Stuck

Why do people feel stuck?

Could it be due to false or unrealistic expectations?

Could it be because things did not turn out the way we thought they would?

Could it be because we didn’t anticipate all the  speed bumps, detours, and wrong turns?

For the believer, could it be because we “thought” we knew what the Lord was going to do but it didn’t work out quite that way?

Is it because we get an intuition, an inkling, a prophetic word, an insight, about what the Lord wants to do in our lives but then we fill in the blanks for ourselves about how it will come to pass or play out? Is it because we think we know what it will look like at different stages, various milestones, or at the end of the journey?

Consider this- Is it possible that our ideas were based on our singular piece of the jigsaw puzzle? Maybe our perceptions are based solely on our view from our side of the room, our one view of the proverbial elephant?

Is it possible that even though our perceptions contain truth, they are extremely limited and are actually nothing like what God intended or plans?

Reality Check: We can have a revelation but not have understanding.

“Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture!” (I Cor 13:9).

Here’s the truth: even though you may be struggling with disappointment because things didn’t play out the way you had hoped – God’s plans are far more involved than your limited perspectives, and they are always for good!

The truth is that God is doing things behind the scenes for your good that you are not aware of.

Let me explain.

Bad decisions, mistakes, failures haunt many. And often folks feel like they have not attained the place they thought they would because of them. And then they look back on their lives with regret. And as a result people feel …. stuck.

However, let me suggest something: Maybe we’ve misunderstood what God’s intention was for us to begin with. Maybe that glimpse we got, maybe that inclination, was only a small piece of a much bigger picture.

I would go so far as to say, many times we feel stuck or disappointed with where life has brought us because we have misunderstood the true purpose of why we’re there.

Some of you thought your mistakes disqualified you when really God’s plan is to rescue you. You thought your mistakes positioned you for punishment, when really they might have positioned you to more fully experience and understand the compassion, mercy, and grace of God. 

It might be that instead of your foolishness positioning you for failure, it has positioned you to experience more of His fullness.

God’s ultimate design is for you to recognize His goodness.  It is for you to realize that you still need a savior. It is for you to receive His comfort.  How can you do that unless you fall down a few times?

So here is what I think: I think when we are young, even if we don’t have a “5 year, 10 year, 25 year plan” we formulate an idea of how things are going to play out. We think we have an idea of where we will end up.  And, I think I can say with confidence – it NEVER works out that way.

So here’s what I say. Maybe you’re not actually “stuck.” Maybe, if you took a few moments to look around and see all the ways in which you are growing, changing, learning, and maturing you would realize, you are right where God wanted and needed you to be. Maybe if you would think about the people you have the opportunity to impact that you never would have had things gone according to “plan” you would understand that God was leading all along.

Maybe, maybe … you are simply at a place on the journey you did not anticipate.

Being stuck and being somewhere you did not anticipate are two different things. So I say, embrace the moment. Look for the good. Trust in the faithfulness of God to lead in and through every single step. If you can realign your perspective you may just find you are not stuck at all. You may just find passion and purpose instead of pain.

 “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.[c] All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.” 1 Cor 13:12

Grandpa’s Gift

We were on one of our many treks up and down the I-75 corridor.  Living in Cleveland, Tenn. but hailing from central Michigan was the impetus that lead to many miles of familiar highway being traversed once again.  We had one great advantage – my wife’s grandparents lived in Muncie, Ind., which was just slightly more than the halfway point of our 12-hour journey to the homeland, if we made a slight detour.

Her grandparents were incredibly loving, generous and kind people.  Even if we could not stay long we always tried to map out our trip in such a way that warranted a visit.  This halfway stop provided a much needed reprieve from the road as well as a fun break for our kids.  No matter how short the visit, we still managed to squeeze in a game of croquet or a couple hands of euchre.  Grandpa could always make the kids giggle by allowing them to yank on his earlobe so that his hearing aid would emit an extended beep.  And I think Grandma always planned for our visits by stocking up on fresh grapes before our arrival knowing our kids would devour every one of them.

There was always something special about their home.  Each visit was full of laughter, playful picking on each other, and a lot of love.  One visit in particular I saw something that was a little shocking to me.  Her grandparents were in their late 70’s at the time.  I remember Grandma went into the living room where Grandpa was relaxing in his favorite chair. She promptly sat on Grandpa’s lap and threw her arms around his neck.  Now, this type of behavior may be normal for others.  But for me, it was a poignant moment.  It’s not simply that my wife’s grandparents were still affectionate after nearly 60 years of marriage.  Somehow, through all those years, with all of the inherent difficulties normally associated with marriage, these two lived out a deep and abiding love for one another for all to see.

With this image still fresh in my mind, the next morning I asked Grandma and Grandpa a simple question,

“What would you say is the secret to your long-lasting, loving marriage?”

Grandma immediately responded with some sage advice, “You have to remember, marriage is a 50/50 relationship.  There has to be give and take and compromise.”  I remember thinking to myself, “that makes a lot of sense.”

With his continual half grin, Grandpa interrupted her discourse by saying in his mildly raspy voice, “no, no it’s not.”

Everyone in the room was a little surprised, including Grandma.  It seems Grandpa had a philosophy even Grandma didn’t know about.  He continued,

“It’s 100/0.  Give 100% and demand nothing in return, and you will have a happy marriage.”

I have to tell you – this may be some of the most profound wisdom I have ever received.  At first glance this principle doesn’t seem to make sense.  Surely, a marriage involves give and take, right?  Isn’t a marriage about mutual fulfillment and meeting each other’s needs?  Of course it is.  It’s not that Grandma was wrong.  It’s simply that Grandpa had tapped into a deeper principle.

It is true that Jesus made the well-known statement, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:38 NASV).  But, three short verses prior he made a difficult statement that brings some clarity to this verse.  Jesus declared,

“But … do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High” (Luke 6:35 NASV).

At their core, our attitudes, actions and responses toward our spouses are an issue between us and God.  If our motivation moves from pleasing God to expecting something from our mate, we will probably end up disappointed.  At some point our spouse will not respond in the way we had hoped, leaving us hurt or frustrated in the process.  In that moment we place in our spouse’s hands the power to determine how we feel about what we are doing.  What Jesus is saying is, “interact with others in a way that pleases me regardless of what they say or do.  Do good, expecting nothing in return.  When you do, you reveal who you belong to.” The great invitation of scripture is to –

Give All of yourself and make no demands in return

When my head hits the pillow at night I want to know that regardless of how others acted or reacted, I lived my day in a way that pleased Him.  I want to live in a Christ-like manner regardless of the behavior of others.  I’m not always successful but, this is my goal.  Realizing my reward comes from God and not man takes the pressure off of my relationship with my wife.  It is liberating, for both of us.  It frees my wife up to love me back in her own way.

When both partners are giving and serving and expecting nothing in return is when God pours out His blessing and gives back to us “a good measure, pressed down, and shaken together.”

Thank you, Grandpa, for incredible godly insight that has forever changed my marriage and my family.

In Loving memory of Charles & Cleota Reece 

Love is in the Air.

Love Is In The Air!

Jesus was hanging out in the temple one day sharing stories as he was prone to do. Pharisees, Sadducees, Priests and elders were systematically grilling him with difficult questions in an attempt to trip him up and catch him saying or teaching something wrong.  Jesus handily deflected the verbal arsenal as each inquiry was launched at him.  Finally, one particular Pharisee, who happened to be a lawyer, scrutinized him with yet one more question.

“Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the law?” he asked.

Jesus gave the standard answer that was often repeated by the religious leaders.  Quoting Deuteronomy 6:5, He replied, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”  This was the answer the hearers would have accepted and expected.  But, did anyone really expect Jesus to just give a simple answer? As was typical with Jesus, He didn’t stop with just answering the question.  He added a statement that struck at the heart.  He followed up his first response by adding,

“And the second is like it:You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 22:36-40).

  This was a difficult thing for the religious crowd of His day.  They prided themselves on the outward appearance of their great loyalty to God and adherence to His commands.  In a single sentence Jesus challenged their devotion by adding this second component.

It has always struck me as odd that Jesus was asked one question but gave two answers.  Why did He do that?  I suspect that the reason He gave two answers was because in His mind, in the mind of God, you cannot really separate the two concepts.  The result of loving God is loving people.  Also, you cannot really love people unless you first love God.  You cannot separate the two.  If that is the case then His two answers are really just two parts of a single answer.

What that means is that church attendance, Bible reading, or even singing along with your favorite worship songs are not the truest measure of showing your love for God.  In fact, you might say that the best way to show God you love Him is  … to love people.  A better translation would have been “the second commandment is JUST LIKE the first one.”  In this passage it’s almost as if God was saying,

“If you really love God, you will love people.”

Gary Smalley one time said “Life is relationships; the rest is just details.”  Many times we mistakenly lead our lives thinking life is about our jobs, our finances, our position, our achievements or our notoriety.  We strive and contend.  We chase and pursue.  We are busy.    And there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with much of that.  But, at the end of the day, everything we do revolves around the people we do it with and the relationships we build along the way.  In fact, many times when we build relationships first, the success we desire will follow naturally.

What does it mean to “love” people?  Jesus actually gave some fairly clear instructions within the context of His response.  He said we are to love our neighbor the same way we love ourselves.  In another context He said, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (Mt. 7:12 ESV).  When I jump to conclusions, make mistakes, have an angry response and say things I regret, I want others to give me grace, forgiveness, and understanding.  Sometimes I want them to overlook my shortcomings and give me the benefit of the doubt.  Mostly, I want people to treat me with value and respect.  If I’m going to treat others the way I want to be treated, if I’m going to love my neighbor as myself, then I should give them the same.  Maybe that means is lending a listening ear the next time my teenager does something wrong instead of yelling.  Maybe that means giving grace when the cashier makes a mistake or the customer service employee treats me rudely.  Maybe it means not getting an attitude or shaking my fist when I’m cut off in traffic. Maybe it means seeking understanding when my boss is acting like a jerk.

With Valentine’s Day on the 14th and the National Marriage Week leading up to it, people are focused on their love relationships in the month of February, and rightly so.  Couples are intentional in February.  They make a “date” to spend time together, they give each other gifts, they treat each other kindly, and they see the best in each other.

But, everywhere around us are people who need many of the same aspects that we bring to our closest relationships:  time spent together, a listening ear, understanding, compassion and care.  Any relationship can be strengthened, enhanced, or healed when we are intentional and put into practice many of the same things that lead to a strong marriage.  Our kids need it, our parents need it, our neighbors need it, our employees need it, and our pastors need it.  The cashier needs it, the waitress needs it, and the homeless guy on the corner needs it.  And all of them are made in the image of God.  If we love God, we will love people.

It’s February so love truly is in the air. “Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other” (John 13:35).

Grace as an Organizational Paradigm

Every once in awhile you will have someone on your team that is just … amazing. They come to the table with all sorts of talents, strengths, skill sets and experience, and a good attitude. The problem is, even with great team members, great team dynamics, cohesion and engagement, sometimes there is miscommunication, misunderstandings, and  misperceptions. Sometimes there’s just a miss.

The reason is that even the best people are broken.  Even the greatest asset on your team is … incomplete.  The reality is, working with people is often messy, fraught with difficulty, and even painful.

All of the difficulties stem from the fact that each of us has a limited perspective. We have limited perspectives because we are incomplete. We are not all-sufficient. We are not all-knowing. We are not all-powerful. We do not have inexhaustible brain capacity.  We are …finite.  Therefore, our ideas, our opinions, our perspective, our judgments, are partial and incomplete at best.

This is also why we need each other.  We need the perspectives, the opinions of others in order to be informed and to have the fullest view.  Leaders who assume they already have all the answers and do not need the input of others are short-sighted. But make no mistake, filtering through their personalities, their own limited views, and their one-sided opinions can be really difficult in order to get you there can be really difficult.

The only way to have a pain free, difficulty free, organization is to have one that does not include … people.

The scriptures make it clear from the beginning of Genesis to the end of the book that we are designed to need each other. For example, God created Adam by forming him out of the dust and breathing life into him.  But, he created Eve by taking something out of the man.  The moment God performed this supernatural surgery Adam became …incomplete.  And what he was missing was only to be found in another … human.  This is why when they came together the bible says, “for this reason a man shall cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one” (Genesis 2).  They went from being separate to being a unit.  They were incomplete, now complete.  They went from two parts to one whole.

Each of us is designed to be incomplete without the strengths, the gifts, the abilities, and even the weaknesses, of others. And maybe this is why God, in His vastly superior wisdom, instituted the concepts and principles of forgiveness, of mercy, of Grace – because He knew we would need it to garner relationships.

The reality is I cannot fully appreciate or tap into the gifts of my fellow man if I do not simultaneously operate in grace, mercy, and forgiveness. Because, the strengths of my team members are encased in their own brokenness, their own respective incomplete nature, and their sin.

So, even superior teams can be difficult at times.  Even the most loving families can be hard to love. Even the closest relationships often require grace. But, without them we are deficient, impaired, and limited.

“Put on tender mercy and kindness as if they were your clothes. Don’t be proud. Be gentle and patient. Put up with one another. Forgive one another if you are holding something against someone. Forgive, just as the Lord forgave you. And over all these good things put on love. Love holds them all together perfectly as if they were one” (Col. 3:12-14)

 

The Secret Marriage Healing Agent

 

Recently I was re-wiring an outlet in our house.  I realize that for many this may seem like a simple assignment.  However, I am certainly no professional electrician.  So, this little job was more of an adventure than it was a routine task.  First step – remove the outlet cover. Simple enough.  Next I removed the screws that held the outlet inside the electric box.  Done.  At this point I was feeling pretty confident.  The next step was to pull the outlet out from the wall far enough to loosen the screws that held the electrical wires to the outlet.  So, I did the obvious – I used my index finger and my thumb to grab each side of the outlet.  Not thinking, I placed them squarely on the wires on either side of the outlet.

Zap! –a JOLT blasted through my hand!

I immediately JERKED my hand back and without thinking I jammed my fingers into my mouth to sooth the instantaneous tingling-burning sensation.

Surprise! – I forgot to flip the breaker that supplied power to the outlet.  Whoops! Lesson learned.

But, here’s the real lesson:  It is a natural response to sooth and heal wounds within our own body.  Wounds almost never heal without some intentional attention and care, especially deep wounds.  The deeper or more severe the wound, the more care it needs.

In the midst of his exposé concerning the relationship between husbands and wives Paul made an amazing statement that may be often overlooked.  He explains “Husbands should love their wives as they love their own bodies. The man who loves his wife loves himself. No one ever hates his own body, but provides for and takes care of it” (Eph 5:28-29).

The reality is all of us are broken.  All of us are wounded in some way.  The way I read this passage is that it is our job to care for, attend to, and minister to, our spouse’s woundedness.  It is our responsibility to attempt to sooth and bring healing to our mate.  It might even be possible that the reason the Lord put us in their lives is to attend to their healing.

Unfortunately, many times we respond to our spouses out of our own woundedness.  We tend to react out of self-preservation rather than service.  As a result, instead of healing we often cause further damage and deepen the wound.  We know he needs affirmation but instead we criticize, further damaging his ego.  We know she needs understanding but instead we snap, further damaging her self-esteem.  But, I believe part of God’s call on my life is to recognize my wife’s woundedness and respond and react to her in a way that brings healing, not further damage.

Imagine how different our households would be if we actually did what Jesus said we should be doing, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:35).  Jesus came to “bind up the brokenhearted.”  If we are truly to love one another as Christ, then attending to one another’s healing might be a top priority.

Things to think about.

Leadership Voices

Recently I sat in two different team meetings with two different leaders. Though the content of the meetings was similar, the meetings themselves left me with distinctly different feelings about the goals and direction, the organization, and the leaders themselves.

I have wrestled over the last few days as to why these two meetings resulted in such a different set of emotions from me, and I suspect different emotions from the other team members as well.  What was unique about each meeting that garnered such different results?

After pondering this for some time I think I have boiled it down to this:

Leadership Voices.

Let me state the obvious: how each respective leader conducted the meeting made all of the difference as to how the content of the meeting was received. By “conducted” I do not mean the mechanics of the meeting.  In other words, it wasn’t that one leader had a well-planned agenda and the other didn’t. It wasn’t that one leader kept the team on task and the other didn’t.  It wasn’t starting on time, ending on time, the time of day, or whether snacks were provided. It wasn’t that one used a white board and the other a power point presentation. And by “leadership voices” I certainly don’t mean that one leader was a baritone while the other was a soprano.

No, it was something entirely different.  Something about the voice of the Leader set the tone for the meeting.

If I could narrow it down even more, the tone, the pace, and results of the meeting really boiled down to one simple phrase that the leader repeated throughout each respective meeting. One simple phrase changed everything else.

One leader said, “You need to …” or “We need to …”

The other leader asked “What do you think …?”

One was directive.  One was collaborative.

One shut others down. One opened others up.

One phrase resulted in a quick and neatly packaged meeting. One was a little sloppy, involving discussion, debate, and even disagreement.

One communicated value in team members. One de-valued the contributions of team members.

One phrase expressed confidence in the team.  One phrase expressed lack of confidence.

One phrase built trust.  One phrase undermined trust.

One phrase garnered engagement. One garnered dis-engagement.

One left people feeling encouraged. The other left them feeling discouraged.

One made the team feel important and appreciated.  The other left them feeling … merely employed.

One effected ownership of the decision by the team. One effected mere obedience.

One garnered cooperation and cohesion.  The other, though on the surface appeared unified, actually brought disunity. Even the attendees that didn’t agree quickly got behind one voice.  While, attendees of the other meeting didn’t express their opinions until they were behind closed doors and outside of the hearing of the leader, and only with members they knew would agree with them.

One voice communicated, “I think I’m the smartest guy in the room.” The other voice communicated, “We are in this together.”

The reality is that

One voice communicated humility.

The other voice communicated arrogance.

 

I know some leaders reading this are probably thinking, “this isn’t a democracy. We don’t need to take a vote.  I’m the leader, they should just do what I say.”

It’s interesting that in neither meeting was the position or authority of the leader in question.  But, the posture they took, their voice, had a definite impact on the well-being of the entire team.

I have to ask, is mere obedience the only thing you want from your team? Is that the end game?  Don’t you want their creativity? Don’t you want their innovation? Don’t you want their engagement. Don’t you want them to want to come to work?

Don’t you want their hearts?

The leader’s voice is really about posture. The leader’s voice is about their view of themselves and their view of their team.

One simple phrase can make all of the difference.

Leaders, have you listened to your own voice lately? Have you ever played back the tapes in your head of conversations you’ve had with your team? Have you ever really …listened …to yourself?  Have you considered what unintentional messages you are communicating to your team? Have you ever thought through how to really value, engage, and encourage your team? Have you ever wondered if there was a better way to get the best from your team?

Getting their best might not be a result of awards, raises, or even promotions.

Your influence might primarily be  … in your voice.

“Fools have no interest in understanding;
    they only want to air their own opinions.”

Proverbs 18:2

 

Content but not Satisfied

“It’s just a number,” they said.  Yeah, but, it’s a BIG number.

“You’re only as old as you feel,” they said.  EXACTLY!  Maybe I feel even older!

50.  I’m not gonna lie. I’m having a bit of a hard time swallowing the fact that I am now half of a century old. Why is this such an issue? Lots of people have passed this way before me. And truthfully, I’m the last in my family to do so.  Yet, somehow, they all survived. And some of all those people who have passed this way before me actually seem happy. So, what’s my issue?

It’s not the number so much. It’s the dark realization that, well, my life is nowhere near where I thought it would be. Part of the problem is, I’m not quite sure where I thought it would be at this point. I just didn’t think I’d be … here. 50. Really?

My wife asked me last Saturday if I wanted to go out to dinner to celebrate my birthday – 3 days early.  I said, unequivocally, “No. No I do not. I am not ready.”

The way I saw it, I still had 3 days left of clinging to the idea that “I’m still in my 40’s.”

I told her I had 3 days to …. Lose 30 pounds.

3 days to … get in better shape.

3 days to …. choose a career path I actually want.

3 days to … become financially stable.

3 days to … start a ministry that will impact people and have significance.

The truth is, I’m not … unhappy. In fact, most days I am quite happy.

I enjoy my life. I have a beautiful, amazing, wife of over 30 years who is full of life and joy and most days we still like each other. I have a great family that I am very proud of. I enjoy my friends. I have a good job and work with some really good people. I have a decent home. I’m not hungry, naked, or lacking shelter. In many respects, we have it really, really good. And, just for icing on the cake, every now and then I get to be involved in some directed ministry opportunities.

But, I’m not where I want to be either. And it has nothing to do with my age. It has everything to do with my choices. I just hate feeling … behind, like I’m constantly playing catch-up.

And I think that’s where the disappointment comes in. I’m a little disappointed with where life has brought me to. In truth, I’m disappointed with … myself.

But here’s the thing: Yes, I’d like to be 30 pounds lighter. But that’s not really it. Yes, I’d like to be in much better shape. But that’s not really it. Sure I’d like to have a better paying job that doesn’t make me feel …stuck. But, that’s not really it either. Yes I’d like to have more money in the bank. But that’s not really the challenge. Yes I think my kids have grown up way too fast, but that’s not the issue either.

I’ve found myself pondering the end of life a lot lately. I want my life to have meaning. I want my life to have had an impact. I don’t want to just go through the motions. I don’t want people wondering what to say at my funeral. Especially my family.

There is an innate desire for … something more.  For … significance.

There, I said it.

Some days I feel like my life has had significance. Some days I feel like my life and my influence has had an impact for good. But some days, not so much.

I used to have a great desire for a large pulpit ministry. But as life has thrown so many curve balls my way I’ve had to adjust my definition of “success” or “ministry.” I think my definition is much healthier now.  But, sometimes it just feels like an excuse or a justification for where I’ve landed.

Some days I’m really good at focusing my heart and my attention on those He has put in front of me.  Loving them. Caring for them. And I know deep within my heart that this is what He has called me to. But …

Some days I long for something bigger. Something more.

I don’t think this is the end game. I don’t think this is all there is.

And as I ponder and pray, I think this is exactly what God has called us to.  I think this is the great tension in scripture. Let me explain.

Paul said, “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be … content. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Phil 4:11-12).

The challenge many people have is that they are always striving for an elusive, idealistic picture. Constantly chasing after an illusion. Pushing, pressing, stretching for something that cannot be obtained. Why? Because it is human nature that every time we reach a milestone or a goal, rather than being satisfied with our achievement, we almost instantly move the goal posts. We got that raise and are making “X” amount of money.  Great! But now we need the NEXT promotion. We reached that sales goal.  Great! Well, since we can do that then we should be able to do even more. Lost “x” amount of weight. Excellent! But now we need to win the competition. In one sense there is nothing wrong with this. But, for many this is precisely why no matter how much they have or achieve, they are never truly happy. Sometimes people are surrounded by so many blessings but don’t recognize them because they are constantly focused on wanting more. They have so much but don’t see it because all they can see is what they don’t have.

And it’s even worse for many believers. Many believers wrongly assume that as soon as they decided to live their lives for Christ that everything was going to suddenly be sunshine and roses. But it’s just not true.

The problem is, when you seek after riches you end up living in the fear of lack. When you seek after beauty you end up living in the fear of being ugly.  When you seek after power, you end up living in fear of being weak. When you seek performance, you end up living in fear of being insufficient. When you seek security, you end up living your life in insecurity.

But, when you live your life pursuing GOD, you end up feeling loved and accepted.

Paul said, I have learned to be content – no matter what state I find myself in. My internal compass is not determined by external challenges. My internal joy is not determined by external circumstances. My internal peace is not determined by external issues.  I have learned to be content.

But, just a few verses earlier he said, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:12-14).

It is clear that Paul knew there was something more: things that still needed to be done, work that needed to be accomplished. He could have focused on all the things he had done wrong, or all the things he didn’t do that he should have. He could have let bad choices or circumstances derail him from purpose.  But he didn’t. Paul intentionally chose to let go of the past. He wasn’t going to let mistakes, failures, life’s troubles, or anything else stop him from giving his life in pursuit of what God had in store for him. Paul didn’t pull up the rocking chair of life and settle in.

Yes, he had learned to be content … but, he was not satisfied.

Paul found himself somewhere between the “already” and the “not yet.”

Here’s the truth: Life is good. I am content. I choose to not focus on regret. I choose to appreciate, to love, to enjoy what is right before me.

But, I’m not satisfied either. I know there is something more.  And even though I’m half a century old, I am not done.

I am somewhere between.  I choose contentment with the “already.”  But, I am striving toward the “not yet.”

 

 

 

A Profound Mystery

A Profound Mystery 

Many have used Ephesians 5:23-31 to expound on the roles and guidelines of marriages, and rightly so, but the Apostle Paul was actually pointing to something much deeper.  He said, Husbands, love your wives … and the wife must respect her husband.  He then concludes the passage with a surprising statement, This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church” (Eph 5:32).

Though he was talking about marriage, he was actually illustrating Christ’s relationship with the church.  I believe that a healthy marriage can reveal the nature of Christ to the world in three distinct ways. 

One of the amazing things about a healthy marriage is that someone can know and love the REAL you.  Not the “all-together” you that you want everyone else to see.  I’m talking about the real you, that is sometimes selfish, maybe a little pig-headed, or rude, and whose breath sometimes stinks.  Yes, they know your strengths and successes, but they also know your challenges, your weaknesses, your shortcomings, your mistakes, your issues, your fears, and even your failures.  Yet through it all, they inexplicably love you anyways.  In fact, some of those very things actually cause them to love you even more.  They love the REAL you. The best marriages are built on UNCONDITIONAL LOVE! 

This is the beauty of the love of God.  Somehow, Christ knows everything about us, including our innermost thoughts, and LOVES us regardless.  We can’t hide anything from Him. He knows everything about us – yet loves us unconditionally!

 Also, anyone married for any length of time knows that marriage has a way providing a lot of opportunities to practice UNRESTRICTED FORGIVENESS.  A wise person once said, “Marriage is the union of two good forgivers.”  Couples in strong marriages will find themselves forgiving over and over and over again. In fact, it’s required.  Otherwise, those same couples would end up critical, bitter, and unhappy.  Forgiveness is the very essence of Christ’s message.  And because of His amazing grace He forgives us over, and over, and over again. He grants us UNRESTRICTED FORGIVENESS. 

Finally, healthy marriages are built on the foundation of UNWAVERING COMMITMENT.  My wife knows that regardless what happens, I am not leaving. I’m not walking out.  It doesn’t matter what she says.  It doesn’t matter what she does.  I am completely committed to her!  Unwavering commitment provides security and confidence.  Couples will feel comfortable to be themselves.  This is why marriage is intended to be “until death do us part,” because it represents God’s unwavering commitment to us as eternal.  Jesus said, “I will never leave you, nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5). 

Understanding and practicing these three principles will lead to the happiest, healthiest and strongest marriages.  More importantly, it reveals the nature of Christ to our friends, our families, and the world. People will ask you, “How can you love him when he acts like that? How can you keep forgiving? Why do you stay with her?”  The answer:  “Because Christ loves me when I act like that. He forgives me when I mess up and He never leaves me no matter what I’ve done. I still see the value, the good, and the reflection of God in that person, just like Christ does with me.”  

Healthy marriages reveal Christ to the world by displaying unconditional love, unrestricted forgiveness, and unwavering commitment.  It is a profound mystery.

I Don’t Know What I Don’t Know

When I was a kid I didn’t like to read.

I barely passed high school. The way I made it through was primarily by cheating.  I’m still thankful for my friend, the teacher’s aid, who often marked in the teacher’s book that I had actually done my homework. I appreciate my girlfriend who wrote several of my papers so that I would pass a class. And I’m even grateful for that bookshelf in Government class where I could easily hide a piece of paper with all of the test answers.
So I managed to skim through and went to college, part-time, right out of high school, due only to my dad’s prompting.  The problem was, I had an even worse study ethic than before because a large portion of my time was spent partying. After failing a few classes I dropped out. So, for the next several years I focused on work and starting a family.
But something dramatic happened in the process. I became a believer in Christ. With this new relationship came a new vision for my life. I started college for the second time when I was 23, almost 24.

When I re-started college to pursue a focus on biblical education I always had this nagging sense that even though I was older than most of my college peers I was actually waaayyyy behind, both due to my previous lack of educational motivation and due to not having been raised in an overtly Christian home.  This internal sense was further exacerbated by the fact that both my older brothers were avid readers and well self-educated (there is no sibling rivalry whatsoever). My claim to fame at this point in my life was merely my work ethic. I knew how to work. And I worked a lot. And I worked hard. Truth is, to this day I almost always feel like I am playing catch-up.
So my college experience began and suddenly I was opened to the realm of possibilities. Professors instilled in me the simple idea that we should question things. I was confronted by the profound yet simple realization that there is soooo much to learn; that I know so very little; that my view of things and my ideas are so extremely limited, and that even the things I thought I knew were probably wrong, skewed, or incomplete at best. And thus was birthed a love, a drive, for learning.
The thing is, we often over-estimate the depth of own knowledge base. We assume our experiences, our background, and even our education give us the tools we need to accurately assess the world around us. We think we “know” a lot about a lot.  But, we are often blind to our own limitations and inadequacies.
I was struck by this idea one random day while I was a Youth Pastor.  I thought I knew everything there was to know about teenager-ness and about leading teenagers because after all, I had been one myself, and we had two teenagers living in our home.  So clearly, I was the man.  I thought with my newly established biblical education and my life experiences I could lead these young people and guide them into godly maturity.  After three months of being the Youth Pastor I was frustrated, stressed, and felt like I was failing.
Then this thought suddenly assaulted me, “what makes you think you know anything about youth ministry? All you’ve done so far is make assumptions.”  Ouch!  I wasn’t sure where to start so – I reached for a book.  I started inundating myself with as much information and as many tools as I could find to minister to teens.  But, as I began to grow, and learn, and stretch, I was confronted with a much deeper and more painful realization.  As I was traversing through this step of my journey I was further accosted with this thought, “Yeah, you have two teenagers and two other children, but really, what makes you think you know anything about being a good, godly parent? What makes you think you know what it really means to be a father?  Do you think the examples you grew up with were enough to prepare you for this?” Holy Smokes!  It only took me a moment to declare, “Absolutely not! The painful truth is, I don’t have a clue!” Truthfully, I wanted to go back and start over.  But we all know, that’s not an option.  At this point in my life I only knew of one place to go.  I needed to find a book.

A similar experience happened about fifteen years into my marriage.  “What makes you think you know how to be a good husband?  Do you really think the examples you had prepared you for this?” And again I say, “Absolutely not!”  Since that time I have read one book after another about marriage.
So this journey really began for me in 1991. But here’s the crazy thing: the more I read, the more I learn, the more I grow … the more I realize how much I do not know. It often feels like the more I read, the more I learn, the further behind I get. I’m not a speed reader. I don’t dedicate nearly enough time to reading. I’m a little bit lazy. I like t.v. a little bit too much. And most of the time reading still feels a lot like work. But, I place so much value on the learning process, on being challenged, and changed, and confronted, and encouraged, that I intentionally engage in it.
 
A few years back a staff member asked me, “David, how did you get this way? I mean, how did you learn to be such a good leader?” (For clarity, those were his words, not mine. I’m not claiming to be a good leader. I’m claiming to be nothing more than a student).
I was both humbled and honored by his statement and question. As I pondered for a moment how to respond I realized, I am who I am today first because of the astounding grace of God. Second, the tremendous love, care, and forgiveness of my bride. And finally, because of the books I’ve read. The authors have become some of the most defining mentors in my life. By reading both the word of God and these books I have been confronted with … myself, with new ideas, and a new way of thinking.
This whole thought came to mind because I just finished my 16th book for this year.  I’m not bragging. As I said, I’m no speed reader.  I have a friend who claims to read 75 books a year. Though I feel some satisfaction at this accomplishment (my goal for this year is 20), to me it is more a sign of my desperation. 

I’m at a place where I can’t quit. I can’t get enough. Because, I’m further behind than when I started.

Blessings!

Fruitful Marriages

Fruitful Marriages

Fruit Bowl, Shell, Fruit, Fruits

Many times I have been asked, “What is the real secret to a long-lasting, happy marriage?”  Usually I give some pithy, poorly attempted humorous response like, “for us, I think it has been that we were just too stupid to quit” (there might actually be some serious truth in there somewhere).

However, I have discovered that regardless of a couple’s particular belief about matters of faith, applying biblical principles to the relationship always leads to improvement (can everyone say a big collective “duh!”), regardless of whether they are believers or not.  I realize this may seem elementary to some.  However, sometimes even the most devout Christians can forget their Christian graces when they walk into their own homes, with the most important relationships they have, that is – their spouses and children.

For example, men are often patient, understanding, and forgiving with business partners or employees.  But those same men can be inconsiderate, unforgiving, and outright rude with their families. Although they listen intently during strategy meetings at the office, they often don’t take the time to listen to their wives or children. Conversely, the same women who are caring and compassionate with their friends can become demanding and insensitive at home.

There are hundreds of passages of Scripture to draw relationship principles from.  For today I would like to focus on just two verses – two verses containing nine simple words.  Words so profound that I am convinced if they were properly applied, could heal every single broken marriage, struggling marriages could be put on a firm foundation, stagnant marriages could be revitalized, and happy marriages could go to an even higher level with deeper intimacy.  In fact, applying these nine words could revolutionize homes and families!  It may seem like a tall order but, I am convinced it is true.  Follow along with me.

The Apostle Paul said, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal 5:22-23).  Wait a minute.  Read that again, ruminate for a moment and let those words sink in … (pause).  Love … Joy … Peace … Patience … Kindness … Goodness … Faithfulness … gentleness … Self-Control.  Now, try putting your name at the beginning of that verse and read it again, asking yourself where you stand:

“David is loving in his relationships.” Am I?

“David is joyful with those around him.” Am I?

“David is peaceful, patient, kind, full of goodness, faithful, gentle and David operates in self-control (that one hurt!).”

When I read it that way I am confronted with a huge personal challenge and tremendous goals for me to strive toward. Because, these nine simple words all address my own behaviors and attitudes.

Let me caution you, this is not an opportunity to start pointing the finger of blame at your spouse.  Taking responsibility for how I act, regardless of what my spouse does, can radically impact our home for the better.  I believe that when we pursue and practice these nine simple concepts, when we address our own attitudes and behaviors, the Holy Spirit will come alongside and help us along the way.

Spirit-led people do not throw fits of rage, they practice self-control.

Spirit-led people are concerned for the good of others.

Spirit-led people are patient and kind, and forgiving.

Spirit-led people carry the essence of joy.

When we begin to act in a way that is consistent with what we say we believe, I promise you – the Lord will bless it. Imagine what would happen in your home and marriage if you applied and practiced these nine simple words.  I think you will find your marriage is better than ever.

Enjoy the Fruit!