Pragmatic Communion

pragmatic living in the presence of God

empathy. compassion. kindness.

Lord, please bless me with empathy and compassion and kindness.

“Mahatma Gandhi said, “I like their Christ, I don’t like their Christians.”
Friedrich Nietzshe said, “I will believe in the Redeemer when the Christian looks a little more redeemed.”

Their points need to be taken.”

The Case for Faith
by Lee Strobel

This was dual published on my Pragmatic Compendium blog.

Advertisements

June 3, 2010 Posted by | apologetics, books, christian living, God's love, prayer, spiritual growth, witnessing | , , , , | Leave a comment

a loving God. evil and suffering.

But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.
1 Peter 3:14-15

I’m reading The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel. (Click HERE for his youtube testimony.) In this book, Strobel attempts to “investigate” the most common obstacles to the Christian faith. He calls these obstacles “the Big Eight.” I’m reading about Obstacle #1.

“Since Evil and Suffering Exist, a Loving God Cannot.”

Why am I reading this? I was led. Compelled. There are so many struggling. Suffering. All ages, genders and walks of life. Suffering physically, spiritually, emotionally, financially. Children died this week. Children die every week. A young mother at my church lost her battle with cancer the day before a friend who defeated stage 4 breast cancer got her breast reconstruction.

I pray. For people I know, and people I don’t. I pray for strength and comfort. For peace.

I pray because I personally believe a loving God does exist, despite the evil and suffering in the world. But in my prayers, unspoken, was always “Why?”

My auto-pilot answer was “Have faith in God.” But in truth? I had nuthin. Except that whole “then we shall see face to face” thing. (1 Corinthians 13:12)

If there is a loving God, why is there pain and suffering in the world?

I’m 44, for crying out loud. I’ve been a Christian for nearly 30 years! I should to be able to ANSWER THE QUESTION instead of mumbling words like “sin” and “test of faith” and “God’s will” and “free will” or quoting scripture to Christians, agnostics and atheists alike. Scripture. Not a credible resource for agnostics and atheists. Quote the Bible if it makes you feel better, but when I’m talking to someone who doesn’t believe the Bible to be the Living Word of God, or to a person who doesn’t even believe in God, I need to approach the conversation in a different way. God can use other books and resources besides the Bible. He can use a sunset, a song or an impossible coincidence. He can even use my personal experience and fallible human intellectual understanding. He is that good. (I just need to gain some intellectual understanding and identify my personal experience.)

Besides not being able to intelligently articulate a reasonable response when talking to others, I personally didn’t like not having answers to the “why” question and the “how can there be a loving God” question. And I believed there were answers. Just because I didn’t know what they were, didn’t mean there weren’t any. This week, I found myself no longer comfortable just believing and trusting in God and accepting suffering without question. (Which I did, by the way.) For some reason, I’m at a place in my life where I want to know WHY I believe what I believe about this issue and be able to explain myself to Christians and non-Christians alike.

Wait. Don’t go off and comment yet, telling me “the” answer. Bear with me. I want to work through this one pragmatic step at a time. I’ve had discussions with “strong” Christians, “longtime” Christians, pastors and FirstHusband. I’ve read the Bible, commentaries, and books. Nothing seemed REASONABLE. The Christians were often patronizing and/or vague, attributing my doubt – or questioning or whatever you want to call it – to a lack of faith or an immature Christian. Because they really believed I lacked faith or was immature? Or to cover up the fact that they themselves weren’t able to effectively articulate an answer either? Back then, I believed it was me. After this week? Not so much. Because I found two authors who were able to articulate their reasoning in a way that resonates with me. It’s not that they “told” me the answer to these questions so much as they rounded up many of my thoughts on the matter (conscious and not) and were able to lay them out in an organized, reasonable way.

Let me back up a bit, before the resonating, and answer a likely question. What have I been doing all these years, with this seeming contradiction between suffering and a loving God?

Years ago, FirstHusband gave me the thought that allowed me to let the contradiction rest – until now. In discussing why a loving God allows human suffering, we had a lot to talk about. In the end, it was this:

Could it be (I said COULD) that one (I said ONE) reason people suffer is so the world can see the difference between how a Christian and a non-Christian deals with the suffering? The theory is that Christians have a hope, strength, peace and comfort that comes from God. Now THAT, I’ve seen. On more than one occasion. And so have you.

But what about non-Christians who approach adversity with a seemingly positive outlook? What about non-Christians who overcome obstacles to make things better or inspire us? Randy Pausch never professed Christianity. Neither has John Walsh. Both remarkable men, who, when faced with tragedy, responded much like we expect Christian men would. And what about the Christians who react to tragedy with anger, blame God or who fall apart and shut down? Non-Christians blame God, fall apart and shut down. It can go both ways.

So I personally choose to believe that there IS a loving, all-powerful God despite the seemingly contradicting evidence of evil and suffering present in the world. For years, I’ve been able to fumble around the God-speak, quoting scripture and using words like faith, free will, sin, and God’s Will, but I’ve never before formulated an intelligent response which adequately, logically, PRAGMATICALLY addresses the question AND the objections to the pat, theological answers.

Faced with the multiple tragedies of the death of her uncle and and her aunt’s diagnoses of Alzheimer’s disease and terminal cancer, Lee Strobel’s wife said:

“If someone thinks he can wrap everything up in a neat little package and put a fancy theological bow on it, go somewhere else.”

I don’t want to be “someone” or “go somewhere else.” I need to be prepared to answer.

To read Part 2, CLICK HERE

[This devotion was prompted by THIS post on my Pragmatic Compendium blog.]


“But faith isn’t always easy, even for people who desperately want it. Some people hunger for spiritual certainty, yet something hinders them from experiencing it. The wish they could taste that kind of freedom, but obstacles block their paths. Objections pester them. Doubts mock them. Their hearts want to soar to God; their intellects keep them securely tied down . . .

. . . If doubt and faith can co-exist, then this means people don’t have to fully resolve each and every obstacle between them and God in order to have an authentic faith.”

Lee Strobel
The Case for Faith

April 19, 2009 Posted by | apologetics, books, comfort, faith, god's will, strength, suffering, witnessing | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

don’t react. respond.

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
Romans 12:18 NIV

When I was in high school, I worked at McDonalds. I started on “fries and shakes” (back when they actually MADE the shakes – with ice cream and syrup and a real shake machine ). Over the years I worked every job, from birthday party hostess to counter to drive thru to grill . . . even manager trainee.

During my senior year of high school, I was assigned to work drive thru with another girl from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. One of us worked the window and the other “filled the orders.” Back then, McDonalds only had ONE drive thru window. Back then, working the window meant taking the orders at the speaker AND taking the money AND handing the orders to the customer. So, one of us stood in the same place for 4 hours every day and the other ran around like crazy, filling the orders. When I worked the window, I would take the order from the customer at the speaker, take the money from the customer at the window, turn around, grab the already filled bag and drinks, hand them out the window and repeat. All the while my friend and co-worker bobbed and weaved through the employees working the counter to grab food and fill the next bag. Some shifts I worked the window and she filled orders, some shifts she worked the window and I filled orders.

WE. WERE. FAST. Our goal was the “30 second drive thru” McDonalds constantly pushed. If the manager kept the food coming from the grill and there was an assigned “fry” person, we were very, very often able to meet that 30 second mark.

It got boring.

So, we looked for ways to make things more interesting. First we tried pranks and jokes. Like writing “HELP! LET ME OUT! on an empty bag and place it where the filled order should go, that kind of thing. That got boring. What to do. What to do . . .

We decided we were going to make people smile within 30 seconds. Getting the friendly people to smile was easy. Getting the distracted and indifferent people to smile – also easy. Each smile was a win. The challenge? Cranky people. We were going to get them to smile too. When a grouchy, mean, impatient, cranky, sarcastic (you get the idea) customer came to our drive thru, we were sickeningly sweet and friendly. We smiled, we were overly-nice, we joked, we smiled more. And when a cranky person drove away after giving a smile – or even just a grin? That wasn’t just a win, it was a bonus!

We used kindness as a weapon, adopting the “kill em’ with kindness” philosophy. It was fun, and we got through our shifts without hating the job or the customers. We were just kids, goofing around, thinking we were manipulating people and feeling impressed with ourselves.

But what I learned from that experience has stayed with me. It doesn’t take much to diffuse a situation. It actually takes very little. Very little pride or arrogance, I mean. It means giving people grace instead of what I think they deserve. When I diffuse a situation, it means no more “right back atcha” or “no you di ent!” It means consciously choosing to respond, instead of react. I’ve mentioned this before, that I want to respond instead of react. I learned it from my sister-in-law. She told me that one year her prayer and goal was to learn how to respond, instead of react. It was a l o n g year. Her next year’s prayer and goal?

To respond appropriately.

I love that. I’m working on that. Not that I’m able to do it all the time, mind you, but I have realized something. When I’m off balance, when I don’t get any solitude, when I’m tired and/or over-extended, when I don’t devote time to prayer or reading my Bible – I’m irritable. When I’m irritable, I take it out on other people. But, when I’M okay, when I have peace, I have the wherewithal to overcome my first reaction and instead, choose to respond. I can give people grace instead of what I think they deserve.

Strangers, acquaintances, friends, family – it doesn’ matter. Because it has nothing to do with THEM. It’s a decision I make about how I will respond to them, no matter the relationship. No matter the offense.

Sounds lofty. Pious. Impossible. Maybe. I can’t do it all the time. But I can try. And if I fail when I fail, I’ll try again.

Words can never adequately convey the incredible impact of our attitude toward life. The longer I live the more convinced I become that life is 10 percent what happens to us and 90 percent how we respond to it.
Charles R. Swindoll
Christian Reader, v. 33, n. 4.


This devotion was inspired by Amy’s post entitled “When You Give Someone a Cookie” at “God’s Work in Progress.

August 20, 2008 Posted by | grace, spiritual growth, Uncategorized, witnessing | , , , , | 5 Comments

never going to stop trying

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.
Romans 8:1-4 NIV

I love old books.

The dusty old book I picked up this week is entitled “What is a Christian” by A. Leonard Griffith, copyright 1962.

“First and foremost, Christianity is a relationship to a Person. In that sense it differs from great world religions like Judaism and Hinduism and it differs from Communism and other rival secular faiths that compete for men’s allegiance today. All these direct our loyalty to a theological system, a code of ethics, a philosophy or an ideology, but Christianity alone directs our loyalty to a Person. Where Christ is, there is Christianity, and the Christian is a person who tries to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

We say “tries” because no one succeeds perfectly. How very wrong to assume that either you must be a first-class Christian or else you have no right to call yourself a Christian at all. We should never adopt that attitude toward other things. We do not deny ourselves the privilege of education simply because we are not first-class scholars, or the pleasure of singing because we are not of concert calibre, or the enjoyment of knocking a golf ball because we lack professional skill.

The real zest in life lies not in achievement but in effort, not in having arrived, but in striving.”

What a humbling reminder. Being a Christian comes down to ONE thing. A relationship to a Person (with a capital “P”). It is this Person I fail when I sin, not myself. When I become disappointed or frustrated about not meeting my own expectations, I need to remember who it is I am really disappointing. If my goals are in line with God’s will, if my striving is to glorify God, whose “expectations” have I really failed when I sin?

I can’t be a “first-class” Christian. What is that anyway?

I’m going to try to follow Christ. And in this “striving” Mr. Griffith talks about, I have been able to see the sin in self-condemnation.

I will sin. Any minute now. I don’t know how, but I will. I’m human. And I don’t want to waste one minute berating myself. It’s as if Jesus is standing there, waiting on me, with scars on his hands and feet, asking me to come and I respond by saying:

“I’ll be there in a minute. I’m not finished punishing myself yet.”

If Jesus was actually physically standing there, I wonder if he would roll his eyes and say:

“You just don’t get it, do you? Come here. RIGHT NOW. Sit down. Let me explain Grace one more time.”

Instead of wasting time and devaluing Grace by berating myself, I need to sincerely repent, ask forgiveness and try again. I need – and want – to start striving again as soon as possible. Self-condemnation prevents me from doing that. Self-condemnation delays my striving.

I can’t be perfect. It’s just not possible. But I’m not going to let that stop me from trying to follow Christ. If I wander off the road, the Holy Spirit is my GPS. I will find the “right” road again. But I refuse to stand there, in the middle of the “wrong” road, whining about the fact that I got lost.

Again.

By no preachment can we really satisfy that earnest inquirer who asked,
“What is a Christian?” But I wonder if we could point him to someone we know,
someone who has responded to the Master’s call and who so tries to follow Jesus
that of him it might be said, “There goes a Christian.”
A. Leonard Griffith


UPDATE: Debbie’s comment caused me to rethink my wording – and prompted me to do a little research. Found an interesting video on youtube. A preacher talks about the idea of “disappointing God” being a lie. See my comment below Debbie’s for my thoughts on this.

May 31, 2008 Posted by | books, grace, pragmatic presence, spiritual growth, witnessing | 5 Comments

i am not alone

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, 12

I’m the book lady. Every year, my church has a HUGE rummage sale. Two full weeks, weekends included, are spent unloading storage units, picking up and accepting donations, sorting, pricing and basically setting up an entire gymnasium for the annual “Whale of a Sale” held the first weekend of October.

I’m the book lady.

I take two weeks off from clients and work the Whale, every day. In that two week span, I literally touch thousands of books. They are categorized by topic and fiction is alphabetized by author’s last name. They sit on three rows of 6 or 7 folding tables (the big ones), in boxes, spine up, facing the shopper. Each box has a sign sticking up from it with my handwriting on it, indicating the contents of the box: Cookbooks, Physical Health, Emotional Health, Parenting, Travel, Military History, American History, World History, Gardening, etc. In each box, you can see the name of nearly every book without having to touch a single one. If you are looking for a particular book, just ask me. I”ll tell you if we have it and, if so, exactly where it is. The comments from people who see it range from, “Wow. This is amazing.” to “Who did all this?” (in a “that person is insane” tone of voice.) In the first few years, I did much of it myself, but now there are actually a handful of people who “get” me and can help sort without messing up the system.

The added benefit is that I get first pickings. At a $1.00 per hardback and $.50 for paperbacks and children’s books, I bring home a bookcase worth every year. My I.O.U grows ominously for two weeks as I sneak boxes of books into my house. Some women buy clothes, secretly hang them in the closet and when their husband comments the first time the clothing is worn, the women say, “This? I’ve had this for years.” Not me. I bring home books, quickly pull off the price tag and shelve them. I don’t say a word. I read so many books at one time, I never get asked, “Is that a new book?” My husband can’t keep up. This year was more difficult. I ran out of shelving space and had to reorganize the playroom. A six foot shelf that used to house toys, games and puzzles now houses fitness, diet and health books. (The shelf is right next to the treadmill after all.)

So, I’m the book lady.

I was asked to give my testimony at United Methodist Women Sunday last week and that’s how I started. It went something like this (and thankfully, with laughter in all the right places):

“My name is Julie Mills, but if you were at the Whale of a Sale, you probably know me as the book lady. I’m not a librarian. I just have freakish organizational skills. If I’m invited to your house and you have books, I may organize them while we chat. One of the books that came in this year was “Eat Pray Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert. I’ve been on the waiting list at the library for this book for more than 6 months, so when it came in, it was MINE! Liz Gilbert is a journalist who spend a year of her life traveling in Italy (to eat), Indonesia (to pray) and India (to love). She wrote about her experience, and although she’s not a professed Christian, I’ve gained so much insight as I run her words through my own perspective as a Christian. I’d like to read an excerpt I found particularly meaningful. In speaking about the differences between her sister, Catherine and herself, Liz wrote:

“A family in my sister’s neighborhood was recently stricken with a double tragedy, when both the young mother and her three-year old son were diagnosed with cancer. When Catherine told me about this, I could only say, shocked, “Dear God, that family needs grace.” She replied firmly, “That family needs casseroles,” and then proceeded to organize the entire neighborhood into bringing that family dinner, in shifts, every single night, for an entire year. I do not know if my sister fully recognizes that this is grace.”

See, they’re not so different after all. Compare me to another 40 something woman, with two children and a minivan. Although we look similar, we would probably say we are very different. But when you look more closely, those differences fade. What I discover is that I’m not alone. Especially in UMW. When you are a member of a UMW Circle, you have microwave friends. Instant friends. Women who support each other. Pray for each other. Bring food in times of trouble. Women who understand, because even if they aren’t going through what you are at the moment, some of them have already gone through it. Others may face the same issues in their future. We can learn from each other. Trust each other. Encourage each other. Accept each other. I feel like I’m ready to invite any one of my circle friends to my house . . . and not vacuum. Okay, I’ll probably leave the vacuum cleaner out in the middle of the room and say I was gonna.

The point is, we’re not alone. In UMW, you are never alone.”

After my testimony, I sang “Orphans of God” by Avalon:

Who here among us has not been broken
Who here among us is without guilt or pain
So oft’ abandoned by our transgressions
If such a thing as grace exists
Then grace was made for lives like this

There are no strangers
There are no outcasts
There are no orphans of God
So many fallen, but hallelujah
There are no orphans of God

Come ye unwanted and find affection
Come all ye weary, come and lay down your head
Come ye unworthy, you are my (sister) brother
If such a thing as grace exists
Then grace was made for lives like this

O blessed Father, look down upon us
We are Your children, we need Your love
We run before Your throne of mercy
And seek Your face to rise above

November 1, 2007 Posted by | books, grace, service, witnessing, women | 2 Comments

why now?


When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child, but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
1 Corinthians 13:11 NKJV

So why now? Why, after decades of compartmentalizing my life, do I decide to remove all the structural lines separating my professional and personal life and see what I get? If I combine so many seemingly unrelated aspects of my education, skills, work (and life) experiences with my faith, won’t it make me appear unfocused? Will it make me appear as if I’m trying to do so many things at once that I couldn’t possibly do any of them well? Will allowing current and potential business contacts to see my personal life (and my faith) make them uncomfortable? Will exposing my personal life (and my faith) damage my credibility as a business woman? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to stick to the old adage? Business is business.

I stopped talking openly about my faith at work in the 1980’s when I got my first “career” job. I was young, surrounded by people who were more educated, more sophisticated and more wealthy. Lacking a formal education, with minimal skills, I wasn’t confident in my abilities in the workplace and was new to my faith. I was intimidated. I remember asking to take vacation so I could chaperone a youth mission trip and becoming engaged in a conversation where I found myself defending my faith when faced with the opinion “You’re young! What are you doing wasting your vacation time?” Over time, I learned to avoid conversations in which the intellectually minded attempted to convince me that my faith was idealistic and . . . wrong.

Later, as I began my career in information technology support, most of my colleagues were men. I found I was more comfortable adopting a typical masculine communication style – mostly report talk, not rapport talk. Business is business.

Over time, I let my guard down and have engaged in many workplace conversations about faith in God – but only with clients and colleagues with whom I had an established relationship.

So why expose my faith so openly now? I’ve been thinking about it and believe there are a number of reasons – some I’m not even sure I know yet.

  • I’m more educated now and the journey to attain the degrees was more life changing than the actual papers I received when I graduated.
  • My skills and experience in the workplace have increased and expanded. I’m more involved in training now, which required developing more diverse interpersonal skills.
  • My role as a wife and mother have taught me more than I ever imagined.
  • Years of teaching business and professional communication at UCF facilitated practical application of so many communication theories in my daily life.
  • I’m more confident now, not afraid of what people think and not motivated to gain approval by meeting someone else’s expectations when they are counterproductive to my goals. I understand that I will never get everyone I meet to like me and I’m okay with that. To each his own.

The bottom line is: This is me. All of me. Combining ALL my education, skills, experience ( in work and life) and goals (personal and professional) with my faith is having unexpected and interesting results:

  • I’m finding new ways to apply my formal (and informal) education across all areas of my life.
  • I’m motivated to learn even more while actively looking for ways to incorporate new knowledge in both my business and personal life.
  • I’m identifying skills I’ve not recognized before because they weren’t practical or necessary when my life was organized in neat little boxes. (Okay NOT so neat, but still – boxes)
  • My faith is growing stronger as I recognize more and more practical applications of biblical truths.
  • I’m gaining wisdom and making better decisions because I’m developing a conscious understanding of my personal, family and professional goals and mapping out the steps I need to take to achieve them.

So why now? Synergy.

What is synergy? Simply defined, it means that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It means that the relationship which the parts have to each other is a part in and of itself. It is not only a part, but the most catalytic, the most empowering, the most unifying and the most exciting part.

The creative process is also the most terrifying part because you don’t know exactly what’s going to happen or where it is going to lead. It takes an enormous amount of internal security to begin with the spirit of adventure, the spirit of discovery, the spirit of creativity. Without doubt, you have to leave the comfort zone of base camp and confront an entirely new and unknown wilderness.

Stephen Covey
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

November 10, 2005 Posted by | books, god's will, professional growth, spiritual growth, witnessing | Leave a comment

nosebleed


Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your paths.
Proverbs 3:5-6 NKJV

Last month I shared my prayer as I seek God’s direction in my life:

“Lord, please use people, circumstances, your Word and your Spirit to guide me in the direction I need to go in order to glorify you . . . and please, please, please SLAM the door in my face if I even BEGIN to move in direction you don’t want me to go.”

I got a door slammed in my face.

I’ve been teaching Business and Professional Communication at the University of Central Florida since the Fall of 1998, so when I received my contract for Fall of 2005, I signed it and mailed it back – no big deal. After 7 years, it’s routine.

Two days later, the phone rings. It’s my “boss.” He’s the guy who handles the scheduling and staffing for the Organizational Communication courses. He’s new to the job this semester, taking it over from my old “boss” who recently retired. He’s nice. Friendly. Turns out, he was one of my instructors when I went to UCF.

In a nutshell? UCF is going through the re-accreditation process and he needs to “confirm” my “credentials” before he finalizes the schedule. So, we go over my resume, I tell him some recent work history and then there’s the teaching of this class for the last 7 years. Twice in those 7 years, I’d been asked to allow new instructors job shadow me. So, it’s a nice conversation. I’m confident I’ve highlighted my qualifications for the job. He thanks me and tells me he’ll let me know.

I spend the next 24 hours thinking about the possibilities. Will they offer me a full time associate position? A visiting professor position? Do I really want to work full time? How would it impact my family’s life?

The next day, the phone rings and he greets me with:
“Julie, the news isn’t good.”

(“The news isn’t good?” Wait. That wasn’t one of the scenarios I’d been playing in my head for the last 24 hours.)

“It turns out you’re credentialed to teach in the Business Department, not the Communication Department.”

“I’m not qualified to teach in the Communication Department?”

“No, no, no, no, we both know you’re QUALIFIED, you’re just not CREDENTIALED. You have an MBA and to teach in the Communication Department, you need 18 hours of Master’s level work in the Communication Department.”

“Oh.”

So he fills the awkward silence with an encouraging monologue.
(I think – I wasn’t really listening.)

Finally, I say, “You know, it’s okay. Really. I don’t know you very well, but I’ll just tell you – I’m a Christian and I’ve been praying for God’s direction. This means I’m supposed to be doing something else with my time and energy.”
(WHERE did THAT come from????)

“I’M A CHRISTIAN TOO! Julie, this is going to turn out well for you. I really believe that!”

wow. i do too. really.

So we spend a few more minutes talking, he tells me I can call him if I need a reference, we hang up and I no longer teach for UCF.

Excuse me while I tip my head back for a while.

October 14, 2005 Posted by | god's will, patience, witnessing | Leave a comment