Friends, real life isn’t the media. It’s not politics. It’s certainly not found in sports or Hollywood. Or social media. Yet it’s amazing how much of energy and emotion is used up paying close attention to some or all of the above. All of these “real-life alternatives” seem to be sapping people of their soul and in some cases, their sanity.

No, real life is experienced within our immediate sphere of human contact. Friends, family, neighbors and coworkers. People we can touch, talk to, and look in the eye. People with whom we (wisely) practice a measure of restraint and respect. People we love, even while some times disagreeing with them.

In my humble opinion, too many people are worrying too much about the former, to the neglect of the latter. They’re giving too much attention to a form of life that is mostly manufactured illusion, rather than the flesh, blood, heart and soul of humanity we bump into everyday.

And, I wonder: Perhaps tending to those right in front of us may be the very thing that brings about the change we so desperately want for our ailing world.

The issues of our world are not unimportant, but let’s be sure that the best of our emotional energy is not used up by them, leaving our real life human interactions to suffer.

John 13:34-35
1 Thessalonians 4:11

The Final Frontier of Transformation?

This is the first in a series of posts that will mirror what I’m teaching in a brand new group.

barbed wire heart 2This past week I started leading a new group during our church’s 8:30 hour. This is a time when we offer a variety of electives for people to grow and become equipped.

The primary focus of my group (which is called From Turbulence to Transformation) is an area of life that I believe often gets overlooked – or perhaps avoided – in our pursuit of transformation.

See, in many cases, the focus of our transformation efforts is pursuing changed outward behavior. We look at our life and decide which actions we need to stop and which actions we need to start. Which is good! Much of the instruction offered by the Bible does address our actions. There are some things we need to leave behind and somethings we need to embrace.

But in my brand new group, the focus of transformation will not be on our actions, but on our emotions.

Why? Because I believe it is key to acknowledge that the reach of sin even impacts our feelings.

Prior to the fall of man in the Garden, human emotions were in a state of balance. But after the fall, human emotions began to resemble a roller coaster.

That’s because every aspect of our being was impacted by the fall: our bodies, our minds…and our feelings.

When it comes to thinking about emotional instability, we often focus (and rightly so) on negative external experiences.

When someone wounds us, or scares us, or neglects us, it’s hard not to have our emotions upset.

But the premise of my class is this: we must also factor in our own internal brokenness when we think about reasons why we may struggle with emotional stability.

If you haven’t noticed, we humans are pretty good at pointing the finger of blame at others, but less likely to dare to look inside to discover what might not be right with us!

And yet, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught this important life lesson:

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5 ESV)

The point is this: as difficult as it can be, sometimes we must dare to look inward to see what’s going on in our own heart.

I think there are a few reasons why daring to become introspective regarding our emotions.

  1. Most people feel a measure of discomfort even talking about their feelings, let alone analyzing them.
  2. We’ve never thought about the fact that sin’s impact reaches all the way into our emotions
  3. It might be said that our emotions are the deepest, most protected part of who we are. And yet, most of us don’t even understand our own emotions.
  4. It’s easier to blame external sources for emotional instability than consider what we bring to the table via our broken emotions.
  5. When others talk about our faulty emotions, we feel judged.
  6. It’s hard to reconcile the fact that sometimes when we are sinned against, our emotions will drive us to sin back in retaliation.
  7. We’ve never considered that our emotions, not just our actions, are factored into God’s transformation process.

In Romans 7, Paul dared to share with the world his internal struggle with sin. He wrote about how the things he wanted to do, he didn’t  do. And the things he didn’t want to do, he did.

I appreciate the fact that Paul put the cards on the table. He was willing to admit that something inside of him was broken, and it created a battlefield within his being.

Acknowledging the reality of our brokenness is a great first step to finding the change in one of the deepest recesses of our existence.

I have to admit, about halfway through this introductory class, I jokingly asked the group: “So, based on what we’ve talked about so far, will I be seeing any of you next week?”

Why? Because it’s my sense that, often, the last area we want to talk about – let alone God mess with – is our emotions.

The next few posts will seek to expose the 5 basic areas of emotional instability that keep us from experiencing balance and peace.  

Cultural Awareness

GarbageCanWMWe just moved.

Three blocks down and one street over.

About a quarter mile as the crow flies.

And yet, I soon discovered a cultural difference taking place in the exact same neighborhood.

On my old street, almost everyone rolls their garbage containers out into the street.

At our new house, virtually everyone places the bin on the grass.

Which left me with a dilemma. Do I do things as I always have, or do I adapt to my new location?

When it comes to serving as a representative of Jesus, there are some things we cannot change.

We can never alter the message of the Gospel.

Our practice should match what is prescribed in God’s Word.

And we ought not employ sin to draw others to Christ. (sadly this happens more than we may think.)

Yet, in spite of the restrictions, we are given a lot of room to adapt to the culture that surrounds us.

Paul wrote these words to describe his practice of evangelism:

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23 ESV)

Cultural awareness is why missionaries learn the language and customs of the people they want to reach.

The reason? To make relationships happen more smoothly.

When we adapt to the culture around us, we show respect for the practices of others.

Hudson Taylor was a British missionary to China. He was known as the the first foreign missionary to dress in the manner of the community in which he lived. Prior to his arrival, missionaries insisted hanging onto their own customs rather than participate in the practice of the Chinese.

And guess what? Hudson Taylor made inroads like no one who had come before him.

When we enter into a new culture, the customs and practice may not always make sense to us, but if there is no sin involved, there is no reason why we can’t join in with what is the cultural norm.

I don’t know why all my neighbors park their garbage containers on the lawn rather than the asphalt.

But I do know that if I insist on setting the container on the asphalt, I may draw negative attention toward myself.

Since its not a matter of morality, I’ll go with the flow of my new neighbors. No need to upset the apple cart or draw unwanted attention to myself.

So, from here on, my trash canister will find itself parked on the grass.