21 Ways to Upgrade Your Relationships (Part 3)

(I am away on vacation/study break during the month of July. The posts that appear during the month are from the archives.)


A few suggestions for upgrading relationships:7. Get out of your recliner and get into the game. Some people live in a mental and emotional recliner. That is, they sit back and watch life happen. They watch their marriage sink, long ago losing any real emotional connection with their spouse. They watch as their children lose any sense of an emotional connection with dad (or mom). Yet, they just passively sit in their mental recliner and watch it happen.If this is you, let me encourage you to get up. Make a move. Pay attention to your spouse or children. Show interest in what seems to interest them. Ask questions. Look for something, anything, which you can affirm and even compliment.


8. Be gracious. Living graciously is about living in such a way as to express grace in all that we do. Gracious people are quick to give credit and are slow to boast.

Gracious people never seek to humiliate or embarrass another. Upgrade your relationships by toning down the sarcasm and cutting remarks. So many people are rude, critical, and curt. When we are around such people, our thoughts and words may mirror what we hear from these people. Give your family and friends a gift today. Let them experience life in the presence of a gracious person. They may find this to be very refreshing.

Trevor Hudson: What is Your Picture of God?

For a number of weeks, I will be posting brief videos of Trevor Hudson. Trevor is a pastor in South Africa and is the author of

This something This nice and go great heavier most earlier…

a number of books.

His newest book, which I am reading right now, is entitled Discovering Our Spiritual Identity. (Foreword by Dallas Willard.) It is an excellent book that is inspirational, instructional, and very practical.

When Perfection Becomes an Obstacle

David Seamands, a longtime Christian counselor, told of a young woman whose mom always demanded perfection. She was never good enough for mom’s praise. When she was 6 or 7 she had a piano recital. She had worked hard and practiced and practiced. On the day of the recital she performed her piece flawlessly. Her teacher leaned over and whispered, “You were perfect!” The young girl then sat down by her mother who said nothing. Ten minutes later her mom finally said, “Your slip was showing.”   perfection.jpg


I wonder if some of us do not have a similar view of God. You do your best and then expect him, like this girl’s mother to say, “Your slip was showing.” No matter what you do, or how well you do it, it is not enough. Such a view of God, is not only inaccurate, but can be actually be paralyzing.


I remember sitting in my first graduate Bible class at Abilene Christian University, a number of years ago. It was “Introduction to the New Testament.” The class was full of students who seemed to know more than I knew. The professor would refer to various scholars and other students would nod their heads knowingly. Sometimes a student would raise his hand and interject thoughts from a book he had read recently.


I sat there feeling as if I was at the back of the line, behind most of the other students. It seemed they knew so much more.


Eventually, I finished school, and we moved back to Alabama where I began preaching for a small church full of patient people. I was new, and I wanted to do well. Yet, even though I had just begun my work there, I felt hopelessly behind. I wrestled with these kinds of questions:

  • How can I read all of these books?
  • How can I know everything that is in the Bible?
  • How do I know when I have sufficiently prepared a sermon or Bible class?
  • What if I steer someone in the wrong direction? Is this really the best answer to give them?
  • What am I supposed to do?
  • Am I doing this (ministry) right?
  • Am I praying the way I should?
  • Am I depending on God the way I should?
  • What if I don’t do ministry very well?
  • What if I fail?


Then, someone would call our church office. They wanted to ask a question about the Bible.

“I just thought I would call you. I figured you would probably know the answer to this question.”

“Right.”


I wanted to do my work right but for the longest I was so focused on perfection and not making a mistake that it became paralyzing. It was hard for me to finish anything without worrying about whether or not it was good enough.

Does any of this sound familiar to you?

Years later, I am thankful to be free from that kind of bondage! I am glad to be free to give the time and effort that I have and to trust God to be at work in whatever I have to offer. I am glad to be free to trust God instead of my own performance. I am glad to seek excellence but to be satisfied with what I have to offer, trusting that God will bless.


Question:

Can you describe a time when you found seeking this kind of perfection to be an obstacle or even paralyzing?


Ministry Inside.33

Cold Weather. I live in Waco, Texas. Charlotte and I have not experienced weather like this since we left Kansas City, Missouri, almost 18 years ago. Yet, if you live in Chicago or other cities to the north, we can’t even begin to compare. So I won’t say anything more about the weather. coffee1.jpg

Each Thursday, I write this particular post for church leaders. Some who read this post regularly are ministers, elders and others who are interested in tools for ministry. The tools and resources vary depending on what come across over the past week.


Leadership Journal. There are so many very good resources available online to church leaders. Yet, one of the resources I continue to read in print is Leadership Journal. Yesterday, I received the Winter 2011 edition which includes articles by Gordon MacDonald, John Ortberg, Tim Keller, Mindy Caliguire and others. There is also an interview with Ken Sande. I especially look forward to the cartoons, which speak to most anyone who has spent much time with churches. You can check out Leadership online.


Edwin Friedman’s A Failure of Nerve. I am reading the newest edition that I purchased recently. (I read the first edition some years ago.) I read the first chapter and stopped. I need to let this sink in again. This kind of reading helps restore sanity to my own leadership.   


Game Changer. Some weeks ago, I listed a number of game changers for ministry. One of those was: “Take personal temptation seriously. Know that the evil one wishes to destroy you.” I can’t emphasize this one enough. Remember that temptation often begins as we allow certain thoughts, desires, and fantasies to find a home in our hearts/minds. We rationalize, thinking that such thoughts are no big deal, especially when we compare ourselves with others. Some ministers feel very lonely in their churches and become vulnerable to temptations that promise to give relief to that loneliness. What helps? Re-ignite a genuine friendship with your spouse. Practice the spiritual disciplines remembering that the goal is transformation into someone more like Jesus. Have a few people in your life with whom you can be very honest and who will speak truth into your life when necessary.


In the News. Faith and Reason is an interesting site (USA Today). One interesting article concerns Good Morning America’s search for a new “advice guru.” One of the finalists is Carla Barnhill, an evangelical. I find this interesting. Her blog is The Mommy Revolution .

About every ten days, I glance at Sally Quinn’s On Faith (Washington Post). Interesting.


There are many, many books, podcasts, blogs, websites, etc. Yes, I know there are far more resources than you can possibly digest. You may have the experience of being with church leaders only to come away feeling behind because they have read books you haven’t. Let me encourage you to not become discouraged. The idea is not to devour every resource that your fellow ministers are reading, etc. Instead, consider the possibility of simply being aware of significant discussions in the areas of faith and ministry.

Talk to ministers whose judgment you respect and ask them about the authors they especially listen to. Think of certain authors as friends or even mentors. For example, I decided many years ago that Eugene Peterson was worth listening to on almost any subject related to ministry. Consequently, I either read or am aware of most everything he writes.

I may be looking for a commentary or someone’s work on a particular book. I would rather have three or four of the best commentaries on a particular book than a dozen mediocre ones that I purchased simply because I saw them on Amazon.

Again, the point is not how many resources you consume. Just be a learner. Keep your mind sharp. Stay humble as you read and think. I am far more concerned about church leaders who read nothing, learn very little, and have no flame in them but the pilot light.

What the Joy and Pain of Child Rearing Finally Taught Me

If you want some insight into the heart of God, have a child.Family.jpg


There is nothing like receiving the sweet love of a child, no matter the age. Yet, the reverse is also true. There is sometimes no pain like what you can receive at the hand of a child.


For several years, when I came home from work late in the afternoon, my children would come running to the door to greet me. “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!” I loved that moment! Then one day I came home and no one greeted me at the door. I stepped inside our house and could hear the loud volume of the television. Both girls sat glued to whatever was on television. I said, “I’m home!” They said, “Shhhh Daddy, we’re watching TV.” Being my mature self, I pouted, walked into the kitchen and asked Charlotte, “What’s wrong with them?”

They were growing up.

Our daughters are now grown. They love Charlotte and me. I am confident of this. Let me warn you, if you plan to rear children, get ready for incredible love. Yet, also realize that you have just opened yourself up to be hurt at times. It is very difficult to rear a child to adulthood without experiencing some pain.


  • Maybe your child rolls his eyes as you talk.
  • Maybe she raises her voice and talks back to you.
  • Maybe you are realizing that your adult son is caught up in a particular sin.


Someone might say to your child, “Just make sure your parents don’t find out what you are doing.” That seems to be the age-old answer to human failure. Hide behind the tree while the father walks through the garden (Genesis 3).

Having children can help you get a better grasp on understanding God as your father. Who is God? He is the father who is disappointed when I sin and yet he runs to greet me when I come home. Sometimes I have brought God joy as I reflected his character. Yet, at other times, I have disappointed him. In spite of it all, he runs to greet me. He has not given up on me.

Today, know that God still loves to hear his children say, “Father, I’m home.”


Question:

What has being a parent taught you about God?


Do You Have Your Friend’s Back?

In the room were ministers from our city.loyalty.jpeg

Our host, a fellow minister, was closing out our time together. We all stood as we were about to pray. The host asked a long time minister, to pray. This minister then stood behind our host, put his hands on his shoulders and spoke these words to that man: “I want you to know that we have your back. I want people to know that when they criticize you and say ugly things about you, they are talking about my friend.” The host was obviously moved at this gesture. We bowed and prayed.

This was a great moment. This was a moment of friendship and loyalty.

The model for such loyalty is God himself. He is faithful. I can count on his promises, his love, and his faithfulness to me as his child. God is not fickle. He is constant and reliable. God is absolutely loyal.


Listen to these words in Psalm 117:1-2:

1 Praise the LORD, all you nations;
   extol him, all you peoples.
2 For great is his love toward us,
   and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever.

   Praise the LORD.


Do you have anyone’s back?


Does your spouse know you have his/her back?

Does your friend know you have her back?

Does your co-worker know you have his back?

Does your preacher know you have his back?


There is nothing like having a friend who will stand up for you. Yet, before I can expect this kind of loyalty from others, I must first model this in my life. I may or may not experience this kind of loyalty from others. However, I can know that in being faithful to the people whom God has brought into my life, I am reflecting the character of God.


Question:

Can you recall a significant moment when a friend stood up for you? Can you recall a time when you stood up for a friend? What does loyalty do to a friendship?

  

Now This is Church

Charlotte and I talked about this on the way home last night from our life group Christmas party.Christmas-party.jpg

In so many ways, this life group reminds us of what a church ought to be.

Last night, we gathered at Scott and Jill’s home. Almost everyone from our group was there, including some people who are very special to the group. As you might expect, this house looks and smells like Christmas. Yet, what is especially nice is that it feels warm and inviting, and conveys a sense of home. After a dinner of Mexican “stack-up,” our children led us in a number of songs. One played the guitar while the others sang. One of our girls read the story of the birth of Jesus. Randal took the annual group picture. We then went for a hayride. Adults and children sat on bales of hay as we sang Christmas songs and enjoyed being together. We then came back into the house to get warm and drink hot coffee and wassail.

Maybe I especially enjoyed this because it reminded me of the blessing of being a part of a church where a person can experience “family.”

  • A group like this can be “family” in the best sense of that word. For example, some people grew up without pleasant memories of being a family. Family was a place where people argued and fought. For some the holidays bring memories of loved ones getting drunk and acting in ways that are painful to remember. Years later, a group of believers like this can make new memories of laughter, joy, and encouragement.
  • A group like this can be a place where one can know that he/she is loved regardless. Real love is gracious and focused on the needs of others. Contrast this to being in an environment where you feel as if you are constantly being critiqued and found lacking.
  • A group like this can be a place that is safe. Last night four of our girls sang in front of 20 adults. Wow! That is incredible trust. As you might imagine, these adults responded with lots of applause and words of encouragement. I thought later of people I have known who have memories of preforming in front of adults only to receive teasing, digs, and even criticism.

A group like this is a place where we can learn to forgive. We learn that each one of us is flawed and in need of grace. In healthy small groups (which reflect healthy relationships), we practice forgiving and being forgiven. In essence, we experience church. When we practice this kind of love and forgiveness within the context of a small group of Christ-followers, we also learn how to practice that with our spouses and children.

Small groups are like churches. There is no small group of Christians that is perfect. Nor, is there a congregation that is perfect. Some of us seem to want this and occasionally a group or congregation will be held up by some as seeming to have everything in place. Maybe doing this gives some security.

The security of a family, a small group, or a congregation, however, is found in the Lord Jesus. In Him is found the flawless, finished work of Jesus.


Question

Why is it that so many of us seek perfection? Why do we often seek perfection in the perfect mate, the perfect family, the perfect small group, or the perfect congregation? What is the down side of seeking perfection in other people/situations rather than in God himself?


The Looking

(The following is my second attempt at poetry. Thanks to L.L. Barkat for her encouragement regarding this attempt. See her very good blog here and her new book, God in the Yard, here.)


The Lookingmirror.png

In the mirror one day,
I saw a self.
Body.
Mind.
Emotion.

I took a closer look and peered into my soul.
The things I saw?
Brokenness.
Fear.
Envy.
Lust.
Insecurity.

One more time I looked into the mirror.
This time I saw a redeemed self
This time I saw a beautiful self.
This time I saw, in the background, Jesus.

By his grace he redeemed me.
Now he is making me into
the self I want to be,
the self that I really am.


God is On the Move — In Your Life

God really is on the move.

Yet, sometimes we get distracted by those people who seem to have everything going their way.

What do you think when your friend finally gets her dream job? What do you think when your friend is about to get married? What do you think when your friend finds out that she is pregnant?

If you are like many, this is what you think: “Where is my dream job? Why can’t I be married? When are we going to have children?”God'shands.jpeg

Do you remember the Joseph story in the book of Genesis? Joseph had been sold as a slave and is now in Egypt, working in Potiphar’s house. Potiphar was one of Pharaoh’s officials – the captain of the guard.

Joseph is far from home, far from his family, far from the land.

Yet, the writer of Genesis wants you to know that God is very near. “The Lord” is mentioned five times in 22 verses (39:2, 3, 5, 21, 23). This is a surprise after reading the previous two chapters in which so very little had been said about God. Now the writer wants you to know that God is very much at work.

If you are like many people, you live as though there is really nothing significant happening in your life:

  • My family is ordinary. We are just trying to get by. Nothing about us really stands out.
  • My church is vanilla. It is not a great church. We have so many weaknesses. There is nothing about us that would impress anyone.
  • My job is just a job. It is not an important job or something that might interest you or someone else.
  • My ministry is not that impressive. Perhaps there are no glowing statistics to pass on. Maybe all you can see are the obstacles in your ministry.   

When God is with you, what looks discouraging, may in fact, be the place where God is working in a mighty way. What may look ordinary can be the very avenue where God is working in extraordinary ways.

  • Do you have a family? God is working through your family to bless others for generations to come!
  • Are you a part of a church family? God is on the move through Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit! He works through his church and the various congregations that make up that church to carry out his mission!
  • Do you have a job? God is working through you in your vocation to impact others for the kingdom of God!
  • Are you faithful in your ministry? God is working through your ministry to display Jesus and allow others to experience his love and service!

Again and again we see that God is backstage and is intentionally and deliberately on the move!

Question:

Is there a word of encouragement for you in the above post? What especially speaks to your life?


I’ll Take Mercy Over Fairness

I grew up in what seemed to be a very ordinary neighborhood. We didn’t have a lot of money. In fact most of us were just getting by.

hand1.jpg

Down the street lived my friend. I thought that his dad just had to be wealthy. After all, he often wore chocolate brown and white wing tips (I am describing his shoes), a golf outfit, a hat, and regularly smoked a big cigar. He drove a Cadillac convertible. One day my friend let it be known that his daddy needed some help putting down some new grass in his yard. That week, a dump truck came to their house and left a large mound of sand.  That Friday afternoon, another truck came and unloaded squares of St. Augustine grass.

The next day, several from our neighborhood went over to their house to help spread the sand and then lay down the grass. We began working early that morning. We understood that later in the day, after we had finished, we were all going to get ice cream.

We worked all day—some of us. That afternoon some latecomers came and worked a few hours and then went with us to get ice cream. These kids came at 3 o’clock! At 5 o’clock, we were finished. We all got in several cars to go get ice cream. I couldn’t believe it. These two kids who had only been working for two hours came with us. We got to the ice cream store and stood in line for our ice cream. Our friend’s dad was buying each one of us a quart of ice cream. (That seemed unbelievable at the time.) The two latecomers got ice cream too. I resented that.

“I just want everything to be fair. Just give each one of us what we deserve.”

Really?

Jesus told a story regarding people who were hired at different times of the day to come work in a vineyard. At the end of the day, the owner of the vineyard paid each one the same — one denarius, or a day’s wage. Some who had been hired first and had agreed to work for a denarius thought it was unfair that everyone should be paid the same (Matthew 20:1-16). This rather shocking parable is bracketed by “the first shall be last and the last first” (19:30, 20:16).I suppose that if a summary of the payroll for that day had been posted, it might have looked like the following:   


Vineyard Payroll Summary

            6:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. = one denarius

            9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. = one denarius

            12:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. = one denarius

            3:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. = one denarius

            5:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. = one denarius


What kind of business is this where the person who works just one hour makes the same amount of money as the person who worked all day?


What kind of grace is this?

This is a grace that lifts up those of us who are last. This is a grace that lifts up those of us who feel as if we are “less than.”  Less effective people. Less faithful people. Spiritual latecomers.

This is a grace that lifts up those of us who just don’t seem to be “pulling our weight.” Those of us who are not as productive as others. Those of us who don’t feel important or worthwhile. Those of us who wonder just how much we really are contributing to the kingdom of God.

This is a grace that lifts up those of us who feel as if we failed. Maybe you feel as if you failed in your marriage. Perhaps you think you failed as a parent.



At the end of the day:

1. Thank God for his sweet mercy. Don’t get too caught up in how hard you have been working for the Lord. (I need to hear this one. I have found it very easy to look at other believers who seem to be contributing little in the congregation and just get frustrated at them. Some of this may be rooted in resentment at how little they are doing compared to how I perceive myself.)

2. Never think that you are entitled. Never think you are entitled to a little immorality on the side. Maybe you know the temptation. Night and day you try to do the right thing. Maybe you have worked hard for many years (often with little appreciation or recognition). You find yourself feeling entitled to do what you know is wrong.

3. We really are all on equal ground when it comes to the grace of God. Before I get too jealous of someone else or before I condemn another, I need to remember that I am indebted to God for his grace.


Question:

Why is it that many of us often want mercy for ourselves and want fairness for others?