Hope Builder #6: Show Compassion, Withhold Judgement

The primary way to break through to people is to relate, not evaluate.  Jesus said, “Hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5). Compassion, not judgement opens hearts.

Paul Miller, author of Love Walked Among Us wrote, “Judging is knee-jerk, quick, bereft of thought, while compassion is slow and thought-filled.” By slowing down we can feel compassion and enter conflict more thoughtfully.

3202963823_7As I looked out from the podium during the church service I saw my son sitting with his arms crossed. His shoulders were slumped as he gazed angrily at the floor. An open chair was on his right. His siblings were packed like sardines on his left — three chairs for four people. He refused to move over to make room for the rest of the family.

After church, an argument brewed on the back porch while I made an assortment of chocolate chip and apple pancakes in the kitchen. My daughter was cross examining her older brother, “Why couldn’t you just move over!  How hard can it be? There was an empty chair next to you.”

“I already moved over! Besides, you had plenty of room!” My son’s defense relied heavily on the measurements of each person’s girth when compared to each chair’s width.  He was not budging. (He is destined for law school.)

Fights like this happen pretty regularly in our home. With five kids, my wife and I have learned to triage family conflict. We simply don’t have the energy and resources to address every little issue. Following normal operating procedures, my wife and I assessed the wounds and dressed them. “Jack, just move over next time. It’s not a big deal and it serves others. And Kelly, next time you can get up and move instead of trying to boss your brother around.” The solution was equitable, and quick.  Now we could move forward and enjoy our family feast before the food turned cold.

The pancakes may have been hot, but the conversation around the table was cold and I was growing increasingly frustrated. “Can we just move forward with new attitudes. The rest of today I am off work, and I’d like to have a great day together.”

While they ate their pancakes in grumpy silence, I slowly realized they weren’t the only stubborn ones asking another person to move. I had asked them to move, yet I hadn’t been willing to budge myself. I needed to abandon my judgement seat and move into a new seat — one labeled compassion.

“Jack, what made it hard for you to move over to make room for Kelly and Michael?” Because my attitude had changed from condemnation to curiosity, it pierced through his defenses and he softened. He recounted ways he’d felt pushed to the side over the past couple of months. He spoke around his ultimate fear, afraid to mention it it directly, but I had a hunch.

“Are you afraid Kelly loves your siblings more than you?” I guessed.

“Kind of.” he confessed.

His wounds went deeper than any of us realized. Our daughter was horrified at the thought. “That’s not true! You’re my big brother! I just wanted to sit there to help mom with the younger kids.”  She instinctively walked over to Jack’s chair and hugged him from behind. He smiled and then playfully pushed her away. “But, Jack! I love you!” She opened her arms and made smooching noises.

We talked more. They each owned up to their failures to love well and they forgave each other. It turned out to be the best family pancake breakfast this year.

I love my kids. But, if I did not take time to slow down my judgements, and show compassion by entering their world they would not have felt my love — nor would they have seen it in each other. Showing compassion restores hope in relationships.

How have you been quick to judge and slow to show compassion? How could you slow down, like Jesus, and enter another person’s world with compassion? Who knows what hope it may restore to relationships!

(Published with permission from Jack and Kelly Kieffer)

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How can you hope in a God who would send people to Hell?

13482833454_7“So you actually believe God sends people to Hell!” one student commented during a spiritual discussion group I facilitated on campus. He meant to ridicule another student for saying she believed Hell was real. After several others shared their opinion he reasserted, “I don’t understand how anyone can place their hope in a God who would send people to Hell?”

“What do you believe Hell is?” I asked.

He believed hell was a dangerous idea used to control people. He thought it was unjust because the punishment exceeded the crime which was usually committed in ignorance. He said it was unloving because people were treated without dignity. He mixed his argument with absurd images of Hell portrayed in media and concluded the doctrine of hell belonged to humanity’s primitive past.

While this student didn’t respect organized religion, he still respected Jesus.  So we looked at Luke 16 to see what Jesus said about Hell. What he discovered challenged his assumptions.

In Luke 16:19-31, Jesus contrasted two men: Lazarus and a rich man.  During his life, the rich man had everything; designer clothes, wealth, status, and comfort.  But Lazarus begged daily for food at the rich man’s gate while dogs licked his sores.  Both men eventually died.  The rich man was buried.  Dignitaries likely attended his funeral. Jesus mentioned no burial for Lazarus.  The nauseating implication was that the same dogs that licked Lazarus’ sores consumed his body. Lazarus was dishonored. He couldn’t get any lower. However, the rich man was on top and honored continuously.  Seemingly the only thing Lazarus had over the rich man was a name. (Lazarus, the Greek version of Eleazar, means “God is my help“).  But some commentators disagree and argue that “Rich Man” was not merely a description but actually the name Jesus used to refer to him. “Rich Man” was his true identity. In other words his riches, not God, gave his life ultimate meaning.

However, after death things flip upside down. Now Lazarus was on top.  He sat at the place of honor at Abraham’s side.  The Rich Man sat far away in dishonor.  In the agony of hell, the Rich Man called out for pity.

To accurately understand what’s happening, you must slow down and read Jesus’ words very carefully.  When you do, you will notice several things that contradict people’s assumptions about Hell.

  1. Contrary to popular belief, the “Rich Man” never asked to get out of hell.  Instead he attempted to pull Lazarus into his hell.
  2. In hell the “Rich Man” had lost all status but lived in denial of that new reality. He still treated Lazarus like a servant who should be sent to relieve his thirst.  Like an addict, the Rich Man clung to his illusion even when it yielded no satisfaction. He refused to relinquish control even after he’d lost all power.
  3. The chasm between heaven and hell is uncrossable, but not due to distance.  Abraham had a conversation with the Rich Man, but could not connect to him.  Jesus’ picture of hell was unyielding stubbornness that results in impenetrable isolation.
  4. The rich man never asked for forgiveness because he never admitted he had done anything that required forgiveness. He defended his innocence by arguing that Abraham needed to send Lazarus to his living brothers to give them fair warning — something he believed he had been denied. Abraham refused and reminded him that Moses and the prophets gave everyone fair warning.  In the story, Jesus exposed the convenient lies those in hell continue to tell themselves.
  5. Abraham rebuked the Rich Man saying, “they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead”. The issue is stubborn hearts, not ignorant minds.  Ironically, after telling this story, Jesus raised another Lazarus from the dead and it only provoked greater hostility (see John 11). But the greatest irony would be Jesus’ own resurrection.

Contrary to popular belief hell is not excessive punishment for a crime committed in ignorance. God simply gives people what they demand — a life on their own, apart from Him. Since the main Biblical metaphor for heaven is “a wedding” between God and His people; it’s appropriate to think of hell as “the great divorce”.

I asked my skeptical friend, “If God finally grants a divorce to those who’ve demanded it their whole lives, does he dishonor them? Does he prove to be unreasonable, unloving or untrustworthy?”

“I need to rethink things.”  he admitted. “But I still think God should comfort them!”

Another student didn’t miss a beat. “But what if they don’t want God’s comfort? What if they insist that their comfort comes from elsewhere?” She paused then continued, “It would be like an alcoholic whose thirst grows unquenchable simply because alcohol cannot quench it. That’s what happened to the Rich Man.  Riches were his god, so he refused comfort from the only one who could give it.”

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Hope at Halftime

Peter Greer, President and CEO of Hope International, has written a new book called 40/40 vision: Clarifying your Mission in Midlife.  It is hot off the press. The parts I’ve read are excellent. Here is a summary of the book from Amazon:

517I65DyK6L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_“At midlife, our perspective can become blurry.

Midlife is a disruptive season where we collide with limitations on all sides. We recognize there is more of life in the rearview mirror than on the road ahead of us. We wonder if our lives so far have been worthwhile. We are uncertain about what lies ahead.

But midlife is also an opportunity to recalibrate our vision. It’s a time to look back, take stock of our lives so far, and refocus on new dimensions of identity and calling.

Peter Greer and Greg Lafferty offer insight for navigating midlife with fresh clarity and purpose. Drawing on the wisdom of the book of Ecclesiastes, they show how we can come to grips with the realities of who we are and what we should become in the years ahead. In a world that can seem meaningless at times, God offers perspective that anchors us, renews us and propels us back into the world in meaningful mission and service.

Rediscover who God has called you to be. And see the rest of your life with the clarity of 40/40 vision.”

Hope Builder #5: Trust God, even when…

Do you have a hard time trusting God when life turns foggy and dark? Every prophet, even the little known minor prophets of the Old Testament, drove home the major point that hope builders trust God — even when circumstances are more than disappointing.

In the Old Testament book of Haggai, God commanded the Israelites who had returned from exile to rebuild His house, the Temple. The people thought it was a luxury they could not afford. Their objection seemed reasonable. Jerusalem’s walls laid in rubble. Their farms and homes were leveled. Squatters occupied their land and were not eager to give it back. Enemies lived among them ready to spring into action and halt any progress on construction. They assumed God would understand.  

God understood they were acting like orphans. Deep down the Israelites believed they had to fend for themselves because no one else would. They didn’t trust their Heavenly Father to provide and protect.  They were constantly anxious and without confidence because they didn’t see themselves as sons and daughters of an all powerful and loving God.

God exposed their orphan mentality when he demanded that they rebuild the temple (His house) before rebuilding the city. God wasn’t chasing after a piece of prime real estate. He was chasing after their hearts. As their Father, God was working to get the Israelites to stop living like orphans and begin living like His beloved children. Daddy was home! He was with them and for them. Now they needed to trust Him! They needed eyes capable of seeing how their Heavenly Father cared for them and what He promised to do for them. 

Haggai is like a faithful counselor reasoning with a disillusioned orphan. Over many counseling sessions Israel finally sees her failure to fend for herself when she lives like an orphan. He asks her to come home — to replace her alienating self-reliance with the trusting dependence of a loved child.

Haggai’s message is a powerful appeal to identify areas we fail to trust God, but instead worry about our circumstances like orphans. We need to ask ourselves: “How would a child of the Heavenly Father (who happens to also be the King of the Universe) think, feel and act differently? I’ll get you started with some sample questions:

  • Are you feeling forgotten, or overlooked?  Fathers dote upon their kids.  God’s every thought of you fills his heart with joy.
  • Have you lost something important? (Or afraid you will?)  The Father is there to comfort you and wipe away every tear.  He still has good things in store for you.
  • Are you exhausted trying to prove something or make a name for yourself.  The Father has already given you a name, and he has bigger dreams for you than you can imagine.
  • Are you frustrated about all the difficulty you have to deal with in life?  Tell the Father.  He cares and wants to strengthen you to overcome and make things better.

Now its your turn. Identify areas where you’re tempted to respond like an orphan. Reject the self-reliance of an orphan and start thinking like a beloved son or daughter.  Only then will you rise above your darkened circumstances, no matter how disappointing, with real hope.

Afterword:  Adoption always entails legal requirements.  The legal requirements for adoption by the God of the Bible are given in John 1:12, “To those who believe in [Jesus’] name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”  Jesus Christ, the natural born Son of God, switched places with us to guarantee our adoption rights.  Though we’ve made ourselves orphans by running away from God, Jesus endured those consequences.  On the cross, he was— abandoned, rejected and alone so that we would know that we will never be given up by God.  Jesus opened the way for us to be welcomed home with the same rights and privileges as a natural born child.

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Hope Builder #4: Watch your Focus!

You’ve heard the popular cliché “You are what you eat”. It means physical health depends on good nutrition.

Here’s another cliché. “You feel how you think.” It means emotional health depends on good contemplation. Sustaining emotional health requires feeding your mind things that are good, right and true. If you want to guarantee misery, focus on all the things that have gone wrong in your life. However, if you want to move past your misery, you have to refocus on worthy desires and goals.

A runner doesn’t race better by focusing on his cramps and blisters, but only by imagining the joyful satisfaction of crossing the finish line.

This week, two articles that clarify the power of focusing on the right things caught my attention. They are written by expert hope builders.  I think they will encourage you to watch your focus.

Tim Lane is a professional christian counselor and former executive director of the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation (CCEF). Read his article: A Glass Half Full 

Michael Hyatt is a New York Times bestseller and CEO of International Leadership. Read his article: Why You’re Unhealthy, Stuck and Miserable

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The Secret for Overcoming Despair

For a long time scientists have wondered why some people linger in despair and others pop out of it. Martin Seligman, author of Learned Optimism and past president of the American Psychological Association, was acclaimed for scientifically dissecting despair in the laboratory to see how it works. Despair is no longer a mysterious black box. Hopelessness can actually be measured by how you choose to explain bad events. He writes,

Finding permanent and universal causes for misfortune is the practice of despair. . . People who make permanent and universal explanations for their troubles tend to collapse under pressure, both for a long time and across situations.”

Seligman developed the “hope score” which measured the degree of pervasiveness and permanence a person showed when explaining bad events in their lives.  

He also tested a third variable of the “hope score”, not as determinative as the first two, called personalization. Those that internalize bad events by blaming themselves are more pessimistic than those that externalize bad events by blaming others or circumstances. But, Seligman writes an important disclaimer:

Although there are clear benefits to learned optimism – there are also dangers. Temporary? Local? That is fine. I want my depression to be short and limited. I want to bounce back quickly. But external? Is it right that I should blame others for my failures? Most assuredly we want people to own up to the messes they make, to be responsible for their actions. Certain psychological doctrines have damaged our society by helping to erode personal responsibility: Evil is mislabeled insanity; bad manners are shucked off as neurosis… I am unwilling to advocate any strategy that further erodes responsibility.”

Seligman’s research has helped millions identify their own pessimistic explanatory styles and replace them with optimistic explanatory styles. But there were two limitations presented by his research. First, He didn’t resolved the dilemma about personal responsibility. Second, his laboratory experiments measured localized and temporary pain, not permanent and pervasive suffering.

But, what if the bad events in your life are in fact pervasive, permanent and personally caused? Suppose these nasty p-words are not just in your head, as an explanatory style, but are objectively true!  

Joni Erickson broke her neck diving off a pier and became a quadriplegic. Her broken neck is tragically pervasive, inhibiting every aspect of her life. It’s also permanent, binding her to a wheel chair for over 50 years. What kind of hope can we offer a person like Joni?  

If this life is all that there is then Joni Erickson’s spinal cord injury is truly permanent and pervasive. Explaining away her darkened reality with an optimistic explanatory style sounds ridiculous. But, if the resurrection of Jesus Christ happened, then this life isn’t all there is. God guarantees another. When Jesus returns, those in Him shall rise with new physical bodies in a fully renewed cosmos. Joni imagines that day and writes,

“The first thing I plan to do on my resurrected legs is to drop on grateful glorified knees, kneel quietly before the feet of Jesus and then I am going to be on my feet dancing.” She continues, “Can you imagine what hope [the resurrection] gives someone with a spinal cord injury like mine?”  

When Tishira Duffy clipped a family’s minivan while driving at 92 miles an hour, she killed Meg Abbott’s mom, dad and two brothers. Tishira is personally responsible for robbing a six year old girl of her entire family. How does Tishira deal with her personal fault and yet find hope?  

Unless there is a God who forgives, she never will. But if Jesus Christ really died for sinners, then Tishira may appropriately externalize her guilt to him. Jesus will take her blame and pay the penalty for her crime. But there is a catch. First, Tishira must take responsibility for her guilt (which resolves Dr. Seligman’s concerns). Admitting sin and asking for forgiveness is the key that unlocks the door of hope with Jesus.  

The secret is out! Through empirical research, Dr. Seligman has stumbled onto truths Christianity has proclaimed for millennia. Jesus’ substitutional death and bodily resurrection provide an explanatory style capable of returning unexpectedly high “hope scores”  for people trapped by permanent and pervasive suffering — even when they’re personally to blame.

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