Friday, October 26, 2012

Do I Have to Grow Up?

Everybody I know loves to: graduate from high school and become more independent - turn 21 and be legal - begin doing more and more things on their own. Growing up is the natural and normal thing to do in life. We are supposed to mature. It's normal. Of course, once we get there we usually realize we don't enjoy all the responsibility that goes along with our independence, but that's the way it goes.

I am beginning to meet with people around Cornerstone's 20th Anniversary in 2013. It's hard to believe it's been 20 years since I helped make phone calls to get the word out that a new church was starting in West Chester, Ohio. Someone came up with an idea: what if we think in terms of growing up, taking more responsibility, maturing, moving on as we turn 20?

What does it mean for a Christ-follower or a Church to grow up? To move from milk to solid food? It's been a question from the earliest days of the Church:
In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! - Hebrews 5:12
Peter Scazzero authored a book about church health called The Emotionally Healthy Church. As I worked my way through an issue of Leadership Journal on Transformation, I came upon an interview with Peter. This paragraph struck me:
But people were not changing deeply. It really showed when there was stress and conflict in the church. It was clear to me that we had a big problem......We had a lot of people saying they were on fire for Jesus, but they were still arrogant, still proud, stull nursing conflicts like they were 12 years old. I thought to myself, Something's not right here. (italics his)
Scazzero goes on to talk about the need to, as a leader, look inside first and then he talks about his need and desire for people to "grow up" in the Christian faith. It wasn't happening and it bugged him. It bugs me.

When Christ-followers encounter "stress and conflict" in their lives, in their church, in their work or family, sometimes there is an ugly display of unChristian behavior that betrays their claim to be Followers. Saved maybe, but transformed - evidence says no. When people turn to Facebook and Twitter to let everyone know how "pissed off" they are and how horrible someone else is, it is evidence that transformation has not happened. It makes me wonder where we went wrong - where I went wrong - where the Church around the world has gone wrong.

Where did we go wrong in helping people grow up spiritually?

The Book of Galatians gives a great list by which to judge our own lives, showing where we're growing up or staying put, mired in the muck of sin.
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. 
Galatians 5:19-21
It has been said that character is not so much developed as it is exposed during difficult times. Whether it's the athlete getting beat, the illness that suddenly strikes, the tragedy caused by evil that jumps into our lives, how we have developed our character will show. When we are vulnerable, who are we? Too many church-goers and Christ-followers are defined by this first list in Galatians.

The untransformed life is characterized by these things. Disagreements, sure. Difficulties, no doubt a reality with human beings doing life together. But what then?

Weekend worship attendance 2-3 times a month won't bring the kind of transformation Jesus intends. When a family gives up church for sports, what foundation is provided when the sports are over? The temporal excitement of now can cut the legs out from the bliss of eternity. There is no such thing as part-time discipleship.

Thankfully, there's more to the story. There's another list that describes a different path to pursue. 
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. - Galatians 5:22-23a
Two key points help unlock this list for me: 1) these character traits are the natural result of the presence and work of God's Spirit in our lives. These are not things we have to force to grow in our lives. We might practice some spiritual disciplines to help support their growth but they are the result of living a life connected to Jesus. 2) this is one fruit demonstrated nine ways. The ultimate fruit of the Spirit is love - that's the way the Greek words it. Everything flows from love.

The key for me is staying connected to a small group. I love those in my group. They laugh at me when I'm trying to fake it. They support me when I'm struggling. They challenge me as I try to grow my faith. They tell me the truth. I can't do life without them.

Are you growing up or staying put? What character was revealed the last time you encountered stress or difficulty in your life? Those who pursue Jesus will be revealed in the end. Those who don't - the same is true.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Next Steps.....

I've been wrestling with a question - How do you know what your next steps are? It's a step beyond my previous post What Do You Do When You Don't Know What to Do? Sometimes a plan isn't clear. Sometimes the boundaries are laid out but you aren't sure if it's soccer, football or baseball that you're playing. In different cultures, football refers to different games. Knowing the rules of the game is a must to playing the right game.

I finally figured it out. I figured out the game to be played within the boundaries that have been established. It's a freeing thing. Now I can lay out a game plan.

Think about what happens when two people in a marriage have different expectations about the goal. One has soccer in mind. The other wants to play touch football! Similar fields, each thinking there are funny lines for the game. It can create confusion and mind-numbing frustration.

When two different people have two different values - as far as what the ultimate goal is - in other words, the definition of success, endless conflict can be the outcome. One is playing with a football, the other uses a softball and neither can figure out why the other can't run the right play or even catch the ball that was so perfectly thrown - or pitched - or hit right to them.

One asks: "Who's on first?" and the other thinks they're calling the "Who" play for 1st down.

Clarity of how success is defined is an essential piece for knowing what the next steps are. It brings a real sense of peace. Nothing is more frustrating than thinking you're succeeding only to find out others are pushing for something else. It helps when everyone is moving toward the same goal line.

It happens in marriages with expectations.

We watch it in politics - big government and taxes, small government and taxes - Democrats v Republicans.

It happens in churches, which is where my life has been spent. Some have a goal of everyone feeling good. Others have a goal of making disciples. There are a host of other divergent thoughts on what success looks like in a church. What I know is that when success is defined differently then conflict, confusion and frustration are inevitable.

To find my next steps I asked a lot of questions, trying my best to stay away from "why" questions. Too much emotion with "why." "What" is a far better way to finding clarity. It does no good to shoot the messenger. It doesn't help to display anger. Speak truth. Share your perceptions. Learn the rules of the game and then get in the game.

So off we go.

Unclear? Find your next steps so you know what ball to pick up to play the game.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

What Do You Do When You Don't Know What To Do?

Today I prayed for a friend and his family. It was one of those times when the Lord made it clear He wanted me to pray for them. So I did. And in obedience and possibly being thought of a fool, I let them know the Lord has their lives in His hands - He asked me to pray. It doesn't happen every day and sometimes not even every month. Often people say "Thank you" but have nothing specific that they know of going on. Doesn't matter to me. I'm just being obedient to what I believe God is calling me to do.

Today my friend responded. I'm not sure what he thought. He was part of another church I Pastored and he left during my time there. But he said: "Thank you. I've been asking God for some wisdom and direction and I'm not hearing anything. I'm not sure what to do."

Everybody struggles with that uncertain feeling from time to time. Here are some things I've found helpful.

1 - Do the next right thing. I'm not sure where this orginated but it's good wisdom. Doing the next right thing is the best thing when you don't know what to do. It's a place to start. Finding yourself feeling trapped is the worst feeling, wondering if you have any options. It's there that we often make our worst choices. This piece of wisdom keeps me on the straight path.

2 - Pray. I mean really pray. Don't pray on the run. Take some moments and pray. Just the other day I was walking through Cornerstone's Worship Center with my fresh, hot mug of tea and I stopped, knelt down and prayed. I was in one of these places with a situation. It helped. It was the next right thing.

3 - Think about Rhythms. When I don't know what to do I think about the rhythms of my life - my spiritual disciplines - my physical exercise - what I'm eating - how I'm sleeping. When I leave a rhythm in my life I don't think as clearly. Returning to it brings clarity to my heart and mind. But there is another side. Sometimes I find breaking a rhythm is helpful.

During my Sophomore year in college I hit a wall physically as a competitive swimmer. It didn't matter how hard I tried or how stretched out and easy I swam - the times were the same. Very frustrating! Turns out there were issues with my left trap muscle and shoulder but in the end I really think I pushed my body as far as it would go.

In the midst of that difficult season Coach Keefe suggested doing something different - "Do something for yourself," he said. My choice at the time was a pint of UDF Ice Cream every day (and I mean every day!). It tasted great, I burned it off in practice and it made a difference in how I felt about this struggle.

Think about rhythms in your life. It may be you need to return to one, shift one or pick up a new one.

4 - Speak the Truth. Not knowing what to do can give us a feeling of being trapped. Sharing your frustration with a friend can help open up new ideas, new options. Speaking out loud about your frustration is like a healing balm itself.

Not knowing what to do gives the feeling of being trapped. These steps open new windows in our emotional dead ends. 

What do you do when you don't know what to do?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Growing A Strong Marriage

Today I continued to purge some files and notebooks, scanning some into Evernote (I love that app), throwing many things away (it's amazing what one can collect and forget), and reading through others. Stephanie and I have led multiple Marriage Weekends over the years. In 1997, we led a Weekend with some awesome couples who all wanted to grow in their marriages. We stay in touch with many of them to this day. It was inspiring to see the list of participants - Aaron & Shannon, Greg & Karin, Dean & Erma, Gregg & Martha, Roger & Deena, Craig & Rose, John & Marla, Rick & Michelle, Jim & Kathy and one other couple who is no longer together.

I can clearly remember some of the teaching time, the fellowship and the worship. I am grateful for people like this - and so many more down through the years - who love the Lord and make marriage the priority relationship in their lives.

Growing a strong marriage takes time and effort, something that can be in short supply during those parenting years. I think the teen years were the most difficult. Other unexpected speed bumps and detours aren't helpful: illness, lay off, moves and transfers.

The most important thing we do is plan. Without planning to make your marriage a priority, life will help it not be. Life simply gets in the way - from parenting to work stress to plain busyness. Through the years we have made time to plan dates and times away for just the two of us.

We plan three things...

First, date timeIt's important to plan time for a date each week. We got away from this during some years of parenting early teens but more recently established a Wednesday lunch date. Lunch is cheaper than dinner, fits better with our schedules and is at a time we're not really tired. No matter what you do, plan a date each week whether it's a movie at home, a meal out, or even a workout time together. Before my summer sabbatical my staff knew where I was headed at 11:45 on Wednesday. It was sacred space.

Second, Retreats & Conferences. The best preparation for marriage we had was a Family Life Weekend to Remember 5 months before the wedding - and then 7 months later we attended again. We've been to 7 over the years. It is well worth the investment of time and money.

In early marriage, when we couldn't afford to attend a Conference (in the years before Pastor's registered for free) we would rent some videos and use them to initiate some discussion. Sometimes we stayed at home when we couldn't afford the hotel.

Glen Eyrie - Marriage Get A Way
Part of my sabbatical this year was time for just me and Stephanie - in secluded northern California and a Marriage Get A Way at Glen Eyrie in Colorado Springs. These were really important times in my own renewal plan. The added benefit of a Conference setting is learning from other couples along the way.

Third, vacations and time away. Some parents refuse to leave their children home without them until a certain age or ever. We definitely disagree. We've driven away to a dinner date with our oldest screaming her fool head off, only to be told 3 minutes later she was fine. We've taken vacations for anniversaries. We believe one of the greatest gifts we can give to our children is a strong and happy marriage. It is THE most important human relationship we have. We've made sure our children saw that.

Reading together, praying together, sitting together not saying a word (we did lots of that on our California trip) can enhance a marriage. When we led marriage retreats we grew our own marriage, sharing both what we were learning and serving with our gifts. Stephanie has the gift of hospitality and my main gift is teaching. 

Life will help a husband and wife avoid the conversations that can help their relationship grow. Busyness, stress, exhaustion (and that's just from parenting!) will get in the way of those important times of connection, from verbal to physical communication.

And just in case you might be tempted to think that we know it all or think we have the perfect no means. We have a strong marriage but it's far from perfect. But we've been through our fair share of ups and downs and survived for over 26 years. So far so good.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Talk Too Much?

When words are many, sin is not absent,
but he who holds his tongue is wise.
Proverbs 10:19

My forte is speaking. I'm a teacher at heart. Even with my hobby of officiating with USA Swimming as a starter, it's my words that are central. One piece of training to be a national starter with swimming is learning less is more. The more a starter says when swimmers are on the block the more confusion it can cause, leading to a greater chance for a poor start.

In his book,  What Got You Here Won't Get You There, Marshall Goldsmith shares 20 habits we need to leave behind if we're to continue to be successful at the next levels of leadership.  There are similar ideas in The Next Level and 9 Things You Must Do to Succeed in Life. Each book talks about those things that must be left behind in order to succeed at a new level of leadership/business/life/love. But this particular phrase really caught my attention. Goldsmith talks of those who "add too much value."  I want to add value to people and organizations. I want others on the team who add value. How can you add too much value? It's very simple - by talking too much!

Ouch! That's something I do. I hope I do it less today than yesterday but I've definitely got a long way to go. It's the person who...
  • always has something to say (of course the person who says nothing is on the opposite end and needs to learn to speak up). 
  • is motivated to make other think you know something about the subject at hand.
  • just wants to be heard.
The more words we speak the more chance of sin. It's that simple. That's good advice. Here's how I'm trying to live it out:

1 - Listen without having the need to respond. The desire might be there so sometimes I write down what is being said. It keeps my mouth shut because I don't multi-task very well. At its core this is about humility. The humble person doesn't need to be seen or heard and so uses less words.

2 - Asking "what" questions rather than "why." This keeps me focused on the topic and the other person. I've found when I ask "why" it takes me to a place where I'm questioning the other person and that's the place I'm tempted to add too much value.

3 - Simply taking a deep breath when I feel like saying something. Often that keeps me from saying more than I need to.

Saying less really is saying more. Jesus cautioned us about our prayers and words:

And when you pray, do not keep on babbling
like pagans, for they think they will be heard
because of their many words.
Matthew 6:7

God cares about what is in the heart more than the words that stumble out of our mouths. Sometimes it's better to keep what is in our hearts, in our hearts instead of letting it out.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Dealing with Difficult People

"If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." - Romans 12:18

Everyone has someone with whom they don't get along - don't see eye to eye. Everyone has someone they consider a "difficult person." And everyone IS someone else's "difficult person."

Some we see often. Others infrequently. It doesn't matter to the feelings we feel, the anxiety that can push up from our gut.

During my summer sabbatical I learned a lot about boundaries - why they are good, what they look like and how to establish them. (Accountability & Boundaries, Performance Oriented Workers, Rules to Avoid Misery). I learned that I haven't had great boundaries in some areas of life. I have what I consider excellent moral boundaries (such as, no private meetings with a woman not my wife). My financial boundaries are pretty good (such as, commitment to tithing and saving). My leadership boundaries and those dealing with delegation to staff and servants have not been as good as they can be.

God is now pushing about boundaries dealing with difficult people. It's a question of what I own, what the other person owns and what God owns. The transformation process is a cooperative process between us and God. There is a role for people to play but there is also a role that God plays. We can't be God and God won't do what He asks us to do.

I define a difficult person as someone with whom you have a sight problem - you don't see eye to eye and nothing either of you can say will help bring clarity. It might be that they handled a situation in a way you didn't appreciate (or vice versa) and they just can't let it go. There may have been a disagreement and it just can't seem to get resolved.

I'm learning some steps. These may change as I mature and learn more but for now it's where I am. I'm trying to live them out.

1. Remember I am someone else's difficult person. The struggle I have with a particular individual, someone else struggles in the same way with me. It's humbling but keeps me focused.

2. Own what is mine. I can only be responsible for the choices I made. My actions are the only thing I can own. These are the things I can repent from, ask forgiveness for and seek to make amends.

3. Don't own what is not mine. I'm not good at this. There are some things that I must refuse to pick up and own. These include: another person's choices, actions and responses. I cannot change an attitude. I tend to want to fix things but I can only fix me.

4. Pray. The Holy Spirit can change a heart, not me. That's God's job.

5. Tell the truth. It goes with the owning thing. It's the truth that brings things into the light. Sometimes in a difficult relationship the truth is not accepted. Sometimes we think it's the truth but the difficult person's constant pressing helps us see it's really not complete. Tell the truth even when it hurts.

These have been helpful to me. But difficult people still bother me. I want to be liked. I want to be able to fix things, including relationships. I'm learning to set up boundaries that teach me sometimes it's time to move on.