Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A Relationship Toolbox - Money

At Cornerstone this coming weekend (January 27th) we're continuing our series on the 5 key things we must get right to build healthy, God-honoring relationships. Money is our focus. Get money wrong and it can mess up everything, preventing the cohesion needed to stay together whether as friends or spouses.

1 Timothy 6:10 “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”
When we are more eager for money than we are for Jesus we will wander from our faith and inherit “many griefs.” The original Greek word refers to "pain of body and mind; to have sorrow."

For our culture, the invention of the credit card has brought more pain than anything else because it's brought the one thing that limits our lives more than anything else – DEBT! The pursuit of things has created in our culture a love for money. And it has brought all kinds of pain or body and mind to those who live to be a consumer.

The more debt we incur the more our lives are determined ahead of time. When we go into debt it means we're pledged to pay for a certain period of time into the future. Our time is determined ahead of time and our options are limited. Debt forces us to decline the options God brings our way.

Money is the number 1 conflict issue in marriage. Second is sex and third is family relationships, especially with in-laws. We have to get money right in order to grow healthy marriages and strong friendships.

My wife and I made a couple of commitments early on in marriage that I think have made a difference:

1. She takes care of the books. This is important - really important. For one thing I'm not very good at math!! She has done a great job navigating our financial journey.

2. Tithe first. We are committed to giving 10% and more to Kingdom ministry. It's the minimum God expects of us. We put 10% into the local church and then give on top of that to things like building campaigns, the Live Simply Project, missionary support and more.

3. Buy used cars. 90% of the cars we've ever bought have been used. We don't care what color they are, what kind of seats they have, whether or not they have bells and whistles. We care about safety and gas mileage. We know if we spend less on cars we'll have more to spend on other things, including the surprises God might bring our way.

4. Pay cash as often as possible. We've loved the invention of the debit card. We can keep better track of our spending but also not make it a credit card purchase. We've also finally gotten to the point of being able to pay cash for cars.

5. Pay off credit cards each month. We're not into carrying credit card debt. One of the ways we limit this is to follow rule: always walk away before a big purchase, take time to think. We try not to buy on impulse.

6. Save. After we tithe we save, we pay ourselves. A good rule of thumb we've tried - but not always been able to do - is 10% tithe - 10% savings - 80% spending. As we age and have more spendable income we plan to increase the first two.

Money is a tool provided by God to sustain our lives and build His Kingdom. Use it well and life can flourish. It's not a matter of how much you have but what you do with what you have. How are you doing?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

It's My Birthday - Things to Celebrate

Birthdays are good days. It means another year has gone and the gift of another one has been given. I always say that the alternative to growing older is simply unacceptable. One day I'll be ready to be done with this life, but not today and not anytime soon.

Birthdays are celebrations, full of good wishes, remembering, some gift-giving and a day to reflect in the midst of a normal work week. Here are a few of the things I'm celebrating:
  1. A wonderful wife who married me when I had hair and a passion and vision to change the world. I still have the passion and the vision. I'm so glad that she's committed to me.
  2. Children who are growing up to be fine young women and a young man. I'm proud of them and the direction their lives are heading. Not everything is set in their lives but that's what makes it exciting.
  3. A staff with whom I would charge the gates of hell. The synergy, the energy, the passion for Jesus, you can cut it with a knife. It is all coming together to grow the Kingdom at Cornerstone. Thanks Team for being faithful servants, trustworthy teammates and lovers of Jesus.
  4. Mary Logsdon's German Chocolate Cake baked from scratch. For 10 years she's made me my favorite cake. I can't eat as much of it anymore (Doctor's orders) but I feel loved.
  5. A fellow pastor who just walked by in Panera and said: "You look great. You've lost some weight or gained some muscle and trimmed down." It made me smile. Something to celebrate
It's a new time, a new day, a new year and God is about doing new things. Unexpected things to be sure but He's always at work. Even when we human beings miss the boat, even when we make poor choices, God is at work bringing good out of it all. I can't wait to see what He's got waiting around the next corner - 50!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

How to Deal with Conflict

I've been thinking a lot about conflict since that is our final (on February 3rd) part in our Relationship Toolbox series. Conflict happens in all our lives. One friend enjoys going to Applebee's and the other prefers Chipotle. Now, that's not a life-altering conflict but it is one. Sometimes we're too nice to one another and so eat at Applebee's and never say we don't like it. One couple I know found out a year later that they both preferred Chipotle but neither wanted "to be mean" about it!

Conflict happens whenever there is even a small group of human beings in the same space. Some people think working in a church must surely be the ideal setting. But in the church too we find conflict because human beings work there. And there's conflict when there's just 1 - we are often conflicted about a choice to make in life.

In marriage the three biggest areas of conflict are: Money, Sex & In-Laws/Family in that order. Honestly, I think those are the three biggest conflict areas for anyone, married or not.

A good friend of mine, Dan, has a phrase: "Stay in the room." When there is conflict be sure that you don't lose connection. The only bad conflict is when it leads to a lack of connection. If there's no communication, if there's not honesty, if there's not an effort to maintain the relationship connection, then conflict is bad.

There is a lot of conflict in the Bible. A notable incident is recorded in Acts 15. Paul and Barnabas had just completed a successful missionary journey planting and strengthening churches. In Jerusalem, after the church leaders worked their way through a conflict, it's Paul and Baranabas that get into such a sharp disagreement that they part ways. They disagreed on whom whether or not to take a young disciple, John Mark, on their second journey, after he abandoned Paul and Barnabas on the first journey.

Christians sometimes think that all conflict is bad, that all separations are evil, that something must be wrong. That's simply not true. It's the way conflict is handled that matters most.

I'm certainly no expert, having made my share of mistakes in handling conflict. Sometimes I wait too long and other times I charge in too quickly. But there are some good guidelines for handing conflict that I have found helpful over the years.

1. Live by Romans 12:18 - "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." I love the acknowledgment of truth - the possibility that we won't live at peace with all people. My job is to own what I can own, while making sure I don't own what is someone else's to own.

In conflict, God says the responsibility is with me to make the approach. It doesn't mean walk right in. Sometimes the right move is to give space.  Sometimes the right move is an offer to talk. Timing certainly does matter.

My wife needs space to think. I like to talk things through. We've had conflict about the way we approach conflict!

2. Don't take it personally - unless it is. This is a growing edge for me that I wrote about this summer (Q-TIP, Endings & Beginnings, A Passion for Truth, Ego: Friend or Foe, Regular Renewal for Growth) and continue to learn to apply it. Sometimes the conflict IS personal - when it's something you can't change like the pitch of your voice that annoys. You can't change that but you can be aware of it.

Some conflicts are made personal by the nature of the attacks but maturity and grace accepts truth wherever it can find it, and is appreciative of the opportunity to grow.

3. The relationship is the goal. This goes right in line with #2 but takes it a step further. Not only don't take it personally but make sure the relationship remains your primary concern. Another way to say it is that the goal is not to win. If the goal becomes "getting your way" or "winning" then most likely the relationship will suffer.

In marriage this means asking a question like this: "Am I loving my wife in a sacrificial way, in the way that Christ loves the Church?" - "Am I honoring my husband in the way God desires me to?"

Conflicts are going to happen. What will you do with them?

Friday, January 4, 2013

A Relationship Toolbox - Forgiveness

This weekend we launch a new series called "A Relationship Toolbox." Everybody wants their relationships to be more than they are. Nobody wants an average friendship or marriage. But how to go to the next level? How to create a healthier atmosphere?

We've chosen 5 key things to help grow healthy relationships. They are 5 things we have to get right or else.

On January 6th we're going to look at the first and probably most crucial aspect of relationships - forgiveness. It is THE key to growing relationships that will thrive through all circumstances.

In my research I came across this teaching in my files. It is a powerful insight into Luke 17:6. (I don't have a reference for it or would give credit to whom it is due.) 
He [Jesus] replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.

The word “sycamine” comes from the Greek word sukaminos, and it is the Greek word that refers to a tree that grew throughout the Middle East.

When you understand everything that is connected to the sycamine tree, you’ll know exactly why Jesus chose to use this tree as an example of bitterness and unforgiveness.

Keep in mind that Jesus was speaking of getting rid of bitterness and unforgiveness. In Luke 17:3, He told the disciples that they needed to forgive those who sinned against them. He then took it to the maximum in Luke 17:4 by saying that even if a brother does something wrong seven times in one day and is each time truly repentant, they were to keep on forgiving that offending brother.

Forgiving once is already a challenge for most people. But to forgive someone seven times in one day almost sounds impossible to many folks. It must have sounded preposterous to the disciples as well, for they said, “…Lord, Increase our faith” (Luke 17:5). This statement was the equivalent of their saying, “Lord, we don’t know if we have enough faith to forgive so many times in one day. You’ll have to increase our faith if we’re going to do this seven times in one day!”

Then comes the teaching about the sycamine tree, choosing that specific tree for very good reason as you will see.

1. The sycamine tree had a very large and deep root structure.

Like the sycamine tree, bitterness and unforgiveness must be dealt with clear to the roots, or they will keep springing up again and again. The roots of bitterness and unforgiveness go down deep into the human soul, fed by any offense that lies hidden in the soil of the heart. That hidden source of offense will cause these evil forces to resurface in a person’s life over and over again. It will take a serious decision for that person to rip those roots of bitterness and offense out of his heart once and for all so they can’t grow back in the future.

2. The sycamine tree’s wood was the preferred wood for building caskets.

It grew quickly and in nearly any environment, making it accessible in many different places. 

Just as the sycamine tree grew very quickly, so does bitterness and unforgiveness. When these fast-growing and ugly attitudes are allowed to grow freely, they not only spoil the condition of your own heart, but they ruin your relationships with other people. In fact it is deadly.

Also, just as the sycamine tree grew easily in every environment, so does bitterness. It doesn’t matter where people are from, where they live, what kind of cultural background they grew up in, or what level of society they belong to - bitterness and unforgiveness grow in human hearts everywhere, for they are universal in their scope of evil influence.

The sycamine tree grew best where little rain fell and water was sparse. Isn’t this just like bitterness and unforgiveness? These negative attitudes flourish where spiritually dry conditions exist. You can almost count on finding bitterness and unforgiveness growing and blossoming where there is no repentance, no joy, and no fresh rain of the Spirit.

3. The sycamine tree produced a fig that was very bitter to eat.

The sycamine tree and the mulberry tree were very similar in appearance; the two trees even produced a fruit that looked identical. However, the fruit of the sycamine tree was extremely bitter. Its fruit looked just as luscious and delicious as a mulberry fig. But when a person tasted the fruit of the sycamine fig, he discovered that it was horribly bitter.

Jesus lets us know that like the sycamine fruit, the fruit of bitterness and unforgiveness is bitter, tart, and pungent. Like the fig, most people who are bitter and filled with unforgiveness chew on their feelings for a long time. They nibble on bitterness for a while; then they pause to digest what they’ve eaten. After they have reflected deeply on their offense, they return to the memory table to start nibbling on bitterness again - taking one little bite, then another little bite, then another. As they continue to think and meditate on their offense, they internalize their bitter feelings toward those who have offended them. In the end, their perpetual nibbling on the poisonous fruit of bitterness makes them bitter, sour people themselves.

4. The sycamine tree was pollinated only by wasps.
It is very interesting to note that the sycamine tree was not naturally pollinated. The pollination process was only initiated when a wasp stuck its stinger right into the heart of the fruit. Thus, the tree and its fruit had to be “stung” in order to be reproduced.

Think of how many times you have heard a bitter person say: “I’ve been stung by that person once, but I’m not going to be stung again! What he did hurt me so badly that I’ll never let him get close enough to sting me again!” It is likely that people who make such a statement have been “stung” by a situation that the devil especially devised to pollinate their hearts and souls with bitterness and unforgiveness. When a person talks like this, you can know for sure that the wasp of bitterness got to them!

Jesus says that it doesn't take a great amount of faith to deal with bitterness and unforgiveness in our lives. If it is truly the desire of our heart, just a little faith is all it takes. And if we're not sure we're ready - I ask people if they're willing for God to make them willing. That's not a lot of faith but in Jesus' eyes, it's enough.
Don't hold on to unforgiveness. It will lead to your death and the death of your relationships.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Wrapping Up & Moving On

I'm not a fan of resolutions - I've made them and then never follow through. I am a fan of learning from the past, growing from my mistakes and building upon my successes.

Last year I discovered an old post from Michael Hyatt that helped me wrap up the year so that it was a learning, growing and moving on experience. You can read his full post here - 7 Questions to Ask About Last Year

Here are the questions:

  1. If the last year were a movie of your life, what would the genre be?
  2. What were the two or three major themes that kept recurring? 
  3. What did you accomplish this past year that you are the most proud of?
  4. What do you feel you should have been acknowledged for but weren't?
  5. What disappointments or regrets did you experience this past year?
  6. What was missing from last year as you look back?
  7. What were the major life-lessons you learned this past year?
Wrestling with these questions last year helped me put a framework around the year. It wasn't just a year of activities or busyness. There was meaning, purpose and mistakes I wish I could do over. Taking time to really think about my answers, I believe, helped me move into this year with greater purpose and focus. I've got so much more to learn. Just when I think I've got something by the tail, I find it's got me. I also discovered things weren't as bad as I might have made them out to be. Seeing answers in print made me not be so hard on myself. It certainly wasn't a perfect year but it wasn't a failure either. Taking some time to look back is helpful to learning, growing and moving on during the coming calendar year.

I encourage you to take a sabbath day. Spend some time thinking about the past year - what can you learn? - where can you grow? Now move on.

Resolutions don't work but this kind of exercise helped me make some goals. I was able to see more clearly how just a few minutes, a few tweaks to my schedule could make a huge difference. 

As I've considered my answers for 2012 I'm making adjusting some of my priorities. For instance:
  • Reading each week that focuses on growing my leadership skills. I'm choosing to read, each week, an article from the Harvard Business Review (HBR) and capture 1 or 2 keys for raising my leadership to a new level.
  • Scheduling new (meaning more) meetings with staff and lay leadership so that some mistakes on my part have less chance of happening again.
  • Participating in a new small group that I think will help me in the areas I identified as missing or that I regret.
  • Living more consistently in my strength of teaching.
What will you do to move forward in 2013 - to not repeat some mistakes of 2012 - to make an impact for His Kingdom?