It’s Not My Call. . .

There are many things in life that fall into the category of “my call.” The clothes I wear today are a reflection of my own choice, preference, and fashion sense (or lack thereof). I have the power to decide if I like the song playing on the radio or not, based on nothing more than my own style and opinion. I can choose which car I will buy based on the cost, my needs, and simply what I like. Some things fall clearly under the realm of my own judgment.

But that realm is not without limitations – some matters are just not “my call.”

The death of Robin Williams this week brought a flood of remembrances, tributes, and expressions of sorrow to the social media world. Interspersed with the expressions of sympathy, however, were the Facebook, Twitter, and blog comments of professing Christians who felt the need to pronounce judgment. They easily – and callously – spoke of a human being’s death as rationally chosen and deserved, and treated a moment of heartbreaking loss for a family as an opportunity to proclaim their view of eternal condemnation. I certainly intend no malice toward those individuals and respect their right to voice opinion. But with that acknowledgement, I openly admit to them that their reaction troubles and saddens me.

We can debate endlessly the matter of illness versus choice, when a choice is rational or at what point a person is no longer mentally accountable. I do understand the questions and valid points on all sides. What troubles me is the ease with which we give simple answers to matters that are complex and painful, and our tendency to paint everything and everyone with the same broad brush of our opinion. We become so busy debating an “issue” that we completely lose any sense of awareness or compassion for the people – the real, living, and hurting people – who are affected.

I can’t help but wonder, as well, if those who are making simple, matter-of-fact judgments have ever personally experienced the debilitating power of depression. Do they know firsthand what it is to battle such an illness, or how hard it is to watch someone you love travel that road? Perhaps they have and are speaking out of their own experience. I have a suspicion, though, that many who jump into the conversation with adamant answers for everyone else have not dealt with the issue personally. If I have not walked through it myself, my conversation should be marked by humility and openness. Remember, answers are always easy to give when the problem is not mine. And, to paraphrase Henri Nouwen, we are misguided to think that a person can be led out of the desert by someone who has never been there.

As a follower of Christ, though, I find myself even more troubled by the feeling that in our statements of judgment and condemnation, we are making a call that is not ours to make. Now, before you jump on the heretic-accusing bandwagon, let me be clear about some things: I believe that salvation comes by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone and His atoning work; I believe that God honors our freedom, and even though He desires a relationship with all of us, we can reject His gift; and, I also believe in eternal destiny and the heartbreaking reality of hell.

Let me mention, however, that I also believe we will all appear before the judgment seat of Christ – not before the bar of someone’s Facebook post. As we declare in the Apostle’s Creed, it is Jesus who will come from heaven to judge the living and the dead. I don’t recall all those with a Twitter account being included in the process. Scripture and the witness of the Church make it pretty clear that matters of judgment and eternal destiny are His call – not ours.

I cannot truly know the mind of another person, the depth of their suffering, the level of their rationality, or their degree of responsibility. It is impossible for me to enter into the heart of another and know what happens there in the final moments. And as one who needs the grace of God and the redemption of a Savior myself, I certainly lack the position, authority, or ability to declare salvation or condemnation for another. I must leave these things to the One who does know the heart and mind, the One who is just and merciful, righteous and loving.

When faced with the painful and broken circumstances of our world, instead of making simple pronouncements about matters that are not really our call, perhaps the kingdom would be better served if we remembered what our call truly is. And I don’t mean our call in the sense of our judgment; I mean our call in the sense of our purpose. In the middle of all the mess, hurt, and brokenness or our world, what has God called us to be and do? We are called to be an expression of Jesus, a source of light in the darkness, a part of bringing about the kingdom of God. We are called to love unconditionally, serving those in need and caring for the hurting. We are called to love people into a relationship with Jesus, bringing them the eternal hope and peace that nothing in this world can take away.

I doubt that our statements of condemnation casually shot out though a computer screen help us fulfill the call we have. I find it unlikely that those who are grieving and confused will be drawn closer to Christ by words that deepen their hurt. The kingdom is not built when our desire to make a point is greater than our desire to love the lost.

Jesus made it clear that His purpose was to save the world, not condemn it. He came as one heartbroken over the lost and broken, willing to give Himself completely to redeem them. He revealed Himself as one who did not break the bruised reed or snuff out the smoldering wick, but one who brought healing and deliverance. This is the Jesus we represent, and His purpose is our purpose. Giving attention to the call that we do have will accomplish far more than making calls that aren’t ours to make.



5 Reasons We Need to Listen to Our Critics

Life would be much simpler if everyone agreed with me all the time. If everyone just believed what I believe, saw issues the same way I do, affirmed my assumptions, and always supported my actions, the world would be a better place. So I want to think.

Most of us probably tend to feel that way, even if we don’t say it out loud. We demonstrate it in the way that we listen – or more precisely – fail to listen. We surround ourselves with those who think like we do, and those who have a different viewpoint are ignored as simply being misguided, uninformed, or just stubborn. We read the books and listen to the preachers who tell us what we want to hear and affirm our preconceived ideas. Those who challenge our assumptions are written off as heretics. We listen to those who support what we intend to do anyway, while those who might criticize or raise a question about our actions are labeled as mean-spirited enemies and summarily dismissed.

Are there misguided and uninformed people in the world? Sure. Does the world have its share of loose cannons and heretics? Absolutely. Are there some people who are just mean, critical, or hateful? Yep – I can name more than a few. But to paint with a broad brush all those who may offer a critical opinion or hold a different viewpoint is both unfair and unwise. Not everyone who disagrees with us is thoughtless, uninformed, or simply doesn’t like us; and, listening and giving consideration to a differing perspective is beneficial to our maturity. Here’s why:

1. Sometimes we are wrong (or at least not completely right). 

The gift and privilege of infallibility has not been bestowed on any of us, despite what we might believe about ourselves. The possibility does exist that we might be wrong, don’t understand, or are missing some of the facts. If we only listen to those who affirm what we already think, we will likely continue in error. Consideration of opposing viewpoints will leave us open to correction when needed. Humility (and reality) calls us to live with the awareness that our understanding may be wrong or at least requires some adjustment and refinement.

2. Sometimes we may be right, but don’t communicate it effectively.

In listening to those who disagree with us, we may discover that even though our position might be correct, what others are hearing is different than what we mean. There are times when disagreement is really a matter of misunderstanding and talking past one another. The dialogue and interaction with opposing views helps me to clarify my point and express it more clearly and accurately. In the end, we might still disagree, but at least we have a clear and fair understanding of each others position.

3. Listening builds understanding and respect.

Not everyone who holds a differing opinion is an idiot. Not everyone who questions my action or offers a criticism hates me. In listening and giving consideration to what others have to say, I can begin to understand where they are coming from and why. Our opinions about an issue may not change, but we can hold those opinions while having a level of respect and appreciation for one another.

4. Listening to other viewpoints can actually strengthen my current belief.

I did some degree work at an institution where the instructors held theological views that were significantly different from mine. Looking back, I can see that my time there was both beneficial and formative. It’s not because my views changed – they did not. The interaction with those who held a different perspective, however, forced me tho think through what I believe and why I believe it. It challenged me to provide a clear rationale for my convictions and to articulate them more effectively. Interaction with those who disagree often brings us back to where we started, but we come back stronger, more certain, and clearer in our expression.

5. Our greater priority is reflecting the Spirit of Christ, not winning arguments or silencing critics.

To disrespect or dismiss others and what they have to say is not in line with the love of Jesus. The refusal to consider a critical voice is an exhibition of unhealthy pride. Love compels me to listen with respect. Humility asks me to be open to a voice of correction. As followers of Christ, winning arguments and being right about an issue cannot take precedence over a Christlike character.

So, read a book that offers a different viewpoint. Listen to someone who holds a different opinion. Consider that word of criticism that has been offered. You may not change your view, but you just might be better for the conversation.



Awareness Changes Everything

We are getting ready to send our oldest son off to college, so these are naturally reflective days. We think back over his childhood, on the one hand wondering where the time has gone, and on the other hand proud of what he has become. This time of reflection has also helped me to realize once again that parenthood carries with it a treasure of lessons learned. Some are discovered the hard way, while others come as gentle, necessary reminders of those things we should know but all too easily forget.

To this day I clearly remember the very first time my son intentionally reached for my hand when looking for help. He hadn’t been walking long, and the two of us were standing on the porch of our home. He wanted to step down into the yard – a small step for most, but a giant leap for an unsteady toddler. Before taking on this never-attempted maneuver, he quietly reached up and took hold of my hand. He was willing to take that next step as long as someone would help him. Someone who was bigger; someone he trusted.

I have faced some big steps of my own, circumstances that I’d never dealt with before, difficulties that drained my spirit, stirring up fear and robbing me of peace. In that moment when my son took hold of my hand, I remembered that I also belong to Someone bigger, Someone I can trust. The challenges before me or the threats that seemingly come against me hold no power over the One who holds my hand. The God who made me and loves me is more than able to care for me, even in the fiercest battles and deepest garbage of life.

My son was fully aware that I stood next to him that day, ready and willing to take his hand. I confess that I do not always live with that awareness. I am not the most observant person in the world. I’m the kind that can look at a picture on the wall of my own house and wonder when we put that up, only to discover it’s been there for years. And in my day to day life I can become so focused and consumed by the problem in front of me that I lose awareness of the One who stands by me. That’s a dangerous thing.

I have learned that the greatest danger we face in life is not the plain-to-see problem or difficulty before us. The greatest danger is losing our awareness of who God is and the fact that He is with us. When I lose the awareness of God’s greatness and presence, the problems become bigger in my eyes than they really are. When the problems become bigger, the fear becomes greater. And when fear is allowed to grow, defeat and resignation become inevitable.

The awareness of God’s love, power, and presence keeps it all in perspective. Remembering that Someone stands next to me, willing to take my hand, makes that next step possible. I pray today for awareness, that somehow above the voices of fear and uncertainty I will hear the voice of the Father saying:

But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you. O Israel, the one who formed you says, “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.” (Isaiah 43:1-2, NLT)