Thoughts from a Call Center

               I currently work at a call center while completing my Masters degree, and looking for a ministry position. It is a job with plenty of colorful stories to say the least. I am still considered a younger guy at this point who has not quite hit 30 yet. I would fall into the generation that older folks would say are full of entitlement, disrespectful, inarticulate, directionless, and all around the cause of everything that will destroy this part of the galaxy. It’s a heavy role to live up to.

               In my job I deal primarily with individuals who claim to be born again believers with a large section of that population being from generations older than mine. On average, I have found that the older generations in their conversation with me tend to fit most of the above description compared to the younger ones. I have had countless ministers speak far worse to me than any unbeliever has. I have had my fair share of cuss outs from believers. I have heard threats of harm towards staff from older generations, and countless claims of being treated unfairly when they failed to follow any of the rules provided by the organization. I have seen some of the uglier side of humanity from older believers in this job, and that is coming from someone who has seen some pretty ugly things in ministry.

               I say all of this to point out a couple of things that require a constant reminder for me. The first one is that our problems in this world are not because of generational, gender, or race issues. They are because of sin issues. I have been called a racist, a sexist, and entitled and disrespectful youngster all because of needing to tell people they broke the rules. None of these are remotely close to accurate in full context. Is their racism in the world? Absolutely. Are there men and women who are sexist? You can count on it. Are there disrespectful and entitled younger generations? Guaranteed. However, none of this is really the issue. Noe gender, race, or age group has a monopoly on sinful behavior.

               Pastors are struggling. I am pleading you to read this if you are not a pastor. A joke at my job is that the meanest customers we have are pastors, and that is not too far from the truth. Many are cynical and angry. What most of my co-workers don’t understand first hand is that pastors see humanity at its ugliest. They face off in a war where believers who are meant to be the most caring in the world are the ones who tend to cause them the most harm. They are more susceptible to bitterness. It is not an excuse, but it is a harsh reality. Your pastor desperately needs your prayer. I don’t care if he is the jolliest person you know. He needs it.

               It’s really hard to love broken people. I make my living be yelled at by strangers a good portion of the time. They don’t know me. I don’t know them, but for that brief moment there are some who will choose to use this random stranger as the source of all their pain and grief in order to unleash their wrath upon it. Those are hard people to love.

               It is hard to not become like that person. I’ve been doing this for four years now. It is hard not to become a really bitter and angry person sometimes. While the angry people are not constant, there are some weeks where you will just have a string of bad calls. Those are the weeks where you are the most susceptible to break down by giving in and become a very angry person who just yells at others whether it may be a friend, child, or maybe a random stranger who is dealing with you in the customer service line. The other scenario is to just break down and to avoid being that bitter and angry person because at least you know you still have a healthier range of emotions at that point.

               It’s important not to place your value on how strangers treat you. There may be times where you are placed in a circumstance where you are inadequately prepared to deal with a situation through no fault of your own, and unfortunately you are the one there to take the heat when it all falls to pieces. It does not mean you have no value or skills to offer. It may mean there is a need for a readjustment to transition into a place that values you and where you can utilize your skills. It may mean needing to hang in for a while longer while waiting for that opportunity to arrive, but through that waiting it is vital to remember that no stranger can ever place your value on you. Your value is found in Christ, and on what he made you to be.

               I’ve been sitting hear typing this wondering exactly where I am going to go with it. This is after writing multiple posts on other topics that just didn’t feel like the right fit to post when trying to jump back in my blog. This one is different because it turned into being a bit more raw and personal, and that seems to be the phase I am in right now. I guess I have written all this to really end on this simple note. Whether you are the one answering the phone, or making the, call I beg of you to remember the words of Philo of Alexandria, “Be kind. Everyone is fighting a great battle.”

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Teach Them Everything

I have been thinking back on the Great Commission lately. It is one of those passages where you hear it so often that everything just sort of bleeds together. Every now and then there is something that peaks your interest. A word that was always there, but you never really bothered to recognize before. Jesus tells his followers to go make disciples. He also tells them to teach these new believers. We are called to teach all that Jesus commanded. Everything. Leave nothing out. That little word “all” seems to get lost in the shuffle for me, and I genuinely believe this is a common occurrence for most people.

We see it most clearly in the love vs, truth debate. Jesus tells us to love sinners. Some focus so heavily on this aspect that they only use their own definition of love. Love in these situations apparently means we should never risk offending, changing, and preaching to the person.

Then you have the truth side to the argument. Some can fall so far on this side of the spectrum that they become like Paul writes about love. If we preach but have no love we are a clanging symbol. It is just noise. Noise without soul. Noise without purpose. It is just words without any effect on the person.

Christ says to follow all of it. It is this strange balance that Christ always represented in his ministry. A clear example is of the adulterous woman. To the Biblical scholars in the room, please hang in there with me despite the questions of whether or not this story was written in the original text. Too often we use that argument to try and take away the love focused crowds favorite passage when there is clearly no real reason to. All that needs to be done is point out that they stop the story short. We fail to see the big picture.

We have all heard the story. There is a woman caught in adultery. The men gathered around tell Jesus it is time to stone her. Jesus gives the famous line. “He who is without sin cast the first stone.” Everyone except Jesus leaves. He is left standing there in front of this woman. What a powerful message of love and tolerance some will say. What beauty to not condemn the woman in her vulnerability. Jesus then says these words after pointing out to the woman that her executioners are gone “Go and sin no more.” Truth. Jesus spoke truth in those moments.

This begs the question, why tell her to stop sinning? Jesus also taught about judgment. We see this tenderness, patience, and mercy in his ministry, but he acknowledges that there will come a point where judgment takes place. Take hold of the mercy provided to you now, and use it to follow me. Deny yourself. Deny your sin. Deny everything that is holding you back from being what I have created you to be, and follow me completely.

The problem with the accusers in the story is not that they acknowledged the woman was sinful. The problem was that they were prepared to cast out the sentencing on their own terms. Jesus says wait. Show love. Show compassion. Use this as an opportunity to change her life. She doesn’t have to live in adultery anymore. Yes, judgment will come. The tie is limited, but I pick and choose the time.

Here is the neat thing about love the way Jesus teaches it. It calls out to people to change their lives. It demands action. That is why it is so hard for some people to take. They know when they are experiencing genuine love from God’s people that it shows what is missing in their own life. Love taught by Christ will inherently demand there is truth spoken as well. It will require pointing out that there is sin out there. There are people who are rebelling against God, but it is not for the purpose to call out judgment. The purpose is to avoid receiving that judgment.

We rob ourselves and others of only teaching specific elements of what Christ taught. It is all well and good to love someone for who they are, but imagine how much more impactful you can be if you love them in a way that points them to the opportunity for change. God tends to use passionate people. He uses people who have been broken by their own sin. He uses people who are damaged. He uses people who have a past. This is because those passionate for themselves can be equally as passionate for him when they change. The broken can relate to the broken. Those with a past can be a testimony to God’s grace.

We teach them everything. All of it. We don’t leave any of it out. This isn’t a choose your own adventure. It is a packaged deal. It is all or nothing.

Ezra, Jesus, and a Messy World

Yesterday Ezra (my oldest son) was sick. He had some old milk that made his tummy very upset resulting in a bit of a mess to clean up before work. I don’t do vomit. I hate it. The stomach bug is one of the worst non-lethal sicknesses I can ever deal with, and my son sat there struggling from the pain of his tummy and the mess he had created all over his pajamas. I hate vomit. Yet I still found myself quickly wishing to clean my son and attempt to soothe him to help him feel better.

Jesus inherited a mess. He came into a messy world using a messy method, and lived amongst messy people. It may seem odd, but I too often forget the sheer amount of love that was required for Jesus to live on this earth. The amount of compassion shown to a people who were stuck in a life that they had no hope off fixing on their own is mind boggling, but I still manage to forget it often.

I like this time before Christmas. It is a period of reflection. My family and I do advent, and last Sunday was on the prophets while tomorrow will be on John. I am a little late to the game in posting about this so I will be lumping these two together a bit. The prophets foretold of the mess the world was currently in. They pointed to the ugliness of humanity, and of the need for something greater to rescue them from despair. They pointed to the problem, but also the solution. This solution must have been incredibly fuzzy to their audience, and the prophets themselves. Little of it made sense. The only thing that seemed clear was that there would be a Messiah who would provide salvation. He would bring peace to His people.

Enter John. John pointed to the solution in the flesh. The Messiah. The lamb who would take away the sins of the world. The Messiah had arrived, and the promise of God was now living amongst these people. He came and he went, but yet still we see a messy world around us. A world that remains filled with burdens. A world where a husband tells his wife that he doesn’t love her anymore and is leaving her. It is a land where men, women, and children starve to death. It is a desert where men strap bombs to themselves and fly [planes into buildings. It is a soul who remains tormented by heartache over the pain of loved ones. The world is still a messy place.

Jesus set out to fix the biggest mess of all. My favorite title for the Messiah is Prince of Peace. We look at the world and see it enflamed with war and violence. These past few years have seemed especially difficult. Where is the peace? The peace is in the form of God’s relationship with man. Sins has been covered. The price has been paid. The time for fear is over for unto you is born this day in the city of David, a savior who is Christ the Lord. The greatest peace we could ever need has arrived. We have access to our creator. A real relationship can be developed.

Jesus came into the mess, but he came with unique purpose. A Purpose to allow us to have peace in the midst of strife. Comfort in the storm of pain. Salvation.

John proclaimed that peace was for the taking in the here and now. Peace between God and man. So for now we wait. We rest in the embrace of the Prince of Peace who has freed us from the mess of sin, and wait for his second coming when all things will be set right. We remember, and we wait.

Lies About Sex and Porn: Hidden Secrets Cannot Hurt You

It’s been a long time since I have done one of these posts. Recent events with Josh Duggar have brought some of these issue into my mind again. It has been intriguing to me to see the responses from the masses over it all. Most responses have been a little frightening to me. There seems to be this general idea of joy around it. For those who don’t know, a website that helps people have an affair was hacked releasing thousands of its member. Josh Duggar was one of them.

Many people, Christian and not, have expressed their joy over Josh being caught in the act. Most talk about how they never trusted the family. There seems to be this general trend going on that this whole event is a good thing. It validates the jokes. It validates the opinions. It allows us to bring a family that is projected as godly and perfect down a peg. It brings them down to our level.

This was not my first reaction. My first reaction was going back to an old college memory. I was asked to write down a list of everything I had to lose if my integrity was compromised. It was…revealing. It was also rather terrifying. I found myself realizing that, if I were to live a life void of integrity, then the life I was building up would be ruined.

But that’s if we would ever be caught. Culture is pretty accepting of sex. The porn industry is booming, and rapidly becoming less of a taboo. It’s not so scandalous anymore even though the tabloids produce it that way. The truth is that it is fairly normal, but inside the church the taboo is still strong. The recognition of the damage of porn, and of an unbiblical sex life is talked about regularly. The only other real difference, though, is in that people tend to hide those sins.

We hide sin in general, really. This is a porn and sex post, but the truth is that this lesson applies to any act of sin. We think we can hide it. That question of integrity posed to me back in college gave me a different perspective. It pushed me to consider the possibility, “What if I was caught?” This in turn forces anyone to the inevitable realization that, “I can be caught.” My lacks of integrity were not even sexually related, but the problems were still very real. It could be caught in any sin. A sin of lust, lies, hatred, etc. Take your pick. Integrity, or lack of it, has a habit of breaking out, and it takes no prisoners.

Now let me be clear, there is no account on any affair site with my name on it. However, I find myself thinking what I would be experiencing if I was Josh in this moment. How would my family be affected if they were his family? We so often try and hide whatever flaws are a part of us because we think we can control every aspect to it. People like Josh learn that outside forces so often come crashing in to change that perception.

What do you have to lose? Is it a job, friendship, or marriage? We even foolishly think that for as long as we hide our sin that it won’t affect anything, but the simple truth is the very burden of those secrets changes and affects the core of our being.

What is the solution then? It comes in two parts really. The first is to own up to integrity. Stop what you have been doing, and bring to light what may need to be brought to light. Empty out the baggage. The second part is to stop accumulating it! You can’t hide what isn’t there.

We foolishly hide, and develop all of the baggage. We are affected in secret, and then outside circumstances at any moment could still tear the curtains to shed light where we would not wish for it to be. I want to be careful on this next point. I’m not saying that people like Josh should not be called out for what they have done. What I am saying is if those moments do not also force personal reflection of where our integrity could be lacking then we may find ourselves on the next news story.

Acknowledging Self in Prayer for a Nation

I’ve been meaning to start posting again for a long time. I have a huge amount of ideas on what to post about, but I had trouble picking what I wanted to write about next. However, this has been one lingering thought that seems to push its way through my mind on a regular basis. It also strikes me that it may be appropriate based off the more fervent talk lately of how far gone our country is, and with all the hype of the next election coming up.

I want to give a background to this post, but I also feel I first need to give a disclaimer. This post is largely just me expressing some of my own thoughts on what God has been teaching me personally. Perhaps you may end up finding that He is trying to teach you the same thing after reading this, or perhaps not. I don’t think this post can apply to everyone universally, but it has certainly applied to me.

Many weeks ago my pastor was talking about our need to pray for our country and its leaders. It was a good sermon, and really hit me on my lack of prayers towards issues our country faces. At the end of the service he left time for us to practice this application and pray for our country. I began to go through my recycled prayer for our country. I prayed for God to bless it. I prayed for God to bless its leaders. I prayed for God to help this country turn back to Him, but then something peculiar happened. God began to ask me how I am having an impact on answering these prayers.

I was reminded of Nehemiah’s prayers when he heard of Israel’s suffering. He prayed a prayer of confession to God. He acknowledged how Israel had turned their back on him, but he took it a step further. He confessed the sins of his house, and even his own sins playing a part in that betrayal against God.

I was really convicted in that moment. I have prayed for God to revive this country so often, and I have even confessed my own sins in prayer, but I don’t think I had ever connected the two in my prayers. I wasn’t acknowledging when my sins of silence in the face of evil let it run rampant to harm this nation and the individuals in it. I was not confessing how my sins of anger and resentment towards others was hurting the country at a foundational level. I wasn’t acknowledging the moments where a fall short of God’s standard as a husband and a father hurt the family unit that any nation of God is a foundational building block for.

It just hit me incredibly hard. I also talked about how the only way this nation will turn around is by impacting the individual, but my prayers had been ignoring the most important individual for me in that process, that is, me specifically. I am the only individual that I can directly control to have an impact on this world.

When I pray confessing of the failures of this nation I lump myself into that now. That was something that had been missing for me. I think sometimes it is missing in those really public prayers as well. Maybe you have heard some of them before. It is those prayers about the people who are ripping this nation apart, and how God would heal those people so that we can bring this nation back to greatness without obstacles.

The truth is I may not be ripping this world nation apart as quick as the guy who walks into a school and slaughters children, or as quick as the activists who protect the right to kill children before they are born, or those who demand we take God out of everything in the public eyes, and leave him inside the homes of those who still care, but even my what are my little sins in the grand scheme of things are added onto an incredible large pile of issues.

This is not to say that I do not still speak out against those things. We should NEVER stop doing that. We need to continually speak truth into this world, but through that truth we must constantly use it as a light for personal reflection in our own lives as well.

So this has been my prayer lately. Lots of people who read this probably already do something similar, nor should anyone be pressured to pray a prayer like this, but this has given me a fresher perspective to bring what seems like a distant issue closer to home for me. It has been tweaked, and continues to be, but it has been loosely taken out of Nehemiah’s own prayer.

Father, thank you for your unconditional love and promises you have made to us. I know my actions don’t deserve it, but please listen to what I have to say. Please do not remind us of your promises through your mercy. We need your mercy because we have continually turned away from you. My actions have played a role in this as well. My sins has caused damage to my relationships with others, and has had the potential to affect how others relate to you as well.

I asked that you would still remember your promises you have made. I ask that you would help me to feel you draw near to me as I draw near to you now. I thank you that I can come to you like this because of your redemptive power, and I ask that you would continue to ignite a fire in me that can spread across this nation.

Christ Didn’t Look Past My Sin.

Have you ever heard yourself saying the following statement? “I know I probably shouldn’t say/do this, but…” I know I have caught myself saying similar phrases. I have noticed it more after closely listening to other people say it. It takes shape in all forms. “I’m sorry I am venting, but…” “I’m sorry I hurt you, but…” It’s a very peculiar concept isn’t it? It’s strange that we acknowledge a mistake we are about to make, and then go on to make it. As I have thought on it’s true purpose and motivation I can’t help, but hate the fact that I struggle with doing it.

We say thing like this to avoid confrontation. If we acknowledge our sin while we are doing it then we can somehow remove ourselves form being confronted while we do it. We hope that it means that people can just ignore our sin. In fact, we are basically saying that we realize we are a sinner so please accept that I am flawed and just come to terms with that fact. We avoid confrontation by acknowledge that what we are doing is wrong.

This doesn’t really let us off the hook. All it does is make us look all the more foolish. We proclaim that we are wrong, and then go off and continue to do it. That’s a little nuts isn’t it? No, It is more than a little nuts, it is insane. It’s dirty. We make sure that anyone who then attempts to confront us feels like they are tearing us down more than is necessary because, hey, I’ve already acknowledge my sin so thee is no reason to beat a dead horse. You’re holding me in my sin when what you should be doing is just providing me with forgiveness. We never actually get around to apologizing in order to provide forgiveness though. All we have done is acknowledged that what we are in the middle of doing is wrong.

It’s a symptom of a bigger problem. We believe our mistakes should simply be ignored. We believe they should be looked past. WE proclaim that we should look past the sin of others just as Christ looked past sin. He didn’t look past sin though. He stared at it straight in the face. Christ coming to the earth had everything to do with paying attention to sin. If Christ ignored and looked past sin then there would have been no Jesus in the form of man. There would have ben no crucifixion. There would have been no resurrection. There would have been no salvation. We would all still be heading for hell.

Sin is to serious of an issue to just look past. It’s not something that can just be ignored. Simply acknowledge a mistake we are about to make doesn’t give us a free pass. Sin is sin. Sin requires us to seek out forgiveness by repenting form it rather than simply acknowledging it. There is a real difference there.

None of this can happen though unless we get this idea out of our heads that Jesus was all about looking past sin. We think this because he spent so much time with sinners, and kept talking down to those religious people. It’s funny though, the religious people were sinners to. Jesus had no problem confronting them in their sin. He didn’t seems to be to keen on looking past the sin of those religious people. We like the concept of Jesus looking past sin when it seems convenient for us. We hide behind a Jesus who we claim looked past peoples sin and rebuked those who did not do the same. We immediately place ourselves in a double standard.

Even the non religious sinner that Jesus spent so much time with was not someone whose sin he looked past. Why do you think he spent so much time with them? He wanted to show them that there was a better life. A life full of purpose. A life that could not be weighed down by the control of sin.

I’m…. I’m thankful Christ didn’t look past my sin. It hurts when I need to face the consequences of it. It’s embarrassing when I need to face the confrontation, but I’m better for it. I write this post more for myself then anyone else. If I am so grateful that Christ chose not to look past my sin, then why would I so actively avoid being confronted of sin that I acknowledge while I do it? Why do I attempt people to tolerate a poor attitude or cruel thought by already acknowledging it is probably wrong. I feel entitled to be able to act “human” sometimes. “Human” is a substitute for “sinner” in those moment. Can’t I just let my guard down for a little while? Can’t people just accept me for what I am? As I look back on those moments I feel a good deal of regret form those moments. I don’t want people to have to accept me at my worse. I want to have people challenge me to be better. I don’t want people to simply look past my flaws. I certainly want patience form them as I grow, but more importantly I want them to journey with me to changing into a better person. I want them to acknowledge my sin. I want them to do that because my savior acknowledged it on the cross. Thank God my savior did not look past my sin.

Withholding Forgiveness

I’ve been thinking lately about how we often need to force a change of perspective when thinking about forgiveness. Our thoughts on forgiveness often revolve around how we need to begrudgingly find a way to forgive someone who has wronged us, or who we at least perceived has wronged us. It is difficult for us bring ourselves to forgive people at times. I think we fail to see the impact of forgiveness, and the equally powerful impact of withholding forgiveness.

I remember a situation a ways back where I had to apologize to someone. It was difficult to do as I there were intricacies in the situation that resulted in the full fault not truly falling squarely on me, but I understood it was important that I apologizing to this person in that moment. it was even harder entering into this apology speech as it was not the first one I had had to have with them. When you go to humbly and genuinely apologize you hope for a restorative outcome. It never came in this story.

My apology resulted in repeated accusation. The person I was apologizing to had no interest in accepting my apology. They had no interest in giving me forgiveness. They only cared about continuing to proclaim judgment on me over the very thing I was apologizing about. It was through that conversation that I realized that past situation where forgiveness was given were really jus ta smoke screen. it was a fake kind of forgiveness. It was painful. It’s still painful.

Being refused forgiveness is difficult to swallow. It actually took me a long time to realize what bothered me from that conversation. It dawned on me as I begin to wrestle with this topic of forgiveness. It bothered me because someone tried to place themselves up as my god. That may sound harsh, but it is truth. When someone has been apologized to, but they withhold forgiveness and determine judgment then they are saying that their decision is more important than God’s.

God willingly forgives us. We can come to him truly repentant of our sins, and He will forgive us ever time. This realization became even more painful than the destructive nature of being refused forgiveness from someone. It hurt because I realize now what I do when I wrestle with wanting to withhold forgiveness form someone else. I try and set myself up as their god. I put myself as their accuser and judge.

There re lots of intricacies to forgiveness. I’m not saying we don’t point out sin. That is crucial in the community of believers. We need sin to be confronted, but I believe we need to be ready to forgive when people come asking for it. We cannot truly forgive someone until they ask for forgiveness, but we can be ready to give them that forgiveness when they ask for it. I think of those who have hurt me at various points in my past, and not yet asked for forgiveness. I hope they do ask one day. I want them to be healed form that forgiveness, and more importantly I want to show them that I don’t place myself as their god. I don’t want to withhold forgiveness because I hated it when forgiveness was withheld from me. I wonder how different things would be if we looked at this angle of forgiveness more often.