Tuesday, December 31, 2013

On New Year's resolutions:

I can't think of a bigger cliche that is doomed to failure than the worn out "New Year's resolutions" people so often make.  I've never, in my 45 years, made a New Year's resolution till now...

This time around, I have two resolutions.  One has to do with getting in better shape, I'm guessing I'm alone in making that one.  The other has to do with productivity.  I'm sure no one else feels they need to be more productive with their time.

The funny thing is, I have a great work ethic and have always enjoyed hard work and exercise.  So why this sudden felt need to make these resolutions?  This year, 2013 was inspiring but simultaneously it was grueling.
In the grueling parts of the year, I slacked off from the gym and completely quit working out at the gym.  Tammy and I had been going to gym for several years consistently, if not daily at least a few days a week.  Then, even though I rode my bike regularly all summer, I tore it up in the end of October.  I miss working out, and I know I need it to be as healthy as possible.

As for inspiring, we have seen a few new people at New Song, and have had a few great events that really encouraged me.  Additionally, writing had felt very rewarding for the first time in 2013.  Going into 2013, I wrote for a year or more for Wineskins.  I also realized I've contributed for two years now to the religion column I write for the Kingsport Times News.  It's always amazing to me when I meet strangers and they say they read my column.  It feels good.

Also, speaking of writing, in a time of prayer last January, I asked God for some guidance.  I asked God, where else could I write besides Wineskins & the newspaper.  "What else do you know, besides ministry?" was the soft, still response I felt.  I thought, Concrete.  So I searched the Internet for a concrete magazine I was familiar with, emailed the editor and submitted a query.  After two or three articles, the editor graciously approached me, inviting me to write a monthly column.

I have a couple of other writing projects I've scribbled down in notebooks, and want to squeeze into the business of life & ministry.  And I want to work out again.

How will I do this by jumping on the bandwagon of the New Year's resolution club?  For starters, I'm planing on getting up an hour earlier than usual.  So during the school year I would get up at 7:00 a.m., now I will get up at 6:00 everyday (that choice was inspired by a trip to the Hemingway house in Key West, the curator told us EH got up and started working at 6:00 everyday).

Also, I play online chess most evenings.  I'm not sure if I'll be so drastic I terminate my chess account, but I think I will.  If Zach will play a few live games with me during the week, then I probably will.  And, I will probably use Facebook differently.  Believe it or not, FB is a great resource for staying connected in ministry.  I plan to discipline my time spent on FB/Twitter.

Finally, Tammy and I are going to pick up a new gym membership, and I plan to buy another bike.  I hope to ride at least 3 days a week, and I hope we hit the gym at least 3 days.

There, I made my resolutions known; whew!  I hope my efforts in ministry, writing, and being healthier are all successful.  Here's to 2014, and may we make the most of the time God gives us.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

I've never needed Duck Dynasty..

I know this will be unpopular, but I've never needed Duck Dynasty.
We read our Bibles, love owning guns, and say a blessing over our meals too.
Go ahead, unfriend me on Facebook, that will just be my cross to bear...

The first time I watched DD, I told Tammy, "These rednecks have nothing on a Cottongim family reunion!"  Uncle Si would get lost in the shuffle.  Willie would get beat up.  Phil would have to get darker sunglasses.  But no one at the reunion would give them a second glance.

It's sad when we Christians get upset over Phil getting slapped on the hand.  He is a really nice guy and I believe he's a solid Christian.  In fact, I'd say he's a great family role model, but if you think he was filming DD out of the kindness of his heart, you are very naive.  They were getting $200 grand an episode and were negotiating for $500 grand an episode, last I heard.

I don't begrudge the Robertsons for making money, for being on a reality show.  But if you think the show isn't scripted, then, well maybe you are even more naive.  Shows like theirs need conflict and resolution to snag you.  How many ways can you play off the funny Beverly Hills Redneck family shtick before you have to manufacture a few complications?  Think it over.

For every upset Christian who is ready to boycott this, that, and the other, how often have you said the "truth" in public?  How often have you put your neck on the line to stand up for truth?  OR is Phil's sanctioning from A&E another way for us to live vicariously through the Robertson family?  And, how many infuriated Christians who are pasting long live the Duck Dynasty on every social media outlet, how many have formed a relationship with a homosexual person?  Do you have any gay friends...?  If so, how have you helped them to see what the Bible teaches?  I think if we aren't careful, we'll rescue Phil (who'll be just fine and will never live long enough to spend his fortunes) and we will marginalize the minority of homosexuals that we might have had an influence on...  Theologically, I'm not disagreeing with Phil at all -- I'm disagreeing with how we as believers typically interact with the gay/lesbian community.

And finally, everyone seems in an uproar over Phil's GQ interview.  Why?  Why are we surprised that he would make his own opinion known, and why are people upset when A&E used this to their advantage?  The Robertson family was pressuring A&E for more money, and there's only so many ways to rehash the southern charm of the Robertsons...  I think A&E has been looking for a way to let the Robertsons go without looking like they slayed their goose duck that laid the golden-egg.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

This week's lottery: Who wouldn't want a billion dollars?

Okay, admit it.  You've day-dreamed about winning the lottery.  Who hasn't?  All the nice things we'd do with the money, the bills we'd pay off, the trips we'd take, the cars we'd buy for our kids.  Oh, and the tithe to church of course.  

All in all, pulling in the gas station to buy a ticket, we quickly think how our lives would change for the better by hitting the jackpot.  This week the Tennessee lottery is setting records, it could top out near a billion dollars -- now we are talking real money.  So it's a safe bet winning the lottery is on most people's radar now. 

Since the chances of winning this week's lottery drawing is now down to around 1 out of 200 million, if you are banking on having the winning ticket, chances are pretty good you are going to be among the vast majority people who end up disappointed.  I'm not knocking people playing the lottery, it's a free country. 

 And, surely some good comes of playing the lottery, scholarships and all.  Still, how could the daydreaming hurt?  Fantasizing about an extravagant lifestyle or enjoying some self-deception, telling ourselves "we" wouldn't change one bit if we won..., that's all harmless, right?   Surely we wouldn't feel more dissatisfaction with our lot in life, if we failed to win the lottery, would we?     

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Has American-consumerism killed Christmas?

Can you remember the Christmas presents you exchanged last year?  I can’t either, but I can remember who I spent the day with.  While most gifts end up gathering dust, time and attention are both unforgettable and irreplaceable.  This is the time of year when we could use a reminder: Christmas should be more about relationships than retail.

Is anyone else tired of the Christmas shopping season starting before Labor Day and crescendoing the day after Thanksgiving?  Jesus was born in a lowly barn; the Bible says there was no room in the inn.  During His earthly ministry, Jesus said He “had nowhere to lay His head.”   When we lead kids to get more excited about Santa’s sleigh than Jesus’ Cross, I can’t see the Jesus of the Bible defending the commercialized Christmas we celebrate today.  

Maybe it’s time for us to relax when the cashier at the mall wishes us a “Happy holiday” instead of a “Merry Christmas.”   What has the annual plea, “Keep Christ in Christmas” really accomplished?  Each winter, many Christians across the country condemn local shopping malls who do not explicitly articulate the phrase “Christmas.”  Several K-12 schools will gain air time as reporters cover the worn out battle over Christmas pageants verses Holiday parties.  I for one am weary of these Christmas season battles.

In this consumer-driven chaos, Christmas has lost some of its magic.  Who can argue for shackling Jesus to the Americanized Holiday we celebrate these days?  When people who have never taken their kids camping, spend the night on Best Buy’s sidewalk or greedy hordes stampede local Walmarts every Black Friday -- we have to ask what does our version of Christmas have to do with Jesus anyway?  

In just one day, Americans spent $52 billion on Black Friday alone this year.  I wonder what half of that amount would do to alleviate suffering and poverty?   The spirit of Christmas, of generosity, of sharing, of God entering our space, the story of mankind being redeemed, this all seems lost amidst clashing doorbusters and rustling shopping lists.  

I can’t understand why believers fight for maintaining Christ in Christmas at the mall, when the consumerism we are perpetuating is contrary to the anti-materialistic message of Christ.  The battle we are fighting for, perhaps we should fight against.  Putting Christ back in Christmas doesn’t start at the mall, it starts in the home & our church.  If you doubt the real message of Christmas has been lost to our culture, go to Youtube and simply watch any of Jimmy Kimmel’s videos, “I gave my kids a terrible Christmas present.” Warning: these videos are highly offensive and have horrible language -- the swearing and screaming comes from kids under 10 years of age!  

I relish in the joy Christmas brings my wife as we trim the tree -- though untangling the lights doesn’t bring out the best in me...  I feel good about exchanging gifts with our kids and grandchild.  I love serving Christmas dinner and I anticipate sitting around the table with loved ones.  However, as long as our Nation’s rampant love affair with Black Friday/Cyber Monday rages on, the race for winning Christmas hasn’t even left the stall.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Lukewarm marriages lead to pain, so make yours sizzle!

I heard this song today and it inspired a few thoughts on marriage.
BTW: You don't have to be a Country & Western music fan to appreciate the wisdom within this song.

I know that I'm not the perfect husband, but I will always strive to express my affection and appreciation to Tammy.  I'm thankful for a wife who doesn't hold me to a standard of 100% perfection.  It is no secret, anyone who knows us, knows she's my best friend and I enjoy spending more time with her than anyone else.  After over 25 years of marriage, she still excites me and we laugh together often.  I can't even imagine life without her.

Sadly not everyone is happy in their marriage, I know, I've worked with dozens of couples over the years.  Some people can't imagine life going on with their spouse.  Too many people, it seems, either take their spouse for granted or for some unknown reason harbor resentment and contempt.  After months or years of this, they wonder why their marriages suffer.

I'm sorry if this describes you.  This is not a judgment or slur.  It might be a time to rethink things before it's too late.

How can you find happiness, or find it again?

  • Being kind, loving, and avoiding selfishness are worth it, if you want a healthy love life.  
  • Try to complement more than you complain.  
  • Really think about it before you criticize. Is this really the hill to die on?
  • Try hard to meet your spouse's needs, as hard as you would hope they would try to meet yours.
  • People crave acceptance and the permission to occasionally fail.  So exhibit the same grace you need.
  • If you & your spouse don't know how to communicate or deal with conflict, get help.
  • (Please read that last line again)
  • Spend time together.
  • Eat your meals together.
  • Laugh together.
  • Remember your vows.
  • Effort never hurt.  We tell our kids to work hard on their homework, so let's work on our home life.
  • If you don't know where to start, start with being more polite and use "please & thank you"

Remember, you are always setting an example for your children.  So good or bad, our children will more than likely imitate the attitudes and actions they see in mom & dad.  And, don't distance yourself emotionally when you are angry or in troubled time --someone somewhere will fill that gap quicker than a pop song...

May you have a love life with your spouse that's so strong, wild horses couldn't drag you away!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A man of few friends

This is the bottom-side of the stool Allan led singing from -- he inscribed it & gave it to me when he moved to TX...

As part of a professor's research project focused on ministers, I took the Myers Briggs personality test twice in college.  Once as an incoming student, where it ranked me as an introvert.  The second time was right before my graduation, then it ranked me as an extrovert. I think really I'm neither an introvert nor an extrovert; I fluctuate between introversion and extroversion based on my level of emotional energy.   

Even so, one solid standard is that I am a man of few close-friends.  It's not on purpose, but that's just how it seems to work out, though I am selective on who I surround myself with.  I never really thought about it before, at least not in this applying to me, but there's a Proverb that says, "A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." (Proverbs 18:24, ESV)

I do not have some romanticized concept of being a lone wolf. Neither have I felt the need to surround myself with an entourage.  I can count on one hand the people who have been closest to me.  

Either way, when we move or a close friend moves away, it leaves a void.  I don't regret being a person of few friends, I do regret that I stink at keeping touch...

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The book I should write, on how I'm not always right

I have a couple of writing projects I plug away at in my free time.  I'm quite excited about them.  I had an "ah ha" moment this morning.  The book I should write is "Being at peace with my mistakes: how to accept my failures without shrugging them off"

I don't shrug off my past mistakes as if they never happened.  Nor do I neglect to take responsibility for them.  I'm not proud of them, but they've led me to the place I am today.  I wish I could've had more patience raising my children and I wish I could have been a better husband.  I know through the years I've upset people in church too. At age 45, I finally have the maturity to see my earlier years of hubris.

In my 30's I really thought I had all the answers.  Now, I see just how many answers I was wrong about.
Whether it was marriage, raising kids, or how to minister to a congregation, I have the humility now to see I wasn't right all the time, about everything.  I wasn't the expert I thought I was...

For example.  Before, I felt that any advice I had for people I was counseling was golden, and if they rejected it, it infuriated me.  Now, I'm quite at peace when people choose not to make healthy changes.  Strangely, I no longer feel it's my responsibility to change or fix people.

Similarly, I don't feel responsible for people who reject the Gospel.  For many years I felt it was my personal responsibility to save the world.  There was one Messiah, and He died on the cross.  I can only point people to the cross, I can't carry them there.

God has revealed a lot to me this year; 2013 has been eye opening for me.
I feel today I'm more pastoral than ever.  Which, with my heritage feels awkward to say, but it is what it is.
I saw my role in the past as that of the prophet (not foreseer of the future), the guy who spoke for God to shake things up and get people back on track.  I felt the responsibility lay on solely my shoulders to stand for Truth and to correct the imperfections in the church world.  Now, I just want to worship God in peace, and be at peace.

I no longer feel I'm an expert on anything, instead, this year has taught me I'm only a lifelong learner.  Lesson number one, learn from my mistakes?  Not so much so.  Instead, lesson number one, I'm making my share of mistakes and that's part of the process.  Yes, that's a good starting point going into 2014 for me.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Merging our two worlds

(Timesnews Religion column 11/22/13) 

Most of our adult life is spent working.  Typically, we finish high school and train for a trade or enroll in college, and then for the next 40 to 50 years it’s off to the salt-mines.  Work isn’t a curse, neither was work meant to be a burden.  Remember, Adam was sinless and guilt-free when he was placed in the Garden of Eden; Adam worked in the Garden before mankind's Fall.  Working within God’s creation reflects our partnership with God Almighty -- we were created to work.  Retirement isn’t our main goal, when it comes to working, reflecting God’s Image is our greatest priority.  

Many of us don’t stay in the same field we started off in; it’s okay that it takes awhile to settle in and find the right fit.  Scripture encourages us to take our vocation seriously, here’s just one example, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (Colossians 3:23-24, ESV)

Perhaps second only to marriage and raising kids, our occupations require our greatest, lifelong dedication.  Since we invest such a large portion of life to working, it only makes sense that we strive to merge our faith and our work.  In the Bible, The Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule weren’t restricted to Sundays -- they are for everyday of the week. The question we face week-in and week-out is: How can we consistently live-out our faith in the marketplace?

There are many excellent resources out there to help believers thrive in the workplace.  For example, last year Timothy Keller released, “Every Good Endeavor” (subtitled: connecting your work to God’s work).  To help us integrate our obedience to God with our work habits, Keller says his book answers three questions: Why do you want to work, why is work so hard, and how can we overcome these difficulties and find satisfaction in our work through the Gospel? (pg. 30)  Keller’s book is simple and practical.  If you are looking for a good read on vocational discipleship, you’ll appreciate Every Good Endeavor.  By the way, I don’t think it was a coincidence they styled the cover for Keller’s book with the same color scheme as Jim Collins’s Good to Great.

Our congregation takes merging “work & faith” seriously; we’ve asked Eastman’s CEO, Jim Rogers to address this timely topic.  He knows firsthand the challenges and the rewards of letting his Christian faith guide him in the boardroom.  Christian-based leadership in the corporate world can’t always be easy to pull off, therefore I can’t wait to hear how Mr. Rogers leads Eastman without compromising his beliefs.  If you’re interested in Mr. Rogers’s perspective on merging your faith and work, you are welcome to join us Sunday December 15th, at 10:00 a.m. in the Food City Press Room, 300 Clinchfield St.  

In the end, to find true peace of mind, Christians need to avoid the mindset that we can compartmentalize life into the sacred and the secular.   All of life was meant to be dedicated to God -- our profession, family, and worship, these all must merge seamlessly.  It’s not easy, but it is possible.  In fact, you could say it takes hard work...

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Would you avoid yourself?

Anyone can break off a branch or chop down a tree, but few have the patience to cultivate the soil around a tree and nurture the tree until it bears fruit.   Anyone can burn their bridges, though fewer will make the effort to build bridges.  It will always be easier to bulldoze over a house than it is to lay a foundation.

For example, to pick apart the ideas of others while idly sitting back, never quite initiating an original thought of our own.  For whatever reason, negativity and criticism flow like water -- erosive and effortlessly.

How will you be remembered?  As the person who built others up, or the one who tore down everyone around them with your cutting tongue?  You probably want to be remembered like the people you try to surround yourself with, and I doubt you purposely surround yourself with people who knock the wind out of your sails.

There's nothing wrong with collaborating with others and together mutually helping each other become better people.  But if there's one-sided faultfinding going on, you know "constructive criticism" that only flows in one direction, well, soon enough the crickets will fill the silence.

BTW: I was inspired with these thoughts today after listening to two people on NPR complain...

Monday, November 11, 2013

Why I don't wear a watch

When it comes to being on time, I like the old saying , "To be early is to be on time, to be on time is to be late."  Really, I like to be punctual but I don't wear a wrist-watch.

The reason I don't wear a watch, isn't that I'm against clocks.
Neither would I say am I uninterested the actual time.

For most of my life I wore a watch, up until I went to college and I noticed something odd about wrist watches for the first time in my life.  As I would talk with a professor and they would sneak a peek at their watch and it made me feel like I was wasting their time.  Like, they couldn't wait to be somewhere else.

Sometimes in class, I would raise my hand to ask a question or offer a response to the professor's question, and whenever the professor repeatedly looked at his watch, I had a sinking feeling. I'm not blaming anyone, but what I experienced in college caused me to hang up my watch.

I decided then, I didn't want to ever make others feel insignificant the way I was made to feel, so I quit wearing a watch.  How noble.  How bold.  How profound. How immature!

Friday, October 25, 2013

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”

October started off with a shameful 16 day Government shutdown -- mostly, irresponsible posturing and political showmanship from both major parties.  I know the shutdown had something to do (partially) with the battle over healthcare reform.  Even though I don’t know enough about politics or law to say what the future of the current healthcare debate will be, I do know enough to speak to our responsibility in being healthier as a nation.

The topic of Healthcare is close to home for our family.  Our youngest son has a serious, but treatable condition that completely blindsided us; it came from out of absolutely nowhere.  We will have to cautiously care for his unique situation, until he outgrows certain health-risks as he enters into adulthood.  While we thank God for our pediatric cardiologist’s special care, as a family we do our part, and we do all that’s within our power, to maintain our child’s health!

I know that medical research is necessary and expensive.  I’m glad I don’t lay awake at night worrying about polio, smallpox or the measles striking my family.  I also know not every illness is preventable or due to poor choices -- not to mention life’s unavoidable accidents and tragedies.  Most of the doctors are, on the whole, typically treating avoidable illnesses which we bring on ourselves through our laziness, poor diet habits & smoking.  Therefore, research and random/tragic events are not even remotely the cause of our current nationwide crisis in dealing with healthcare, as some say is the case.

Since you can’t personally reduce the escalating price of medicine, what can you do?  Perhaps we should all focus on what is within our control, and start taking the Bible more seriously.  

The Bible is filled with information on how to be as healthy as possible.  The Bible isn’t a selfhelp textbook, but woven within it are instructions on how to properly: Sleep/rest, eat well, nurture a healthy sexlife, balance work & family and still have a good work ethic, exercise, and the Bible offers many practical principles for reducing stress/conflict in all of our relationships.

Statistically, the majority of Americans have terrible sleep habits, 80% of us feel our jobs are stressful, and 25% of us feel work is the number one stressor in our life.  We overeat & hardly exercise.  And for too many, promiscuity is the norm.  I imagine most of our visits to the doctor’s office would be eliminated if we didn’t overschedule every waking moment, cooked up more of grandmother’s recipes, simply took better care of ourselves, and taught our young people to keep their genes in their jeans.

Americans need to reduce our sugar and fat intake, and we should quit trying to get our money’s worth at the buffet.  If you are still using tobacco products, please read the warning labels once more.  It costs nothing to take the stairs instead of the elevator more often.  Doing laps at Duck Island, riding your bike, or walking on the Greenbelt are all free too.  

Believers, let’s not lose our focus on personal responsibility, in this age of debating the government's role in healthcare.  No one is going to take responsibility for you, you alone have an obligation to do your part to maintain a healthy lifestyle.  Look at your healthcare like a new-car warranty.  You wouldn’t run your car out of oil just because you have a warranty, so don’t mistreat yourself either.  Remember, insurance is like a safety-net on a construction site, it can catch you if you fall, but it’s not the foundation you are building your life on.

Regardless if all of your professional medical needs were provided for, you should still want to be proactive in caring for your body.  We have an obligation to be wholistically healthy, as Paul wrote, “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23 ESV)

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The art of a good thank you note:

When our family lived in Searcy AR, we were enrolled in the Harding school of Biblical studies.  As a full-time preaching student, our family was blessed by a few churches and several families who pitched in a good portion of our financial support, supporting us sort of like missionaries.

The vast majority of the students I studied with had monthly supporters too.  I remember a few classmates, who over time, lost the help of some of their supporters.  I was amazed that these classmates neglected to keep their supporters updated, and, that they infrequently if ever sent thank you letters.   Personally, for the 2 & 1/2 years we were at Harding, we sent our supporters monthly thank you letters.  You have to get pretty creative to say thank you to the same set of people, for 30 months, month after month.  All of our supporters stuck with us till the end.

Most people are never going to be dependent on monthly supporters, but everyone of us will have an opportunity to say "thank you" often enough.  After an interview, graduations, weddings, Christmas time, you name it, people enrich our lives constantly.

In our family, we try hard to write thank you notes, even over simple things like being invited over for dinner.  Tammy keeps a drawer in her desk filled with all kinds of cards, blank ones, cards for encouragement, thank you cards, you name it.  So the art of writing a good thank you note starts with being prepared --having some sort of stationery on hand.

The next thing to keep in mind, is being timely.
The sooner you send off a nice thank you note, the better.

And then finally, having something meaningful to write. A short sincere note communicates your consideration.  It also:

  • Updates the giver, "hey don't worry, I received your package in the mail."
  • Shows gratitude, "hey I appreciate your gift, I'm not ungrateful." 
  • Says, you do not have a sense of entitlement.  
  • And finally, it displays your respectful attitude.  

Writing a good thank you note isn't about manipulation or about groveling.  It's about being polite, and exhibiting good manners.  I actually enjoy writing thank you notes, it isn't a burden or a chore.  I like the feeling of knowing that someone cared enough to bless us in whatever way they chose, and I enjoy the good feeling of expressing our appreciation.  

Sunday, October 20, 2013

A "10-point checklist" for Working through any conflict with your spouse:

Having worked with countless married couples, I've noticed that many people lack certain skills to navigate their way to resolution.  When you have a conflict, that's merely a difference of opinions.  No biggie.  How you handle those differences of opinion is the key.  Your relationship is strengthened every time you have a successful argument.  Conflicts are like a whetstone, they can either sharpen a blade or blunt them.

Here are 10 questions to ask YOURSELF as you try to manage your next marital conflict:

#1. Is this conflict bringing out my best side?
If the argument is making you crazy, maybe the issue you are fighting over isn't the issue.  Maybe you have tied up too much of your identity in this issue.  Are you really emotionally/spiritually healthy when it comes to this point of contention?  Do a quick check of yourself and make sure.

#2. Is this a "make or break" issue?
It's hard to be open and objective if this issue is the hill you are willing to die on.  Don't win the battle only to lose the war.  Make sure you aren't going full blast over a minor issue.

#3. Have I bathed this issue in prayer?
Why isn't this #1?  Because we are human.  Also, it's hard to pray about something you are not into yet.  Still, make sure you are praying earnestly about the issue, your spouse, and your heart, before you get too far.

#4. Do I feel my spouse hears & understands my perspective?
You might be wasting a lot of time & energy trying to sell your side.  Then again, you might just need to know you are being heard.

#5.  Do I really know why this issue is so important to my spouse?
It's hard to have an open dialogue with your spouse if you don't know where they are coming from.
Be honest with yourself, are you bulldozing your spouse, or have you taken the time to see their point of view?

#6. How urgent is reaching a resolution to my spouse/to me?  
Relax, it's hard to fight fair if you are controlled by anxiety.

#7. What am I afraid of losing if I relinquish my say?

#8. Is there a "3rd" point of view neither my spouse nor I have raised?
Rarely is life black & white.  There might be a better way neither of you have considered, a way that could could be so much better...

#9.  How could we build from each other's wants/needs and find a better solution than either of us had imagined?

#10. What are the effects going to be for our loved ones if:
Nothing changes?
If we go my way?
If I conceded and we go my spouse's way?

Bonus round:
Love your spouse more than you love being right!

Let me wrap up with this:
Collaboration is better than compromise.  Compromising says we both give up something,  Collaboration says we both win.  I hope this checklist will help you find creative ways to handle life's many conflicts.  There's no better gift you can give you children than to model for them how to successfully argue.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Syrupy-sweet maggots still grow up to be... flies

To teach us to be tactful, they say, "You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar"
But I'm thinking, who wants to attract flies...?  Flies like poop & roadkill.

I know, the principle is geared at getting us to be nice by not unnecessarily offending others.
But that can seem so fake at times.  I know you shouldn't say everything you think, but being disingenuous rubs me the wrong way.

I know that in my life, I've never been good at "playing the game" or at being political.  It's cost me, to be sure.

Maybe I have some rough edges, though some have been blunted too though a few hard life-lessons.
I have learned a most important life lesson though.  I don't have to see eye-to-eye with you to have a healthy relationship.  In fact, you & I can hold strong opinions and exchange our perspectives with each other , and we can both grow in the process.  That's called tolerance & dialogue -- essential keys to communication and all healthy relationships.

I don't have to feel defensive, and I don't have to "fix" you.
It feels good to not have to try to manipulate or coerce others into sharing my opinions.
Scripture says, "speak the truth in love."  Therefore, we can be honest, but we don't have to be hurtful.
I think people are hurtful when they feel defensive, and usually defensiveness is a sign of insecurity.

I don't want to be surrounded by flies.   I want to surround myself with healthy people who are going to seek my best interest and bring out the best in me too -- not because of manipulation, but because of our mutual concern for each other.  That seems healthy enough to me. I want to be selective in who I am vulnerable with, and who I allow to influence me.  As Paul wrote, "Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.”" (1 Corinthians 15:33 ESV)

At the end of the day, I think that flattery for personal preservation/gain is reprehensible.
Either at work, in church or in your family, you should be honest & loving.
Ask yourself, who are you trying to impress and why is their attention so important to you?

Friday, September 27, 2013

Column in Kingsport Timesnews 9/27/13

“Hope in a Cup, East of Eden”

This month Miley Cyrus made an imbecile of herself, fears of WWIII were escalated once more over Syria, and the shooting at the Washington Navy yard all washed over the the newswaves like an avalanche.  Meanwhile, our family quietly drove down to Arkansas to welcome our first grandchild into this world.   Holding our newborn grandson in the hospital, I was instantly aware of the contrast between his pristine innocence and this vile world he now inhabits.  Though I know he’s in capable hands with our son & daughter-in-law, I desperately wanted to hold him close and shield him from the world.  

Between rampant immorality on the TV/Internet, incessant saber-rattling in every corner of the Middle East, and gratuitous evil on every street corner, how can we possibly be optimistic about this world?  I can’t help but reflect on the regression and complete moral decline our culture has taken in my lifetime -- I have grave concerns for the world our first grandchild is inheriting.  This all reminds me that the world seems to grow worse with each passing generation.

As the Bible says, in the end of time, worldly conditions will worsen: “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.... while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.”  (2 Timothy 3:1 and 3:13 ESV)  “And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.” (Matthew 24:12 ESV)  So maybe I shouldn’t be too surprised when everywhere I look, this world gets bleaker with each passing year.  

It’s amazing to me the progress we can make in medicine and technology, we can live longer and have a better standard of living, but we seem more corrupt than ever.  I’m reminded that we are truly East of Eden; this world is so filled with sin, strife, and hatred.  I wonder how we have survived this long, when Sodom and Gomorrah were incinerated, looking almost mild compared to a lot of what surrounds us today.  

But then... then I’m reminded of the dual promise given when we share communion, while we participate in the Lord’s Supper, the blessed Eucharist, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:26 ESV)  The promises: Jesus died for our sins, and He is returning to make all things right.

I find hope in this present darkness, by looking into my newborn grandson’s eyes through the lenses of faith.  I’m once again reminded of the unconditional love of Jesus.  I’d do anything for our grandson, though he’s done nothing to deserve my loyalty, other than being so cute!  I also find in experiencing the birth of our new grandson, a renewed energy to spread the influence of Jesus and His Kingdom -- because that is the only hope for the future of his new world.  Maranatha!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Talking through your ears:

Have you ever felt really good after a long talk with a friend?  On the contrary, have you ever felt like you couldn't get a word in edgewise with someone, and you felt a great sense of relief when it was all over?

Why is this?
Because everyone enjoys talking and we all appreciate being heard.

Good conversationalists listen much more then they talk.  They also ask more questions from you, rather than feeling compelled to give "all the" answers.  It almost seems like a contradiction, but it's true, those who are the best conversationalists hardly talk, instead they draw you out in the conversation.

If you are engaged in a conversation, don't make it one-sided and all about you, or you'll quickly find you have an audience of one...

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Explanations are terrible excuses

I had to laugh when I read this sign today: "Uneven pavement"
Biking on the Greenbelt, I've seen these signs all up & down the trail.

This one made me chuckle, because obviously with a smidgen more of extra effort, they could've avoided installing the sign and just fixed the problem with the pavement.  Then it hit me, there are a lot people in life who'd rather warn us of their shortcomings instead of making the effort to improve themselves.

The wise Charles Siburt often quipped, "Your past explains you, it doesn't excuse you."
After seeing this sign today, I'll go one step further and say, your best explanation -- if you aren't careful -- will become your worst excuse:

  • "I have a bad temper, because my older sibling...."
  • "I lie a lot, because I never knew when I could..."
  • "I'm clingy, because once when I was..."
  • "I have to take control, I can't trust anyone since..."
  • "This is just the way I am, you have to accept me because..."

Reflect on the sign up-top. People will always evaluate us by our actions, not by our intentions.
Instead of maintaining a victim identity and acting like you aren't responsible for your own actions, be proactive and make some healthy changes wherever they are needed.
I appreciate people warning me of their issues, but I respect people who do the hard work of changing.

When I worked concrete in Chicago, Jimmy Deetchen used to say, "Don't tell me what you can't do -- show me what you can do."  Don't make excuses, make the effort to be the healthiest you, you can be.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

How to remember Sept 11th eternally:

Today it seems like everyone has on tee shirts, or posted on Facebook something, to memorialize the NYC/Pentagon/PA terrorist attacks with words "Never forget"

I doubt I'll forget.  I was in a high level philosophy class in seminary when the planes hit. 
My first thoughts were of my wife & children and how I couldn't wait to get home from Lincoln to hug them.
My problem isn't the inability to remember that dark day -- the problem is remembering the proper response:

  • “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you." (Luke 6:27-28 ESV) 
  • "Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful." (Luke 6:36 ESV)
  • "Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Romans 12:19-21 ESV)

I love the old hippie saying, "fighting for peace is like having sex for virginity" (loose paraphrase)
I hope our patriotism and zealousness can find its proper place in the order of things eternal.  

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Parenting is a lot like capturing a sunset...

Tonight as the sun was setting, I was wrapping up a great bike ride.  I saw the sun setting through the trees, but couldn't snap a good shot of it till I pedaled further down the road.  I pumped my pedals like a fiend.  No good, I missed the best of the sunset.  This shot isn't bad, but you should've seen sky while the sun was still on the horizon, it was breathtaking.  

Right after I snapped this shot and started to pedal my way home, it hit me.  I realized the art of parenting is like trying to take a photo of the perfect sunset.  Timing and actually being there when it happens are essential.

Over the years I've learned I don't have all the answers.  10 years ago I had all the answers and felt like an expert on parenting -- well on life in general.  Now?  Now I'm either more humble or more realistic or somewhere in between.  I'm embarrassed of the overconfidence I projected back then... 

Don't let anything get in your way of a good sunset, and, don't let the busyness of life rob you of the joy of parenting.  Be there and take it all in while your kids are under your care.  Your kids will grow up and the days of parenting will fly away as fast as a setting sun -- leaving you wondering where the time went...

Monday, August 26, 2013

Heart-check: Seeking God or just settling for His Word?

I'm working on a new topic of study for New Song, it's on how to study your Bible.
I love the topic, and I know a lot of people find this interesting too.
In nearly 20 years of ministry I've never led a congregation through this, so I'm very excited!

As I'm preparing, I'm aware that there is a temptation to love the Word of God more than we love God.
Sounds bizarre.  I know the temptation firsthand.  As a minister, I spend time in the Bible working on sermons, lifegroup lessons, etc, and it would be easy to only go the Scriptures when I'm working.

As a personal check of the heart, I remind myself that Jesus faced people who had a deeper allegiance with the Word of God than they did with God:
"You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life." (John 5:39-40 ESV)

I want to be a believer who not only knows the Word of God well, but I want to know the God who inspires the Word.  I hope our study will not be seen merely as an academic endeavor, but that our study will be a way to better understand the heart & mind of God by grasping the depths of His inspired Word.

We'll start our study on Sept 8th and we'll go for about 6 or 8 weeks in this study.
It will be on Sundays at 9:00 a.m., before our 10:00 a.m. Worship service.
Everyone is welcome to join us.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Stories of grace & mercy...

Tonight a couple of friends invited us to see Les Miserables with them.
I've seen the movie/s and have seen the off Broadway production.
Did I really need to, I mean need to see this again? Yes.
Did I cry? I do every time.

If you know the plot, then you know this is a narrative saturated with grace & mercy and how once shown, this can change the heart for good.  The scene of the priest's silverware is priceless.

What you might not recognize, is the results of grace that is spurned.
Javan, the bitter inspector who hunts Jean Valjean to the bitter end, when he is shown grace & mercy, he rejects that people can change for the better, and the mercy he is shown is more than he can bear. He ends his life because his legalism can't conceptualize the offer of unconditional grace.

I needed this tonight, I needed to hear the story of grace repackaged and repeated.  Maybe you do too.  Grace & mercy never get old for me, and I find I need it often, and I know I hope other people find it too.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

A review of "Heaven’s Star"

By Jim Woodell
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2012
ISBN-10: 1478281006
ISBN-13: 978-1478281009

Why do need another book on soul-winning?  
There are a lot of books written on the subject of sharing the Gospel; many that can leave you with the impression the author is only sharing untested theories.  There are other books on this subject that are filled with impractical methods, which are really just fluff.  Woodell has a different book for us; an authentic one that is straightforward and saturated in commonsense.  In fact, the tone of this books reminds me of when I questioned Bob Russell about his simple-preaching style.  Bob’s response was, “From the pulpit, sometimes people just want ‘meat and potatoes.’”

Readers will find themselves confronted with several healthy-personal challenges throughout the book.  For example, if lost people aren’t asking you how to be saved -- what is missing in your lifestyle?  And, readers will be reminded of the reality of Hell and that people we know, who are apart from Jesus, are going to Hell.

Woodell writes to equip the average, mature believer who would like to add a few tools to their evangelism toolbox.  Preachers, small group leaders or anyone in leadership would find the book worthwhile -- but this book isn’t restricted in any measure to any one segment of the congregation.  If you have a table to sit around (and coffee to drink) and a lost soul who will hear you out, this book is for you.

Don’t be deceived by the simplicity or lack of “sophisticated” complexities you are used to in books on evangelism.   Woodell demystifies the process of sharing the Good news; he simply wants to help instill confidence and competency in the typical believer.  There is an assumed proposition in the book that many of our past evangelistic methods are either flawed or tainted with empty dogmatics.  Basically, Woodell is delivering a timeless plan, method and message that you can easily outline in your favorite Bible to take with you, to be ready at a moment’s notice to make an eternal impact in the life of those who are lost.  

You will find an abundance of Scriptural references all throughout, but the heart & soul of the book is a survey of Romans chapters 4-8.  The book is broken down into two parts, Section 1 on Preparation, section 2 on A Plan, and then the Addendum which is the actual outline of study the author references throughout the book.  The reader would probably do well to read the included study first, so that you can better follow along with the author’s intentions along the way.

No book is perfect, and this is no exception.  If you have a copy, there are a few typos in chapter 10 on Scripture references that Woodell will have corrected in future printings.  Beyond these few very minor mechanical errors, it’s worth asking of this book if Woodell isn’t taking a risk in disappointing some of us who read it.  Woodell is obviously a gifted evangelist and let me be clear, he is not overselling, manipulating, nor is he deceiving anyone -- but to the point I’m trying to politely raise -- Woodell states many people have responded to his approach after just one study.  In a couple of hours, he has repeatedly walked various people through the study and after just one session he leads them directly to the baptistery.  I mean no disrespect, and I hold Jim in the highest regard, I simply want to point out not everyone will see such fruition, so soon.  One other observation here, Woodell assumes a certain level of Biblical-literacy with the lost people being studied with; a depth that we might not enjoy with all of the people we are trying to reach.  Not everyone we study with will know who Abraham or who Paul or was.

With personal vignettes, several testimonies from others, and passages of Scripture thoroughly woven in, Woodell is a gentle coach who walks alongside the eager evangelist, blessing the Kingdom as he writes this much needed book.  I am honored to review Heaven’s Star -- in chapter 13, Woodell shares a personal story of baptizing a Midwesterner named Gary.  It just so happens, about 15 years later in Gary’s life as a byproduct of Jim’s ministry, Gary baptized me.  And so I have to ask myself, where would I be if Jim hadn't put into practice the principles of this book... and who do I need to be sharing these truths with.

Monday, August 5, 2013

To be a reader:

I've loved reading for as long as I can remember.  One of my great joys as a dad was reading to our boys when they were young, and reading with them once they learned how to read for themselves.

Not all of our boys love to read, so I guess the love of reading is not genetic?  Actually, reading naturally is not a genetic trait that's passed on like verbal language skills are... the brain has to learn how to read and the brain actually is changed physiologically by learning to read.

I do not know how many thousands of books I've read, but I can't think of too many I regret reading.  Reading is by far is my favorite pastime activity.  It's more than a hobby to me, it's a lifestyle.  I never leave the house without a book, and I don't I've gone a single without reading from a book in years.

I am always trying to think of reasons I can share as to why reading is important.
So here are some random thoughts that ran across my mind today, as I considered the value of reading:

Reading says ~
You know you don't know it all.
Your mind is open to learning.
You want to be influenced. 
You want to grow, personally.
Other people have good ideas, and you'd like to hear what they have to say.
Your mind is open for transformation.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Handling control freaks

(Timesnews religion column 8/2/13)
No one likes to be manipulated or pushed around.  Control freaks can make you feel like you are stuck in a game of cat & mouse, and you’re the one who likes cheese.  When controlling people bulldoze over us, rarely do we see positive results --rarer still, do we see controlling people who reform on their own.  

Maybe when you get “your back up” you retaliate against your control freak -- behind their back.  Or, when you come home from work you whine to your spouses about the unreasonable, dominating manager/co-worker.  Or, you commiserate with others, rehashing horror-stories of the crazed control freak who ruins every get-together.  Or worse yet, you lie awake at night, wanting to sabotage your irksome control freak.  But you realize sooner or later, passive-aggressive approaches can’t create healthy changes.

It’s easy to assume that most control freaks are simply self-centered bullies who want the world to revolve around them.  We assume that the control freak is a coldhearted dictator who enjoys watching the rest of us dance on the end of our marionette-strings.  It’s not easy to want to take the time to understand why certain people have controlling tendencies.  We’d rather not deal with their rage when they don’t get their way -- so, sadly, we settle for walking on eggshells.  

When we are confronted by a control freak, we could feel overwhelmed, and out frustration we can quickly lose our patience.  Typically, the result is either fight or flight.  But what if there was a better way to face controlling personalities?  

Once I was entangled in a deep conflict with a controlling person and I felt helpless.  The more helpless I felt, the less effective my responses were.  A very wise, capable person was brought into the situation to facilitate resolution to our strife.  He soon noticed that a lot of people were overlooking the controlling person’s poor behavior; some were sympathetic saying, “Oh he can’t help it, that’s just the way he is because of his childhood.”  When the wise man observed what was going on, he said, “Your past explains you -- it doesn’t excuse you.”

So, without excusing or denying the damaging behavior of a control freak, here are some proactive steps we can take to be peacemakers.  These steps are basically rooted in two primary principles:  Stay in control of yourself and seek to understand the other person.  

Whether we are dealing with a micromanager or a tyrant, we still need to maintain self-control.  The only person you can really ever control is yourself, and Biblically that is a source of true strength,  “Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.” (Proverbs 16:32 ESV)  Remember, the Bible is filled with instructions on how to relate to people, even difficult people.  Jesus says we are to avoid being judgmental and first get the log out of our own eye before we can inist other people change (See Matt 7:1-5).  

An important, but overlooked insight into the mind of the control freak is that often times they think they are being helpful.  We’ve all been to the playground and have seen an older sibling take a younger sibling under their wing, cautiously protecting them, showing them the ropes.  Extrapolate that -- the controlling person may see their role as the protector, since perhaps they were hurt once, they “have to be” in such tight control to prevent you from being hurt.

Also, we mistakenly believe control freaks know how we perceive them, and that they realize the damage they are doing.  Shockingly, most often, they don’t recognize any of the problems they are creating.  They believe they are “holding it all together” and that everyone else appreciates their sacrifices.

After seeking a better understanding, we should always be loving.  Being loving, isn’t turning a blind-eye to the situation, love shines light in the darkness.  We think the “kind” loving thing to do is to remain silent to avoid hurting the controlling person's feelings.  Actually, not addressing the situation is unkind; it perpetually leaves the controlling person at odds with others.  Communicating the truth, lovingly, is a big part of being mature-believers in Jesus, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” (Ephesians 4:15 ESV)   

While controlling people may belittle us, embarrass us or cause us to have self-doubts, mostly they rob us of our peace.  But as believers we can have hope in all situations, Jesus said,  “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 ESV). As you actively seek peace, hold to the promise Moses offers Joshua on the threshold of the Promised land, as Joshua faced fierce nations who were certainly intimidating, “It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” (Deuteronomy 31:8 ESV)

We don’t have to approve of their unhealthy behavior to be able to empathize with a controlling person.  Try to discover what is driving their need to be in total control.  The typical control freak is a more than likely a very anxious individual. Their “command presence” is really a front, masking their deep insecurities.  They may have had an extended period of their life where they lost their “say” in many important decisions.  They were possibly betrayed and as a result they have deep trust issues.  Since controlling people probably operate out of fear -- the fear that if they don’t seize control, worse things are going to happen, one of the best ways to defuse the fears of a control freak is to overload them with information.  Telling them ahead of time what your plans are, keeping them up to date, then following through on your commitments will help “soothe the savage beast” within the control freak.  May you find the compassion to lovingly address life’s many control freaks, and may God grant you peace.