Friday, August 29, 2014

Things that Wipe Out Our Relationships - Sex

Boundaries. Fences. Limitations. Out of bounds. Fouls. Disqualifications. These are good things in our lives.

Our dog, Scamp (a Border Collie-Besenji mix), recently escaped our fenced yard. After paying $170 to get him back from the Dog Warden, we fixed the fence and the following week he found a new way out - thankfully caught by a neighbor.

For Scamp, the fence or boundary is a good thing. It's a positive thing. It keeps him safe. He doesn't know any better than to perhaps walk across a busy road. He doesn't know all the pitfalls and potential hazards that exist in the world. So we have fences and leashes for his safety. We put limitations on his existence so that he is safe.

I can tell you for sure that Scamp doesn't enjoy his fence. He wants to get beyond it. His other limitations are frequently violated when no one else is around – like staying out of my room. But we know he goes in there when nobody is home.

We have boundaries for Scamp for the same reason we lock windows and doors in our houses. For the same reason we leave lights on so we come home to a well lit environment after being out at night.

God has some boundaries and I can tell you for sure that we don't always enjoy them – we sometimes don't understand them – we often seek to see how close we can come to the edge without an explicit violation. But God has boundaries for us for one reason – perhaps two – to keep us safe. And because he loves us. We don't see all the pitfalls and hazards that exist in our world. But God does. So He provides boundaries, limitations, fences for us so we know where the out of bounds is.

Sex is something that has boundaries in God's economy. Violating those boundaries is costly. We may not understand all of God's boundaries - we may not like all of them - we may not agree with all of them. We are free to choose. I choose to start with God's character and heart and then look at his boundaries.

Two things I know to be true: God is good and God is for me. If I believe that, then when I don't understand, like or agree with His boundaries, I go back to what I know about God.

When we push God's boundaries aside or step over them in disregard, when we make unhealthy choices, sex can wipe out our relationships. Here are some ways that might happen:

When sex in marriage becomes a reward or punishment instead of an expression of passion. When secrets are kept.

When avoidance strategies are employed so that a difficult but necessary conversation can't occur. Or simply not being honest with one another.

A husband confesses the difficulties of his marriage to a female co-worker; or a wife to a male co-worker.

Dating relationships wipe out when we settle for emotions and disregard character and the heart.

Let me suggest three ways to stay within the boundaries God has set: 

1. Make Relationship with God a Priority

Here's the thing I know - intimacy with God will protect you from illegitimate intimacies in your life. Jesus IN you makes the difference not more muscles, not different clothes, not the color of your hair.

Make Jesus the priority in your life and you are less likely to experience a wipe out in your relationships.

2. Establish Boundaries
I know that money, sex and power will destroy a ministry and/or person faster than anything else. So I have boundaries for those. I don't touch money. I never meet with a female by myself in private. I invite guests to speak and invite people smarter than me onto leadership teams to keep power at bay.

We slip when we compromise our boundaries. The girl who decides that she'll ignore the fact that a boy doesn't share her faith values and instead focuses on his looks. Watch out! The husband who shares the struggles in his marriage with a female colleague crosses a dangerous boundary.

3. Evaluate your inner life

Use God's Word to evaluate your life. Use Galatians 5:22-23. Do these Fruit of the Spirit display themselves in your life?

Evaluate your inner life first before you evaluate the outer life of the other. If your relationships are what you want them to be, look inside first, asking God to grow these fruit in your life. And make a choice to stay away from the other list.

Monday, August 25, 2014

What I Do Understand

There's much I don't understand about our world, my world, and around my life. I don't understand the reactions of mobs and those that travel to #Ferguson, Illinois to be part of the looting and destruction. I don't understand the destruction of a shop, owned by a law-abiding citizen, because you're pissed off at something he had nothing to do with. I don't get it.

I don't understand global politics.
I don't understand accounting.
I don't understand anything about child abuse.
I don't understand #ISIS.
I don't understand global warming or cooling or climate change.
I don't understand how engines work.
I don't understand people who can come to conclusions on half information, partial stories and not for one moment think there is more to it than they know.
I don't understand women - that's a whole series of blogs in itself!

There's a lot that I don't understand but that doesn't mean I'm helpless or paralyzed. The world may very well be going to hell in a hand basket - last time I checked, that's is the ultimate end. What I don't want to be is a part of helping make it happen. While there is way more I don't understand than I do understand, I do understand that I can be a positive influence in my world. I don't have to succumb to whatever emotion, anger, and negativity drives people to be destructive.

There are some things that I know and that's what can drive my actions. When I was a child I wasn't responsible for all of my choices. Now I am. When I was a child, I didn't have the experience or wisdom to make the best choices, but I knew right from wrong - I still know it today. There are far more things I don't know, but in light of recent events I know a few things.

1. I know that I deserve what I tolerate. This is a painful lesson to learn, and re-learn and learn again! When I didn't hold new leaders to high leadership standards, I get what I deserve. When I refuse to be part of the process of electing new political leaders, and I'm convinced that the problem in Washington rests with everyone else's leaders, but not mine....I get what I deserve.

I deserve what I choose to tolerate. Therefore, I have to choose ahead of time the things for which I'll go to the mat, the mountains upon which I'll die. As a parent, if I allow belligerence and disobedience to go unpunished, then I'll get what I've chosen to tolerate (or avoid). 

2. I have to own my choices, choices that I'm free to make. No one makes me mad - I choose to be mad at others. No one causes me to leave an organization or stop supporting a cause, I am free to choose that option. It's my choice.

I don't get to throw off ownership of my actions, blaming what someone else did. Certainly, I need to protect my family and I choose to protect my property, but I don't get to harm others because someone else did something to someone else with which I didn't agree. My actions are my own and owning them is something I must do.

3. Disagreements are inevitable - destruction is optional. I captured this quote recently but not the author:" Disagree without making the other person bad and you will transport the connection to a higher level." Relationships surround us, they make life worth living. Relationships also come with conflict but I don't have to destroy the relationship because of it.

4. God should not be blamed for as much as He is. One of my pet peeves is the stupid things people say at tragedies and funerals. Usually it happens when human beings open their mouths! God gets blamed for untimely death with words like: "He had another plan." God gets blamed for watching over some but not others with words like: "He was watching over them" when speaking of those who survived a horrific accident while others died.

A wise friend said to me recently: "Do the things that are possible and don't worry about the rest right now."

These are some of the things I know and in a world that seems consumed in chaos, I can follow and do these things. It may not seem like much on the surface but these things build a strong foundation for living well. One of my mottos is: "Do the next right thing." That's what I know and understand.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

3 Questions for Each Day

It's easy to waste a day. A few minutes in front of the TV turns into hours. Angry Birds takes your attention and before you know it, the greater part of a day is gone. An addiction calls to you. Instead of calling in your support network, you battle it on your own, knowing it's a losing battle. Pretty soon, a day is gone.

Asking questions has made me a better leader, listener and mentor. I've become a better teacher, friend and husband. I've learned to ask some questions to help give focus to my days. These questions at the end of a day brings anticipation and expectation to the next day for me.

1 Did I make a difference today? Every day I have a chance to make a difference in someone's life - probably several someone's if I'm paying attention. The question could also be asked: "Did I help someone today?" Making a difference is not an option for me. God gifts each of us with human talents and Christ followers have the added impact of spiritual gifts. Using them to make a difference isn't optional.

2 Did I help someone smile today? It's really easy to make someone smile. Smile at them first. Do something nice for them. Hold a door. Wait patiently in line. Say, "No worries" when a waitress is flustered by too many tables. Be generous with compliments because everyone will smile when complimented (well, most people).

3 Did I learn something today? I'm a learner so this is something that keeps me at my best. One of the practices that helps me learn is journaling, blogging or some kind of writing.
   Reflecting on my day helps me see where God was active and where I may have missed Him. If I can see what I learned one day, it drives me to pay attention the next day.

How do you stay focused? What keeps you learning and growing?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Things that Wipe Out our Relationships - Money

Continuing some thoughts on the things that wipe out our relationships. Money is the number one issue of conflict in a marriage and probably in most relationships. When Walmart marries Saks Fifth Avenue, you know there is going to be conflict around money. For me, staying out of debt is the number one way to calm this ugly destroyer of relationships.

Proverbs 22:7 “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is always slave to the lender.”

Debt is slavery. It’s that simple. Debt is the most immediate pressure that most marriages and individuals feel in their lives. The average college graduate has over $20,000 in debt, starting life in slavery to money. And that doesn’t include credit card debt. The average credit card debt in America is over $7000! You know what we do when we go into debt – we have faith that we will keep getting paid, keep making money, in order to pay that debt. We have faith in a company or in ourselves. That’s not the place we want to grow our faith. We change. Companies change. Life happens. God never changes.

The greatest thing that leads us into debt: Immediate gratification. One of the ways we have tackled this problem is with cars. First of all, owning a car - just one car - is a first world problem. Most of the world knows nothing about owning a car.

Cars are a depreciating asset. In order to reduce that impact on our bank account we always buy used cars instead of new. Then we drive them until they are nearing unsafe or just plain stop working. The added bonus is that this became an embarrassment to our children!

Some ways out of debt:
1. Giving
It seems foolish on the surface, but giving does something to our hearts. Learning to give and trust God changes the focus of our hearts. That’s where the debt problem comes from – our hearts. It’s not a cash flow problem. Debt is a spiritual issue. Giving is a spiritual issue. That’s why Jesus talked about it so much.

It may mean some lifestyle adjustments but learning to give, beginning to give even in the midst of repaying debt is vital to getting out of debt. If you say to yourself that you’ll wait until the debt is gone to start giving you’ll never start giving because you’ll just accumulate more debt. Giving is a heart change that is necessary to staying out of debt.

Proverbs 11:25 “A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.”

2. Change of heart not change of cash flow. Materialism is a heart issue not a cash flow issue. We want what Hollywood and Madison Avenue says we should have.

Luke 12:34 (New Living) “Wherever your treasure is, there your heart and thoughts will also be.”

Jesus knew that the heart follows the cash and the cash follows the heart. If we are in debt guess where our hearts are going to be? At the very least we’re going to be distracted TOWARD the debt and AWAY FROM Jesus. At worst we’ll be totally drawn away working and worrying to pay off the debts we’ve accumulated.

This is one of the main reasons I talk about money in church. Money – giving and staying out of debt – are spiritual issues. What we do with our money actually says more about our spiritual heart than about our bank accounts. It’s an essential mindset shift to stay out of debt – how we use our money is a spiritual or heart issue.

3. Learn contentment
2 Kings 4:2 “Elisha replied to her, "How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?" "Your servant has nothing there at all," she said, "except a little oil."

I love the question Elisha asked the widow in verse two. She was saying, "I can't believe I'm in this situation. My husband died, and my husband was a godly man; he was from the house of prophets." Yes, bad things happen to good people. "Now we have mortgaged my children's future. They’re coming to take my children into slavery." Elisha asked her, "What do you have in your house?" "Well, I don't make enough money, that's the problem. If I just made more money then I wouldn't be in this situation."

Whoa! Getting out of debt isn't about making more money, it's about spending less than you make. You can't always control how much money you make, but you do have control over how much you spend.

How many times have you run into the house and said, "Look, I saved money! I got this for 50% off." You would have saved 100% if you had never gone to the store in the first place!

4. Understand the cross
Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives in me.”

When you become a Christ follower you no longer live. And if you no longer live then that means you don’t care what kind of car you drive, where you live, the clothes you have or anything else.

Understanding life in Jesus has everything to do with our finances. It means our bank accounts don’t belong to us. They belong to the Lord. He gives resources to us so that we can so that we can fulfill His heart in our lives.

Does this mean we can’t take vacations? Of course not. Does this mean we can’t own a condo in Florida, have a pool in your backyard or drive a new car? Of course not. It does mean – have you checked with God?

You see, if you are giving 10% as a baseline and then being responsive to the things God brings to you on top of that, those others things – the new car, the bigger house, the big vacations – there is nothing wrong with them. Trying to do all of that INSTEAD of giving and responding to God means you have not yet been crucified with Christ.

How are you allowing money to rule your life? What steps can you take to make money a tool for living?

Monday, August 18, 2014

Things that Wipeout our Relationships - Conflict

Relationships make up our lives. Without them, life is empty and no matter how much we enjoy our "alone" time, always alone isn't really living. But there are some common things that wipe out our relationships. Healthy relationships require us to be aware of those things and to have some strategy for dealing with them.

First is conflict. Whenever you are in relationship with another human being, there will be conflict. It's going to happen. It's what you do with the conflict that matters the most.

Avoid conflict and you avoid the things that grow you as a person and in that relationship. You end up dwelling in the arena of assumptions and guesses, instead of truth. And that will wipeout relationships.

1. Pursue unity. Pursue unity over victory. If it's more important to be right, then there will be more conflict. I'm not suggesting lies should become the norm but rather proving you are right isn't always the most helpful approach. Ask yourself: Can I live with this? Does this really matter?

2. Put on humility & compassion
Philippians 2:3-4 “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

As long as you're concerned about your own pride, your own image, your own reputation, you'll create more conflict in your life. Have no opinions. Listen. Seek the best for others.

3. Take a self-examination
Nobody likes exams, whether they're in school or some medical exam. But they help us understand how we are doing, how much we are learning, where we are so we know how far we have to go. Remembering to examine ourselves helps us use conflict in a constructive way.

Matthew 7:3-5 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

4. Have courage
Matthew 18:15-17 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

This is the tough one, but the necessary one. Some conflicts are ones that result from sin and it needs to be confronted. Jesus doesn't call us to come as we are and stay as we are. Jesus is about loving us where we are and growing us to be more like Him. That means change.

Some conflicts arise from sin in other people's lives and we are called to humbly and compassionately confront the sin while loving the person. It should be approached cautiously, prayerfully, and in cooperation with others.

5. Speak the truth in love
Ephesians 4:14-15 “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.”

Some people side with the love part. Others side with the truth part. God's Word calls us to have equal parts of each. Truth in love.

6. Trust in God's sovereignty

God's sovereignty means God's way wins in the end. I don't believe God ever intended that we defend Him. He needs no defense. He needs witnesses to the change He brings to our lives but He doesn't require people who will pick on every little thing.

Focus on the issue not the person Remove the emotion from it. Don't take it personally.

Conflict happens any time two or more human beings are in relationship. How we handle the conflict will mean growth or decay for those relationships. Which course will you take? It's your choice.