Will we see people with greater wonder?

Streaming tears. Yes, I will own them. Each time I’ve watched Wonder—the movie based on R.J. Palacio’s award-winning novel—I’ve been ambushed by this oh-so-moving story.

Born with a genetic disorder, Auggie’s little body required multiple surgeries. He wears his astronaut helmet because his face is distorted, even after plastic surgery. Auggie and his loving family live in Brooklyn. Originally taught at home, he’s finally sent to school in fifth grade. With helmet off, Auggie faces the full range of staring, pity, mockery, and bullying by kids. This amazing story traces Auggie’s school year, along with his parents, his sister Via, and his struggling friend Jack Will. We encounter stunning twists and turns revealing how people see Auggie and how Auggie sees everyone else.

The bulk of my daily work involves seeing and serving suffering people, deeply in need of help. If you ponder your own projects and tasks, you’ll likely conclude that’s true for most of us. From financial planners to nurses and doctors, school teachers to store clerks, automotive technicians, physical therapists and pastors, we major in helping all sorts of people. Precious people with very special needs, capabilities, disabilities, heartaches, hang-ups, hopes, and dreams.

Many days, our most pressing question becomes:

How will I see the person or group of people in my path? Will I see people more deeply, beyond my face-value, knee-jerk reaction?

The local church where I serve as lead pastor aims to love others with Christ-style love. Our aim is based on Jesus’ holistic call to love God with all we are and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40). That means our planning and behind-the-scenes efforts often involve strategizing endeavors for people who are experiencing physical, emotional, financial, spiritual, and mental suffering. Then our very public, weekly events, gatherings, and services include active interface with those precious people.

Every Sunday, a host of people greet me, including multiple individuals with special needs, pressing health crises, and emotional distress. They long for encouragement, a listening ear, affirmation, prayer, a dose of genuine good news, directional wisdom, and practical help. I am regularly challenged with this foundational attitude choice: Will I see them as too different, unique, other and awkward? Will I glance their way, feel uncomfortable, and say to myself, “Yikes! Let’s move along now. Look away. Let’s shift focus to the ‘normal’ and ‘beautiful’ people!” OR will I truly and deeply see the precious people in my path?

During Auggie’s wonder story, especially poignant are the moments in Mr. Browne’s homeroom. This oh-so-wise teacher places a monthly precept on the board. September’s is:

“When given the choice between being right and being kind, choose kind.”

In Palacio’s book, Mr. Browne’s May precept is from John Wesley: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you ever can.”

Masterfully and subtly, Wonder’s screenplay writers wove the issue of how characters truly see one another all throughout the film. Auggie’s potential new friend, Jack Will, struggles with peer pressure from other boys who don’t want to hang out with Auggie. Jack vacillates between befriending him and bullying him like the other kids do. Eventually, Jack reveals his own true feelings about Auggie: “You get used to his face . . . He’s really good at science, and I really do want to be his friend.”

Mr. Tushman, the seasoned school principal, says something so stunning during his office confrontation with the bully Julian and his haughty parents. He challenges them: “Auggie can’t change the way he looks. Maybe we can change the way we see.”

A wrap-up concept near the movie’s end nails it:

“If you really want to see who people are, all you have to do is look.”

How do you see people with whom you work? Your clients, coworkers, and employees, especially those who are suffering or just different in light of their disabilities and special needs? I am moved by the divine work of seeing people, really seeing them. At the biblical culmination of creation, right after God crafts humans, we read:

“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Genesis 1:31a).

Scene after scene during Jesus’ ministry here on earth, we read:

“When Jesus saw __________ . . .” (Matthew 5:1, 8:14, 9:22, 14:14 plus numerous others).

When Jesus saw all sorts of people with all sorts of needs, the result was always some deliberate action, instruction, or other form of loving service in response. All because of seeing people via deeper outlook.

Let’s slow our steps, fix our gaze, and savor conversation. Let’s ask better questions, hear people’s stories, and gush kind affirmation. Folks are full of hopes, hurts, special needs, and yes, setbacks, missteps, mistakes, struggles, and heartache. But they also possess such powerful potential to display wondrous love and real joy. As we really see people, we’ll recognize more of God’s image and what a wonder people truly are.

O how I need greater doses of divine sight for all my interaction with others. Let’s see each person we encounter with fresh wonder this week!

Why washing feet is now a must-do during Covid-19

Following the CDC guidelines, I have scoured my hands a gazillion times and used Clorox wipes like never before. Along with friends and family, I am aiming to stay vigilant and healthy.

Amidst all the call to strong attentiveness in hygiene, I am stirred by the ancient call of Jesus Christ to his disciples.

“. . . you also should wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14).

Christ was in the Upper Room that night, just a few hours before he was arrested. He had just washed all of his disciples’ feet, including self-confident Peter. Still today, Christians around the world practice washing one another’s feet. It serves as a powerful picture, a potent reminder of risky love, of moving outside ones’ comfort zone, and of genuine, Christ-like humility.

But here’s the kicker: Jesus never intended it to stop with the mere ceremony and symbolism of loving service. Washing feet should motivate us to very tangibly care for others, even and especially during this current season of crisis.[1]

How to care, how to share

What I’ll share right here is in no way exhaustive. It’s simply a starter list of ideas—something like a toolbox. Please feel free to comment and share your own ideas for “washing feet” during this unique season:

Take good care of yourself. In a Christ-honoring way, love yourself well—so that you can love others effectively. Embedded in Jesus call to love your neighbor is the little clause “as you love yourself” (Matthew 22:34-40). Jesus expects we will engage healthy, proper self-love to undergird our selfless expressions. For a great article, applicable to more than just pastors, see Tom Nelson’s advice.[2]

When in doubt, DO. Too often under normal conditions, we are all too prone to hold back and second-guess. But ours are no longer normal conditions. So when in doubt, do. Do reach out, do give a call, or send the text. You can simply say, “Hey, how are you today? Just thinking about you and wanting to touch base.”

Listen more than you blab. Some of us, especially those of us with “fixer” tendencies, tend to jump to solve things, dispense wisdom, and otherwise straighten out others’ thinking. Now more than ever, it’s crucial we follow the advice of Jesus’ little brother, sage James: “be quick to listen, slow to speak . . .” (James 1:19).

Yes, distance. Steer clear. But learn to say, “I love you” more. I think in the midst of all the distancing dynamics, one of the potentially dynamic upsides might be that we learn to vocalize more effectively and profusely. Tenderness and vulnerability are born by saying those three little God-like words. They mean so much to hurting, lonely, seeking souls. That includes all of us these days.

Know the basics of sharing Jesus’ loving story. Christ’s lavish grace, forgiveness of sins, abundant peace, and new purpose. Such gifts are life-changing. Watch for and pray for opportunities to share the Gospel with others. You don’t have to force anything, but you can be bold. Get familiar with key Bible truths like John 3:16, Romans 3:10-23, Romans 6:23, Romans 8, and Ephesians 2:8-10. Review how to share your own story of encountering God’s loving salvation. Think in three scenes: my life before encountering Jesus; how I came to know and follow him; what’s new, changing, and growing now in my life.

And when in doubt, do share your story. Simply share how Jesus’ story is changing your story.

What to say, even when you don’t know what to say

Here are several simple but profound things you can say with compassion and confidence:

“Yes, this all seems very hard and dark right now. That’s true. And there is even greater truth. God is still good. Christ Jesus’ light and love are bigger than all of what we are facing.”

“Things seem so uncertain, indeed. And we have the certainty of knowing his love and faithfulness.”

“In times like these, we all feel overwhelmed. That’s a normal reaction, totally typical and appropriate. It’s okay to feel sad and not okay.”

“It’s very important to determine you won’t let yourself stay stuck, endlessly thinking about how you are ‘sad and not okay.’ Tell someone when you need help. Go ahead, open up. Take the risk. Tell a friend or family member how you are feeling. Getting it out there really helps.”

In VERY dark, desperate situations

If someone reaches out to you or otherwise opens up about desperate feelings, listen, listen, listen. Let her/him just talk. Affirm what the person is saying. Don’t rush to correct what he or she is saying. Just listen and affirm. If what is being said sounds extremely dark and headed in the direction of self-harm or violence, ask the person if they will allow you to help them get some further help from someone else who can also help them.[3]

Washing feet with your prayers

The Psalms in the center of the Bible provide a plethora of solid examples of how to express heart-felt cries to God. For a very measured, engaging, emotionally and spiritually responsible approach to being authentic during this crisis time, see Tom Wright’s article in TIME. (Don’t let TIME’s headline throw you. They designed it as clickbait.) Wright actually offers very solid hope via lament.[4]

Pray simple, honest prayers from your heart. And when you have the opportunity, be bold with others. Offer to pray with someone else. During this Covid-19 crisis, every person will likely need another person to be their pastor. Don’t worry or sweat it. You really are allowed to pastor someone else, even if you’re not officially ordained. One of St. Peter’s core teachings, known as the priesthood of all believers, reinforces how important it is for each of us to re-present God to others (1 Peter 2). One way we can do that is by offering to pray—over the phone or in text—on behalf of someone else.

So consider doing this today, perhaps as you wrap up talking with a friend. Say, “Hey, before we go, can I pray for you and for all of us, in light of all that’s going on right now?” Deep breath. It’s highly likely the person will say, “Yes, please!” (So many people are really, really open to such encouragement right now.) And then simply say something like . . .

Lord, we want to thank you that you never leave us. Especially in times like these, we need you. So please help us hold on right now and trust you more than ever. Please supply for us—and others today—all we need. Please bring your comfort, your love, your peace, your healing, and your great big hope. We are trusting you and counting on you. We thank you that you are always good, even when things feel so bad and sad. We thank you that the story is not over. We praise you, Jesus. Amen.

Simply something like that. Put it in your own words. Nothing flowery is necessary.

Okay, this is just the start of ideas for “washing feet” in these desperate days. Please feel free to comment and share. What do you want to add to our toolbox? I have added below a few additional links to helpful, encouraging resources.

Thank you for all the ways you are already loving others, washing your own hands, and washing others’ feet. 

[1] https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/managing-stress-anxiety.html

and https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/neighbor-love-covid-19/

(Certain stat’s are already outdated, but the gist of this TGC article is very solid.)

[2] https://www.madetoflourish.org/resources/pursuing-pastoral-health-in-the-middle-of-a-crisis/?fbclid=IwAR19FWn7_zyAAzctysM24od8VBmUiSNTv594dZ2WCgzzzClJeWTtzNGxd04

[3] https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

[4] https://time.com/5808495/coronavirus-christianity/

Additional helpful resources:

https://www.crosswalk.com/faith/spiritual-life/10-ways-christians-can-exemplify-faith-and-peace-during-covid-19.html

https://www.crosswalk.com/faith/prayer/powerful-prayers-for-the-coronavirus.html

 

 

 

 

Workplace Sex Trysts: A Strategy for Standing Strong

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Diet Coke, circa mid-90’s, flaunted one very steamy TV ad. An office full of women suddenly begin whispering to each other, “It’s 11:30.” As the commercial commences, they scurry to the office windows to ogle. A male construction worker on ground level removes his sweat-soaked shirt and begins lusciously drinking a Diet Coke. Apparently, this has become a daily workplace ritual for these women. Though lusting should never be a laughing matter, the commercial’s format draws a chuckle twenty years later. The gawking women wear big-framed 80’s eye-wear and oh-so-poofy hair; the bare-chested eye candy is sporting a far-from-chiseled four-pack. And in retrospect, what real man sips Diet Coke anyway?

Workplace temptation runs rampant. Place people together for extended blocks of time, working close on endeavors of big consequence, and the affection temperature is bound to rise. Glances are exchanged and soon feelings are shared; flirtation seems innocent, but sparks begin to fly. Then all too quickly, something hotter kindles. So how can we develop a strategy for sexual integrity in our workplaces, a wholesomeness that matches Christ’s heart for business leaders and workers in every profession?

The young biblical hunk, Joseph, stands as a stunning example in overcoming workplace temptation. Genesis 39 records the racy scene. Promoted to second in command over a large estate in Egypt, Joseph soon caught the wandering eye of the owner’s wife. Mrs. Potiphar repeatedly made her temptress moves, “day after day,” the story records. Joseph repeatedly resisted, finally stating emphatically that such indulgence would be a serious violation of his relationship with God (Gen. 39:9). This young man’s conviction and stance, so far away from his father Jacob’s oversight, was astounding. Finally, Joseph employed the best strategy ever. In a moment of brilliant insight, he did the most courageous thing. He ran away! (explore more on such a strategy in 1 Corinthians 6:17-20) His reward? He was quickly framed by the scorned, pouting, plotting temptress. (I know, shocker!) And he was promptly tossed in the deep, dank confines of prison. (See the rest of the story in Genesis 40 through 50.) Tom Nelson elaborates: “When it comes to sexual temptation in the workplace, we don’t have to go out of our way to look for it; it often finds us. Joseph’s wise response to sexual temptation in the workplace is a model for us to emulate. Joseph didn’t cozy up to sexual temptation, he fled from it.”[1]

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What’s the big deal? Our core struggle with lust is that we imagine how people can be used for our self-serving interests instead of genuinely loved. God’s style of selfless love aims at practically caring for others’ best interests, not using or abusing them. How do we develop a strategy, to stand strong against workplace temptation, or as in Joseph’s case, to decisively run away? In Taking Your Soul to Work, R. Paul Stevens and Alvin Ung urge these five strategy steps:

(1) Know that your heart’s desires are for God. Hunger and passion for God put all lesser desires into perspective. (2) Reduce exposure to erotic stimulation in your choice of movies, novels, and Internet sites. Put a plan in place that will help you avoid temptation on business trips. (3) Pray for a colleague, a customer, or a supervisor whom you find attractive. Choose God’s perspective on the person instead of treating her/him as “just a body” to be visually consumed. (4) Seek accountability partners. (5) Identify the early beginnings of lustful thoughts. Heightened vigilance in advance allows you to be more responsive to the Spirit’s guidance.[2]

Instead of being trapped in daily rituals of workplace lust and other sexual sins, we can stand strong. We can run away, stay pure, and truly honor Christ. We can honor others with more wholesome love at work.

[1]Tom Nelson. Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work. (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 173.

[2]R. Paul Stevens and Alvin Ung. Taking Your Soul to Work: Overcoming the Nine Deadly Sins of the Workplace. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2010), 26-31.