Connected Dots and Strangers

Something deep within me has been awakening. My philosophical and theological persona has started to thirst for the incarnation of Christ’s love. I must confess, in my sinfulness, that I am prone to prefer thinking deeply to loving deeply. However, I am called to do both for the glory of God.

God has been putting His finger on this part of my soul at equal intervals but lately it seems to have intensified. The biggest area that I feel His guidance is my concern for the hurt and need in others around me. How self-absorbed am I to always demand my plan, my schedule and my way at the cost of neglecting those hurting all around me? People are crying, empty and dying. They need grace, joy and a Savior. I suppose there are two conversations that God used to rouse me from my bookish complacency.

The first conversation was while I was at The Cove (The Billy Graham Training Center) and had the chance to befriend a bus driver from Maryland. He spoke passionately about his Lord, his work and his ministry. Each of those pieces in his life were connected and he drove home for me the beauty of God’s work through all of us. I remember his profound explanation of what he did: “I’m the first person those kids see in the morning and the last person they see before going home. I get to show them the love of Christ, that’s my gift.” He was a short man yet his stature in Christ was evident. He walked with a limp but his walk with the Lord was edifying to me. I wonder if I had encountered him under different circumstances how I would have perceived him. Would I have seen him as a partner in the ministry of the gospel? Would I have respected him for standing tall and walking steadfastly? Would I have connected to this stranger if it weren’t for meal time on the retreat?

Conversation number two began to crystallize what God was trying to impress on my heart. I am a stubborn person and need God to sovereignly thump me in the back of the head from time to time.  I was somewhat hesitant to attend a barbecue where I would know nobody except my girlfriend. However, after arriving I met a remarkable man. As we sat out in the sun, I sipped an ice-cold coke and he sipped an ice-cold light beer. He spoke of his career, his health and his wrestling with God about ministry. He was sixty-five years old and had been “under the knife” (his words) four times in the past three years. I was able to share how God called me into the ministry and how the gospel needs ministers not just behind a pulpit but in every facet of our society. He was older than me by forty years yet he had a youthful exuberance tempered with wisdom. I’m glad I went to the cookout.

These conversations were only isolated events at first; important but not yet connected in my soul. On the way to church one Wednesday evening, in the week that followed the last conversation, I plugged in Sara Groves newest album, “Invisible Empires”. When I got to track number two, I felt God connecting the dots of these two conversations and several other aspects of my life. A few of the lines in the song get at the heart of our connection with strangers.

Are you and I an apparition
Flickering up on the screen
Sending out our best transmissions
Waiting in our velveteen
Tell me you can really see me

It’s hard to feel disqualified
For living in a different time
As if the train will only stop
For the current paradigm

And you don’t know where we are
Are we passing through these wires
Are we walking through the streets
Of invisible empires”

So what picture do the connected dots create? An image of Christ will eventually surface; however, I think God is going to pencil in a few more dots and help me connect them as the years go by. But there are a few “dots” I’d like to share.

  • We have a tendency to be very connected online and to have a condescending outlook towards people who haven’t caught up to the technology. However, conversations in person are usually more edifying and helpful. Who can you talk to face to face instead of through texting, Facebook, email etc…?
  • Our current “youth culture” seems to have lost respect for the senior citizens of our society. How often have we lost the opportunity to learn, grow and encourage because we look past someone outside our age bracket?
  • Recognizing what gifts God has given others helps us take our eyes off ourselves and marvel at God’s wisdom in using His children. We all have a part to play.
  • A prevailing cynicism hangs over our society and it has even permeated the church. We can easily write everyone off as a lazy freeloader and fail to see them as a person in need of Christ and perhaps in need of help  (encouragement, food, prayer, resources or time).

I encourage you to listen to Sara Groves explanation of her song “obsolete” and then listen to the song itself.

Seek ways to actively step out of your comfort zone. Strike up a random conversation. Make a personal visit instead of sending a text. Have a cookout and invite people you don’t normally see or perhaps even know. Learn from those who are older and wiser. Don’t miss the blessing because it didn’t come in the package you were expecting. When we connect to strangers God is often connecting the dots in our lives. So, what “dots” can you share? Leave a few in the comment section.

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