movie-cabin-photos-10the woods. Henry as Norman is fearful and preoccupied with dying. Their experiences prior to the opening scene that have affected their perspective are not fully revealed, but we get hints occasionally when their daughter and a grandson come to visit.

 

I remember so well how much we chuckled at certain scenes in the movie just as we found other scenes very endearing. Watching the relationship of this older married couple unfold included glimpses into their frustrations with each other as well as their deep love. The depth of their love shows through at numerous points including when Ethel fears Norman may have died when he falls and is not at first responsive and when she calls him her “knight in shining armor”.

 

When we first saw the movie we were in our thirties and we looked through those lenses and experiences. Those affected where we laughed in the movie as well as what we missed in certain places.

 

We have seen the movie a number of times since then and still love the score and the story, but our lens, our framework, is different now that we are older. Some scenes that show clearly they are “elderly” are not so funny to us now. We are older and though not as old as they are, we have walked with older friends of ours in just such a season. We know each day brings us closer to what Ethel and Norman were experiencing. We see with friends the anguish that poor health and death of a spouse is like so we see the movie differently, through a different framework.

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It can be very easy for our framework to affect what we see or don’t see in every aspect of life.

 

Have you considered how it also affects what you see when you read scripture? We likely do not even realize it when it is happening, but it is important to pay attention. If we don’t, our framework will inform or color the text and may well distort the author’s meaning and intent when it is the text that must inform our framework so the Lord can speak into our lives with the hope only He can offer.

 

I was freshly reminded of that when I first participated in a Simeon’s Trust workshop with my daughter in 2016. It was one of a number of important tools of “First Principles” that were taught and applied as we worked together in small groups.

 

As I have been reflecting on this point of how much our framework can affect our view of the text of scripture, I was reminded of On Golden Pond where the view of life is affected by their own unique framework. That framework wasn’t unusual for them and our own framework is not unusual for us, but it is important when I am reading scripture to be aware of it and that it can color or even distort what I am reading.

 

What are some of the things that can make up our framework when we are reading in God’s Word? The list can be quite long, but let me share a start for you to consider:

  • Your age or season of life
  • Your ethnicity and experiences related to that
  • Your vocation
  • Your denominational background
  • Your gender
  • Your socioeconomic status
  • Your sin patterns
  • Your Christian maturity
  • Your culture
  • Your personality
  • Your misconceptions

 

That beginning list gives you a sample of some of what influences your framework. Our framework can be helpful or it may hinder the truth of the passage we are reading. The key thing is to identify our framework and to try to approach the text with fresh eyes.

 

If we pray for the Holy Spirit to guide us and have Him illuminate our understanding of a passage, He will be faithful and help us see what we may very well miss.

 

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12 NIV

 

 “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17

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