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Blogger, Christ-follower, Encourager, Friend, Husband, Dad

Monday, October 28, 2013

Murder He Wrote: How to Murder a Conversation

I like a good murder mystery; a well-developed fictional story with a murder plot and lots of unexpected twists and turns.

As I have been pondering the topic over the past couple of weeks, I am thinking about the mysterious demise of Mr. Conversation.  He’s been bludgeoned, poisoned, and starved to death in living rooms, conference rooms, and bedrooms.  He’s died on the phone and in front of witnesses. And if all the suspects were to be arrested, you and I might be behind bars today.

I have used all three of those previously mentioned murder weapons.

Bludgeoning: This is a totally one-sided conversation.  As a preacher/writer accustomed to 30 minute uninterrupted monologues or 500 word uninterrupted newspaper columns, it is not surprising that I might need to give some intentional focus to being able to carry on a good conversation.  Mrs. Sweetie has been sitting in church pews listening to me preach for 29 years.  Amazingly enough, she is not interested in hearing a sermon at home.  In Vancouver last month, we visited with a church planter who is starting a church on the campus of the Universityof British Columbia.  He teaches his students the 20-20 rule for conversations.  Talk 20 seconds about yourself and let the other person talk for 20 minutes about herself. If we take that approach, the conversation has a great chance of balancing out.

Poisoning: This is allowing toxic substances to overwhelm a conversation; substances like gossip, criticism, humiliation, and whining“How are you,” is a bad question to ask a toxic conversationalist because you are going to walk away feeling worse than when it started.

Starvation: This is when we allow outside distractions to steal the conversational opportunities before us.  When our TV show or the work we brought home consume our entire evening, we run the risk of conversation starvation.  When we spend the entire mealtime answering phone calls and text messages rather than engaging with our dining companions, starvation is setting in.

The phrase “encourage one another” appears three times in the New Testament (1 Thessalonians 5:11, Hebrews 3:13, Hebrews 10:25).  I am not aware of a more effective way of doing that than by healthy conversation.  Our lives matter to God and should matter to each other.

Last week I invited you to conversation with me, especially in response to what you read in this blog or its newspaper column form.  Before I mention a couple of opportunities, let me encourage you to carefully consider engagement with content that comes to you through an intermediary source.  If you read something in a newspaper or magazine that blesses you, let them know.  If you appreciate a guest columnist or blogger, let the host know.  They often get bludgeoned.  Some encouraging conversation directed toward them would be a welcome respite.

Now, some quick ways to converse with me:  

1. You can email me with your questions or comments by using the "Contact Me" formto the right. 

2. To get a conversation started around something you read in this blog, you can post a comment below.  

3. My Facebook ministry page is www.facebook.com/thatllpreach

4. Follow me on twitter @harvestdom.  I’d love to hear from you. 

Now for the question of the week:  What is the number one thing you can do this week to contribute to healthy conversations?

Monday, October 21, 2013

Talk to Me ... I Mean It

I started writing Life Matters in 1996.  Back then, it was an opportunity to use relatively new technology (email) to share some encouraging thoughts with members of my congregation at Eagle Mountain Baptist Church, where I was pastor from 1991 to 2008.  As more friends and family members started using email and as church members found the dreaded “forward” button, the subscriber list expanded.  (Now, if I see the letters “Fwd”, I think it is an abbreviation for “Delete”).

Over the years, I occasionally would receive a short email response where someone would tell me they enjoyed what I wrote or they had a question about something I said.  Sometimes there would even be a few emails exchanged (almost like a conversation).  I loved the interaction, so when I re-launched Life Matters as a blog in 2009, I was hoping for a more interactive experience with my readers, but I still really didn’t know how to write in a way that made people want to respond (other than shaking their heads).  Admittedly, I’m still working on that.

A new door and chapter opened in 2011, when Life Matters began appearing as a weekly newspaper column. Talk about embracing new technology!  As of this week, I believe the past 130 or so editions have appeared in a local newspaper somewhere.  Even with all the technology that exists, I know for a fact that more people read my thoughts with an actual newspaper in their hands than they do sitting in front of a computer screen.  I am incredibly blessed and humbled by the opportunity to invest myself in the lives of local folks through that medium and hope the opportunity lasts for years to come.

But, I still crave interaction.  As a writer and as a preacher, I am accustomed to casting my words out for consumption and contemplation.  I hope to sometimes make you smile, sometimes make you laugh, sometimes make you think, and sometimes touch you deeply.   Proverbs 16:24 says, “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”  When I tell you that your life matters to God, I hope you believe it.  I also hope my words inspire you in some way to think about, and maybe even talk about, life in a new light.

That talking is what I want to invite you to this week.  I run into people all the time who tell me they enjoy reading my newspaper column.  I love that, but I don’t just want to know you enjoyed it.  I’d love to know how it made you think or how you apply it to your life.  I’d love to hear you expand on my thoughts and I’d love to learn from you.  Romans 15:14 says, “I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another.”

Please leave me a comment below.  I can't wait to talk with you and not just to you.  More information about conversation coming next week.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

While We're Eating, Let's Talk Death

I wrote this blog last week from a hotel room in Nashville, TN, where I was attending a conference for Church Consultants.  On Sunday morning, I worshiped with  The Donelson Fellowship.  It was actually a church I had wanted to visit for several years, since reading a couple of books written by their pastor, Robert Morgan

It was a great experience from the moment we drove onto the parking lot.  We donned our “church consultant lenses” and noticed great directional signage, a friendly and helpful parking lot greeter, more friendly and helpful greeters inside the door, and an inviting and welcoming atmosphere. 

During the pastor’s excellent sermon, he referenced a recent trend among Baby Boomers to get together over dinner and talk about death and dying.  These “Death Dinners”, according to a Bloomberg news article from a few weeks ago, are trending in New York, but were inspired by a group of master’s degree students and faculty at the University of Washington.  Their program, “Let’s Have Dinner and Talk About Death,” offers “talking points, reading material on death, and how to word a death dinner invitation. Since starting last month, about 400 people have signed up to host dinners, the group said.”

I regularly listen to a podcast called “This is Your Life” by Michael Hyatt.  His most recent blog and podcast topic dealt with tips for having better dinner conversations.  I can’t remember, “Would you rather be buried or cremated?” being one of his suggested questions.

However, as I read through the Bloomberg article online, it kind of made sense.  It seems a little creepy to have a “death” conversation when everyone is healthy, but that really is the point.  Medical technology, nutrition, and simply a better standard of living have increased our life expectancy and we have innumerable resources to help us prepare to live well.  I like to think of this blog as one of those resources.  But, how do we prepare to die well?

Death is often seen as the great Interloper, the uninvited destroyer of dreams and fearful heart breaker.  I think it is possible, rather, to view death as a commencement exercise or even a birthing chamber into life at its fullest.  But just talking about death and funeral arrangements won’t help us make that shift.  A will, medical power of attorney, or other advanced directives are helpful and advisable, but still do not transform our mental models of death and dying.

The fearfulness of a closed door is mitigated when we know what is on the other side. Jesus said, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” (John 6:37) Our lives matter so much to God that He wants us to enter the next reality with assurance.  That assurance comes by knowing Him personally in this reality.

Now about that “Death Dinner” – home cooked or carry-out?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

God Came Near

Note: Due to current work and travel schedule, this week's Life Matters is an "encore" edition from January, 2007 (pre-blog/newspaper column days) with slight editing. I think it is still relevant.  Hope you think so, too. - G.L.

Do you ever think of a witty and clever response about 30 minutes too late?  Do you envy those quick-witted folks who seem to have a response without having to think about it?  Favorite son has always been one of those.  When he was a young teenager, we were in a restaurant waiting for the waitperson (note the politically correct, non-gender-specific terminology) to take our order. My boy was constantly jabbering—but in such a low volume that the cacophony of voices and rattle of dishes in the restaurant made it difficult to understand.  Mrs. Sweetie finally asked, “What did you say?”  “Oh, I was just talking to myself,” he replied.  She responded, “Well, are you answering yourself?”  Without a moment’s hesitation he demonstrated that we were in the presence of wit-greatness.  “No,” he said, “I’m not feeling very talkative tonight.”  At this point I contributed to the conversation with guffaws and snorts.  It reminded me a little bit of the hand-lettered message favorite daughter once had on her bedroom doorI would challenge you to a battle of wits, but you appear unarmed.”

One of the perplexities of life is that it sometimes seems that God is not feeling very talkative.  Now I’m not talking about hearing God speak out loud.  Most Christ-followers have never heard God audibly, but they have “heard” Him speak in other ways.

But, God can seem un-talkative when you read and read the Bible, but nothing seems to touch your heart and you pray and pray, but you feel no connection with God. I’m talking about when the circumstances of life make no sense and there are no words that make it any better.

In my years as a pastor I often had the occasion of conducting a funeral service for someone that spent most of his life making really poor choices.  In those times I wondered what to say.  What words could reframe this circumstance for a devastated family?  God seemed irritatingly un-talkative.

When there is another natural disaster or another terrorist attack somewhere in the world, what can we say that helps put it in perspective?  How can people of faith speak to the watching and listening world without seeming trite and rehearsed?  God seems irritatingly un-talkative.

Then I remember that God has spoken through sending One who was called Emmanuel—which means “God with us” (Matthew 1:23).  When God seems irritatingly un-talkative, we must remember that Jesus was God’s visible reminder that He is with us.  He constantly reaches out to us.  He is the God who comes near.

When my kids were babies they would sometimes wake up and cry in the night.  They did not need someone to come and explain to them why they should not cry. They needed a big someone to come and pick them up and hold them close and let them know they were not alone.

God may seem irritatingly un-talkative, but He hasn’t gone away.  Our lives matter and He is with us.