Faith

World Religion

Last week around this time, I was wrapping up the eighth day of a business trip to India where I had visited three of my company’s key IT suppliers. One of the highlights of my trip was a dinner where I was seated with a Hindu, a Muslim, a Sikh and me, a Christian.

Early on as I sat the table with these three other men, the thought dwelled inside of me, “What do I need to tell them about Jesus? Aren’t they damned? Am I here just for this reason?” Of course, this brought about a degree of panic and confusion mostly because I felt ill-equipped, and because this was, after all, a business trip. (Am I allowed to bring up Jesus?)

So, with resolute faith, I prayed, “Lord, get me out of here.”

And, eventually He did, a few hours later, and much after the four of us had a thoughtful, meandering global conversation on topics including work, politics, economics and even religion.

All I can say is this. My honest confession to God resulted in a warm response from Him in that my anxiety left me immediately and I was filled with an overwhelming feeling of, “Why don’t you just get to know them Paul?”

And I did. I learned why Sikhs dress the way they do, I heard what it is like to grow up Muslim in a predominantly Hindu country, and I learned about the three primary deities of Hinduism. I learned about their families, their hopes, their views of America, and their perceptions of Christianity, some of which I gently corrected and others I admitted were flaws of the people in our faith.

On the surface, these three men knew more about each other’s lives than I would have thought possible. There was much laughter when the Sikh, Halpreet, admitted that underneath his turban was not a lot of hair since he had gone bald a long time ago, when Prekash admitted some of his wife’s Hindu gods were a little annoying to him, and when Wasim said that Muslim weddings — like the one in a few weeks for his niece — were very stressful.

Are they going to hell? Did I blow it and not tell them the Gospel when I could have? On the first, I still believe that God controls that, and I trust He knows this is an issue. One the second, let me put it like this, the fact that the four of us could find common ground and could talk openly and honestly speaks volumes to the Gospel. This was the way Jesus approached His ministry. He didn’t ignore people. He engaged with them. He built bridges to other people by feeding them, healing them, and giving them hope as he taught and showed the universal, lasting truth of God’s love for people.

And to me this was the lesson of that night. Act like Jesus. Speak in love. Listen to their life stories and show compassion for the struggles they face. And always, always, always remember: the person you are speaking with is created in His image. Even if they don’t believe that.

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Faith

Forgiveness

I have three brothers.  Two older and one younger.  We are all well into mid life, and we are all estranged.  There are a lot of reasons, I suppose, for this estrangement.  Some tragic and some just plain old dumb.  Our mother is in a nursing home, and our father passed away long ago. So the bind of a whole family is well behind us.  During the holidays, it often makes me sad to think so much time has gone by, and I’ll probably never know my earthly brothers any more than I do now.

For one brother, Steve, our relationship is especially painful.  He has lived a life addicted to drugs, alcohol, lying, and self promotion.  At one point he owned a pawn shop through which he became wealthy,  and his drugs and alcohol and greed eventually landed him in jail, divorced and homeless.

Steve is a clever salesman.  Ready, willing and able to say the right things to make you believe you either need what he has or have misinterpreted some event such that he is guiltless.

Recently, he entered a Christian rehabilitation facility. He’s been going to bible study, he’s been sober for 60 days, and he calls me several times a week asking why I won’t talk to him. “Afterall,” he has been saying, “I haven’t done anything wrong, have I?”

I talked to the pastor at the facility, and I told him my side of the story.  I think he already knew the darker sides of Steve, and was aware of the challenges ahead.  He said two things that have been nagging me.

First, he told me that he has been helping Steve understand his old life is gone, and never coming back.  No fancy cars.  No exotic vacations. No wife.  No big income derived from pawning people’s possessions (in fact, more likely a job with an hourly wage).

Second, he said Steve is really charming.  The life of the party.  “And I can see how God might be able to use him.”

“Wait a minute, use Steve for what?  Don’t you see that the lure and hook are set? he’s done this exact thing his whole life.  Let me give you a few examples…”

“Maybe you’re right, Paul” Pastor Keith said. “But what if God has other plans and this is the point where Steve does change and this is the point when God begins to use Steve for His purposes?”

My reaction? Not possible.  More than not possible.  Impossible.  No change ever possible and change for Steve will never, never happen.  He has caused so much pain in people’s lives, he cannot be forgiven and he cannot be a part of God’s plan.  That is solely reserved for people who are forgivable, and by no means does that include Steve.

In the last few weeks since the conversation with Pastor Keith, I have been thinking and praying about my brother and the way I have felt.  I have wondered just how much my own self is getting in the way of what God is doing in the world. And what I have been really wondering about is whether or not I believe God really can do anything and really can use anyone and really, really offers salvation to everyone.   I don’t want God forgiving him until I have had a chance to to confront him a bit.  Fair enough, right?

For those of us who have been hurt deeply by others, this is no easy situation.  But it really sits at the core of our belief.  Are we as Christians really called to forgive those who have really hurt us? In my mind, this seems plausible.  But my heart is far behind.

Each day, as I pray, the words are actually formulating in my head, and touching my heart, “I forgive you Steve, and I love you.”  I am being changed slowly.  But I admit I do not like it.  This whole thing makes me uncomfortable. There is still a lot of work to be done.

So what I am learning now is that Steve has his own struggles.  And he has a lot to overcome.  But for me, if I can’t really forgive Steve, it says more about my capacity to forgive than Steve’s capacity to seek forgiveness.  I am sure God understands this, but my sense is He wants to conform me more to His likeness — and his capacity for forgiveness — because that is what it means to be Christian.

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Faith

Optimism part 3

As I have mentioned before, I often take good ideas and improve upon them for better, practical application.  This is very true with the idea of Learned Optimism.

At first this simple way of thinking about life’s situations made a lot of difference in how I saw my own situation.  More and more often I have found myself talking myself out of a negative belief with negative consequences.  At the very least, I was able to come to clear, reasonable conclusions about situations, which then allowed me opportunities to make better choices.

After practicing Learned Optimism for a while, it dawned on me that during the Dispute step, I found myself praying for God’s guidance.  I would pray, “Father, what is really going on here?  Is there anything you want me to know?  Or to do?”

This was my practical, personal application moment.  In the A-B-C-D-E model, Adversity-Belief-Consequences-Disputation-Energy, I began to see that the disputing step was more about seeking divine guidance, or better yet, to understand the Devine Desire for that moment in time.

So. A-B-C-D-E became Adversity-Belief-Consequences-Divine Desire-Energy.  Adversity, then, would almost always lead to prayer, especially when there were negative consequences.  In fact, over time, practicing this has led me to a place where I seek to pray first when there is adversity.  There are times when I don’t even get to my beliefs or the consequences. I simply turn to God.

And that is really the whole message of optimism.  Letting God, our Father, guide us, and to give Him all our burdens.

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