Don’t Interpret Others – What’s in the Air Makes a Difference, Part 2

“Don’t interpret others, let them interpret themselves.”

I first heard that quote from my friend and colleague, Kevin McClure when we were fullsizeoutput_21a3serving together on the staff of The Master’s Institute Seminary in St. Paul, MN. That simple thought that Kevin shared has served me well for over a decade now and I think it is wisdom for each one of us and for our country today.

We live in a culture that rushes judgment. We feel compelled to interpret other people and situations immediately. In regard to others, we interpret their words, their thoughts, their actions, and their motives. And most of the time we do so without really knowing them well or having all the facts before us. We rush to interpretation without ever taking the time to dig deeper and find the facts because the 24-hour cable news cycle and social media culture will no longer allow us to.

It does not matter what flavor of cable news you choose to watch, nor what your favorite cable sports talk programs happen to be. They all share one thing in common. They seem to feel the need to comment right now on a news story without actually doing due diligence to find out “the rest of the story” as Paul Harvey used to say. There is pressure to rush to judgement and to offer our condemnation and to assign blame, all built on our interpretation of others’ words, thoughts, actions, and motives. And too often our interpretation is imperfect and incomplete.

We would all be well served to heed the following admonition: “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking” (Romans 12:2, The Message). Whether we are Christians or not, let’s do the hard work of thinking honestly about the example that is being presented to us by some of our national and local government officials, and some church leaders. Instead, let’s have the intellectual integrity to say, “No, that is not the way I am going to behave, that’s not the way I’m going to respond.” Let’s refuse to kowtow to the demand of immediacy that our cable-news and social media culture demands of us.

Christians and non-Christians alike, let’s be truly counter-cultural in this instance. Let’s change the atmosphere by choosing to slow down and not rush to judgment nor condemnation of others. Let’s instead choose to treat one another with respect and dignity, especially in those moments when we may disagree with each other.

I like author John Ortberg’s quote – “When Jesus looked at people, he saw the image of God. He saw this in everyone. It caused him to treat each person with dignity” (Who is This Man?). I am convinced that were Jesus walking alongside of us in the world today, he would exhort us to not be quick to interpret others, but rather treat them with dignity by allowing them to interpret themselves. With that in mind, might I suggest:

  • Fox News, treat CNN with dignity and vice versa
  • President Trump, treat Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi with dignity – and vice versa
  • Republicans, treat Democrats with dignity – and vice versa
  • Men, treat women with dignity – and vice versa
  • Christians, treat Muslims with dignity – and vice versa
  • Co-workers and neighbors, treat one another with dignity
  • Affluent citizens, treat the poor and immigrants with dignity – and vice versa

The list could go on and on, right? It could all fall under Jesus’ exhortations for us to love our neighbors as ourselves, even to the point of loving our enemies. The teaching and wisdom of Jesus is needed now as much as it has ever been. Christians and non-Christians alike can learn from Jesus’ words and his actions. We’ve tried blaming and vilifying one another. Why don’t we dial down the rhetoric and vitriol, and give Jesus’ teachings a try?

Let’s not rush to interpret one another. Let’s slow down, ask questions in a respectful and dignified manner, and let the other interpret him/herself. Just this one thing would go a long way toward changing the atmosphere in which we live.

Fighting Battles, Experiencing Breakthroughs

Life and ministry are filled with battles and with breakthroughs. Learning to navigate that journey well is essential to both our health and wholeness as persons, and our effectiveness as leaders in the kingdom of God. Stephanie and Joel 41406722_10215500911693839_3609815489963884544_nMidthun are two people who have learned to navigate that journey of life and ministry well.

Battles and Breakthroughs in Setting Captives Free is a book about experiencing God’s love and grace, and his transforming work in and through our own battles and breakthroughs. As Director for the Alliance of Renewal Churches (ARC), I work with pastors and lay leaders in the United States and overseas. Rarely have I found anyone who has the integrity between their vision and passion, and how they actually live their lives, that I have found in Stephanie and Joel Midthun. Steph and Joel have experienced the message of this book, they are living the message of this book, and they are equipping others to carry out the ministry of Jesus to set captives free.

Not only are Stephanie and Joel involved in ministries that set captives free and equip others to participate in that kind of ministry, they are doing it from a place of emotional, relational, and spiritual wholeness as persons. Their example in this regard is a living model to all who serve as leaders in the body of Christ. Too many leaders have significant wholeness deficits in their lives and as a result, they are held captive by things in their past that are still influencing their present in unhelpful ways. The very charisma of many leaders that we so often applaud can mask such deficits. Growth in wholeness is essential because what we do not allow God to transform, we will transmit. The truth is that the captives who often need to be set free are not just “others,” but are in fact “us.”

Battles and Breakthroughs in Setting Captives Free is a book well worth taking the time to read. I do not say this lightly. As one who has a busy ministry and personal schedule, I know how difficult it can be to build in time to read. But if you make the time to read this book you will be encouraged and refreshed, and you will be further equipped to be someone through whom God can set people free. That kind of life is life worth living. That kind of life is the life Stephanie and Joel Midthun are living and now share with us in this book. Thank you Joel and Steph!


What’s in the Air Makes a Difference, Pt 1

A few years ago, I had the blessing of visiting dear friends, Agust and Kolbrun Olafsson in Iceland. While traveling around the region with Agust one day I came across the item I’m holding in the picture at the bottom of this article—a can of fresh Icelandic air. When I saw it I thought immediately of a chapter I wrote in my book, Being a Safe Place for the Dangerous Kind, entitled “What’s in the Air Makes a Difference.”


Dear Friend, Agust Olafsson and me in Iceland

I have never been more convinced of this than recently with all that is going on in my beloved country, the United States of America. In a recent post on my Facebook page I wrote the following regarding that’s happening in my homeland:

  • “What’s in the air makes a difference. There is an atmosphere that can fill us with life and love, hope and joy. There is another atmosphere that can fill us with judgement and condemnation, bias and animus. What we release into the air is our responsibility, and right now in our country, the air is being polluted emotionally, relationally, and spiritually.
  • I would never ask any of my friends not to have strong opinions about important matters, but I would ask that we all step back, take a very deep breath, and ask ourselves how we are impacting what’s in the atmosphere as well as how we are being impacted by it.
  • I would especially ask anyone who is in a leadership position in our national government to consider the impact your behaviors and your words have upon our nation. I would then ask myself and other leaders in leadership positions at home, in local and state government, and in institutions including the Church to consider the same thing.
  • For those of us who are Christians, let us ask God to remove any and all judgement and condemnation, bias and animus from our hearts and instead fill us with His healing combination of grace and truth, love and forgiveness. Be passionate about what you believe and hold to be true my friends. But please, for the love of God, let us not vilify or demonize anyone who may not agree with us.”

I will have more to say on this in the weeks to come, but for now, I exhort us all—refrain from polluting the air with judgement and condemnation, with hate and animus. Let us refrain from responding out of any sense of bias or stereotyping. Let us not interpret others, but allow them to interpret themselves, not so we can lecture of shame them, but rather, grow in understanding of each other’s important points and passions.

What’s in the air makes a difference my friend. And what is in the air emotionally, relationally, and spiritually is there because you and I put it there.

Random Thoughts May Not Be So Random

Have you ever had a random thought like, “I wonder how my friend, _________ (fill in the name) is doing.” “I should give her a call.” “I should text him.” “I should write her a personal note and mail it to her.” “I should send him an email just to say hello and see how he’s doing.” “I should post something encouraging on her Facebook page.”

Random thoughts. We all get them from time to time. Sometimes, however, those random thoughts may not be so random. They may be impressions from the Lord because someone we know is in need of being loved, connected with, and cared for.

I was that person on June 18th. It was Father’s Day. A day when my kids reach out to let me know what a great dad (at least in my mind) I’ve been, and when my wife tells me how thankful she is that I’ve been a good Dad for our kids. It’s a day when I feel especially loved, appreciated, and valued. At least that’s the way Father’s Day usually feels to me. Not so this year. This year I woke up to find myself in the pit of despair.

The pit of despair can be a place of frustration and hopelessness. I won’t go into all the reasons why I found myself there on a day that’s supposed to be “my day” to do whatever fun thing I wanted to do—go eat at a restaurant of my choosing, go to a movie I want to see, and even receive accolades for my amazing parenting. But I was there in that place of despair. I was in such a dark place that I did not even go to church. I just didn’t want to try to fake it when people came up to me to say hello and ask how I was doing.

So I stayed home while Debi went to church. But I was not alone. God was with me. And he saw me. He saw the place I was in emotionally. And he loved me. No, I mean it. Really. Experientially. He loved me. In fact, he sent me three messengers through whom I experienced his love for me.

The first was my wife, Debi. She was just with me that day. She knew I was in the pit, but she did not try to fix me. Deb was just willing to be with me. She did not try to reason me out of the pit of despair. She was just there loving me, listening to me, and being patient with me. She practiced the ministry of presence, and the ministry of her presence with me, and of God’s presence flowing in and through her to me, was powerful and had effect on my heart.

Then, a mutual friend, Tara Mabry, sent me an unanticipated note on Facebook thanking me for my friendship with she and her husband, my good friend, Bob. She thanked me for my ministry through the Alliance of Renewal Churches (ARC) network and reminded me what a blessing that network had been in there lives.

Finally, the third messenger, Michelle King, sent me an unexpected text. She thanked me for how I loved she and her husband, my dear friend, Jeremey, and their two children. She reminded me what a blessing I was to them.

The ministry of presence and two unexpected, unanticipated notes from friends who had had a “random thought” to reach out to me on Father’s Day had a significant impact on my hurting heart. I wasn’t their father. There was no reason for them to reach out to me on Father’s Day. But they did. And because they did I experienced God’s love for me that day. And I needed that. I needed an experience of God’s love, not just an intellectual or theological reminder that he loves me.

Random thoughts—they may not be so random after all. Listen more closely to the random thoughts you have this week, next week, and in the weeks to come. Take a risk and act on those thoughts that are in line with God’s nature and God’s will. They may just be random thoughts, but then again, they might not.

By the way, do you find it as interesting as I do that on Father’s Day 2018 when I was in the pit of despair, God sent three women to be the ones through whom I experienced his encouraging and healing love? You’re funny, Father! Thanks ladies for acting on those random thoughts. It made a huge difference for me just when I needed one.


Like Thirsty Ground

Recently, I was meeting with the Lord in his Word in a passage that spoke about water disappearing into thirsty ground.

The water does not disappear into the ground here in Phoenix, or in many other places in the Southwest. In Minnesota, where Debi and I lived previously, a good rain would soak into the ground, producing a lush, green lawn and beautiful flowers and plants in our back yard. Not here in Phoenix.

Instead, when it rains here the water collects on the surface and creates ponds where there was a soccer field or baseball diamond. Why? Because we have a layer below the surface of our soil called Caliche. Caliche is a layer in which the soil particles have been cemented together by lime (calcium carbonate, CaCO3).

Caliche presents two problems for soil. First, it can be so tight that roots cannot penetrate through it. The result is that plants and trees only have the soil above the Caliche to use as a source for stability, nutrients, and water. The second problem is that Caliche reduces the movement and penetration of water more deeply into the soil.

It struck me this morning that our hearts and our minds can be like Caliche. A heart or mind can be hardened that they do not allow the cool, refreshing water that is truth, particularly truth as revealed in the Word of the Lord to seep deeply into our lives.

Instead, the Word of the Lord simply washes over and off of us. We may intellectually acknowledge it and perhaps, even thank someone who has just preached a sermon or taught a bible study or shared a testimony for the great job they did. All the while, walking away with an unchanged life.

So, here’s my prayer this morning. Perhaps you want to join me in praying it for your life too, or, for someone near and dear to your heart.

“Lord, in your grace and mercy, make my heart and my mind like thirsty ground for the cool, refreshing water of your presence, and for truth as revealed in your Word. Break up any Caliche, any hardness, in my heart and in my mind that hinders me from being like thirsty ground that easily receives refreshing water. I ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.”