Uncategorized

A Few Seconds at the Tollbooth

IMG_4596

For a number of years during my commute to work, I would enter the highway at the same toll ramp almost every day. I would impatiently wait in the line of cars, wanting to get through the tollbooth as quickly as possible. As I waited to pay, I would see an anonymous hand reach out of the booth and go back in, then repeat this mechanical motion for each vehicle. Most commuters did not even notice that this tollbooth attendant was a person. But for some reason, probably prompted by God, I decided to pay attention to her. The first time I noticed her, I slow-rolled up to the booth and mustered up a pleasant smile and a cheerful “Hello!” After handing her my toll money and making eye contact, I said, “Have a great day!”
She was there every day. In future interactions, I noticed her nameplate and greeted her by name. We engaged in pleasant small talk each time I pulled up to her booth. Over time, our conversations acquired a personal dimension. I eventually learned the names of her children, the details of her family life, and her weekend plans. We even exchanged Christmas gifts. This relationship was built a few seconds at a time each day. Noticing her did not add much time or activity to my schedule, but it did add the rewarding feeling of being on an adventure with God. It was the simple, intentional turning of my attention that made the difference.
Jesus was a noticer. “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36). Jesus noticed the crowds first and was consequently moved with compassion.
The Art of Noticing is a starting point for building more genuine, caring relationships with people who are separated from God. This simple, nonspeaking practice helps you see another person with Jesus’ eyes of love and compassion. It takes no bravery—just intentionality. It’s a doable, everyday practice that gets you “in the game” during your normal life routines. When you begin to practice the Art of Noticing, think about questions such as What is her story? Where is he from? Does she seem happy, sad, angry, or lonely?
While noticing may be the first step in bringing someone the Good News about Jesus and the Kingdom of God, its most significant benefit is that it transforms you and me. We begin to see others, ourselves, and even God differently. People we never noticed before quite suddenly matter to us in ways we can’t explain.
Simply noticing people helps us see others, ourselves, and even God differently.
Tweet This
What small changes in your day would help you develop a habit of noticing people?
The second nonspeaking Art to prepare you for spiritual conversations is the Art of Praying. When you notice someone—a neighbor, a coworker, a classmate, or a stranger—you can simply send up a silent prayer, and nobody but God knows you’re praying. I call this “praying behind people’s backs.” It’s a covert operation. You don’t stare, close your eyes, or move your lips. You just pray for people as you see them. Pray that they would sense the presence of God in some undeniable way. Pray for their relationships. A quick prayer will do. Though the person knows nothing about your prayer, it counts with God. Jesus, of course, is our model for this practice because he seemed to have a thing for praying in secret: “When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6)
As you secretly pray, don’t be surprised if God begins to change your heart toward that person. Secret prayer prepares you to cooperate with God as he seeks out the lost sheep in our world. It invites you into this search.
As you exercise the Art of Noticing, you will begin to recognize that people are longing for attention. As you secretly pray for people behind their backs, you will become aware of what God is up to. And when you find yourself stirred to engage, the Art of Listening is the practice that will escort you into meaningful conversations with people who believe differently.
We listen because God listens. It’s true; the God-of-the-Angel-Armies listens to me—and to you. This is a staggering truth. God hears my cry and forgives. He hears my prayer and responds. He cares for me enough to hear what’s on my mind. God sets the example for us to follow.
What if we listened to people well enough to understand them better and to see where God is at work in their lives?
When I listen, I demonstrate that I am seeking to understand people, not change their points of view, and create a safe environment for them to open up more intimately. People are often ready to listen to us only after they feel understood and heard. In a society full of folks who would rather talk than listen, people are starved for someone who is willing to move into their lives as a listener and learner. Listening requires that I surrender my desire to be heard and understood in the interest of understanding the other person first—and that takes love.
Whether you are a quiet introvert or raging extrovert, gifted in evangelism or not, you can put these three simple practices into action and start on the journey toward spiritual conversations. It doesn’t require memorizing or presenting anything. It doesn’t call for any courage on your part. The most important thing is that you start doing it.
Here is a practical idea for you to try this week: Commit to spending thirty seconds each day noticing people in your ordinary routine and being curious about them. Whom can you notice in thirty seconds at school pickup? At the grocery store? In the elevator on your way to work? On the highway in traffic? What do you notice happening inside yourself as you pay attention to others?
Share your experience with a friend and celebrate that you are on the journey!

Originally posted on http://www.wayfm.com

Advertisements

What Improv Comedy Can Teach Us about Evangelism

Like-a-scene-in-a-diverted-improv-sketch

Have you ever experienced improv comedy? Chicago is the home of the most influential comedy theater in the world, Second City. From the elevated train running through Chicago, you can read billboards advertising the Second City Improv class: “Because Everyone’s a Comedian.”

Improv, or improvisation, is a form of live theater in which the plot, characters, and dialogue of a story are made up on the spot. The actors don’t know what each other will say, so the story line and dialogue is completely unpredictable. Yet, if it is all made up in the moment, why would Second City advertise a training class? What is there to learn? The reality is that improv appears spontaneous and random, but it is not. Being “in the moment” is a developed skill cultivated through practice. Improv works by following a set of rules, and anyone can learn it, practice it, and improve at it. “Because Everyone’s a Comedian.”

One key improv rule is the rule of agreement, also called “Don’t deny.” Any time one improvisational artist refuses an “offer” made by their partner, the scene will almost instantly come to a grinding halt. For example, if player A says, “Hi, my name is Joe. Welcome to my house,” and then, player B replies with “This isn’t a house, it’s a spaceship. And you’re not Joe, you’re a hippopotamus,” the scene crashes. No matter how clever player B’s idea was or how funny he thought it could be, it stalled because he did not follow the simple rule.

So what does this have to do with evangelism and engaging in meaningful conversations about Jesus with people who believe differently?

Like a scene in a diverted improv sketch, many of us stall out in our conversations about God with our family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors. We want to have a spiritual conversation, but end up bumbling around, saying too much too fast or not saying much at all. What if there were guidelines for meaningful, natural interactions?

Maybe there are. Here are four guidelines, similar to the rules of improv, to help you engage in conversations about God:

#1. Look for where God is at work.

The adventure of God’s kingdom is discovering where God is at work and joining Him on His mission to reconcile people to Himself. Since He is already at work all around us, we can ask Him to show us where He wants us to participate in His activity of love and grace. You could call it “praying behind people’s backs.” This could be the first step of engagement in what God is up to, so that you can recognize where God is at work and join Him. This secret prayer approach provides an opportunity for all Christians—whether talkative or quiet, outgoing or shy, silly or serious—to experience God more and to participate in His work. To understand what God is doing in others’ lives and what our role might be, we can ask Him. Here are three key questions to start with:

God, where are you already at work?
God, what does this person need right now?
God, how can I invite this person to experience Jesus in a fresh way?
#2. Be curious.

Asking God these questions will stir you to be more curious as you engage with other people. Curiosity focuses your attention on the other person, not yourself. It reduces the fear of not asking the “right” question, saying the “right” thing, or having the “right” answer. Curiosity is the bridge that gets us from silently noticing another person to actively engaging with him or her. Notice the good in the person, the image of God imprinted on his or her life, and get curious about it.

The Apostle Paul points out the ultimate example of Jesus as he encourages believers to follow this way of life: Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others (Phil. 2:3-4).

Just as Jesus sacrificially put others’ needs above His own, we are called to be interested in others, not for our sake, but for theirs. This means that we can tap into our Spirit-led curiosity during a conversation and lead with questions—questions that invite people around us into dialogue, uncover their struggles, and find their story. Then, we can be curious about where God’s story intersects their story.

#3. Pique curiosity.

When I went fishing for lake trout in the Ozarks as a kid, we would put corn on our hooks and throw them in the water. Then, my father would toss a handful of corn in the water to “chum,” or attract the fish more eagerly to the corn bait. “Little and often” is the motto for successfully chumming when fishing. What if in the course of our conversations, we did the same? When engaged in any conversation, what if you piqued the curiosity of your friend by offering small, transparent mentions “little and often” of your faith, your walk with Christ, your dependence on God, your transformed life? My experience with this approach is that people naturally begin to get curious about my faith story, opening up greater opportunities for conversations about God.

#4. Be safe.

The idea of engaging in conversations about God can feel risky and unnatural to us—and to people with whom we interact. We fear the thought of turning people off, of communicating in a way that repels them. But when we understand and practice simple relational principles, our intentional interactions with people can create a safe atmosphere for spiritual exploration, thaw a cold heart, and become an invitation to freely investigate God’s truth without judgment, correction, or argument.

People crave engagement. They want someone who will acknowledge and respect their thoughts and feelings. For Christians living in this technologically interconnected, but relationally disconnected culture, engaging in simple conversational practices will communicate the unconditional love of Christ to people all around.

Participating in the Great Commission will inevitably mean talking with people in ways that will introduce them to Jesus. So, to be Great-Commission Christians, we all need to improve in our conversational ability, to engage the spiritually curious, and to begin a journey of discovery with them about God and the Bible.

Perhaps as much as apologetic arguments, we need simple conversational “arts”—like the principles of improv. If we can understand them, practice them, and apply them, we could multiply the quantity and quality of our gospel conversations and see our interactions about faith flourish, introducing more people to the good news of Jesus Christ.

Wouldn’t it be great if our churches helped everyone to learn it, practice it and improve at it? Because “Everybody Can Do It!”

Sports as an Entry Point to the Gospel

When we think of sports, we often think of the competition—of winning. What if we viewed sports as more than a game? What if, instead, we viewed it as a non-threatening entry point to find common ground and build relationships with people who would not ordinarily darken the door of a church?

I encourage you to think of ways to experience the sports you play as an avenue for the gospel. To spark your creativity, here are three points of focus to make your favorite sports activities more than a game.

First, remember that sports are a crucible for character. Competition can draw out the best and worst in anyone. When God radically transformed my life, I had a history of being overly competitive and inordinately intense in sports. Some of those bad habits carried forward into my life as a Christ follower. I would often erupt in the heat of the competition, and, as a result, leave many games feeling embarrassed that my behavior was an obstacle for people to see Christ in me.

After repeatedly failing to curb my unhealthy competition, I was considering hanging up my shoes because I didn’t want to discredit my faith or dishonor my Savior. At this exact time, God raised up a new sports ministry at my church, with a vision to see sports as more than a game. By opening this opportunity, I felt like God was giving me a second chance to redeem sports for His glory and restore my competition in a more healthy way. Maybe you feel that way or know someone who does. God has not given up on you; He is forming your character.

With a fresh start and a new outlook, I began intentionally recruiting and leading teams. My first goal was not to win a men’s league championship t-shirt, but to assemble a team where people who believed differently could belong, be known, and be in it together. In the process, God continued his character work in me on the court and gave me opportunities to display humility and repentance. Surprisingly, several of my teams did experience success on the field of play, as well as off the field in rich relationships and eternal conversations.

That’s when I ran across a man named Al during open gym basketball. Al didn’t know anyone when he came into the gym, but my friend James and I noticed Al and intentionally sat down next to him on the sidelines. Al was a good player who thought basketball was going to bring him stardom. When I sat next to him, I tried to make a natural connection around the game we both loved.

Al would later admit how he appreciated that we came up and talked to him and treated him like a person. Nothing was forced or contrived, we just showed interest in him. Mixing intentionality with a natural connection and familiarity, Al began to drop his defenses and our relationship grew.

Sports are a unique opportunity for community. The rules change when you are on the same team, doing something together. And the relationship changes. When I saw Al, I saw a really good ballplayer, but I didn’t view him as competition. I wanted to know him and invite him into more of a relationship.

It was the same with my other teammates who did not yet know Christ. I began to appreciate the value of intentionally getting my team together—cultivating the time before, after, and between games to develop relationships with them.

After building a relationship with Al over some time, I could tell Al had an interest in God and had questions he needed to process. So, it was natural to invite Al to join a group of basketball buddies from the gym who were meeting to discuss life, God, and the Bible. It was thrilling to watch Al explore spiritual truths and discover that the group was fun and full of intense competitors who weren’t perfect.

My experience with Al and with several other teams that I have led is that by intentionally building community, sports opens up doorways to more meaningful discussions. Here are three simple ideas on how you can do that.

First, be curious. Ask God where He is at work in the life of the person. That’s what I did when I saw Al sitting on the sidelines. Be in prayer for the person. Then, let curiosity be the bridge that gets you to actively engage with him or her. Notice the good in the person, God’s image, and get curious about it. Listen to God’s Spirit during a conversation and lead with questions that invite the person into dialogue. Be curious about where God’s story intersects with his or her story and when you can introduce him or her to His amazing Story.

Pique curiosity. When you engage in a conversation, what if you piqued the person’s curiosity by dropping clues about your faith, your walk with Christ, your dependence on God, and your transformed life? As you seek to discover his or her story, you can also drop clues about your story and God’s story. My experience with this approach is that people naturally begin to get curious about my faith story, opening up greater opportunities for conversations about God.

Finally, be safe. Create a safe atmosphere for spiritual exploration, find common ground, extend love, drop any agenda, build relationship, and invite the person to freely investigate God’s truth without judgment, correction, or argument.

That’s what I did with Al. I was authentically curious about him and his journey. We talked about real stuff that mattered. Over time, Al opened up to God’s work in his life and humbled himself to Christ. Al still competed hard, but he did it for a greater good than just winning. God called Al into full time ministry with Athletes in Action and he is now the Community Center Programs Director at The Salvation Army in the Engelwood neighborhood of Chicago—one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the city. Al uses his sports platform as a doorway to conversations about God with the youth from that difficult urban environment.

Sports is our cultural religion. When we meet people on the grounds of their “temple,” we are meeting them on their terms and turf. In 1 Corinthians 9:22-23, Paul gives us an intentional mindset to have about sports as mission: “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”

For the sake of the gospel, will you view sports as more than just a game? Will you get intentional and invite someone to join you in what you already do you—like golfing, running, or playing hoops or hockey? Will you enter into his or her world, love and welcome him or her, and seek to introduce him or her to the Jesus that redeemed your life?

Presence and Evangelism in a Post-Christian Culture

one-2

After a busy weekday during the holiday season, I picked up my wife and headed on a 30+ minute drive in traffic to attend the funeral service of my neighbor’s brother. The sudden death of this relatively young man had taken the family by surprise.

We have lived in our neighborhood for over a decade, and have lived with intentionality on a day-to-day basis to share the love of Jesus in words and concrete actions. Our neighbor, Diane (not her real name), had experiences with Christianity as a youth but was turned off by the church and its leadership. Life has been hard on her, and her choices are consistent with someone who is keeping God at a distance.

As we shuffled into the small chapel, we quickly made eye contact with Diane. She made her way back to us, her eyes red and moist. She hugged us with words full of gratitude for our presence. The service was short and respectful and at one point allowed for people to share stories about the deceased. Diane went to the podium and thanked everyone for being there. She started by saying, “Most of life is about showing up. Thanks for showing up.”

Her words churned in my head for days.

After all, isn’t this what Jesus did?

Yes, He is Jesus, “the one who saves.” But He is also Emmanuel, “God with us.” Jesus showed up. He knocked down the wall that existed between us and God, brick by brick (Eph. 2:14-18).

A growing number of people, especially under the age of 35, have no common Christian memory. They don’t know or value the Bible. Jesus is not relevant in their daily life. Their thought life is void of God, and their actions do not give Jesus any consideration, consciously or subconsciously. Whether we like it or not, we are a pluralistic society. As Gabe Lyons states, “Followers of Christ in a pluralistic society must be willing and able to engage those they disagree with in constructive conversations.” After all, “How can we love someone we don’t know or understand?”

Are you willing and able to engage someone who believes differently than you? If you are, its important to recognize that people aren’t looking for answers first; instead, they are seeking connection—to be known and understood. True connectivity, the ability to link to and connect with another, is scarce. People don’t need an expert to tell them what they should believe, feel, or know—the Internet allows everyone to feel like an expert on any topic, with just a few clicks and a little time.

Knowledge is not the differentiator, love is. And to love someone with action and to have the opportunity to speak words of God’s love, you have to show up.

When the Communists took over Russia in 1917, they vigorously persecuted the Church but did not make Christianity illegal. In the Constitution of 1918, Article 13 guaranteed freedom of religion. But Article 16 established that only the Soviet Republic would render “material and all other assistance to the workers and poorest peasants,” effectively making it illegal for Christians to do any good works. Because the Church in Russia could no longer “show up”—to feed the hungry or take care of the sick or the orphans—within 70 years it became irrelevant.

If we, as followers of Jesus, do not show up, we lose our influence and evangelistic effectiveness. In Romans 15:17-19, the Apostle Paul was full of enthusiasm about all that Christ Jesus had done through him, “bringing the Gentiles to God by my message and by the way I worked among them” (emphasis added). The Spirit of God worked through Paul’s words and actions as he “fully presented the good news of Christ.” Paul showed up. The gospel is spoken and modeled. Our actions give substance, meaning, and credibility to our words.

So how can we as followers of Jesus, have an opportunity to share His love, grace, and awesome message of forgiveness, restoration, and hope?

Show up for them again and again and again. The power of the cross, of sacrificial love, still knocks down walls, brick by brick.

Be interrupted.

Be inconvenienced.

Be intentional.

If you don’t show up, they will never know you care. “Love never gives up”—it shows up. “Love never loses faith”—it gives faith. “Love is always hopeful and endures through every circumstance” (1 Cor 13:7).

Love by going to the funeral home and sitting quietly in support. BOOM! One brick down. Love by listening and asking meaningful questions. BOOM! another brick falls. Love by visiting the hospital and offering a prayer. BOOM! and another brick falls. Love by stopping by the house and providing a meal or offering to watch the kids. BOOM! and another. Love by dropping by the dorm room or office and giving a word of encouragement. BOOM! another. Love by including them in something you are already doing. BOOM! another.

And when the opportunity opens, as it always will, love by sharing your story and God’s story. BOOM! the wall comes down.

By showing up in physical and practical ways, we can incarnate Christ’s love, expressing tangible compassion, demonstrating their value, healing their pain or easing their burden in Christ’s name.

Will you show up for someone?